Thursday, July 17, 2014

Farm Feature: Masumoto Family Farm

by Sarah Janes Ugoretz

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with David “Mas” Masumoto who, along with his family, is responsible for the Sun Crest Yellow Peaches you’ll find in your box this week. An heirloom variety, these peaches have a wonderful, old-world flavor and a surprising meatiness to them. Unlike commercial growers, the Masumoto family is guided by a concern for quality over quantity. As such, I learned that the Sun Crest trees on the Masumoto farm have been around for over 50 years. Compared to commercial growers who tend to replace fruit trees every 15-20 years, the life span of these Sun Crest trees speaks volumes about the evolution of the Masumotos’ farming philosophy.


After emigrating from Japan in the early 1900s, Mas’ grandparents worked in agriculture in and around Fresno until 1942. Under an Executive Order authorized by President Roosevelt, Mas’ grandparents—along with over 110,000 other people of Japanese heritage—were forcibly relocated to one of several interment camps that were established throughout the country. After being held for four years, his grandparents were allowed to return to the Fresno area. Soon thereafter, Mas’ father purchased 40 acres of land, signifying the start of what would one day become the Masumoto Family Farm. I asked Mas whether he thought having been subjected to four years of internment had influenced his family’s relationship with and approach to farming. Experiencing what they did left his grandparents, and subsequent generations, with “a different perspective”—an awareness that “history is embedded in all that [they] do.”

Today, Mas looks at food through a historical lens and talks about the notion of growing not just fruit, but stories too. As an accomplished and well-respected writer, this line of thinking is not surprising. Like so many small-scale organic farmers, Mas sees more than just a peach. He sees the countless factors that go into producing that peach—from the most minute of details to the broadest of big-picture influences. “The equation is constantly changing,” Mas emphasized. “The biggest challenge of being an organic fruit producer is that we have to look at things long-term. This involves a holistic, whole farm system approach.” Essentially, everything is connected which makes running a successful organic fruit business like Masumoto Family Farm extremely management intensive. As Mas pointed out, “we can’t just find a pesticide to solve our problems,” because the adverse consequences of using that pesticide would have a spillover effect that would surely travel beyond the farm itself.

Growing up in a primarily Japanese agricultural community outside of Fresno, Mas was the only child from over 40 families to return to farming. When I asked him to reflect on the resurgence of youth in agriculture that we’re seeing today, his voiced brimmed with excitement. “Seeing young people get involved invigorates what we do.” Since 2007, his daughter Nikiko has been preparing to one day take over the family farm. “I get to be a part-time teacher, critic, coach and father,” Mas reflected. In passing down the farm, he recognizes that the decisions he makes about the farm are no longer his alone. The same goes for the external factors that impact the operation. “This drought that we are experiencing—it’s not just my drought, it’s her drought. She’ll have to deal with it too.”

This long-term way of thinking seems to permeate every aspect of Masumoto Family Farm. Their “O, U Fab!” campaign is a perfect example. Short for “Organic, Ugly & Fabulous!”, the “O, U Fab!” campaign aims to “radicalize how we view the aesthetic value of food.” If you recall from our earlier feature on Farmer Al of Frog Hollow Farm, only about 2 percent of fruit is ultimately classified as cosmetically perfect. The rest is, to varying degrees, less than perfect. Appearance, along with consistent size, is highly rewarded by today’s mainstream marketplace. Given that an overwhelming majority of fruit doesn’t meet these market standards, this poses a significant problem for many fruit producers. Mas sees the “O, U Fab!” campaign as being educational, but in a literal sense. By creating a localized market for fruit that is imperfect—both aesthetically and in size—Mas and his family are challenging folks to ask why we place such a high value on characteristics that are so often unattainable. For instance, Mas posed the question: “How much extra am I irrigating just to attain a certain size of fruit?” If producing smaller peaches uses fewer resources, especially during times of drought, then shouldn’t we as consumers attribute higher value to these efforts by putting our money towards practices that we support and that are environmentally sound and forward-looking? Mas and his family have recently begun talking to the chefs of a few high-end restaurants near their farm. The thought is this: if these restaurants can feature imperfect fruits and allow the consumer a chance to experience their high quality and superior flavor, then we may begin to, in Mas’ words, “redefine what is gourmet” and encourage consumers to give “ugly” fruit the respect it deserves.



