Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Countin' Countin' CSA News, Week 17

Math is a Big Deal Down on the Farm

We seem to do a lot of counting and calculating here at Elmwood Stock Farm, be it on a seasonal basis or daily. We know first frost is usually during the first two weeks of October and full freeze not too far behind that, so we are counting back from that date to calculate what to plant when so things have a chance to grow during their optimal season. Each morning we know when the CSA delivery truck needs to leave, loaded with your shares, to be on time at each pick up location. So we calculate how many hours we have, and how many hands we have available to harvest and clean, for the highest quality produce to be in your share.

Counting sounds fairly straightforward, but is quite tricky for something we all learned before kindergarten. We know the number of CSA shares we need to pack each day, of each size, and we know how many vegetables we have available, but since the larger shares get more of some items and/or more different items than the smaller shares, the amount of produce items to be picked and prepared is different each day. A daily pick list is prepared before harvesting what is ready and ripe, then after cleaning up and sorting, we divide what we have by the amount needed. Each item is counted or bagged or bunched according to the number of shares that day.

When all the items are ready to be packed for your share, we use a passive conveyor table where the box or bag moves along the line with each person placing their prescribed item in the container. If somebody were to county wrong in the harvesting or bagging, the whole process comes to a screeching halt, while that somebody has to go pick/wash/bunch that item. Usually this only happens once as that “somebody” learns to count correctly next time. The boxes and bags get counted again as they go on the truck, and again at each stop when unloaded. All of the wonderful college students we hire each summer are always amazed at how difficult it is to just count and get it right. There is a fine line between having a little extra on hand, and having too much expense in harvest time and sorting supplies. 

It seems easy to count how many eggs you gather, until you try to count 250-300 eggs going into a bucket while your “helper” is talking to you, your cell phone is going off, and the rainstorm is moving in. How about counting turkeys? With just a handful, it is easy; but once you get up to 20 or 30, watch out! Generally, poultry just don’t stand still very long. There are a few tricks of the trade. We can feed the turkeys a little later than normal, knowing they will all be hungry, and as they all line up at the feeder, we can get a pretty good estimate. With livestock, we can watch them pass through a narrow gate with one person counting mommas and another person counting babies, to make sure the numbers match the calving or lambing records. 

All the counting can generate lots of data. Mostly we use our numbers for production evaluation. Did a certain variety yield the numbers or pounds of fruit from the number of plants we seeded? Are the hens laying an appropriate number of eggs for the time of year? We are also participating in a Southern Regional Energy Study, evaluating how much energy the farm uses, compared to how much it produces, in the form of caloric energy of the food grown. Then there are the real business numbers such as income, payroll, taxes, and all the costs of production. 

On market days, we know about how many trays, and boxes, and special order coolers, and tables, and bags we need for the day, depending on the weather and what we have available. In order to keep the produce as fresh as possible, we load out of the walk- in cooler the morning of the market, rather than the night before. Therefore we have to back calculate what time to get to the shed, in order to get to the market on time. We know what time we need to be at market to get set up and ready, so we back calculate how long it will take in the early morning, to optimize how much sleep we get – fleeting this time of the year.  

People often ask us what we do in Winter. Other than the Fall CSA and Winter CSA, year-round farmers markets, hauling water and feed to the poultry, gathering and washing eggs, hauling hay to the sheep and cattle, growing in the high tunnel and greenhouses, and other chores necessary to keep the farm going; we analyze the records that we keep all year, comparing them to previous years’ data, and try to make good plans for the new year. Data collection can be useful in the long run, if we get the counts right!

In Your Share :

Green Beans
Green Cabbage
Sweet Corn
Bell Pepper
Fresh Herb
Kale Greens

Basil Cream Dressing, use as a topping for fresh sliced tomatoes, or dab a little on fritters or veggie pancakes.

1⁄2 C Greek yogurt

1⁄2 C packed fresh basil leaves

1⁄4 tsp salt

2 T crème fraîche

Combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until creamy. Refrigerate to store.

French-Style Potato Salad, serves 4 (adapted from Fresh)

2 lb potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled

1 1/3 C dry white wine (or ½ C white-wine vinegar)

Salt and pepper to taste

½ C extra-virgin olive oil

1 T minced shallot

2/3 C chopped green onions

Boil the potatoes whole in generously salted water 20-30 minutes, until tender. While potatoes are still warm, slice them into ½-inch thick cubes. In a small saucepan, boil the wine over medium heat until it’s reduced by half (if using vinegar, don’t cook it). Sprinkle the salt, pepper, and hot reduced wine (or the vinegar) over the warm potatoes; toss gently. Add the olive oil tossing just until combined, then add the shallots and scallions. Serve at room temperature.

