Saturday, March 21, 2015

Thoughts from the Farmer





Experiencing Extreme Cold at Elmwood Stock Farm


We are often asked what life is like at Elmwood Stock Farm when we have record setting lows? Caring for the livestock and green houses in such frigid conditions takes the right equipment and proper planning. But who could have ever thought it would be -24 degrees F, wow!

Proper planning comes from a collective family body of knowledge gained from previous experiences, which actually goes back a few generations. For example, how close to the ground you hang a gate is critical to its function. Too high, and a sheep or steer will try to go under, too low and you cannot open it without having to shovel snow to take them their hay each day. The location of the gate must take into account several factors. Slopes should be shallow if possible, and sideways slopes are more treacherous when stopping and parking the tractor, to open and close the gate, especially in snow and soon-to-be mud season. Over the years, this type of logic has gone into every aspect in the siting of buildings, roads, fence rows, equipment storage, access to water for irrigation and livestock, etc.

The roll bales of hay are moved from their fields, as they are made in summer, to a central location on the farm. The hay-yard needs to be where the cattle cannot get into it, but is easily accessible from a good road. As part of our forage based stock management system, the best scenario is for the livestock’s winter pasture to be kind-sorta near the hay-yard to make it a little easier for the daily feeding, especially if we encounter a foot of snow and sub-zero temps. But keeping in mind a multi-year crop rotation doesn’t always allow for such close access.


As far as the animals are concerned, when they are under the proper plane of nutrition for their class of animal, the frigid temperatures are not of great concern to them. Their maintenance level of dietary intake goes up, and we want them to thrive, not just maintain, so they get more hay accordingly. Truth be told, a 37 degree F rain takes the heat out of them much more than snow or temperatures below 32 degrees. Access to water is vitally important in such frigid conditions, albeit they drink less. It’s not just that a steer or heifer is eating 20-25 pounds of dry hay; there is still evaporative cooling through the hide happening in the cold wind. Access to water is another reason to have the livestock kind-sorta nearby so breaking ice from surface water on a tank or checking heaters from various water delivery systems is close to tools and equipment if it becomes necessary. Naturally flowing water is not when it goes to -28 degrees.

So, tools and equipment start at home. Carhart has the body armor in good shape, with boots and gloves that need to be carefully selected. Over the years we have evaluated the kind of gloves used by lobster fishermen in Maine, utility linemen in the upper Midwest, mountain climbers, and farmers from all over, and every person has their own system. In the opinion of at least one of us, the perfect gloves are yet to be invented. Anyway, keeping your fingers warm in order to handle doors, tractor levers, gate chains, tools, buckets and the like is crucial to not feeling rushed and doing the job well. Between the snow and watering the stock, it is important to keep fingers dry as well.


Equipment like trucks and tractors are barely designed to perform well in such extreme conditions. The diesel trucks and tractors have electric block heaters to keep the engine and associated fluids at a more reasonable temperature and an additive to the fuel helps keep it from jelling when sooo cold. The heater is no help to the remote hydraulic systems and brakes, so you have to go easy until those important systems have time to warm up during operation.

A high tunnel is an unheated stretched plastic greenhouse structure which means snow and ice can build up on top, since there is no internal heat to melt it like traditional heated greenhouses. The weight of the snow can stress the plastic and the frame must be strong enough not to buckle from the load. As the snow and ice goes through the thawing cycles, there is potential for ice chards to cut the plastic as it slides off. Sunshine can warm up inside during the day to help.

When the earth freezes deeply, the ice crystal formation can cause the ground to swell, making it hard to open barn doors. This problem gets back to good design, as the doors should be low enough to be kept from swaying in hard winds but not stuck in the ground in conditions like the current.


So what’s it like at Elmwood Stock Farm when we have years like this? We bundle up before going out and have an idea of what to expect when we get there. Everything takes longer to do. Proper planning is recognized quickly. The livestock are appreciative and content. It is truly rewarding to get back inside by the fire, knowing you shared an experience with Mother Nature not seen by many. And then we make notes of the adjustments that need to be made in the system; after all, it’s just chores.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Last Week of CSA, Summer Season



Falling into Place

 

With this being the last week of the 2014 summer share season, it seems like we had a pretty good season to analyze and reflect upon. Some crops were better than others as is expected with such diversity of products being offered, but that very diversity is a big part of our stability. It’s sad when we don’t get as much sweet corn as we had planned for, but it is not detrimental to the shares with so many other veggies out there. With your support and understanding, we feel good about 2014, but it is far from over.

