Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Labor and the Cost of Food

By Farmer Richard de Wilde

Captain Jack and Rafael chillin out at lunch time!






Chef/Farmer Andrea and I work very hard to make it all happen, to set the standards for our farm and to lead the way.  But there would be a very different HVF if it were not for Kelly, Scott, Simon, Gerardo, Beatriz, Rafael and his brothers, JMC, Juan and every other person on our crew.  Our core group of employees has been the same for 5, 10, and some approaching 20 years.  Their years of experience and expertise are what make this farm “work” and they are dedicated to continuing to keep this farm going into the future because, as many of them say, “it is the best job they have ever had!”  From our perspective, they are the best work force we have ever had!

Here’s a little history for you.  Labor costs on our vegetable farm make up roughly half (50%) of gross revenue.  Hiring and managing that labor force occupies more than 50% of our time.  It takes a full year of on-the-job experience for a new crew member to learn how our farm operates.  Once they enter the second year of experience, they really start to build skills and build on their initial training investment.  Thus, we are really looking for long term crew members who will be with us for more than one or two seasons.  Over the forty plus years I have farmed, I have had many different employees.  “Interns” who work only one season for low pay and to gain experience, older Laotian Hmong people who had few other job opportunities, local high school and college students who start too late and leave just when our peak fall season starts, not very workable!  The inmates from the Vernon County jail work program were very dependable!  That is until they got out of jail and could not make it to work on time for even 5 days in a row!  We’ve also had many excellent employees that were with us for a season or two and showed great potential.  However, just when they were really becoming established on the farm, they chose to leave to pursue other opportunities and experiences. 

Our farm is very complex with about 150 crops planted over about a 25 week period.  Each crop has its own specifications and requires specific skills and expertise, which means there is a lot to learn!  We need and thrive when we have a stable, trained, dedicated and long term work force.  Unfortunately, our local community has not been able to provide that!  As part of the H2A visa process, we have to advertise our farm worker positions in great detail for several weeks in our local newspapers and on the WI job center website. We also have to post that position in newspapers in three different states as required by the United Sates Department of Labor.  This year was typical of the other years.  We only had two local young men with farming experience apply.  We hired both to start on the following Monday.  Neither showed up or even had the courtesy to call and explain!  This is not just a tractor driving job, but tractor driving is necessary.  We would never be able to staff our farm with individuals from our local or surrounding areas.  In contrast, our crew members who come to us through the H2A visa program are dependable and, in situations such as this week, exceed our expectations.  This week we had a crew of guys who finished our sweet potato harvest in two days despite working the last 3 hours in a light rain with mud building up on their boots, wet and cold.  Nonetheless, they finished the harvest with pride!  The sweet potatoes are safely stored in the greenhouse and the curing process has begun! 

This is the part of the conversation where we need to bring the Zuniga, Cervantes and Rodriguez families into the conversation!  They started working on our farm in the mid-90’s and in 1998 we were able to bring them here on H2A visas (agricultural guest worker program).  While many of the country’s vegetable workers are “undocumented,” the H2A visa program is the only legal way for farm workers to work in the U.S. aside from permanent residency.  Starting in 1998 we set out to learn the complexities of the H2A visa program so our workers could come and go legally while working here.  This allowed them to cross the border and return legally if they needed to and it has proven very important to many crew members who have gone home for the birth of a child, to attend funerals, see loved ones who may be ill, attend their children’s graduations, etc.  Unfortunately it is a very difficult and agonizing process.  We started by paying $5,000 to an agency to do the paperwork, but quickly learned that we could do it better.  Kelly and I, with help from Omar, a lawyer who works in Mexico, have been successful in bringing our present work force back each year.  It is very expensive and complicated.  We have to provide free housing, transportation to and from Mexico as well as to and from work each day, and we cover all the visa fees.  Once we put all of the expenses associated with this program together, the reality is that these workers have a cost of about $16 per hour.  This makes it very hard to compete in the wholesale market as we are trying to be competitive with other growers who may be paying $8.00 per hour, use contract labor, hire illegally, etc.  It is a challenge, but our dedicated crew totally “gets it”.  They need to be fast and efficient so we can compete and have high quality food and please our CSA members and other customers.  They are invested in making our farm “work” so they can continue to have a long term job!
2016 Crew Picture
Our current crew is the best work force we have ever had.  It is easy to show them respect because they deserve and earn it and it’s a welcome change from other jobs they have had that require a “yes, sir” to their employer.  At HVF they enjoy the opportunity to improve our processes, improve efficiency so much that we can almost compete with the other lower cost labor options.  It is a constant challenge in the whole sale market place.  In our CSA, the same efficiencies have allowed us to continue to deliver $1200-$1500 value for less than $1000 for a weekly vegetable share. 

