Wednesday, May 12, 2021

May 13, 2021 - This Week's Box Contents, Featuring Sorrel!

Cooking With This Week's Box

Sorrel:

Nettles:

Green Garlic:

Asparagus:

Baby Arugula:

Green Top Red & Diana Radishes:

Overwintered Parsnips:

Overwintered Sunchokes:

Chives:

Radish "Mock-Potato" Salad
photo from itsavegworldafterall.com
Welcome to Week 2 of Cooking Out of the Box For those of you who are just joining us for the first week, I’m Chef Andrea and you’ll find me here every week!  The purpose of this article is to provide you with a few ideas for how you might use each item in your CSA box each week.  This week we’re featuring Sorrel, a tangy spring green that we grow as a perennial crop.  In this week’s newsletter I shared two of our most popular recipes for sorrel that we have published in past newsletters, Frosty Sorrel & Banana Smoothie as well as Sorrel Hummus If you don’t look any further than these recipes this week and make one or both of these, I guarantee you will not be disappointed!  I also shared a new recipe I found for Sorrel and Blue Cheese Smørbrød (Engsyresmørbrød med Blåmuggost) which is super easy to make.  All you need is good bread, good butter, good cheese and some good honey paired with this week’s sorrel.  Assemble and enjoy for breakfast, lunch or dinner!

This week’s collection of recipes also includes several ideas for how to use the generous bunch of chives!  Don’t let them go to waste when you can easily turn them into preparations that can be frozen or are shelf stable so you can use them later! We’re happy to be sharing baby arugula and the first of our fresh green top radishes with you this week!  If you were planning to cut the radishes off the tops and throw the tops away, DON’T!  The tops are edible and packed with valuable nutrients!  Turn them into a tasty Radish Top Pesto and toss it with pasta!

Nettle & Honey Cake
photo from northwildkitchen.com
This will be our final week for nettles.  I stumbled across a few new recipes including nettles including a tasty risotto as well as nettle cake.  That’s right, bake those greens right into a cake!  Part of the fun with cooking out of a CSA box is trying new ways of preparing vegetables.  I wasn’t so sure about putting greens into baked goods, but it works and is a great way for those who don’t typically like green vegetables to enjoy them!

I hope you have fun with this week’s box and don’t forget to share your cooking adventures in our Facebook group!  Looking ahead to next week, we’re hoping the Baby White Turnips will be ready and we’re planning to include the beautiful Hon Tsai Tai as the cooking green!  Have a great week!---Chef Andrea

Vegetable Feature: Sorrel

By:  Chef Andrea Yoder

Description: Sorrel is a unique perennial plant we look forward to every spring and is amongst the first greens of the season.  It belongs to the Knotweed family of plants, which also includes such plants as rhubarb and buckwheat.  Sorrel leaves have a pointy, arrow shape and are thick in texture and bright green in color with pinkish stems.  You’ll recognize sorrel by its tart and citrus-like flavor if you nibble on a raw leaf.  It has a bright flavor that will call your taste buds to attention!

Preparation & Use: Sorrel may be used in a wide variety of preparations and may be eaten either raw or cooked.  Raw sorrel can be tannic and leave your mouth with a dry feeling, similar to drinking a tannic full-bodied red wine.  Therefore, sorrel in its raw form is often used more as a seasoning or to compliment other ingredients.  Raw sorrel can brighten any salad and is excellent when blended into cold sauces, vinaigrettes, dressings or dips.  When cooked, sorrel behaves in a very interesting way.  First, its color changes from bright green to a drab olive green almost immediately.  Don’t worry, this happens to everyone and it’s just the way it is with sorrel!  The other unusual thing about sorrel is how it “melts” when added to hot liquids.  The leaves will almost immediately change color and then start to soften.  The longer it’s cooked, the more the leaves break apart and you can stir it into a coarse sauce.  This is one of the reasons it’s often used in soups and sauces.

Pasta with Sorrel Butter & Nettles
The tart, citrus-like flavor of sorrel pairs well with many other spring vegetables such as ramps, asparagus, spinach, sunchokes, and parsnips.  The acidity of sorrel makes it a natural companion to more rich foods such as cream, butter, sour cream, yogurt, duck, and fatty fish (salmon & mackerel).  Additionally, it pairs well with more “earthy” foods such as lentils, rice, buckwheat, mushrooms and potatoes.  As with many other spring vegetables, sorrel pairs well with eggs and is often used in quiche, scrambled eggs, custard, etc.  Don’t be afraid to think “outside of the box” and incorporate this green into beverages too!

Storage: Store sorrel in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.  Wash well in cold water and dry it well before using it.

Frosty Sorrel & Banana Smoothie

Yield:  2 servings, 14-16 oz each

¾ cup plain yogurt
1 cup milk
1 frozen banana, peeled and cut into chunks
3 Tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
7-8 ice cubes
½ bunch sorrel (approximately 3 oz), leaves and stems roughly chopped

  1. Put all ingredients in a blender in the order listed above.  Put the cover on the blender and, with the blender on low speed, turn it on.  Gradually increase the speed of the blender and blend until the mixture is smooth and bright green.
  2. Serve immediately in a chilled glass.  
Note: While this smoothie is best served immediately while it’s frosty, you can store it in the refrigerator for a day or so and it will still be delicious.  It may separate a little bit, but it will come together again if you just give it a good shake before you drink it.

