Thursday, March 16, 2023

March Farm Update

March 9, 2023--The garlic is up!
By Andrea Yoder

We are only seven weeks out from the first CSA delivery of the 2023 season and the official first day of spring is coming up next Monday, March 20!  Every year as we head into winter it feels like spring is so far away, but then the piles of winter squash and sweet potatoes on my kitchen counter dwindle, the carrots in my crisper drawer start to sprout little roots and the last heads of cabbage make their way into a pot of soup or stir-fry.  And that’s when the craving for fresh, green vegetables sets in!  Ramps, asparagus, overwintered spinach, watercress—basically my body wants anything fresh and green!  For those of you who are feeling the same, know that we’ll be delivering those first CSA boxes before you know it!

In the weeks since our last update, quite a lot has happened around the farm.  We’ve had a few snow storms, we’ve had a few rainy days, we’ve seen single digit mornings, we’ve seen temperatures in the 40’s, and amidst the varied weather we’ve enjoyed some sunny, clear skies as well! We reached capacity in our first greenhouse and did our big annual cleaning in the second house.  On Wednesday we moved all of the onion plants to the next house so we have room to continue planting!  Before this week is finished we hope to finish planting the rest of the shallots and leeks as well as the first crop of head lettuce, celeriac, wild flowers and possibly even some broccoli and cauliflower.  

Onion Seedlings....moving up to their
second stop on the journey to the field!
While most of our winter work is done in the greenhouses or packing shed, we did sneak in a little field work over the past few weeks.  When we see temperatures in the 40’s that often triggers the catkins on the pussywillow to open up.  So we took advantage of frosty mornings over the past two weekends to trim the curly willow and pussywillow trees in our field hedgerows.  Over the next few weeks we’ll turn them into decorative willow bunches that we’ll send as a choice item with the first few CSA deliveries in May.  Rafael and Richard also spent some time in the garlic field pulling back the row cover.  Their initial report is that the garlic looks good!  It’s up and you can see the rows of green sprouts.  We do need to do a little forking in some places to loosen the mulch, but overall we’re pleased with how it looks right now.

In the packing shed our small crew has stayed busy washing and packing orders for our wholesale partners.  Our supplies of burdock root, horseradish, fall-dug sunchokes and black radishes are dwindling, but we’re thankful everything has been storing well!  In early April we’ll be looking for some dry weather to dig our overwintered parsnips and sunchokes as well as more horseradish.  When you live in a northern climate, root vegetables are an important key to seasonal eating.  We’re thankful for their storage potential that bridges the gap between the end of one growing season and the start of the next. 

Winter is also a busy time in the office. Richard and Rafael have been ordering supplies, working on permits, laying out field plans and other bits and pieces of details like crew responsibilities, vehicle responsibilities and assignments, changes to fertigation protocols, etc.  Kelly has been hard at work processing CSA orders and has been doing a fabulous job!  We still have quite a ways to go before the trucks are filled, so keep those orders coming!  We have plenty of room at all sites in all locations and on all delivery days!  We’re also working on putting together this year’s CSA calendar, revising site guides and putting together all the parts and pieces for the new season!

The pace of our farm will be picking up very soon, so we’ll savor these final few official days of winter!  In just a few weeks our field crew will be returning and they’ll bring their energy of rejuvenation with them!  We hope you are coming out of winter and entering into spring rejuvenated and refreshed as well!  Stay tuned for more updates as we head back to the fields and resume our harvest schedule as we head into the month of April! 

Thursday, February 16, 2023

February Update: Diversity & Cover Crops

February 13, 2023: 
Snow cover on the fields has melted away!
By Andrea Yoder

The winter months seem to always go by quickly as we whittle away at our list of things that need to be done before spring rolls around and we return to the fields.  Winter is the time when we lay out detailed plans for crop production so that once we’re in the thick of it, we simply execute.  Ok, it’s not always that straightforward and we often need to tweak the plan to work with Mother Nature, but thinking through the majority of the details in advance gives us a good solid base for what we intend to do during the season.  It helps us source seeds and supplies, so we have what we need in advance, and helps to keep us on track with timely field prep, plantings, etc. once the busyness of the season sets in.  This month Richard and Rafael have been working on our field plan, which is the process of literally laying out the plans for where we intend to plant every crop.  We need this plan for ourselves, but we’re also required to submit this plan to MOSA with our annual application to maintain our organic certification.  This is a big task and there are many factors that go into the decision making when deciding what to plant in each location as well as when.  In fact, Richard and Rafael started to lay the foundation for these  decisions late last summer and into the fall as we were planting our end of season cover crops, the topic for today’s discussion!    

