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.

Monday, May 20, 2013

CSA, Week 3, Federal Farm Bill 2013: How does it affect me?

First, a little history.  The Federal Farm Bill is a legislative mechanism to guide farm policy and is restructured every five years. This long-range plan gives the agricultural economy continuity in resource development and planning, without being tied to a particular Presidential administration. It arose from the Dust Bowl era, in part to implement conservation measures, for the good of the greater society, not just the farming community. The main historical purpose is to stabilize the food supply for the nation. The Farm Bill contains numerous programs to keep the farming community in crop and livestock production despite devastating droughts, floods, or outside economic forces like fuel shortages. Let’s face it, a steady food supply is essential to economic growth and political stability of our country. 

With interstate commerce and mechanization improvements after World War II came a greater ability for fewer farms to produce more food for the growing urban population. This was having a negative impact on rural economies as raw commodities were being shipped to factories for processing and further distribution. For this reason, programs to support rural development began to creep into the legislation. As a way to support seasonal variations in productive capacity of the farms, the federal government began purchasing the surplus and providing it to schools as a way to better feed and educate our young people. This concept carried over to welfare programs with the idea that free food will help people be more productive. Conservation programs have been steady aspects of the Farm Bill throughout all of the years.  The overarching long-range Farm Bill also became a great vehicle for rural legislators to stimulate economic development, now known as “pork”.

The “get big or get out” era of the late 70’s worked, given the consolidation we now see in agricultural supply chains. Some say farmers now feed 178 people as compared to 28 after the Depression. Others say they don’t feed any people, just the industrial machine with raw commodities. This consolidation also concentrates the power of farm policy into the hands of a few. The vast majority of funds in the Farm Bill go to food stamps, now known as SNAP, school lunch (schools get about $1 per child for lunch), along with summer feeding programs. This is how oversupply is managed.

The recent days of paying farmers not to grow products are over. There are much better crop insurance programs now in place. Conservation programs are still a tenant of the new, proposed legislation. Mac was recently in Washington, DC advocating for stronger support of programs that support organic crop and livestock production, processing, and marketing. The Organic Trade Association has determined that organic foods, collectively, would be the fourth largest commodity in this country, wow!  Organic farms produce 4% of the food supply, yet access only 0.04% of USDA’s budget. Several programs that are critical to fostering this growth were thrown over the fiscal cliff last year. Their status is considered an add-on to baseline funding priorities within the new Farm Bill, so they were left behind during the extension period that kicked in since Congress did not pass a new Farm Bill on schedule last year. Among other things, lack of funding has jeopardized ongoing research into organic production techniques.  (Interestingly, some segments of commercial agriculture now employ techniques developed for organic growers, greatly reducing overall pesticide use around the country.)

Mac, and the other organic farmers, all feel good about how they were received on Capitol Hill last week, though many of the staff people in Washington don’t fully realize the overreaching support for organic foods.  We know that it goes way, way beyond 4% of the food supply.  Elmwood Stock Farm is part of that 4%, but Elmwood’s CSA membership and farmers market customers, who choose to eat local and choose to eat organic, are a much bigger constituency.  As Congress and their staff continue to debate and shape the newest Farm Bill, they need to hear from the consumers of organic food to really realize how big and broad the interest in organic has become.

In Your Share


Fresh Asparagus

Bok Choy – organic

Romaine Lettuce – organic

Radishes – organic

Spinach – organic
Strawberries - organic

Recipes to Enjoy

Strawberry Burrata Salad, adapted from Vegetarian Times and shared by a CSA member- if you prefer your berries as a dessert, serve the strawberry mixture spooned over vanilla ice cream – yum!