Recipe by: Chef Andrea Yoder, Harmony Valley Farm. This recipe was previously published, however it is one of the most popular sorrel recipes so we’re sharing it again!

Sorrel Hummus

Yield:  1 ½ cups

2 garlic cloves
1 ½ oz sorrel leaves, roughly chopped (approximately 1 cup)
1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas (one-15 oz can)
¼ cup tahini
Grated zest of 1 organic lemon
1 ½ Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ tsp sea salt, plus more if desired
1 ½ tsp raw honey or pure maple syrup
¼ cup water
Cold-pressed olive oil, for serving*

  1. Put the garlic in a food processor and pulse to mince.  Add the sorrel, chickpeas, tahini, lemon zest and juice, salt, honey, and ¼ cup water, and blend on the highest setting until smooth.  Season with more salt if needed.  
  2. Transfer the hummus to a serving bowl, drizzle olive oil over the top, and serve.  Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.
Note: If you are using the hummus as a spread, add 1 ½ tsp olive oil to the food processor and blend it into the hummus.

Serving Suggestions: This sorrel hummus is delicious served with pita bread, corn chips or fresh vegetables as an appetizer or snack.  You can also use it as a spread for sandwiches, flat bread or wraps.  When we tested this recipe, we chose to spread the sorrel hummus on a tortilla and stuffed it with fresh spinach and diced raw asparagus tossed with a little drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper.  The hummus is bright and lemony and in Farmer Richard’s words.... “also rich & creamy.  I like the contrast of the crispy asparagus with the creamy hummus.” This spread goes well with any spring vegetable including radishes, green onions, blanched nettles, baby white turnips and more!

Recipe Source: This recipe was borrowed from Sarah Britton’s beautiful cookbook, My New Roots.  This book was just released 10 2015 and it’s packed full of nourishing plant-based recipes organized by the season.  Sarah also has a blog by the same name, My New Roots ( www.mynewroots.org).  Her recipes are vegetarian and often vegan friendly, although they are also adaptable to include in meals for meat-eaters as well.  Another bonus of both her book and her blog…..the gorgeous pictures!

This recipe was previously published, however it is one of the most popular sorrel recipes so we’re sharing it again!

Sorrel & Blue Cheese Smørbrød (Engsyresmørbrød med Blåmuggost)

Medium-dark, hearty bread
A handful of sorrel leaves, rinsed
Firm blue cheese
Handful of walnuts, roughly chopped
Runny Honey
Butter, for spreading

Slice the bread. Spread each slice with butter, then top with a couple of sorrel leaves, some blue cheese, a couple of walnuts and then drizzle the top with a good honey.  You can also serve these as appetizers.


Wednesday, May 5, 2021

May 6, 2021 - This Week's Box Contents, Featuring Wild Ramps!

Cooking With This Week's Box

Wild Ramps: 
Wild & Wonderful Ramp Chowder (See Recipe Below)
Wild Rice Bowl with Ramps and Asparagus (See Recipe Below)
Ramp Butter
Ramp Deviled Eggs
 
Overwintered Spinach: 
Creamed Ramps and Spinach
Spring Spinach Chop Salad with Creamy Buttermilk Ramp Dressing
 
Watercress:
Asparagus & Watercress Pizza
Mushroom, Parmesan and Watercress Omelet
 
Overwintered Parsnips:  
Spiced Honey Parsnip Bread
Roasted Parsnip Salad
 
Overwintered Sunchokes:
Important information about how to best utilize and enjoy Sunchokes.
Lacto-fermented Pickled Sunchokes
Chili-Roasted Sunchokes
 
Chives:
Sunchoke and Chive Soup
Chive and Parmesan Popcorn
 
Nettles:   
Important information about how to handle and prepare nettles.
Nettle & Mushroom Pizza with Ramp Cream
Nettle & Ramp Pesto
Nettle Tea
Nettle Soup
 
Green Garlic: 
Spaghetti with Green Garlic and Olive Oil
Asparagus & Green Garlic Soup with Parmesan Croutons
 
Asparagus: 
Roasted Asparagus with Breadcrumbs & Herbs
Asparagus, Spinach & Feta Quiche

Asparagus, Spinach & Feta Quiche
photo from twopeasandtheirpod.com
Welcome to the 2021 CSA season!  We’re happy you’ve chosen to journey through another year with us and I hope you are ready to roll up your sleeves and get cooking in the kitchen!  My name is Andrea and I am a professionally trained chef.  Each week I will share recipe ideas and links in this space we call “Cooking With the Box.”  Some weeks you may choose to prepare some of these recipes, while at times these recipe links may simply serve as a launching pad for your own creative cooking ideas.   Either way is perfect!
 
I also encourage you to use some of the other resources we have to offer you including the searchable recipe database on our website.  This is where we’ve archived recipes from past years, many of which have become farm and member favorites we turn to every year! Lastly, I encourage you to participate in our private Facebook Group, just for members.  This is a great platform for sharing recipes with other CSA members and is one way we can create a supportive community for each other. 

