Thursday, November 20, 2014

Winter is Here!

by Andrea Yoder
Winter sets in to the valley surrounding Harmony Valley Farm
The onset of winter came a bit early this year and I must say I’m still adjusting to this change of season. Before the cold set in, we scrambled to harvest what we could and managed to bring in tons of root vegetables (literally), as well as the last of our greens. We stretched the greens season as far as we could and the collards and baby bok choi in this week’s box will be the last of the fresh greens. It’s official…we have transitioned to our winter diet.

When choosing to support local food systems and eat locally, by default you also choose to eat seasonally. With four distinct seasons to eat through, seasonal eating in the Midwest keeps things interesting and can be a lot of fun. As the seasons change, our bodies crave the foods it needs to nourish it at that time of year. On the flip side, nature provides us with what we need at that time as well. In the spring we can’t get enough of the early season fresh greens and other light, cleansing foods to bring our bodies out of winter mode. During the summer we eat light, refreshing foods to cool our bodies...cucumbers, watermelon, tomatoes, etc. Fall is the time of bounty when summer and winter vegetables collide and we have a window of time when both summer and winter crops are available. Peppers make it into dishes alongside winter squash. Greens that were once topped with summer veggies are now served with apples and pears. Finally, winter sets in and we transition completely to a diet based on storage crops. We work very hard to grow and harvest winter squash, cabbage, root vegetables, onions, garlic, and other crops to put into storage. These foods are meant to be stored and will last throughout the winter. They are rich in nutrients and will nourish us during a time when we aren’t able to harvest vegetables from our fields. These foods, along with anything that was preserved during the summer, frozen meat, dried beans, etc will sustain us until spring breaks through. Each season brings its own set of ingredients and an abundance of opportunities to explore endless ways to prepare them.

Storage vegetables offer seasonal cooking options through the winter
For those who may not have as much experience with seasonal cooking & eating during the winter, a box of storage vegetables might be a bit intimidating. “What am I supposed to do with all of this food? I’ll never be able to eat all of this!” Don’t worry…you’ll be able to eat it all, but you aren’t supposed to eat it all in one week. Most of the items in your box this week and the ones we’ll be delivering in December and January are meant to be stored and eaten over time. If stored properly, you should be able to get the full value out of the vegetables in your share. Refer to the storage tips in the back of your CSA calendar, as well as the information we include in our weekly newsletters, to help you determine how to store each vegetable.

“How will I prepare all of these vegetables?” First of all, don’t ever let a vegetable intimidate you…it’s just a vegetable! Most storage vegetables can be cooked in a variety of ways and in today’s world of technology there are endless resources to guide you along the way. If you’re worried about getting bored with eating roots, cabbages, squash and sweet potatoes for the next several months, I would encourage you to approach this time of year with a different set of eyes. People all around the world eat some of the same vegetables we’re eating. Take a little time and look to some other cultures for recipe ideas to keep cooking interesting and fun. For example, there are some great curry dishes that include squash, sweet potatoes, and root vegetables. Stir-fry is a dish that can be made any time of year based on the vegetables you have available. Choose your favorite stir-fry sauce and meat if you wish. Stir-fry carrots, onions, garlic, ginger, beauty heart radishes, cabbage and even turnips. Put the veggies, meat and sauce together and you have dinner!

Roasted root vegetables, soups, stews and gratins are also warm favorites for this time of year. You can keep these dishes varied and exciting by experimenting with different spice combinations and different ingredients as garnishes. For example, treat yourself to a nice bottle of flavored nut oil, such as hazelnut or walnut. Add just a drizzle to a bowl of butternut squash soup or roasted root vegetables to add something a little different. Aged cheeses, toasted nuts and seeds, flavored vinegar, dried mushrooms, dried fruit and dried chiles are just a few things you can experiment with as garnishes to finish a dish and add an element of interest.

Finally, if you get stuck and can’t think of anything to make for dinner, use your resources. Fairshare CSA coalition’s cookbook,  Farm-Fresh and Fast is a great resource to guide you through a Midwestern winter. Don’t forget about Local Thyme, an online menu planning service for CSA. As a Harmony Valley Farm CSA member, you have free access to the Local Thyme website. You can search for recipes, get further information about specific vegetables and create your own menu plan with a shopping list. There is more information about this resource in this week’s “What’s In the Box” email. Finally, use your community. There are other people in your neighborhood who may have some of the same vegetables in their refrigerator as well. Have a potluck and inspire each other! Every December there is a group of Madison CSA members that get together to celebrate root vegetables with their annual Root Party. It’s a lot of fun, the food is always great, and it gives you ideas of other ways to use your vegetables.Our online recipe database can give you ideas for using some of those root veggies lurking in the back of your refrigerator.

