Monday, August 26, 2013

Week 17, Organic Works in More Ways than One!

Organic farming systems, like the one employed at Elmwood Stock Farm, are working environmentally, economically, personally, and in practicality. This week we will share a few tales of what we are witnessing and how it translates to you and your food in more ways than one.

At the farmers market this past weekend, we had several conversations with customers about how the tomato plants in their gardens had all the leaves turn brown and die, was it from all the rain? The answer is yes, well sorta. Tomato plants like hot dry weather with temperatures that stay warm at night. There has been almost none of that in Central Kentucky this year until now. The conditions in our area so far this year cause plants to set less fruit, the fruit to have cracking issues, be smaller, and prone to virus and bacterial diseases.  You see this especially if the tomato plants are growing on bare soil and are grown every year in the same relatively small area, like a home garden. The plants are being ravaged by a couple of common fungal diseases known as Early Blight and Late Blight. Volumes have been written on these diseases, but suffice it to say, the spores are rampant in this area, especially with the weather pattern we are in. There is not much you can do other than keep the soil covered in the spring to reduce rain drops from splattering soil up onto the small plants, and removing the brown leaves as they show up to reduce sporulation. 

Out at the farm, our tomatoes are not on track for a big crop, but it will not be as bad as a few years back, when we had a cold wet spring and short summer. Our vines still have green leafy growth compared to some, though plant thriftiness is also variety specific.  The long-term soil building and feeding of the soil food web must be at play in providing a strong immune system for the plants.  Because of this, along with other techniques specific to growing tomatoes organically, our crop is performing better than the last time the weather conditions were like this season. Certain varieties resist plant disease better than others, and the tomato crop will not be as plentiful as some years, but we have not been wiped out yet. Please keep in mind that the commercial tomato production guides recommend that toxic fungicides be sprayed every 7-10 days, and possibly more often during wet weather patterns. These are best applied using an emulsified misting, sprayed to essentially cover all upper and lower leaf surfaces with the chemical, and obviously a swath all around the area adjacent to the plants. The applicator is advised to wear protective coveralls, goggles, and full respirator. There will be a ‘no harvest’ time interval that varies depending on the degree of residual control for that chemical compound. And to hear other growers talk, it is still not working very well. At Elmwood Stock Farm, we don’t own one of those sprayers, or chemical suits and accessories. We do not have to pay big bucks to purchase the chemicals. We do not have these toxins poisoning the thousands of species of beneficial fungi that help our plants thrive. We do not have to take the time to mix, spray, and clean up the equipment. We do not have to wait to harvest the fruit when ripe. We do not have to tell our workers and children to stay away for any reason. We do not have to try to explain to our customers why the use of these chemicals is normal and a good thing.

Another example of an organic system at work is with the management of our beef cattle. When we were considering “going organic” way back when, there was a tremendous amount of trepidation around health management of the momma-cow herd. Back then, commercial cattle operations typically used a ‘pour-on’ insecticide, which magically rid the animal of all internal and external parasites by pouring a few ounces of the liquid in a line down their back. This had to be done strategically to not disrupt the life cycle of the pest at the wrong time, like heartworms in dogs. Now, the industry is proud of their move to sustainability because the formulation has been altered to use less volume of the chemical, now referred to as ‘spot-on’. Feel better? This seems to be an easy solution to a lack of real sustainable management. With a solid rotational grazing system, the animals move away from the parasites, whether internal or external. Without the steroid growth enhancers and chemical digestive enhancers commonly used, the immune system can function more normally. With organic sources of vitamins and minerals and the synergies they bring, the immune system is also strengthened. One of our concerns before taking the leap of faith that this organic thing could work, concerned livestock hair lice. Every February, the lice infect the animal, causing them to rub on trees and fences to scratch the itch and remove the parasite with the hair. We were a little worried that our fences were not good enough for all that rubbing if we did not use one of those systemic miracle chemicals.  After making the transition to a better organic system, the natural enemy of the hair louse found a home at Elmwood Stock Farm, and eliminated
the problem for us and for the cattle.  Today we do not have to buy the super-duper pesticide, or crowd the animals up just to get a spot on each one (or on us from spillage).  Given the opportunity, natural systems will reappear and will work.