February 13, 2023:   
Winter kill cover crop in foreground
If you’ve been with our farm for the past few years or more, you likely know that cover crops are something we invest in very heavily and they contribute greatly to the health of our fields and crops.  I have always been intrigued by human nutrition, but human nutrition is directly related to plant nutrition so by default I am also very intrigued by what it takes to grow healthy plants that are packed with nutrients!  Cover crops are plants that we seed in between vegetable crops.  We’ve known for many years that they help to prevent soil erosion and contribute greatly to soil fertility.  Earlier this week the snow cover on many of our fields melted away.  As I drove through our valley I could see various shades of brown and green plant covers on our fields.  This sight, in addition to recent crop planning conversations I overheard between Richard and Rafael, got me thinking more about cover crops.  You see, when I first came to Harmony Valley Farm, there were just a few basic cover crop mixes.  You had your blend of oats and peas, a winter kill mix.  This means it likely won’t survive our Wisconsin winters   and all of the growing benefits will be realized in the fall.  We also had a mix of rye and vetch which is a cold hardy blend that will survive the winter and continue to grow in the spring.  Each blend contained a grass and either a legume or a pea.  Legumes and peas help to take nitrogen from the air and store it in nodules on the root of the plant. If you are planting cover crops in the fall and know that you need to plant an early season vegetable crop in a field, you would choose to plant the oats and peas that will winter kill.  If you know you will be planting a mid to late season vegetable crop in a field the following year, you may choose to plant the cold hardy mix that will survive the winter and continue to grow in the spring. But as I thought about our cover crop regimen in recent years, I’ve noticed that Richard keeps adding different seeds and the cover crop blends have become much more complex and diverse!  “Richard, What’s Up?!”  

Nitrogen nodules on the roots of Austrian
Winter peas
I thought you may find this little bit of Richard farming history to be of interest. I asked Richard to remind me of when he started using cover crops in his farming practices to which he answered (with a little smile) “Well, it dates back to the early 70’s.”   That was his way of telling me that he’s always used cover crops, even before it was a thing on organic farms!  His inspiration came from Rudolf Steiner, an early contributor to the philosophies of biodynamic farming.  As a beginning farmer, Richard studied Steiner’s philosophy.  One of his unique perspectives was the idea of “Solar Capture.”  We know plants need sunshine to survive and thrive, but what they are really doing is capturing the solar energy and converting it to carbon which can be stored.  Steiner’s philosophy was that, as farmers, to maximize solar capture was the equivalent to putting money in the bank!  Every day of sunshine affords you the opportunity to capture sunlight, but in order to do this you need a plant.  Richard took that concept and applied it to a Midwest growing season.  Let say that we have on average about 240 days out of the year when there is the potential for sun to shine down on a plant that is not covered in snow.  Our longest season vegetable crops are about 120 days from planting to maturity.   That’s only 50% of what is available to us, which is where cover crops come into play.  If we plant a cover crop in that soil, we can stay in the game and continue to bank solar energy.  This concept is what supports the urgency in late summer and early fall to prioritize seeding cover crops as soon as possible after we finish a vegetable crop.  Every day you wait is one day lost!

Field of Crimson Clover
Thankfully, in recent years more farmers and players in agriculture have joined us on the cover crop bandwagon.  With this growing interest, we’ve also seen some very interesting research demonstrating that the interplay between beneficial microbial communities in the soil and cover crop plants is far more complex than we fully understand!  Each plant interacts with and supports different soil microbes, so by adding diversity to the plantings you also increase the diversity of microbial communities!  We are learning more and more about the benefits of these microbial communities which are essential for nutrient uptake and increasing nutrient bioavailability in the soil, amongst many other benefits!  We’ll save the detailed research and intricacies of how this works for another discussion, but know that Richard has taken these findings to heart and has been applying these principles to our ever evolving cover cropping practices.  We now have a two-sided page of potential cover crop mixes, each customized with components to meet a different need.  Each carefully crafted mix is designed to maximize solar capture, extract nitrogen from the air, form an extensive root system to hold soil in place, and add additional organic matter back to the soil in the form of the plant residue that will eventually be worked back into the soil.  This is one of the most efficient ways to put fertility on a field and, while it’s not completely “free,” it is a great way to extract resources from the air and atmosphere and deposit them exactly where you want and need them!  

