Tuesday, July 26, 2011

CSA Share Week #8

Laying hens recover from the heat. Half the farm's flock was lost to last week's extreme heat.

A bit of a disaster struck the farm this past week. We were braced for the heat—making sure our generator was set up in case of a black or brown out. Without electricity we’d lose produce in our walk-in cooler and fall plantings that we’ve started in our greenhouse, because they need frequent watering (and thus a functioning water pump). Fortunately, we never lost our power. Unfortunately, instead, we lost half our flock of laying hens. With the first hot night, we lost 15. The next hot night, another 11, and so the week continued. Sunday night, when the heat finally broke, we finally didn’t experience any losses. This is a first for the farm. We’ve lost hens to predators and had mature meat birds die from overheating (their breed is prone to heart failure under extreme heat), but we’ve never lost our laying hens in the heat. They’re usually a hearty lot.
Typically, it has helped that at night our hens roost in mobile hen houses—houses built on wheels. The floors are constructed of sturdy wire mesh so that the houses normally get a good bit of air flow, even when the doors shut at night from underneath. We construct them this way so that their manure doesn’t accumulate on the floor but falls onto the ground a few feet below them. This means their houses stay cleaner, the soil below gets some terrific, natural fertility, and they get good air. But this week’s heat was so relentless that we ended up putting baby gates in the hen house doors at night (to let more air in but keep predators out), and we ran extension cords from the barn into the field to run fans in each house through the night. We provided added shade in the field during the day, and hosed down their houses to cool things down too. But it wasn’t until we simply got a normal, reasonably cool night with a breeze (Sunday) that we stopped losing the birds.
So what does this mean for your egg share? At this moment, we’re trying to gauge how this is going to affect members’ egg shares in the long term. We have enough eggs for everyone this week. And it may be we’ll have enough for the coming weeks—and just none for our farmers’ market customers. It’s hard to tell right now, because the hens that held up through the heat aren’t laying at their normal rate. When chickens are stressed, they’ll stop laying eggs. We should have a better sense for how this affects our egg production by next week’s distribution and will keep everyone posted.
Meantime, while hens were dropping in the heat, our field crew was putting in 11-hour days in order to get their usual work done as well as bring in our largest garlic harvest ever. Our crew is a determined-to-work bunch. They don’t like to take days off, and they passed on the option of taking extra long lunch breaks so they aren’t working in the height of the heat. Thanks to their determination, the garlic came in on time (too long in the soil and it starts to break), and the hot, dry breezes we’ve had helps to cure or dry the crop as it hangs in the barn.

1 cabbage
1 head of garlic
Fennel (1 large or 2 small that have been bunched)
6 1/3 ounces salad mix
3/4 pound (12 ounces) green beans
1 bunch carrots
2 fresh red onions (mild and wonderfully sweet when cooked or grilled)

On Fennel- You can do just about anything with fennel—grill it, roast it, sauté it, or, one of the farm’s favorites, eat it raw in a salad. For the latter, you’ll want to very thinly slice it or the texture can be a bit too coarse. You don’t have to have a super-sharp knife and knife skills to achieve this. A vegetable peeler lets you shave it. Trim the base, quarter lengthwise, cut out the core, and run the peeler lengthwise along each quarter to shave. You can also use a mandoline or hand slicer, if you have one. We stumbled upon this recipe for Quinoa, Nectarine and Fennel Salad on Sproutedkitchen.com. We especially liked that it used nectarines, which are in this week’s fruit share.

Cabbage: Don’t feel like you have to use your large head of cabbage overnight. This vegetable will hold in your crisper for at least a couple of weeks. While coleslaw is a refreshing way to eat cabbage raw, there are other ways to use raw cabbage, such as in a fish taco or, one of our favorite sandwiches, a reuben. Here’s an update on the reuben by a good friend, Tony Rosenfeld. He uses smoked turkey and a sun-dried tomato mayo instead of Thousand Island dressing: http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/smoked-turkey-reubens.aspx

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

CSA Share Week 7

The farm's big garlic harvest has kicked in. Ariel washes recently harvested garlic before it gets hung in the barn to cure.