Most of you as CSA members are in the workforce or have been in the work force.  You work hard to provide for your families.  For your health, we hope you value and purchase organic food, household and body care products.  As you make your purchases, we encourage you to not forget the people that produce these products for you! 

We are one out of only a few farms/companies who seek to change the world and strive to care for a healthy environment with healthy people as well as a healthy “respect” for those who work very hard to make sure we all have wholesome food to eat.  Will you continue to support them and others like them with your purchases or will you choose to support a system that is built on a cheap price and keeps the story of the food and its origin a mystery?

Right now there is a bill called the “Ag Jobs” bill in the House of Representatives.  This program is being proposed as a replacement for the H2A visa program and would instead be called H2C.  As currently proposed it would be a boon to employers, but not for workers.  The cost of the labor would be less for us as employers, but our employees would not benefit from the program.  We’ll keep you posted as that bill progresses. 

Our country has a long history of “cheap” food which comes only by exploiting someone along the supply chain with “cheap” compensation. There has been a shortage of “cheap” labor because of increased border security and raids on farms and businesses to expose illegal employees.  So something like 30% of fruit and vegetable production has moved south of the border, including organic production! As we consider what we want the future of our food system to be, we can’t overlook the topic of labor.  We must consider the “real” cost of producing fruits and vegetables and compensate fairly.  Will enough consumers be willing to pay the real price of food?  This is just one of many issues that goes into each and every purchasing decision you make, and your choices do make a difference!
Manuel, Rafael, Jose Alejandro, and Alvaro Morales Peralta
As we continue to explore this topic as well as others that impact the future of our food supply, there are a few resources we’d like to recommend.  Food First just published a book entitled A Foodie’s Guide to Capitalism:  Understanding the Political Economy of What We Eat, written by Eric Holt-Giménez.  We hope to receive our copy soon and will likely report more about the ideas in this book in the future.  Another book by Food First that you might be interested in reading is entitled Land Justice:  Re-imagining Land, Food, and the Commons in the United States.  This book is an anthology edited by Justine M. Williams and Eric Holt-Giménez.  Lastly, we recently watched a newly released documentary entitled, The Road to Ruin or the Path to Prosperity.  This movie was produced by Dr. Pedram Shojai and is currently available for free online screening.  You can find out more about this film and how to view it at Well.org.  The film takes a close look at how our individual choices as consumers can have a big impact on our world and our future.  It takes a look at some of the positive things companies and individuals are doing to point our future in a more positive direction and empowers each individual to look at their own choices and lifestyles to impact the world positively.  While this film does include a look at food systems, it goes beyond just food. 

October 12, 2017 - This Week's Box Contents, Featuring Broccoli Raab & Spaghetti Squash


Cooking With This Week's Box

Welcome back for another week of Cooking With the Box.  After this week we only have 6 more CSA boxes!  How are we going to fit all the vegetables we still want to send you in just 6 boxes!  I’m excited to be transitioning to fall cooking and seeing the sweet potatoes piled in the greenhouse after this week’s harvest makes me even more ready!  Pull out your favorite sweet potato recipes…they’ll be in your box within the next few weeks! 

Lets start off with Broccoli Raab,  one of the bunching greens in this week’s box.  If you aren’t familiar with this green, take a minute to read more about it on our blog and/or in the newsletter.  It goes very well with garlic and pasta, which is why I recommend using it to make the pasta recipe in this week’s newsletter, Garlicky Pasta with Broccoli Raab (see below).  I adapted this recipe to include a few more vegetables, shredded carrots and sweet peppers, which add some color and sweetness to the dish.  Of course there’s lots of garlic as well!  Don’t forget to serve this dish with shredded Parmesan cheese.

Our second featured vegetable this week is Spaghetti Squash.  This week I’m going to try Sarah Britton’s recipe for Spaghetti Squash Cakes with Crispy Sage (See below).  This is an interesting way to use spaghetti squash, but will yield a little crispy patty that can be a main entrée or a side dish.  Spaghetti squash is much different than the other squash in your box this week, kabocha squash.  I found a delicious recipe for Miso Glazed Kabocha Squash on the Johnny’s Seed website when I was looking up seed information last week!  I didn’t expect to find a recipe on a seed company website, but it’s a tasty looking recipe and they even made a video to demonstrate how to prepare this dish!

Pizza with Arugula Pesto, Butternut Squash and Apples
The second bunching green in this week’s box is bunched arugula.  I have to admit, up until a year ago I seldom if ever ate full sized arugula as I found the flavor to be too strong.  Last year I tried using it to make Arugula Pesto and it was fabulous!  The pungency of the arugula pairs well with cheese, meat, fruit, etc.  The bite of the arugula stands up to the fat and acidity and the combination of the three is delicious.  Don’t worry, the arugula mellows out a bit in the pesto.  I like to use arugula pesto as a spread on a sandwich or a cracker along with cream cheese and/or smoked salmon or prosciutto.  You can also toss it with cooked pasta for a quick dinner, mix it into scrambled eggs, or even use it as the base for a pizza.  In the same newsletter where you’ll find the recipe for the arugula pesto there is a recipe for a Pizza with Arugula Pesto, Butternut Squash and Apples.  You could substitute the kabocha squash for butternut squash if this pizza sounds good to you this week.