Our mixes now contain a diverse blend of grasses along with different nitrogen-fixing plants which may include not only vetch and peas but also lentils and a variety of clovers.  Richard has created different blends for different points in the season.  If we’re planting cover crops in August or September in a field that we know we will want to plant a vegetable crop in early the following year, we’ll plant a mix that will winter kill, but includes things that will be able to get closer to maturity in the 2-4 months or so that we have before we see a hard frost.  If we’re planting cover crops in that same time frame of August to September, but we know we will not need to plant a vegetable crop in that field early in the spring, we’ll take advantage of those additional solar capture days and plant a mix that will include cold hardy plants that will survive the winter and resume growth in the spring.  The grass portion of this mix typically includes different rye varieties that will maximize the growth of in the spring.  Just before they form a seed head we’ll cut the crop and bale it so we can use it to mulch vegetable fields.  In this case we add yet another benefit of having the cover crop! 

Early November Cover Crop Seeding
Our most diverse mixes now may include up to 6-8 different plants!  We’re still planting oats and peas, but now this mix also includes Japanese millet, Crimson clover, Frosty Berseem clover, balansa clover, lentils and sorghum sudangrass.  We continue to plant cover crops until about the first of November, but we use plants that establish a root system more quickly and seed it twice as thick since we’re running out of time and the nights are getting cooler which slows the growth rate.  We know that there are huge benefits and gains to having even a small plant in the soil, so we do what we can to get something growing!  It can be quite a task to manage this level of diversity and customization, but when we pull it off it’s quite remarkable!  This winter we are researching specialized equipment to seed and cover seed under and between rows of an actively growing vegetable crop.  As soon as the crop is harvested, the cover crop seed is already established and will immediately take over capturing the sun.

I have to say, I’m quite proud of Richard, Rafael, Silvestre, Angel and the other crew members who contributed in a variety of ways to ensuring our fields were “put to bed” for the winter with a blanket of some type of cover crop or plant matter.  All vegetables are not created equally and it is the details such as these that move the needle from “good” to “superior!”  We strive to grow superior vegetables in every aspect, from appearance to flavor to nutrient value.  We see the benefits in the fields, but hopefully you are seeing and tasting the benefits as well!  

Thursday, January 26, 2023

It All Starts With A Single Seed!

By Andrea Yoder

New shipments of seeds for 2023! 
While spring may feel like it is a long ways off, we are only three short weeks away from initiating our first plantings in the greenhouse for our 2023 growing season!  January has been a busy month for us and one of our major tasks has been securing our seed supply for this year.  It doesn’t matter how many growing seasons I’ve been through, I still am in awe of how nature can take a small amount of seed that I can hold in the palm of my hand and turn it into thousands of pounds of food!  As farmers, we hold the utmost respect for the intelligence held within each seed.   Our job is to help each seed obtain its highest level of potential by providing for it and the plant it becomes as it grows and develops into the food we all need to nourish our bodies.  Every year we source seed for over 75 different crops and are able to produce tons of vegetables from our modest 100 tillable acres of land.  While we’re still compiling our production numbers from last year, I can tell you that we produced about 709 tons of produce in 2021!  That is a lot of food! Sourcing the seeds to produce this much food is no small task and usually takes us about two weeks to complete. We finalized our orders earlier this month and the seeds have already started to arrive.  So we thought we’d kick off this year by offering you a little insight into our process for managing our seed purchases and inventory along with some seed stats and a glimpse into some of our plans for the crops we’ll be growing this year!

As certified organic growers,
we do not plant any GMO seed.
We source our seeds from a variety of companies, but as organic growers we focus on those that offer either certified organic seed or untreated seed.  When available, we purchase certified organic seed and undergo a sometimes very extensive seed audit at our annual organic inspection. As we are ordering seeds we document our seed search to demonstrate that we’ve checked with at least three sources and have purchased organic seed as a priority.  We are also required to keep all of our seed tags and have a thorough record of where our seeds come from, when they are being planted, etc.  We maintain all that data in a seed database which comes in handy when our organic inspector hands us a list of 20 different seeds that he wants to review to ensure they meet the standards for organic production.  As organic producers, we never use seeds that are genetically modified or have any type of a chemical seed treatment.  Additionally, most of our suppliers stand behind “The Safe Seed Pledge,” a statement created by a coalition of seed companies that reads as follows:

“Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend.  We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations.  For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners and consumers who want an alternative, we pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants.  The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between generations, families or kingdoms poses great biological risks, as well as economic, political and cultural threats.  We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release.  More research and testing is necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically engineered seeds.  Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems and ultimately healthy people and communities.”