About 12 years ago Ken’s sister joined a CSA when she was living in Hoboken, NJ and working in the city. The CSA concept back then was new to us (and unknown to many). So when we asked her how she liked it she said it was a good experience but with one caveat: she didn’t see any tomatoes in her share until late July. Little did she know, that’s about when tomatoes appear in the Northeast (unless grown in a greenhouse).

We try to remember this anecdote every year, as tomatoes seem to be a gold standard for many CSA members, and one that’s easily misunderstood—even by the sibling of a vegetable grower . Tomatoes are a crop that require a lot of sun and heat and time to come to fruition (along with peppers, melons and eggplant). Most varieties require about 60 to 70 days of growth after transplants are planted into the ground. And since you don’t want to plant a tomato transplant in the ground before the risk of a frost is over (late May, to be safe), tomatoes grown outdoors don’t usually prosper until mid- to late-July.

These dog days of summer we’re finally experiencing are good for ushering the tomatoes, peppers and eggplant along, but we’re not there yet. Hang tight!

Meanwhile, it’s a good time to enjoy some other crops that have finally come in, like fresh green beans. Beans are labor-intensive to pick. You’re not only picking one bean at a time but also having to search through a jungle of a knee-high plant to pick only the ones that are to size (leaving the smaller ones on the plant so they can fill out). Some CSAs actually don’t offer green beans because they require too much labor to pick. Some have their members do their own picking. Since most of our members can’t do that (we're a bit too far), we take the time to make sure you can enjoy these fresh.

On the weather front (what’s a farm letter without talking about the weather…) we finally got a bit of rain Monday. Hopefully it’s enough to give the soil a good soaking. After the dry stretch we’ve had in July, the plants could really benefit from some rain. Hard to imagine being for want of rain after this spring, but here we are, needing it now.

¾ pound green beans or yellow wax beans
1 bunch beets
1 bunch basil
6 1/3 ounces salad mix
1 bunch large, mild fresh onions with green tops
1 bunch swiss chard
¾ pound sugar snap peas (pods are edible, no need to shell) or 2 cucumbers (whichever one your distribution site didn’t get last week)
1 large or 2 small to medium zucchini

This recipe comes from the Fast, Fresh & Green cookbook by our friend and former Fine Cooking executive editor Susie Middleton (Chronicle Books, 2010). This is a terrific book to own—“more than 90 delicious recipes for veggie lovers.” And it comes in a soft cover ($16.41 on amazon.com). Susie has a great approach to food—she offers a lot of fresh ideas, most of which are doable on a weeknight but remarkable enough to serve to guests.

Stir-Fried Swiss Chard with Pine Nuts and Balsamic Butter (from the Fast, Fresh & Green cookbook by Susie Middleton)
Serves 2 to 3.


1.In a small bowl, combine the balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, and brown sugar.
2.Pull or cut the stems away from the chard leaves. Cut or rip the leaves into 2- to 3-inch peces and wash and dry them well. Rinse the stems and slice them crosswise into ¼-in. pieces
3.Heat the peanut oil in a large nonstick stir-fry pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot (it will loosen and spread out), add the pine nuts and cook, stirring almost constantly, until they’re all lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Watch carefully, because they brown quickly. Remove the pan from the heat and use a slotted spoon or spatula to transfer the pine nuts to a heat-proof plate or pan, leaving behind as much fat as possible.
4.Return the pan to the heat, add the chard stems and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they’re shrunken and beginning to brown lightly, about 5 minutes. (They will begin to crackle in the pan as moisture evaporates.) Add the garlic and stir-fry just until fragrant, a few seconds. Add the chard leaves and ½ tsp. salt and, using tongs, toss the chard leaves in the pan just until wilted (30 to 45 seconds). Scrape the balsamic mixture into the pan, stir, and remove the pan from the heat. Add the butter and toss and stir until it’s melted. Fold in half of the pine nuts. Transfer the chard (including all of the stems and liquid) to a small serving bowl and garnish with the remaining pine nuts.

The Farm's Basic Recipe for Roasted Beets
If you’ve never roasted beets, you’ve got to try it out. The dry heat of the oven tenderizes the beets and concentrates their sugar, so they’re both succulent and caramelized sweet.

