Thursday, May 19, 2016

Featured Vegetable of the Week: Burdock Root!

   By Andrea Yoder

We are one of only a handful of burdock growers in the country and it is a very important crop for our farm from an economic perspective.  Beyond its economic value, we also hold this vegetable in high regard for its nutritional value and the positive impacts it has on our own health.  Despite the fact that we grow burdock root every year, we’ve only included it in our CSA boxes one time in the last seven years as, historically, it has been under appreciated by members.  But something odd has been happening over the past year.   We’ve been selling more burdock at our market stand last fall and this spring than I’ve ever seen before.  Most of our market crew members have even become burdock eaters after realizing they had been talking about the vegetable but hadn’t tried it themselves. When they did give it a try they found they really liked it!  So this year we thought maybe we should reconsider where burdock fits into our CSA box plans and  decided to give this modest vegetable another opportunity to shine.  Please read on with an open mind and embrace this opportunity to try something different.

Burdock is the long, slender brown root vegetable that is packaged in a plastic bag with a red background.   It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries where it is thought to have important health benefits as a blood and liver purifier in addition to use as a digestive aid and it’s beneficial for treating skin disorders.  It is found quite frequently as an ingredient in tonics used in non-traditional treatments for cancer among other health maladies.

 The Japanese are thought to have been the first culture to include burdock in their diets as an edible plant in addition to its medicinal uses.  You’ll find burdock to have a subtle, unique, earthy flavor with a crisp carrot-like texture and a slight sweetness.  Burdock pairs well with foods such as mushrooms, onions, garlic, beef, brown rice, barley and other root vegetables.  It may be eaten raw, cooked or dried and used in teas.  Before using, scrub the root with a vegetable brush.  You may peel the root if you desire, however the skin is thin and can eaten as well.  Burdock root stores well for months as long as it is stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag.
There are also two more recipes printed on the back of the burdock bag including one for Kinpira, a traditional Japanese preparation for burdock.  I hope you will approach this vegetable with an open mind and give it a try.  It has a lot to offer and you’ll reap the health benefits even if consumed in small quantities….as you’re learning to like it.

Burdock and Mushroom Risotto
Serves 4

5 to 6 cups vegetable broth
1 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp butter, divided
½ cup finely chopped scallions or onions
2 Tbsps garlic or green garlic, minced
1 cup burdock, chopped (peeling is optional)
1 lb assorted mushrooms of your choice, wiped clean and thinly sliced
2 cups arborio rice
1 tsp fresh thyme, minced
1 cup dry white wine
½ tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tsp fresh parsley, minced

  1.  In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to very  low to keep the stock warm while you are making the risotto.
  2.  In a large, heavy bottom saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of  butter and heat until melted.  Add the onions and garlic and saute, stirring until fragrant and soft, about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and burdock. Continue to saute for about 4 to 5 minutes or until the mushrooms are softened and most of their liquid has evaporated. Remove the vegetable mixture from the pan and set aside.  
  3. Return the pan to the stovetop and add the remaining tablespoon of butter to the pan. Once the   butter is melted, add the rice and stir to coat with the butter.  Toast the rice until the grains are   opaque, about 1 minute. Add the wine and thyme.Stir to combine and then simmer until nearly all the liquid has evaporated.  Add ½-¾ cup of stock along with the salt, black pepper, and burdock mixture. Continue to simmer the rice, stirring periodically.  When nearly all the liquid has evaporated, add another ½ cup of stock. Continue to add more stock in ½ cup increments as needed until the rice is tender and the risotto is creamy. Stir in ½ cup of Parmesan cheese and the parsley. Stir well to combine. Serve immediately, topping each portion with a sprinkling of the remaining cheese.  

This recipe was shared with us by Kyle Lindemer, a Madison CSA member and one of our market crew members.  Thanks Kyle!

Shoe String Burdock Fries

By Chef Andrea Yoder

Serves 4-6 as a garnish 

4 oz burdock root (2 medium size pieces, 10-12” in length)
3-4 cups sunflower or vegetable oil (appropriate for high heat cooking)
Raw Burdock Shavings

Fine sea salt

  1. Pour oil into a 3-4 quart pot.  You want the oil to be about 1 ½” deep.  You need to make sure the pan has tall sides as the  oil will expand when you fry the burdock. Make sure there is an additional 3 inches of clearance between the top of the oil and the top of the pan.
  2. Heat the oil on the stovetop over medium-high heat.  While the oil is warming up, prepare the burdock.
  3. Scrub the surface of the burdock with a vegetable brush, then blot the surface with a towel to remove excess moisture.  Using a vegetable peeler, shave thin pieces of burdock by running the vegetable peeler down half of the root.  Rotate the root slightly after each shaving to try and keep the shavings thin.  Once you are down to a skinny piece in the middle, turn the root around and repeat on the other end.  You should have about 3 cups of shavings when you are done.
  4. Test the oil temperature by dropping one piece of burdock into the oil.  It should sizzle and bubble immediately and rise to the top of the oil surface.  If it does not sizzle and/or drops to the bottom of the pan, the oil is not hot enough.  If the oil is bubbling and or smoking before you add the burdock to the pan, it is too hot and you should carefully remove it from the heat source immediately.
  5. When the oil is ready, start frying the burdock in small batches.  Do not put more than a small handful of burdock shavings into the pan at one time.  If you put too much burdock into the oil at one time, you risk boiling over.  Using tongs, gently stir the burdock in the oil to separate the strands.  Fry until the strands are lightly browned.  Use the tongs to gather the burdock together and lift it from the oil. Place the burdock on a plate lined with paper towels.  Use the tongs to gather the pieces into a little pile like a haystack. Sprinkle the pile lightly with fine sea salt while still hot.  
  6. Now you can repeat the process with the next handful of burdock.
  7. Once all the burdock is fried, remove the oil from the heat and set aside in a safe location to cool.  
  8. It is best to serve the burdock fries the same day you fry them.  Use them as a garnish for soups, grilled steak, chicken, pork or fish dishes.  You can also add the fries to a burger or other sandwich for a little added crunch.  And finally, you can just eat them as is because they are that delicious!