We purchase our seeds from four main companies along with a handful of other suppliers that offer some unique items and specialty crops.  We have been working with Seedway, Osborne Seeds, High Mowing Organic Seeds and Johnny’s Selected Seeds for many years.  They all have a strong reputation for distributing quality seed that is tested for disease and germination potential.  These are important factors for us as we are looking to source the highest quality seed for the best outcomes!  This month we purchased over $70,000 worth of seeds!  In addition to these purchases, we will plant some of the seed we already have in inventory from previous years.   If stored properly, many seeds will remain viable for several years.  In many cases we like to have a little extra seed on hand just in case something unexpected comes up and we need it in short order.  We also tend to buy a little extra seed for varieties that we highly value and for which there are not suitable substitutes.  From time to time a seed producer may have a crop failure and seed may not be available for 1-2 years.  If that happens, we are covered!

Sugar Ann snap peas have been a customer 
favorite for many years!
Over the years we have trialed a lot of different varieties and have come to know which varieties do best on our farm.  There are some varieties that we plant year after year because they produce a superior product.  Sweet corn is one of these crops. There are literally hundreds of varieties of sweet corn we could grow, but not all varieties will thrive in our region.  We are fortunate to be able to work with Phil Timm from Seedway.  He is our seed rep for the company and is very knowledgeable.  Over the years he has made some excellent recommendations for sweet corn varieties that will do best for us and he has hit the nail on the head with nearly every recommendation!  Every year we order our sweet corn seed early to make sure we can get our favorite varieties with names like “Fantastic” and “Awesome.”  Sugar Ann peas are another variety that are hard to beat and have proven to be a superior Sugar Snap Pea year after year.  We always make sure we order early as this variety has been sold out some years!  

2022 Cilantro Field
Before we make the final purchasing decision, we have to take some time to consider whether we want to duplicate our planting plans from the previous year or if we need or want to make changes.  Once we have an idea of what we want to accomplish, then we evaluate the varieties we’ve been planting.  This is also when we consider availability, take a look at any new varieties on the market and take into account any carryover inventory we may have available from the previous year.   Once we have all this information we can figure out how much seed we need to order.  Every crop is different and has to be figured individually.  For example, cilantro is one of our top three major crops and we plant it weekly starting in the spring for a total of 20-22 plantings per year.  In 2021 we planted 360 pounds of cilantro seed, which is quite a lot of seed.  This is the part of the equation that always amazes me as that 360 pounds of seed produced 53,000 pounds of cilantro!  Baby Bok Choi is another one of our top three crops.  Bok choi seed is very small and while we plant it weekly just like cilantro, we only planted 6.39 pounds of seed to produce 72,656 pounds of bok choi!  Is anyone else amazed by the multiplication potential here?!  

Marmalade Kabocha Squash 
(photo sourced from
Looking ahead to our upcoming growing season, we have a few fun things we’re planning to plant in addition to our staple items like carrots, broccoli, green beans, tomatoes, sweet corn, etc.  This year we’re planning to plant jicama and lemongrass which are on our list of crops we choose to plant once every few years.  If you have never had freshly harvested jicama, you are in for a treat!  We are also on the search to find a tasty kabocha squash to replace Sunshine, a variety we grew previously.  Sunshine had excellent flavor and sweetness, but it succumbed to disease in challenging growing conditions which subsequently impacted its shelf life.  The last few years we grew it we threw away such a large percentage that went bad and made it hard to justify growing them. This year we’re going to give “Marmalade” a try.  This is a small, coral-colored kabocha variety available from Johnny’s Seed.  They describe it as “….ideal for small family dinners and tucks nicely into CSA boxes….Vibrant color option for late fall, with improved storage life compared to Sunshine.”  Evidently we weren’t the only growers who experienced the shortened shelf life of Sunshine!  We are also trying a cute little green buttercup squash (similar to kabocha) called “Bon Bon.”  It’s described as being “Tasty, uniform and high-yielding,” and weighs in at 4-5 pounds which fits nicely in a CSA box!
Sugar Magnolia Peas
(photo sourced from

We are also planning to grow a few new purple vegetables.  We know some of you love purple colored vegetables more than others, but we know that the purple color comes from the presence of a powerful class of plant compounds called anthocyanins.  These compounds function as antioxidants in our bodies and provide a whole host of health benefits.  The first in this class that we hope to share with you is the Sugar Magnolia Pea.  This variety produces dark purple pods with bright green peas that are described as being “…sweet and delicious.  A real stunner!”  The plant for this pea does grow 6-7 feet tall, so we’ll have to trellis the plants to keep them off the ground and make them easier to pick.  We also ordered some “Purple Majesty” potato seed.  We have grown this variety at least one time in the past and our recollection is that it was not only a very tasty potato, but it held its color much better than most purple or blue varieties that turn gray when you cook them.  Lastly, we are trying a new purple sweet potato called “Purple Splendor.”  This looks to be a gorgeous potato with purple skin and dark purple flesh that is described as follows:  “Cooked flesh is on the dry side with notable sweetness.”  We’ve purchased purple sweet potatoes in the grocery store and loved the flavor and sweetness, but have not been able to find plants to grow them.  Hopefully we’ll see favorable outcomes with this variety this year!  
Artemis Cherry Tomatoes
(photo sourced from

