Monday, July 29, 2013

The 'Stock' in Elmwood Stock Farm

Elmwood Stock Farm has been in the cattle business as long as it has been a farm. Virtually all farms in Central Kentucky raised beef cattle as a means of converting the grass on the hillsides into a salable product or for their own consumption. The ridge tops and creek bottoms were cultivated for tobacco and cattle grazed the rest. For decades the tobacco quota system developed by Wendell Berry’s dad took into account the amount of land that could be cultivated on a given farm without causing erosion problems, and that determined how much tobacco each farm was allowed to grow. Now that the tobacco support program has ended, we raise vegetables on the land previously designated for tobacco with the same fundamental strategy not to cultivate more acres than should be in a given year.

For several decades, Angus cattle were bred, born, and raised on Elmwood Stock Farm’s rolling hills. As a breeder of purebred bloodlines, each cow, and bull, has their family tree tracked back for several generations as part of their registration with the American Angus Association. The growth and performance of each of these animals, along with their confirmation, was taken into consideration when deciding which bull to mate with which cows to produce the best offspring. The factors to consider go way beyond how fast they might grow and how big they will be when mature. In order to develop a herd of high quality animals, knowing the best females born on the farm will be kept for breeding stock, we look at birth weight of the calves, birthing ease, mothering ability, udder confirmation and milking ability, strong bone structure, temperament, and overall confirmation. Male offspring are evaluated on growth characteristics along with temperament, scrotal circumference, and muscle confirmation. Since each bull services 20-25 cows each year it is important that the sire be properly selected. With the advent of artificial insemination, we are able to select semen from the best breeding stock around the country to further develop superior performance in our herd.   Farmers from all over Central Kentucky purchase bulls from us to breed the cows on their farm knowing they are bringing superior genetics and performance into their herd, hence the name Elmwood Stock Farm.  The top rated females are kept for our own use while some are sold to neighboring farms. 

As vegetables have replaced tobacco, the tradition of livestock being a key component of the fertility of the farm continues. Since a particular field is only cultivated for three years out of eight, the other five years the cattle are helping us re-build the soil and its fertility that was harvested away with the crop. Commercial vegetable farmers simply haul in salt generating fertilizers like 10-10-10, which means 10% nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium respectively. These fertilizer products kill the microbes in the soil much like putting salt on an earthworm, which is why they are not allowed in organic production, but it is a short term solution to force a crop from the field, albeit a bit short sighted when developing a sustainable system. The manure from cattle replenishes the nutrients in the soil since the microbes in their digestive systems are designed to breakdown plant tissue, and are deposited on the fields, which is the part the animal does not need. It takes time, but most good things do. 

As the customer relationships grew with our vegetable marketing business, many began to ask about obtaining beef for their family. We have been stocking our freezer for generations, so it seemed like a logical progression of the business. In fact, Elmwood is the only place anywhere around to obtain certified organic, USDA Choice Grade, 100% grass fed and finished, dry aged, Angus beef that we know of. We still sell top quality breeding stock to our neighbors, but we can also make that same superior quality we have been developing for generations available to you.

In Your Share

Green Beans – organic

Beets – organic
Blackberries - organic

Potatoes – organic

Yellow Squash and Green Zucchini

Tomatoes - organic

Swiss Chard - organic

Garlic – organic


Recipes to Enjoy

Moroccan Vegetable Couscous Serves 6, thanks to a CSA member for sharing this recipe!

For the spice mixture, use 6 teaspoons ras-el-hanout or make your own blend:
1/2 tsp saffron

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp cardamom

1/2 tsp coriander

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

To finish the dish:

1 T olive oil

1 small onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, chopped

4 carrots, peeled and diced

1 potato, peeled and diced

1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes with their juice, chopped

1 zucchini, diced

1 15-ounce can chick peas

1 C couscous, cooked

Mix the spices in a small bowl with a whisk. Heat a large skilled over medium heat and add the spices. Toast them just until they are fragrant, probably less than a minute. Pour the spices back into a bowl and set them aside.

Add the oil to the skillet, turn the heat up to medium high. Add the onion and sauté until it softens, about 7 minutes.

