Thursday, April 20, 2017

Time to Ramp Up!

Ramps are a special sign of spring we look forward to every year.  We’ve been wild-harvesting them for over 30 years in our valley and still get excited when we see the first green ramp leaves emerging from the forest floor.  Ahhh….spring has returned!  With their lily-like, delicate, rounded leaves and distinct aroma, there is nothing else that can be substituted for a ramp.  They are sometimes referred to as “wild leeks” and have their own distinct “rampy” flavor, but if they must be likened to another vegetable they may be described as having a garlic-onion like flavor and aroma.  Ramps are only available for a few weeks in the spring.  Most years we get about 4 weeks of harvest, but we’ve also seen years where the season is only 3 weeks and then they’re gone.


When you stand in the forest at the beginning of the year and look out over the sea of green leaves, it seems impossible that you could ever harvest so many that eventually they’d be gone, but we must remember nature is delicate and likes to maintain balance.  Ramps are a very slow growing crop and propagate themselves by bulb division as well as producing seeds.  They grow in many places around the world, mostly on steep hillsides and in ravines.  Since we started harvesting ramps back in the mid 80’s we’ve been aware of the need to manage our harvests responsibly so they continue to come back and flourish year after year.  It’s tempting to harvest the ones closest to the entry into the woods so you don’t have to hike as far to carry out the harvest…..but, we understand that if we were to do that year after year the ramp population would decline.  So, with respect, we enter the forest and carefully climb the steep hillsides taking care to tread lightly and carry out anything we carried in.
We have a very skillful crew who has been trained on proper harvest methods.  Ramps grow in clumps, and we are careful to only take a portion of a clump.  We intentionally leave some behind that will continue to grow and divide and are careful to do so with little disturbance to the soil.  Our forest hillsides have remained abundant with ramps for over 30 years as a result of these practices.  In fact, when we leave a portion of a clump behind, it may be 5 years or more before we come back to that area!  While most ramps grow wild in the forests, often on north-facing hillsides, they can be cultivated either from seed or by transplanting a ramp with the bulb and roots intact.  We have successfully transplanted ramps in suitable areas on our land where they were not previously growing, but we understand it may be many years before they are established enough that we can harvest them.
       Sadly, not everyone practices sustainable and ethical harvesting practices which does raise the concern that ramps may be overharvested.  When there is a demand for ramps and someone is willing to pay the price for them, opportunists may seize the opportunity to make a dollar with no regard for the plant or environment itself.  We share these concerns and feel it is important for consumers to know how the ramps they are purchasing have been harvested. As with so many other aspects of our food system, it’s important to understand the story behind your food so you can make informed purchases!  It takes more time and effort to carefully hike into the woods and up the steep hillsides to harvest ramps than it does to just walk into the base of the forest near the access point and easily walk them out.  If you ever wondered why ramps are a bit more expensive than other vegetables, it is because of the time we invest to harvest and carefully clean them.  

While ramps are not an endangered species, we do feel it’s important to be proactive in managing ramp populations to make sure we have them for years to come.  As part of our annual inspection, our organic certifier (MOSA) reviews and inspects our ramp woods and harvest practices.  They are concerned with maintaining organic integrity of the product as well as ensuring that we are using sustainable practices.  We support further regulation of ramp harvesting in public areas, as these are the most vulnerable locations where over-harvesting and disturbance of the ecosystem may take place.  If you are harvesting ramps yourself, please do so responsibly so they will be there for others to enjoy in the future as well.

Storage & Use

Ramps are a delicate vegetable and should be handled with care.  It’s important to store them in the refrigerator until you are ready to use them.  The leaves are delicate and can wilt very quickly, so we recommend wrapping them in a damp towel and storing them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.  The bulb portion of the ramp will store longer than the leaves, so some people choose to separate the bulb from the leaf and store them separately.
The entire ramp is edible with the exception of the roots on the very bottom of the bulb which should be trimmed off.  Ramps may be eaten either raw or cooked.  The flavor and aroma is a bit more pungent when eaten raw and mellows a bit with cooking.  

Ramps pair very well with other spring vegetables.  Mushrooms (morels in particular if you can get your hands on them!), overwintered spinach, and asparagus are a few of our favorite companions for ramps.  They also pair nicely with eggs and may be used in any kind of an egg preparation ranging from scrambled eggs to quiche, frittatas, omelets, deviled eggs or even egg salad.  Ramp risotto is a popular spring dish that many of our longtime CSA members make every year as a way of ushering in spring.  Ramp pesto and pasta dishes are other common favorite ways to prepare ramps.  Over the past few years, we’ve noticed an increasing affinity amongst our market crew members and customers for ramp butter--and rightly so!  The beauty of ramp butter is you can make and eat it when ramps are in season, but you can also freeze it to enjoy later in the year; perhaps in the middle of winter as a reminder that the season won’t last forever.

If you are trying ramps for the first time, start with something as simple as adding them to your scrambled eggs.  Finely chop the bulb portion of the ramp and saute it briefly in butter before you add the eggs to the pan.  Just as the egg is starting to become solid, fold in thinly sliced ramp leaves, season with salt and pepper and then cover the pan with a lid so the leaves wilt down and the eggs finish cooking.  You can find ramp recipes we’ve featured in previous newsletters in our searchable recipe database on our website (including the ramp butter recipe).  There is also a collection of tasty ramp recipes available at including Ramp Focaccia and Egg and Lemon Soup with Ramps.