We are grateful for the opportunity to have grown vegetables for you this year. We hope your Thanksgiving tables reflect the bounty of our fall harvest next week and your winter is full of nourishing, warm meals to share with family and friends.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Featured Vegetable: Brussels Sprouts

By Andrea Yoder

“Brussels sprouts are the only vegetable I cannot eat unless the weather is cold. No frost, no sprouts. I am not alone…Frost makes the sprout...Eaten at the wrong time of year, cooked too long or served with too much else on the plate, the sprout is hard going.” –Nigel Slater in Tender
Brussels sprouts full of sweet flavor in cold weather!
Sprouts spiral up stalk shaded by tuft of leaves
Brussels sprouts are a highlight of fall and its transition to winter in the Midwest. They grow on a tall, thick, sturdy stalk. The sprouts spiral up the stalk and are shaded by a tuft of leaves at the top, but also down the stem. Chef Deborah Madison describes them like this: “There is something so silly and Dr. Seuss-like about a stalk of Brussels sprouts with its little hat of leaves that it makes you smile and want to eat the sprouts.”

There are several points that are very important when it comes to Brussels sprouts. First, as stated in the opening quote from Nigel Slater, frost and cold temperatures contribute significantly to the eating quality of Brussels sprouts. After a frost, the flavor of the sprouts is sweet, slightly nutty and pleasant. California is a major Brussels sprouts producer for the United States. While Brussels sprouts do grow well there, there are many who are of the opinion that the mild California coastal climate just isn’t quite cold enough for Brussels sprouts. Thus, consider yourself lucky that you live in Wisconsin & Minnesota where we can grow some delicious, sweet sprouts! In fact, this week’s sprouts survived our first hard frost of about 20˚F!

The second point of importance is DO NOT OVERCOOK THEM! When the color fades from bright green to a dark olive color, the flavor fades too. Overcooked Brussels sprouts go from crisp & tender to soft and mushy in texture and their sweetness is traded for a strong, unpleasant flavor with a pungent smell to accompany it. Larger sprouts should be cut in half or parcooked if left whole. Smaller sprouts may be left whole or cut in half. When you are ready to use them, simply trim the end and remove any spotty leaves. Rinse and then you are ready to use them. They can also be shredded by cutting them in half and putting the cut side down and slicing them thinly with a knife. Brussels sprouts may be sautéed, roasted, or lightly steamed just until the color is bright and they are tender to slightly al dente. While most frequently eaten cooked, Brussels sprouts may also be eaten raw. One pound of Brussels sprouts is equal to about 4 cups halved or 7-8 cups shredded.

Brussels sprouts pair well with smoky and salty foods including bacon, ham, aged or sharp cheese and blue cheese. Additionally, preparations often include mustard, walnuts, pecans, lemon juice, onions and garlic.

They are definitely worth eating from a nutrition standpoint. They are high in fiber, folate, magnesium, potassium and vitamins A, C and K and are packed full of powerful, cancer-preventing properties as well. Store your Brussels sprouts in the fridge in the bag we packed them in. You should open the bag a bit though and let them breathe.

Brussels Sprouts with Mustard-Cream Vinaigrette
Recipe borrowed from Deborah Madison’s book, Vegetable Literacy.

Serves 4
Mustard-Cream Vinaigrette
1 clove garlic
Sea salt
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp aged sherry vinegar
1 shallot, finely diced
5 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp sour cream
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Pound the garlic with ¼ tsp salt in a mortar (or on a cutting board) until creamy.

2. Put the garlic in a bowl and stir in the mustard, vinegar, and shallot. Let stand for 10 minutes, then vigorously whisk in the oil and sour cream to bring everything together. Taste to make sure the proportion is right, adjusting as needed with more mustard, vinegar or oil. Season with pepper. You may need to rewhisk just before serving.