A third example of an organic system is in some spruce trees planted along the highway to help block the noise of the road. A few years back, bagworms moved in on one of the trees, making us wonder if something was not right with that tree. Obviously we were not going to spray a harsh chemical, so we removed the ones we could reach to reduce the degree of damage. The worms migrated to the other trees, but after a time, a natural insect enemy found them and saved the day (or at least those trees).  Each season the numbers of bagworms has dropped to a point that there are only a few visible at the top of two trees.  If we had sprayed a chemical, it would have eliminated all of the beneficials along with the problem pests, and we would need to spray again year after year.  By being willing to live with a little of the problem worms in the beginning, we allowed the natural organic system to kick in and work it out on its own.
Sometimes it is easy to see the environmental, economic, personal, and practical benefits of an organic farming system, when you employ it long enough to benefit from its natural cycle.  Thanks for letting us share a few examples of how Mother Nature is able to take care of her own, when we keep toxic chemicals out of our environment and our food.

In Your Share

Green Beans – organic
Blackberries or Raspberries – organic
Sweet Corn – organic
Sweet Onions – organic
Peppers – organic
Potatoes – organic
Tomatoes – organic
Swiss Chard – organic

Recipes to Enjoy

 Italian Method Ratatouille, a Janine Washle recipe in Kentucky Monthly. Keeping each vegetable in its own section is an old, Italian method for preparing ratatouille.  Each vegetable cooks within itself and retains its essence before being combined.  The end result is a mixture that retains the unique texture and taste of each vegetable.

¼ C olive oil, plus more as needed
1 ½ C onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 C eggplant, chopped with skin on
2 C peppers, chopped – bell, hot, whatever you want
1 C zucchini, chopped
1 C yellow squash, chopped
2 C tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 T fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
1 T parsley, chopped
1 tsp thyme or oregano, chopped
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Set a large sauté pan over medium heat and add olive oil.  Add onions and garlic, cooking until onions are translucent.  Spread onions and garlic on a large baking sheet.

Add the eggplant to the sauté pan and cook for about 5 minutes or until partially cooked.  Layer eggplant over the top of one-fourth of the onion mixture.

Add the peppers to the sauté pan and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.  Layer a one-fourth section of peppers beside the eggplant.

Add zucchini and yellow squash to the sauté pan and cook until partially cooked, about 5 minutes.  Layer a section beside the peppers.

Add tomatoes and cook until juices are released.  Make a section for them.

Sprinkle the herbs over the top of all sections of vegetables.  Place in the oven and roast for 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and refrigerate for up to a week.

Green Bean Pate, this has proved to be a popular dish!

½ lb fresh green beans, trimmed
1 T oil
1 onion, coarsely chopped
3 hard boiled eggs
3 T finely chopped basil
1 tsp lemon rind
seasoned salt and pepper

Cook beans until tender by boiling or steaming them. Drain.
In skillet, heat oil.  Add onion and sauté until softened.  Cool. 

In a food processor grind green beans, onions, eggs, basil and lemon rind until roughly pureed.  Remove from bowl and add enough mayo to hold mixture together.  Stir in salt and pepper to taste.  Chill.  Serve with Melba toast or crackers.

Moroccan Eggplant and Pasta

 1 T + 1 T olive oil
1 lb eggplant, cut into ½-inch cubes
½ + ¾ tsp salt
1 lb ground beef
½ C chopped onion
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp crushed red pepper
1/8 tsp cinnamon
3 C chopped tomatoes
½ C chicken broth
1 T lemon juice
¼ C chopped fresh mint
corkscrew pasta

Prepare pasta according to package directions.

Heat 1 T olive oil in skillet over medium-high heat.  Add eggplant and ½ tsp salt.  Cook stirring, until tender and just brown, 10 minutes.  Transfer eggplant to bowl. 

Add 1 T oil to skillet.  Add ground beef, onion, and ¾ tsp salt.  Cook until well browned.  Drain fat from skillet.  Add garlic, cumin, red pepper, and cinnamon and cook 1 minute.

Stir in eggplant, tomatoes, chicken broth, and lemon juice.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 5 minutes.  Stir in fresh mint.  Toss with pasta and serve.