We hope you enjoy this spring vegetable treasure as we enter into another year of seasonal eating.  As you try new recipes and find your own “favorite” way to enjoy ramps, please keep us in mind!  We enjoy learning about new recipes and being reminded of the “oldies but goodies.”  Happy Spring! -Your farmers, Andrea & Richard


Spaghetti with Ramps and Mushrooms

 Yield:  3-4 as a main dish or 6 as a side dish

 8 oz spaghetti
 4 oz fresh mushrooms
 2 bunches ramps (approximately 6-8 oz)
 2 Tbsp butter
 2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
 4 oz grated Parmesan or sharp cheddar, plus more to garnish
 2-3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
 1 tsp salt, plus more to taste 
 Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
 5 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled (optional)

 1.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.  Once the water is boiling vigorously, add the  pasta and cook until it is al dente.  Reserve one cup of pasta water before draining the pasta.  
 2.  While the pasta is cooking, prepare the remainder of the dish.  Thinly slice the mushrooms and set aside.  Separate the ramp bulbs and leaves.  Thinly slice both the ramp bulbs and the leaves and set aside.  
 3.  Heat a large skillet over medium heat.  Melt the butter and one tablespoon of olive oil in the pan.  Add the mushrooms and 1 tsp salt to the pan and saute’ for 3-5 minutes or until the mushrooms are soft.  Add the ramp  bulbs and saute for an additional 3-5 minutes or until the ramps are translucent. 

 4.  Add the ramp leaves to the pan and stir to combine.  Let the leaves wilt slightly and then add the spaghetti and about ½ cup of the pasta water to the pan.  Season generously with black pepper and stir to combine. 

 5.  Next, add 4 oz of grated Parmesan or sharp cheddar, about 2 Tbsp lemon juice, and the remaining one tablespoon of olive oil.  Stir to combine, adding more of the pasta water if needed to form a glossy sauce that lightly coats the pasta.  If you choose to include the bacon, add it now.  Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking by adding more salt, black pepper and/or lemon juice as needed.
 6.  Serve hot topped with additional cheese.

Recipe adapted from Alison Roman’s original recipe for “Spaghetti with Ramps”(Bon Appetit, April 2016)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Happy Spring Everyone!

 By Andrea Yoder

Onions still in the greenhouse
April showers bring May flowers…..and green hillsides on our farm!  The pace of the farm has picked up and we’re rocking and rolling again!  This week we returned to the fields to harvest, work ground and plant.  Spring cleaning is happening in the packing shed and we’re all starting to get back into our vegetable groove.  Our CSA deliveries start in just three weeks and we’re excited to return to Madison, Wisconsin this weekend for our first farmers’ market of the season!  Things are changing fast and there’s quite a lot to fill you in on this month!

Both planting crews out in the fields
Our first group of field crew members returned from Mexico and started work on Monday.  We were thankful for their safe travels and were happy to see their smiling faces.  They hit the ground running on Monday.  Rafael, Juan, Jose Ramon and Nestor started off the week getting tractors, trucks and equipment out of winter storage.  By noon Nestor had already prepared ground for planting, so after lunch Rafael and Tomas were in the field doing our first direct seeding of the season!  Manuel and Juan Pablo followed behind and planted our first baby lettuces on Monday as well.  Angel and Juan Pablo have been working on fencing in the pastures……the cattle are anxious to be back out on grass and are happy to see the hillsides greening up.  Other crew members hopped on spring cleaning projects, joined the packing shed crew to transplant baby pepper plants in the greenhouses and started working on some field clean-up projects.
Ramps ready for DCFM
We decided to start our harvest for the farmers’ market on Wednesday, seeing rain in the forecast for Wednesday night and the latter part of the week.  While the ramps are still a little small, the crew was able to find enough to take to market and we anticipate they’ll be ready for larger harvests next week.  In the afternoon they went to the spinach field and spent the afternoon harvesting some sweet, tender overwintered spinach.  The hum of vegetable sorting and washing has returned to the packing shed this morning.

Lettuce planted in the Flower Tunnel
We have had some rain this week, so some of our field work is on hold.  We’re hoping to see some dry days in the near future so we can get some critical things done.  The onion transplants are almost ready to go to the field, but first we need to prepare their beds by covering them with the reflective plastic mulch that helps with weed and pest control as well as heat gain.  Next week we will be receiving some rhubarb and strawberry plants and need to get those fields ready for planting as well.  We are also anxious to plant some of our other early-planted crops including parsnips, burdock root and our first carrots and beets.

Transplanting pepper plants

The greenhouses are almost at full capacity, with only about two tables left in the nursery greenhouse……and we need those to finish the plantings on this week’s schedule!  The plants are looking very nice and many will be ready to go to the field within the next few weeks.  This year we’re trying something new.   Usually we use our greenhouses for transplant production only in the spring and we have one small house we seed edible flowers in for our salad mix.   This year we decided to try growing some early season head lettuces in these houses.  Simon, Scott and Gerardo started preparing the soil for planting last week and on Monday Scott and Leonardo finished planting the lettuce.  We’re hoping they’ll be ready for CSA boxes and the farmers’ market by the first to middle part of May which is several weeks earlier than the head lettuce we’ll harvest from the field.  