Brussels Sprouts
1 pound Brussels sprouts
1 Tbsp olive oil 
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

2. Halve the Brussels sprouts lengthwise, or quarter them if they are particularly large. Drizzle with the oil, season with salt and pepper then spread them in a single layer in a large baking dish. 

3. Roast about 20 minutes if the sprouts are small, somewhat longer if they are very large. They should be tender, not mushy, and the cut sides browned.

4. Pile the sprouts into a bowl, toss with several tablespoons of the mustard-cream vinaigrette to moisten well, and serve.

Keralan-Style Brussels Sprouts
This recipe is Laura A. Russell’s version of a vegetable dish typically made with cabbage in the state of Kerala in India. This is one of many creative and simple recipes featured in her recently published book, Brassicas: Cooking the World’s Healthiest Vegetables. This is a cookbook worth adding to your collection, especially as a CSA member. She includes recipes for many vegetables in the brassicas family including kale, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, Asian greens and root vegetables including radishes, kohlrabi and turnips.

Serves 4
6 Tbsp shredded, unsweetened dried coconut
2 Tbsp water
1 pound Brussels sprouts
2 Tbsp coconut oil or vegetable oil
1 tsp brown or black mustard seeds
1 tsp ground cumin
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp red pepper flakes

1. In a small bowl, combine the coconut and water and set the bowl aside.

2. Trim the ends off the Brussels sprouts. Halve the sprouts through the stem end, turn each flat side down, and cut the halves into shreds. You should have about 8 cups.

3. In a large (12-inches or wider), deep frying pan or a wok, heat the oil with the mustards seeds over medium-high heat. Cook for about 3 minutes, until the seeds start to sizzle. Stir in the Brussels sprouts, cumin, salt, turmeric and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes, until the sprouts wilt. 

4. Add the coconut mixture and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more, until the Brussels sprouts are just tender. Taste and add additional salt if needed. Serve hot or at room temperature. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Film Review: GMO OMG

by Sarah Janes Ugoretz
Doesn’t a movie review sound like a fun feature? We thought so too! This week, we’re shining the light on a documentary film called GMO OMG. In this 2014 film, filmmaker Jeremy Seifert sets out to examine an issue that has no doubt been on many of our minds over the last decade or so: Who controls the future of our food? In considering this question, Seifert explores the pervasiveness of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food supply, the lack of transparency surrounding the use of GMOs, and the environmental impacts of GMOs and conventional agriculture—two factors that, at times, seem almost synonymous. While this issue has certainly seen its fair share of exposure, Seifert’s approach is a creative one—in asking these big questions, he does so with his family in tow, road-trip style. 
The father of three young children, Seifert connects the emergence of his and his wife’s concerns over the presence of GMOs in America’s food system to parenthood. Being responsible for feeding small human beings, they quickly began to realize that, once they took a closer look, everything seemed to contain GMOs. The question then became: Who else knew about this? Based on the reactions of various pedestrians Seifert petitioned in one of the film’s opening scenes, the answer seemed to be: Not very many. And so, without further ado, Seifert and his family file into the family’s van and take off—destined for the offices of Pioneer-Hybrid and Monsanto, the Rodale Institute, Seed Savers Exchange, and even Norway’s Svalbard Global Seed Vault. 
It’s clear from the beginning that Seifert is highly skeptical of GMOs and their corporate and, he makes the argument, governmental bedfellows. Due to and perhaps in spite of his unapologetically critical view of GMOs, Seifert reaches out to the corporate executives, seed distributors, and conventional farmers who make up this GMO conveyor belt. Of his many interactions, one in particular stood out to me. During a stop in Iowa, Seifert speaks with a conventional farmer about the use of GMOs in agriculture. Despite his belief that organic farming is a good thing, this farmer insists that the associated low yields makes pursuing this type of production system nearly impossible. “One billion people are living on less than US$1 per day, so if we all cut our production, what are you going to tell these people? You can’t eat?” 
This conversation illuminates two key points—that growing GMOs does not make someone a bad person, and that the corporate “feed the world” argument has largely succeeded in justifying the use of GMO crops. Speaking to the first point, Seifert seems to reflect this in his interactions with and portrayals of conventional farmers. What could have added additional depth to his discussion, however, is a deeper, more realistic consideration for the degree to which conventional farmers are embedded in this mainstream system. Without the skills, knowledge, and government subsidies, farmers likely feel overwhelmed at the thought of transitioning from a conventional to an organic production system—especially if they’ve been operating the same way for a long period of time. If the power balance is ever to tilt in favor of the organic producer, this is one conversation that must be had. In stopping off at the Rodale Institute, Seifert sheds light on the second point. Over the last three decades, Rodale’s researchers and farmers have called into question the argument that organic equates to low yields and instead have demonstrated that organic methods can match and even exceed those yields produced conventionally. If organic production can produce in excess of conventional methods, then why is the majority of corporate and governmental support directed towards conventional producers? 
MONEY! That, in short, is Seifert’s explanation. He draws connections between the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Monsantos of the world, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)—all of which appear to share mutual interests in the expansion and proliferation of GMO technology. One of the more powerful illustrations Seifert draws revolves around the great and rather expensive lengths to which Monsanto has gone to defeat legislation requiring GMO labeling in various states. For example, Monsanto spent US$45 million in California alone to defeat their GMO labeling ballot initiative! GMOs are so pervasive in our food system right now that if you choose not to consume them, you’re basically shutting yourself off from the majority of the food found in the average supermarket. As Seifert says: “Opting out of GMOs today means opting out of culture and tradition.” 
In considering genetic diversity, the use of GMOs constitutes further cause for pushback. For example, in the U.S. 93 percent of crop varieties have been lost over the last century. The mainstream system we are faced with today, Seifert argues, is one that exalts a corporate-run monoculture at the expense of diversity, seed saving and sharing, and farmers themselves. Intellectual property battles, soil degradation and toxic runoff, Roundup resistant weeds and pests—these, Seifert says, are the consequences of such a system. Fortunately, visits to Seed Savers Exchange and Svalbard introduce a note of hope, as Seifert outlines the actions being taken to preserve the genetic diversity that is, essentially, the essence of life. 
In GMO OMG Seifert has, I think, done a decent job in exploring his concerns surrounding the rise and permeation of GMOs. Apart from a few scenes that struck me as overly theatrical, the questions he asks are significant, the corporate-government connections he highlights are concerning, and the perspectives he elicits are thought provoking. That said, I would encourage you to sit down and watch GMO OMG and treat it as a point of departure off of which to further develop your views on this matter. Look to your local library or Amazon for copies, or, if you have Netflix, you can watch it instantly!