Nettle & Mushroom Pizza with Ramp Cream
This week’s box is packed full of special spring vegetables, an eclectic mix of wild-harvested vegetables we forage for as well as some crops we overwinter in order to extend the season and give us something to harvest and eat before our spring planted vegetables are ready.  If you are new to our CSA, some of these items may be new to you and you may be unsure what to do with them!  This is where I have to insert my vegetable mantra which is: “Never Be Intimidated by a vegetable!”  I hope the resources and support we offer you each week are helpful, but if you do have any additional questions you are always welcome to call or email me! 
 
Have a great week and enjoy your first CSA box!
--Chef Andrea


Vegetable Feature: Ramps!

By: Chef Andrea Yoder

Description: Ramps, sometimes referred to as “wild leeks,” are one of the first signs of spring we see emerging on the wooded hillsides of our valley.  They have a very short season which is typically only 3-4 weeks.  The flavor of ramps is similar to onions or garlic, but they really have a unique flavor that is best described as “rampy!”  Ramps resemble a green onion, except they have tender, delicate, lily-like leaves and the base of the ramp becomes more bulb-like as it matures.

Preparation & Use: Ramps may be eaten raw or cooked and can be used in ways, similar to a green onion.  When raw, they can be quite pungent, however the flavor mellows with cooking.  You can eat both the leaves and the lower bulb, just trim away the roots.  Ramps pair well with cream, cheese, bacon and other spring vegetables including mushrooms, asparagus, nettles and spinach.  Ramps also pair well with eggs in scrambles, frittatas and quiche and are often incorporated into pasta and rice dishes.  Ramp pesto and ramp butter are simple preparations that may be used fresh or can also be frozen as a way to preserve that delicious spring flavor!

Ramp Pesto
Storage: The leaves on ramps are delicate and the most perishable portion of the plant.  We are in our final week of harvest and did have rain ahead of harvesting some of this week’s ramps.  Ramps that are more mature and harvested under these conditions often have a shorter shelf life.  Thus, we encourage you to eat them within a few days of receiving them.

Store ramps in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.  If you are going to keep ramps for several days, it’s a good idea to wrap the leaves with a damp paper towel.  The bulb portion of the ramp will store longer than the leaves, so some may choose to separate the bulb from the leaves and store them separate.

Cultural & Historical Background: Back in the early days before ramps were popular and customers came looking for them, Farmer Richard actually gave ramps away at the farmers’ market!  That’s right, he couldn’t sell them so he gave them away with hopes that people would give them a try and come to like them so much they’d buy them!

Ramps growing in the woods
Growing Information: Ramps grow wild in the woods on north-facing hillsides early in the spring.  While they can be replanted in woodland areas that are conducive to supporting ramp populations, it takes awhile for them to multiply and spread.

Additional Points of Interest: We have been wild-harvesting ramps in our valley since the mid-80’s.  Many individuals are concerned about the sustainability of harvesting ramps.  Of course, we want our ramp populations to remain sustainable as well, thus we carefully manage our harvests.  We harvest from private land which allows us to rotate harvest areas.  Additionally, ramps grow in clumps and we’re careful to only take about half of a clump while leaving the other half undisturbed.  We’ve been implementing this practice since the very beginning and our ramp populations remain strong and healthy!  With the future in mind, we have been planting ramps in a few wooded areas on our land over the past few years.  It will be awhile until we can harvest from these areas, but they are well-established and we’re hopeful they’ll thrive into the future!

Wild & Wonderful Ramp Chowder

Yield:  4 Servings

photo from healthstartsinthekitchen.com
2 Tbsp butter
1 cup ramp bulb and greens roughly chopped
4 cups russet potatoes, peeled & diced
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
⅛ tsp white pepper
Sea salt, to taste
2 cups half & half
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese 

Optional Toppings:
Crumbled bacon
Shredded Cheese
Ramp greens, thinly sliced

  1. In a Dutch oven or other heavy bottom pot, over medium heat, melt butter.  Sauté ramps in butter until soft.
  2. Add the potatoes, broth and pepper.  Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through. (Note:  Taste your broth while heating and season with sea salt.  Ideally the liquid that the potatoes are cooking in should be well salted, perhaps a little tiny bit over salted).
  3. Reduce heat to low.  Add half & half and shredded cheddar cheese, stir well to combine.  Cook over low heat until everything is well incorporated, do not boil.  
  4. The flavors deepen and it will thicken up a little more if you let it set off heat for 30 minutes before gently reheating and serving.  If you prefer an even thicker soup, you can blend 1-2 cups of the soup in your blender until smooth, then add it back into the pot.
  5. Garnish individual bowls with toppings of your choice including crumbled bacon, shredded cheese or thinly sliced ramp greens.
Recipe borrowed from healthstartsinthekitchen.com.

