Monday, June 27, 2016

CSA News, Week 9

Is this Organic or Non-GMO?

There is a lot of hype about food labels and farming practices, and with so many labels out there, it's important to know the difference between them. We often have conversations with CSA members about our production methods, and we're still surprised by the amount of misinformation that we read in the media or overhear at the farmers market. This is a main driver behind the topic of the next event in our Daytime Tour Series: Eat Well, Shop Smart, on July 7.

Everything we produce at Elmwood Stock Farm is certified organic. (Mac wrote about the organic-certification process in this space a few weeks back.) Our production practices go deeper than what any food label can define, however.
You can argue that all food is “organic,” in that it essentially comes from a carbon source. To be certified organic is entirely different, and that's what organic food or farming actually refers to. The U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates the term organic, reserving this label for farms that follow the National Organic Program standards. USDA ensures their standards with third-party inspections, a required Organic Systems Plan for every organic farm and an annual review of farms' records. Organic farms are not permitted to use synthetic substances or GMO seeds, feeds or other materials. Organic animal production follows humane-treatment, animal-housing and animal-welfare standards set forth by the government, as well. 

The U.S. has no mandatory GMO-labeling law in place, though 64 other countries do. On July 1, all food products containing genetically modified ingredients that are sold in Vermont must be labeled as such. Until a national GMO-labeling law is passed, we all get to benefit from Vermont's law, as it's hard for Campbell's to manufacture a can of soup, for example, and be sure it won't end up for sale in Kentucky instead of Vermont. We are sure there are more changes to come to GMO-food labeling in this country.

This term is not mandated by any agency, so it's difficult to know what standards this food was produced using. Naturally raised meats and prepared foods often carry a higher price tag without offering the known benefits of an organic label. Your natural peanut butter can contain GMO oils grown with chemical herbicides and a natural pork loin can come from a confinement farm where pigs are given low levels of antibiotics in their genetically modified, synthetically fertilized and toxically insecticided feed. 

Even More Food Labels
Cage-Free, free-range, grass-fed, farm raised, no antibiotics added, Kentucky Proud and Fair Trade are just a handful of other food labels that probably also cause confusion. Some of these labels apply to Elmwood Stock Farm’s farming and marketing practices, but we also go far beyond others. 

Part of using the organic label means food from Elmwood Stock Farm is not genetically modified (non-GMO), contains no artificial hormones or antibiotics, and is not produced using synthetic substances. Our beef is grass-fed, meaning the cattle never eat grain. Our eggs are cage-free and free-range—our chickens live outdoors, though most eggs bearing this label don't come from chickens kept outdoors. And everything on the farm qualifies as “natural”—even though that word has no legal definition.

These food labels are just words on a package, but the practices behind them have wider implications. Some food labels are little more than marketing schemes, so it's important to know exactly what they mean before you invest in them. It's actually best to just buy from someone you know whenever you can.

We know food labels and the organic vs. non-GMO discussion are topics that are on a lot of our friends' and customers' minds. We hope you'll join us to learn about various food labels so you can make your own informed food decisions. Our Eat Well, Shop Smart event is on July 7, 9:30 to 11 am, at the farm, just outside of Georgetown. This walking tour invites you to connect the concept of various food labels with actual farming practices that take place at Elmwood. Preregistration is required at Eventbrite. Elmwood Stock Farm CSA members receive discount registration. —Lisa Munniksma

In Your Share

Savoy Cabbage
Rainbow Swiss Chard
Summer Squash


Chickpeas and Spinach with a Soft-Boiled Egg, adapted from Merci Mama. You can also use Swiss chard or beet greens in place of or in combination with spinach in this recipe.

2 eggs
olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 c. cooked chickpeas
½ lb. spinach
½ c. water or vegetable broth
1 tsp. smoked paprika
½ tsp. ground cumin
1 T. sherry vinegar

Softboil or poach eggs. In a medium-sized pan, heat olive oil, add garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add spinach and cook until it wilts down to half its volume. Add chickpeas and water, and increase the heat to boil. Add paprika and cumin. Mush some of the chickpeas with the back of a fork. This will mix with the liquid and create a creamy texture. Let cook for 5-10 minutes, until most of the liquid evaporates. Season with salt and pepper to taste, add sherry vinegar, and cook another 3-5 minutes.

Spoon the chickpeas and spinach into two serving dishes, making room in the middle to top with the egg. Do a final sprinkling of paprika and salt, and serve.

Curried Broccoli Couscous, adapted from Real Simple
This recipe calls for couscous, but you can make it gluten free and add more protein by substituting quinoa.

2 T. olive oil
1 ½ c. finely chopped broccoli
1 tsp. curry powder
1 c. cooked chickpeas, rinsed
⅓ c. golden raisins
½ tsp. salt
3⁄4 c. cooked couscous

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the broccoli and cook, tossing occasionally, until tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the curry powder and stir to combine. Stir in the chickpeas, raisins, 1 cup water, and salt. Bring to a boil. Stir in the couscous, cover, and remove from heat. Let steam 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Summer Squash Tian, adapted from The Splendid Table. As summer-squash season sets in, use this recipe for your summer squash and zucchini varieties.

3 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 to 3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 lb. summer squash, cut in 1/4- to 1/2-inch dice
salt & pepper
2 tsp. fresh or 1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 c. Arborio rice, cooked
2 eggs
3 oz. Gruyère cheese, grated (3/4 c.)
1/4 c. breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Oil a 2-quart baking dish. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large, heavy, nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, stir together for about 30 seconds, until it begins to smell fragrant, and stir in squash. Cook, stirring often, until squash is translucent but not mushy, 5 to 10 minutes. Season generously with salt and pepper. Stir in the thyme and rice, and remove from heat.

Beat eggs in a large bowl. Beat in cheese and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir in zucchini mixture and combine well. Scrape into gratin dish. Sprinkle breadcrumbs over the top. Drizzle the remaining olive oil. Bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until the top is browned and the gratin is sizzling. Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes before serving. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.


Monday, June 20, 2016

CSA News, Week 8

Cold Hard Facts

When customers and friends ask us, “How’s everything going at the farm,” we usually relay a story about something dominating our decision making on that day, but truthfully, sometimes it’s hard to know how everything is actually going in the bigger picture. We see the size and quality of the produce coming out of the fields, and we see the health of the animals as they graze, but we also keep a lot of records at Elmwood Stock Farm to track our many enterprises.
Every day, we have a list of what and how much to pick and pack to fill CSA shares, or take to a farmers market, or supply a special order. This list becomes a production and harvest record. But, tracking where the product went, and at what price, is a bit trickier. About 18 months ago, we invested in a point-of-sale system, called ShopKeep, to use at the farm and farmers markets in order to track vegetable and meat inventory and sales. Once product information is entered into the program, we can sort distribution by product, by location, by date, etc.  We can actually trace your veggies back to a particular row in a particular field. If you see us punching in your order at the market, that informs our decision-making later on—for example, we now know things like salad mix sells better than heads of lettuce at certain markets while vice versa at others—and lets us know how our meat inventory is looking, rather than having to count individual packages like we used to.
Eggs are counted as they are gathered so we can estimate our rate of lay (how many of our pasture-based hens are laying an egg every day.) After cleaning and candling, we record how many dozens are packaged. If more eggs than usual are cracked or otherwise unsaleable, we know there may be a feed issue or an egg-handling problem.
None of these records help us to know if any of these individual enterprises are profitable. We keep all sorts of other records for that. All of us at the farm track what we did throughout the day: How much time was spent picking/washing/packing each of our 30+ food crops? How much time is spent prepping for or delivering CSA shares? We put this data into Veggie Compass, a software developed by Jim Munsch and the good folks at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which tells us our profitability for each crop or enterprise. Before this software, farmers with such diverse offerings as ours found it next to impossible to determine profitability on a crop-for-crop basis. We are investing quite a bit of staff time to generate good data to analyze, but we are already reaping the rewards of better decision-making by doing so.
Some of us may bristle up when we hear growers say they are not certified organic “because of all the records they make you keep.” This information is required for organic certification, sure, but we keep these records because we need to know the details anyway, certified or not, as a matter of good farming and good business.
As if those were not enough records, we are also in our third year as a farm cooperator on a University of Georgia and UK energy study. For them, we track fuel usage and all off-farm inputs—everything we purchase. Plus, everyone’s work is rated on its level of strenuousness. This all goes into their modeling software to evaluate how much energy various farming systems use to produce a calorie of food. It will take a few more years of data before any firm conclusions can be derived, however our energy efficiency ratio is “looking good” in very unscientific terminology.
So, now you may understand why we give a wry smile when asked, “How's everything going at the farm?” We know some things to be great. We know some things need attention. We know we’re going to know later but not right now because we have to wait for the data. As food farmers, we will make emotional decisions to grow some of the tasty treats you eat (such as organic strawberries), even if the numbers don’t add up. But we continue to explore new production techniques, as well as trial new varieties, to try to make sure they do.