Our tomato and pepper line-ups are pretty solid and consistent, but we do have a few new varieties to add to the mix this year.  While we usually focus on grape tomatoes and haven’t grown cherry tomatoes for many years, we were drawn to the “Artemis” cherry tomato from Osborne Seeds.  They are supposed to be bright red and are described as “….Supersweet red cherry consistently our favorite for flavor.”  Sounds like a winner! We are also trying the “Round of Hungary” pimento pepper.  We grew pimento peppers previously, but it’s been awhile.  This is a dark red pepper that has a flattened shape with ribs.  It’s a sweet pepper that is good for stuffing.   

We have our work cut out for us over the next few weeks leading up to our first greenhouse plantings.  We need to give our seed storage cooler its annual “top to bottom” cleaning before we put the new seeds into their storage location.  We will be washing and sterilizing our greenhouse flats, thawing the potting soil and need to take care of a few repair projects before we start preparing the nursery greenhouse.  If you’ve already signed up for your 2023 CSA shares, we thank you and are excited to have you on this year’s journey with us!  If you are yet to sign up for your 2023 CSA shares, I want to remind you to do so before February 28 so you can take advantage of our Early Bird Sign-Up Offer!  We have a great season of vegetables ahead of us and look forward to growing for you and your family this year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Time to Wrap Up 2022 and Get Ready for CSA 2023!

By Richard de Wilde

It’s time to wrap up another year and move into the next!  While we’ve already been planning and planting for the 2023 growing season, this is the time of year when we simultaneously reflect on where we’ve been as we lay out plans for the year ahead.  We look back on 2022 and are grateful for all the things we were able to accomplish on our farm, the families we were able to feed, the tons of vegetables our fields produced and the 45 plus families our farm supported through bi-weekly paychecks.  Overall, it was a pretty good year and we close out 2022 knowing we did the best we could, learned new things and will come back ready to do a better job in 2023!  Before we officially close out the year, we wanted to share a bit of our reflections with you as well.  

Row covers laid out for
frost protection spring 2022
You know farmers like to talk about the weather and I am known to check the weather multiple times a day, so let’s start there.  We have come to accept that weather challenges are now the norm, and we continue to find ways to be resilient as we navigate whatever hand we are dealt! Looking back at our 2022 growing season, we started the year with the latest spring ever in my 40 plus years of farming.  Not only was it a cold, late spring, but it was one of the windiest springs as well!  It is not uncommon to for us to use row covers for heat gain in the spring, but this year we found ourselves using more than usual to protect some of our vulnerable early spring crops and transplants from a late frost.  It’s very difficult to put out covers in high winds, but there were times when we had no choice but to struggle through the process as the window of opportunity to get the cover on before the temperatures dropped was pretty narrow.  We also had to use more hoops under the covers to prevent abrasion injury to the plants and had to secure the covers in place with extra sandbags.  In fact, we had to fill over 1,000 more sandbags just to secure covers on the most essential crops!  

Manuel, one of our head irrigation guys--doing
his rounds to check for leaks in irrigation systems
(Summer 2022)
Once the season got going, we switched from cold to very hot temperatures!  Our late summer months were characterized by very dry, drought-like conditions.  While dry periods can be very intense and demanding as we try to get enough water to plants to keep them alive and producing, we actually prefer dry conditions over wet.  We had to invest a lot of crew time into irrigation, but thankfully we were able to keep all of the crops in the game.  One plus to having dry conditions is decreased disease pressure.  Humid conditions, especially in our valley, breed leaf disease which affects the health of the plant in the field, and, by default, production yields are usually lower.  When disease pressure is low, yields are high, and harvests are typically more efficient.  

Brussels Sprouts plants in early summer
All in all, 2022 was as good as we can expect.  We had some crop losses, as we will every year, but thankfully we did not experience any devastating losses.  As with every growing season, we had some shining star crops (such as our fall Brussels sprouts!) and some crops we’d prefer to forget (Parsnips).  We were prepared to put out covers when we needed to, had equipment ready to irrigate when it was necessary, and did the best we could to prepare for weather events to minimize the impact.  We had a very productive fall and left our fields in good condition as we tucked them away for the winter.  Most of our fields went into winter with an established cover crop in place and we were able to execute fall applications of minerals as well.  We planted garlic, horseradish and sunchokes which means we’ve already made significant investments into another year!  Our strawberry field looked great going into winter with a nice rye straw mulch cover.  We also mulched the garlic field and covered it with row cover for the winter.  Our overwintered spinach field is covered and fenced to keep the deer from nibbling on it over the winter.