By this point, it’s no secret that Harmony Valley Farm thinks Mas and his family are pretty special. In so many ways, their farming philosophy and the sincere, moral connectedness they feel towards their farm, the land, and the people around them exemplifies what small-scale organic farming is all about.  As our discussion drew to a close, Mas expressed the pleasure he takes in knowing that our farm and his are connected through this fruit share. “We’re pleased and tickled to be part of this.” Abstract as it may be, his hope is that in taking part in this CSA, you feel like you’re visiting his farm through his fruit. After taking that first bite of Sun Crest peach, we think you’ll understand what he’s talking about.

Recipes
This week’s recipes are from the Masumoto family’s cookbook entitled:  The Perfect Peach: Recipes and Stories from the Masumoto Family Farm, by Marcy, Nikiko & David “Mas” Masumoto. 
Their book is packed full of delicious recipes from their farm and every single one of them includes peaches!

Spice-Rubbed Pork Chops with Grilled Peaches
“Pork and peaches are meant for each other…I like the pork chops best with grilled peaches, 
but you can use warm peach jam in the off season.” ---Nikiko


Serves 4
4 boneless pork loin chops
2 tsp ground fennel or 2 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp ground cumin or whole cumin seeds
2 Tbsp dried oregano
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp salt
Olive oil, for brushing the grill rack
2 firm peaches, halved, and pitted

1. Remove the pork chops from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature. Prepare two zones: a medium and medium-hot fire in a charcoal or gas grill.

2. If using whole fennel and cumin seeds, toast in a dry pan over medium-low heat until fragrant. Let cool, then grind in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. 

3. To make the spice rub for the chops, mix together the fennel, cumin, oregano, pepper, and salt. Rub the spice mixture evenly on both sides of each chop.

4. When the grill is ready, brush the grill rack with a light coating of oil. To grill the peaches, place them cut side down, on the medium zone of the grill rack and grill for 6 to 7 minutes, until nice grill marks appear. Flip the peach halves over and grill for another 3 to 4 minutes until the skin is loose around the edges and grill marks appear on bottom. To grill the pork chops, place them on the medium-hot zone of the grill rack and grill on the first side for 6 to 7 minutes (or a few minutes longer if the cut is thicker than ¾ inch). To add grill marks, rotate the chops 45 degrees after the first 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the chops and cook for 4 to 5 minutes on the second side again rotating the chops 45 degrees after the first 2 minutes for grill marks, until cooked but still juicy. Serve immediately with the peaches.  

Prosciutto-Wrapped Peaches

Yield:  2 Servings
1 medium-large peach with give, peeled, halved, pitted, and cut into 8 wedges
8 large fresh basil leaves
4 slices prosciutto, each cut lengthwise into two 1-inch –wide strips

Wrap each peach wedge with a basil leaf and then with a strip of prosciutto.  Arrange on a platter or divide among individual plates and serve.

Featured Vegetable this Week: SWEETHEART CABBAGE

by Andrea Yoder

This summer cabbage has become one of our favorites over the past several years since we started growing it. Not all cabbages fare well in the early part of the season, so we save the bulk of our cabbage plantings for the fall when the weather is more cool and the cabbages thrive. Sweetheart cabbage is a little different though. It’s characterized by a pointy head with tightly wrapped leaves. It is known as a salad cabbage and has a mild, sweet flavor with tender leaves. It grows well even in the early part of the summer.

Sweetheart cabbage is characterized by a pointy head.
Since sweetheart cabbage is known as a salad cabbage, it can be used in a variety of raw preparations. I recommend slicing it thinly or shredding it for use in vegetable slaws or other raw salads. It can also be used in spring rolls, or use the leaves as a wrap in place of tortillas or bread. Sweetheart cabbage is also tasty when lightly cooked. It’s an excellent candidate for a stir-fry alongside a host of other early summer vegetables including snow peas, broccoli, carrots, onions, garlic and summer squash. You could also use it in a filling for egg rolls or just simply saute it with butter and fresh garlic.

Store your sweetheart cabbage loosely wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it. Lightly rinse the outer leaves before using. If you don’t use the entire cabbage for one preparation, wrap the remaining portion of cabbage and store it in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.

