Thursday, March 19, 2020

Seeds, Seeds, Seeds!


By Amy Peterson


Amy, "Maven of the Seeds"
Some of you may have met me at our fall harvest party, but I’m sure many of you are wondering, “Who’s this writing in my newsletter?”  Please allow me to introduce myself: my name is Amy, and I’m the newest member of the Harmony Valley Farm crew and a first time Harmony Valley CSA member.   I started working on the farm this past June after moving from Denver, CO to Viroqua, WI.  This is my first foray into the world of commercial farming, although I’ve been a long-time gardener and supporter of all things organic.  The sheer scale of the operation here at Harmony Valley has definitely taken some getting used to—I’ve learned so much in these last 10 months, and there is still so much more to learn!   My job here on the farm is officially called “packing shed support”, and in practice this means I take care of many behind-the-scenes tasks and also step in to help wherever I am needed.  My job is filled with variety, and there are many roles that I fulfill throughout the year.  However, my hands-down favorite role is "maven of the seeds."  As spring unfolds all around us it seems very appropriate to pay homage to these tiny but mighty building blocks of the farm—seeds!


Our meticulously organized walk-in seed storage cooler
My interest in farming stems from a life-long love of gardening, and anyone with a home garden (which I suspect includes many of you) has experienced the end-of-winter thrill of opening the seed catalogs and planning for next summer’s bounty.  For me this time has always been a beacon of hope after the long cold darkness of winter, and having this experience for the first time on the farm did not disappoint!  The excitement was palpable as the seed catalogs began to arrive in the mail.  My days quickly became filled with seed orders and preparations for the influx of seed to come.  Home gardeners may have a box where seeds are stored, or perhaps a shelf in a cabinet, and you simply push back last year’s seed packets to make room for the new.  We have an entire walk-in cooler devoted entirely to seeds, and even at the end of the growing season there are pounds upon pounds of seeds stored in there.  Preparing for the new year’s seeds to arrive is much more complicated at this scale!  After a full inventory of the seeds for every crop group with all of their corresponding varieties, we temporarily remove all the containers and do our annual cleaning of the cooler.  Floor to ceiling, every surface is washed and sterilized before we return our carry over inventory and start receiving new seeds for the upcoming growing season.  By the end of this process I was finally able to navigate the seed cooler with confidence, no longer overwhelmed by the sheer volume of seed stored in this magical cooler.

Organized carrot seeds packed into one of our totes.
What kind of volume are we talking about, you may wonder. Let’s look at some of the numbers to paint a picture.  From Arugula to Watermelon, our seed cooler currently contains about 70 different crop groups.  We use large plastic tubs, 5 gallon buckets and lots of shelving to store the seed by crop groups.  Organization is key when dealing with this many options in one space!  Within each crop group there are a wide range of varieties and seed lots.  For example, we have 3 different lots for the Burdock crop group, but when it comes to sweet peppers we have 90 different lots!  Some other heavy hitters are the melons (40 lots), and winter squash (30 lots), just to name a few.  There is also a wide range in the weight and number of seeds for each crop group.  Some seed like, broccoli and cauliflower, are measured by the number of seeds per packet and are relatively light. We have about 200,000 broccoli seeds at the moment, but they weigh less than 2 pounds total.  Compare that to our stock of edamame seed which weighs in at just under 1,000 pounds!  Cilantro is a very important crop group since we plant cilantro seed weekly throughout the entire growing season, and we currently have over 11,000,000 (yes, 11 million!) cilantro seeds weighing about 240 pounds.  One last number that I’d like to use to describe the seed collection here is value.  At this point in the year our seed cooler houses around $80,000 worth of seed!  This seed is what makes all those beautiful and delicious CSA boxes possible, so I would say that it is definitely money well spent.

The tedious job of counting out and labeling
seeds for germination tests.
Knowing how valuable these seeds are gives me cause to be very careful while working with them.  It has come in very handy that I have been making beaded jewelry most of my life, because the same techniques that I use for carefully handling my bead collection can be applied to handling seeds. I pour and weigh my beads in the same way that I pour and weigh seed, so my past mistakes that resulted in spilled beads can now be avoided when handling seed! Some crops are prone to certain diseases and insects, so another way that I help protect the seed collection is through seed sterilization.  We have developed our own hot-water seed treatment which is an organic method for mitigating these diseases and pests, and this falls under my job description as well. Also, using proper storage techniques and monitoring the cooler for proper temperature and humidity are some other ways that I do my part to make sure this valuable investment remains viable.