This is a preparation I made several years ago for a benefit dinner I cooked for in the spring.  The guests at the dinner couldn’t believe they were eating burdock and loved it!  

Pollinator Packs Coming Next Week! Time to Get Your Garden Ready!

by Andrea Yoder
Pollinator Packs

Last summer we published a series of articles in our vegetable newsletters entitled “The Silent Spring Series.”  We were prompted by the White House’s release of the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, a move that has been regarded by many as a ground breaking step towards acknowledging and mobilizing action around rapidly declining pollinator populations within North America.  This document was created by the Pollinator Health Task Force which was formed in response to a Presidential Memorandum issued by President Obama to create a national strategy to address the issue of declining pollinator populations.

Pollinators are an important part of what we do at Harmony Valley Farm and we rely on birds, bees, bats, butterflies and more to pollinate crops and help keep pest populations under control. We enjoy having these creatures on our farm and in our fields.  Sadly, a very large part of the problem with declining pollinator populations is being caused by the extensive use of glyphosate, neonicotinoids and other pesticides across our nation.
At the end of our Silent Spring Series of articles, we found ourselves asking… “But what can we do to help?”  Well, one of the things we’ve done on our farm is plant wildflowers and prairie grasses in the areas around our fields and roadsides to provide appropriate habitat to support pollinators.

We’ve really enjoyed watching these areas grow and develop over the past few years and are in awe at the variety of pollinating creatures that are attracted to these plants.  But is this enough?  NO!  Inspired by the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, we decided we could take it one step further and encourage all of our members to participate in planting pollinator habitats as well!

The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge is a campaign to register a million public and private gardens and landscapes to support pollinators.  Right now they have registered 187,842 gardens, but we need to do our part to help them reach their goal.                                                                                                                                                                        Join the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge

So, here’s what we’ve done.  We have put together pollinator garden packs that contain a variety of wildflowers and prairie grasses.  They are growing nicely and are ready to be delivered to your CSA sites starting next week on Thursday, May 26.  We’ll deliver any remaining packs the following week on Thursday, June 2.  We wanted to give you a week or two to prepare your garden space so you are ready to plant your packs when you pick them up.

 As you consider your garden space, keep in mind that anything counts.  The plants contained in the pack are appropriate to plant in a space approximately 8’ x 10’.  All of the plants are perennial plants which means they will come back year after year.  You might want to consider putting a marker next to each plant so you know where you planted it and can watch for its return next spring.  If you don’t have garden space at your home or apartment, consider planting them in a community garden space or perhaps there’s a space at your workplace that you could use to establish a pollinator garden.  You can also plant each plant in an individual pot or planter box and keep them in a patio space or even on your balcony.  Once you’ve planted your garden space, don’t forget to register your garden with the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge.  (

The bottom line is planting a pollinator pack is a simple act that can have a big impact.  All of our simple acts can add up to be a great benefit in the end.  As Farmer Richard always says…. “I can’t change the world, but I can change my little corner of the world.

Here are pictures and descriptions of the different plants we included in the Pollinator Packs.  All of the plants we selected are native species grown from seed we purchased from Prairie Moon Nursery. These are some of the varieties that have done the best for us on our farm and have been very attractive to birds, bees and butterflies.  Each pack may vary a bit and may not include all of the plant varieties.

ANISE HYSSOP (Agastache foeniculum):  Grows to an average height of 3’ and produces long purple flowers from June through September.  It self-seeds readily and will often bloom in the first year.  You’ll be amazed at how many critters are attracted to this plant!  Best in areas with full sun or partially shaded.

WILD BERGAMOT (Monarda fistulosa):  Grows to an average height of 4’ and produces purple blossoms from July through September.  Best in areas with full sun or partially shaded.

LANCE-LEAF COREOPSIS (Coreopsis lanceolate):  Grows to an average height of 2’ and produces bright yellow, daisy-like flowers from May-August.  This flower is easy to grow and can form a large colony in a short period of time.  Best in full sun.

PURPLE CONEFLOWER (Echinacea purpurea):  Grows to an average height of 4’ and produces golden red to purple flowers July through September.  Will attract bees and butterflies.  Best in areas with full sun or partially shaded.

SWEET BLACK-EYED SUSAN (Rudebeckia subtomentosa):  Grows to an average height of 5’ and produces profuse, anise-scented yellow flowers from August through October.  Best in areas with full sun or partially shaded.