Visit the film's website for more information at

Friday, October 31, 2014

Feature: Fresh Baby Ginger

By Andrea Yoder

Ginger growing in the greenhouse
Ginger is a very interesting and unique crop, unlike anything else we grow on the farm. It is actually a rhizome, which is a stem that grows horizontally underground. It produces roots to anchor it and sends up shoots to grow into foliage above ground as it grows and expands. We grow the plant in one of our greenhouses that has a dirt floor. Ginger grows best in an ideal soil temperature of about 65°F, so trapping heat within the greenhouse helps us provide a longer period of warmth so we can maximize growth. Given our shorter growing season, we will never reach a full-sized ginger, so our ginger is actually “Baby Ginger.”

Ginger has thin skin with pink to purple scales
Ginger is used as both medicine and food. As a medicine, it is said to have an anti-inflammatory effect and can sooth a whole host of gastrointestinal maladies. It can also be an effective pain reliever and part of a treatment plan for cancer. It is a common ingredient in many Asian cultures, often pairing with garlic and scallions in Chinese stir-frys or combine it with chiles, lemongrass and a variety of other ingredients to make Thai curry pastes. Ginger has a spicy, warm flavor which also makes it an excellent ingredient to pair with other spices and rich, comforting foods such as sweet potatoes, winter squash, mushrooms, broccoli, etc. It can be used extensively to make beverages, teas, baked goods, stir-frys, salad dressings, vegetable dishes, curries and much, much more!

Baby ginger has a very thin skin with pink to purple scales. You don’t need to peel the thin, delicate skin of fresh, baby ginger. Simply trim away the scales and you are ready to use the ginger. You’ll find baby ginger to be tender, juicy and very flavorful. Baby ginger is excellent to use for making pickled ginger. The leaves and stems also contain quite a bit of flavor. Use them to flavor soups or stocks or steep them in hot water to make tea. You could also use the ginger stems as a stirring stick for a tropical beverage. Fresh baby ginger can be stored at room temperature for several days. For longer storage, you can put it in the refrigerator or freezer.