Wild Rice Bowl with Ramps & Asparagus

Yield:  Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side

photo from abetterhappierstsebastian.com
1 cup wild rice
1 pound asparagus
1 bunch wild ramps
½ cup slivered almonds
2 Tbsp butter, divided
Salt and pepper, to taste

  1. In a medium pot over high heat, bring 3 cups water to a boil.  Stir in wild rice, reduce to a simmer and cover.  Cook 40-45 minutes or until rice kernels just begin to open.  Fluff with fork and drain off any excess cooking liquid.  Place a clean kitchen towel over the pan and put the cover back on.  Set aside, off heat until ready to assemble the dish. (Note:  the towel will absorb any steam or moisture from the rice so it will be fluffy)  
  2. Meanwhile, while rice is cooking, trim the ends of the asparagus spears and cut into ¾-inch pieces.  Set aside.  Divide the ramp greens from the bulbs.  Chop the greens into bite-sized pieces and dice the bulbs.  Set aside.
  3. In a skillet over medium heat, melt 1 Tbsp of butter.  When the butter is foaming, add asparagus, season generously with salt and pepper and cook until just slightly wilted, tossing frequently, about 4 minutes.  Remove asparagus from skillet and set aside.  Return pan to medium heat and melt additional ½ Tbsp butter.  Add ramp bulbs and sauté briefly, about 1 minute.  Add in ramp greens, season with salt and pepper and cook an additional minute until the greens are wilted.  Remove from heat and set aside.
  4. Over medium heat, melt remaining ½ Tbsp butter.  Continue cooking down butter until it begins to brown slightly, swirling the pan to cook evenly.  When lightly browned, add slivered almonds, salt and pepper, tossing to coat.  Continue to cook over medium heat until almonds are toasted, about 3 minutes.
  5. Reduce heat to low and add rice, asparagus, and ramps back to the pan.  Toss to combine all ingredients and season with additional salt and pepper to taste.  Serve warm.
Recipe adapted from abetterhappierstsebastian.com.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Welcome to the 2021 CSA Season and Your Spring Planting Report!

By:  Andrea Yoder

The first asparagus poking through
just in time for the first CSA box!
We may be the only ones to think this, but my goodness winter seemed to be very short!  Here we are at the start of another CSA season and we are so grateful to be packing over 1,000 boxes this week!  Many of you are longtime members, but we also have quite a few first and second year individuals joining us.  Regardless of how many times you’ve journeyed through a year of CSA at Harmony Valley Farm, each year’s adventure is filled with both familiarity along with the uniqueness of every growing season.  Hold on tight, we’re ready to start sending you some of the best vegetables we can manage to grow!

Before we go any further, I’d like to introduce myself.  My name is Andrea and I started here in 2007 as the summer farm chef.  I spent my first summer cooking for our crew of about 30 at that time.  I have since moved on into other roles and have assumed many other responsibilities.  I do still hold onto my role as a Farm Chef, however I now use my culinary training and expertise to develop, research and test recipes to share with all of you through our newsletters and blog articles each week!  If you are interested in my full story, you can read more about my journey on our blog.  I also want to introduce you to Richard de Wilde, the visionary behind everything that Harmony Valley Farm has become.  He is our founding farmer and has been farming since the mid 70’s.  In his early years of farming he played an instrumental role in the development of organic standards and certification.  In fact, he has been described as a “Pioneer in Organic Farming!”  He has led a very interesting life and has many achievements to celebrate, but Harmony Valley Farm is his greatest joy and the result of many hours of labor and devotion.  You can read Richard’s full bio in an article we published on our blog several years ago.  Richard’s desire is for the farm to continue indefinitely into the future, which is why he has been cultivating the next generation of farmers to continue the work that he started.    And that leads me to today’s final introduction, Rafael Morales Peralta.  Rafael has been working with Richard for over 10 years, originally coming to Harmony Valley Farm on a H2A work visa.  He demonstrated such potential, skill and passion for vegetable farming that Richard invited him to become an owner.  He has been tasked with downloading all of the farming knowledge from Richard’s brain, a task that he is quite good at!  Rafael is enthusiastic, optimistic and energetic while also being very innovative.  Rafael has had an interesting journey as well, which we shared on our blog last year.  There are many other individuals who work at Harmony Valley Farm, each with important roles and responsibilities that contribute to our collective success.  Throughout this CSA season we hope to share some of their stories with you as well!

Dark Green Overwintered Spinach!
Now that you know who we are, we want to tell you what we have been up to since our last farm update several weeks ago.  Spring is always an exciting time of the year, but it is also a super busy time!  Early in April it looked like we were on track to have an early spring.  The weather was beautiful with sunshine and warmer temperatures.  We were able to dig overwintered sunchokes and parsnips as the ground dried out quickly.  We also started harvesting our overwintered spinach crop in early April, ahead of when we typically see this crop start to mature.  While we were thrilled to have green food coming out of the fields again, we also panicked a bit as we really wanted to preserve that crop to harvest for our first two CSA boxes in May!  Well, Mother Nature decides the timing and there really is not much we can do aside from responding to her cues and seeing how she’ll show up for us each year.  We have had several very strong weeks of spinach harvest and really thought it would be finished before our first week of CSA.  However, we got lucky and preserved one portion of the field that we could still harvest late last week and this week! So, we are at the tale end of the season, but there will be one delivery of overwintered spinach!

Ramps as far as the eye can see!
The season for ramps, another spring favorite, started in mid-April as well.  When we first started to harvest, it looked like it may be a short season that would end in April.  If there is one thing we’ve learned, and sometimes still forget, it’s that you should never underestimate the power of Mother Nature to show up for us.  Over the past few weeks, weather conditions shifted and what looked to be a warm, early spring turned into dry, cool conditions that slowed things down and moved us back to more of a “normal” time schedule for spring.  As such, the conditions have been favorable for continuing to harvest ramps and we are excited to send you at least one week of this special spring vegetable.  We are crossing our fingers to be able to deliver them in the second week too, but that verdict is up to Mother Nature.