Ending a multi-year transition, this year every single crop we have is certified organic. It has taken us ten years to transition to this milestone, with the squash family being the lone holdout for the past few seasons. With production techniques learned from university research, farmer testimonials, and finally the availability of good organic seed varieties, we were able to have summer squash all season, in spite of some early season cold temperatures. (In fact, the yellow squash was quite prolific compared to the green zucchini!) Tomatoes did well for quite a while this year, but the cool wet weather did them in early. Hope that you were able to preserve some, if not, we have some jarred up for you at the market or in the Fall Pantry Shares.

Thanks for taking time to learn more about how local organic food is raised. Your food dollar is fully compensating for the production, not only for the produce item itself, but the social and environmental costs associated with food production. In farming, we feel a responsibility to improve the quality of the land and eliminate any negative impact on the soil and waters of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Industrialized food systems often leave these externalities for others to pay for. Hopefully you have a better understanding of the science behind the cultural practices we employ in organic farming on your behalf.

Several years ago, we pretty much closed down the packing shed not long after the first killing frost and subsequent hard freeze. The markets fizzled out and we were tired. We were eating the last of the various vegetables throughout the fall when it dawned on us others might want some as well. The following year we planted for the Fall Shares with good success and you, our customers, responded accordingly. Now the fall is the favorite season for many. The cooler weather puts many of the fall crops in their prime growing conditions giving us amazing flavors and richness. Your access to local, organic food doesn’t have to end now. Sign up for the Fall CSA season, or visit us on Saturdays at the Lexington Farmers Market Pavilion. We will be there all winter again this year.

While you are at it, secure the bird of your choice for Thanksgiving festivities this year. We had a great hatch and a tremendous growing season with the turkeys. We offer both the Broad Breasted and the Heritage varieties of turkeys to meet your expectations. Look for the November issue of Cook’s Illustrated to see how the folks at America’s Test Kitchen rated our turkeys. Their description of our quality is quite rewarding after all that goes into raising them. We appreciate their interest in helping farmers like us revitalize small farms with these truly magnificent birds. 

Thanks again for you trust and support. Each crop we plant has a relatively short window of opportunity to grow and bear fruit for us to harvest. We hope you had fun preparing those wholesome foods for your family, and even more enjoyment nourishing your body while savoring the freshness and flavors. Watch for the online survey we are sending to you, we value your feedback. Just remember, at Elmwood Stock Farm, we are militant about organic so you can eat in Peace.



In Your Share

Lettuce
Green Onions
Bell Pepper
Potatoes
Red Kuri Squash
Sweet Potatoes
Fall Turnips
Decorative Gourds
Celery
Garlic
Swiss Chard


Recipes


Morning Sweet Potato, thanks to a CSA member for sharing this delicious recipe
1 sweet potato, scrubbed and dried
¼ C plain or vanilla yogurt
1 T pure maple syrup
2 T chopped nuts (walnuts, cashews, almonds, etc.)
Heat the oven to 375°F. Pierce the sweet potato several times with the tines of a fork. Place the sweet potato inside a loose nest of foil. Bake until tender when pierced with the tip of a paring knife, 40 to 50 minutes. Remove them from the oven and let them cool enough to handle. Open the sweet potato across the top, pushing the flesh slightly so it rises out of the skin. Spoon on the yogurt, then the syrup. Sprinkle with nuts, and serve. Make-Ahead Tip: One or more sweet potatoes can be cooked ahead of time and kept refrigerated for about 5 days.

Sautéed Turnips with Fresh Greens, serves 6
2 T olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
3 medium turnips, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1/2 C raisins
3 T fresh lemon juice
10 oz fresh greens (chard, spinach, kale) coarsely chopped
freshly ground nutmeg
salt and pepper
Heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic, turnip and raisins; cook about 1 minute. Add lemon juice; cover and cook 3 minutes at medium heat. Stir in the greens and cook just until
wilted. Sprinkle with nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

Scalloped Fall Squash and Potatoes, makes 6 servings
3 C favorite fall/winter squash, peeled and cut in chunks
2 C diced potatoes
1/3 C chopped onion
1/2 C chopped cooked ground beef, sausage, or brat
1/4 C flour
1 T chopped parsley or celery leaf
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/3 C cream or milk
2 T butter
Place half of squash and potatoes in a greased 1 1/2-quart casserole dish. Sprinkle on half the onion and meat. Whisk together flour, parsley, salt, pepper, and nutmeg with cream or milk. Pour half the mixture over vegetables. Dot with half the butter. Repeat layers. Cover and bake at 350°F 45 minutes. Uncover and bake 10-15 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