Planting peas for germination tests (left) and
Beet seedlings ready to be counted (right)
Keeping this impressive seed collection in working order is a large part of my job year-round.  We keep a digital database of our entire seed inventory which I update as new seeds arrive, as well as when seeds go out for planting.  This database is a very important tool in determining which seeds will be planted at which times, so it’s imperative that it is maintained accurately so that Andrea and Richard can make the most well-informed decisions when it comes time for purchasing seeds and planting them.  Each seed lot has a unique lot number and seed count per pound that is essentially the fingerprint for that seed.  The seed count is also a valuable tool in determining how many seeds should be planted per foot.  Another important piece of data recorded in the seed inventory is the germination rates for each particular variety.  It would be ideal if every seed that we planted resulted in a corresponding plant, but unfortunately nature is not perfect.  Some especially vivacious varieties of seed have close to a 100% germination rate, but the majority of seed coming onto the farm have between 85% - 95% germination rate as reported by the seed manufacturers.  This number is so important to making planting decisions that we conduct our own germination tests before planting any crop for the year.  As spring has crept in I have begun the process of germ testing our seed collection.  To come up with a germination rate I plant a very specific number of seeds for a certain seed lot (anywhere from 20 to 200 seeds, depending on the variety), and then later I count how many of those seeds result in a seedling.  It’s an easy enough concept, but it takes quite a bit of time to keep the seed organized, labeled and neatly planted so that the information provided by these tests is accurate. Mixing up a label during this germ testing phase could lead to a poor performing field later in the season, so I do my best to be organized and accurate while gathering this important data.  It’s such an uplifting sign of spring to see these trays of seed sprouting and declaring their viability for all to see.

As the year progresses, more and more of my time on the farm will be spent gathering seeds for planting.  For me, this is a really fun part of the whole process.  Every time I open up the storage bin for a particular crop I am flooded with sensory information. The first thing I will notice is the unique smell of each seed type.  Since we use all organic and untreated seed the smell of these seeds is especially aromatic.  My favorite are the carrot seeds—they have a delightful sweet aroma that is very uplifting and does not smell at all like a full grown carrot.  However, cilantro seeds smell exactly like a bunch of full grown cilantro. Fennel seeds smell strongly of anise, which tickles my senses every time! The next sense to be flooded is my visual field.  Each crop variety has a unique looking seed.  Although there is diversity between the seeds of different varieties of a crop, there are always some visual characteristics that remain the same within a crop group.  There may be some color differences or slightly different textures between the varieties, but the basic seed will be recognizable for that crop group.  All lettuce seeds are lightweight, paper thin tiny little pointy-ended ovals, but some are light brown in color, some dark brown. Beet seeds are such an interestingly peculiar shape that I can only describe as a little burr, but with very little visual distinction between varieties.  An interesting side note, these little beet “burrs” are unique in that they each house a group of individual seeds, which means multiple plants can grow from each burr that is planted.  One visual cue that I hope not to find when opening a new bag of seed is an unnatural fluorescent color.  All of the seed we plant is free of chemical treatment, so if I see unnaturally bright colored seed (or a list of long chemical names on the label) I know that we were sent the wrong lot and it must be returned to the manufacturer.  Thankfully, this rarely happens.  Each crop group has its own auditory signature as well.  As I pour out the seed into the proper container for planting I can hear the specific note which that seed plays.  Some seeds create a cascade of seed   All of these observations took me quite by surprise when I first started working here, as I had never before handled seed in the quantity that allows you to notice all of these sensory delights. Now I look forward to my time spent pulling and measuring the seed for all of these reasons, and I’m always on the lookout for new observations of my tiny little friends.

French Breakfast Radishes growing in the field
Once these seeds have left my care and are planted in the soil they will expand exponentially.  It boggles the mind to think of how much growth potential is stored in each of those little seeds.  The 10 pounds of radish seed that I send out into the field will come back as thousands of bunches of beautiful red radishes. A few pounds of turnip seed will come back from the field as literal tons of delicious roots that will provide nutrition all winter long.  Each one of the millions (maybe billions?) of seeds in my care has the potential to become a nutritious and delicious organic masterpiece.  The seeds that I weigh out in pounds will return to the packing shed in tons, which will then end their journey on your tables all season long. To me this is nothing short of a miracle of nature.

I don’t think I will ever tire of handling the bountiful Harmony Valley seed collection, and I hope these insights have passed along some of my enthusiasm for these tiny powerhouses. As spring marches ever forwards, take a moment to appreciate that the bounty which is just beginning to unfold all around us started with these unique and amazing little packages we call seeds.  And the next time you find yourself opening a package of carrot seeds, take a little sniff for me—I promise you will not be disappointed!

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Thank You for Your Input! 2019 Season Survey Results

By Gwen Anderson

First CSA Box of 2019 Season
Our 2019 End of the Season Survey wrapped up on January 4th this year, and we have spent the last few months compiling, reviewing, and considering all of the information we gathered from the responses.  First off, we would like to once again thank everyone who took the time to participate in the survey!  Your feedback helps us make business decisions and improvements so we can better serve our members.  To show our appreciation, we wanted to take the time to share some of the feedback and information we received from you!

We put a lot of thought into the types of questions we ask on our surveys to garner the best information to help us improve in ways that are important to our members.  If you were one of the 528 people who took our survey, you may have noticed quite a few questions about our newsletters.  We invest a lot of time in creating newsletter content and this is one of our primary means of connecting with members every week during the season.  We feel the newsletters are important, and we have had members express this to us in the past as well, but it is hard for us to gauge the value of these types of correspondences without further feedback.  Are we hitting the target and giving our members useful information, or are we just shooting in the dark?