Thai Beef Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing
This recipe was adapted from The Frog Commissary Cookbook. It is a simple way to turn leftover steak into the next day’s lunch or a quick summer dinner. Feel free to substitute or add other vegetables to the mix as they are available, such as sweet peppers, broccoli, kohlrabi, etc.

Thai Beef Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing

4 to 6 servings

Spicy Peanut Dressing:
½ cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar
⅓ cup sunflower oil
1 tsp salt
2 tsp maple syrup 
1 tsp minced garlic
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 ¼ tsp soy sauce
1 ¼ tsp siracha or hot sauce (optional) 
2 tsp minced fresh ginger
2 Tbsp lime juice
½ cup chopped salted, roasted peanuts

Salad: 
12-16 oz cooked, rare steak (sirloin, flank or other of your choosing), cut into 1 ½” x ¼” strips 
1 large or 2 small cucumbers, cut into bite-sized chunks
1 cup snow peas, stems removed, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup shredded carrots
2 cups finely sliced sweetheart cabbage
¾ cup thinly sliced onion
4 oz salad mix, lettuce or other salad greens

1. Prepare the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients (except for the peanuts). Refrigerate until ready to use. Stir in the peanuts just before serving.

2. About 10 minutes before serving, combine all the veggies, except for the salad mix, in a large mixing bowl. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss the vegetables with enough of the dressing so that everything is lightly coated. Portion the salad greens onto individual serving plates. Top the greens with some of the vegetable mixture, slices of beef, and chopped peanuts. Drizzle with more of the dressing.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Featured Vegetable this Week: COLLARD GREENS

by Andrea Yoder

We seldom highlight collard greens and they are often overshadowed by the recent increase in popularity of kales, which are very similar in nature. Collards are in the family of brassicas and thus are related to vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli & turnips. They are characterized by thick, sturdy, flat, rounded leaves and boast  a host of nutritional attributes including being low in calories, high in fiber, and they are good sources of beta carotene, vitamin C, calcium, B vitamins and antioxidants. They have long been an important staple ingredient in southern cooking in the United States. The plant is thought to have been brought to the US during the era of slave trade either directly from Africa or possibly from Haiti. Collards are eaten in countries throughout the Mediterranean, Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Farmer Richard looks over the field of collard greens

The traditional southern way to prepare collard greens is to boil or cook the greens for 30 minutes or more in a broth with some sort of a pork product such as a ham bone, ham hock or bacon. While collard greens do need a bit more cooking than spinach to become tender, it is a common misunderstanding that this is the only way to cook collards. Because they are a thicker green, collards do stand up to moist-heat cooking methods such as braising. They are a great addition to soups, stews, bean, lentil and grain dishes where they can be cooked with the other ingredients without becoming overcooked. While cooking collards with liquid will likely yield the softest texture, they can also be stir-fried or lightly sautéed, methods that highlight their flavors and bright green color. You can also use collards in raw salads or slaws, just make sure you allow a few hours for the greens to rest in the dressing or vinaigrette to soften the leaves. Some southern cooks will make a creamy cole slaw using thinly sliced collard greens and serve it on top of a barbecued pork sandwich.

The large flat leaves also make a great wrapper and can be used in place of a tortilla, spring roll wrapper or the like. You can fill them with a whole host of ingredients such as finely chopped greens or other veggies, cooked grains, beans, meat, hummus, etc. Add a sauce to the wrap or dip it in a flavorful dipping sauce and you have a meal! You can use the leaves raw, or blanch them briefly in boiling water, cool and then pat dry. This will help soften the leaf and make them more tender.

The leaves are large and flat which make them perfect for wrappers!
Collards can stand up to other more bold flavors and ingredients including hot peppers, onions, garlic, ginger, curry & other pungent sauces, pork, soy sauce, and cream. Store collard greens loosely wrapped in plastic in the crisper drawer until you are ready to use them. Wash them in a sink of clean water and shake off excess water. Remove the thick center stem and then prepare the leaf by leaving whole, cutting into bite-sized pieces, or stack the leaves and roll them so you can slice them thinly.