BUTTERFLY WEED (Asclepias tuberosa):  Grows to an average height of 2’ and produces orange blossoms from June through August.  Best in areas with full sun or partially shaded.

LITTLE BLUE STEM (Schizachyrium scoparium):  Grows to an average height of 3’ and develops a blue hue in summer and coppery-pink color after the first frost.  Does well in medium-dry gardens.

PUPRLE LOVE GRASS (Eragrostis spectabilis):  Grows to an average height of 2’ and develops seedheads which bloom July through September in shades of light to bright purple.  Does well in a dry location.

We hope you have fun with this project and enjoy the experience of planting and caring for these special plants.  We’d like to do  a follow-up story next year to report on all of the successful pollinator gardens you have created. Let us know how things are going and send your pictures our way!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Overwintered Sunchokes...A Vegetable With Unique Characteristics

by Andrea Yoder

I admit, I didn’t have a clue what a sunchoke was when I first started cooking at Harmony Valley Farm.  I only knew I was hungry for the exploration of new vegetables and embraced the challenge of cooking with the seasons.  Within the first few weeks I was here, I made a delicious sunchoke chive soup and crispy roasted sunchokes with chili & lime that I served for crew lunch (both recipes are on our website).  It didn’t take long for Richard to pull me aside and gently request that I lay off on the sunchokes for crew lunches.  That’s when he explained the beauty of a sunchoke to me.  Some people love them and others are not quite as fond of them for reasons I’ll explain in just a bit.  But first, let’s explore the basic of sunchokes.

Sunchokes are a tuber that grows underground on a plant in the sunflower family.  They are native to North America and were actually an important food for our early ancestors who called them sun roots.  In fact the Effigy Mound Builders who lived on our land 1500 years ago grew and ate sunchokes!  The other name they are most commonly known by is Jerusalem Artichoke.  This is a bit misleading as sunchokes don’t have anything to do with Jerusalem or globe artichokes!
The sunchoke field in full bloom

Richard started growing sunchokes in his quest to grow as many seasonal vegetables as possible in a Wisconsin growing season.  Sunchokes help us push the limits on our season both as a late fall harvested crop as well as a spring-dug crop.   The stalks of the plant grow to an impressive 10-12 feet tall and when in bloom with yellow sunflowers, the field is a work of art.  Most varieties of sunchokes don’t even start developing much for tubers until after the first frost in late fall.  After the first frost they are able to translocate the energy stored in the stalk to the base of the plant for the purpose of developing the tubers.  Sunchokes are cold hardy and, as long as the ground isn’t frozen, can be harvested very late into the fall.  In fact, last year we did our final harvest in December!  Sunchokes are one of a handful of crops we are able to overwinter in the ground and harvest in the spring.   In fact they continue to grow slowly and are actually larger in the spring.  Sunchokes also store very well throughout the winter which is just one more reason why sunchokes are a good fit for a seasonal Midwestern locavore’s diet.

Sunchokes are a tasty vegetable with a crisp, crunchy texture and a thin skin.  They have a mild, pleasant, slightly sweet and nutty flavor.  They can be eaten raw or cooked, and peeling is a matter of choice.  When cooked, keep in mind that anything you can do with a potato you can do with a sunchoke.  Sunchokes make excellent smooth soups and are delicious when roasted.  Because of their high water content, roasting makes them fluffy on the inside and crisp on the outside.  Sunchokes can also be stir-fried, pan-fried, added to stews and eaten raw in salads.

Sunchokes are really a pretty cool vegetable that are quite tasty.  Now, here’s where I need to interject an important point.  Sunchokes contain a non-digestible fiber called inulin.  Some people may experience abdominal discomfort, gas and bloating if they eat too many sunchokes at a time.  There are some individuals who have a bad impression of sunchokes because no one ever told them that they may be best consumed in small quantities.  As a result they may have eaten too much and experienced some digestive discomfort that they have not yet forgotten.  In fact, Richard and I have our own sunchoke stories that led us to form a pact upon which we agreed that despite the fact that we grow them, we never have to feel obligated to eat sunchokes.  Within the last year I’ve noticed their popularity amongst chefs really opening up.  I started to think maybe I was missing out on something by choosing not to eat sunchokes.  So, after many years of not eating them, I cooked them again and realized how much I really do like their taste!  I also did a little more research about inulin and realized I am missing out on some important health benefits by choosing to exclude sunchokes from my diet.

Ok, so lets talk a little bit about inulin and why it’s good for our bodies.  Inulin is a non-digestible fiber known as a prebiotic nutrient.  Many of you are probably familiar with probiotics which are beneficial bacteria that live in our digestive tract and contribute in positive ways to our health and well-being.  Probiotic bacteria are found in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, etc.  They help maintain good digestive health by keeping our digestive bacterial populations in check and preventing the overgrowth of bad bacteria that can make us ill and inhibit proper digestion.  Probiotic bacteria do many other amazing things for our body, so don’t be misled by this very simple explanation of their function.  Prebiotics, such as inulin, actually serve as an important food source for probiotic bacteria with most of their work taking place in our large intestines.  Essentially, prebiotics are fertilizer for beneficial bacteria in our gut.  There are many benefits that stem from the synergistic effects of consuming prebiotics and supporting healthy bacterial populations throughout the digestive tract.  Some of the benefits include improved nutrient absorption, enhanced immunity, and better digestion which is important as a basis for our overall health and well-being.  The bacteria in our large intestines in particular use inulin as a food source which helps them thrive and keep healthy populations.  Unfortunately the good bacteria produce gas as a product of their digestion and that is where we have the potential to develop symptoms of gas and bloating if we eat too many at one time.

