Monday, May 27, 2013

Week 4, CSA: Sometimes it's the little things that count

What does microbial life in the soil really have to do with the lettuce, strawberries, and other items in our shares?  As it turns out, a lot!  Though our website describes Elmwood Stock Farm as a multi-generational livestock and produce farm in Scott Co, Kentucky, in actuality, we manage the unseen flora and fauna of prime silt loam soil in the Central Bluegrass region of Kentucky. When we began to question the treadmill of off-farm chemical inputs, and how they affected everything, rebuilding the microbial population in the soil drove the decision-making surrounding our farming practices.  It continues to do so to this day.

Research studies have taught us about the power of the soil food web, well beyond particle size and fertility. There are 10 to15 thousand species of bacteria, and way more fungi actively coexisting with each other, and with the microscopic animals and insects in the soil. Farming these little guys is really what we do. Organic systems rev up these microscopic ecosystems, capture the energy of the sun and nourishing rains, and convert that energy into food for all of us in the soil food web. Managing microbes is still our top priority.

The USDA documented that plants growing in their optimum soil conditions, receive little or no insect pressure compared to their contemporaries in unbalanced conditions. The complex exchange of nutrients amongst these microbial populations as they multiply and perish, creates a reservoir of nutrients and a home for larger species in the soil food web to live, who in turn add their benefits as a link in the chain.  When plant roots have access to the rich nutrient solution in a vibrant soil, they send that diversity directly to the leaves and fruits of the plant. This, in combination with the diverse microbial life encasing all plants, is how organic farming works. Only with access to this diverse fertility profile and some solar energy can a plant produce the phytonutrients necessary to ward off predators and produce wholesome food for us to consume.

A recent study showed that fruit flies, when given a choice, gravitate to organic foods versus the conventionally raised foods. Over many generations, the organic population of fruit flies showed stronger fertility and size. Other studies have documented that milk and meat products from organic farming systems have vastly superior heart-healthy fat profiles.  We hear a lot about consuming foods with good fatty acid profiles.

So, when we humans consume the organically grown plant and animal products, reared in the optimum environment just described, we have the potential to transform the microbial life into our bodies and make them part of us. The Human Micro Biome Project teaches that we are populated with hundreds of trillions of microbes, from thousands of species, which live off what we consume. The Biome study shows that the diverse complex of microorganisms in and on us, is the genesis of our immune system. Just like the plant in optimum soil wards off attack, we can more likely ward off attack if we maintain a diverse balance of nutrients in our diets.

When you consume raw fruits and vegetables, you are not only getting the carbohydrates, proteins and sugars, but the antioxidants, anthocyanins, enzymes and the like, to feed the microbes that provide good gut health. These microbial populations have the benefit of balancing the release of nutrients, as we need them, buffering the vagaries of our eating habits. 

So, it just stands to reason, if the plant benefits from organic systems based on rich microbial soils, and the animal benefits from the balance of nutrients going into their microbial driven digestive systems, and we provide these to our digestive capacity, we benefit as well. Fruit flies got it right for a reason.

In Your Share

Fresh Asparagus

Kohlrabi – organic

Lettuce – organic

Spinach – organic

Strawberries - organic

Radishes – organic

Fresh Greens Bunch (Green Mustard, Giant Red Mustard, Turnip Greens) – organic

Purple Top White Turnips - organic
Recipes to Enjoy

Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette, thanks to a CSA member for sharing this Deb Perelman recipe, it’s a take on an old Kentucky favorite, Kilt Salad, so you can substitute lettuce for spinach if desired.  Serves 4 as an appetizer or 2 spinach salad enthusiasts.

4 oz spinach
2 large white mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/4 small or medium red onion, very thinly sliced
1 large egg, hard-boiled, chilled, peeled and thinly sliced
4 pieces thick-sliced bacon (about 4 oz), finely diced
2 T red wine vinegar
½ tsp honey or sugar
½ tsp smooth Dijon mustard
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place spinach in a large, wide salad-serving bowl. Scatter with mushrooms, red onion, and coins of hard-boiled egg. In a large skillet, fry bacon bits over medium-high heat until they’re brown and crisp and have rendered their fat. Use a slotted spoon to scoop them out of the skillet and spread them on a piece of paper towel briefly before sprinkling them over the salad. Pour out all but two tablespoons of hot bacon fat from the skillet. Reheat over medium and quickly whisk in the red wine vinegar, honey and Dijon. Pour over entire salad and season salt and pepper. Toss gently and serve hot.

Mediterranean Greens, thanks to another CSA member for sharing this recipe adapted from one of Mark Bittman’s.  She used bok choy, but suggests any substantial green would be good – your bunch of mixed greens will hold up well in this.

1 head of Bok choy or any other substantial green (adjust cooking time if need be)
1/4 C broth or water
2-3 T of neutral oil (olive, grapeseed, etc)
2 T capers
1 T lemon juice or balsamic vinegar (or more to taste)
1 T minced garlic
¼ C chopped olives (optional)

Trim greens.  Put oil into skillet and heat over medium heat. When hot, add greens (when I use bok choy, I add the stems first, cooking for 2-3 minutes, and then add the leafy greens).  Stir occasionally until they greens are almost cooked.  Add the broth or water and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated.
Add capers and garlic and cook for another minute or so, until the garlic has softened.  Add the lemon or balsamic vinegar, stir for about 30 more seconds, and serve. 

You can also add 1/4 cup of chopped olives when you add the capers and garlic.

Lettuce Soup

Our thanks to Chef Carolyn from The Wholesome Chef for this recipe, a tasty use for any extra lettuce

1 medium onion
2 garlic clove, chopped
3 T ghee (clarified butter)
¾ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
2 medium gold potatoes, diced
4 medium-sized heads of coarsely chopped lettuce leaves including ribs (I used the red leaf variety)
3 C water

Saute onion and garlic in 2 T ghee on medium-low heat in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in potato, lettuce and water and simmer, until potato is very tender.  Purée soup in batches. Serve warm with a drizzle of walnut oil!


Shaved Asparagus and Quinoa Salad

Thanks to a CSA member for sharing this recipe, we’ve used it in a past season, but it proved to be popular!

¾ to 1 C cooked quinoa
6 to 7 stalks of asparagus
1 small lemon
olive oil (the good stuff), to taste
sea salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste
2 T pine nuts, walnuts, or almonds
1 to 2 ounces Parmesan, shaved

Cook the quinoa (I like to make extra for more salads and for breakfast, 1 C of dry quinoa yields over 3 C cooked quinoa). Combine rinsed quinoa with twice as much water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes or until water is absorbed, remove from heat and fluff with a fork.

Shave the asparagus with a vegetable peeler. To do so, hold the tough end of the asparagus against a cutting board, and peel from the tough end toward the tip. Toast the nuts, either in a skillet over medium heat, stirring often, or by baking at 350° for 5 to 10 minutes (stirring often). Zest the lemon (if desired) and slice it in half.
In a bowl, combine cooked quinoa and shaved asparagus. Squeeze in most of the juice of half a lemon (add more to taste later) and a good drizzle of olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and ground black pepper and toss to coat. Sprinkle with nuts. Use your vegetable peeler to shave Parmesan directly onto the salad. Don’t skimp on the cheese! Top with lemon zest. If necessary, add more lemon juice, olive oil, or salt and pepper to taste.