Sweet Potato Hummus, a Sarah Britton recipe
2 cups chickpeas, cooked
zest of 1 organic lemon, juice of ½ lemon
3 small sweet potatoes
1 tsp ground cumin
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
2-3 pinches sea salt
3 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic
Note: Don't get too hung up on the quantities of ingredients with this recipe - it's hard to make a mistake! Use more or less sweet potato than called for, more or less chickpeas if that suits you (or even leave them out!), omit the cayenne or throw in more if you like it spicy. Just work with what you have and what tastes good to you. Place sweet potatoes (with the skin on) in a baking dish in a 400 F oven and bake until very soft, about 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on their size.  Let the sweet potatoes cool down so that you can easily remove their skins - they should just peel off. Place them in a food processor with the remaining ingredients and blend on high to mix. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, sprinkle of cracked black pepper, and whatever herb you have on hand. This is wonderful with raw veggies, healthy crackers, or pita bread.   This dip doubles as an amazing sandwich spread, particularly on crusty sourdough with avocado, sprouts, and fresh herbs. Finally, you can use as a thickener for soups and stews.

Monday, October 6, 2014

CSA News, Week 21

It's Fun to Eat This Way!




Having your CSA farm share with Elmwood Stock Farm, in part, helps us manage the production and harvest of our crops. Another very important part is the experience you have trying different recipes with your favorite vegetables, and even eating things you may not be familiar with.  Eating seasonal and eating local is not just a trend, it is part of our evolution.  Though our American culture seemed to forget for a while with the ease and availability of refrigeration, transportation, and new packaging technologies, many are returning to the ideas of eating whole foods, well-balanced meals that include vegetables, and locally produced organic items bursting with nutritional benefits.

Hopefully when you explore each week’s bounty there is a bit of an adrenaline rush like a surprise or receiving a gift. Since even we do not know exactly what will be ready to be harvested for the shares until the morning of your pick-up, how could you? We do know the secure feeling we get when the barns are well stocked with hay for the winter, so it must feel pretty good to have your kitchen well stocked for the week.  While managing a busy schedule, at least you know there is something good to eat at home, and you can avoid the trappings of processed foods away from home. We have enjoyed the stories you relay to us, and we can picture you opening the box or bag, reading the riveting newsletter cover to cover, planning a menu for the week, and properly storing your items in their best environment, or prepping and cooking ahead for the week.  We appreciate knowing that our efforts to provide really good food are rewarded with you having a fun eating experience. 

As your farmers, we see the seasonal abundance of certified organic food at the farm. Since we have access to all of it every day, we don’t have to plan out too far in advance what we eat, and we don’t need to purchase many off-farm items. Almost everything we eat is organic and for that we feel very fortunate.  When we travel, or when we purchase fruits that we don’t grow, we stick with organic as much as we can. Naturally, we encourage you to support other organic farmers as well, wherever or whenever you can. Certified organic is more readily available these days, and the health benefits are documented. It is really too important not to do it. 

At the time of the year, with all the different shapes and sizes of hard squash being harvested and stored, and the various colors and types of potatoes about, be sure to try different recipes as the days get shorter and you find more time in the kitchen. You might want to think about getting some extra greens for the freezer, get some spuds tucked away, or get the freezer secured with beef or chicken while access for you is easy. When attendance it down on a cold farmers market day, we ask “what are people gonna eat this week, because they missed the market?” By having your share conveniently delivered near your home, we know that all of you will eat well no matter the weather. If you need any extras now for stocking up, please email or call to let us know and we’ll pack a special order for you to collect with your share.

Next week is the last week for your summer CSA share. (Round up those extra boxes to return!) If you are considering the fall season, now is a good time to sign up. If you plan to shop the farmers market instead, know we will be in downtown Lexington every Saturday morning, forever. Whatever you do, keep your kitchen stocked with local organic food if you can, and you will find it easy to eat well year-round. Have some fun with it, try some new recipe ideas. Be well nourished! Our hope is that you have as much fun as we do when it’s time to look around the larder and see what there is to eat.