I was poking around the Smitten Kitchen blog this week and found several delicious recipes including this one for Carrot Tahini Muffins.  I like carrot cake and I like tahini, I just never would’ve put the two together!  We’ll probably enjoy some of these with breakfast and save a few for afternoon snacks.  This recipe will use about half of the bag of carrots, so you’ll still have enough to include in the pasta recipe cited above.  I don’t bake very often, but for some reason I’m in the mood to do so this week!  While you have the flour and mixing bowls out, you might as well make a batch of Jalapeño Cheddar Scones. This is another recipe from the Smitten Kitchen blog.  These would go great with breakfast or brunch alongside fluffy scrambled eggs, or serve them with a bowl of hot, cream of potato soup!

Since we mentioned potato soup, we might as well tackle the potatoes in this week’s box next!  My mom used to make this Hearty Potato Soup recipe that she clipped out of one of her Taste of Home magazines years ago.  It’s chunky and nourishing making it perfect to serve for dinner on a cool fall night.  If you have any potatoes left, cut them into chunks and roast them along with mini sweet peppers and onions.  This is one of my favorite roasted potato variations that I often make for breakfast or brunch or for dinner along with roasted chicken, a grilled steak, or even a simple hamburger!  If you have any mini sweet peppers remaining, don’t forget to take them with you to work for lunch or an afternoon snack.  Fill them with hummus or cream cheese if you want to kick it up a notch. 

We’re happy to have some very nice fall spinach to send your way this week.  The baby beets in this week’s box will be a great accompaniment to the spinach in this Spinach Salad with Goat Cheese & Beets.  Garnish the salad with toasted walnuts for a little crunch and if you want to get really fancy you could candy the nuts! 

We’ve had a pretty nice run on late summer/early fall broccoli and cauliflower.  I hope you’ve had a chance to try some new recipes using these two familiar vegetables.  If you have broccoli in your box this week, consider trying this recipe for Spicy Roasted Broccoli with Almonds. This is a recipe by Sarah Britton that dresses roasted broccoli with a dressing made with garlic, ginger, olive oil and a hot chili of your choosing….jalapeño would work.  If you have cauliflower in your box, you might want to go with this recipe for Cauliflower Slaw.   It has dried currants and crispy fried capers in it and is dressed with a light vinaigrette made with lemon juice and vinegar.  This recipe is also garnished with toasted almonds. 

We’ve reached the bottom of the box yet again.  I wanted to mention that I love when members share recipes with us.  If you have any favorite “go-to” recipes for fall vegetables and wouldn’t mind sharing them with us, we’d love to see what you’re cooking!  Either email them to csa@harmonyvalleyfarm.com or post them in our Facebook group.  I’ll see you back here next week with an update on how the “curing” process is going with the sweet potatoes.  Farmer Richard is hopeful they’ll be ready for next week’s boxes, but we don’t want to rush the process either.  We want them to be sweet and delicious for your first taste!  Have a great week and I hope you enjoy your time in the kitchen.
—Chef Andrea 

Featured Vegetables of the Week:  Broccoli Raab & Spaghetti Squash

Broccoli Raab
Broccoli Raab was one of the vegetables members requested on the survey we conducted at the end of last year.  You asked for it and here it is!  There are two bunching greens in this week’s box, the broccoli raab and bunched arugula. They look a bit similar, but you can tell the difference between the two by first noticing the color.  Broccoli raab is darker green and the arugula has a lighter, lime green color.  Broccoli raab also has thicker stems that resemble broccoli stems and if you look in the center of the stem you’ll likely see some small broccoli florets pushing up.  Broccoli raab is in the brassica family and has a mild mustard flavor with a slight bitterness.  We like to grow broccoli raab in the fall when the flavor is more mild and well-balanced.  You can eat nearly the entire bunch including the stems.  Sometimes the lower portion of a thick stem can get a little tough so you may need to discard the bottom inch or so if you find this to be the case. 


Broccoli raab is a popular Italian vegetable, but is also found in Asian cuisine as well.  It is often used in pasta and pizza dishes paired with sweet Italian sausage, garlic and cheese.  Nothing wrong with a combination of those ingredients!  While you can eat broccoli raab raw, it is most often cooked.  It’s tender enough that it doesn’t require a very long cooking time.  It can be boiled, steamed or sautéed.  In Italian cooking, you may find recipes that have longer cooking times to ensure the leaves and stem are very soft and tender.  Many times this preparation is done with a lot of garlic and olive oil.  I prefer the bright, light flavor of broccoli raab so usually just cook it long enough to wilt it and soften the leaves. 