What did we find out?  Yes, people are reading the newsletters!  98% of our members said they read the "What’s in the Box" newsletter at least half the time, with over 77% reading it every week!  Over 66% of our members are regularly reading the "Weed ‘Em and Reap" newsletter as well.  We received a lot of positive feedback about our newsletters, and it made us feel like we are indeed doing the right thing with them!  Last season, due to feedback from a previous survey, we tried something new and printed two newsletters.  There is a lot of information we want to share with you, and a single sheet of paper had been too limiting.  Previously, we adopted a blog format in order to provide more information for our members, and put “teaser” articles in our printed newsletters to encourage people to visit our blog for the remainder of the article.  We received some feedback from members that this type of printed newsletter was irritating; they wanted the entire article without being directed elsewhere.  So, we decided to split the newsletter into two portions.  The "What’s in the Box" newsletter would contain the vegetable feature, recipes and the box contents for that week.  The "Weed ‘Em and Reap" newsletter would be the place for articles about other important topics including farm updates, news reviews, employee highlights, or whatever other information we feel is important to share with our members.  This change means there are two folders with newsletters at your pickup site, one with the "What’s In The Box" newsletter, and one with the "Weed ‘Em and Reap" newsletter.  It was clear from our last survey that there are still many people who are unaware of the change we made to the printed newsletters.  We are planning to continue to do the two newsletter format this year for those of you who prefer the paper copies; and as always, the information will still be linked in our email communications and posted on our blog as well.

Hon Tsai Tai & Shiitake Potstickers
Recipes continue to be the most valued resource we provide for you, and the request for more recipes topped out the list of suggestions for improving our newsletters.  The "Cooking with the Box" segment we offer on our blog was started in 2017 as a means to address this request and features recipes and suggestions for every item in the box!  We do our best to provide you with as many recipes as we can each week, with a little something for various levels of cooking experience.  Nearly 82% of our members said they read the "Cooking with the Box" segment, and over 69% said they regularly use the suggestions found therein.  If the "Cooking with the Box" segment still leaves you craving more recipes, check out our Facebook group!  There are always great posts about what people are cooking up with their boxes, including recipe links.  Sometimes, we even borrow the recipes shared in the Facebook group and use them in the "Cooking with the Box" segment!

Additional feedback we received for improving our newsletters included providing more vegetable storage information.  We were also asked to provide an earlier “best guess” or a "What’s in the Next Box" section to give you an idea of what might be included in the current week’s box as well as the next week’s box.  We are currently brainstorming on how we can improve our communications to include more of this valuable information.

CSA Box from June 2019
As your CSA farm, we strive to provide you with as much information as possible to ensure that your CSA experience is both positive and successful.  By asking what resources you may have been struggling to find last season, we were able to identify additional resources to call attention to or create.  Vegetable storage information showed up often in this question as well.  There were also a great deal of requests for more information on how to preserve, freeze or dry vegetable for later use.  As of now, we have a list of vegetable storage suggestions in the back of our current CSA calendars and include this information in our weekly vegetable features.  We will continue to include storage suggestions in our calendars each year.  Due to your feedback, we realize that we need to have the information available in more locations that are easier to reference.  We will do our best to provide this information more consistently in our newsletters each week, and we are looking into how to get the information available on our website.

Fresh Ginger
“What do our CSA members want in their boxes?” is always a fun question to ask on a survey, and it is one we ask ourselves each year when we do our planning in the winter.  This year, we took the guesswork out and decided to ask our members directly.  The answer? Ginger!  And in one very emphatic case it was GINGER GINGER GINGER GINGER GINGER GINGER PLEASE BRING BACK THE GINGER!!!!!  Lemongrass was a not-too-distant second.  We hear you, and would love to grow these items for our CSA boxes this year.  For the sake of transparency, the seed for ginger and lemongrass has been challenging to source this year.  We are still trying to secure enough seed to plant in order to provide these highly requested crops, and are hopeful that we will be successful.  Ginger is grown in our cold frame greenhouse, so we had to take a few years off from growing it in order to rotate crops in this space just like we do in the field.  We’re looking forward to growing both ginger and lemongrass again this year!

Egyptian Spinach
The next three runners up were globe artichokes, Egyptian spinach and purple Napa cabbage.  The silver lining is that we will for sure be growing Egyptian spinach and purple Napa cabbage this season!  Our plan is to harvest the Egyptian spinach for summer boxes, and to have the purple Napa cabbage available in the fall.  We’ve grown Egyptian spinach before, and used it for a delicious soup we are excited to try again.  Purple Napa cabbage is a new variety and we are anxious to try it out!

The last batch of questions we ask on our survey were geared towards marketing.  We know, as it has been proven time and time again, that our customers are our best source of advertisement and are a wellspring of creative ideas and solutions.  By finding out what it is that you value about being part of our CSA program, we can use those values to draw in more like-minded members.  By asking what we can do to help you promote your CSA farm, we are able to create resources and promotion materials that reflect what would grab your attention, and thus the attention of the people who share similar values.  We have already heard from some members requesting the promotional materials we have available, and we are always happy to oblige!  We have several different printed material options available, and we have plenty of pictures and short messages we can send out for our members to post to social media.  If any of this sounds like something you would be interested in, please feel free to call or send us an email for more information!