Transplanting Strawberries
While we have been staying busy with harvests, we have also been working very hard to do the necessary field work to move forward with our spring plantings.  We started planting early in April and have had a very productive month leading up to the first week of May!  This year in particular we carried a heavier load for spring plantings as we needed to plant some perennial crops along with all the other standard crops we plant every year.  Last week we finished planting a nice field of strawberry plants for next year’s harvest.  We also planted a new field of asparagus along with rhubarb and a few horseradish plants.  It will be 1-3 years before we harvest some of these perennial crops, but we have to plan ahead to ensure we have these crops ready for your tables in future years!

While our seeding plan starts the first week of April, we seldom actually plant that week.  This year however, we were able to do our first “5/15 row plantings.”  This is a group of crops we plant every week, some crops for the entire season and others just for spring and fall.  That first planting is still small, but it looks like we may be harvesting our first baby arugula next week!  

Tiny little red radishes!
Red Radishes also look promising and we estimate they’ll be ready to harvest within the next 1-2 weeks! Spring planted spinach and cilantro will follow very closely behind .  We anticipate we’ll be harvesting spring spinach in about three weeks and cilantro in 3-4 weeks!

We have actually been hoping for rain over the past few weeks.  Unfortunately we had not received more than a little sprinkle here and there.  The irrigation crew has been working very hard to try to get water to some of our newly transplanted crops as well as some of the new plantings we had seeded.  Without adequate water the seeds just set there and do nothing or try to sprout and then die.  We all breathed a
huge sigh of relief Sunday evening when the clouds rolled in, we started to hear rumbles in the distance and it started to rain!  It rained throughout the night and we were happy to dump an inch of rain out of the rain gauge this morning!  Everything looks bright green and fresh today and we are anxious to see some of our direct seeded crops like peas, beets, carrots, parsnips and burdock take off now that they have some moisture!

Storm clouds over our farm Sunday night
bringing us the rain we needed!

I almost forgot to mention that all of our potatoes have been planted and the plastic mulch is ready for transplanting the first basil and zucchini crops.  We have a nice crop of mini red romaine head lettuce growing nicely in one of our greenhouse tunnels and hope to harvest it within the next few weeks.  Until some of our spring planted vegetables are ready, we will continue to rely on our overwintered crops, foraged vegetables and spring perennials.  For those of you who are new to our CSA, your boxes for the first few weeks may contain some vegetables you are less familiar with.  Hang in there and rely on your resources to guide you.  We have a lot of recipes to choose from on our blog and website.  We also encourage you to join in the conversations in our private Facebook group where it is totally safe to ask questions like “Help, what do I do with nettles?!”  I say this every year, but my motto has always been “Never be intimidated by a vegetable!”

Our cows grazing on the hillside 
The animals are also happy and content as they are back to grazing and rooting around our hillsides.  Our little pigs, which came to our farm several weeks ago, made acquaintance with our beef cattle when the cattle were rotated to a pasture close to the pigs last week.  The pigs acclimated very quickly to their new environment and can be found running around the woods, playing in the creek, or munching on some of the spinach and parsnip scraps from the packing shed!  While the beef cattle are large creatures, they move quietly and calmly through the pasture.  It is a pleasure to see them so peaceful on the hillsides.  In the goat pasture, there is quite a lot of activity!  Last week we welcomed nine more kids into the herd and throughout the day we now see little goats darting around the pastures, climbing all over their mamas, playing in the feeders and exploring their world.

As spring continues to unfold around us, we welcome the bounty our fields will afford us this year.  We hope you enjoy this year’s adventure alongside us as you discover new favorite foods, new favorite recipes, and benefit from being part of our CSA community!

Friday, April 16, 2021

April Farm Update…..Ramps, Overwintered Spinach and the start of a new CSA Season!

By Andrea Yoder & Richard de Wilde

Rows of gorgeous Green Garlic!
Spring is here and we’re just 3 weeks away from the first CSA deliveries of the 2021 season!  Every day we see a little more green filling our valley as our wooded hillsides come out of winter hibernation.  Despite the fact that we’ve had a quite chilly week with temperatures in the low thirties overnight, we would still describe this as an early spring.  Things are changing quickly and the growing season is starting to take shape.  Here’s a little glimpse of what’s happening on the farm.

Remember those gorgeous sunny, warm days back in March?  Those were the days that jump started the garlic crop and we had to strip back the cover and loosen the mulch to make sure the sprouts could push through!  The green garlic looks quite nice and we are planning to start harvesting some next week.  Richard can’t remember ever putting green garlic in the first CSA box of the season, but it will be in the first boxes this year!