If you taste a bit of the leaf in its raw form and don’t care for the bitterness, try cooking it before you rule it out.  When cooked, the flavor of broccoli raab mellows out.  It also becomes more balanced if prepared with a splash of vinegar at the end. 

Spaghetti Squash
The second vegetable we’re featuring from this week’s box is Spaghetti Squash.  Last week we featured kabocha squash and, while they are both classified as winter squash, they are very different.  Spaghetti squash will store for awhile, but it’s not known for long term storage into the deep of winter which is why we often deliver this one in October and/or early November.  The variety of spaghetti squash we grow is a smaller variety than some others you may see at the market.  We like the smaller, golden yellow varieties called Angel Hair and Small Wonder because of their more manageable size and because the flesh is more flavorful.  The seeds in a spaghetti squash are tender enough to eat.  If you’ve never cleaned and toasted squash seeds before, give them a try.  It’s not hard to clean and prepare them and the crispy, crunchy seeds make a nice snack or garnish for salads and soups.  Visit The Kitchn website where they have a nice article with pictures entitled How to Roast Pumpkin & Squash Seeds.” 

Squash and Leek Skillet Gratin
To prepare spaghetti squash, first cut it in half and bake it in the oven.  I usually bake it cut side down in a baking dish with a little bit of water in the bottom or the pan.  You can also bake it cut side up with the cut side brushed with some oil to give more of a roasted flavor.  Before you bake it, take a spoon and scrape out the seed cavity so you can save the seeds for roasting.  Bake the squash until it is fork tender, then remove it from the oven.  Once it’s cool enough to handle, use a fork to pull the flesh out of the shell.  The flesh of the spaghetti squash is just as its name indicates, stringy like spaghetti!  Once cooked, you can use the flesh in a variety of ways.  It makes a nice substitute for pasta and sometimes I like it simply sautéed with butter, garlic and fresh herbs.  There are some recipes, many in the paleo diet community, that use spaghetti squash as the “crust”-like base for dishes that are like a savory baked pie.  One of my favorite ways to prepare spaghetti squash is this recipe I created for Spaghetti Squash and Leek Skillet Gratin featured in one of our September 2016 newsletters.  If you don’t have leeks, you can also substitute shallots or yellow onions.  This recipe has become a favorite with some of our market crew and customers.

As with all squash, they are best stored in a dry environment at 45-55°F at 50-60% humidity, so keep them in a cool location in your house.  If you don’t have a location that meets this temperature criteria, just store them at room temperature on your counter and check them periodically.  If you notice a spot starting to form, it’s time to cook the squash!


Pasta with Garlicky Broccoli Raab

Yield:  4 servings

12 oz pasta (shape of your choosing, spaghetti and fettucine work well)
½ cup olive oil
5 garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp red pepper flakes
1 heaping teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces (Optional, see note below)
2 cups (8 oz) shredded carrots
1 ½ cups thinly sliced sweet peppers
1 bu broccoli raab, chopped into bite sized pieces
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving.
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook to al dente according to package instructions.  Before you drain the pasta, save 2 cups of the pasta water.  Drain the pasta and set it aside. 
  2. Put the olive oil in a small saute pan and add the minced garlic, red pepper flakes and 1 teaspoon of salt. Heat the oil over medium low heat.  You want to infuse the oil and cook the garlic gently just until the garlic becomes light golden.  It’s better to keep the heat low and do this slowly while you prepare the rest of the recipe so the garlic doesn’t get too brown.  If you notice the garlic starting to turn golden, remove the pan from the heat.
  3. Heat a large saute pan or skillet over medium-high heat.  Take 2 Tbsp of oil from the small pan and add it to the large pan.  When the pan and oil are hot, add the pieces of chicken and cook until browned on both sides. 
  4. Once the chicken is browned, add the shredded carrots, sweet peppers and 1 cup of the pasta water to the pan.  Simmer until the liquid is reduced by about half the volume.  Next, add the broccoli raab and allow the greens to wilt down.  Stir the vegetable mixture to combine them well and continue to simmer until nearly all the liquid has evaporated.  If the vegetables are not yet cooked to your liking, add more pasta water and simmer a little longer.
  5. Add the cooked pasta to the pan and stir to combine. Carefully pour the garlic oil over the pasta and toss to combine and evenly coat the pasta and vegetables.  Season with freshly ground black pepper and more salt as needed.
  6. Serve the pasta hot with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
This recipe was inspired by a similar recipe originally featured in Gourmet magazine, September 2006.

Note from Chef Andrea:  I wrote this recipe to include chicken, but this would also be delicious if made with Italian sausage, ground pork or shrimp in place of the chicken.  If you do not care for meat or seafood, just omit all protein options and prepare the dish vegetarian style.  The flavors of the vegetable are bold and delicious on their own.