Last year we acquired 40 acres of new land that we were able to certify for organic production.  Some of this land we were able to purchase, and the remainder is leased.  Any time we acquire new land there is likely some work that needs to be done before we can put a crop on it, but thankfully we were able to put much of it in production by the end of the season.  We spent a lot of time this fall trimming trees around the fields, which yielded greater access to the sun and gave us a year’s supply of firewood along with enough brush piles to create several tons of biochar for next year!  We still have a lot of improvements to make on this new property, but have made significant headway in a relatively short period of time.  Our hope is to secure better resources for irrigation options for this land which will offer us more flexibility in what we can plant on this property in future years.

After weather, the next topic of conversation in many business circles these days is likely something around the topics of inflation and the economy as well as labor. These are big topics for us as well and linger at the forefront of our minds as we try to forecast what the new year will hold.  As we reflect on this past year, it will come as no surprise to you that we are still experiencing obstacles in the supply chain that have made it difficult at times to source supplies, fertilizer, etc.  Thankfully, we did ok without too many issues, and we were able to get the majority of what we needed.  We tried to order early to allow for delays and did our best to manage tight inventories.  We’ve always tried to take advantage of volume discounts when purchasing supplies but have pushed the limits on this over the past 1-2 years in an effort to get the best pricing possible in the face of very steep increases in the cost of supplies.  In 2022 Andrea invested in a 5-year supply of the twist ties we use to bunch vegetables and purchased 3-4 years’ worth of other supplies in order to bump up to the next level of volume discounts.  Thankfully we have appropriate storage space to keep these supplies clean and in good condition, so they’ll be just like new when we take them out for use in 2025!  

Black gold....the potting soil we use to 
grow transplants in the greenhouse
Part of being able to weather the inflation is by trying to continue to take advantage of any discounts available to us by paying in advance for seeds, supplies, fertilizer and fuel.  We already purchased and accepted delivery on the potting soil that we’ll need to produce transplants in the greenhouse and by doing so we were able to secure 2022 pricing!  We are closing out 2022 in a pretty good place financially despite experiencing inflated input costs ranging from as little as 3% to as much as 43%!  

But our biggest challenge for 2023 appears to be labor!  The majority of our farm crew is comprised of seasonal workers who come on H2A visas.  Over the past few years, they have been contributing more by offering suggestions for new production improvements and by building their skills so they are able to achieve record setting harvest metrics!  We have one of the very best crews we could hope for!  They are dependable, skilled, efficient, timely, willing and eager to learn, and are overall very respectful, pleasant, positive people to work with.  Our situation is unique in that the Department of Labor (DOL) sets our wage rates because we participate in the H2A visa program.  The DOL has generally raised the wage by 3% per year for many years.  However, this year they are requiring an 11% raise for Wisconsin H2A employers!  The wage rate will be increasing by about $2 per hour to $17.43 per hour, in addition to our obligation to provide housing, transportation and visa expenses.  Our crew members work hard doing physical labor that many others cannot and do not want to do, but someone has to do this work or we don’t have food to eat!  

Most of our vegetables are harvested by hand, 
including bunched herbs, greens, radishes and more!
Farmworkers deserve a raise and should be compensated fairly for the work they are doing.  However, as employers we are faced with an extreme challenge as labor represents about 40% of our expenses and is by far the largest expense, we incur in vegetable production.  We also hope to hire two individuals to fill two vacant support positions, one in the packing shed and one to assist with office work.  One of these positions remained vacant for the entire of 2022, which was not ideal.  We could really use the help to assist with record keeping, social media management, and other office-related tasks that are necessary to help us meet the requirements for government programs and general good business practices.  

Harvesting ginger in early November
As we look ahead to 2023, we do so with optimism.  Yes, we face challenges, but we also know that the work we do is important and valued by you, our CSA members and our community of eaters.  We take pride in being the best growers in the Midwest and we are committed to continuing to offer our CSA members a level of freshness, quality and variety that is not readily available.  We also remain committed to supporting you by providing community, transparency and dependability.  Local food systems are essential to the sustainability of both farms and eaters.  Participating in CSA is one of the most economical ways to purchase food as the value you receive is nearly always greater than the price you pay.  That’s part of the relationship we share—you take care of us and we take care of you.  We plan to continue our unique potato, squash, tomato and pepper varieties as well as abundant sweet potatoes and sweet corn that prove to be member favorites year after year!  We are also planning to continue growing our carefully selected variety of edamame and hope to grow baby ginger for you again.  We are in the midst of ordering our seeds right now and are contemplating growing some special dried beans, globe artichokes or something else of interest that catches our eye and will keep things interesting.  