So after learning more about the health benefits of sunchokes, I decided to change my tune and figure out what an appropriate serving size is for my body.  I’ve learned that I can comfortably consume about a ¼ cup portion.  So that led me to rethink how I’m using sunchokes in my cooking.  For those of us who need to consume them in smaller quantities, we have to find ways to eat them more like a condiment instead of the main ingredient.  By approaching sunchokes this way, we get to enjoy the taste of the sunchoke as well as their health benefits without experiencing any discomfort.  The good news is that sunchokes do store very well, so if it takes you a month or two to eat a pound of sunchokes it’s no big deal.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.  First, check out the recipe for Chile & Lime Sunchoke Salsa in this week’s newsletter.  It’s super-simple to make and very tasty.  It can be eaten in small quantities as a condiment to top off tacos, seared fish, chicken and pork, or added to salads or sandwiches in quantities of just 1-2 tablespoons at a time.  Here’s another idea, the next time you are cooking a burger, add a few slices of thinly sliced sunchokes to the pan and fry them until golden and slightly crispy and add them to your sandwich.   One of my favorite ways to eat sunchokes is by simply roasting them.  A portion of roasted sunchokes may not be a good idea, but why not mix them in with other root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and potatoes?  You can spin-off on the idea of roasted vegetables by making sunchoke croutons to eat on a green salad.  Cut the sunchokes into small cubes, toss with olive oil and season to your liking with salt, pepper and maybe a few pinches of smoked paprika or garlic powder.  Roast until golden and crispy.  You can also shred sunchokes and mix them with potatoes or sweet potatoes to make potato pancakes or hash browns.  I mentioned earlier that you can stir-fry sunchokes as well.  If you add a small handful to a stir-fry near the end of cooking, they’ll retain their crispiness and will taste similar to a water chestnut.  Lastly, add diced or shredded sunchokes to quiche, frittatas or egg casseroles.

For those of you who may be trying sunchokes for the first time, I hope you enjoy your first taste of them and find simple ways to include them in your meals.  If you have tried sunchokes previously and (like me) have been avoiding them, I hope you’ll reconsider ways you might include sunchokes in your diet again.  And as a side note…..Farmer Richard has also reconsidered his avoidance of sunchokes and has willingly been eating and enjoying sunchokes again with no negative recourse.

Chile and Lime Sunchoke Salsa

by Chef Andrea Yoder
Yield: 1 Cup
8 oz sunchokes (about 4 medium tubers)
4 green onions
3 Tbsp lime juice
¼ tsp chili powder
2 tsp honey
Salt and black pepper, to taste

  1. Shred the sunchokes using a food processor or a grater.  Place shredded sunchokes in a medium mixing bowl.
  2. Separate the green tops from the base of the onion.  Finely mince the white portion of the onion.  Thinly slice the green portion.  Add both the green and white of the onion to the sunchokes.
  3. Add the lime juice, chili powder and honey.  Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine.  Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes before serving.  Prior to serving, adjust seasoning as needed with lime juice, salt and pepper.

Serving Suggestions for Chile & Lime Sunchoke Salsa:
  • This salsa is an excellent topping for tacos or quesadillas.  
  • Serve on top of seared fish and grilled chicken or pork.  
  • To make a quick salad, toss a few tablespoons of the salsa with spinach and chunks of avocado.  Top with cooked chicken or fish if desired.  
  • Use this salsa as a garnish for creamy soups such as corn chowder.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Ramps & Nettles...Welcome To Spring

Ramps In The Woods
by Andrea Yoder

I find it rather ironic that we ship food in from faraway lands when we have so much available to us….literally in our back yard!  Springtime in our region brings forth a variety of plants that are the first to break free from their winter hibernation and remind us that there is hope for warm days and green food to nourish us.  Ramps and nettles are two of our favorite “Wild” spring foods that help us transition from winter to spring.

It’s funny to see how both of these vegetables have become more well-known and familiar to many over the past 10-20 years.  It is no longer uncommon to see features about ramps and nettles in major culinary magazines such as Saveur, Bon Appetit and Food & Wine.  But how did so many people come to know and appreciate the culinary value in both of these “wild” foods?  Well, in the Midwest part of the credit goes to our own Farmer Richard who originally gave ramps away at the farmers’ market!  That’s right, he couldn’t sell them so he gave them away with hopes that people would give them a try!

Harvested Ramp Bunches
Ramps are the onion-like vegetable in your box that has a bright green, rounded leaf that resembles a lily leaf.  The base of the ramp is similar to a green onion, although it becomes more bulb-like as it matures.  They are sometimes referred to as “wild leeks” and are found growing on North-facing hillsides early in the spring.  They have a short season of availability ranging from 3-4 weeks on average, hence the necessity to get your fill and eat as many as you can when they are in season.  When people ask me what a ramp tastes like, I usually just tell them the taste is, well, RAMPY!  While they can be used in ways similar to a green onion, they are special in their own way.  Some of the most common ways to use ramps include making pesto or incorporating them into pasta and egg dishes.  Ramps do pair well with other spring vegetables and foods such as spinach, mushrooms, sorrel and nettles.  They also pair well with eggs, cream, cheese, bacon, roasted & grilled meats to name just a few.