We hope you have as much fun experimenting with and experiencing the delicious flavors of fresh ginger. We’ve had a lot of fun growing this crop for you!
Brussles Sprouts with Ginger & Cranberries
Recipe by Andrea Yoder

Serves 4
4 oz bacon, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 heaping Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1 small onion, small diced
3 cups Brussels sprouts, halved
Salt & Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup fresh cranberries, finely chopped

1. Heat a medium saute pan over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add the bacon. Cook the bacon until it is just turning golden and is crispy. Remove the bacon pieces from the pan, put them in a bowl and set them aside. Pour the bacon grease out of the pan and into a glass jar. Reserve one tablespoon of the bacon grease. 

2. Put 1 Tbsp of bacon grease back into the pan. Add garlic, ginger and onions and sauté 1-2 minutes or until the vegetables are fragrant and slightly sizzling.

3. Add the brussels sprouts and continue to sauté until the sprouts are tender and browned on the cut side. Remove from the heat and add the cooked bacon and cranberries.

4. Gently stir to combine all the ingredients. Season with salt and pepper.

Ginger Bug
“This is a marvelous fermented concoction that mixes well with a variety of syrups and juices to create carbonated drinks with added ginger flavor. It takes some tending and up to 10 days to really carbonate well, but the tending is very minor…easier than feeding the cat!” –Recipe and introduction by Eugenia Bone from her book The Kitchen Ecosystem.

Yield: 1 quart
1 quart water
1 Tbsp plus 10 tsps minced, unpeeled fresh ginger, divided
1 Tbsp plus 10 tsps unrefined cane sugar, divided

1. Place the water in a gallon jar, leaving about 2 inches of headroom at the top. Add 1 tablespoon each of the ginger and sugar, place a lid on the jar, screw on the band fingertip tight, and give it a good shake. Leave the jar out on your counter.

2. Every day for the next ten days, add 1 tsp ginger and 1 tsp sugar to the jar. This feeds the fermentation, increasing the amount of carbonation. When you give the jar a shake, you will see the bubbles along the top of the liquid, and if you open it, it may really bubble up..and out!

3. After 10 days, strain and pour the ginger bug into bottles and close them with a cap or cork and refrigerate. The ginger bug will hold for about 1 month.

NOTE: You can find additional information about Ginger Bug & how to use it at

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Future of Food Series, Part VI: Carnivore’s Dilemma

by Sarah Janes Ugoretz

In this most recent Future of Food article, Robert Kunzig—senior environmental editor for National Geographic—explores the Carnivore’s Dilemma (or, as I would comically rephrase it: How I Decided to Embrace the Feedlot System and Love Industrial Beef). Kunzig’s guiding question is one that asks whether it’s ok for Americans to eat beef, given what we know about expected population growth, rising global demand for meat, the associated and/or potential environmental and health implications of industrial meat production and livestock’s contributions to global warming. In attempting to arrive at a deeper understanding of this question, Kunzig spent one week in Texas amongst the cowboys, the nutritionists, the veterinarians and the higher-up executives of Cactus Feeders and its subsidiary, Wrangler Feedyard.

In Texas, the number of calves born each year outnumbers babies by a ratio of 10:1, while feedlots the size of Wrangler tend to ship, on average, one million head of cattle to slaughter. The existence of such industrial operations has secured the United States’ place as the world’s leader in both meat production and consumption. Last year, each American consumed an average of 54 pounds of beef, while only allocating 11 percent of their income towards food purchases (though I’ve come across numerous sources—notably, The Economist—that put this number closer to 6 percent). This is to say that we’re able to eat a lot of meat, for not a lot of money. Indeed, that appears to have been the point. Paul Engler, CEO of Cactus Feeders, recounts how his father, who founded the business in 1975, envisioned a world where beef was cheap enough for all. Considering that in 2013, the U.S. produced the same amount of beef as in 1976 but did so by slaughtering 10 million fewer cattle, the elder Engler appears to have gotten his wish.

