Monday, September 9, 2013

Week 19, Wet Season and Workers

We’ve used a little different focus on our CSA News this season, more general interest essays and less farm reports specific to the growing season.  Why you may ask? A little bit in response to your end-of-season survey comments, a little bit due to seeking improvement, and a little bit due to just changing it up.  After many years of CSA newsletter generation, Ann has welcomed help from Mac in writing this season, and Mac’s knowledge and experience allows a treasure trove of thoughts, views, and technical descriptions of organic farming systems to be shared.

We seem to share more about the weather-production-crop-yield connection during a dry, droughty growing season than we do during a regular rainfall year.  Actually, we’ve not had a regular rainfall year in so long; we are holding our collective breath as acknowledging it might somehow stop it.  And we don’t want that to happen. Due to all the early rainfall, we have experienced a fair amount of crop loss, delayed harvests, or shorter seasons on various vegetables.   Hopefully, the good production of a few of the veggies has helped to offset the scarcity of a few others.  Some of you may miss the fennel, jalapenos, and parsnips and we do too!  We are just thankful that the most popular items like asparagus, berries, tomatoes and potatoes were not wiped out by the growing challenges that so much rainfall brings.  Many of you have commented that this season’s produce variety is your favorite yet!

Farmers have conflicting views on rainy versus dry weather.  Those experiencing flooded fields wish for dryer weather.  Those in dry conditions, with the only moisture a seed ever sees coming from the farmer’s irrigation, wish for at least one good rain.  We’ve been on both ends of it and probably weigh in on the wet is better than drought.  In the mid-80s there was a drought for over two years.  Elmwood’s only water supply in those days was from a spring-fed well.  Ponds went dry, small streams stopped flowing, and the underground water table dropped enough that our well went dry for one long summer – it was the farm’s only water supply.  Each day, Cecil hauled over 2000 gallons of water in tanks on a trailer from downtown Georgetown back to the farm for the family and all the livestock.  Recall our recent newsletter on work vs. chores – clearly this daily chore was a lot of work!  

A few years later when the Toyota factory was constructed in Scott County, the plant’s water demands necessitated municipal water lines being run from Lexington.  Elmwood and other farms along our road had access to “city” water for the first time. City water is really convenient in our homes, barns and greenhouses although all that chlorine is tough on our beneficial microbes. Most, if not all, the crop field irrigation water is from the North Fork of Elkhorn Creek. The deep water behind an historic mill dam gives us a nice pool to draw from. When tobacco production was more prevalent along the creek, the neighborly competition for this water was considerable. Today, we are one of the few remaining growers pulling from the creek. Drought is serious and can put farms out of business. Wet seasons make for more work and chores and weeds, but most crops make something.

A word about our help with all the work we do.  In the winter, when it is mostly chores and office work, the family pretty much holds down the fort. As production and marketing ramp up in the spring, so does our need for willing workers to get it all done in a timely manner. Usually there are a few seasoned folks that can show and explain the nuances of handling produce, working the booth at market, or ensuring the CSA deliveries are accurately done. Alas, this year for various good reasons, all our trained people followed pursuits on their own.

So we found ourselves with the opportunity to introduce a bunch of young greenhorns to the world of market farming. They found us, actually, through our various interactions with the UK Sustainable Agriculture program, Georgetown College and Transylvania relationships, and friends of friends. You may have met them at the market or at your pick-up location and recognize that they are a great group of young adults. But when they first showed up, they did not know the first thing about handling produce or working under tight deadlines with little room for error. Since your produce is picked to order, in a just-in-time logistics system, all facets have to click. There is no time to dump a load of green beans off the cart or smash the tomatoes by stacking the trays the wrong way. Early on we called them all together for an orientation on how to be a good role player and employee.  As we explained the value of each item in terms of how long it had been growing, or how many times someone had cared for that plant, or the years of experimentation and thought we had put into getting that product into a deliverable
package, they elevated their game to meet the challenge. But those first few weeks of the season were tough. One of us had to show each one of them how to do EVERYTHING!

Some people say they are concerned about the next generation. Based on our experience, they will be just fine, given the right opportunities. Each and every one is on time for work, usually a little early, even though often very early in the morning. They now have become accustomed to working with their hands, using their brain to efficiently organize a given task, and show some common sense in seeing it through. We can trust them to be honest while handling cash at the market, showing knowledgeable and polite customer service skills, and documenting their time for our records. Now we can depend on them without having to be right there with them. In the fall we will begin to have more time to help them experience other aspects of the production systems outside their normal duties. This in turn helps them to better understand the stuff we tried to explain back at the beginning. 

There is probably no single thing they learned this summer that changed their lives, but when you put all that they learned together, it is quite remarkable how much more complete they are, having worked with us at Elmwood Stock Farm. They will all be successful in whatever path they choose and we are glad to have the opportunity to be part of that growth, while learning something from each of them as well. Maybe some will stick around a while.

Are you signed up for the Fall Season CSA? If not, visit our website here for the on-line signup.  Enter your email address to find your account and add a Fall Season share.  You have 3 more weeks of Summer Season after this one, then the Fall Season starts the next week.  Distribution is every-other-week.


In Your Share

Savoy Cabbage – organic


Leeks - organic

Sweet Candy Onions – organic

Bell Peppers - organic

Potatoes – organic

Tomatoes – organic

Green Beans – organic

Sweet Corn - organic

Garlic – organic

Okra - organic


Recipes to Enjoy

Vegetable Wontons, thanks to a CSA member for sharing this recipe, you can use a processor to make quick work of chopping the veggies.  Makes about 70.

2 C finely minced cabbage

1 bunch green onions, green parts only, minced

1 medium carrot, peeled and finely minced

3 large white button mushrooms, finely minced

1 clove garlic, minced

1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

wonton wrappers

Combine the cabbage, green onions, carrot, mushrooms, ginger and garlic in a deep bowl. Toss to mix, and season with salt and pepper.

Place a scant ½ teaspoon of filling in the center of a wonton wrapper.  Wipe outer edges of the wrapper with a dab of water. Fold the wrapper over to form a triangle. Fold the 2 outer points together so that one tucks under the other. Set on a parchment-lined baking sheet and repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.

Fry wontons in vegetable oil for a few minutes on each side until crisp and serve with your favorite Asian dipping sauce, or make soup by combining chicken stock, spinach, mushrooms and Asian seasonings and adding wontons for the last few minutes of cooking.

If freezing, store tray in freezer for 10 minutes, or until the wontons are firm and set. Transfer to a zip top bag.

Leek and Tomato Casserole , a Harmony Valley recipe shared by a friend of the farm

¼ C crushed buttery round crackers

¼ tsp dried rosemary

¼ tsp dried thyme

¼ tsp dried sage

4 leeks, sliced

2 med to large tomatoes, sliced

¼ C shredded mozzarella cheese

¼ C butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350°F.  In a small bowl, mix crushed crackers, rosemary, thyme and sage. Place leeks in the bottom of a medium baking dish. Layer with tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. Top with the crushed crackers and drizzle with melted butter.  Bake 30 minutes or until golden brown .

Grilled Salt and Vinegar Potatoes, a Martha Stewart recipe adapted by 101 cookbooks dot com.  Serves 4 .

2 C white wine or apple cider vinegar

1 lb waxy potatoes, cut into ¼-inch slices

2 T extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp
sea salt, plus more for seasoning

¼ tsp freshly ground pepper

Pour the vinegar into a medium saucepan, then stack or arrange the potatoes so the vinegar covers them completely. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, or un til the potatoes are just fork tender. You want them to hold their shape, so they don’t fall apart on the grill later.

Let the potatoes cool in the vinegar for 30 minutes. Drain well, then very gently toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. 

Heat the grill to medium high. Grill potatoes, covered if possible, un til golden on one side, then fl ip and grill the other side, roughly 3-5 minutes per side. Serve sprinkled with salt. 

Potato and Sweet Onion Salad with Smoked Fish, adapted from a Deborah Madison recipe.

1½ lb waxy boiling type potatoes

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 C sweet onion, sliced into rounds

3 T champagne vinegar

1/3 C olive oil

16 black or green olives, pitted and halved

6 oz smoked fish, flaked (albacore, salmon, etc)

2 good handfuls coarsely chopped bitter greens (arugula, purslane, endive) - optional

2 hard-boiled farm fresh eggs

Cover the potatoes with cold salted water and bring to a boil.  While cooking, toss the onion with the vinegar, oil, olives, fish, and ½ tsp salt.

When the potatoes are fork-tender, drain them, then cut in half lengthwise.  While still hot, add them to the bowl along with the bitter greens.  Turn gently with a rubber scraper or spoon.  Taste for sale and season with pepper.  Serve garnished with the hard-boiled egg, cut into quarters.