Simple Garlicky Greens
“If there could be only one recipe in the world for leafy greens, 
I’d vote for this one.”
—Nava Atlas, Author of Wild About Greens

This is a basic recipe for cooking greens that can be used for a variety of greens including kale, spinach, mustard greens and a variety of Asian greens (eg bok choi, yukina savoy, etc). This can easily be a “go-to” recipe that serves as a base for a whole host of variations. In addition to the suggestions below, you can simply mix Garlicky Greens with beans or grains to round out a meal.

4 to 6 servings
1 bunch collard greens
1 to 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil or sunflower oil
3 to 4 cloves garlic, crushed
Juice of ½ to 1 lemon, or apple cider vinegar, to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
  1. Cut leaves away from stems. Stack a few leaves on top of each other and roll snugly from one of the narrow ends, then slice thinly. Chop in a few places to shorten the ribbons.

  2. Heat the oil in a large steep-sided skillet or stir-fry pan. Add the garlic and sauté over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden.

  3. Add the greens and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until just tender, approximately 5 to 8 minutes. Add small amounts of water, wine or vegetable broth during this time, if needed—just enough to keep the bottom of the pan moist.

  4. Add the lemon juice or vinegar. Season with salt and pepper, and serve.
Variations:
Sweet Additions:  Once the greens are cooked, stir in ¼ to ½ cup raisins, dried cranberries or currants.
Nutty Additions:  Sprinkle ¼ to ½ cup toasted nuts over the top of the greens in the pan prior to serving.
Savory Additions:  Once the greens are cooked, stir in any of the following:  ½ cup sliced brine-cured olives, ½ cup sliced sun-dried tomatoes, or 2 to 3 Tbsp capers.
Spicy Additions:  Stir any of the following into cooked greens, to your taste: dried hot pepper flakes, fresh seeded and minced hot chili pepper, chili oil or hot sauce.

Spicy Peanut or Cashew Sauce
Recipe borrowed from Nava Atlas’s book, Wild About Greens

This rich, spicy sauce is great on just about any variety of greens.  It is a great addition to the Simple Garliky Greens recipe in this week’s newsletter.  Serve the sauce with the greens or mix the greens with a cooked grain (rice, quinoa, wheat berries, etc) and top it off with the Spicy Peanut Sauce.

4 to 6 servings
1 Tbsp olive oil or other healthy vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 scallions, top and bottom parts, sliced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 fresh hot chili pepper, seeded and minced or a pinch of dried red pepper flakes
½ cup natural-style chunky peanut butter or cashew butter
1 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari
1 tsp granulated sugar

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and the bulb part of the scallions. Sauté over medium-low heat until the garlic begins to turn golden. Add the tomatoes, chili pepper, and the green top parts of the scallion. Cover and cook just until the tomatoes have softened, 2 to 3 minutes.

  2. Add the peanut butter, soy sauce, and sugar. Once the peanut butter starts to soften from the heat, stir to combine with the tomato mixture and add a small amount of water, just enough to make this a medium-thick sauce. Stir into nearly done greens.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Just Who is Kelly the Bookkeeper?... “I’m Not Just a Pretty Face!”

by Richard de Wilde

You can say that again! Kelly Kuester, our bookkeeper, is a six year veteran of Harmony Valley Farm and a definite “keeper!” Officially Kelly is our bookkeeper, but she is so much more than that. She is a very important part of our team. She could also be called “Chief Financial Officer” because she watches over our bank accounts and finances as if they were her own. Kelly has initiated numerous controls that have saved us thousands of dollars over the years. She provides us with regular financial reports and has close communications with our accountant, who deserves his own newsletter for all he does for us! But Kelly’s contributions to the farm go beyond just bookkeeping. Kelly is very involved in “Human Resources.” She screens job applicants and trains new hires. Guess who holds down the office when needed during transitions? Kelly does! Time for reviews? Kelly is there! She manages our health insurance and retirement programs and makes sure everyone is paid in a timely manner. Kelly is the first one we call when there is a computer or phone network problem (Andrea & I are not allowed to touch the important cables). Generally she fixes the problem, or trouble-shoots and knows who to call for help. Need a weather forecast? Call Kelly and she’ll tell you the ETA for the next rain storm! Kelly is also the one Captain Jack turns to after lunch when he comes in from playing ball. She knows his look and is always willing to get him a bowl of fresh, cold water.