Garver Feed Mill, photo from garverfeedmill.com
We want, and need, to build our membership in order to keep our CSA program sustainable, so we asked for your suggestions to help up improve our outreach.  One of the top suggestions we received was to partner with area businesses.  We are happy to announce that we are now partnering with Twin Town Fitness and Lakewinds Minnetonka in the Twin Cities.  In the Madison area, we are partnering with three new UW Health System locations, the VA Hospital, MGE and the Garver Feed Mill.  We’ve also added an additional residential site in Middleton for our Madison Thursday route!  On top of these confirmed new locations for next season, there are a few potential sites in all our CSA areas we are still looking into.  As exciting as the new sites are, we still need our current members’ help bringing in new members.  We’ve added the sites, please help us add the people!  What tools do we have at our disposal to help you bring in new members?  We offer a new member coupon, which will give the new member between $15 and $25 off their first season depending on the share they select.  This coupon also comes with a referral line, and the referring member will receive a $20 gift certificate!  Another great way to get our standard $10 referral coupon is to write your name in the referral line on sign up forms when you hand them out to neighbors, friends and family, or that stranger in the co-op line!  When they sign up, we’ll send you a coupon!

Andrea Enjoying the company of some of our CSA members
at Strawberry Day 2019
What do our members value most about being part of our CSA program?  The vegetables, of course!  The top five responses we received on this question were high quality produce, supporting local businesses, variety of produce, freshness, and being organic.  We were a little surprised that organic didn’t come in higher on the totem pole, but we were very pleased to hear how highly our quality, freshness and diversity were regarded.  Community was also a common theme we ran across in the comments of this section.  While we appreciate the positive feedback about our vegetables, what really touched our hearts was the human connections our CSA program has fostered.  We enjoyed hearing that the information we provide to you in newsletters strengthens the connection between us and how important that connection is to you.  The connections our members have made between each other were also a joy to hear about!  (Thank you to our Powderhorn site host for being “a wonderful person and a great site manager!”)  We also care a great deal about our land and the people who work on it, so it was also wonderful to hear that the care and dedication we strive for in maintaining both is something our members value as well.  Our organization and attention to detail is something we also loved hearing is appreciated.

There were many other interesting things we found out through our survey, too.  We’ve received quite a few requests for videos of all kinds: cooking demos, field work, newsletter recaps, etc.  The videos we have made in the past have been fun to do, and broadening our horizons in this form of communication is something we have a great interest in.  We are currently brainstorming how to incorporate this into our day as well as what type of content will garner the most interest from our members.  As well as videos, we received many suggestions for having a larger social media presence in general.  After carefully considering our options, we have decided to continue using Facebook and to start a Harmony Valley Farm Instagram page!  Please feel free to follow us on Instagram @harmonyvalleyfarm for more great updates from your farm.

Merchandise was another suggestion that popped up here and there.  We do currently have t-shirts available for purchase during our on-farm events, and have been thinking about what other cool things our members might like to see as well (like re-usable tote bags)!  My personal favorite suggestion was to create a hot sauce subscription program to supplement our CSA.  The Korean Chili Sauce has been a big hit, and it might be fun to try new sauces in the future.  We don’t have any immediate plans to pursue this, although it is a really hot idea.

Our website was also a subject we received lots of feedback on.  We understand the one we currently have needs improvement, which is why we are working with our friends at Leum Tech to roll out a site that has a fresh look, greater functionality and will work great with mobile devices!  Converting our information to the new site takes time, and we are currently prioritizing what needs to be on the site for launch day.  Eventually we will have features like online ordering and an integrated blog!  Our current recipe and newsletter archives are going to be available much like they are now, and we are looking for ways to make our future newsletters and recipes easier to locate and search as well.  Additionally, we will be releasing a new and improved Vegetable Gallery that will include photos, descriptions, storage information, and much more!

As our review of the 2019 End of Season Survey comes to a close, we would like to thank you one more time for the invaluable feedback you have provided.  Your support, positive feedback and creative ideas have helped in more ways than a simple newsletter and a “thank you” could ever express.  We are truly looking forward to doing an even better job at being your CSA farm next season.  See you then!

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Friday, January 24, 2020

The 2020 CSA Season is Unfolding!


By Richard & Andrea

Harvesting curly willow earlier this week
When winter sets in we always feel like we have “all this time” to tackle our projects, brainstorm, lay out plans, etc.  Here we are, approaching the end of January and believe it or not we’ll be packing our first CSA boxes of the 2020 season in less than 100 days!  We’re thankful to see the days getting longer—it’s still light outside at 5 pm when the crew is heading home!  Sign-ups are rolling in as are shipments of seeds.  This week our winter crew was in the field trimming curly willow as we take advantage of appropriate conditions to get the willow out of the field while it’s above zero degrees and the snow is not too deep.  We’ll spend the next few weeks trimming and bundling it in the greenhouse before we need to prepare that house for growing transplants.  Yes, we’ll be setting up our first greenhouse to start planting onions and celeriac next month!  It’s exciting to see another CSA season starting to unfold!

Drip tape line used to deliver nutrients to sweet potato plants.
As farmers, weather is always on our minds, so we might as well tackle this topic and get it out of the way!  There is some evidence that El Niño is finally turning to La Niña, which typically means less moisture and maybe even a bit of drought.  Since you just never know what you may get, we thought it prudent to update our irrigation permits and make sure our equipment is prepared and working well.  Whether we need irrigation as a means of delivering water to a crop or not, we use buried drip irrigation lines to deliver nutrients, microorganisms and trace minerals to our crops.  This year we are excited to expand our use of “sap analysis” to determine the specific nutrient needs of individual crops.  Sap analysis is kind of like a blood test for plants that allows us to better understand the plants’ nutritional needs at different points in growth.  Last year we saw some dramatic results when we used sap analysis to help us determine what support some of our crops needed in order to thrive.  We are planning to use sap analysis more proactively this year so we can be more aware of deficiencies and do what we can to correct them before they become a big problem.