Efficiency is the commonly held goal amongst the Wranglers and the Cactus Feeders of the world. Cactus’ creed says it all: “Conversion of Feed Energy Into the Maximum Production of Beef at the Lowest Possible Cost.” Indeed, the consensus amongst those that Kunzig cites throughout the article confirms that this level of efficiency is paramount if the U.S. is to meet the rising demand for meat across the globe—a responsibility that Kunzig adopts from the article’s onset. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a place for anything but industrial production in this most humble of quests. Other types of systems appear unable to keep up with the amount of beef needed to satiate demand. Jason Clay, a food expert with World Wildlife Fund, confirms this suspicion, stating: “Feedlots are better than grass fed, no question.” Clay insists that what we really need to do is intensify—to produce more with less.

When it comes to the question of emissions, industrial production systems come out on top again. Pointing to data collected by scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Kunzig explains that cows allowed to graze on pasture produce twice as much methane as their commercially raised counterparts. With more time to belch, expel waste and gain weight, these cows appear to do little more than contribute to global warming. In terms of livestock-related emissions in general, however, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) suggests that we needn’t be very worried. At present, beef production accounts for 6 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. If the world were to abstain from beef entirely, we’d see a reduction in emissions of less than 6 percent. This is because the fertilizer and fossil fuels used in producing and shipping grain would continue to contribute to emissions, since farmers would keep growing grain. But what if Americans in particular ate less beef? Would there then be more grain with which to “feed the world?” The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) used an economic model of the world food system to ask this question and found that, apart from minor benefits, the impact on global food security would be minimal at best. Basically, if Americans were to eat less beef, American farmers would be less likely to export wheat and rice—two staples in the global food chain—to Asia and Africa.

At this point, it appears that Kunzig’s question—can Americans keep eating beef?—has a favorable answer. However, we’ve now reached the topic of sustainability. If feedlots are the model through which we’re to feed ourselves as well as the rest of the world, we must ask how sustainable they are. Kunzig states that this question is too complex to really address in this space, which I think speaks to the major limitations of this piece in general. He does take the time to mention concerns about antibiotic use in feedlots and their possible connection to the development of antibiotic resistance in humans. The environment gets a few sentences, mainly relating to the unclear effects the excretion of antibiotics might have on the environment, and the very real possibility that grain production might succeed in exhausting the Ogallala aquifer by the end of the 21st century.

When all is said and done, however, Kunzig’s conclusion is basically this: “Here’s the inconvenient truth: Feedlots, with their troubling use of pharmaceuticals, save land and lower greenhouse gas emissions.” What Kunzig doesn’t say in this space says quite a lot. He breezes over the issue of ethics and animal welfare when it comes to beef production, and his discussion of the local environmental impacts of feedlots is virtually non-existent. What strikes me most, however, is that despite discussing in detail the various cocktails of hormones, steroids and antibiotics required to keep feedlot cows healthy and able to digest a diet that they’re unable to process naturally, Kunzig doesn’t discuss the superficiality that has become inherent in this type of system. If feedlots are, as this article suggests, the way to ensure that the world gets its meat, then these questions cannot be so quickly overlooked. Kunzig expresses his wish that Americans would stop “reducing complex social problems…to morality tales populated by heroes and villains.” While I agree that too often food system discussions devolve into this “easy way out” conclusion, Kunzig seems to paint a picture that, to people who are concerned with and widely read on this issue, does not give equal weight to all of the major concerns.

I encourage you to sit down with this article and consider your own reactions, but for now, I’ll leave you with mine. In their current state, feedlot systems strike me as far from sustainable. In order to keep pace with global demand, production would need to be scaled way up, which, to put it mildly, concerns me. Alternative production systems are only mentioned in detail towards the end of the article—and briefly, at that—and yet there is great potential in smaller scale grass-based systems, like what we at Harmony Valley are committed to, and in management intensive grazing systems. These models are almost certainly accompanied by an ecological component, in which the environment and the animals themselves are afforded a considerable degree of consideration. While reading this article, I couldn’t help but think of Black Earth Meats, a nearby slaughterhouse that is humane-handling certified and that works with farmers committed to such alternative systems. The contrast between their creed and Cactus Feeders’, which I stated earlier, could not be more stark: “We Honor These Animals, for By Their Death, We Gain Life.” Efficiency is still a concern—after all, everyone needs to make a living. The difference here is that it’s obviously not the be-all end-all goal. I think it is a mistake to conclude that industrial feedlot systems are the only way in which to meet global demand for meat, and I would go as far as to say that attempting to do so would be a deeply regrettable and environmentally costly mistake. You can read the full article online at