Jicama starting to come up in the greenhouse
Over the winter, Richard and Lisa spent quite a bit of time reviewing the results of the survey we did at the end of last year.  We really appreciate the input we received from those who chose to participate.  One of the questions we asked was for input on helping us choose three vegetables from our list of “unique crops” that you would like us to grow this year.  The top three vegetable choices were jicama, broccoli raab and dried beans!  We’re happy to report the jicama is planted and started sprouting this week.  The broccoli raab will be planted within the next few weeks and we’ll probably do a fall planting too.  It’s a little early to plant beans, but we have the seed!

Eagle in the tree
Farmer Richard is getting very excited for the May Woods Walks that he has planned.  In case you haven’t heard, we’ve invited our members to come to the farm this spring to join Farmer Richard for a walk through our wooded hillsides.  You will have the opportunity to explore areas of the farm we don’t usually feature at our other farm events.  There are a lot of treasures to discover in our woods and Farmer Richard is looking forward to guiding you on a walking tour using the new trails he and his crew made last fall!  As you hike through the woods, you’ll have the opportunity to look for spring wildflowers, learn how to identify different species of trees by their leaves and bark, forage for wild edibles, listen and look for birds, and you might even stumble on a morel mushroom or two!The two dates are May 13 and 20.  You’ll find more information about the event in this week’s email. This event is for CSA members only and space is limited, so we do ask that you email with an RSVP in advance.

We do still have CSA shares available for this year’s season, so please remind your friends and neighbors to sign up soon!  If you are in Madison, please stop by and visit us at the farmers’ market starting this weekend.  If you reside in the Twin Cities or our local area, please read your email for more details about some of the other events going on in the next few weeks.  Ok, that’s a wrap for now…time to water the greenhouses!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Early Spring Farm Update!

by Andrea Yoder

Spring is officially here and our first week of CSA deliveries is only 6 weeks away!  Here at the farm we are looking forward to the return of spinach, salad greens, spring onions, ramps, asparagus, chives, baby bok choi……we love seasonal eating!   We’ve had an exciting first week of spring and within just a few more weeks, the pace of the farm is going to quicken.  As we transition into a new season, we thought we’d share a little glimpse of farm happenings.
Onions looking forward to going in to the Cold Frame
Greenhouse to 'toughen up' before the journey to the fields!

Back in February we fired up our nursery greenhouse.  Despite a few snow days that slowed us down, our small winter crew worked diligently to get the house cleaned and set up before starting to plant.  Our onions are now 4 weeks old and were fertilized for the first time last week.  They enjoyed a few bright, sunny days earlier this week and were so happy they shot up a few inches over the past two days!  We also have some pretty little lettuce plants, the fennel poked through this week and the celeriac is finally coming up!  Celeriac takes almost two weeks to germinate, so it can be a real nail-biter waiting for it to come up!  This week Beatriz & Laurel seeded all of the first plantings of broccoli, cauliflower, spring cabbage and kohlrabi as well as our first planting of kale and collards.  Over half of the herbs for the herb packs are planted and we’ll be putting those together in just a few short weeks so they’ll be ready to deliver to your CSA sites in May!  
Beatriz, Gerardo and Laurel
in the Nursery Greenhouse.
Our second greenhouse is quickly filling up, so we’ve been working on preparing the third and final house.  This is our cold frame greenhouse which has rollup sides to give the plants a bit of a controlled dose of reality before they are transplanted in the field.  They get tickled by the wind blowing in the sides and their nights are chillier than they are in the other houses.  The plants will spend a few weeks in this house to toughen them up before they are transplanted into the field.  

John, Scott and Simon finishing up the
Cold Frame Greenhouse plastic project!
This year we had to replace the plastic on the cold frame greenhouse.  Imagine giant sheets of plastic billowing in the air….a magical image, right?  Not in our world!  On our first attempt, there were reports of large men (Scott and Richard) being lifted right off their feet by the force of the gentle wind coming up under the plastic.  We’re thankful that Beatriz held on tight and she landed on two feet!  After having to abort the effort on Tuesday, we regrouped and tried again on Wednesday morning.  Everyone on the farm came in at 7 am and we were able to successfully get the plastic anchored onto the frame before those seemingly gentle gusts of wind came up.  Simon and Scott will finish putting the house back together today and the onions will move into that house on Monday!

Early Wednesday morning
greenhouse re-plasticing project!
Our winter crew members have been doing a great job keeping up with our greenhouse schedule, getting the willow trimmed and bunched, etc, but when we look at our to-do lists for the next few weeks, we acknowledge we’re going to need more hands to get everything done before the first week of CSA deliveries!  This week we were thankful to get our final approval and be able to move forward with the process to obtain H2A visas for our field crew members in Mexico.  Yes, we’ve been a bit nervous and won’t fully rest until our guys have safely returned.  We expect the first group to return the second week of April.  Keep your fingers crossed that the rest of the process and their travels will go smoothly and safely!  