¼ C white balsamic vinegar

1 T sugar

1 pinch salt

4 C hulled, halved strawberries

¼ C fresh basil leaves, cut into ¼-inch ribbons

6 oz burrata cheese, cut into quarters (can be found locally, but if you prefer another option, fresh mozzarella will work as well)

4 T olive oil

Cracked black pepper

Bring vinegar, sugar, and salt to a boil in a small skillet.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 3 minutes or until reduced by half.  Cool 1 minute, then pour over strawberries in small bowl and stir to combine.  Gently stir in basil ribbons. 

Place burrata quarters on salad plates. Surround with 1 cup strawberries, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with pepper.

Spinach Salad with Strawberries and Basil, thanks to a CSA member for sharing this Rachel Ray creation.

1 shallot

2 T aged balsamic vinegar

1 tsp superfine sugar

Juice of ½ lemon

1 ½ C small strawberries

2 to 3 C fresh spinach leaves

½ C fresh basil leaves

4 to 5 T extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Chop the shallot and put it in a small bowl. Add the vinegar, sugar and lemon juice and set aside. Hull the strawberries and cut them in half. Transfer to a serving bowl along with the spinach and basil. Whisk the olive oil into the vinegar mixture and season with salt and pepper. Toss the salad with the dressing and season with salt and pepper.

Slow Cooker Adobo Chicken with Bok Choy, thanks to a CSA member for sharing this recipe she found online.  The vinegar balances with the bungency of the bok choy, but you can use some organic chicken stock in place of half of the vinegar if tartness is a concern, for equally tasty results.

2 onions, sliced

4 cloves garlic, smashed

2/3 C apple cider vinegar

1/3 C soy sauce

1 T brown sugar

1 bay leaf

ground black pepper to taste

8 skinless, bone-in chicken thighs – or 1 whole chicken, cut up into pieces

2 tsp paprika

1 large head bok choy, cut into 1-inch strips

2 green onions, sliced thinly ( for garnish)

Combine onions, garlic, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, and bay leaf in slow cooker.  Season with black pepper.  Place chicken atop mixture. Sprinkle paprika over chicken over top, cover and cook on Low for 8 hours.

Switch slow cooker to High. Add bok choy to chicken mixture; cook another 5 minutes. Garnish with green onion.

Fresh Asparagus and Onion Frittata, adapted from a Cooks Illustrated recipe

12 organic eggs
3 T half and half
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 T oil
½ yellow onion, finely chopped
½ pound asparagus, tough ends trimmed and spears cut on the bias into ¼ inch pieces
3 oz favorite cheese, cut into ¼ inch cubes (cheddar, mozzarella, provolone, goat cheese, all work nicely)

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position, about 5 inches from heating element; heat broiler. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together eggs, half and half, salt, and pepper until well combined, about 30 seconds. Set aside.

Heat oil in a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the onions to skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the asparagus and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and almost tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in the cheese to the eggs; add egg mixture to skillet and cook, using spatula to stir and scrape bottom of skillet, until large curds form and spatula begins to leave wake but eggs are still very wet, about 2 minutes. Shake skillet to distribute eggs evenly; cook without stirring for 30 seconds to let bottom set.

Slide skillet under broiler and broil until frittata has risen and surface is puffed and spotty brown, 3 to 4 minutes; when cut into with paring knife, eggs should be slightly wet and runny. Remove skillet from oven and let stand 5 minutes to finish cooking; using spatula, loosen frittata from skillet and slide onto platter or cutting board. Cut into wedges, serves 6 to 8.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Week 2 CSA, Weather or Not

Let’s talk weather.  We’ll get past the sensationalizing of the weather we see in the media talking about scraping your windshield. We are talking about critical aspects of plant growth, and by extension, food production. The crops we grow have varying temperature sensitivities and tolerance to frost and freezing temperatures. We can go to the field with the spring crops mentioned last week knowing they have some tolerance for frost. The normal last frost date for Scott County is May 10, give or take a few weeks. Several years ago, the last frost was April 17 although we did not know that until mid-May passed. The following year it was May 21.  As May begins, we look at long-range forecasts to help us to decide when to start hardening off the plants. 

The plants started in the greenhouse grow at a steady temperature with no wind. They are planted close together in the trays somewhat supporting each other as they stretch out and up with their new leaves reaching for more light. We put the trays of plants on a wagon just outside the greenhouse and let them become accustomed to wind, rain, and cool nights for a week or so. This time of year the daily temperature swings can be 30 to 40 degrees. This will toughen the stem and reduce transplant shock of being placed in the soil, equally spaced apart in the row. If the weather looks like frost we can roll the wagons inside the barn overnight to protect them. 

Frost is a unique phenomenon that occurs when the dew point is close to freezing and the temperature approaches freezing. The ground is warmer than the air and the soil is moist. As the moisture is released into the air (evaporation), aided by transpiration of the plants (transpiration is a plants version of exhaling during respiration), a microclimate near the surface is formed which turns this moisture into tiny ice crystals on the surface of the leaves. Water expands during the freezing process, which ruptures the cell walls on the surface of the leaves, effectively killing the tissue of the plants that are not tolerant of such action. 

We also gauge several other factors in whether frost will form or not, as sometimes the dew point and temperature prediction would indicate frost. If windy conditions prevail, this effectively stirs the layers of air in the atmosphere preventing that microclimate at the surface from developing. The trickier pattern to explain is how cloudy skies prevent radiational cooling at night. Based on the law of physics that for every action there will be an equal and opposite reaction, the earth releases the radiant heat it gained all day, all night. If the skies are clear, this energy is effectively pulled back into space, super cooling the air just above the surface of the earth. Cloudy skies prevent this radiational cooling effect from happening, thus trapping the heat near the surface of the ground.

Farmers talk about frost settling in the low spots. Because these various factors are more likely to occur in low spots versus up on the ridges, we avoid those low areas for the early plantings of sensitive crops. This can actually be a benefit to those same crops if we encounter extreme heat in mid-summer. Also keep in mind, it is generally 5 degrees cooler in the country than it is in town. This has to do with all the concrete and asphalt collecting radiant heat during the day, and moisture not being retained by concrete as it is by soil. Also the cars, industrial heat/air handling systems, and tree-lined streets and yards alter the whole microclimate at the soil level. 

Anytime the forecast is below 37 degrees F, frost is a possibility and we monitor it very closely. Some predictive forecast models called for 32 degrees Monday morning. Thirty-two is a magic number. The water in the plant freezes, the ice formation ruptures the cell walls, end of plant. Nothing we can do. If it is frost, we can spray water on the plants before sunrise, which warms the surface of the leaf with 55-degree water thus avoiding ice crystal formation. We have avoided the temptation to have early crops because of the long range forecast a few weeks ago, but we do have some green beans, sweet corn and early tomatoes out, cross your fingers!

In Your Share

Fresh Asparagus

Bok Choy lovers know to eat both the stalk and the leafy greens, either together in a dish, or chopped and prepared separately. Store refrigerated in a closed container, leaves will wilt slightly prior to the stalk, but it is to be expected and taste will not change.  Long viewed as a specialty item, bok choy is becoming better known and well liked as our menus and palates expand.

Try a simple stir-fry by sautéing some garlic or onion in olive oil or butter; add the chopped white stalks, then a few minutes later add the chopped green leaves.  When wilted, but still crunchy, add a dash of sesame oil.  Enjoy as a nice side dish with fresh garden flavor.

Kale Greens Did you know kale is good for your eyes? It has two carotenoid pigments (lutein and zeaxanthin) that the eye utilizes to filter out some uv radiation. In this way, eating kale can help your eyes protect themselves from the sun’s rays – and hopefully prevent macular degeneration. Lutein levels are highest in dark green leafy vegetables. Kale has the highest amount of lutein per serving than any other green (26 mg/1 cup serving raw, 23 mg/1 cup cooked).  Eat a little fat with the greens to help with lutein absorption (such as olive oil, butter, cheese, nuts).

To prepare for cooking, cut or tear the heavy stem from the leaf.  You can either leave the leaves whole if your cooking time is long enough to let the leaf become tender – or you can cut your leaves into strips for faster cooking.  Kale can be stir-fried, steamed, braised, or oven roasted for kale chips.  

Salad Lettuce



Sweet Potatoes


Recipes to Enjoy 


Aspargus & Creme Fraiche "Crepe" thanks to a CSA member for sharing one of her delicious recipes!

2 eggs

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Butter, to coat the pan
3 spears fresh asparagus, steamed or roasted
2 dollops of crème fraiche
Generous pinch of smoked paprika

Beat the eggs lightly in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper; set aside.
Melt a thin pat of butter in a small non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the eggs, and swirl the pan, lifting edges with the tip of a butter knife so any uncooked egg can flow underneath. When the top of the eggs look mostly cooked, add the crème fraiche, sprinkle with the paprika, and place the asparagus on top and. Fold the right third of the egg over the filling, then fold the left third of the egg on top to close the omelet (kind of like the way you would fold a sheet of paper in thirds). Let cook for 30 to 60 seconds more, just until the crème fraiche starts to ooze out. 
Transfer to a dish and serve immediately.

Penne with Shrimp, Asparagus, and Feta
adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe, a timesaver by cooking the shrimp and asparagus with the pasta!

Coarse salt and ground pepper
12 oz penne rigate (ridged)
1 lb asparagus, trimmed, cut into 1-inch lengths
1 lb peeled and deveined frozen shrimp, thawed
3 T olive oil (preferably extra-virgin)
2 T fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 C crumbled feta (4 ounces)
¼  C thinly sliced fresh mint leaves (for garnish, optional)

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook penne 5 minutes less than al dente. Add asparagus; cook 3 minutes. Add shrimp; cook 2 minutes. Reserve ½ cup pasta water; drain pasta mixture, and return to pot.

To pasta mixture, add oil, lemon juice, garlic, and ¼  cup reserved pasta water. Season with salt and pepper, and toss to combine. Gently mix in feta and mint; adjust to desired consistency with some pasta water as needed. Serve immediately.

Sesame Red Curry Chicken with Bok Choy & Sweet Coconut Rice 
Our thanks to a CSA member for this yummy recipe she shared using bok choy

4 C chopped bok choy (1-2 medium large heads)
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
salt and pepper
½ C chicken broth
½ C sake (rice wine)
2 tsp sesame oil
1 T minced fresh ginger
1 T red curry paste
¼ - ½ C sweetened flaked coconut
2 C rice 
2 (14 oz) cans coconut milk

Arrange bok choy and red pepper in bottom of slow cooker.  Season chicken all over with salt and pepper and place on top.  

In a small bowl, whisk together broth, sake, sesame oil, ginger, and curry paste.  Pour mixture over chicken.  Cook low for 6-8 hours or high for 3-4 hours.  Cook rice in coconut milk.  In a small skillet toast coconut flakes, 5-8 minutes.  Stir toasted coconut into cooked rice, set aside. Spoon rice onto a serving platter, or individual bowls, and top with chicken, vegetables and sauce from crock-pot.

Steamed Kale, kale recipes from Capay Farm Shop
1 bunch kale, rinsed
1 cup water
olive oil or lemon juice

Strip kale leaves off stem and chop loosely. Put into a covered pot and add the water.  Steam until kale is tender, about 5 minutes or to your liking. When done, carefully pour out. Serve kale on a plate sprinkled with salt and olive oil or lemon juice. If you have left over, keep it in the refrigerator overnight. It is great the next day as a ready-made cold salad.

Green Drink
4-5 leaves kale
1-2 bananas (depending on how sweet you like it)
1 apple
2-3 C water

Wash kale, leave stems on. Peel banana, and core apple. Place in high-powered blender with the water and blend. Makes about 1-2 quarts, and best when cold.