Unloading our first ramp harvest this week!
You cannot talk about spring happenings at Harmony Valley Farm without talking about ramps and overwintered spinach.  These are two crops many people, ourselves included, look forward to every spring.  We started harvesting overwintered spinach last week and yesterday we did our first ramp harvest!  We know everyone would like to receive these two items in the first few CSA boxes in May, and we hope we’ll be able to include them.  Unfortunately, we’re at the mercy of Mother Nature and the season for both of these crops is starting a little early this year.  So if you are one of those people who needs to get your fill of ramps and overwintered spinach before their short season is over, we encourage you to head to your local food co-op and stock up on these items now!  If we are still able to harvest ramps in May, they will certainly be in your box.  And that overwintered spinach?  We are doing our best to manage the crop and hope to be able to time it just right so we can do a second harvest off these plants for the first few CSA deliveries.

Antonio hand-harvesting
Overwintered Spinach
We are also happy to report we had a very good harvest of overwintered parsnips and sunchokes.  The parsnips are so sweet and delicious, they need nothing more than to be tossed with oil, salt and pepper before roasting them.  Our spring sunchoke harvest was very plentiful and we’ve been staying busy washing and packing them for our wholesale partners.  Not only are they an important part of our spring diet, they also help us financially while we’re getting the season underway.

Last week we did our first plantings of salad mix, baby spinach, arugula, cilantro, radishes, baby bok choi, dill, hon tsai tai and baby white turnips.  While we plan to plant these crops in the first week of April, we seldom have the opportunity to actually do so!  The radishes are already up and we’re crossing our fingers that they will be ready for the first week of deliveries!

While we are anxious to plant more crops, it takes awhile to get fields ready in the spring.  Over the past two weeks the guys have been working hard to spread compost and minerals, subsoil, rototill and shape beds for planting.  This year we partnered with a new supplier for our compost and we’re very pleased with the product.  We had to pay a little more for it, but it is well-made, easy to spread and for the first time in many years we have had favorable conditions to be able to spread compost on all of our fields in the spring!  We also invested heavily in mineral applications, including trace minerals.  Adequate fertility in the soil is a key to producing delicious vegetables, but it’s also important for producing healthy plants that pass their nutrients on to us!  We were also able to put minerals on our pastures where we graze our animals as well as the fields where we grow hay to feed them in the winter.  Just like humans, animals can taste the difference and always favor the mineral rich parts of the pastures.  I guess you could say they are grass connoisseurs and definitely have discerning palates!

Germ testing beet seed in the
greenhouse to test seed quality
As we finish preparing fields, we’ll move on to planting.  We hope to see warmer temperatures next week which will be more favorable for direct seeding beets, carrots, parsnips, chard and possibly even the first peas.  We did start transplanting onions a week ago.  It takes quite awhile to plant all of our onions and we hope to finish them today.  We are anxious to transplant more crops including the first broccoli and cauliflower, kohlrabi, cabbage and leeks.  We are also anticipating a shipment of strawberry and asparagus plants today, purchased from Nourse Farm in Massachusetts.  It’s already time to plant next year’s strawberry field!

While we’ve completed about three-fourths of the plantings on our greenhouse plan for this year, we still have plenty of greenhouse work to complete over the next few weeks.  Next week we’re scheduled to plant our first tomato seeds in the greenhouse and we hope to plant zucchini before this week is finished.  It’s also time to transplant the herb packs we’ll deliver for you in mid May!

Leonardo, Antonio and Isidro
transplanting peppers 
So who is doing all this work?  Good question!  We welcomed back 24 of our field crew who comes from Mexico on agricultural guest worker visas.   We were happy to see them on March 29, but from a distance as they had to quarantine due to their recent travel.  Thankfully they had an uneventful quarantine period and everyone remained healthy and well without so much as even a cold!  While we all wish the pandemic would move into the past, we also acknowledge it is still very much a concern at present.  Our crew members understand the importance of how our individual choices impact the work we’re able to do at the farm and they did their part to minimize their risks of exposure both before they departed their homes as well as during their travels.  Their efforts were clearly effective and we are thankful they are all in good health, ready and eager to work!  We are looking forward to welcoming another group of workers the last week in April and have our fingers crossed that they will arrive without any delays.  We are also grateful for the opportunity to work with Family Health La Clinica, an organization that offers mobile health services to migrant workers.  They have been an invaluable resource for our farm as they have helped us navigate managing our workspace throughout the pandemic to keep our workers safe.  They will be coming to the farm to administer vaccinations to any crew members who would like to receive it.  In the meantime, we continue all of our precautionary practices to do the best we can to remain healthy so we can all keep farming!

We’ve received several emails from CSA members inquiring about the use of plastic liner bags in the CSA boxes this year.  Just as we are continuing our precautionary practices on the farm, we will also continue to take a precautionary approach to CSA deliveries as well as with CSA pick up procedures.  While we hope that we’re collectively making forward progress in moving past the pandemic with vaccinations, etc, we also feel that we need to continue to be precautionary and would like to continue to offer a safe pick-up option for all our members knowing some of you are high-risk individuals or live with high-risk individuals.  We realize the concerns for transmission of the virus on touch surfaces may be less than we thought one year ago, however using the plastic liner bag in the CSA boxes serves other purposes as well.  We want to limit the time each member is in the site and continue to ask that only one member enters the site at a time.  The use of the bag also helps achieve a quick in and out pick up.  Thus, we will continue to use the plastic liner bags for now.  We’ll certainly reassess as the year goes on and if at some point we feel it is appropriate to discontinue using them we will do so.