As for crop planning, we’re laying out the plan and getting all the parts and pieces in place.  Sweet potato plants have been ordered, all 18,000!  We’ll be growing our two favorite orange varieties, Burgundy and Covington, and are also going to try a new variety called Bayou Belle.  We had better luck growing the white-fleshed Japanese sweet potatoes last year, so we’re going to expand that part of the planting a little bit.

Diana radishes, freshly washed!
We continue to appreciate the color and nutrition we get from our line-up of purple vegetables.  The color purple represents anthocyanins, plant compounds that play an important role in our physical health.  We’ll be doing one planting of the beautiful Amethyst beans and are considering growing the sweet and tasty purple tomatillos again this year.  Last year we also tried Diana radishes for the first time.  This is a spring radish that is shaped like a traditional red radish, but it has purple on the top and white on the root end.  We received positive feedback about this variety and we liked the way it looked in the field with regards to disease resistance, etc.  We have secured seed for our new favorite purple cauliflower, Purple Moon, and have our fingers crossed that we’ll get the Purple Majesty potato seed we have on order.  Lastly, we have to try a new bright magenta napa cabbage named “Scarrossa.”  We don’t typically grow napa in the fall, but that’s the recommendation for this variety so watch for this around October.

Fresh baby ginger with greens
We have been reviewing the results of our end of season survey that closed the fourth of January. We asked members for their input on which specialty produce items we should grow this year.  It’s clear that ginger is high on the list along with lemongrass!  We can’t make any promises at this point, but know we are trying to get some ginger “seed”.  Our supplier has closed ordering for now, but we’re on the list for an opportunity to purchase seed when they open ordering again sometime in February.  Wish us luck!  The other crop that had a lot of support was Egyptian Spinach.  This is a unique vegetable that grows in the heat of the summer when other greens struggle.  It is packed with nutrients and you just feel really good when you eat it!  It is a little challenging to grow, but we’re willing to give it a try!

Summer 2019:  Richard sampling and selecting
French Orange melon seeds
We continue to look for a personal-sized, yellow seedless watermelon, but there just isn’t anything available.  What about the French Orange Melons?  Good question.  For those of you who know the sweet, delicious, aromatic, one-of-a-kind French Orange melon, you may remember the sad story about how the producer has decided to drop the seed.  Richard has been working on saving seed for this melon for several years now.  This is not a quick or easy process.  The original seed was a hybrid.  When we plant the seed from melons produced from the original seed, we get a variety of results.  The sizing, color and characteristics of the melon are not always a direct reflection of the original seed.  As such, it takes several years of selecting the seed from the melons that most resemble the original set of characteristics and eliminate the off-types.  We feel like we are at a pretty good place with the quality of the seed we produced in 2019 and we finally have enough volume of seed that we can put in two nice sized plantings for actual production and harvest.  Richard will continue to carefully select seed and plant a separate seed production plot each year in an effort to refine our seed stock for this variety.  Wish us luck—we’re really hoping for a much better melon season than in 2019.  One of the problems we experienced last year was fewer pollinators.  We think the cold, late spring may have caused a decreased population of pollinator creatures.  It’s easy to take these little creatures for granted, but when something affects their population and they don’t show up, the results can be very dramatic!

Our crew happily putting together our first pollinator packs in 2016.
Speaking of pollinators, we are going to be planting pollinator packs again this year!  This is a project we started back in 2016.  In 2015 we published a series of newsletter articles we entitled “The Silent Spring Series.”  If you’re interested in reading these information-packed articles, you can find them all on our blog.  Basically the series took a look at the impact the use of agro-chemicals is having on our environment, ecosystem and our bodies.  The topic is pretty heavy and as we worked our way through the series we felt like we needed to create some light at the end of this very long tunnel.  We needed something positive to move the needle back to a point of hope.  We decided to plant pollinator packs, a garden pack with 9 different plants.  We started the seeds, transplanted them into the trays and delivered them to CSA members in the spring so everyone could use them to plant pollinator gardens in their own yard, on a patio space, in a community space or anywhere else they could think of where they would flourish, grow and serve to attract and support pollinator creatures (bees, butterflies, birds, wasps, etc).  We only intended to do it once, but it was so well-received, we get requests for them every year!  So, for those of you who already have an established pollinator garden, perhaps you’d like to add a few new plants to your space.  If you are just starting out, no worries!  We’ve included some plants in the pack that are easy to establish and will bloom in the first year!  Our order is nearly finalized and here is the list of seeds we ordered for this year’s packs.  Please note, the packs only hold 9 plants, but we’re ordering more than 9 different things just in case something doesn’t germinate very well and we can’t include it in all packs.  Here’s what we’re looking forward to:

Anise Hyssop, photo from Prairie Moon Nursery
Wild Bergamot, photo from Prairie Moon Nursery
Lance-Leaf Coreopsis, photo from Prairie Moon Nursery
New England Aster, photo from Prairie Moon Nursery
Brown-Eyed Susan, photo from Prairie Moon Nursery
Prairie Sage, photo from Prairie Moon Nursery
Lead Plant, photo from Prairie Moon Nursery
Little Bluestem Grass, photo from Prairie Moon Nursery
Blue Wild Indigo, photo from Prairie Moon Nursery
Leafy Prairie Clover, photo from Prairie Moon Nursery
Purple Coneflower, photo from Prairie Moon Nursery
Butterfly Weed, photo from Prairie Moon Nursery