Friday, October 24, 2014

We are what we eat….so we better make sure it’s good!

by Farmer Richard

There is a lot happening at the farm this time of year. We’re running a race against time to harvest as much as we can before winter sets in for good. We’re busy planting some of next year’s crops already…garlic, sunchokes and horseradish are just a few. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle, we also have to start thinking ahead to the next season as this is a crucial time of the year to lay the foundation for next year’s crops. The nutritional well-being of our soils and plants is paramount to the success of our crops, our health and yours! Our philosophy has long been to provide our plants with everything they need for healthy, vigorous growth. Healthy plants are strong & can defend themselves. They can outgrow the weed competition and insects are not attracted to them. They are also more resistant to disease. The result is dependable production, higher yields, and food that tastes really good! While this is a basic concept of good organic farming, it is not easy. However, we can attest to the fact that it actually works!

Just as with human health, a lot has to go into the system for everything to function optimally. Right now we’re in the midst of reviewing our annual soil tests. Every fall we take samples from our fields and send them off to a soil lab where they are analyzed for a variety of nutrients and indicators of soil health. One of the important results we always look at on our soil test is the CEC, cation exchange capacity. Simply put, CEC is an indicator of the organic matter in the soil and the soil’s ability to hold nutrients. We are blessed with some very rich soil in our valley. In particular, the fields on our home farm are a soil type known as silt loam. These fields have a high CEC, which we can see on our test results, but also in the quality of the crops that grow in these fields. Soils with high CEC are more resilient and have a more stable soil structure. They hold water and nutrients that can support plants during periods of drought, yet at the same time they drain well during times of excess moisture. We strive to increase the CEC and amount of organic matter in all of our fields. But how?

Organic matter is built by adding compost, growing cover crops, and by supporting microbes in the soil that break down crop residue thereby returning it back to the soil. Many of our farm’s fields are vibrant colors of green right now, as they were seeded to a cover crop earlier this fall. As soon as we finish harvesting a crop we immediately plant a cover crop. This fall we planted a diverse mix of oats, millet, rye, winter peas, vetch and clovers. The purpose of a cover crop is to keep the soil covered and protected from wind and water erosion that can occur over the winter. They also support soil microbial life, capture and hold available nutrients and produce nutrients by capturing sunshine. We have found that cover crops are one of the most efficient ways to maintain and build soil fertility. After the crop is planted, there is no further buying, hauling or spreading necessary. Everything happens right in place in the field. The cover crops will go into the soil to be digested by soil organisms (ie tiny microbes to earthworms) and become food for our next vegetable crop.

Cover crops and soil building are still just part of the big nutrition picture. Our fall soil tests also help guide us in making decisions as to what additional minerals we will apply in the fall for each field. Every year we take nutrients out of the soil in the form of vegetables which we send your way. In order for the complex system to work, we have to make sure we replenish them and provide them with a balance of nutrients to draw from for their critical life processes. So we buy and spread mixed mined minerals to replace the ones that left the farm in the form of food for others. Does this really make a difference? We think so! Minerals and trace elements are key components to many plant and soil processes. If they are not present or are not in appropriate balance, systems do not function optimally and the crop may not have as many nutrients.

While much of our soil building efforts happen in the fall, we also invest in the nutrition of our plants during the growing season by providing them with additional minerals and nutrients at critical stages of their growth. We do this by adding nutrients to irrigation water delivered through drip lines to the roots and also foliar feeding which feeds the plant through the leaves.

Many farmers question whether all this nutritional hoopla is worth the extra effort and expense. As stewards of the land, we feel that it is our responsibility to not just take from it, but to also care for it so it can be productive for many years to come. We also feel that it is our responsibility to grow the highest quality food we can grow. Isn’t the whole point of eating to nourish our bodies? So when we’re asked if it is worth it to spread minerals and compost, plant cover crops or provide additional nutrients, we find it hard to not answer “YES!” Maybe you can taste those nutrients too?


by Andrea Yoder
Tat Soi with Garlic
Tat soi is a unique fall vegetable we look forward to every year, both for its beauty and its flavor. You’ll recognize the tat soi in your box this week as the large, flat, flower-like green. Tat soi is related to bok choi and mustard greens. It has dark green, spoon-shaped leaves that grow from a main base on the plant. The leaves are tender and very flavorful with a mild, sweet mustard flavor. The stem of the tat soi is edible as well and you’ll find it to be sweet and crispy since this is where the plant stores most of its sugars.