Out in the pasture, the ducks and chickens are anxiously awaiting the return to their summer pasture by the creek.  The ducks are looking forward to playing in the creek again….the puddles just aren’t as satisfying.  Our goat herd has expanded by two kids this month and there are 5 more expectant mothers.  The cows are healthy and have had a good winter.  They’ve enjoyed their “chocolate” hay on cold, wet, snowy days when they eat inside the barn, but prefer to eat outside in the sunshine where we feed them their special haylage bales.  Within the next month we hope to add pigs to our pastures and then our “Old MacDonald” farm animal collection will be complete.

One of our roosters saying 'Hello'!
Ducks waddling in a puddle waiting
 to go back to their creek across the road! 

Farmers Richard & Andrea
holding one of the new baby goats!
In the office, Kelly and Lisa have been busy processing CSA orders and working on the 2017-2018 CSA Calendar.  Richard has been working on his crop plan, ordering field supplies and sneaking in some time to work on a few wood projects.  Over the winter John has been working on finishing the inside of the new solar kiln for drying lumber.  Laurel and I enjoyed attending the MOSES Organic Farming Conference in LaCrosse, Wisconsin at the end of February.  One of the highlights of the conference included a keynote presentation by Mas Masumoto, one of our fruit growers from California!  I had the opportunity to have dinner with him at the conference and will share more about his story and our conversations in our fruit newsletters this summer.  

Farmer Richard working on a
walnut coffee table
And finally….Farmer Richard has a field report for us.  The overwintered spinach is alive! We had large row covers on it for the winter and perimeter fence to keep the deer out. Several weeks ago we had high winds that lifted some of the corners got tangled up in the fence and made a real mess!   Scott and Richard replaced the fence before the deer realized it was down and turned the field into an all-you-can eat salad bar.  The garlic sprouts are pushing through the straw mulch and our rye cover crops are a bright, dark green.

Dreaming of Summer Strawberries!
We are looking forward to the start of a new CSA Season and hope you are too!  Our supply of canned tomatoes, frozen mini-sweet peppers and berries is dwindling.  The stored onions are starting to sprout and the last portion of our winter supply of potatoes are starting to look more like seed potatoes!  I have a stack of seasonal recipes I’ve been collecting and am looking forward to trying them as the vegetables come into season.  Before we know it, we’ll be enjoying thick over-wintered spinach salads, fresh oven-roasted beets, juicy ripe strawberries, fragrant basil pesto and sweet sungold tomatoes bursting in our mouths!

Friday, February 24, 2017

CSA Charter Release and CSA Day Celebration!


     It’s hard to believe we are just 10 weeks away from the first CSA delivery of the 2017 season.  This year will mark our 24th year of CSA and we’re already looking forward to the bounty of a new year.  Our first greenhouse is set up and our winter crew has been seeding onions this week.  It won’t be long before the hustle-and-bustle returns to the fields and we’ll all have the opportunity to enjoy fresh vegetables again!
     Friday, February 24th is CSA Sign-Up Day, a day being recognized by farms across the country as a day to celebrate CSA.  CSA is a concept that came onto the scene in the United States about 30 years ago and we were among the first farms to start a CSA in this region in the early 90’s.  Over the years we have built a strong membership and, in fact, we still have many members who have been with us since the early years!  The market place and our food system has changed quite a bit over the past 20-30 years.  About 6 years ago we started to see a slight downward trend in our membership.  Soon we started to hear other farms across the country were experiencing similar trends.  Why is this happening?  No one knows for sure, but it’s clear that there are more outlets available for consumers to choose from when making their food choices.  Farmers’ markets, food co-ops, natural foods stores, upscale grocery stores, gas stations and convenience stores, home delivery companies and even home delivery meal services.  So where does that leave us at the end of the day?  Where does CSA fit into the picture?
Read more about CSA Day on their website
     The concept of CSA has remained the same and we believe it will continue to be an important part of our farm.  After 30 years this concept remains rooted in establishing a direct connection between a consumer and a farm.  This is a connection that brings greater value to the table than just the face value of a vegetable—for both the farm and the consumer.  Even in the midst of a wide variety of food purchasing options, it’s important to remember that the story of our food goes beyond just the act of eating to satisfy the immediate hunger.  Our food choices have the ability to impact our environment, our health, the health and well-being of others, politics, economics and much more.  All food is not equal, and transparency is not always evident on grocery store shelves.  Understanding the story of our food leads to community….which is what “Community Supported Agriculture” is all about.
     So on Friday, February 24th, and every other day of the year, we will continue to celebrate the impact CSA has had on our farm and the community of people that we have been blessed with through our CSA.  We enjoy the opportunity and the challenge of growing a wide variety of vegetables over the course of the season for our CSA members.  Growing for CSA is not an entry-level position.  It takes skill, experience and a desire to keep learning and improving.  We have to work hard to make sure we have vegetables ready for you every week for 30 weeks and there are some challenging parts of the season.  While we’re all anxiously awaiting the first green beans, strawberries and zucchini, we learn how to incorporate kohlrabi, fennel and beets into our early summer meals.  Learning to eat and cook out of a CSA box may be a challenge the first year or so when you’re faced with new vegetables you’ve never seen or used before.  It takes time to learn to choose your recipes based on what is in your box instead of picking out a recipe and buying the ingredients.  Our long time members tell us it takes 2-3 years to fully make the transition to seasonal eating, but remember we’re here to help.  Once you have learned to eat with the seasons, you begin to anticipate what’s coming next and learn to eat a wide variety of vegetables!
     Last fall, a group of CSA farmers from across the United States and Canada started working together to create a CSA Charter.  The CSA values outlined in the charter are included in this newsletter and help all of us remember and understand the core values CSA was built upon.  It reminds us of the relationship that must be established between a member and the farm.  There is responsibility on both sides of the equation, but there’s also great rewards for both parties.  We reflect on the relationships we’ve formed over the years with some of those early members.  They made the choice to feed their children the highest quality food and placed value on including organic vegetables in their meals.  Their children grew up as CSA kids, helped pick up and unpack the weekly boxes, visited the farm and ate out of the fields, learned to recognize and were willing to eat a wide variety of vegetables, and the families built their seasonal repertoire of favorite recipes.  Now, their children are moving on to college, careers, and starting their own families….and they take their CSA upbringing with them.  They have learned to “eat out of the box” and we are now realizing how much the simple act of eating vegetables from “their farm” has had on their lives.  Sometimes we get the opportunity to see them again as they circle back to the farm for a farm event, send us an email, or stop by the farmers’ market for a visit.  They are now beautiful, intelligent, creative members of society and are evidence that it pays to invest in good food and community.  We are grateful to have the opportunity to grow with these families and look forward to continuing to build that connection with members into the future.
     As we approach the start of a new CSA season, we want to say “Thank You” to those of you who have already signed up for another year.  Your early commitment to 2017 CSA Shares is important for our farm.  We hope you’ll consider sharing your CSA experiences with other members of your community and encourage them to consider making CSA a part of their lives this year.  If you’re still contemplating signing up for 2017, we hope the CSA Charter will encourage you to take the CSA leap for another season.  Your membership in our farm does make a difference.