Spaghetti Squash Cakes with Crispy Sage


Yield:  15-20 small patties

1 medium to large spaghetti squash (approximately 2 pounds) 
1 cup rolled oats, ground into flour (or use oat flour) 
4 cloves garlic 
1 green onion, with green tops (may substitute finely chopped yellow onion) 
1 tsp sea salt 
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper 
2 ½ oz Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (substitute ¼ cup nutritional yeast) 
1 organic egg, beaten 
1 bunch sage, about 30 large leaves, divided
Ghee or coconut oil, for cooking the patties

  1.  Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Rub with a little ghee or coconut oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and place in the oven, cut side up and cook for 45 minutes or so, until you can easily pierce the squash with a fork. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Using a fork, scrape out all flesh and place in a large sieve over the sink or a bowl to drain.
  2. In a food processor, grind oats until you have a rough flour. Add 12 sage leaves, garlic, salt, pepper and pulse to combine.
  3. Squeeze any remaining liquid out of the spaghetti squash. Place in a large bowl and add the oat mixture. Thinly slice the green onion into rings and add to bowl, along with the egg, and grated cheese. Fold to combine. A kind of dough should start to form as the ingredients come together. Take a small amount, roll into a ball and flatten into a patty shape – if the patty stays together they are ready. If they are too dry, add a little water, one tablespoon at a time until they hold. If they are too wet, add another handful of oats. Form all the cakes before you begin.
  4. Heat a skillet over medium heat and add a knob (pat) of coconut oil or ghee. When hot, add the cakes and cook until golden on one side, then flip. Alternatively, you can cook these in a 375°F oven for approximately 10-15 minutes on each side.
  5. To fry sage, heat a couple knobs of coconut oil or ghee (ghee is preferable) in a small saucepan. When hot, add 6-8 sage leaves at a time, fry for 10-15 seconds, transfer with a fork to paper towels, and sprinkle with sea salt immediately.
  6. To serve, place a few squash cakes on the plate and garnish with fried sage leaves. Enjoy with roasted tomatoes and a simple massaged kale salad. Freeze leftover cooked cakes and heat to enjoy.
This recipe was borrowed from MyNewRoots.org by Sarah Britton.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Cover Crops 101….Keep it Covered!

By Farmer Richard

In our newsletter article two weeks ago entitled “Soil….Our Hope for a Climate Solution,” we briefly discussed the importance of using cover crops as a means of “regenerative farming” to not only build soil, but also as a means of capturing atmospheric carbon through plants and storing it in the soil.  This week we want to share more about what it means to plant cover crops on our farm and why we consider them to be an important part of our production system.  We’ve been using cover crops for over 40 years, mainly as a means of enhancing soil quality.  Only recently have we learned that cover crops are an important tool we can use to help mitigate climate change, both by reducing excessive atmospheric carbon as well as their role in making our soils more resilient to erratic weather conditions.  We know that soils with high organic matter hold water better in drought conditions and are able to drain better in times of excess moisture.  There are many benefits to including cover crops in farming systems and, from a farmer’s perspective, I can’t understand why every farmer wouldn’t want to plant them!

Cover Crop starting to grow just before winter settles in.
Leave no ground exposed for the winter!
Cover crops are crops we plant in our fields before and after our vegetable cash crops.  While we plant vegetable crops with the intention of harvesting them for sale, we seldom ever sell a cover crop.  There are other reasons why we plant cover crops.  Our farming system developed from the work of Rudolf Steiner, JI Rodale, and William Albrecht, early advocates of using cover crops in organic systems as a means of keeping the ground covered at all times. In theory, this is a basic principle of nature that allows us to use plants to capture solar energy from the sun to enrich the soil and prevent erosion.  We don’t like to have bare ground over the winter as it is very vulnerable to winter winds, etc and we don’t want to lose our precious topsoil!  Cover crops, in certain locations, also help to filter and purify water to keep our waterways clean, and enhance and encourage biodiversity of soil microorganisms that help us increase the organic matter in our soil as well as hold nutrients in place so they are available for the next vegetable crop that will go in that field.  While this all makes sense in theory, in practice it all comes down to management! 

Many of our long term crew members understand our goals with regards to planting cover crops, but in the heat of the busy late summer and fall harvest season when we need all available hands on deck to harvest, it’s easy to put planting cover crops on the back-burner
to plant another day when harvest is done.  However, our crew members understand planting cover crops is a priority and work diligently to make sure they get planted as soon as possible.  As soon as we finish harvesting a crop and are done with it for the season, we prepare the ground and plant the cover crop even if it’s just two beds out of the entire field!  Time is of the essence in the fall and our goal is to give the cover crop as many growing days as possible to get established before the temperatures drop and winter sets in.  Cover crops may also be planted into a standing vegetable crop at the time of last cultivation.  This allows us to have a soil-improving cover crop already growing in the shade of a cash crop, ready to take over as soon as the cash crop is done and any remaining portion of the plants are chopped!  We use this method in crops such as asparagus, strawberries and rhubarb.  In these scenarios, the cover crop not only enhances the soil by increasing organic matter, but the cover crop also helps to compete with weeds and forms a mulch of sorts when the cover crop plant “winter kills.” 