Ramps, and the leaves in particular, are delicate and should be eaten sooner than later.  Store ramps in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.  If you are going to keep ramps for several days, it’s a good idea to wrap the leaves in a paper towel to absorb excess moisture.  You can use the entire ramp with the exception of the small root end which should be trimmed away.  The leaves can be used to make pesto, added to salads, wilted into eggs, pasta, soup, etc.  If you do a quick internet search you’ll find a plethora of recipes to fit your fancy including ramp gravy to serve over biscuits, bacon & ramp vinaigrette, dumplings, potstickers and more!

Antonio Harvesting Nettles
So now on to nettles.  Lets get the uncomfortable part of this conversation out of the way first.  Yes they are the stinging kind, which is why we put them in a plastic bag for you.  Nettles are the bunched green that has pointy leaves, is dark green in color and is packaged in a plastic bag.  Nettles have little fibers on the stems that contain formic acid which will give you a “stinging” sensation if you touch them before they are cooked.  This is their own built-in defense mechanism which helps them survive in the wild.  We wash them vigorously before we pack them in your box and did put them in a plastic bag so you can handle them pain-free until you cook them.  Vigorous washing helps take some of the sting away, but we still recommend you only eat them after cooking.  You only need to cook them in boiling water for a 1-2 minutes to remove the sting.  After that you can handle them with your bare hands without a problem.  When I prepare nettles, I first put on a pot of water, cover it and bring the water to a boil.  Next, I prepare a sink of cold, clean water.  Using the bag to hold onto the stems of the bunch, I carefully remove the twist tie and drop the nettles in a sink of water.  I use a pair of tongs to swish the nettles for a final washing.   When the water is boiling, use the tongs to transfer the nettles from the sink to the pot of boiling water.  Boil for 1-2 minutes.  You’ll notice the color will change from a bright green color to a gorgeous emerald color.  Carefully remove the nettles from the pot of water, put in a colander and run cold water over them to stop the cooking.  Note, do not discard the cooking water.  Once cooled, squeeze the nettles to remove excess water.  Now they are ready for use.  You can remove the leaves from the main stem, or chop the stem finely and use everything.

Once cooked, you can do many things with nettles.  You can use them anywhere you might use cooked spinach in dishes such as lasagna, scrambled eggs, quiche, etc.  They are often enjoyed in soup, but can also be blended to make a delicious pesto or a puree that can be incorporated into pasta dough to make a gorgeous green pasta!  You’ll find them to taste similar to spinach…..but much better!

Remember I told you to save the cooking water?  The reason I suggested this is because that cooking water can be consumed as a tea!  Now is the perfect time to mention that nettles are a very nutrient-dense vegetable that is often used medicinally because of its excellent contributions to health.  They are high in calcium, magnesium, potassium, boron, carotenoids, iron and more.  They are also reported to be anti-inflammatory, relieve eczema and decrease the histamine response associated with allergic reactions.  What is there not to love?!

Nettle and Ramp Pesto

1 bunch nettles
2 cups ramps, packed
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ tsp salt
2+½ Tbsp nutritional yeast or Parmesan cheese
¼ cup soaked walnuts

  1. Blanch the nettles in boiling water for 1-2 minutes.  Drain and rinse with cold water. 
  2. Squeeze the water out of the nettles (you’ll be left with maybe ½ cup).
  3. Place all ingredients except walnuts in a food processor, blend until smooth. Add walnuts (or other desired nut) and pulse until nuts are in small pieces. Have a spoon handy to relish this wild pesto!

Author’s Note:  “You can use pesto on pasta, in sandwiches and burgers, pizza or mini vegetable-pizza, in salad dressings, in soups or sauces, or, of course, by itself.”

Recipe borrowed from Naomi and her blog, AlmostBananas.

Creamy Nettles Dip with Roasted Garlic

1 cup blanched nettles
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
5 cloves roasted garlic or a few green garlic leaves
¼ cup fresh mint leaves
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Cayenne pepper, a dash or to taste (optional)
1 tsp sea salt, plus more to taste
¾ cup Greek yogurt (creme fraiche or sour cream will also work)

  1. Put the nettles into a food processor and blend until roughly chopped.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth.  
  3. Taste and adjust seasoning.  You may need to add a little more lemon juice, salt or an extra dash of cayenne pepper.

Author’s Note:  “This is so quick to make, and tastes fantastic……there are so many uses for this nettles dip once you make it.  I have even made a thinned-out version into a nice, cool soup.”

Recipe borrowed from Ariana Mullins blog, And Here We Are…..tasting and discovering this beautiful world.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Glyphosate Use as Pre-Harvest Desiccant in Small Grain & Dried Bean Crops

by Andrea Yoder & Richard de Wilde

Last summer we published a collection of articles entitled “The Silent Spring Series.”  Within this series we discussed the impact glyphosate, the world’s most widely used weed killer, is having on our environment as well as human health.  Glyphosate, originally patented by Monsanto and the main ingredient in Roundup®, is now widely used in many herbicide products around the world.  Glyphosate was originally discovered in 1950 by Dr. Henri Martin, a chemist working for a pharmaceutical company.  There were no pharmaceutical uses discovered at that time, so the molecule was sold to other companies who proceeded to test other applications to find a use for it.  In 1970, a Monsanto chemist discovered glyphosate could be used as an herbicide which led to the development of Roundup®, first sold commercially in 1974.

Last year, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen.  This has caused a heightened interest in the potential negative impacts this herbicide has on human health, specifically because even trace amounts are thought to be harmful due to exposure over time.  In addition to being a carcinogen, glyphosate has been linked to a host of health concerns including its impact as an endocrine disrupter, connection to birth defects and reproductive issues, and the negative impact it can have on beneficial gut bacteria to name a few.  Despite the fact that glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide, it has not been routinely included in testing by the USDA & FDA for residues on food crops.  However, the FDA is preparing to start testing this year.  FDA spokesperson Jason Strachman Miller stated “The FDA has not routinely looked for glyphosate in its pesticide chemical residue monitoring regulatory program in the past for several reasons, including that available methods for detecting glyphosate were selective residue methods that would have been very cost and labor intensive to implement in FDA field labs.”  Soybeans, corn, milk and eggs are on the list of potential foods which may contain glyphosate and will be tested.

While glyphosate use in conjunction with producing genetically engineered herbicide tolerant crops such as soybean, corn and cotton is well-known, there are some lesser known uses of glyphosate that have not been as well-publicized.  In the most recent issue of The Organic & Non-GMO Report, editor Ken Roseboro discusses the use of glyphosate as a desiccant in some crops just prior to harvest.  While the pre-harvest use of glyphosate is not new, it is very concerning with respect to human health because it results in higher residues of glyphosate on the food product.

Dr. Charles Benbrook discusses the pre-harvest use of glyphosate in his paper titled “Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and globally” which was published last month in Environmental Sciences Europe.  Glyphosate is sprayed on a crop just before harvest to help speed up the dry-down process and allow farmers to harvest a crop sooner.  This is advantageous in northern, colder regions as well as in a year when conditions are wet and it takes a while for the crop to dry down before harvest.  This use is referred to as a “harvest aid” or “green burndown.”  While this process started in Scotland in the 1980’s, since the mid-2000s it has become a more common practice in the United States as well as in northern Europe and Canada.  It is mostly used on small grain crops such as wheat, barley and oats.  However, its use extends to many other concerning food crops including dried beans, lentils, peas, corn, flax, rye, triticale, buckwheat, millet, canola, sugar beets, potatoes and sunflowers.

Unfortunately this practice is not something most consumers are aware of, yet its use amongst conventional growers and the industry in North America is more extensive than any of us might like to admit.  Roseboro quotes Tom Ehrhardt, co-owner of Albert Lea Seeds in Minnesota, who identifies the challenge of sourcing grains that have NOT been desiccated with glyphosate prior to harvest.  “I have talked with millers of conventionally produced grain, and they all agree it’s very difficult to source oats, wheat, flax, and triticale, which have not been sprayed with glyphosate prior to harvest.  It’s a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell policy’ in the industry.”

Dr. Benbrook stated in his most recent paper that “Because such applications occur within days of harvest, they result in much higher residues in the harvested foodstuffs.”  Gerald Wiebe, a farmer and agricultural consultant interviewed by Roseboro states his concern that “Consumers don’t realize when they buy wheat products like flour, cookies, and bread they are getting glyphosate residues in those products.  It’s barbaric to put glyphosate in food a few days before you harvest it.”

We’ll wrap up this discussion with a comment from Dr. Benbrook which Roseboro included in his article.   His message is as follows:  “It may be two percent of agriculture use, but well over 50 percent of dietary exposure.  I don’t understand why Monsanto and the food industry don’t voluntarily end this practice.  They know it contributes to high dietary exposure (of glyphosate).”

Benbrook CM.  “Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and globally.”  Environmental Sciences Europe (2016, 28:28) DOI:  10.1186/s12302-016-0070-0.
Gillam C.  “FDA to Start Testing for Glypohsate in Food.”  Civil Eats.  February 17, 2016
Roseboro K.  Grim reaper.  “Many food crops sprayed with weed killer before harvest.”  The Organic & Non-GMO Report.  2016; 161: 4-6.

GMO Update:  The DARK Act

On Wednesday, March 16, 2016 the DARK Act was defeated by a vote of 49-48 in the Senate.  Bill S. 2609, commonly referred to as the DARK Act (Deny Americans the Right to Know), would have allowed for voluntary labeling of food products containing GMOs (genetically modified organisms).  Additionally, this bill would have preempted the Vermont State law requiring the labeling of all foods containing GMOs by July 1, 2016.  Other states including Connecticut and Maine have passed state labeling standards but have not implemented the standards yet.  New Jersey, Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois and Massachusetts are also considering state labeling standards for foods containing GMOs.

Voluntary labeling of food products at the federal level would have been based primarily on QR codes, websites and call in numbers for consumers to use to inquire about the presence of GMOs.  Sadly, this method discriminates against Americans who do not have access to the necessary technology or services that would be required to find this information.

The Center for Food Safety sites 64 countries around the world already have laws in place requiring mandatory labeling of GMOs.  In a recent poll, 89% of American voters are in favor of mandatory labeling of products containing GMOs and feel Americans have the right to know and decide for themselves.