Farmers Richard, Andrea and the Entire HVF Crew

We invite you to read more about the CSA Charter
and why it is important on the website!

1.     Farm members buy directly from the farm or group of farms. There is no middleman.

2.     The farm provides member families with high quality, healthy, nutrient-dense, fresh and preserved, local and low fossil-fuel food or fiber, filling the share primarily with products grown on the farm or, if purchased from other farms, clearly identified as to origin.

3.     Farm members commit to the CSA, sharing the risks and rewards of farming by signing an agreement with the CSA and paying some part in advance, even as little as two weeks for those on Food Stamps.

4.     The farm nurtures biodiversity through healthy production that is adapted to the rhythm of the seasons and is respectful of the natural environment, of cultural heritage, and that builds healthy soils, restores soil carbon, conserves water and minimizes pollution of soil, air and water.

5.     Farmers and members commit to good faith efforts for continuous development of mutual trust and understanding, and to solidarity and responsibility for one another as co-producers.

6.     Farm members respect the connection with the land upon which the CSA grows their food and strive to learn more and to understand the nature of growing food in their locale.

7.     Farmers practice safe-handling procedures to ensure that the produce is safe to eat and at its freshest, tastiest, and most nutritious.

8.     CSA prices reflect a fair balance between the farmers’ needs to cover costs of production and pay living wages to themselves and all farm workers so that they can live in a dignified manner, and members’ needs for food that is accessible and affordable.

9.     Farmers consult with members, take their preferences into account when deciding what crops to grow and communicate regularly about the realities of the farm.

10.   Farm members commit to cooperation with the community of members and to fulfill their commitments to the CSA.

11.   Farmers commit to using locally adapted seeds and breeds to the greatest extent possible.

12.   The CSA seeks paths to social inclusiveness to enable the less well-off to access high quality food and commits to growing the CSA movement through increasing the number of CSAs and collaboration among them.

Harmony Valley Farm Special Offer

     In celebration of CSA Day, Harmony Valley Farm is offering a special $10 coupon to all new members as well as the usual $10 referral gift certificate to all current members that refer a friend! #CSADay

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Winter Cookbook Review: Scratch