We intentionally plant this green late in the season with the intention to harvest it from the field as late as possible. This year it is a little early, but it should survive into November. As the temperatures start to decrease, the plant lays itself flat to hug the ground for warmth. The result is a very open, flat rosette that is a gorgeous deep, dark green. Tat soi is very resilient to cold temperatures and can recover after being frozen. If you see some leaves on the outside of your tat soi that have a whitish hue to them, this is a little bit of frost damage. If you can be forgiving of a few frosted leaves, I think you’ll be very happy with the flavor of this green.

Tat soi can be eaten raw or cooked. As a raw vegetable, tat soi makes a delicious salad. Combined with other veggies such as carrots, beauty heart or daikon radishes, carrots, and cabbage, tat soi only needs a light, simple vinaigrette to enhance its rich flavors. It can also be lightly sautéed, stir-fried or steamed, similar to bok choi. Tat soi pairs well with onions, garlic, mushrooms, winter radishes, carrots, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice, cilantro, toasted almonds and sesame seeds. It adds a wonderful flavor and texture to brothy soups such as hot and sour soup or a basic chicken and rice soup.

To prepare tat soi for use, turn it over with the bottom facing up and carefully trim each stem from the base. Wash the stems and leaves vigorously in a sink of clean, cold water. Remember, tat soi lives very close to the ground so there is often dirt on the stems at the base of the plant. Once the leaves and stems are clean, spin them dry in a salad spinner or loosely wrap them in a large kitchen towel and shake them to remove excess water. If you are cooking the greens, it is a good idea to trim the stems from the leaves and put them in the pan first to give them a 1-2 minute head start before you add the leafy portion. To store your tat soi, place it in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.

Winter Greens Salad with 
Carrot-Ginger Dressing
Recipe adapted from one published in the October 2014 Yoga Journal magazine. 

Serves 4
2 medium carrots, grated (about 1 cup packed)
3 Tbsp sesame oil
⅓ cup sunflower oil
2 Tbsp peeled ginger, chopped
2 Tbsp rice vinegar or apple-cider vinegar
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp honey
Salt & Ground black pepper, to taste
6-8 cups Tat soi, cut into bite-sized pieces

Additional salad toppings of your choosing may include: sliced onions, radishes, nuts or seeds and chicken or fish.

In a blender or food processor, process carrots, oils, ginger, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, soy sauce and honey until smooth. Thin the dressing with ¼ to ½ cup water if desired. Toss the dressing in a bowl with the greens and any other salad toppings and serve immediately. You may also refrigerate dressing in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Moroccan Stuffed Squash
Recipe borrowed from Sara Forte's book, The Sprouted Kitchen-A Tastier Take on Whole Foods.

 Serves 4
2 medium sugar dumpling or festival squash
3 Tbsp coconut oil, divided
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup quinoa
1 (13.5 oz) can coconut milk
1 tsp sweet paprika
¼ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground cumin
2 Tbsp grated lemon zest
2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
3 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
½ cup pomegranate seeds
½ cup feta cheese, plus more for garnish
½ cup chopped toasted pistachios (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Rub 1 Tbsp of the coconut oil on the cut sides of the squash halves and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the squash, cut side down, on a baking sheet and pierce the skin a few times with a fork. Roast for 20 minutes. Flip them over and continue cooking, cut side up, until you can easily poke a knife through the flesh at its thickest part, another 10 to 20 minutes depending on its size. Remove from the oven and let cool.
  2. While the squash are cooking, bring the coconut milk to a gentle boil over medium-high heat, with a pinch of salt and pepper. Add the quinoa, turn the heat down to a simmer and cover. Cook until the liquid is absorbed, 15 to 18 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the quinoa steam in the pot for 5 minutes. Add the remaining 2 Tbsp coconut oil, the paprika, coriander, and cumin to the quinoa and toss to combine. Add the lemon zest, mint, cilantro, orange juice, pomegranate seeds and feta and toss together. Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary.
  3. Divide the mixture between the cavities of the squash. Garnish with a sprinkle of feta and the pistachios. Serve immediately.