March Field Update

Sorrel popping up after the snow melted
by Farmer Richard

Just six weeks until our first CSA delivery and things are on the verge of getting very busy around here!  With all the snow melted away, Jack and I have been out looking at the fields and working on our field plan.  We had a pretty mild winter and thus far our overwintered crops seem to have done pretty well.  Last week we dug a handful of parsnips and sunchokes.  There are quite a lot remaining in the field and they have definitely become sweeter over the winter!  Yesterday we had pretty high winds that managed to rip the cover off our overwintered spinach field which allowed us to get a better look at the field.  So far it looks pretty good and tastes delicious!  The garlic is definitely up and looks to have a pretty high survival rate.  We even have some scarlet turnips, black radishes and parsley that seem to have survived the winter, even though that wasn’t the plan!

Onions in the greenhouse

Our greenhouses are filling up quickly.  The onions and shallots will be ready for their first trimming within the next week or so and we hope to transplant them in the field the first week of April.  Our first crop of dandelion greens and parsley are planted and starting to come up.  We’re hoping to see the first broccoli, cauliflower and kohlrabi sprouts this weekend.

We started the first herbs for our herb packs this week and some of the wildflowers and grasses for our pollinator packs are already poking through.  Next week we’ll be planting the first lettuce crop and hope to see the fennel pushing through as well.  We’re impatiently waiting for the ginger and turmeric to sprout.  Shouldn’t be too long now as the rhizomes were already starting to swell when we planted them!

The garlic field!
Our small winter crew is trimming the last of the pussy willow today and we hope to finish pruning the curly willow hedge rows next week.  We’re in the midst of a few winter repair projects and will be tackling our massive spring cleaning projects very soon.

We just received approval yesterday for our H2A visas.  These are agricultural guest worker visas we rely on for our seasonal field crew.  We plan to see our first group of guys back at work on April 4!  With all indications that it will be an early spring, we’re anxious for their return.

And the question you may still have on the tip of your tongue….what about the ramps?!   Jack and I haven’t ventured out to the ramp woods yet, but stay tuned for more spring updates.  They’re right around the corner!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Western Wisconsin: How Native American People Lived in the Past-Part 3

 In this month’s newsletter, we will wrap up our series of articles about the Effigy Mound Builders.  In our two January newsletters, we introduced this group of prehistoric people who once lived in our area. Our interest in this topic started last year when I discovered Effigy Burial Mounds on our farm.  We’ve enjoyed exploring and learning more about these people with our friend and neighbor, Jim Theler, who is an archeologist.  If you haven’t had the opportunity to read the first two articles in our series, we invite you to either take a look at our blog or refer to our January newsletters on our website.  In this third and final article, Jim helps us understand more about the social aspects of the Effigy Mound Builders.  These people had an interesting way of organizing their community and people.  Jim will also help us understand how the burial mounds they built fit into their culture.
—Richard de Wilde

    Part 3:  Social Structure & the Importance of Burial Mounds

by Jim Theler
In our last article we learned that the Effigy Mound people lived for most of their time hunting and gathering wild resources.  They moved seasonally to take advantage of different animals, plants and resources.  They were organized by family groups, or “bands” as described by anthropologists.

For most of the year, small groups or “micro-bands” composed of a few related families lived and worked together. They might have a total of 15 to 30 people, with the adult males related by blood and women marrying into the micro-band from other groups. These groups were “egalitarian,” meaning all people were born having equal status, but followed cultural roles based on age and sex. Inherited ranks with positions such as “chiefs” were not present in Effigy Mound times.

Prehistoric Cave Art Depicting a Pregnant Deer.
Photo sourced from Mississippi Valley Archaeology Society
Hunting, which was primarily a male responsibility, was certainly an important part of their survival.  However, their survival depended on much more than just hunting!  Survival in these long-ago times was dependent upon the cooperation of men and women working towards a common goal and women played roles that were every bit as vital as those of men. In addition to caring for children and teaching them essential skills, they prepared hides of deer and other animals, made clothing, collected medicinal and edible wild plants, gathered firewood, cooked and prepared food for storage, made mats and other important items and kept the camp in shape.  They also made fine pottery vessels for cooking and water storage.

For most of the ancient past, and until nearly the end of the Effigy Mound period, the small winter micro-bands of Western Wisconsin moved to the Mississippi or Wisconsin River valleys for the summer and sometimes formed larger groups called “macro-bands.”   A small band of related families who spent a winter together in a rock shelter certainly looked forward to the arrival of warm weather and an opportunity to migrate. The stress of surviving the winter was over, and living was much easier. Fish, mussels and small game were readily available in the river valleys and there was not much need for large quantities of firewood.  Everyone knew that groups of related families would meet at a particular location at a certain time in the late spring.  These newly formed macro-bands would be composed of 200 to 500 people.  All these groups were held together by kinship through blood or marriage.

There are several reasons they formed these larger gatherings or macro-bands.     First, stresses build up in any group of related families who are working closely together by necessity, and these stresses need to be relieved. In historic times, we know these small micro-bands would often reorganize themselves when they arrived at a macro-band gathering. Thus, members of one micro-band who were unhappy could simply say good-bye to that group and move in with another relative’s group.