Japanese millet planted in between rows of strawberries.



We have two main cover crop mixes we plant.  One mix includes plants that will “winter kill.”  Even though we may get some frosty nights and cold temperatures late in the fall, the plants in this mix continue to grow, albeit slowly.  Once the ground freezes solid their growth stops.  This mix includes Japanese millet, oats, field peas, crimson clover and a few other clover varieties. The benefit to planting a cover crop that winter kills is that the plants will not grow again in the spring and we can prepare that ground early in the spring to plant vegetable crops since the cover crop residue will work into the soil very easy without a lot of green crop plant matter to get in the way. 

An Austrian Winter Peas cover crop, notice the
the white nitrogen nodules already forming on the roots this fall.
Our second mix consists of plants that can go dormant during the winter, and then resume growing again in the spring.  We plant this mix in fields that we won’t need to plant very early in the spring.  This allows us to leave the cover crop in the spring so it can grow and we can maximize its benefits.  We usually cut or chop the cover crop just before it goes to seed.  This mix consists of cereal rye, rye grass, mammoth red clover and hairy vetch.  In addition to serving as a sponge to take up available nutrients and hold them in place for next year’s crop, the rye also makes a good mulch that we cut and bale.  We take the bales off of one field and put them on another field to mulch in between beds of vegetable crops such as strawberries, tomatoes and garlic.  The clovers and vetch are able to take nitrogen from the air and fix it in the soil, which means we don’t have to apply fertilizer!  If we have excess rye grass beyond our needs for mulch, we may choose to bale some to use as feed for our cattle and goats through the winter or sometimes we just chop the crop back onto the field and work it into the soil.  This is referred to as a “green manure” crop.

Even our cold frame greenhouse gets a cover crop!
We have embraced this practice and are always looking for ways to improve the system.  Over the past few years we’ve increased the diversity of plants in our cover crop mixes.  While it is more complicated to make these mixes, we appreciate the plant diversity and the different beneficial attributes each plant brings to the mix.  We will continue to invest both time and resources into planting cover crops as the benefits of doing so far outweigh any management challenges we may juggle.  Maintaining and improving the health and resilience of our soils is crucial to our ability to continue to produce vegetables with maximum nutrient quality.  We also want to do our part to maintain clean waterways, prevent soil erosion and maximize CO2 capture through our practices to do our part to mitigate climate change. 

As we continue our conversation about the future of our food system and what we want it to be, we feel it is important for you, the eater, to understand the growing system and practices we employ.  Not all food is created equal and it’s up to you to make an informed decision as to what type of farming practices you want your food purchases to support.  There are some conventional, chemical farmers who are trying to improve their soil quality with cover crops and are taking advantage of the assistance and incentives offered by the NRCS (Natural Resources and Conservation Services).  While this is good, it’s hard to make much positive headway when the cash crops being planted require chemical inputs that damage and degrade soil as well as cause other problems to the ecosystem and environment around them. 

We hope you too can appreciate the benefits of cover crops in an organic farming system and will choose to support local producers who prioritize integrating cover crops into their agricultural systems.  We’ll do our part, but we need the support of consumers to turn the tide and shape our food system into the future.  

October 5, 2017 - This Week's Box Contents, Featuring Kabocha Squash



Cooking With This Week's Box

This week’s box has a burst of color with the gorgeous orange kabocha squash!  There are a lot of things you can do with this squash, but this week I’m going to use it to make a simple, seasonal One-Pot Kabocha Squash and Chickpea Curry (See Below).  This is very easy to make and uses the sweet peppers and tomatoes in this week’s box as well as some of the swiss chard.  Either mini sweet peppers or orange Italian frying peppers will work in this recipe.  This is actually better the second day, so it’s a great dish to make on the weekend and serve for dinner on a night during the week when you know you won’t have a lot of time to cook.  

Tomato and tomatillo season will be quickly coming to an end.  We’re glad to be able to send tomatillos one more time before they’re really finished!  Now that the nights are getting more cool, I’m more in the mood for warm, comforting stews.  One of my favorite recipes is for this Pork & Tomatillo Stew.  The tomatillos help thicken the stew and the carrots, potatoes and pork make it warm and satisfying.  Serve it with corn muffins, corn tortillas or chips on the side. 