1 bunch Free Bird Farm’s beets, scrubbed but not peeled
1 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 450° F. Cut off the tops and trim the bottoms of the beets. If medium in size, slice into wedges, from top to bottom, so that the wedges about 1 ½ inch thick at their widest point. Small beets can be sliced from top to bottom in half. Line a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet or jelly roll pan with parchment paper. Pile the beet wedges or halves on the baking pan and drizzle with the oil. Sprinkle with a large pinch of salt, and toss to evenly coat. Spread the wedges out evenly on the baking sheet, cut side down, and roast until the undersides of the beets have begun to brown and become crispy, about 20 minutes. Using a spatula, turn the beets and continue to roast until they feel tender when pierced with the tip of a knife or the tines of a fork, about 10 to 15 more minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Serve with the skins on or slip off by rubbing the skin portion of the wedges with a sheet of paper towel.

Roasted beets are wonderful on their own with a little butter and salt or a squirt of lemon, pesto, or serve with a balsamic vinaigrette. Crumbled fresh goat cheese also goes well with the beets and the vinaigrette or pesto. The roasted beets will keep for five days in a covered bowl in the refrigerator. Make a salad with chilled roasted beets, mixed baby greens (from this week’s share), almonds, blue cheese and a vinaigrette.
© Maryellen Driscoll

A note on zucchini. This is the 3rd week in a row we have zucchini to offer. With zucchini, we have to constantly harvest the “fruit” off the plants, or the plants will stop producing new zucchini. So, since we have it, we decided to include it for another week. If you have a grill, that’s a favorite way to prepare it here on the farm. You can use the technique from the following recipe Maryellen wrote for Fine Cooking last summer. If you don’t feel like buying chives, you can make a similar oil using basil from this week’s share.

Grilled Zucchini with Chive Oil

Or if you don’t feel like cooking, you can riff off of her recipe for

Two-Color Zucchini Ribbons with Mint and Olive Vinaigrette
Don’t worry about using 2 colors of zucchini. One will do. And feel free to substitute the frisée with some of this week’s baby salad greens. (No sense in going out and buying produce if you don’t have to.)

And then there’s always zucchini bread…!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

CSA Week #6

Continued thanks to all those who have reached out to the farm with well wishes and prayers for our 3-year-old son, Xavier, photographed in today’s packed truck. He has been suffering from sporadic spasms shortly after a head trauma (horsing around after dinner). In two weeks we’ve seen 7 doctors, and no one is quite sure what he “has.” We are fortunate that in the last 4 days he has shown no symptoms. Of course, we are constantly on watch. We truly appreciate people’s concern.

At one of the farmer’s markets we attend, there is a young couple just getting started on their own farm. They’ve worked on a successful, high-profile farm, but, as we learned when we bought our farm, there’s a big difference between working on someone else’s farm and starting out on one’s own. Sometimes, as we’re all setting up at the market, I think I see sheer panic in their eyes. And I can only project that they’re thinking: “How is this ever going to work?”
At the same market, there’s a middle-aged fellow, a 2nd generation farmer. He milked cows most of his life. When we met him 10 years ago the stress of farming had become so great for him that he was throwing up on his way to the barn every morning (and his 2nd hand man was showing up to work daily with a 12-pack of beer). Last we’d heard, he’d sold off his cows and was selling insurance. But now he’s giving the farming thing a whirl again, trying to make it selling tomatoes locally. I’m not sure what they’re thinking, but when I last spoke to them about their venture, I couldn’t help but think, “How are they ever going to make it work?”
On the phone yesterday, another long-time, highly diversified farmer (veggies, berries, syrup, livestock…) we know said the growing season is going so horribly that he’s rethinking his career choice. (He already holds a part-time job off the farm.) Even on a decent year, he says, it’s such a marginal enterprise. He is thinking, “I’m not sure this is really working enough.”
Meanwhile, in the last week it seems everyone around us—other than our farming friends—seem to be going on vacation, going away camping on the weekends, calling us to say hello while they’re sitting on the beach.
No matter how you slice it, farming is tough. There are a number of ways to manage risk, and, for us, the support our CSA members is a significant part of that. But, even then, we can’t predict when Mother Nature is going to slap us with one horrific season. We’ve managed to make it work—some years tougher than others, early on with both of us holding off-farm jobs, a couple of years going without health insurance,… And we’ve learned to be happy for our friends who are at the beach or on vacation while we’re working 7 days a week for a 9-month stretch. But those nagging questions: i.e. “is this really going to work?” or “is this really sustainable?” Well, they’ll persist. We’ve learned to tolerate the uncertainty of farming. It’s not a comfortable feeling, but sometimes it’s in pondering such questions that we come up with some of our best ideas.