Add the garlic, carrots, and potato and sauté for a couple of minutes. Stir in the tomatoes with their juices (or simply add a quart or so of home-canned tomato juice) and the spice mixture. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook until the potatoes and carrots soften, about 20 minutes.

Add the zucchini and chickpeas and heat until the zucchini has cooked and the beans have heated through, about 5 minutes.

When the vegetables have finished cooking, taste them and add more salt and pepper if you like. Heap the couscous in the middle of a large shallow bowl. Spoon the vegetable mixture over the top.

Pasta-Free Summer Lasagna Thanks to a CSA member for sharing this yummy summer recipe.
3-4 small yellow summer squash or zucchini (about 8 inches long)

1C ricotta cheese

1 large egg, beaten

1/2 tsp salt, plus more for sprinkling

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

2 T finely chopped basil

2 C shredded mozzarella

1 slicing tomato

2 C pasta sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Trim ends off squash and slice each lengthwise into about 4 pieces, depending on thickness. Salt both sides and let squash sit in a colander set over a sink or bowl for 10 minutes.
Mix together ricotta, egg, 1/2 tsp salt, pepper, and basil. Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed. Rinse salt off squash and pat dry.

Spread 1/3 C pasta sauce on the bottom of an 8×8 baking dish. Arrange one layer of squash on top, covering as much of the sauce as possible. Spread on half the ricotta, then sprinkle on 3/4 C mozzarella. Top with 1/2 C pasta sauce. Repeat layers. Add a final squash layer and spread on remaining sauce.

Slice the tomato into approximately six thick slices and arrange on top. Sprinkle on any remaining mozzarella.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes, until cheese is browned and sauce is bubbly. Let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

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

1 T butter

2 medium zucchini, cubed

1 pinch red pepper flakes

salt and pepper to taste

1C marinara sauce

1 1/2 C shredded mozzarella cheese

4 (6 inch) sub sandwich or ciabatta rolls, split

Note:  Zucchini cubes can be larger for softer rolls, which will tend to adapt to the size and shape of the zucchini; if using ciabatta or similar “hard” rolls, make cubes smaller.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Fry the zucchini in butter until browned and slightly tender. Season with red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and stir in the marinara sauce. Cook and stir until sauce is heated.

Spoon a generous amount of the zucchini mixture into each sandwich roll. Top with a handful of shredded mozzarella. Close the rolls, and wrap individually in aluminum foil.

Bake for 15 minutes in the preheated oven, until bread is heated through, and cheese is melted.      

Sesame-Ginger Green Beans, makes 4 servings, recipe adapted from Country Living.

1 C vegetable oil

3 small shallots, thinly sliced (if not available, use a small onion)

1 pound fresh green beans, stem ends trimmed

1 T olive oil

1 T grated fresh ginger

1 tsp salt

2 T sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Meanwhile, in a small pan over medium-high heat, heat vegetable oil.  Add shallots (or onion) and fry, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes.  Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Meanwhile, on a rimmed baking sheet, toss green beans with olive oil, sesame oil, ginger, and salt to coat.  Roast beans until tender but still green, 5 to 8 minutes.

Transfer beans to a serving dish and toss with sesame seeds.  Top with reserved shallots, or onions.

Monday, July 22, 2013

CSA Week 12, It's Not All About Biology

We talk often in your newsletter about the marvels of Mother Nature, the intricacies of the insect world, and how microbes maintain life, as we know it. But even in a well-planned biological farming system like Elmwood Stock Farm, it takes tools, tractors, implements, and equipment to make it come together in your weekly share.

Recently, at one of our weekly Sunday night family dinners where we try to not talk shop and be a family, someone commented that while they were operating equipment working ground for several hours, they figured out we have more than 250 tires on the ground. Some are big tractor tires with fluid in them to lower the center of gravity and add weight to help manage the attached implements; others allow a wheelbarrow to roll freely to move stuff around. Each tire is designed for a certain size wheel, which must meet a certain demand for space, weight, and use pattern. Trucks, wagons, trailers, implements, and other small pieces of equipment are designed to perform a specific function, therefore a different tire size and type. Someone must have the equipment and know-how to “break one down” when it gets punctured or ruined and replace the tire, or if it has a tube inside the tire, replace the tube. Seemingly these things happen at a most inopportune time, like baling hay before a rain, but to avoid that best we can, we check air pressure before use, replace leaky valve stems, and keep spares for many of the more common sizes on hand.

Tractors are rated by their horsepower, which shows the evolutionary heritage of the work to be done. They also must meet various attributes related to ground speed control, wheel base (both length and width,) visibility over the hood, hydraulic lifting capacity for implements that may be attached, and ease of attachment for those implements. The implements referred to are disc mowers for mowing hayfields with-out chopping up the grass, 26 foot rake to put the hay in a row, and a round baler to roll it up tightly for safe storage. We also need plows to turn the sod, disc-harrows and 8 foot rototillers to prep the soil for planting or transplanting, seeders, transplanters, plastic layers, cultivators, twenty foot bat-wing pasture mowers, 7 foot trim mowers, and grader blades for leveling dirt or rock around a project site - just to name a few. Each of these has to be precisely adjusted to perform its function properly. The tractor not only moves the equipment through the field, but many of these need their own power to do their job. The tractor has a P.T.O. (Power Take Off) shaft coming out the back that turns at over 500 revolutions per minute that the equipment attaches to, with a quick connect clamp system that powers the moving parts of that implement. Lots of implements also require a high-pressure hydraulic oil system to function or be raised up and down. The tractor must have the right size pump and reservoir of hydraulic oil, so when the hoses are connected to the tractor, there is sufficient fluid flow to operate the desired function. Tractors use hour meters to track how long they are in service and schedules fluid changes and maintenance procedures.  We still use several with over ten thousand hours of work on them. Our current tractors range in age from six to sixty years since being built.

Then there are chainsaws to remove fallen trees from the fields (where firewood is a by-product,) mowers for roadsides and yards, weed-eaters, ATV’s for light duty fencing and cattle work, tire changers, welding equipment, cattle scales and handling equipment, wagons and trailers for hauling hay, tobacco, equipment and the like. We can’t begin to list all the hand tools like spud bars, iron diggers, shovels, hoes, pick-axe, come-a-longs, sledgehammers, wrenches, screwdrivers, hammers, electrical diagnostics tools, buckets, tubs, water troughs, veterinary tools and supplies, and the list goes on and on. Let your imagination wander at the number of different size bolts, nuts, washers, belts, hoses, bearings, bushings, grease fittings, filters, and pins we must keep on hand to be ready when Murphy’s Law kicks in. 

We keep quite an inventory of spare parts for all this on hand, knowing which parts are the most likely to wear out or fail, so we can quickly make the repair and get back to work without having to go to town, or often wait for an order to be shipped in. There are times when metal fatigue or another factor causes the metal to break. In these cases the part must be removed, straightened, and welded back together, sometimes the repair made right in the field. Not only do such repairs require certain parts or supplies, but the experience and know-how to accomplish the task.  While auto mechanics work in a shop with a smooth concrete floor, a roof, and good lighting; farmers work in the grass or dirt or mud, often on a slope and at night, to be back up and running the next day.
Keeping all the mechanics operational is fairly linear in nature: perform maintenance before use, keep things clean and greased. If something breaks, locate the problem and repair or replace it.  The challenge is finding the time this time of the season!

In Your Share . . .

Green Beans – organic

Blackberries - organic

Savoy Cabbage - organic

Sweet Corn

Green Bell Pepper – organic

Red Potatoes - organic

Tomatoes - organic

Collard Greens - organic

Kohlrabi – organic

Leeks - organic

Recipes to Enjoy . . .

Fresh Marinated Vegetables, our thanks to a CSA member for sharing this favorite recipe.  She says ” it lasts a long time (make it on Sunday, still good on Thursday), and you can use up ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING.”