Every once in awhile I get hungry for comforting dishes from my childhood.  Growing up in central Indiana, we had many ways to use mayonnaise and nearly every church potluck had several versions of a creamy broccoli and cauliflower salad.  So this week I’m reviving that salad with this Sweet Broccoli & Cauliflower Salad.  My family always encourages me to make it with the bacon, but you could easily leave it out or substitute toasted sunflower seeds instead.  While this recipe calls for both broccoli and cauliflower, you can also make it with just one or the other if you don’t have both in your refrigerator.  This salad goes well with a simple deli meat salad or my mom often served it with barbecued chicken or ribs.

I have to admit I’ve had my fill of fresh salsa, but tacos is a pretty easy go-to dinner during busy times.  To keep it interesting, I often serve tacos with different toppings.  This week I’m going to make some Mexican-Styled Pickled Carrots.  These make a spicy, tangy topping for tacos using this week’s carrots, red onions and jalapenos.  The recipe is for 4 pints, so I’ll probably scale it back to make just 1 pint.  If you want to make more, go for it. They’ll store for several weeks in the refrigerator.

I really enjoy jicama best in its raw form as a salad or slaw.  With the remainder of the sweet peppers in this week’s box, I’m going to make this Jicama & Sweet Pepper Slaw we featured in our newsletter back in 2013.  This slaw goes very well with grilled fish or chicken.

Back in 2011 Chef Bonnie spent the summer with us and developed this recipe for Fresh Turnip Salad with Curry Vinaigrette.  It’s been awhile since I’ve made this, but I have been on a curry kick lately and remembered her salad.  It’s bright and refreshing and utilizes both the turnip tops as well as some salad mix for the base of the salad.  If you want to turn it into a main entrée salad, just add some grilled chicken, fish or even baked tofu or tempeh. 

Lastly, you’ll probably have about half of your bunch of chard remaining if you use it to make the Kabocha Squash and Chickpea Curry recipe I mentioned in the beginning.  If you make some extra rice to serve with the curry dish, you can use the leftovers to make these Chard Leaves Stuffed with Rice and Herbs.  They’ll make a nice option to take for lunches or serve them with a salad for a light dinner.

Ok folks, that’s a wrap.  Get ready for more warm, comforting soups and stews in the weeks to come. Here’s a little tidbit of information to give you something to look forward to.  Word on the street around here is that we’ll be harvesting sweet potatoes next week!  We’ll need some time to “cure” them before they’re ready to eat, but they should be in your boxes within a few weeks!  Have a great week!—Chef Andrea


Featured Vegetable:  Orange Kabocha Squash 


This week we’re featuring the first of several different varieties of winter squash we grew for you this year.  This week’s selection, orange kabocha squash, is shaped like a plump round disc and has a stunning bright orange skin with deep orange flesh inside.  This is one of our favorite squash varieties because of its excellent eating quality, and in most years, its ability to store for several months.  While we typically don’t deliver this squash until November at the earliest, we’re including it in your boxes earlier because we suspect it may not store as well this year.  We’ve already noticed some spots forming on some of the squash and have been removing them from our storage bins at a greater rate than we normally see at this point in the season.  The storage-ability of a squash is directly related to the growing conditions in the field.  We suspect the rainy wet period we had at the end of July and first of August may have, in some way, impacted the shelf life of this squash this year.  The ones we’ve cooked and eaten have had excellent flavor and sweetness, so we can’t stand to compost them and would rather pass them on to you sooner than later! 

You’ll find kabocha squash to be a very dense squash that will require a little bit of effort to cut into.  Unlike some other winter squash, kabocha squash has a very thin skin that can be either peeled away or just eaten.  The skin is most tender shortly after harvest and toughens up the longer it is in storage, thus may not be as desirable to eat. When cooked, the flesh of kabocha squash is very rich, silky-smooth, sweet and flavorful.  There are several ways you can cook this squash. My go-to easy, low maintenance method is to just cut the squash in half, remove the seed cavity and put the squash halves, cut side down, in a baking dish.  Add a little bit of water to the pan and bake the squash at 350°F until the squash is soft and tender when pierced with a fork.  Remove the squash from the oven and turn the halves over so they can cool.  Once cool enough to handle, scoop the cooked flesh out of the shell and either mash or puree the flesh.  Once the flesh is cooked, you can use it to make a simple squash puree seasoned with spices of your choosing and a pat of butter.  Orange kabocha puree can also be used in baked goods and desserts.  While most recipes won’t call for this squash variety specifically, you can use this squash as a substitute in any recipe that calls for pumpkin or butternut squash.  This rich, sweet flesh makes a delicious pie filling and yields rich, moist, flavorful quickbreads or muffins. 

Aside from baking, kabocha squash may also be roasted or simply steamed.  In Japanese cuisine, kabocha squash are also referred to as Japanese pumpkins.  Known for their simple, clean preparations, you’ll find Japanese recipes for kabocha squash to be equally as simple with just a few ingredients.  Slices or chunks of kabocha squash are often steamed or simmered in a simple dashi broth with kombu seaweed and sometimes miso, soy sauce and sometimes sake.  You can also roast kabocha squash as you would prepare any other root vegetable or potato for roasting.