Repurpose CSA bags as covers for
storing artwork!
In the meantime, we do ask all CSA members to continue to follow the pandemic procedures we laid out last year to facilitate a quick, safe CSA pick-up.  This includes wearing a mask when you go to pick up your share, physically distancing at the site and only one person enters the site at a time.  As for the bags, we encourage you to find ways to repurpose them in your own homes or communities.  Last year we compiled a list of ways you, our members, were creatively repurposing them in your homes.  You can view that list HERE, and we ask that you continue to send us your creative ideas as you find more ways to repurpose them.  If your collection goes beyond what you can use in your own home, you may also consider checking with other organizations in your community such as your local food pantry, schools, community centers, etc.  They may be able to use them for projects, etc. in their organizations and might appreciate the donation!  At the very least, the bags are recyclable.

Transplanting onions one week ago....
just before it started to rain!
This certainly is not everything we are doing on the farm, but at least it gives you a snapshot.  We are looking forward to growing food for you and your family this year and hope you are ready to start cooking and eating some tasty meals!  We do still have room to accept more sign-ups for all of our delivery areas, so if you haven’t signed up yet we encourage you to do so!  If you have a friend, neighbor, or know of someone who is interested in joining, please refer them to us.  We will keep adding members until we’re officially sold out!

Enjoy the rest of April and we’ll see you in May!

Thursday, March 18, 2021

March Farm Update: Farm Happenings, New Vegetables for 2021, and Survey Report!

By Andrea Yoder & Richard de Wilde

The greenhouses are filling up!
We’re less than seven weeks away from our first CSA delivery and this weekend will mark the official first day of spring!  For those of you who have already signed up for your 2021 shares, we want to give you a huge “THANK YOU!”  We are happy to report that we are 75% of the way towards our maximum capacity for this year and we are still accepting sign-ups for all types of vegetable shares at all sites right now.  We do anticipate we’ll sell out earlier this year, so we encourage you to get your order in soon if you have not already signed up!

We want to update you on a few farm “happenings.”  Our greenhouses are filling up quickly and our small winter crew is doing their best to keep us on schedule with plantings.  This week we saw the first celeriac sprouts poke through along with head lettuce and broccoli!  We also planted the savory and oregano for the beloved herb packs we’ll be delivering with your shares in May.  Next week we’re scheduled to plant more head lettuce along with fennel and our first planting of kale and collards.  We’ll also likely run out of space and have to move into our third and final greenhouse.  Once that’s full, the only option we’ll have is to move plants to the field!  We’re looking forward to welcoming more of our field crew back, hopefully the last week of March!   Cross your fingers that we get some nice, mild spring weather so we can start preparing fields for planting as soon as they arrive!

Richard's sample harvest of overwintered parsnips
Before the four inches of heavy, wet snow we received earlier this week, it was actually starting to look like it might be an early spring!  Rafael, Isidro and Moises spent a little time trimming pussy willow and curly willow hedgerows.  They also pulled the cover off the garlic field and started loosening the straw mulch so the garlic sprouts can push through.  Richard dug a few overwintered parsnips just to see how they looked.  The ground was still a little frozen and after the snow, it’s very wet.  We’re happy to report that they do look like they’ve fared well over the winter and the few we cooked up tasted like candy!  Many of you are wondering about ramps, asparagus, and overwintered spinach.  We haven’t seen any signs of ramps yet and it’s still too early for asparagus.  Richard did sneak a peek at the overwintered spinach which is under a cover.  It looks rough right now, but that’s always how it looks this time of year.  There is new growth coming from the plants, so we’re hopeful for a good crop this spring!

Pie-Pita Pumpkins
(photo from HighMowingSeeds.com)
It’s crazy to think we could be doing our first field plantings in 2-3 weeks, but it is possible!  We’ve received the majority of our seeds, but are still waiting on some backorders.  Every year we trial some new vegetables, so we thought we’d give you a little glimpse at some of the things we’re trying this year.  Pie-Pita is a new pumpkin with this description that caught our attention:  “…A brilliant development in pie pumpkins……delicious, high Brix pie pumpkin flesh with the added bonus of hulless seeds inside.”  They say you get an average of ¼ pound of seeds from each pumpkin.  When I called this order in, the customer service rep taking my order got giddy with excitement and then confessed it is one of her favorite new vegetables being offered by High Mowing Seeds this year.  With her endorsement, we’re excited to see it for ourselves!

GinFiz Tomatoes
(photo from OsborneSeed.com)
We also have a few new tomato varieties on the list.  Our friends at Osborne Seeds had a couple new ones including Darkstar, GinFiz, MaiTai and CubaLibre.  We’re looking forward to Darkstar because it has a “rich purple color with brown hues and incredible flavor……with the look of an heirloom tomato and the added bonus of Late Blight resistance.”  Some years can be very challenging for growing tomatoes in our valley and leaf diseases can mark the early end of a tomato crop.  We always try to select varieties that taste good and are attractive, but also have disease resistance so we can actually keep the plant alive long enough to produce good fruit!  CubaLibre is a black tomato with “heirloom appeal,” but we also selected it for its “excellent disease package.”  GinFiz and MaiTai are eye-catching varieties with hues of orange & yellow mixed with splashes of red….. “like a sunset!”  We know you appreciate variety, so we’re hoping these varieties will add a little fun to your summer tomato salads and BLT sandwiches!