1 large, fresh mild Alyssa Craig onion
1 bunch collards
1 head escarole
1 bulb fennel
1 bunch carrots
2 to 4 zucchini*
broccoli, cucumber or sugar snap peas
Napa cabbage
1 bulb fresh garlic

*zucchini amount varied among different distribution sites depending on size. Amount to take home will be specified at your distribution.

COLE SLAW: Feeling daunted by your overstuffed produce bins? Here at the farm, we were feeling the same way too. We cleaned out a good chunk of space Monday evening making a festive cole slaw with finely sliced cabbage--in this week’s share--and carrots and zucchini--in last week’s share and in this week’s. The carrots and zucchini were sliced into long shreds using a zesting peeler (a very handy utensil-drawer gadget to have). You could always just grate them. The dressing was made with grapeseed oil mayonnaise, rice wine vinegar, honey, and a mild vegetable oil (we used grapeseed oil). (Sorry, no recipe; just kind of winged it—about 3 tablespoons mayo, 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon honey, and 2 to 3 tablespoons oil). Salt and pepper were added to taste.


Sauteed collard ribbons: http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/quick-sauteed-collard-ribbons.aspx

and Sauteed Escarole with Raisins, Pine Nuts and Capers: http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/sauteed-escarole-raisins-pine-nuts-capers.aspx

Monday, July 4, 2011

CSA week #5

It’s now July, but it seems like the summer groove has yet to kick in for us here at the farm. Apparently, a lot of people are feeling the same way. As we overheard one woman say this week, “I haven’t even ordered myself a Coolatta this summer. It just hasn’t felt hot enough.”

Along with a shortage of beating-hot summer rays, we’re still getting quite a bit of rain. So the ground is often wet. This makes it hard to get some critical tractor work done—to keep weeds at bay, hill potatoes, prep new beds for new plants, and plant seed and transplants from the greenhouse. Most plants don’t care for quite so much rain either. We’ve seen certain crops simply rot in the field recently.
That said, as you can see with this week’s share, it’s not all awash (pun intended).

The garlic has liked all this wet, relatively cool weather. If you’ve never had fresh garlic before, you’re in for a treat. Peel away the outer, fibrous layer, like you would cured garlic, and inside you’ll find the cluster of cloves—snappy crisp and moist.

And new crops are popping up—like this week’s kohlrabi. Last week’s CSA volunteers were so excited to see this, they literally noshed on some like apples, right in the field.

On Friday, the ground was dry enough—or the situation urgent enough--that Ken was able to get some beds prepped and plastic and irrigation tape laid down for a 2nd planting of melons and cucumbers. Our 6-year-old daughter was working with him all day and took a snapshot of this from the tractor’s closed cab (see pic). We thought it was a pretty good shot. She spent a lot of time working with her dad this last week, as some of you know, because our 3-year-old son was in and out of the hospital. Let’s just say it was a tricky, tiring week—worrying about and caring for him while trying to keep each day’s pressing farm work under wrap. We appreciate the well wishes we’ve received from members and the support we got from core group members in pulling together last week’s newsletter without any photos or letters or tips from the farm.

Share List for Week #5
2 purple kohlrabi
1 head fresh garlic
1 bunch young leeks
1 bunch parsley
6 1/3 ounces salad mix
1 bunch swiss chard
1 bok choy
1 bunch kale
1 bunch basil

LAST WEEK’S BROCCOLI- The farm apologizes to those who received broccoli with florets that began to turn brown last week. It was green when it was harvested, washed and stored in refrigeration on the truck. So we aren’t quite sure why it turned so quickly, but we were disappointed to see this change when it came time to distribute.