Kelly keeps the office running smoothly with a smile!

So I’ve given away my bias, I appreciate Kelly every day! I decided to ask our crew what they thought….and boy did I get a response! “Kelly is very busy, but she always has time to help us with banking or tax questions, etc.” “She is very helpful to everybody, always friendly and smiling. She is nice to everybody, jokes with us, and she just makes the day brighter!” Kelly makes sure everyone’s birthday is acknowledged by ambushing them at the morning or afternoon crew meetings to lead the group in singing “Happy Birthday.” She is also responsible for planning our annual crew party….complete with water balloons, piñatas, volleyball, soccer and a whole lot of fun!

Too good to be true? What planet does Kelly come from? The truth is we have a genuine “local farm girl.” This is a rare find these days! Kelly tells it like she sees it, is honest and has a real “farm girl” work ethic. She goes home when the job is done and comes in early when she needs to in order to make sure important things are taken care of….like payroll. She’s been known to work on weekends to help with CSA deliveries and make sure orders are processed in a timely manner early in the season.

Kelly grew up on her family’s farm just a few miles from HVF. The Kuester farm was purchased by Kelly’s great grandfather in 1890 for just $400! Kelly still lives on the home farm with her husband, Bruce. Kelly’s parents still live in the original farmhouse. Her father, Ses, is known and liked by us forever as the guy who delivered our propane for many years. Kelly credits her Dad for teaching her to “help others.” He was always helping neighbors with their crops and animals. Kelly’s mother, Linda, takes credit for her good looks and brains!

Kelly grew up loving the outdoors. She enjoyed fishing with her Mom and grandparents and liked to sit in the woods for hours watching and listening to the wild critters. She enjoys simple pleasures in life such as daily walks with her dog, Casper, and taking care of her garden (this year she’s growing peanuts—I’m envious!).  She is very much a part of her community and volunteers for different events throughout the year. Last winter she participated in a bowling league and enjoys kayaking & canoeing when time allows.

Kelly has one son, Kodi, who is in his early twenties. During her early years as a young mother, Kelly worked hard doing a variety of jobs including house cleaning, cleaning for the local bank, and then was hired as the bank teller! She went to night school for bookkeeping and has worked hard over the years to build her set of skills. Prior to working at our farm, she had several jobs with small businesses including a car wash, a car dealership and a towing company. She did everything that needed to be done in the office and then some! Over the years she has learned the value of being observant at work and stepping up to the plate to do whatever needs to be done…whether it’s in her job description or not. At HVF, she can most often be found answering the phones or working at her desk. If you don’t find her in the office, check the field—she might be helping with melon harvest or transplanting.  If you don’t find her there, check the packing shed where you might find her helping to pack CSA boxes or bunching asparagus late in the day for the farmer’s market! And if all else fails…check the kitchen where she might be stirring a pot of chili for lunch! She loves to understand the “whole process” likes to “think things through,” and likes to have all her “ducks in a row.” She does her work with extreme accuracy and very high standards and will work late to find the missing penny. She truly cares about all around her and takes pride in her work.

Her personal philosophy is to always be pleasant, because it makes those around her have a good day. She likes the challenge and complexity of HVF. It challenges her brain to keep learning, to keep the details straight. We appreciate and value Kelly and all she does to make our farm run smoothly. Kelly is a rare jewel and we hope to keep her challenged for many years to come! Thank you Kelly for all the things you do and for making all our days brighter!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Featured Vegetable July 3-5: Fennel


Fennel is a unique vegetable, unlike any other we grow. It is in the same family as carrots, dill, and parsley which are characterized by their feathery tops and round, flattened flower heads called umbels. Fennel is distinguished by its licorice or anise-like flavor and aroma. For those of you who like the flavor of licorice, this could quickly become one of your favorite vegetables. If you are not a fan of licorice and would rather put your fennel in the swap box, I’d encourage you to read on and consider giving it a try.
Fennel in the field at Harmony Valley Farm.
Fennel is a crisp, sweet-scented vegetable. The entire plant is usable, starting with the bulb at the base of the plant which is the portion that is most often eaten. The stems extending from the bulb can be used to flavor soups, stocks, etc, but are often too fibrous to eat. The feathery tops are called fronds. They have a mild, fresh fennel flavor and are used more as a seasoning or herb. They can be chopped finely and added to salads, used to garnish soups, or blend them into fruit or vegetable drinks or smoothies. You can also stir the chopped fronds into yogurt or sour cream along with scallions, cucumbers or other herbs and use it as a sauce or dip for vegetables, bread, fish or poultry. If the plant is left to form a flower, the pollen from the flower can be collected and used as a seasoning.