by Farmer - Chef Andrea
     Happy New Year!  I hope your year is off to a good start and you are experiencing and looking forward to all the good things 2017 has in store for you and your family.  In between shoveling snow, and more recently scraping ice, we’ve been working on seed orders, laying out crop plans, washing the last of our storage vegetables and processing 2017 CSA orders!  In the midst of all the hustle and bustle of the winter rhythm, I’ve managed to find some time to sit by the fire and do one of the things I like to do most….read cookbooks.  Every time I tell myself I’m not going to buy any more new cookbooks…..then another good one comes out!  In the process of Christmas shopping for others, I managed to find a few new books that were published within the last year, as well as a few that I’ve pre-ordered and look forward to thumbing through in the upcoming months.  So I thought we’d kick the year off with a review of one of these new finds.
     The book up for review is called Scratch and was written by Maria Rodale.  The purpose of this book is outlined nicely in the subtitle which reads, “Home cooking for everyone made simple, fun, and totally delicious.”  This book is an easy and interesting read that starts out with a nice introduction in which Maria shares a bit of her background as well as philosophy on cooking at home.  Throughout the book she has taken the time to introduce each recipe and provide a little background about where the recipe came from, how it was developed and how it fits into this collection of favorites.
     Before we go any further, I’d like to give you a little background about Maria and her family.  Maria is the granddaughter of J.I. Rodale who is considered to be the founding father of the organic movement in America.  As a result of some of his own health issues in the earlier part of his life, J.I. Rodale developed an interest in promoting health and wellness as well as exploring ways of preventing disease through lifestyle.  In 1942 he began publishing Organic Farming and Gardening Magazine which was one of the first forums for discussing principles of organic horticulture, compost, soil health and pesticides.  Our own Farmer Richard’s grandfather was an early subscriber of this magazine.  This is the grandfather Richard credits as a major inspiration for him choosing to implement organic practices when he first started farming.  J.I. Rodale went on to found the Rodale Institute in 1947, an organization that still exists today.  The purpose of this institute was and still is to investigate the connection between healthy soil, food and human health.  They do so on their certified organic farm located in Pennsylvania where they produce vegetables, small grains, apples, livestock and more while studying different facets of organic agriculture.
     Maria’s father, Robert Rodale, was also interested in health, wellness and organic farming.  He followed in his father’s footsteps, eventually took over the Rodale Institute farm and continued to develop the work being done there.  As a result, Maria had the unique opportunity to grow up on the country’s first organic farm!  Maria is now the chairwoman and CEO of Rodale Inc., the publishing company that grew out of her grandfather’s own early publications and still strives to promote health and wellness through their publications as well as other forms of media.
     As you can see, Maria has a long history related to organic food, farming and cooking.  She starts off in the introduction of her book with the following statement:   “I believe anyone can cook.  I believe that a home-cooked meal made from scratch—preferably with organic ingredients (and maybe even homegrown)—is one of the greatest pleasures in life.  I believe that when you cut through all the confusion about food and cooking—the fears and insecurities, social pressures, false ideals, or just plain not knowing where to begin—this is where you can begin, right here.  I will help you.”  The recipes contained in Maria’s cookbook are simple, both in the ingredients they use as well as their methods.  Anyone, regardless of culinary skill level or experience can cook from her collection of recipes.  The recipes are easy to read and prepare, but still interesting.
     I would describe Maria’s approach to cooking and sharing these recipes to be very informal, honest and transparent.  In her book she openly shares personal experiences from her own family related to food and cooking.  Her three daughters, Maya, Eve and Lucia, are an important part of her story and are active participants in cooking.  In the book Maria states, “I don’t cook because I have to, I cook because I want to and because it’s the most intimate, nourishing, and primal pleasure I can give to my family and myself.”  She also shares this message:  “I want everyone to feel safe in their kitchens.  Safe to experiment and learn.  Safe to express their differences and creativity.  Safe to try new things.  And most important, safe to make a big damned mess and laugh about it, and serve the food we’ve made even if it’s not perfect or “blog-worthy.”
     As I read through Maria’s cookbook I appreciated her real life approach.  Despite a busy and full work life, she strives to come back to the simple pleasures of life which include simple, homemade meals based on wholesome ingredients.  I look forward to preparing more recipes from this book.  I have my eye on her recipe for Asparagus and Lemon Cream Pasta, BLT Salad, Broccoli Cheese Bites, Sweet-And-Sour Tomato and Pepper Salad, Kale Salad with Zesty Lemon Dressing and her recipe for Glazed Strawberry Pie.
     Maria also has a blog called “Maria’s Farm Country Kitchen” where she blogs on a variety of topics and also shares recipes, some of which she has included in her book.  The recipe in this newsletter features carrots and was originally featured on her blog.  If you’re looking for some culinary exploration this winter, consider taking a look at this book.  It’s not too early to plot out your seasonal culinary adventures for 2017!

Carrot, Feta, and Almond Salad

“You know those times when your fridge is either empty or pathetically filled with shriveled produce? (Yes, even my fridge can look like that!)  Usually, all that’s left standing at that point are the carrots.  Especially in the dead of winter.  That’s exactly when you should make carrot salad”.—Maria Rodale

Yield: 4 servings

Herb Dressing
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp chopped fresh Italian or curly parsley leaves
1 Tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
1 Tbsp chopped fresh dill leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 to 8 large carrots, shredded or grated
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
⅓ cup sliced almonds, toasted
  1. To make the dressing:  In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, oil, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste and mix with a fork to combine.
  2. For the salad:  Place the carrots in a large bowl, pour over the dressing and toss to combine.  Before serving, sprinkle the salad with the feta and almonds.

TIP:  If I make this in the warmer months, I like using a mixture of fresh herbs straight from the garden, but you can use all mint or all cilantro—whatever is your favorite and in season…..Maria Rodale

This recipe may be found on page 64 of Maria Rodale’s cookbook, Scratch.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Vegetable Feature: Carrots, A Winter Staple

By Laurel Blomquist                                          

As 2016 comes to a close, you can be proud that you, as a CSA member, accomplished something that few Americans can claim: you ate with the seasons. You supported the regional economy. You based your diet on the freshest, most nutritionally-dense vegetables you could find, simply by being a member. And you can continue to do so until the root vegetables that you received in your share run out.