In Your Share:


Delicata Squash
Kale Greens
Hot Pepper
Sweet Pepper
Potatoes
Yellow Squash
Sweet Potatoes
Green Onion
Lettuce


Recipes:


Kale Citrus Salad
1 bunch kale, leaves torn off the stalk
1 jalapeno, seeded and sliced very thin
3 whole tangerines/clementines OR 1 orange, peeled and cut into bite sized chunks
4 oz goat cheese
¼ C orange juice
2 T olive oil
1 clove garlic, pressed or grated
1 teaspoon sugar
salt and black pepper, to taste
1 heaping T sour Cream OR plain Greek yogurt
Grab bunches of the kale leaves and use a sharp knife to thinly slice them. Keep going until you have a big pile of finely shredded kale. To make the dressing, combine the orange juice, olive oil, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper in a small mason jar. Shake vigorously until all combined, then add the sour cream or yogurt and shake again until it's nice and creamy.  Toss the kale in half the dressing for a minute or so, then add the jalapeno slices and citrus pieces. Toss again until combined. Add a little more dressing if it needs it (extra dressing can be stored in the fridge and used for any salad.) At the last minute, break the goat cheese into chunks with a fork and toss it into the salad. Serve!

Stuffed Bell Peppers
3-4 green bell peppers, cut tops off and remove seeds
2 T vegetable oil
1 lb ground beef (you could probably make 4-5 peppers with this amount)
1 C finely chopped onions
½ C finely chopped peppers (use the excess from the tops of the peppers)
1 clove minced garlic
Parsley or celery leaf, to taste
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
2 C of cooked rice
8 oz tomato sauce
shredded cheese
Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut tops of peppers off and remove all the insides. In a large pot of boiling water, boil peppers for 2-3 minutes, lay on paper towels to dry. In a large skillet heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and chopped peppers, cook until soft.  Add beef, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper. Cook until meat is browned. Add cooked rice and tomato sauce, mix well. Pour just enough water in a baking dish to cover the bottom.  Stuff peppers with mixture and cook until tender and heated through, about 25-30 min.  Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle with shredded cheese. 

Kale Enchiladas, Simply in Season, serves 4
1 pound kale greens, stemmed and finely chopped; finely chop stems also, set aside
2 tsp oil
2 diced onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp pepper
1 ½ C ricotta or cottage cheese
3 C tomato sauce
2 T taco seasoning
8 corn or flour tortillas
1 C shredded cheese
In a deep frypan, sauté onions and garlic in oil with chopped kale stems until softened, 10 minutes.  Add cumin, pepper and greens and cook until greens are wilted, about 5 minutes.  Add water if necessary.  Remove from heat.  Mix in ricotta cheese and set aside. Combine tomato sauce and taco seasoning and pour 1 C in bottom of 9 x 13 baking sheet. Spoon greens/cheese mixture into tortillas, roll up, and place seam side down in baking pan.  Pour remaining sauce evenly on top, covering all edges.  Cover and bake in preheated 350° oven for 40 minutes. Sprinkle shredded cheese on top and bake uncovered another 10 minutes.




Yellow Squash Patties
6-8 medium yellow squash, shredded
1 onion, shredded
1 ½ T salt
1 C all-purpose flour
½ C organic cornmeal
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 C shredded Cheddar cheese
ground black pepper to taste
1 T vegetable oil
In a bowl, mix the squash and onion, flour, cornmeal, egg, and cheese. Season with pepper.  Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Drop squash mixture by heaping tablespoonfuls into the skillet, and cook 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown.

Crash Hot Potatoes, adapted from The Pioneer Woman
10-12 small round potatoes
3 T olive oil
Kosher salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste
rosemary, or other herb of choice
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add in as many potatoes as you wish to make and cook them until they are fork-tender.  On a sheet pan, generously drizzle olive oil. Place tender potatoes on the cookie sheet leaving plenty of room between each potato.  With a potato masher, gently press down each potato until it slightly mashes, rotate the potato masher 90 degrees and mash again. Brush the tops of each crushed potato generously with more olive oil. Sprinkle potatoes with kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper and fresh chopped rosemary (or chives or thyme or whatever herb you have available.)  Bake in a 450 degree oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

Sweet Potato Wedges adapted from Lorna Sass
2 lb sweet potatoes, scrubbed
2 T olive oil
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp soy sauce
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Set two racks in middle section of oven. Line baking sheets or large, shallow roasting pans with foil. Preheat oven to 450°F.  Halve potatoes crosswise (no need to peel). Cut each piece in half lengthwise. Then cut each piece into wedges about ½ -inch thick. Spread out on baking sheets. In a small bowl, blend oil, chili powder, and soy sauce. Dribble half of oil mixture over each batch of sweet potatoes and toss to coat. Arrange wedges in one layer with a little space between them. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast for 12 minutes. Turn slices over. Reverse shelves for baking sheets. Continue roasting until potatoes are tender, 8 to 12 minutes more. If needed, sprinkle with additional salt, serve hot.