We are looking forward to a great season and packing boxes for you and your families.  Once again we hope to strike a balance between supplying the staple items (onions, garlic, carrots, broccoli) and longtime favorites (sweet corn, tomatoes, green beans, strawberries) with some interesting and unusual selections to bring a little extra variety to your meals and challenge you, just a bit, to step out of your vegetable comfort zone and experience something new.  You never know, you just might discover a new flavor or vegetable you didn’t even know you liked!

In closing, we would like to share an excerpt from a note we received from a CSA family when they signed up for their second year with our farm.  Here’s what they shared:  “This past year was our first year getting a CSA share and it is not an understatement to say that it has changed our lives.  Thank you for doing what you do!  We love you guys!”  Thank you so much to all of you who send us notes like these.  We hope you understand how meaningful it is for us to read these and we also hope you understand that we think of you as we make our plans, select the varieties and pack your boxes each week.  Cheers to an awesome 2020 CSA season!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

December 19, 2019 - This Week's Box Contents, Featuring Horseradish!


Cooking With This Week's Box





Horseradish Whips: Lemon Horseradish Butter (see below); Prepared Horseradish (see below); Food52 Editor’s Picks--HorseradishRoasted Garlic & Horseradish Mashed PotatoesFire Cider




Festival or Heart of Gold Squash: Maple Butter Roasted Acorn Squash with Pecans





We have officially reached the end of another year of eating out of a CSA box—can you believe it?!  It doesn’t seem possible, but as I spent some time reflecting on the season as I wrote this week’s newsletter article the food memories started flooding my mind.  While this will be my final “Cooking With the Box” article this year, I’m confident HVF vegetables will continue to be part of your weekly cooking repertoire well into the new year because this week’s box is packed full of storage vegetables!  We’re kicking off this week’s cooking chat with horseradish, this week’s featured vegetable.  I hope you’ll take a moment to read more about horseradish in this week’s “What’s In the Box” email/newsletter where you’ll learn that horseradish is intended to be a complementary ingredient as opposed to the main star of the show.  One of this week’s featured recipes is for Lemon Horseradish Butter (see below).  This is a good way to preserve horseradish as you can freeze the butter in smaller portions and pull it out when you’re ready to use it.  Slice and melt it over a hot grilled steak or salmon, on toast, or cooked vegetables.  I also included a recipe for Prepared Horseradish (see below) which is the form many recipes call for.  Check out Food52 Editor’s Picks--Horseradish for a list of over 20 recipes including horseradish.  One of my all-time favorite ways to use horseradish is in Roasted Garlic & Horseradish Mashed Potatoes.  We used to make big pots of these potatoes at a restaurant I worked at in New York while I was in culinary school.  You could apply this same recipe to a nice root mash as well.  The last horseradish suggestion I have for you is to make a batch of Fire Cider.  This is a tonic of sorts thought to be good for boosting immunity throughout the winter.  In addition to horseradish, this recipe also calls on the healing powers of garlic and onions as well as cayenne pepper, turmeric, etc.

Grandma Delilah's Chocolate Carrot Bundt Cake
photo from rudyanddelilah.com
Moving on, lets talk carrots.  I know you’ve received a lot of carrots over the past few deliveries, but hopefully you have a safe place to store them so you can use them well into the winter!  While carrots are not referred to as a “superfood,” I think they should be. They are also so versatile in their use and can be part of our diets in any meal.  In our Facebook Group last week a member shared this recipe for Indian Carrot Dessert.  Wow, this looks so delicious!  I also want to try this recipe for Vegan Carrot Waffles.  While I haven’t done this recently, Richard and I like to pull out the waffle iron on Sunday morning for a leisurely brunch and by now you know I like to sneak vegetables into as many meals of the day as possible!  I also came across this Carrot Asiago Bread.  This is a savory quick bread courtesy of Martha—as in Stewart.  I like this idea because it is faster to make than yeast bread but would be a great accompaniment to a winter salad, soup or stew.  Lastly,  check out Grandma Delilah’s Chocolate Carrot Bundt Cake.  This looks sinful, but perhaps it isn’t since it contains carrots?!

Spicy Beauty Heart Radish and
Carrots with Tahini
photo from thingsimadetoday.com
Lets tackle a few more roots, like beauty heart radishes and golden turnips!  Personally, I like to eat beauty heart radishes raw and this Beauty Heart Radish and Sesame Seed Salad is one of my favorite, simple radish salads.  If you find the bite of the radish to be a bit much for your senses, consider cooking it.  You could try these Spicy Roasted Beauty Heart Radishes and Carrots with Tahini or Root Vegetable Gratin with Gruyere.  Now this root vegetable gratin recipe is written for sweet potatoes, celeriac and parsnips.  Perhaps you have all of these vegetables in your fridge right now, but if you don’t, do not worry—start substituting!  One of our members posted a meal she made that included Scalloped Beauty Heart Radish.  This recipe is made in a similar way and I never would have thought to include beauty heart radishes in this dish, but why not!  As for turnips, if it takes you all winter to work your way through the turnips in your crisper drawer, that’s just fine, they should keep.  Pull them out on a snowy winter night and make this dish of Roasted Turnips, Apples and Rosemary Chicken Thighs.  I also found this collection of Country Living’s 20 Turnip Recipes.  Surely there’s at least one suggestion in this list that will appeal to you!