Heirloom Tomato Avocado Caprese Salad from cook eat paleo, serves 4

4 medium heirloom tomatoes

3 medium avocados

1 large bunch fresh basil

1 lemon, juiced

extra virgin olive oil, cold-pressed organic

aged balsamic vinegar, optional

course Celtic sea salt

fresh ground black pepper

Cut the avocado around the equator and remove pit. Slice into rounds, then remove peel. Lightly toss avocado slices in lemon juice. Slice tomatoes and salt lightly. Layer tomato slices, avocado slices and basil leaves. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, if using. Salt and pepper to taste.

Sweet Corn Salad, from Food 52 site

1 clove shallot, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced

3 ears of fresh, uncooked corn, the kernels scraped from the cobs with a sharp knife (about 2 3/4 cup)

4 Persian cucumbers, quartered lengthwise and sliced crosswise into 1/2 inch dice

1 long red sweet pepper, seeded, ribs removed and diced

1 small handful fresh dill (about 4 smallish sprigs), minced

1/4 C minced fresh parsley

1/4 C buttermilk

2/3 C plain European style thin yogurt, stirred

1 T white-wine vinegar

3 T minced Vidalia or other sweet onion

1 small clove garlic, minced and mashed with a pinch of salt

1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Salt the shallot slices in 1/2 tsp salt and allow to sit about 20 minutes. Rinse well with water and pat dry with a paper towel. In a large bowl toss the corn kernels lightly to separate them, add the shallot, corn, cucumber, dill, parsley and toss to combine. In a smaller bowl combine the buttermilk, vinegar, onion, yogurt, garlic, and whisk to combine. Add the oil in a slow stream, whisking, until amalgamated. Season with freshly ground pepper and salt to taste. Serve the salad slightly chilled, garnish with the feta cheese if desired. Pass the dressing separately.

Pasta Salad with Greens, Corn, and Bell Pepper, serves 4 (adapted from Fresh)
     For the Vinaigrette:
1/3 C fresh lemon juice
1 T whole-grain mustard
1 T finely chopped shallot or onion
1 ½ tsp local honey
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 T each chopped fresh dill and chopped fresh chives
¾ tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
To make: whisk all ingredients together and allow to sit at least 5 minutes.
     For the Salad:
1 C fresh corn kernels
½ lb short pasta
1 T olive oil
4 C fresh greens: spinach, lettuce, arugula, or kale (destemmed and thinly sliced)
1 small bell pepper, stemmed seeded, and thinly sliced
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
4 oz. crumbled feta cheese
Cook corn in boiling water 2-3 minutes, then drain and rinse under cold water. Return water to boil and cook pasta until al dente. Drain, toss with olive oil, and let cool. Toss all ingredients and let stand 10-15 minutes before serving.

Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter, from the Food52 website and described as the most famous tomato sauce on the internet, from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Serves 6, enough to sauce 1 to 1 1/2 pounds pasta. Plum tomatoes in shares are the San Marzano variety, very desirable for this recipe!
    For the Sauce:
2 lb fresh, ripe tomatoes, prepared as described below, or 2 C canned imported Italian tomatoes, cut up, with their juice
5 T butter
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
Salt to taste
Put either the prepared fresh tomatoes or the canned in a saucepan, add the butter, onion, and salt, and cook uncovered at a very slow, but steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until it is thickened to your liking and the fat floats free from the tomato. Stir from time to time, mashing up any large pieces of tomato with the back of a wooden spoon. Taste and correct for salt. Before tossing with pasta, you may remove the onion (as Hazan recommended) and save for another use, but many opt to leave it in. Serve with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for the table.
    Making Fresh Tomatoes Ready for Sauce:
fresh, ripe plum tomatoes (or other varieties, if they are equally ripe and truly fruity, not watery)
    The blanching method: Plunge the tomatoes in boiling water for a minute or less. Drain them and, as soon as they are cool enough to handle, skin them, and cut them into coarse pieces.
    The freezing method (from David Tanis, via The Kitchn): Freeze tomatoes on a baking sheet until hard. Thaw again, either on the counter or under running water. Skin them and cut them into coarse pieces.
    The food mill method: Wash the tomatoes in cold water, cut them lengthwise in half, and put them in a covered saucepan. Turn on the heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes. Set a food mill fitted with the disk with the largest holes over a bowl. Transfer the tomatoes with any of their juices to the mill and puree.