Fennel is common in Mediterranean cuisine including Italian and Greek cooking. It can be eaten raw, braised, grilled, boiled, roasted or sautéed. It is often used in gratins, cream soups, seafood dishes, simple salads and antipasto platters. Fennel pairs well with many foods including: lemons, oranges, apples, honey, white wine, olives, beets, tomatoes, potatoes, fish, seafood, pork, cured meats, beans, cream, Parmesan cheese and blue cheese.

Fennel contains a volatile oil called anethole which is responsible for its licorice flavor and aroma. It has been shown to reduce inflammation and aids in digestion. The flavor of fennel is strongest when eaten raw. When sautéed or cooked, the oils volatilize which lessens the intensity of the flavor and the sugars in the vegetable start to caramelize. Thus, cooking mellows and sweetens the flavor while the color changes from bright white to a golden hue. When eating fennel raw, I recommend thinly slicing or shaving the bulb. Cutting it in this way makes it tender and delicate, as opposed to overwhelming. One of my favorite ways to enjoy fennel is to dress thinly sliced fennel with a simple honey-lemon vinaigrette. So simple, yet very delicious. Store your fennel wrapped loosely in plastic in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.
Adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy

This salad pairs very well with seared salmon or any other fish. For another variation, consider adding a can of tuna and/or chopped olives to the salad.
White Bean & Fennel Salad with Seared Salmon

Serves 4

1  cup dried cannellini, navy or other dried white beans, soaked overnight in water to cover
2-3 scallions, bulb and green tops
2  small or 1 medium fennel bulbs, with fronds
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
5 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp fennel seeds, toasted
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1.   Pour the soaking water off the beans and put the beans in a pot. Add fresh water to  cover by a few inches, bring to a boil and boil hard for 10 minutes. Lower the heat,  cover and cook gently until the beans are tender but still hold their shape.

2.   While the beans are cooking, prepare the remaining components of the salad.   Thinly slice the scallions. Trim off the stalk and fronds from the fennel bulb. Finely  chop 3 Tbsp of fronds and set them aside. Cut the fennel bulb into quarters and  remove the core. Slice the fennel very thinly and set aside.

3.  Whisk 2 Tbsp of the lemon juice with the lemon zest, vinegar, oil, and ½ tsp salt.

4.   When the beans are done, drain them, pour them into a shallow bowl and let them  cool for 5-10 minutes. Toss them with the lemon vinaigrette, fennel seeds, and  sliced fennel. Season well with salt & pepper. Gently stir in the scallions and fennel  fronds. Adjust the seasoning to your like with salt and black pepper.

5.  Serve the salad at room temperature or just slightly warm. 
by Andrea Yoder
Yield:  3 servings

½ cup honey
2 ½ cups water
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and minced
½ cup fresh lemon juice
½ cup fennel fronds, tightly packed

1.   Combine honey, water and ginger in a small pot. Bring the water to a simmer  over medium heat and simmer for 4-5 minutes. Stir to make sure the honey 
is fully dissolved. Remove the pot from heat and set aside to cool to room  temperature.

2.   Carefully pour the honey and ginger mixture into a blender.  Add the lemon  juice and fennel fronds.  Blend on high speed until the mixture is smooth and  bright green.

3.   Serve over ice.  Garnish with a stem of fennel fronds or lemon slices
This recipe was inspired by Deborah Madison’s recipe for Carrot Almond Cake with Ricotta Cream that was published in her book Vegetable Literacy.

Makes One 9-inch cake

4 Tbsp butter plus more to grease the pan
1 ½ cups almonds
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges
⅔ cup plus 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 ¼ cups unbleached cake flour or whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
4 large eggs
¼ tsp vanilla
1 cup fennel, chopped finely
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
Whipped cream, to garnish
4-5 cups fresh fruit (Blueberries, strawberries, peaches, nectarines, etc)
Juice of 2 oranges

1. Heat the oven to 375°F. Melt the 4 Tbsp butter and set it aside to cool.
Use a small amount of butter to grease the sides and bottom of a 9-inch
cake pan. Dust the sides of the pan with flour.