Sunchoke Latkes with Poached Eggs
photo from naturallyella.com
Before we move on from root vegetables we need to chat about sunchokes.  One of our market customers told me she made some delicious Sunchoke Pickles.  You’ll need to cut this recipe in half as it calls for 2 pounds of sunchokes and there are a little over one pound in your box.  I also want to try this recipe for Sunchoke Latkes with Poached EggsThis recipe calls for sunchokes, potatoes and parsnips, but you could sub in another root vegetable for any of these if you would like.   Lastly, check out this recipe for Sunchoke and Cashew Stir Fry.  It does call for corn and fresh chile peppers.  Unless you have some frozen corn and/or jalapenos from this past summer, my suggestion would be to substitute finely chopped carrots and siracha.

It’s always sad when we come to the last of our sweet potatoes, but before they’re all gone, there are a few more things I want to make.  I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of sweet potato fries and I think this recipe for Sweet Potato Fries with Maple Mustard Dipping Sauce sounds delicious!  Serve these up with a burger and a side of Pina Colada Cole Slaw!  If you aren’t into pineapple, try this Carribean Cole Slaw with mango instead.

Mexican Sweet Potato and Quinoa Casserole
Photo from fitfoodiefinds.com
I also want to try this Mexican Sweet Potato and Quinoa Casserole.  Another nice warm, winter dinner option and a good candidate for leftovers!  While I’m not usually into squash soups, I do like this one for Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup.  The addition of the sweet potatoes adds a nice richness to the soup.

Festival squash is very similar to acorn, except it tastes MUCH better!  While this recipe for Maple Butter Roasted Acorn Squash with Pecans calls for acorn squash, you can substitute the festival squash.  Serve this for weekend brunch or dinner alongside this French Onion Quiche.  And last, but not least, check out this recipe for Bacon Onion Jam!  Use it as a spread on toast with cream cheese or as the base for a pizza or flatbread along with roasted butternut squash.  These are just two simple ideas and I’m sure you can come up with more!

That’s it.  We’ve reached the bottom of the last box of the season and it’s time for me to sign off for a few months.  I look forward to cooking with you in a new decade!  See you in 2020!—Chef Andrea

Vegetable Feature: Horseradish Whips


by Andrea Yoder

Richard in the horseradish field
While horseradish is not a radish, it is in the Brassica family along with radishes.  The vegetables in the Brassica family are known for their strong, pungent flavors and they are powerhouses for valuable plant compounds that are beneficial for human health.  While many sources say that horseradish can’t be or isn’t consumed in quantities large enough to get much nutritive gain, I’d counter with the consideration that it isn’t always the amount of a food you are eating.  Rather, including small amounts of powerful foods periodically over time will result in a cumulative positive effect on your health.  With that in mind, lets explore horseradish a little further.

Pepper Crusted Salmon Cakes with Horseradish Sauce
photo from food52.com
Horseradish is a bold, pungent vegetable that has the power to make you cry, take your breath away and open every nasal passage you have—that is if you work with it and/or eat it in large quantities.  However, the same plant compounds in horseradish that make you do all those things are also the compounds that give horseradish its peppery flavor that wakes up our taste buds.  These compounds also have the ability to attack cancer cells and boost our immune systems.  Horseradish is intended to be used in small quantities, as a condiment or an accompaniment to enhance foods.  It goes well with rich and fattier foods such as salmon, beef, sausage and ham.  It also goes well with more acidic foods such as tomatoes, apples, lemons and other citrus.  It’s also a good accompaniment to bland foods that give it a base, but make horseradish look and taste good—foods such as sour cream, cream, butter, seafood, potatoes and root vegetables.  Prime rib and/or roast beef is often served with a creamy horseradish sauce.  Horseradish is a key ingredient in the classic ketchup based cocktail sauce served with poached shrimp.  If you’re into Bloody Marys, you’ll know horseradish is part of this drink recipe as well.  These are just a few examples of how and where you might use horseradish.  On the recipe website, Food52.com, they have an “Editor’s Picks” list for horseradish that contains over twenty recipes using this vegetable. A few of my favorites from this list include Pepper Crusted Salmon Cakes with Horseradish Sauce, Sour Cream Biscuits with Horseradish, Chives & Bacon, Horseradish and Crab Appetizer and Horseradish Parsnip Apple Slaw.