I’ll take a minute to mention squash seeds.  While we usually encourage you to save the seeds from your winter squash and roast them to make a crunchy snack, I have to admit I don’t care for the seeds from a kabocha squash.  They have a thicker hull and are more tough and less enjoyable to eat.  Save your efforts for some of the other squash that will come later such as the sugar dumpling, festival and butternut squash.

Winter squash is an important part of our fall and winter diets from both nutritional and culinary perspectives.  They are rich in carotenoids, the nutrient compound that gives their flesh its orange color.  They are also good sources of Vitamins A & C as well as potassium, manganese, folate and a variety of B vitamins.  This squash pairs well with other fall fruits and vegetables including apples, pears, herbs, and onions. 

For longer storage, winter squash is best stored in a cool, dry location at about 45-55°F.  However you can also keep them on your kitchen counter and enjoy their beauty if you are going to eat them within a few days or weeks.  I would encourage you to eat this week’s selection sooner than later.  Watch them and if you notice any spots starting to form on the exterior, cut that area out of the squash and cook the remainder immediately.  If you aren’t ready to eat squash yet, consider baking your squash and pureeing the flesh.  You can put the pureed squash in a freezer bag or container and pop it in the freezer.  I love having some cooked squash in the freezer to use during the winter to make soup, baked goods, or just to warm up with a pat of butter and serve as a vegetable side dish.


If you enjoy this squash variety and would like to have more, we will be offering this variety as a produce plus option for the next two weeks.  Check this week’s “What’s In the Box” email for details and get your order in for delivery within the next two weeks! 


One-Pot Kabocha Squash & Chickpea Curry


Yield 4-6 servings

3 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
½-1 jalapeño, finely chopped (quantity to your liking)
2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp ground cumin
3 cups fresh or canned tomatoes, diced
2 cups diced sweet peppers
3 cups peeled, diced kabocha squash
1 can (15 oz) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 cans (13.5 fl oz each) coconut milk
2 Tbsp tamari or soy sauce
½ cup water
3 cups thinly sliced Swiss chard or spinach
Salt & Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ bunch cilantro, chopped (optional)
1 oz fresh basil, thinly sliced (optional)
Cooked brown rice, to serve

  1. Heat a Dutch oven or other deep saucepan over medium heat.  Add 2 tbsp of the oil to the pan.  When the oil is hot, add the minced garlic, ginger and jalapeño.  Saute over medium heat for about 2 minutes.  Add one more tablespoon of oil along with the turmeric and cumin.  Stir to combine and saute for another minute.  Add the diced tomatoes, peppers, squash, chickpeas, coconut milk, tamari and water to the pan.  Stir well to combine and then bring the mixture to a boil.
  2.  Once the mixture has been brought to a boil, reduce the heat just slightly so as to maintain a rapid simmer.  Cover the pan and simmer for about 15 minutes.  Remove the cover and simmer an additional 15-20 minutes or until the squash is tender and the liquid portion of the curry has reduced a little bit. 
  3. Stir in the chard or spinach leaves and simmer an additional 5-8 minutes.  Remove from the heat.
  4. Taste the curry and adjust the seasoning to your liking by adding salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Serve over rice and garnish with fresh basil and/or cilantro.
(Note:  This curry is even better the second day, making this a great recipe to use for batch cooking at the beginning of the week for meals throughout the week!)

This recipe was adapted from a similar recipe for One-Pot Eggplant, Pumpkin and Chickpea Curry featured at www.heavenlynnhealthy.com.


Roasted Winter Squash with Parsley, Sage, and Rosemary

Yield:  6 Servings
2 pounds kabocha or butternut winter squash
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 plump clove garlic, finely chopped
1 heaping tsp chopped fresh sage
1 heaping tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  1. Heat the oven to 375°F.
  2. Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds.  Scoop out the seed cavity and slice the squash into crescent moon slices.  Peel the squash and cut into 1-inch chunks;  you should have about 4 cups. 
  3. Toss the squash in enough olive oil to moisten it, then season with ½ tsp salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Loosely arrange the squash in a single layer in a large baking dish or on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. 
  4. Roast the squash until the pieces are tender and browned here and there, about 35 minutes.  Every 10 minutes or so, give them a turn so that they color evenly.
  5. When the squash is tender and golden, warm 4 tsp oil in a small skillet over medium heat.  Add the garlic, sage, and rosemary and cook just long enough to remove the raw taste of the garlic, a minute should do.  Turn off the heat, and add the parsley.  Next, toss this mixture with the cooked squash.  Transfer to a serving dish, season with salt and pepper, and serve.
Recipe adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy.