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.