Monday, August 19, 2013

CSA, Week 16

Corn is Complicated

Corn is biologically tricky to grow and look good. Corn is in thousands of foods, drinks, cosmetics, and plastics. Genetic modification of corn is the norm, not the exception. Corn is the most commonly used grain for beef, dairy, pork, and poultry. Sweet corn is not the same as cow corn. There are lots of misconceptions about corn, so we will try to clear up some popular thoughts. 

Corn is an annual grass plant with its ancestral roots, as maize, in Mexico. It is known to be one of the earliest plants domesticated by the native population, and by extension, the beginning of agriculture in this hemisphere. Seeds from the best plants would be saved for the next crop. By selecting for ear size, kernel size, and how easily it could be ground for meal, they discovered if you grow two different kinds next to each other, the resulting crop was better than either one by itself. This is now known as cross pollination, which creates hybrid vigor. The tassel at the top, which is the male part of the flower, sheds millions of pollen grains when the plant reaches sexual maturity. These tiny particles can be airborne for miles. The female portion of the flower is the ear with silks that extend into the air to catch the falling pollen. Each silk is actually a tube that must catch a pollen grain, then migrate it thru the tube to fertilize the zygote, thus forming a kernel. Each kernel has its own silk. If these silks are damaged by insects or weather conditions, a kernel will not be formed. When they do, the birds, skunks, and raccoons consider it one of their favorite foods. Even though we plant 20,000 to 30,000 seeds per acre, all these factors influence the ultimate quality of the crop.

Virtually all the corn you see when traveling is grown for livestock feed or ethanol. One must marvel at the efficiency of the industry, but the politics of the insidious environmental impact are sordid. Beyond the fertilizer and pesticide laden soil particles carried from the field that have contributed to the hypoxia dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, is the genetic manipulation that spreads itself around in those pollen grains. Somehow, someone has figured out how to spray an herbicide that kills every species of plant in the field, except the corn, protected by genetic modification. They have also figured out where the genes for a particular trait are on the chromosome. This gives them the ability to alter the DNA for commercial purposes. At one point, a gene was inserted in the genetic material of many species of plants so farmers and gardeners could not harvest and save the seeds for future crops. This became known as the terminator gene, which subsequently did not receive a patent due to public outcry over the potential harm to small, poor farmers, especially in developing countries where seed saving is a ritual from the beginning of their culture, and a necessity. The genetically altered plants are the intellectual property of the company that developed such plants, therefore all the ensuing offspring belong to them. Because of pollen drift, this intellectual property may move across the landscape, infecting the corn crop of unsuspecting farmers growing non-GMO corn. In some cases these farmers have been sued for stealing this intellectual property. Absolutely no GMOs are allowed in Certified Organic foods. Organic corn farmers must have a physical separation from a neighbor’s GMO corn crop, and must also have a pollination date buffer to prevent cross pollination and infection of the organic crop. Something is not quite right about organic farmers having to shrink their production to preserve it, while the commercial grower can plant right up to the edge of the property boundary.

Now, sweet corn. As the Native American people were growing corn for dry grain, there is evidence they may have begun to eat the kernels while still soft, possibly because of the need for sustenance during long dry summers. This led them to purposely cross-pollinate different types and select certain varieties for sweetness and taste. Many years later, there are now thousands of commercially available varieties for farmers and gardeners to choose from to grow. The varieties may be yellow, white, or bi-color and range from traditional open-pollinated heirloom varieties, to hybrids developed through cross-pollination, to genetically modified organisms. Generally the varieties are classified by their days to maturity after planting and other attributes that may be associated with them. For example, we select varieties that tolerate cold conditions for early planting, others for later plantings. Many people ask for Silver Queen, a white variety known for size and sweetness, grown in home gardens for generations. With improved breeding techniques, varieties have been developed known as supersweet, which means the sugar in the kernel does not convert to starch as rapidly after picking compared to varieties like Silver Queen. The conversion of sugar to starch is a protection mechanism as the goal of the plant is to make a viable seed, not feed us. 

So we plant several varieties with the plan to harvest sweet corn each week we can during the summer for your share. This year, the cold soil gave us poor germination and a poor early crop. If these early varieties get off to a good start, they will pollinate before the silk clipping insects show up that reduce kernel fertilization. We mine the data of variety trials from many University research trials and consult with other market farmers on which varieties perform well for us, and taste great for you. Some people ask for Peaches n Cream, an early bi-color supersweet corn adopted by growers like us. Truthfully, the quality of the corn is dependent on stage of maturity at picking, post-harvest cooling, delay until cooking, and cooking technique, so please don’t get hung up on variety name. When you see kernels not filled out at the tip, that means a few silks were damaged by insects or dry weather at silking, and that area is a very small portion of the ear. It is difficult to keep the earworm out of the end of the ear organically, while commercially raised corns may have numerous pesticides applied to look perfect. 

The corn you see driving down the road is probably not sweet corn, but it may have an impact on sweet corn growing nearby. The sweet corn you get from Elmwood Stock Farm is raised with careful consideration of organic principles when navigating production systems. You can enjoy every kernel for what it is, and likewise for what it is not.

In Your Share

Blackberries or Raspberries – organic
Green Cabbage - organic
Sweet Corn - organic
Garlic – organic
Potatoes – organic
Tomatoes - organic
Okra - organic
Purple Top White Turnips - organic

Recipes to Enjoy

Eggplant Calzone, our thanks to a CSA member for sharing recipe from The Smitten Kitche Cookbook. The calzone reheats well and is good to pack for school or work lunches.

1 T olive oil

1 med. eggplant (approx. ¾ lb.)

¾ lb pizza dough

1 C ricotta

1 C shredded mozzarella

1/3 C finely grated Parmesan

dried oregano to taste

1 egg

snipped fresh basil to taste

Preheat oven to 425°F.  Chop eggplant into ½-inch cubes and toss with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper, then roast for 20 – 30 minutes until browned and beginning to crisp.  Let cool slightly.

Mix cheeses, season with salt and oregano, and stir in roasted eggplant.  Divide pizza dough into four portions and roll each portion into a circle approximately 6-8 inches in diameter.  Place ¼ of eggplant mixture on half of circle, fold dough over, then fold edges together and crimp.  

Beat egg with 1tsp water.   Transfer calzones to baking sheet lined with foil and brush with egg wash.  Bake 15 to 20  minutes until puffed and golden.  Serve with spaghetti or pizza sauce.

Bacon, Corn, and Potato Hash, our thanks to a CSA member for sharing this recipe  adapted from smitten kitchen dot com

½ lb diced bacon
1 lb potatoes, diced into ¼ to ½ -in cubes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 medium-large ears corn, kernels cut from cob (2 ½ - 3 C)
1 large handful basil, chopped

Cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon bits with a slotted spoon, leaving the drippings in the pan and transferring the bacon to paper towels to drain.

Increase heat to medium-high, then add your potatoes all at once in a single layer. Sprinkle them with ½ tsp salt and several grinds of black pepper. Cook until browned on all sides.  At this point, you can push aside the potatoes and pour or spoon off all but a small amount of the fat.

Increase the heat a little and add the corn to the skillet. Saute the potatoes and corn together until the corn gets a bit brown but stays fairly crisp, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the drained bacon, and stir the mixture together until it’s evenly warm, about 1 more minute.  Finish with chopped basil.

Tomato Ricotta Tart, our thanks to a CSA member for sharing this recipe from Cooking Light.  You can use most any size, shape, or color of tomato.


5.6 ounces unbleached all-purpose flour (about 1 ¼ C)

2 T pine nuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

¼ tsp kosher salt

¼ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

¼ C extra-virgin olive oil

3 T ice water

cooking spray


¾ C ricotta cheese

1 large egg, lightly beaten

2 garlic cloves, minced

½ tsp kosher salt

½ C chopped fresh basil, divided

1.5 ounces aged Gruyère cheese, shredded and divided (about 6 T)

1 pound heirloom tomatoes, seeded and cut into ¼ -inch-thick slices

Preheat oven to 450°F.  To prepare crust, weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 4 ingredients (through pepper) in a food processor; pulse 3 times or until combined. Combine oil and 3 T ice water in a small bowl. With processor on, slowly add oil mixture through food chute, and process until dough is crumbly. Sprinkle dough into a 9-inch glass or ceramic pie plate coated with cooking spray. Press dough into an even layer in bottom and up sides of dish. Bake at 450° for 10 minutes. Remove from oven.

Combine ricotta, egg, garlic, and ½ tsp salt, stirring with a whisk. Add ¼ C basil and ¼ C Gruyère, stirring to combine. Spread ricotta mixture evenly over crust. Arrange tomato slices in a circular pattern over ricotta mixture, slightly overlapping. Sprinkle tomatoes with remaining 2 T  Gruyère. Bake at 450° for  25 minutes or until filling is set. Let stand 10 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining ¼ C basil.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Week 15, A Few Short Rows . . . Follow up to Previous Newsletters

The beef cattle are grazing the pastures where the chickens grow and prosper, which prompted the idea to follow up on the value of pasture and organic weed control. First, we failed to mention much about poultry grazing patterns last week. The birds eat the nutritious cloverleaves and the small tender leaves of various weeds. They like Bluegrass leaves, but fescue, not so much. They also scratch and dig in the soil providing natural minerals, while searching for and eating insects, but this activity essentially cultivates the soil in small patches allowing the desirable species to have room to expand their foot print by extending underground shoots known as rhizomes or stolons into the open space. The single greatest value of the pasture for the poultry is the natural cleaning properties the pasture provides for the birds. By continually moving the birds to fresh pasture, the beneficial bacteria and fungi associated with plants, acts an anti-microbial keeping the birds clean and free of disease or parasitic issues, much like compost does for the soil. 

Now, back to those pesky weeds. The taller weeds that we mowed to keep things short for the poultry are seeing their stalks wither, while smaller weeds are sending the energy to the lower branches that were not cut.  Yesterday, we saw where the cattle are snipping off the seeds as they ripen, leaving the less mature plants alone. So, the plan is to mow the field as soon as the cattle move to the next field. This is the optimum time since the cattle have consumed most of the desirable vegetative growth, allowing our 50-year-old 7-foot bush hog mower to chop up the remaining weeds, as they stand alone in the field. In this field we can then send in the sheep to eat the new emerging shoots and seeds that ripen.

More about the tractors on the farm: Tractors are still rated in terms of horsepower.  A tractor has to be heavy enough to pull a load up a hill and heavy enough to stop a load at the bottom of a hill. It has to have a strong enough pump to force the hydraulic fluid through the hoses at very high pressure in order to move the cylinders or motors on the equipment. The Power Take Off (PTO) shaft out the back must be strong enough to turn with enough force to have the equipment operate, as it should. For example, swing an empty five-gallon bucket in a circle like a Ferris wheel. Then fill it half full and try it again. Do not attempt it with the bucket full ‘cause you ain’t got that much horsepower in ya.’  This is called the PTO horsepower, separate from the engine horsepower.  A tractor has to do all these things, at the same time. By the way, all tractors no matter how big or small, what country they are made in, no matter what color they are, are still mounted from the left, just like mounting a horse since the time of Caesar.

We have had several questions recently about GMOs, or more accurately, how to avoid them. There are only two ways to keep them out of your body. (1) Consume only Certified Organic products. The organic certification program ensures no usage of GMOs through meticulous records evaluation, seed sourcing verification, and buffer zones that offset potential harm from neighbors – all done to keep GMOs out of organic foods. (2) The other way is only consuming processed foods that have gone through a Non-GMO verification certification.  However, Non-GMO verified gives no consideration to synthetic fertilizer, herbicide, insecticide, or fungicide use, much less the principles of soil building, biodiversity and continual improvement, which are the tenants of organic farming. Kentucky’s bourbon industry can be considered a GMO-free zone. Because GMO products are not allowed in the European Union and Japan, the distillers contract with farmers for GMO-free grains to make their products. Did you catch that? No GMO products on the shelves of an entire continent, period!  And here, the products do not even have to be labeled. Some people think that GMO labeling may be only a few years away in this country.

We hope you are enjoying your share from Elmwood Stock Farm this season. Your support helps us stay focused on what we know to be the right way to grow food, and to consciously care for our little piece of the earth.

In Your Share

Green Beans – organic
Blackberries – organic
Sweet Corn - organic
Bell Pepper - organic
Potatoes – organic
Tomatoes - organic
Garlic - organic
Radishes - organic
Okra - organic

Recipes to Enjoy
Tomato and Green Bean Pasta, serves 6, adapted from Martha Stewart

3/4 lb penne, rigatoni, or shell pasta
1 lb green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 lb tomatoes, diced medium
1 small garlic clove, mashed to a paste
¼ C olive oil
1 T red wine vinegar
black pepper
1 C crumbled feta cheese (4 ounces)
½ C fresh basil, dill, or mint

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta 3 minutes less than package instructions, then add beans and cook until just tender. Drain and return to pot.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine tomatoes, garlic, oil, and vinegar.

Season with salt and pepper.

Add pasta, beans, and half the feta and herbs; toss to combine and season.  Serve warm or at room temperature. Sprinkle with remaining feta and herbs.

Corn and Zucchini Flan, our thanks to a CSA member for sharing this recipe she found online.

4 large eggs
¼ C half & half
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1 T cornstarch
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
1 medium zucchini, grated
1 ½ C corn kernels
2 T fresh basil, chopped

Preheat oven to 375° F. Prepare six 6-ounce ramekins or custard cups by spraying lightly with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine eggs, half & half, cream cheese, cornstarch, and salt & pepper; beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for 1 minute, or until well combined. Stir in zucchini, corn and basil.

Spoon mixture equally between the ramekins; place each on a baking sheet and bake for 30-35 minutes or until puffed slightly golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Fresh Corn Sauté, serves 6 – a nice change if you get tired of corn on the cob. Recipe from Simply in Season.

3 T butter
1 C green pepper, chopped
½ C onion, chopped
4 C corn
¼ C water
1 T honey
1 tsp salt
pepper to taste
2 T red sweet pepper, diced (optional)
½ C cheddar cheese, shredded
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled (optional)

Melt butter in fry pan.  Sauté green pepper and onion for 2 minutes.  Add corn, water, honey, salt, pepper, red pepper, and stir well.  Cover and cook over medium heat for 10-12 minutes.  Sprinkle cheese and bacon over corn and serve.

Master Recipe for Mashed Potatoes, from Cook’s Illustrated Perfect Vegetables, serves 4 to 6.

2 pounds potatoes, scrubbed (today’s share contains an heirloom red skinned white flesh variety that has great flavor for mashed potatoes)
8 T unsalted butter, melted
1 C half-and-half, warmed
1 ½ tsp salt
ground black pepper

Place the potatoes in a large saucepan with cold water to cover by about 1 inch.  Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the potatoes are just tender when pricked with a thin bladed knife, 20 to 30 minutes. 

Drain the potatoes.

Spear a potato with a dinner fork and peel back the skin with a paring knife.  Repeat with the remaining potatoes.  Working in batches, cut the peeled potatoes into rough chunks.

If you like silky, smooth mashed potatoes, use a food mill or ricer.  Set it over the now empty but sill warm saucepan.  Drop the rough chunks of potato in the hopper of the food mill or ricer.  Process the potatoes into the saucepan.

Stir in the butter with a wooden spoon until incorporated.  Gently whisk in the half and half, salt, and pepper to taste.  Serve immediately.

NOTE: If you like chunky mashed potatoes, use a potato masher.  Drop the peeled potato chunks back into the warm sauce pan and mash them with a potato masher until fairly smooth.  Proceed as directed, but REDUCE the half and half to ¾ C.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Toast 2/3 C small to medium-large garlic cloves, skins left on, in a small covered skillet over the lowest possible heat, shaking the pan frequently, until the cloves are a dark spotty brown and slightly softened, about 22 minutes.  Remove pan from the heat and let stand, covered, until the cloves are fully softened, 15 to 20 minutes.  Peel the cloves and cut off the woody end.  Add the peeled cloves into the food mill or when mashing with the peeled potatoes.


Monday, August 5, 2013

CSA, Week 14, Permanent Pastures

Despite all our discussion about the value of rotating crops around the farm, many of our fields are solely suited for pasture and will never be cultivated. They have been in pasture at least since sometime in the 1700’s, when the home place was built, and will remain this way for decades to come. Pasture is a simple name for a complex and diverse ecosystem that provides great value to our farming enterprise.

Most people think of pasture as grass and we do often refer to our “grass fed beef finishing” system, but actually a healthy pasture is a mixture of grasses, legumes, and forbs, which is another term for weeds. Each species of these plants have unique characteristics as to their growth habits, structure and composition of the shoots and roots, nutritive quality for the livestock, and reproductive potential. Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, and orchard grass are the predominant perennial grasses with red clover and white clover the predominant legumes, all managed for our livestock to consume. These legumes take nitrogen from the air and feed it to the soil food web through a symbiotic relationship with a bacterium that colonizes the roots. The grasses and weeds also benefit from this boost of natural fertilizer, which not only helps them grow, but provides more nutrients to the livestock when consumed. The roots form an entangled fibrous structure that holds the soil particles together in wet weather and support the weight of the animals that tread upon them. Red clover is a biennial, which means it grows only leaves the first growing season and flowers to make seeds the second season. Even though plants are less nutritive when mature, we allow the red clover to produce seeds and naturally re-seed itself before mowing or grazing, thus behaving like a perennial. The grasses shoot up their flower stalk in late spring, then we graze or mow them for hay, preventing them from shattering new seeds so they do not overly dominate the field.

The forbs may be annuals, biennials, or perennials, which makes them a little tricky to control. If you cut a plant close to the ground when the seeds are almost ripe, but not viable, you can eliminate all those seeds from germinating in your field the following year. The plant also does not try to send up another shoot because it thinks it made a seed already, their sole job on this earth. If you mow it too soon the hormones in the plant kick in to make another shoot that flowers soon, as the day length and temperature are at play here as well. The chemical composition of each species of weed is unique and potentially beneficial to the pasture and/or the animals. A species that contains lots of zinc, for example, will mine the soil for zinc and accumulate it in the plant, which can be valuable in optimum nutrition for the livestock. It can also make zinc available to the other plants if chopped up with the mower and allowed to decompose. Albeit counterintuitive, if you were to fertilize the area with zinc fertilizer, these weeds would die off because of all the readily available zinc.  If they accumulated more, they would become overloaded with zinc and be toxic, and generally Mother Nature does not let those things happen. So, weeds can be an indicator of fertility problems, not the reason to put some toxic herbicide out. 

The cattle, sheep, and poultry consume the pasture in ways different from each other and this varies with the season. They all are known to be selective grazers, meaning they know the difference between the species, what they do like and what they don’t like. When the pasture is tall with lush vegetative growth, the cattle and sheep will go over the entire field pulling the top most tender and nutritious leaves. If allowed to stay longer in that field, they will double back and graze the less nutritious growth found closer to the ground. Overgrazing can compromise animal performance as well as retard pasture re-growth. It is important to leave enough leaf area on the plant to provide photosynthetic energy collection to promote new growth. If an animal removes all the leaf area by overgrazing, this energy must come from the root reserves, which makes for a weaker plant. Repetitious hard grazing can also be a tool to eliminate some weeds by purposely depleting root reserves in that species. If the seeds of a given species do ripen on the plant, the animals love to strip them off the plant and consume them, effectively removing them from the field as they are broken down by the digestive system. Poultry will do the same thing. Cattle and sheep both will often seek out the weeds when first moved to a new pasture, even when the desirable species are just right for grazing. It is believed this may be their way of naturally balancing the vitamins and minerals in their diet. It may also be a mechanism of warding off internal parasites because some plant species are known to help.  This is why leaves on the tree branches are eaten up as high as the tallest animals in the field can reach. Those of you who pick up your share at the farm will notice there are no dandelions or chicory in the sheep fields because the sheep love them so much.

Because of seasonal variations of moisture and temperature in conjunction with timing of grazing and mowing, there is no such thing as a perfect pasture.  One challenge of farming is knowing the biological nature of the many species of plants that make up a pasture, facilitating the growth of some, while minimizing the impact of others, all the while providing optimum nutrition to the livestock. 

In Your Share

Blackberries – organic
Garlic - organic
Bell Peppers - organic
Potatoes – organic
Baby Squash Mix
Tomatoes - organic
Red Cabbage - organic
Leeks – organic
Okra - organic

Recipes to Enjoy

Chicken Stew with Leeks and Cabbage, our thanks to a CSA member who adapted this recipe from an online source – it uses several ingredients found in your share this week, including an Elmwood chicken.

3-4 small leeks, sliced
1 carrot, chopped or sliced
1 celery rib, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T olive oil
1 lb potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
4 C chicken stock
4 chicken breasts cut into cubes
8 slices bacon, cut into small pieces
½ lb cabbage, shredded

Fry bacon and chicken together until golden; remove from skillet.  (For crispier bacon, fry bacon first, then fry chicken in bacon drippings.)  Add a little more oil if pan seems dry, then sauté finely sliced leeks.  Add garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds.  Add potatoes, carrot, and celery, season well, reduce heat, and cover pan.  Let cook gently for about 5 minutes until starting to soften. Add stock, turn up heat and bring to boil; simmer about 5 more minutes until tender.  Add chicken, bacon and cabbage and simmer another 5 minutes or so.  If desired, thicken with a little cornstarch slurry or add some leftover mashed potatoes.  Excellent with crusty bread.

Spaghetti Citrusy Tomatoes, thanks to a friend of the farm who adapted this from a Chef Jason Barwikowski recipe sourced online; serves 2.

8 oz spaghetti
1 T salted butter
½ C breadcrumbs
1 T finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 T fresh basil, minced
2 pints of cherry tomatoes, halved or larger tomatoes roughly chopped
2 large garlic cloves, slivered
1 T flat leaf parsley, minced
2 T extra virgin olive oil
zest from ½ of an orange
zest from ½ of a lemon

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil and add the pasta. Give it a good stir.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a skillet. When the foam subsides, add in the bread crumbs and 1 T of the basil. Stir constantly until the breadcrumbs are evenly coated with butter and golden brown. Scrape the toasted breadcrumbs into a bowl and set aside. When cool, stir in the Parmesan cheese and add salt to taste.

Wipe out the skillet and then heat the olive oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add in the slivered garlic and cook until it is soft and just beginning to brown on the edges. Add in the tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally until they soften and begin to wrinkle. Remove from the heat as soon as the tomatoes begin to collapse. Gently stir in the remaining basil, parsley, orange and lemon zest.
When the pasta is cooked (it should be tender with just a little bit of bite), drain it into a colander and then immediately transfer it to a large bowl. Pour the tomato sauce over the pasta and toss well. Dish up the pasta into warmed bowls and sprinkle the buttery breadcrumbs over the top. Pass Parmesan cheese at the table.

Cabbage Ramen Noodle Salad, recipe from Fairshare CSA Coalition, serves 10-12

Salad ingredients: 
    2 (3oz) packages ramen noodles, crushed (discard the flavor packets)
    1 C blanched slivered almonds
    2 T sesame seeds
    2 T vegetable oil
    1 bunch green onions or green garlic, chopped
     1 head cabbage, thinly sliced (about 10 cups)

Dressing ingredients:
     ½ C sugar
     2 T vegetable oil
     2 T toasted sesame oil
     1/3 C cider vinegar
     2 T soy sauce

In a cast-iron or other heavy skillet, brown the ramen noodles, almonds and sesame seeds in the vegetable oil.  The sesame seeds will start popping.  When everything is toasted, mix in the green onions or garlic; remove from the heat; let cool.  Combine the cabbage with the noodle-nut mixture in a large bowl. 

Whisk together the dressing ingredients in a small bowl.  Pour the dressing over the salad and toss everything together.  Serve immediately.

Blackberry Ice Pops, recipe adapted from an online source, shared by a friend of the farm

1 C fresh blackberries, really any berry will do here
1 C plain yogurt
3 T honey
1 T fresh lemon juice (about 1/3 of a large lemon)

In a large bowl, smash berries with the back of a fork.  Add remaining ingredients, and stir to combine.

Pour mixture into ice-pop molds and freeze for 30 minutes.  Insert a wooden stick into each pop; then freeze for at least 2 more hours.