We received favorable feedback last year from our trials of purple napa cabbage, so we’re trialing a few more varieties in this class this year.  The Amy melon from last year’s trials also received high marks from the members who had the chance to try this melon.  Amy is a canary type melon with a bright yellow rind and creamy, sweet, smooth white flesh.  We are looking forward to growing more of these so everyone can try it this year!

Garlic sprouts poking through the mulch.
We do value your feedback and use it to help us refine our plans, make changes, etc.  We had an excellent response to our "2020 End of Season Survey" with 999 participants!  Thank you for taking the time to do the survey and offer your feedback.  We wanted to share a few highlights from the results.  Overall, we received a very positive response with high ratings for satisfaction with the overall CSA experience as well as customer service, product quality and communications.   We selected a list of 30 crops and asked for your feedback about how much you received.  We try to strike a balance, yet offer variety and keep things interesting.  Thus, we wanted to know how close we were to the bullseye.  Of the 30 crops, 21 crops received a "Just Right" rating from 60-70% of respondents who felt they received a good amount of the item over the course of the season.  We had 8 crops that received a "Just Right" rating from 70-75% of respondents.  In some cases, the remainder of responses were nearly evenly split between "Not Enough" and "Too Much."  When the pandemic is past and we can go back to having a Swap Box at the sites, those who feel there is too much of something can leave it for those who may want more!  In the meantime, consider striking up a trade with a neighbor or friend after you take your vegetables home.  There were some crops though where the remaining responses were more strongly weighted in one direction.  20-30% of respondents indicated they would like more green beans, garlic, sweet peppers, sweet corn and tomatoes along with Brussels sprouts, spinach, salad mix and kale.  The takeaways from this feedback for us are that overall we're doing a pretty good job, but we have some room to tweek the quantities of some things.  Some items, like sweet corn, are difficult.  There's a limit to how much we can put in the box and still have room for other items!

Broccoli sprouts just pushing through the dirt.
We also asked you to choose your top 3 favorite selections from your CSA Box in 2020.  Here are the top 10 vegetables that received the highest number of responses:  Brussels Sprouts, Garlic, Greens, Ramps, Salad Mix, Winter Squash, Strawberries, Sweet Corn, Sweet Potatoes & Tomatoes.  

We asked the same question but asked the children in the household to answer the question.  Here are the top 10 responses from the children:  Green Beans, Broccoli, Carrots, Brussels Sprouts, Cucumbers, Melons, Potatoes, Strawberries, Sweet Corn and Tomatoes.  We’d have to agree with both the adults and the children--these are some of our favorites too! 

Farmer Rafael scouting out ramps (2020)
Most of the top 10 favorites are fairly short season, with some coming on in the peak of the summer and a few in late fall.  While we all enjoy eating these in  the peak of their season, we have to be realistic  that we need more vegetables in our diet over the course of the year than just these top 10 favorites!  This is one of the reasons we’ve worked hard to extend our season early in the year with some unique spring specialties like asparagus, ramps and rhubarb.  At the end of the season we rely on a wide variety of storage vegetables to sustain us when fresh vegetables from the field are not an option.  If you were to ask either of us what our top three favorite vegetables are, the answer would probably be different depending on what season we are in!  That’s the beauty of seasonal eating.  You can have many favorites throughout the year which means you always have something to look forward too!
Colorful Mini Sweet Peppers!

Last year we had a phenomenal response to our “Produce Plus” offers, both during the year as well as with our “End of Season Special Offers.”  This is another great way to “stretch” the season so you can continue to eat local the entire year.  Last night we enjoyed our final bag of green beans we had frozen back in August and we’re still using frozen mini sweet peppers in everything from scrambled eggs to soups, stir fry and pizzas.  They taste just as delicious now as they did in the summer!  Some of you may still be enjoying jars of salsa or tomatoes you canned last summer and there are at least a few of you who have some pickled jalapenos on your shelf too!  Just this week I spoke with two members who still have sweet potatoes and winter squash they got at the end of the season.  They are storing well and they have found many ways to continue to enjoy them.  We’ve received a few emails from members who ran out of carrots and other winter roots earlier than they anticipated and have made some notes for themselves that read something like this “Order more vegetables at the end of the season so you don’t run out before spring!”   

There are many ways to extend the local Midwestern growing season and your CSA season.  Whether it’s canning, freezing, fermenting or drying vegetables; stocking up on storage vegetables; or simply making large batches of recipes you can freeze and tuck away in the freezer, they all help bridge the gap between growing seasons while keeping your body well-nourished and healthy.  So, this year we’ve tried to build in a little extra to our planting plans so we can better provide for those who would like to take advantage of stocking up beyond their weekly vegetable shares.  If there are specific items you are interested in purchasing in bulk, please let us know.  If we are able to do so we’ll add it to the list!

That’s a wrap for now.  It’s time to go water the plants in the greenhouse, finish the fertilizer order, work on the spring training plan, and do the final edits to the 2021 CSA calendar so we can send it to the printer!  Enjoy the rest of this month and we’ll catch up again in April!