Friday, December 19, 2014

Featured Vegetable: Rutabagas

By Sarah Janes Ugoretz

Rutabaga is derived from the Swedish rotabagge, which literally translates to “root bag.” Not terribly glamorous I suppose, but the rutabaga really is an underrated vegetable. As Deborah Madison—author of Vegetable Literacy and my go-to for most things veggie—says: “Treated lavishly and respectfully, rutabagas are a fine winter vegetable.” The result of a fortunate cross between the wild cabbage and the turnip, rutabagas are often mistaken for the latter—in some countries, the two are even treated interchangeably! While both are members of the Cruciferae family, rutabagas differ from turnips in a few key ways. Most notably, with a longer growing period—90 days compared to 40 or less for the turnip—rutabagas are denser roots. As such, they take longer to cook. It’s often best to first peel and then blanch them in boiling water for a few minutes before tossing them into a dish with other (still raw, at this point) vegetables.

Nutrition-wise, rutabagas are a good source of vitamins C and B6, as well as calcium, magnesium and potassium. