Monday, September 8, 2014

An Organic Way of Thinking, Week 17

All farmers have pesky pest pressure on the crops they grow. Be it insect or disease, there are opportunities for a crop to be compromised or destroyed. To combat the pressure, there are basically three playbooks to choose from: Commercial production, Integrated Pest Management (IPM), or Certified Organic. Three very different philosophies with somewhat similar outcomes, but with very different impacts on the environment.

“Commercial conventional” farmers are conditioned by the markets to grow flawless products. Because of commingling and competition with other farmers for flawless products, sub-par farm goods are docked by the buyers and sent into lower value outlets to be further processed with less financial return to the farmer. So farmers who choose this approach use every available tool to raise a perfect crop. There are thousands of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and miticides, etc. available to farmers to use in the right combinations to prevent problems with their crop. The USDA and Land-Grant University Institutions collaborate with the companies that make these crop protection inputs on research and development, in the name of national food security. 

Many Colleges of Agriculture around the country publish the results of how well the various chemicals work in their geographic area, to help growers decide which ones to use, how to use them, scouting techniques, how to minimize off-site environmental impacts, worker protections, and the like. To be very clear, the vast majority of these chemicals are extremely toxic compounds.  Over time, albeit ever evolving, each region has a typical regimen to follow to eliminate all the pestilence for the various crops they grow. Herbicides go out first to get the crop established and as needed thereafter, insects are sprayed at first detection or preventatively, sometimes in mixtures to cover all the different types. Fungicides are sprayed at regular intervals, often weekly, or after every rain in a prophylactic approach. To be fair, these chemicals are expensive and difficult to apply, so farmers are not out there applying them indiscriminately. State health departments perform random checks for pesticide residue as does the marketplace as does the USDA to be sure growers are complying with pre-harvest application intervals. Commercial growers’ decision making process is to maximize yield with flawless quality. This is considered an input based system.

Because of the expense and concern for human and environmental health, many farmers use an IPM approach. They employ insect traps that use pheromones to draw the insects in and keep them away from the crop. Some pheromones are mating disruptors specific to a certain species causing no harm to other insects. A regular scouting program, combined with the use of sticky traps that have been strategically placed around to see when populations of pests reach a potentially damaging economic threshold, is another technique that may reduce the number of spray controls necessary. Many of the government based research facilities help growers with a more fundamental understanding of insect and disease cycles, which in turn gives the farmer the ability to avoid many costly crop protection chemical applications to the crop. But they still use highly toxic compounds when warranted to get maximum yield with good quality. They can take a little less for it, since they have less cash outlay in it. IPM is considered a reduced input system because of the techniques employed. 

The organic way of thinking is more about optimum yields with great quality. We know the plant pests are out there and about when they show up every year. We utilize lots of non-chemical IPM type techniques, but have no interest in grabbing some highly toxic compound and nuking the food we consume. Once you spray one of these chemicals, the life cycles of countless species of insects are so disrupted, another pest may fill a void with no competition. Thus, the chemical treadmill has begun. Thankfully, the University of KY and KY State University provide growers with a deeper understanding of the life cycles of insects and how to attract beneficial insects that prey on the crop pests. We can purchase insect eggs, or pupae or adult insects from beneficial insect farmers and release them into our crop fields. The organic way of thinking is to rotate crops more diligently, select varieties resistant to bacterial infection, and deploy row covers to repel pests, to name just a few. Scouting to stay ahead of the pests is an organic way.

The quality is superior as there is no risk of residue from a highly toxic chemical. We have studied the pestilence potential and worked diligently to put together a system that has no need for toxic chemicals.  It’s a lot more interesting work than just knowing what to spray to kill something, and we don’t have to don Tyvek chemical suits to apply crop protection chemicals to the food we grow. We are all about optimizing the capacity of our land to produce crops, not just maximizing it.