The subject of this week’s feature is the humble carrot. Luckily, carrots will last for months if stored in a plastic bag in your crisper drawer.  I have kept Harmony Valley Farm carrots for 2-3 months without a problem. It is best to store carrots away from apples, pears or potatoes, which give off ethylene gas and cause the carrot to deteriorate.

While the carrot may seem a little pedestrian in nature, they are ubiquitous because of their delicious sweet flavor and their versatility. Carrots are one of the ingredients in mirepoix, the flavor base from which many sauces, soups and other dishes get their start. Traditional French mirepoix is 2 parts onions, 1 part carrot and 1 part celery. These vegetables are called aromatics because they impart subtle flavor to a dish. You probably wouldn’t be able to single out that they were used, since they often are cut so small and cooked so long in a dish that they all but disappear. However, they give dishes layers of flavor that can’t be replicated without them.

With this in mind, make sure to grab a carrot or two every time you make anything in the slow cooker: soup, stew, braises, stock or under a piece of chicken, pork or beef. Carrots are also a nice addition to a jar of lacto-fermented vegetables, such as kimchi.  If you would rather see carrots on the plate and enjoy their sweetness, try roasting, braising or glazing them for maximum flavor. Juicing, salads and carrot cake or bread are more options.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t inform you of the health benefits of carrots. One carrot will provide over 200% of the RDA of Vitamin A through the conversion of beta-carotene in your liver, as well as some Vitamin K, C and calcium. Including orange foods in your diet lowers your risk of coronary heart disease and antioxidants such as beta-carotene lower the risk of lung, prostate and colon cancer.

Until the Dutch bred orange carrots in the 17th century, most carrots were purple, yellow or white.  Purple carrots, in addition to having the phytochemicals that orange carrots have, also contain anthocyanins, the antioxidant found in blueberries. (Foley) I would recommend keeping these carrots for roasting, braising, or glazing, so that your guests will notice them and remark on their beautiful color.

Enjoy our bountiful carrot harvest in as many ways as you can. And congratulations on completing another year of eating seasonally!

Foley, Denise. “Surprising Health Benefits of Purple Carrots.” Rodale’s Organic Life, Rodale Inc. 1 April, 2015.
Mercola, Dr. Joseph. “What are the Health Benefits of Carrots?” Mercola, Joseph Mercola. 28 December, 2013. 

Carrot Oatmeal Cookie

Yield: About 2½ dozen cookies

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder scant ½ tsp fine grain sea salt
1 cup rolled oats
⅔ cup chopped walnuts
1 cup shredded carrots
½ cup real maple syrup, room temperature
½ cup unrefined coconut oil, warmed until just melted
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and oats. Add the nuts and carrots. 
  3. In a separate smaller bowl use a whisk to combine the maple syrup, coconut oil, and ginger. Add this to the flour mixture and stir until just combined.
  4. Drop onto prepared baking sheets, one level tablespoonful at a time, leaving about 2 inches between each cookie. Bake in the top ⅓ of the oven for 10 - 12 minutes or until the cookies are golden on top and bottom.
Note From Chef Andrea:  This recipe was borrowed from Heidi Swanson’s blog,  Heidi encourages experimenting with making different versions of this cookie.  When I made them, I used ⅓ cup chopped cashews and ⅓ cup shredded coconut in place of the walnuts.  I also added 1 tsp fresh lemon zest….and the results were delicious!  My friend, Steph, uses this recipe quite frequently.  One of her favorite ways to make this is to add mini dark chocolate chips in place of some or all of the nuts.  I think you’ll be pleased with the results any way you choose to make them!

Roasted Root Vegetables with Asian Honey Ginger Glaze

Yield: 7- 8 servings

Root Vegetable Blend
1 medium yellow onion, medium dice
9 cups root vegetables and/or winter squash, cut into medium dice (include any vegetables you have available—carrots, turnips, celeriac, potatoes, parsnips, beets)
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp Herbs de Provence or Italian Seasoning
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp sea salt

Asian Garlic-Ginger Glaze
1 Tbsp ginger, peeled and grated or minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup soy sauce (reduced sodium recommended)
2 to 3 Tbsp pure maple syrup or honey, to taste
2 tsp red chili sauce (such as sriracha) or ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Put the diced onions and root vegetables in a large mixing bowl.  Drizzle the vegetables with oil and sprinkle with the Herbs de Provence, chili powder and sea salt.  Use your (clean) hands to toss the vegetables and mix to ensure everything is well-coated.  
  3. Spread the vegetables in a single layer on a large baking sheet.  Use two baking sheets if you need to in order to keep the vegetables in a single layer.
  4. Roast the vegetables in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, turning and stirring once, or until they are tender and golden-brown.
  5. While the vegetables are roasting, prepare the Asian Garlic-Ginger Glaze. Simply add all of the ingredients to a small skillet and bring to a full (but controlled) boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook, while whisking frequently, until the volume is reduced by half.  This should take about 4 to 6 minutes. Remove the glaze from the heat and set aside until ready to use (Note: as the glaze sits, it will continue to thicken).
  6. Once the vegetables have finished roasting, remove them from the oven.  Drizzle the garlic-ginger glaze over the vegetables.  Stir to coat the vegetables with the glaze.  Serve warm.  