¼ C canola oil
2 T white vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
dash pepper
½ tsp basil
½ tsp Italian seasoning (or oregano)
1 T sugar
½ tsp salt or celery salt

Mix together and pour over any combination of vegetables and marinate at least 2 hours.  Zucchini, yellow squash, onions, tomatoes, carrots, green pepper, broccoli (don't forget to slice the stems!) etc.  I like to chop everything in a small square dice (though I usually grate the carrot to spread the color more evenly).  Anything goes here!

Cabbage Pie, our thanks to a CSA member for sharing this Mark Bittman recipe adapted from old Russian recipe; if you don’t have dill on hand, she suggests fennel instead!

2 T butter plus more as needed
1 medium or ½ large head cabbage, cored and shredded, about 2 pounds
1 medium onion, sliced
salt and black pepper to taste
2/3 C chopped fresh dill leaves or fresh herb of your choice
6 eggs (3 hard boiled)
1 C whole milk yogurt or sour cream
3 T mayonnaise
½ tsp baking powder
1 ¼ C flour

Preheat oven to 375°. Put butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add cabbage and onion. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is quite tender, about 10 minutes; do not brown. Remove from heat, add dill, taste and adjust seasonings.

Meanwhile, hard boil 3 eggs if not already done. Peel and coarsely chop. Add to the cooked cabbage mixture and let set while you make the batter.
Combine yogurt, mayo, and remaining 3 eggs. Add baking powder and flour and mix until smooth. Lightly butter a 9 x 12 inch ceramic or glass baking dish. Spread half the batter on the bottom, then top with the cabbage filling, smear the remaining batter over the cabbage, using your fingers or a spatula to make sure there are no gaps in what will be the pie’s top crust.

Bake for 45 minutes until shiny and golden brown. Let pie cool for about 15 minutes before slicing. Eat warm or at room temperature, serves 4 to 6.

Creamy Leek, Potato, and Sour Cream Chive Soup recipe from From Asparagus to Zucchini

3 T butter
2-3 leeks, thinly sliced, about 4 C total
1 tsp dried tarragon
1 pound potatoes, peeled, thinly sliced
4 C chicken stock
½ - 1 C sour cream
4 T chopped fresh chives, divided
salt and pepper

Melt butter in pot over medium-low. Add leeks and tarragon; cover and cook slowly, 15-20 minutes. Add potatoes and stock; bring to simmer, cover and cook until tender, 10-15 minutes. Puree mixture. Return puree to pot; stir in sour cream and 2 T chives. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle each serving with additional chives. Makes 6 servings.

Sweet Corn and Green Pepper Crustless Quiche, recipe adapted from Fairshare’s Farm Fresh and Fast. 

2 tsp olive oil
2 medium green bell peppers, diced
8 green onions, finely chopped (or equivalent yellow onion)
1 ½ C cooked corn kernels (boiled or grilled)
½ T dried oregano
2 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp chili powder
½ tsp salt
12 large eggs
¼ C milk
¾ C grated jack cheese (use pepper-jack for spicy)
¼ C grated Asiago cheese
1 small tomato, sliced
cilantro sprigs (for garnish)

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Coat 8 ramekins (6 oz) with nonstick spray and set on a baking sheet.

In a nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the peppers, onions, and corn.  Cook for a few minutes, stirring often, until the vegetables are tender.  Remove from the heat and stir in the oregano, cumin, chili powder, and salt.  Let cool.

Whisk the eggs and milk together.  Add the jack cheese and cooled vegetables and stir well.  Divide among the ramekins.  Top each with a tomato slice and sprinkle with Asiago.  Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until set, brown, and puffy.  Garnish with sprig of cilantro.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Week 11, Reminding Us Why We Do This . . .

While loading CSA share for delivery one day this past week, we took a few minutes to marvel at the bounty of the produce, leading us to later begin considering all the attributes associated with each item. The discussion went beyond non-GMO, no harsh pesticides, or no questionable post-harvest handling procedures, all of which are tenants of Organic Certification. The conversation turned to the unique varieties we choose to grow. And, then to the system of managing the land to provide the balance of nutrients for optimum growth.  Eventually, leading to the topic of efficiency necessary to harvest, wash, pack, and cool each product in its proscribed method. We have shared before how important a system of washing and packing the produce to preserve that just picked quality is, while ensuring there are no food safety issues to contend with. The flavors alone speak to this freshness.  Finally we spent time talking about the individuals and families that count on us to follow this process of providing good food.