Second, any individual of marital age would be hard pressed to find a suitable mate in the small winter group. All human groups have incest taboos and prohibitions on whom one can and cannot marry.  Anthropologists who have studied this situation refer to “mating-networks” that need 200 or more people to have enough potential mates available. A macro-band of 500 people or two macro-bands that might come together would be the best scenario. In historic times, these large gatherings were a time of celebration. Young people were excited to see friends again and perhaps someone who was of interest for marriage. Old friendships were renewed, accounts of births, who had survived the winter, successful hunts and tragedies recounted.

Third, people who died during the winter were typically not buried at the winter rock shelter location.  Rock shelters having hundreds or thousands of years of repeated cool season occupations seldom have human burials.  Archaeologists believe the remains of the dead were kept until they could be brought to the summer gathering for final burial.  When effigy mounds were excavated in the earlier 20th century, they often contained both bundles of human bones as well as extended burials where bones were found articulated, indicating in-flesh burials. If relatives died at a winter camp, their remains were cared for and brought to summer macro-band gathering.  This way all could pay their respects and provide a proper burial for the deceased. These burial ceremonies were a unifying activity for the greater group.

As late fall approached, the macro-band dispersed and the reorganized micro-bands made their way back into the rugged interior of western Wisconsin. Rather than returning to the location where they had spent the previous winter, they would probably select another valley for their winter camp. Selection was important, and people needed to be spaced out on the landscape so as not to over use the deer and firewood resources.

By A.D. 900 the world of the Effigy Mound people was changing.  Best estimates indicate there were probably five macro-bands in eastern Wisconsin and four in the western part of the state with perhaps a total population of 3,000 people for the southern half of Wisconsin.  The population had grown and the annual cycle of winter dispersal and summer congregation into macro-bands no longer worked. Effigy Mound people begin to occupy interior valleys year round. Archaeologists believe the landscape had become “packed” to capacity with humans, resulting in overhunting of deer likely precipitated by the effectiveness of the bow and arrow.

The first appearance of corn horticulture is seen in the region during this time as well. Cultivation of corn is something people did in the ancient past only if they must. Farming is hard work, and the yields from growing and protecting small plots of corn from animals are small. Corn, which is resistant to decay once carbonized through burning, has been found at both Effigy Mound living sites on the Mississippi River and in the interior sites of the Bad Axe River Valley.  During this same time period, river mussels along the Mississippi also were harvested by the hundreds of thousands and may have been dried as a winter food, another sign of “resource stress.”
Prehistoric Cave Art Depicting a Spring Hunt.
Photo sourced from

The flexibility and mobility of a hunting and gathering people moving from one valley to another in different years was lost. Deer populations were reduced and firewood became increasingly scarce.  Effigy Mounds, previously confined to the major river valleys suitable for macro-band gatherings, began to be built in the interior valleys.

Effigy mounds served a number of functions. First, they are burial places of the dead.  They were built in the form of an animal, which carried additional information.  In many Native American societies people are born into a clan, a group of related families or lineages.  Clans often have a totem animal, eg Bear Clan, Eagle Clan or Deer Clan. Each clan has certain assigned tasks and ritual responsibilities. Your clan affiliation also provides clear guidelines, as a Bear Clan person could not marry another Bear Clan member. Archaeologists believe the effigy mounds are sacred burial places and that they were meant to be seen. Burial mounds in the shape of a particular animal convey the information that this land is held by a particular clan group. It was the equivalent of a “No Trespassing sign.” In the North and South forks of the Bad Axe River(the location of Harmony Valley Farm), effigy mounds were built on the sidewalls of valleys, ridge tops, and terraces to be seen by the living and to declare to those who might pass by, “Beware: this land is held and defended.” Archaeologists speculate that this Effigy Mound building after about A.D. 900 was brought on by increasing resource stress and the need to protect their area.

Between about A.D. 1000 and 1050 the Effigy Mound people appear to have abandoned western Wisconsin. The best explanation is that the deer herd had been greatly reduced, perhaps at the end of a final severe winter with deep snow—the sort that was described for western Wisconsin in the 1850s. Decisions at such time would be difficult.  Imagine your people are hungry, a few deer are yarded in the creek bottom and you can kill them with ease.  Out of necessity, you kill the deer.  One deep cave in Crawford County has ancient paintings, drawn by torch light in a style we believe to have been used in Effigy Mound times.  The paintings show bowmen surrounding a group of deer. None of the deer have antlers and their tails are up in the alert posture.  Several of these are shown with fetal deer drawn in them. This painting seems to portray an early spring hunt and such a killing of pregnant does would seem to be an act of desperation for people so knowledgeable about their natural world.

After A.D. 1050, Effigy Mound sites no longer appear in western Wisconsin. The state’s remaining effigy mounds, sacred site holding the remains of the dead, are visible reminders of this long-ago time.
Richard’s Closing Thoughts:
We are grateful for the dedicated and meticulous work of the many archeologists who have devoted lifetimes to uncover and piece together the lives of those peoples that lived here on our land for over 12,000 years before us.  We are in awe of the intelligent, resourceful and spiritual human beings who lived here so many years ago and their ability to tread lightly in this place.  Our goal is to not only preserve the burial mounds on our land that we’ve become stewards of, but to also consider it our challenge to live in such a way so as to maintain our land in a similar fashion.  In doing so, we hope it will continue to sustain us and our descendants for generations beyond us.