Monday, August 27, 2012

Week 7, CSA


Farm Ingenuity

The last time a farmer friend was at Elmwood Stock Farm, we were discussing how farmers are in the “material handling business.”  Whether it is making hay for winter-feeding to livestock or packing produce crates for market, each farmer has to develop a system to move stuff around.  For us, it’s not just about efficiency, but food safety, worker comfort, scheduling, flexibility with varied climatic conditions, and equipment capabilities - it all comes into play. By definition, no two days are alike at the farm. The pick list for the produce is different every time. The produce itself varies depending on the weather, and must mesh with a bunch of other produce coming in from different fields. We must be prepared with enough trays, totes, buckets, tubs, boxes, carts, racks, dollies, passive conveyors, grading equipment, walk-in coolers, wash sinks, etc. Each morning the crew makes a plan on which produce gets picked and in what order.   There needs to be an efficient system in place to be sure it all gets done in time to pack your share and put it on the truck at the appointed time.

Our packing shed, where all the produce comes in from the field to be washed and/or packed is a good example of the “farm ingenuity” needed in order to handle these materials (fresh produce and water). All the leafy greens, peppers, cucumbers, beets, lettuces and the like must be washed to meet our quality standards and be appealing to you.  We do not offer any of our produce as ready-to-eat and encourage you to always wash any produce you get in your CSA share, at the supermarket, or at a farmers market.  But many of our produce items are double rinsed.  We use potable water to wash field dust off of the produce and allow the cold water temperature to help lower the temperature of the item as it comes in hot from the field – the first step in proper post-harvest handling.  The packing shed is set up with materials, equipment, and supplies in their appropriate spot adjacent to the wash lines. To supply water to the sinks, a water line is attached to a frost-free hydrant, and then runs up the wall along the ceiling of the shed over the sinks. The waterline is cut to the appropriate length, configured with T’s and L’s to provide line drops into each of the wash sinks, and a good brass shut off valve acts as the on/off allowing the supply water to be pulled as needed to the basins for fresh water.

The sinks are built into a custom frame for the best height to reduce back strain from bending over. One of the sinks is on wheels so it can be positioned in unique locations if need be to work around something else or even loaded on the truck for field packing. The other two pair of sinks are stationary. These sinks have an air gap drain that drops the water into a half barrel. The barrel acts as a settling basin for the soil that comes in with the vegetables, keeping it out of the drainpipes where it would accumulate and cause a problem.  We then clean the valuable soil out of the barrels and use it as an inoculant in the compost system. The air gap in the drain is a food safety feature as bacteria cannot grow up the inside of the pipe and reach the sink. Because the vegetables come in from the fields as truckloads, there is a big demand for lots of water to fill and refill all the sinks rapidly, faster than a waterline can supply. By adding a ballast barrel in the loft of the packing shed, its 55 gallons of water can be easily drained into the sink system rapidly to get the washing accomplished quicker.   Finally, this all must be set up to be easily drained in winter on a daily basis so the waterlines don’t freeze and burst.

Another example of farm ingenuity is managing the 1200 pound round bales of hay. The fields are cut with a 9 foot wide mower, the clippings are raked into windrows with a 20 foot wide rake that folds up for transport, and baled with an implement that rolls it up and wraps string around it to hold it together. At this point the bales are scattered about the field. Rather than pull wagons out into the field, un-hook the tractor to use the front end loader to hoist them onto the wagon, then re-hook the wagons, then un-hook at the hay yard to unload, we engineered a way to move four large bales at a time, without getting on and off the tractor. Two steel spears, actually four foot long spikes, are welded to a rugged steel frame that can quickly be attached to the front end loader on the front and two spears are welded to rugged steel that quickly attaches to the lifts on the back of the same tractor to carry four bales at one time (over 2 tons of freshly baled hay). This way we can drive thru the field spearing the bales with the spikes, then drive to the hay yard and drop two at a time in neat rows. At feeding time in the winter, a separate implement, attached to the tractor, pinches each bale between two arms in the center of the roll. When the tractor gets to the field, it moves along unrolling the bale across the field so all the animals have access to hay and can eat at the same time. This also prevents the animals from harming the ground by compacting the soil if too many are crowded into a small area around the bale to eat.
These are just a couple of examples of the many systems needed to allow a diversified farm to function well.  At Elmwood Stock Farm, we use a combination of traditional methods combined with modern technology with the intent to bring some efficiency to our “material handling business.”  