2. Pulse the almonds with the orange zest and 2 Tbsp of the granulated
sugar in a food processor until the almonds are finely ground. Sift
together the flour, baking powder and salt.

3. Using an electric mixer, beat together the eggs and the remaining 2/3
cup sugar on high speed until pale, foamy, and thick, about 5 minutes.
Reduce the speed to low and add the ground almond mixture, the
vanilla, and finally the flour mixture, incorporating it just until well
mixed. Pour the cooled butter over the batter and then quickly fold it in,
followed by the fennel.

4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and put the
cake in the center of the oven. Lower the heat to 350°F and bake the
cake until it is springy to the touch in the center, lightly browned, and
beginning to pull away from the pan sides, 40-45 minutes. Let cool
completely in the pan, then run a knife around the edge to fully release
the cake. Place a plate on top of the pan and invert the pan to remove
the cake onto the platter.

5. Just before serving, dust the cake with the confectioners’ sugar. Mix the
fruit of your choosing with the juice of 2 oranges.
6. Serve each slice of the cake with a spoonful of whipped cream on top
and garnish with a mix of fresh summer fruit.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Future of Food

 
The article below was posted in our weekly newsletter on July 3, 2014. It is the first of a series of articles about the future of food, tying in with the eight month series from NatGeoFood.com, in which we would like to encourage discussion and feedback on your views on the future of your food, where it comes from, agricultural practices and its effect on the environment.
 

The Future of Food
by Sarah Janes Ugoretz


In April of this year, National Geographic launched an eight-month series aimed at exploring how we eat today and how we might access food in the future. As our population increases and the impacts of climate change become ever more prevalent, this later concern is of growing importance. In addition to each month’s featured article, which is included in the magazine, National Geographic launched NatGeoFood.com, a dynamic web portal that allows readers to dig deeper into the multitude of issues that fall under this topic. Ranging from climate migration and the rise of suburban agrihoods to culinary adventures in Italy and France, you’re sure to find an article or two that attracts your attention.

The inaugural feature, published in the May 2014 issue, provides an introduction to the question of how we will feed nine billion people by 2050. Written by Dr. Jonathan Foley, who directs the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, "A Five-Step Plan to Feed the World" lays out several major challenges facing us as we try to simultaneously increase the amount of food available and decrease the negative environmental impacts of agriculture. Whether or not Foley’s plan is the solution to how to feed the world is up for discussion, but he does raise points that are relevant to anyone who eats—which, to varying degrees, is all of us.
 
Certified organic vegetables from our fields. 

Foley opens the article by saying: "When we think about threats to the environment, we tend to picture cars and smokestacks, not dinner. But the truth is, our need for food poses one of the biggest dangers to the planet." He’s right. Agriculture emits more greenhouse gases than cars, trucks, trains and airplanes combined. As an industry, it uses the most water and is responsible for an enormous amount of pollution. As forests have been cleared to make way for grazing and crop cultivation, irreplaceable biodiversity has also been lost. While it is projected that our planet will have 9 billion inhabitants by 2050, Foley points out that an increase in the number of mouths to feed is only one part of the problem. As incomes and affluence have risen across the globe, discretionary income is driving up the demand for eggs, meat and dairy. Since a majority of the eggs, meat and dairy being demanded are the result of grain-based production practices, current trends suggest that to keep pace with this demand, soybean and corn production will have to increase two-fold by 2050.
Faced with this looming dilemma, the widespread response by individuals has been to take sides. Today, it’s Big Ag versus local food and organic farming. Instead of further polarizing the issue, Foley emphasizes the need to find common ground. Both conventional agriculture and local and organic production have important know-how and tools to contribute, he urges. "Both approaches offer badly needed solutions; neither one alone gets us there." What he proposes is blending the best of both.