There is third-party inspection of our entire operation annually by our accredited organic Certification Agency. Product samples may be taken at any given moment to verify compliance. Usually the inspections are scheduled to ensure adequate time is given to verification of documentation and visual inspection of the fields and livestock to verify the plants and animals are well cared for. Unannounced inspections can happen at any time. Then there is the positive economic impact of producing the food right here in our community. The farm crew is well compensated for their work, with housing supplied to some, which must be inspected and verified as sufficient by the Labor Cabinet. Plus, the farm provides a well-balanced noon-time meal six days a week, prepared from our organic homegrown meats and produce. We support the local economy by purchasing what we need to run the business locally. 

When we set up at the weekend farmers markets with a bountiful series of tables, baskets, trays, and bins it can be a marvelous display of color, aroma, and wholesome goodness. There is a sense of satisfaction that we have the opportunity to design, engineer, and construct a system to give people access to such goodness.  Last week, a new customer, whom we did not recognize, approached the booth and declared she was recently diagnosed with an insidious metabolic disorder and was instructed by her physician to eat organic foods. While gathering up all kinds of vegetables, some of which she had never seen before (much less cooked), she commented that in the past she had spent more time picking out her hair care products or her new TV, than her food. She was scared. ‘What if it is too late’ was apparent in her eyes. She appeared to be a person of means driving an expensive car, and mentioning the neighborhood where she lived.  Food is the one thing that actually becomes a part of you, not just something around you, and unfortunately too many people give it little or no thought.  It is such a shame that many families have to encounter a medical situation before they begin to look at the quality of the food they ingest. We helped her make her selections, and hope we begin to see a lot more of her as she transitions to better food-buying choices.

As a CSA shareholder of Elmwood Stock Farm, we know you have begun to consider the importance of healthy eating habits. You are probably familiar with the Environmental Working Group’s dirty dozen list. You know how pervasive genetically engineered crops have pushed themselves into the marketplace with no acknowledgement on the label. You know how to travel and not succumb to settling for roadside restaurants, whether you order standing up or sitting down, the ingredients are the same. You no longer throw caution to the wind and eat roller food at the gas station “food store”. Really, is there anything in those places you should eat? The down side is having to be polite when encountering the aforementioned foods at a friend’s house or social event. You can decrease your portion size but you still gotta eat something. Luckily, our digestive systems are fairly forgiving if you don’t overly tax it.  People can even heal earlier damage by changing their eating habits today. 

So, please consume your Elmwood food products with pride, knowing you are eating the best of all possible options. You have taken time and evaluated what is going into your body for sustenance, vim and vigor, and you can rest easy knowing what’s not in your food.  We’ll keep working at growing and providing the best we can for you.  And you keep enjoying it.  And, be sure to tell your friends so they can eat in peace as well.

In Your Share


Green Beans – organic


Kale Greens – organic

Lettuce – organic

Green Bell Pepper – organic

Gold Potatoes - organic

Baby Squash Mix

Green Tomatoes - organic

Carrot and Radish Bunch – organic

Watermelon - organic


Recipes to Enjoy

Massaged Kale Salad, our thanks to a CSA member for sharing this Aarti Sequeira recipe. She suggests massaging about 5-6 minutes (a little longer than the original recipe) for fantastic results.

1 bunch kale stalks removed and discarded, leaves thinly sliced
1 lemon, juiced
¼ C extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Kosher salt
2 tsp honey
freshly ground black pepper
1 mango, diced small (about 1 Cup)
Small handful (about 2 rounded T) toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

In large serving bowl, add the kale, half of lemon juice, a drizzle of oil and a little kosher salt. Massage until the kale starts to soften and wilt, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside while you make the dressing.

In a small bowl, whisk remaining lemon juice with the honey and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Stream in the 1/4 C of oil while whisking until a dressing forms, and you like how it tastes.   Pour the dressing over the kale, and add the mango and pepitas. Toss and serve.