In Your Share

Green Beans- organic
Onions -organic
Bell Peppers
Fingerling Potatoes - organic
Tomatoes – organic
Sweet Basil-organic
Swiss Chard – organic

Hot Chile Peppers - organic

Recipes to Enjoy

Chicken Enchiladas, our thanks to a CSA member who shared one of her family’s favorites using the delicious red bell peppers, now in season.

2 red bell peppers, seeded
3 oz. cream cheese (reduced fat, fine)
3/4 C picanti sauce
1/2 tsp salt
3 C chicken, cooked and chopped or shredded
1/2 Cgreen onions, sliced
8 flour tortillas
1 C shredded cheese

Sauce: Puree 1 pepper, 3 oz. cream cheese and salt until smooth.  Stir in picanti sauce.

Filling:  Stir together chicken, the other pepper diced, onions and half of the above sauce.  Spoon filling onto tortilla, roll and place seam side down in baking dish (sprayed with Pam).  Spoon reserved sauce over rolled tortillas.  Cover loosely with foil.  Bake 20 minutes at 350°F  or until hot.  Remove foil, sprinkle with cheese.  Serve on a bed of shredded lettuce, with black olives and sour cream, if desired.

Orecchiette with Ricotta and Chard Pan Sauce, thanks to a CSA member for sharing this tasty recipe from Better Homes and Gardens magazine.

1 large bunch organic Swiss chard
¾ lb dried orecciette
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T butter
crushed red pepper, optional
2 oz ricotta salata, asiago, or pecorino cheese, freshly grated
¼ C fresh, whole-milk ricotta cheese
sea salt and cracked black pepper
freshly grated ricotta salata, asiago or pecorino cheese

Bring large pot of generously salted water to boiling.  Separate chard stems from leaves; cut both into bite-sized pieces.  Add orecchiette to boiling water.  Set timer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, for pan sauce, in large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat.  Add chard stems; cook 3 to 5 minutes, until crisp-tender.

After 10 minutes, add chard leaves to cooked pasta; cook 2 minutes more.  Drain, reserving about ¼ C of cooking liquid.  Return pasta and chard to pot; place over lowest heat setting.  Add chard stems and any residual oil to pasta, along with butter, crushed red pepper, and reserved cooking liquid.  Grate in ricotta salata; toss.  Season with pepper and nutmeg.  Divide among bowls.  Top each with about 1 T ricotta.  Add sea salt , pepper and additional ricotta salata to taste.  Makes 4 servings.
Roasted Eggplant and Yogurt Spread with Onions and Olives, thanks to a CSA member for sharing this easy recipe.  She adapted it from an original found online. 

1 medium to large eggplant
6 T Kalamata olives, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced or finely chopped
1 ½ T fresh basil, de-stemmed and coarsely chopped
½ small onion, finely chopped
½ tsp favorite seasoning mixture
8-12 oz Greek yogurt

Roast eggplant whole on a baking sheet in the oven for about 50 minutes to 1 hour at 400°F.

Meanwhile, prepare and mix the olives, garlic, basil, onion and seasonings together in a bowl.

When the eggplant has cooled enough to handle, cut off the stem end, slit the skin and scoop out all of the eggplant pulp.  Mix the pulp in with the other ingredients.  Start adding the yogurt and stirring it in until you have a spreadable consistency.

Refrigerate several hours or overnight to allow flavors to meld.  Serve on flatbread or with favorite crackers or bread as a dip.

Margaret’s Chile Sauce
from Maggie Green’s Kentucky Fresh cookbook.  Enjoy on meatloaf, beans or scrambled eggs.  Makes 5 pint jars.

4 ½ to 5 lb tomatoes, finely chopped (12 C chopped)
1 ½ C finely chopped onion
3 red or green bell peppers, seeded and finely chopped
3 C finely chopped celery
2/3 C light brown sugar
1 T celery salt
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp dry mustard
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 T salt
1 C apple cider vinegar

In a large Dutch oven, mix all the ingredients except the vinegar.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 1 and ½ hours.  Stir in the vinegar and simmer for 45 minutes longer, stirring frequently.  Pour the hot tomato mixture into sterilized jars.  Put on the sterilized lids and rings.  Process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes. Carefully remove the jars and place them on a towel to cool, leaving at least 1 inch space between the jars, let sit for 12-24 hours.  The lids should seal down tight during the cooling process; do not push down on the lids until after completely cooled and sealed.  Any lids that do not seal should be refrigerated and eaten soon.