We are now accepting CSA Sign-ups for the 2023 CSA season and hope you will be joining us for a spectacular year of vegetables!  You’ll find current pricing and a list of all of our CSA pick up locations on our website.  Speaking of website, we are currently working on a new website which we hope to take live early in 2023!  Not only will we have a fresh, new look, we’ll also be able to offer you the convenience of signing up online along with the option to pay using a credit card.  We are also planning to enhance our vegetable resources to help you when you may have questions or need a little help learning about a new vegetable.  

Enjoy the final days of 2022 and we will see you in the new year!  

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

December 15, 2022 - This Week's Box Contents Featuring Horseradish


Cooking With This Week's Box

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Porcelain Garlic:  

Red & Yellow Onions:  

Covington Sweet Potatoes:  

Red Beets:  

Orange Carrots:  

Beauty Heart Radish:



Peter Wilcox Potatoes:  

Tetsukabuto Squash:  
Butternut or Autumn Frost Squash:  

Horseradish Whips:  
Crispy Potato Horseradish Cakes (see below)

Well friends, this is it. The final CSA box of the 2022 season. We have eaten our way through spring, summer, fall and now we will eat our way through winter as we circle back to do it all again! Thank you for coming along with us for the ride this year and I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey.  This last box is packed with a lot of potential and I hope you find some delicious ways to put these vegetables to use this winter. Lets kick off this week’s Cooking With the Box article with our featured vegetable, horseradish.  Our featured recipe this week is for Crispy Potato Horseradish Cakes (see below), a simple recipe that pairs well with a simple burger for dinner or serve it with fried eggs for breakfast. I also included a past recipe for homemade Prepared Horseradish, a simple means of having finely chopped horseradish ready for use in your refrigerator.  Additionally, I have included more horseradish recipe suggestions gleaning ideas from around the world!

As I was researching horseradish recipes and uses this week, I came across this recipe for Pyttipanna—Swedish Hash.  This is a classic Swedish dish made from diced leftover meat, potatoes, and onion. Traditionally it is served as a midweek meal, but may be served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The name of this dish translates to “Teeny Pieces in a Pan.”  Many versions of this recipe are available on the internet, as each cook customizes it to fit their needs and likes. So, do not be afraid to improvise by substituting some of the potato with other vegetables such as carrots. This dish is traditionally served with pickled beets or gherkins.

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I found several interesting recipes utilizing celeriac, starting with this recipe for Curried Celeriac.  In sticking with inspiration from Indian cuisine, you may wish to serve it with  Beetroot Chapatti.

As we move into the winter holidays, consider making this elegant Savory Potato Tart with Celeriac & Porcini Mushrooms.  It’s a rich dish full of earthy flavors that would make a lovely vegetarian main dish for Christmas dinner.  

Another classy vegetarian main dish recipe is Celeriac & Lentils with Hazelnuts and Mint.  If you are a fan of Ottolenghi, this is one of his recipes. 

I tried to include a wide variety of suggestions this week ranging from Black Bean Sweet Potato Enchiladas to Roasted Butternut Squash Pie and Cardamom Pistachio Carrot Cake.  Sometimes winter roots and storage vegetables can become repetitive, but there really are so many different ways to put these winter storage vegetables to use and I guarantee that with a little bit of creative cooking, you need not grow weary of any vegetable this winter!

Thanks again for your support of our farm this season. We hope you enjoy the winter months and look forward to growing for you again next year. See you in May for ramps, asparagus and rhubarb!

—Chef Andrea 

Vegetable Feature: Horseradish

by Andrea Yoder

We’re wrapping up the season with a unique vegetable that is more of a condiment and less of the main attraction.  Horseradish is a bold, pungent vegetable with powerful plant compounds that give it its peppery flavor, but also have the ability to attack cancer cells and boost our immune systems.  As we head into winter, horseradish is a good health ally to add to your diet and it doesn’t take much to have an effect!  If you’re not so sure about trying horseradish, I ask that you proceed with an open mind and give it a try.  You just might be surprised!