Here is where the five-step plan comes in. While the overall strategy Foley proposes is quite broad, the blueprint is promising and certainly offers a springboard from which to discuss options and move forward. The first step in Foley’s plan is to freeze agriculture’s footprint by putting a moratorium on clearing land for agricultural purposes. We’ve already cleared areas the size of South America for crops and Africa for grazing, and a majority of this land is being used to produce meat and other non-food items such as palm oil and timber. Not only has this convention of agricultural expansion been devastating for the environment, but the populations who depend on the land being cleared often have little say and even less to gain from this practice.

Step two, you might have guessed, is to focus on increasing yields on the land we currently have in production. Foley is careful to differentiate between this approach and the practices that accompanied the Green Revolution. (Beginning in the 1960s, the Green Revolution promoted a set of ideas and tools to farmers primarily in Asia and Latin America, including high-yielding seed varieties, mechanical irrigation systems, and chemical fertilizers and pesticides, with the goal of increasing food production. Whether yields actually increased over time has been widely debated, and the Green Revolution’s negative impacts on the environment and on farmers’ rights have been adverse, to put it mildly.) In places where there are "yield gaps"—basically, where the land could produce more if it were subjected to improved farming practices—technology and mechanization could be blended with best practices from organic production techniques to increase yields.

Using resources more efficiently is the third step. Basically, the goal here is to get "more crops per drop." Foley argues that while conventional agriculture has been responsible for its fair share of pollution, technology now exists to help minimize run off and more precisely apply pesticides and fertilizers to crops. Meanwhile, organic farming can be called upon as an example of how to use cover crops, compost and mulches to improve soil health and conserve water. One major concern at this point, however, is that only 55% of the calories grown today feed people directly. Livestock accounts for roughly 36%, while industrial products and biofuels make up the rest. Foley argues that a shift in diets, the fourth step, would make it significantly easier to feed the world’s population. Consider these stunning figures: "For every 100 calories of grain we feed animals, we get only about 40 new calories of milk, 22 calories of eggs, 12 of chicken, 10 of pork, or 3 of beef." Moving away from grain-based meat production, especially when it comes to beef, would allow us to allocate resources more efficiently. The ultimate result would be an increase in food availability worldwide.
 
Japanese millet being used as a cover crop in a strawberry field at Harmony Valley Farm.
 

Foley’s final step, which he believes is one of the most effective ways to increase food availability, focuses on the need to reduce waste. Roughly 25% of the food calories produced globally go unconsumed—either wasted or lost before they can be utilized. In the developed world, food waste occurs in homes, grocery stores and restaurants. Being mindful of portion size, eating leftovers, and buying less could go a long way in reducing waste. By contrast, in the developing world and among least developed countries this waste is often due to inadequate transportation infrastructure and poor or absent storage methods, two factors that make it difficult or impossible for farmers to store their goods and/or move them from field to market. In order to tackle these issues, targeted investment accompanied by long-term efforts is needed.

So that’s it—the five-step plan. Does it sound easy? I can assure you that it won’t be. There are numerous power issues at play, and on the other end of the spectrum there are countless individuals, especially in the developing world, whose rights will likely need to be protected against high-profit and high-yield driven interests. Businesses will need to be convinced to change their practices, and individuals will need to be convinced to change their eating habits. And don’t forget about that changing climate of ours. Many—perhaps at some point, all—of the steps we take going forward will need to be based on projected or observed climate change impacts.

"The good news," Foley assures us, "is that we already know what we have to do; we just need to figure out how to do it." In the coming months, we’ll continue to build off of many of the points Foley raises in this piece, as we discuss and consider the remaining seven articles in the Future of Food series. By the time we reach the end, our hope is that we—and you—are left with a measured and informed outlook on the future of food.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ramps Win The Title!!

And all through the forest, the people rejoice as the Ramps have risen to take the title in the 2014 bracket!!! They have chopped the Overwintered Spinach, snapped the Sugar Snap Peas, roasted the Mini Sweet Peppers and smashed the Sweet Potatoes on their way to Victory.  Even with Capt Jack trying to stack the deck with a free cookbook, the Ramps held their ground.



Thank you to all of you that have played along with us and we hope to be able to have more fun and games throughout the year!!

Picture of the Ramps coming up this week!


Today's victory is the perfect way to start spring Ramp Season, which is just around the corner! We plan to start harvesting them in the next 1 - 2 weeks!