Kohlrabi is a type of cabbage that looks like a root vegetable but actually grows above ground. The variety in this week’s share is purple on the outside, white on the inside. If you’re used to green kohlrabi, purple tastes essentially the same.
Kohlrabi has a crisp, juicy texture and the earthy sweetness of a combination of broccoli and cabbage. Kohlrabi is delicious paired with fresh herbs like chives, cilantro or parsley, radishes, carrots and apples, as well as with seasonings like horseradish, sesame, ginger, and mustard. Slice it into batons and snack on it with a creamy dip or dressing in the afternoon or before serving dinner. Thinly sliced, it can also be added to a salad. A popular way to prepare kohlrabi is as a slaw.
Kohlrabi is also tasty sautéed or roasted (cut them into thin slices or bite-size wedges first) or added to a braise or stew. You can also boil the bulbs until tender and mash them.
Kohlrabi will hold in the refrigerator for at least a couple of weeks. So, don’t feel pressed to use it up this week. Save some for a summer picnic.

Recipe from the farm: Kohlrabi Slaw with Confetti Chard
Making “matchsticks” and “confetti” might sound tedious, but a chef’s knife makes easy work of this. To make the matchsticks, thinly slice the kohlrabi. Stack a few of the slices on top of one another and then slice into the sticks. For the chard, roll the leaves into cigar shapes and then very thinly slice across to make the confetti.

2 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. mustard seeds
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 1/2 Tbs. walnut or other mild-tasting oil
2 medium carrots, sliced into 1/8-inch thick matchsticks
1 purple kohlrabi bulb, trimmed and cut into 1/8-inch-thick matchsticks (2 cups)
1 cup of very thinly sliced chard leaves (see tip, above)
3 tablespoons chopped parsley

In a small bowl whisk the vinegar, honey, mustard seeds, 1/4 tsp. Kosher salt, and a pinch of pepper. Gradually whisk in the walnut oil until combined.
Put the kohlrabi, carrots, kale, and parsley in a medium bowl. Pour in the dressing and gently toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

What do you do with your cooking greens?
Swiss chard and kale and similar cooking greens have this way of stumping people in terms of what to do with them. As the season progresses, we’ll try to offer new ideas. But if you have a surefire something you’d like to share with us—it doesn’t even have to be a recipe, maybe just an idea—please pass it on. The following recipe for crispy kale is a favorite with at Free Bird Farm (the only way their kids will go near this earthy-tasting green).

Crispy Kale
Serves four.
Roasting kale until it’s hatter crisp is one way to coax finicky eaters into enjoying this highly nutritious green. Children and adults alike eat them as if they’re chips. Serve as an appetizer, snack or with a meal.
Tip: To quickly remove the stem from a kale leaf, wrap your hand around the stem at the base of the leaf. Firmly hold the stem with your other hand as you run your wrapped hand up towards the leaf tip, quickly stripping the leafy portion from the stem. Discard or compost the stems.

1 bunch of kale from this week’s share, washed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
Kosher salt

Heat the oven to 350° F. Meanwhile, strip the kale leaves from the stems (see tip, above). Tear the leaves into large, bite-size pieces. Thoroughly dry in a salad spinner. Transfer onto a clean kitchen towel and blot just to make sure the kale is dry.
Mound the kale on a heavy-duty, rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with the olive oil and cider vinegar and toss with your hands to evenly coat the leaves. Bake in the oven, turning the leaves once they’ve begun to crisp, after about 10 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet and continue to cook until crackly crisp but not browned, 8 to 12 more minutes. Do not let the leaves turn brown; they’ll taste burnt and bitter. Remove from oven, sprinkle with salt and serve.

Here’s what we gleaned from e-how.com:
“Don't throw those radish greens away. They are perfectly good food. Radish health benefits are many; they are a good source of vitamin C, folate and vitamin K (people with high blood pressure shouldn't overdo on the greens). They may also aid in digestion and help flush toxins from the body.

Whether you are growing cherry belle radishes in your garden, buying a bunch to make radish rose garnishes, or just enjoy the flavor in a salad, save those radish greens and cook up some of these easy, tasty recipes.”

Read more: How to Use Radish Greens | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/how_5620696_use-radish-greens.html#ixzz1RAJFF4X1