In Your Share 

Dragon Tongue Heirloom Beans

Heirloom Corn Meal



Bell Pepper


Rainbow Swiss Chard

Yellow Squash




Squash Angel Hair Pancake, thanks to a CSA member for sharing one of her favorites!
3 C shredded squash or zucchini
1 tsp salt
8 oz pkg angel hair pasta, broken into 3 inch pieces
½ C marinara sauce
1/3 C flour
1/3 C sour cream
¼ C grated parmesan cheese
2 T minced shallots
1 T chopped fresh basil
1 tsp chopped fresh oregano
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 garlic clove, minced
1 T butter

Place squash in a colander and sprinkle with ½ tsp salt. Toss well. Drain for 20 minutes, tossing occasionally. Press squash between paper towels until barely moist. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat.  Combine flour with remaining ½ tsp salt, and the next 9 ingredients in a large bowl. Add squash and pasta to bowl. Toss well.  Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add squash mixture to pan, pressing down. Cook for 5 minutes or until bottom is lightly browned. Carefully flip pancake out onto a plate, then slide back into skillet so that cooked side is on top.  Cook another 5 minutes or until bottom is lightly browned. Cut into 8 wedges. Serve with warm marinara.

Mac and Cheese with Slow Roasted Tomatoes, recipe by Josh Miller
3 medium yellow squash, peeled, halved and seeded
¼ yellow onion
salt, divided
¼ C buttermilk
½ tsp smoked paprika, divided
2 C whole wheat penne pasta
¼ C chicken broth
1 T whole grain mustard
1 C shredded Cheddar cheese
3 T plain Greek yoghurt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
¼ C Japanese bread crumbs
4 T grated Parmesan Cheese, divided
6 plum tomatoes
Olive oil
Dried basil

For Tomatoes: Preheat oven to 275°F.  Slice 6 plum tomatoes into ¼ to 1/3 inch thick rounds, and place on a rimmed baking sheet coated with nonstick cooking spray.  Drizzle lightly with olive oil.  Sprinkle tomatoes with ¼ tsp each salt and pepper and 1/2 tsp dried basil.  Bake until tops are shriveled, approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350°F.  In a Dutch oven, add water to halfway full.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, add squash, onion and 1 ¾ tsp salt.  Cook until tender, 10 to 15 minutes.  Use a slotted spoon, transfer vegetables to the work bowl of a food processor, draining excess water.  Add buttermilk and ¼ tsp paprika; pulse until smooth.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, add pasta to boiling water; cook according to package directions.  Drain, and set aside.  Return pan to stove, and reduce heat to medium-low. Add squash mixture, broth, mustard, and pasta to pan, stirring to combine.  Add cheddar, stirring until melted.  Mixture will not be smooth.  Remove from heat.  Stir in yogurt, ¼ tsp salt, and pepper until combined.
In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs, 2 T Parmesan, and remaining ¼ tsp paprika.  Sprinkle half of bread crumbs mixture in bottoms of 4 each 1C gratin dishes.  Divide pasta mixture evenly among dishes; sprinkle evenly with remaining 2 T Parmesan.  Top with desired amount of Slow-Roasted Tomatoes, and sprinkle evenly with remaining bread crumbs mixture. Bake until topping is golden brown, approximately 10 minutes.

Oven Fried Okra
½ C buttermilk
1 garlic clove, grated
½ tsp salt
¼ - t tsp Tabasco
1 lb okra, sliced in half lengthwise
3/4 C cornmeal
1 T flour
2 T (expeller pressed) canola or grape seed oil

Combine buttermilk, garlic, salt, and Tabasco in a large bowl. Add okra and allow to marinate for 15 minutes. Place a large rimmed baking sheet in the oven and preheat oven to 450°F.  In a large food-safe plastic bag, combine cornmeal and flour. Drain buttermilk from okra and add okra to the cornmeal; shake until the okra is fully coated with cornmeal. Carefully remove the baking sheet from the oven. Add oil and swirl the sheet to coat. Immediately place the breaded okra on the baking sheet. Return to the oven and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring carefully once, until golden. Season with salt if desired and serve. Note: All ovens are different. Keep an eye on the okra after 10 minutes to prevent overcooking.