Recipe adapted from one featured on

Rolling Out 2017 CSA Shares!

2016 Vegetable Share
It’s hard to believe this is our final week of CSA deliveries and Christmas will be here in less than two weeks! As we wrap up another year, we are already looking ahead to another CSA growing season. Regardless of how a year may unfold, we always strive to be prepared each year, with a plan for success in hand. 2017 will be no different and we’re anxious to put our plans in action and see what will unfold.

We’re excited to roll out our 2017 offerings and are already receiving CSA sign-ups for next year! You’ll find our updated CSA sign-up form on our website and there’s a link to it in this week’s email. We are offering an “Early Bird” sign-up offer again this year for members who sign up before February 14, 2017.  You can find more details about this offer on the front page of the sign-up form.

Our share offerings will remain the same for the 2017 season. We are continuing to offer the same vegetable share options, summer & autumn fruit shares and a coffee share in partnership with Kickapoo Coffee Roasters. While the pricing for our fruit shares will remain the same, we did apply a small increase to our vegetable and coffee shares.  As we discussed the 2017 coffee share price with Kickapoo Coffee, they felt it was important to institute a small increase this year as coffee prices are rising.  The good news is that this increase will be passed on to the producers!  As for our decision to increase our vegetable share price, we’d like to offer a little background.

2016 Fruit Share
For the past six years we’ve chosen to hold our vegetable prices at the same rate.  Back in 2010 we reached our peak in CSA membership and were packing 1,100-1,200 boxes per week.  We enjoy growing vegetables for CSA and consider it a very important part of what we do.  Our plan, at that time, was to maximize our CSA membership and decrease our production for wholesale accounts.  Unfortunately, the year we made this decision was the year we started to see a slight decrease in our CSA membership.  It was also about the time we were experiencing the economic recession and we assumed the decrease was associated with a change in consumer priorities and resources.  When we consulted with some of our core, longtime CSA members and shared with them what was happening.  They advised us to hold our prices steady, continue to do a good job and ride out the hard economic times.  Word of mouth advertising has always been our greatest way to sell CSA shares, so we decided to hold our prices to make it affordable for our members and focused on looking for ways to increase efficiency, decrease expenses, etc.

Unfortunately we have continued to see a slight decrease in CSA shares each year and overall the decrease each year has added up to about a 25% decrease in vegetable shares since our peak in 2010.  We’ve queried our membership as well as other growers around the country who are also experiencing the same reality.  Why is this happening?  Perhaps it is related to the fact that organic food has become more available at farmers’ markets as well as in mainstream grocery stores, Wal-mart and even the local Kwik Trips and convenience stores!  While it is good to see growth in the organic market, we believe it has impacted consumers’ choices to shop at other outlets instead of choosing to “eat out of the box.”  We continue to value our direct relationship with our CSA members. We believe sourcing your food through CSA provides a value beyond just the price you pay when purchasing food at Wal-Mart and the like.  We continue to invest resources, time and effort to produce the highest quality vegetables with good taste and nutrient density.  We try to do our part to connect you with “your farm” and provide a transparency that is not always present in our food supply today.  We understand that “eating out of the box” is different than shopping at the grocery store and do our best to provide our members with resources so they can find success in using the vegetables and creating delicious meals.

So, despite the fact that our CSA numbers have decreased, we still value CSA and want it to be part
Weighing strawberries at 2016 Strawberry Days.
of our business.  The reality though is that we cannot continue to absorb the increases in expenses we’ve experienced over the past six years.  The cost of some packaging and field supplies has gone up, at times fuel prices have been high, and the cost of labor has also gone up.  We recognize our crew works hard and we want to continue to support a living wage.  Thus our final decision was to increase our vegetable share price by about 3% on average across the vegetable share options.

Most of our CSA Sites will remain the same for 2017.  In the Twin Cities we are adding a new site in the St. Louis Park area.  We are still looking for a new site location in the North Plymouth area on the west side of Minneapolis.  If you are in this area or have a friend who may be interested in hosting a site, please contact us for more information.  Additionally, we are continuing our partnership with Lunds & Byerlys which allows us to expand our delivery options to the greater Twin Cities area with delivery to any of their 27 store locations.  If you are interested in learning more about this option, please reference the “Lunds and Byerlys CSA Sign-Up Form” on our website.  In the Madison area we will be closing our Marinette Trail site, however we will be adding a site located nearby on Robin Circle.

Before the end of the year you will be invited to participate in an End of the Season Survey.  We appreciate your feedback and this is your chance to offer input about what vegetables you might like to see in the boxes next year (Time to grow jicama again?  Radish seed pods, escarole, lemongrass or cardoons?) or communicate any other ideas or thoughts you may have for the future of our CSA.
In closing, we’d like to thank you for your support of our farm this year.  While we had some weather challenges to deal with and certainly miss having sweet potatoes this fall, knowing our membership was behind us is a huge encouragement for us.  We hope you and your families have a peaceful and restful holiday season and winter.  We look forward to growing for you again in 2017.

Sincerely, Farmers Richard and Andrea