Horseradish Whips
This week your box contains a bag with 4-5 ounces of horseradish whips.  While the root and leaves are both edible, we only harvest and eat the roots.  Horseradish is a perennial plant that is typically planted in the fall from seed pieces that are taken from cuttings when the previous crop is harvested.  A nice seed piece is a straight piece usually about 8-10 inches long with the diameter of a fat pencil or a thin marker.  Seed pieces grow off the main horseradish root which is the most saleable portion of the plant on the wholesale market.  Any pieces that are smaller than is needed for wholesale or seed are called whips.  Whips are usually thrown away, but this is actually the part of the root I prefer to work with for several reasons.  First of all, I think the skin is thin and tender enough on these pieces that you don’t need to peel it.  The less you have to handle horseradish, the better!  I also think the whips are a more manageable size to deal with instead of a big root.  On the internet you’ll see references that say horseradish should be eaten within 1-2 weeks…..my friends, I think that’s wrong.  Your horseradish whips will store much, much longer than 1-2 weeks if you keep them in the bag in the refrigerator.  To give you a frame of reference, we harvest horseradish the latter part of October.  In many years, we’ve held horseradish in cold storage for months and sell it all throughout the winter!  Don’t be afraid of a little fuzzy white mold on the surface either.  It’s not uncommon to see this after extended time in the refrigerator.  If you see that happening, but the integrity of the root is still good, just wash it off.  If you do decide to discard some/all of your horseradish, do heed caution that you may not want to put it in your own compost pile or the like.  Any chunks of horseradish that don’t fully degrade may grow under the right conditions.  If you’re not careful you just might plant horseradish in your own back yard and if you do so unintentionally, it will be with you for years to come!

Horseradish Apple Parsnip Coleslaw, Photo from food52.com
Back to the whips.  Once you start cutting, grating or chopping horseradish you’ll release the volatile oils that give horseradish its bite.  This is when you need to make sure you have adequate ventilation to decrease the chances of your eyes tearing up.  Also, make sure you wash your hands after handling horseradish so you don’t accidently get these peppery oils in your eyes.  Some recipes might tell you to grate the horseradish on a box grater.  This is kind of hard to do with whips because they’re so skinny.  My recommendation is to just cut the whips into 1-2 inch pieces and chop them finely in a food processor.  You could also use a blender.  Little blenders like The Bullet or Ninja can be useful for smaller quantities, or just use a hand chopper.  Last but not least, you could chop the whips finely with a chef’s knife.  As soon as you start chopping horseradish the pungent oils will start to volatilize.  If you are going to serve a dish with freshly grated horseradish, you’ll want to chop it just before serving.  If you chop horseradish in advance and don’t do anything to stabilize the oils, the majority of the flavor will dissipate and the horseradish won’t be very spicy or flavorful.  Often times you’ll see a recipe that calls for “Prepared Horseradish.”  This refers to horseradish that is pre-chopped/grated and stabilized in a vinegar solution which sets the flavor and prevents it from dissipating.  This week I’ve included a recipe for prepared horseradish.  You can keep prepared horseradish in the refrigerator for several weeks like this before it will start to lose its pungency.  This can be super handy to have as you can just take a teaspoon or two as needed for different recipes without having to chop it fresh every time.

Lastly, if you don’t like spicy things or don’t think you’ll like horseradish, just start small.  Stir a little bit of freshly chopped horseradish into mayonnaise and spread it on a sandwich or make horseradish cream and drizzle it lightly over roasted root vegetables.  You just might find you like that little bit of kick and flavor it adds!

Lemon Horseradish Butter


Yield:  1 ½ cups (One 8-inch log)
Roots, by Diane Morgan

1 or 2 horseradish whips, cut into small chunks
Freshly grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 Tbsp minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  1. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process the horseradish until finely grated.  You will need about 1 - 1½ Tbsp grated horseradish, depending on how strong you want the butter. Scatter the lemon zest and salt over the top and pulse once or twice until evenly distributed.  Add the butter and process until smooth, creamy and well combined.  Add the parsley and pulse just until evenly distributed.
  2. Lay a long sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap on a work surface.  Using a rubber spatula, spread the butter into a long, rough log about 1 ½ inches in diameter.  Wrap the parchment snugly around the log and, using your palms, roll the log back and forth to shape it into a smooth, uniform cylinder.  Twist both ends like a candy wrapper to seal them closed.  Refrigerate for up to 3 days or store in the freezer for up to 3 months.
This recipe was borrowed from Diane Morgan’s book, Roots.  Here are some of her suggestions for how to use this butter:  “Grill a steak or a piece of fish and finish it with a slice of this horseradish butter.  Roast some fingerling potatoes and dab them with the butter.  Put it on a humble baked potato to dress up.  Soften the butter, spread it on crostini, and top it with a slice of smoked salmon for an instant appetizer.  Having this kind of homemade food on hand takes cooking from good to great.”

Note from Chef Andrea:  When I make flavored butter like this, I like to roll it into smaller logs that are 2-3 inches long.  This is just the right amount for our household to thaw and use within a few days.   If you don’t want to take the time to roll logs, you can also just freeze 2-3 oz portions in small storage containers.  You can’t slice the butter as nicely as you can with a log, but once it’s thawed it’s easy to spread on bread, vegetables, etc.

Prepared Horseradish


Yield:  1—half pint jar

3 oz fresh horseradish whips
4 Tbsp distilled white vinegar
¼ tsp salt
Sugar, pinch
  1. Have a clean and sterilized jar with a lid and canning ring available nearby. 
  2. Cut the horseradish whips into chunks and place them in the food processor.  Pulse to grind.   It will be a bit dry, something like coconut.  
  3. Add the vinegar, salt and sugar.  Blend to combine well.
  4. Pack the horseradish into the jar and refrigerate.  
Recipe adapted from The Kitchen Ecosystem by Eugenia Bone.