Horseradish is a perennial that we plant in the fall from seed pieces that are taken from cuttings when the previous crop is harvested. A nice seed piece is a straight piece usually about 8-10 inches long with the diameter of a fat pencil or a thin marker. Seed pieces grow off the main root which is the most saleable portion of the plant on the wholesale market. Any pieces that are smaller than is needed for wholesale or seed are called whips. Whips are usually thrown away, but this is actually the part of the root I prefer to work with for several reasons.  First of all, I think the skin is thin and tender enough on these pieces that you don’t need to peel it.  The less you have to handle horseradish, the better!  I also think the whips are a more manageable size to deal with instead of a big root.  

As I mentioned in the introduction, horseradish is intended to be used in small quantities as more of a condiment or accompaniment. The purpose of a condiment is to add and enhance flavor or even to introduce a new contrasting flavor to foods. Sometimes it plays its role by being incorporated into a dish while other times it may be served alongside. It may be freshly grated or chopped and added to foods, however once you start cutting, grating, or chopping horseradish you release the volatile oils that give horseradish its bite. This is when you need to make sure you have adequate ventilation to decrease the chances of your eyes tearing up. Also, make sure you wash your hands after handling horseradish, so you don’t accidently get these peppery oils in your eyes.  While many recipes tell you to grate the horseradish on a box grater, this is difficult to do with the smaller whips. My recommendation is to just cut the whips into 1–2-inch pieces and chop them finely in a food processor. You could also use a blender, a hand chopper or a basic chef’s knife. 

When using fresh horseradish, it’s important to chop or grate it as close to when you’re going to eat it as the volatile oils that contribute to its flavor will dissipate into the air and disappear.  Once it’s chopped, you either need to eat it right away, add it into a liquid such as cream or milk that you want to infuse, or stabilize the oils so the flavor and spice remains.  Often times you’ll see a recipe that calls for “Prepared Horseradish.”  This refers to horseradish that is pre-chopped/grated and stabilized in a vinegar solution which sets the flavor and prevents it from dissipating. It is very easy to make “Prepared Horseradish,” and you can keep prepared horseradish in the refrigerator for several weeks like this before it will start to lose its pungency.  This can be super handy to have as you can just take a teaspoon or two as needed for different recipes without having to chop it fresh every time. 

Richard checking the Horseradish field
Horseradish goes well with rich and fatty foods such as salmon, beef, sausage, and ham. It also goes well with more acidic foods such as tomatoes, apples, lemons, and other citrus. It’s a good accompaniment to mild foods that give it a base, such as sour cream, cream, butter, seafood, potatoes and root vegetables.  Prime rib and/or roast beef is often served with a creamy horseradish sauce. Horseradish is a key ingredient in the classic ketchup-based cocktail sauce served with poached shrimp. If you’re into Bloody Marys, you’ll know horseradish is part of this drink recipe as well.  

Store your horseradish whips in the refrigerator in the bag we’ve packed them in for you.  They will keep for not just weeks, but months. If you don’t like spicy things or don’t think you’ll like horseradish, consider giving it a try and just start small.  Stir a little bit of freshly chopped horseradish into mayonnaise and spread it on a sandwich or make horseradish cream and drizzle it lightly over roasted root vegetables. You just might find you like that little bit of kick and flavor it adds! 

Take a moment to visit our Cooking With the Box article on our blog this week where I have provided links to over 10 recipe suggestions to get you started! 

Crispy Potato Horseradish Cakes

Yield:  4-6 servings

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1 onion, grated
3 large potatoes, peeled and grated
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour, plus more, as needed
2 large eggs
3Tbsp finely grated fresh horseradish
½ tsp lemon zest
¼ cup fresh dill or 1 Tbsp dried dill
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper, freshly ground
6 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup crème fraiche or sour cream

  1. In a bowl, combine the onion and potato.  Dust with the flour and mix to disperse it.  Add the eggs, horseradish, lemon zest, dill, salt and pepper, and mix until well combined.
  2. In a large non-stick sauté pan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium-high heat.  Once the bubbles from the butter subside, spoon 3 heaping tablespoons of the potato mixture into the sauté pan.  Repeat, making 8 to 12 pancakes.  Cook pancakes about 4 minutes on each side, assuring that both sides are well browned and the potato is cooked through.  Reduce the heat of the pan if the potato cakes are browning too quickly in order to make sure the inside is cooked completely.  Remove the cakes to a paper towel lined plate as they finish, and season with salt while hot.  You can cover them with foil and keep in a 200°F oven to stay warm until ready to serve.
  3. To serve, transfer potato cakes to a platter and dollop each one with crème fraiche.
Recipe courtesy of Michael Symon as published on