In Your Share:

Kale Greens


Broccoli Spanikopita, from Steamy Kitchen
You can add chopped, cooked spinach or kale to this take on spanikopita to pack a mix of veggies into this Greek-inspired recipe.

2 T. olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 head broccoli, finely chopped
pinch ground nutmeg
salt & pepper
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
3/4 c. feta cheese
1 egg, whisked
20 sheets filo dough (about 1/2 package), covered with barely-damp towel
4 T. melted butter

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Swirl in olive oil and sauté the onions until transluscent. Add garlic and broccoli and sauté for 3 minutes, or until broccoli is just starting to get tender but still bright green. Season with nutmeg, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Remove from heat and let cool until no longer steaming. Stir in egg and feta cheese.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lay 1 filo sheet on clean surface. Brush completely with melted butter. Lay another sheet on top. Spoon 2 tablespoons of broccoli filling 1" from the bottom edge, in the center. Fold the left side of the filo sheet over, then fold the right side over. Fold the bottom edge toward the top and roll. Place on baking sheet, seam-side down. Brush the top with melted butter. Repeat with remaining to make 10 rolls. Bake 20 minutes or until tops are golden brown and crispy.

Black Rice, Beet and Kale Salad, adapted from The New York Times

This recipe uses black rice, but you can substitute wild rice or another grain. Add goat cheese, feta or plain greek yogurt as a topping.

1 lb. beets, halved
⅔ c. uncooked black rice (sometimes called "forbidden rice")
1 ⅓ c. water
½ c. pecans, roughly chopped
2 c. packed, shredded raw kale

2 T. apple cider vinegar
2 T. flaxseed or extra-virgin olive oil
1 T. whole-grain mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. dried thyme (whole, not ground)
1 tsp. sea salt, plus more to taste
pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Roast beets in a foil packet for 1 1/2 hours, until tender. Cool until comfortable to handle. Cut beets into bite-sized pieces or wedges. Add to a large bowl.

In a medium pot, add rice and water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook 40 to 45 minutes. Fluff with a fork and add to beets, along with kale and pecans.

In a small bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients or shake in a jar. Add to salad. Toss to combine, cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. (Overnight is best.) Before serving, taste and adjust seasoning, if desired. This salad will keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days.

Beet Hummus, adapted from The Picnic
Even if you don’t like beets or you don’t like hummus, you owe it to yourself to try this as a snack or appetizer! This dip will keep for a week in the refrigerator.

2 medium red beets
1 ¾ c. cooked chickpeas
3 T. tahini
juice of 1 large lemon
2 T. water
1 large garlic clove, smashed
1 tsp. fine sea salt
extra-virgin olive oil
chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 375° F. Wrap beets in aluminum foil and place in the oven in a small baking dish. Roast until very tender when pierced with a fork, about 1 hour. Unwrap the foil and set beets aside to cool. Once cool enough to handle, peel and coarsely chop.

Put beets, chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, water, garlic and salt in a food processor and purée until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. On serving plate, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with crusty bread or fresh vegetables.