Grilled Summer Squash, thank you to a CSA member for sharing this recipe she goes to as everyone loves veggies from the grill!  Adapted from a Martha Shulman recipe, July 2004 Cooking Light.

1/4 C fresh lemon juice
1/4 C plain fat-free yogurt
1 T olive oil
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 tsp salt, divided
3 small yellow squash, halved lengthwise (about 1 pound)
3 small zucchini, halved lengthwise (about 1 pound)
Cooking spray

Prepare grill.  Combine the first 6 ingredients in a 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Add ½ tsp salt.  Make 3 diagonal cuts 1/4-inch deep across cut side of each squash and zucchini half.  Place squash and zucchini halves, cut sides down, in baking dish. Marinate squash and zucchini at room temperature for 15 minutes.  Remove squash and zucchini from marinade, and discard marinade. Place squash and zucchini on grill rack coated with cooking spray. Grill 5 minutes on each side or until tender. Sprinkle evenly with 1/4 tsp salt.
Korean-Style Crisp Vegetable Pancake (Pajun), a Mark Bittman NY Times recipe, March 2007, our thanks to a CSA member for sharing.  Makes 6-8 servings.

2 C all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 T corn, grape seed, canola or other neutral oil, more as needed
5 scallions, green parts only, cut into 3-inch lengths and sliced lengthwise or chopped
20 chives or 5 chopped scallions
1-2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
1 small yellow or green squash, trimmed and grated
1/2 pound chopped shrimp, optional
1 T rice or white vinegar
3 T soy sauce
1 tsp sugar

In a medium bowl, mix flour, eggs and oil with 1 1/2 cups water until a smooth batter is formed. Stir scallion greens, chives, carrots, squash and shrimp, if using, into batter.
Place an 8- inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, then coat bottom with oil. Ladle in about a quarter of the batter and spread it out evenly into a circle; if first pancake is too thick to spread easily, add a little water to batter for remaining pancakes. Turn heat to medium and cook until bottom is browned, about 3 minutes, then flip and cook for another 2 minutes. Repeat with remaining batter.

As pancakes finish, remove them, and, if necessary, drain on paper towels. In a small bowl, mix together the vinegar, soy sauce and sugar. Cut pancakes into small triangles and serve with dipping sauce.

Quick Fix, Fried Green Tomatoes This is a fast and simple way to make Southern style fried green tomatoes

Wash and slice tomatoes in ¼ inch slices.
Put cornmeal in a bowl; dredge each slice in meal, covering both sides.
Heat ½ inch depth of your favorite cooking oil on medium in a heavy iron skillet.
Gently lay tomato slices in pan covering bottom but not overlapping. Cook until brown and turn once, browning the other side. Watch carefully as they cook quickly.
Drain on paper towel. Serve warm.
Sprinkle with Worcestershire Sauce.

Herb and Cheese Green Tomatoes This recipe takes more a little more time than the one above because it calls for draining the tomatoes before frying and adding a few more ingredients.

Wash and slice tomatoes in ¼ inch slices. Sprinkle slices with salt and drain 30-60 minutes

Mix the following in a bowl:
¼ cup cornmeal
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp all purpose flour
¾ tsp garlic salt
½ tsp dried oregano
1/8 tsp black pepper

Beat an egg. Dip each slice in egg, then flour mixture covering both sides.
Heat ½ inch depth of cooking oil on medium in a heavy iron skillet.  Gently lay tomato slices in pan covering bottom but not overlapping. Cook until brown and turn once, browning the other side. Watch carefully as they cook quickly.

Drain on paper towel. Serve warm or room temperature.

Monday, July 8, 2013

CSA, Week 10, Where Does All the Water Go?

When Elmwood Stock Farm got north of 5 inches of rain in a few days’ time, we witnessed an organic farming system perform admirably, as Mother Nature intended. Farming by definition is manipulating the natural ecosystem to reap an edible product in an efficient manner. But when she throws torrential rain into the picture, that manipulation best be well-planned to protect and preserve the capacity to grow food.

Each field has its own distinct personality with respect to soil type, slope, underlying geologic structure, and historical use. Many of our fields are permanent pasture, as they are not conducive to cultivation without extreme risk of erosion. When cropping a field, these considerations are taken into account to determine which direction the tractor and plow will travel to “open it up”. This term refers to flipping the sod over to decompose the plant material to feed the impending crop. It effectively means the soil is now exposed to the elements and potential erosion from heavy rains, as there is no mat of plant material to soften the impact of the drops, and no plant roots to hold the soil in place. The rows of plants are oriented on the contour as a mechanism to hold back the rainwater every 38 inches like a little blockade. This also encourages the water to soak into the soil uniformly throughout the field. As the plants develop on our rows of crops, they form an underground wall of roots that physically hold the soil particles in place. Since our fields are undulating in their topography, we often have rows going in different directions in the same field. You may also see narrow strips of grass that project up into a field. This is called a sod waterway, where no cropping occurs. This allows for natural surface water drainage from a field with the sod holding the soil, and filtering dislodged soil particles from leaving the field.

While the plants are getting their root system established we depend on a strong soil food web to hold our soil in place during a heavy rain. (Google ‘soil food web’ images to get a mental picture about this.)  The soil food web is an intricate balance of bacteria, fungi, nematodes, protozoa, algae, micro-flagellates, arthropods, insects at various life stages, earthworms, ants, even mammals living in harmony under the surface of the soil. When a good balance of this underground jungle is achieved, these creatures work in harmony to feed one another, and provide the right physical environment to prosper. Given an opportunity to organize, they will form aggregates of all shapes and sizes that facilitate not only their communal habitat, but the ability for water and air to filter deep into the ground. A healthy soil will use these aggregates to hold together in the event of a large rain, rather than liquefy and run away with the water down the slope. 

Once the crops are established, we also have to cultivate the weeds between the rows, to prevent them from robbing nutrients, water, and sunlight from our crops. This physical destruction of the weeds and top surface of the ground is disruptive to the soil food web. We try to minimize the amount of tillage we employ, and pay it back when we rotate the field back into perennial plants for several years. As a crop nears maturity, we hold off on additional cultivation. While this may not be as aesthetically pleasing to the eye, it does not negatively impact the crop in question and helps the soil food web maintain balance. It also minimizes raindrop splatter keeping the crop cleaner and holds people upright better while harvesting. Longer season crops are grown through strips of plastic mulch used for weed control and water retention in dry weather. These strips of plastic shed the rainwater, effectively doubling the amount of water in the area between the strips of plastic. Severe erosion can occur in the instance of a big rain event. We purposely sow ryegrass between the rows of plastic. This mat of plants and their roots hold the soil, preventing erosion and facilitates the work of the harvest crew. Soil that is repeatedly driven or walked on while wet, will become compacted, compromising the soil food web. The sod mat distributes the weight of a vehicle or human over a larger area, thus reducing the impact. The mud stays in the field, versus coming into the packing shed on boots and harvest tubs.

Luckily, the timing of this recent big rain came after most of our crops are established. The cover crop between the rows of plastic is well established. Where the early lettuce and over-wintering spinach had been tilled under for later plantings, only narrow bare strips a few rows wide were exposed to the elements, so no runoff was seen there. Elkhorn Creek did not breach its banks and flood the cucumbers and squash. The alfalfa hay fields could not be cut and baled for hay as planned, which will reduce the protein content, but still hopefully will be enough to meet the needs of the cattle and sheep this winter. The chicken feed stayed wet in the trough, but since chickens like rain better than heat, their strong appetites encouraged them to eat all the feed anyway. The harvest crew never complained and most everything got picked and packed, as if it had been sunny all week. 

Weeks like last, build character, fortitude, and resolve at Elmwood Stock Farm. We can tough out a little rain better than we can force our way through a drought. It feels good to know that in spite of it all, our members are eating wholesome organic food, and the farm held up to Mother Nature’s test. 

In Your Share . . .

Broccoli – organic

Cabbage – organic

Carrots - organic


Lettuce – organic

Green Bell Pepper - organic

Summer Squash Medley

Lacinato Tuscan Black Kale Greens – organic

Recipes to Enjoy . . .

Tangy Coleslaw Quinoa Salad, our thanks to a CSA member for sharing this enjoyable recipe!
1 C cooked quinoa
1/2 head of green cabbage, shredded
2 medium carrots, grated
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
3/4 C white vinegar
1/4 C vegetable oil
1 heaping T sugar (or 1 T honey)
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
Couple dashes of ground black pepper

Whisk together the last six ingredients in a small bowl until well combined.  In a separate bowl, toss together the cabbage, carrots and onion, then pour the dressing on top.  Cover and let stand for at least 10 minutes to allow the flavors to incorporate.

Combine the quinoa and the slaw in a large bowl & mix well.  If you like a lot of flavor, pour the rest of the dressing into the salad (don't worry, the quinoa will absorb it almost instantly!).  Otherwise, serve on its own or as a nice meatless side dish, and enjoy!

Spicy Stir-Fried Cabbage, Our thanks to a CSA member for sharing this recipe originally from the NY Times.  She reports it is mighty tasty and only takes 5 minutes to prepare. Serves 4.

4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp minced ginger
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 star anise, broken in half
2 tsp soy sauce (more to taste)
2 T rice wine or dry sherry
2 T peanut or canola oil
1 small cabbage, 1 to 1 1/2 pounds, quartered, cored and cut crosswise into 1/8-inch shreds
1 medium carrot, cut into julienne
Salt to taste
2 T minced chives or cilantro

Combine the garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes and star anise in a small bowl. Combine the soy sauce and wine or sherry in another small bowl. 

Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or a 12-inch skillet over high heat until a drop of water evaporates within a second or two when added to the pan. Swirl in the oil by adding it to the sides of the pan and tilting it back and forth. Add the garlic, ginger, pepper flakes and star anise. Stir-fry for a few seconds, just until fragrant, then add the cabbage and carrots. 

Stir-fry for one to two minutes until the cabbage begins to wilt, then add the salt and wine/soy sauce mixture. Cover and cook over high heat for one minute until just wilted. Uncover and stir-fry for another 30 seconds, then stir in the chives or cilantro and remove from the heat. The cabbage should be crisp-tender. Serve with rice or noodles.

Summer Squash with Pesto, Bacon and Goat Cheese, adapted from a Farm-Fresh and Fast recipe by Fairshare CSA Coalition

3-4 pieces uncured bacon
2 T olive oil
1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 massive or 4 smaller summer squash, cut in into ¼ inch slices
1 T ground herbes de Provence
2-3 T pesto
1-2 C roughly diced fresh tomatoes
crackers, crumbled or croutons
2-3 oz fresh goat cheese, crumbled
freshly ground black pepper

In a large skillet, fry the bacon over medium-high heat until crisp.  Remove from skillet and set aside to drain on a paper towel.  Break into crumbles when cool.

Without wiping the skillet, add the olive oil, sliced onion, and a pinch of salt.  Cook over medium-high heat.  When the onion is starting to caramelize (about 15 minutes), toss in the squash and the herbs.  Brown the squash slices on both sides, then add the pesto, crumbled bacon, tomatoes, and pinch of salt.  Stir everything together over medium heat until the tomatoes are done (skin splits).  Serve topped with cracker pieces or croutons, goat cheese, and black pepper to taste.  Serves 2 to 3 as a main dish.

Sesame Noodle Salad with Cucumbers, recipe from Farm-Fresh and Fast, can be enjoyed as is, or served as a bed for grilled chicken or steak.

16 oz spaghetti, broken into thirds
4 T soy sauce
3 T toasted sesame oil
2 T light olive oil
6 T lime juice
dash cayenne
3 cucumbers, seeded and thinly sliced
2 carrots, grated (optional)
6 radishes, grated (optional)
3 green onions, minced
3 T finely chopped fresh cilantro
3 T toasted sesame seeds

Cook the pasta according to the directions, drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.  Meanwhile, prepare a dressing by whisking together the soy sauce, oils, lime juice, and cayenne.  When the noodles are cool, toss with the dressing to coat.  Stir in the cucumbers, additional vegetables (if using) and remaining ingredients.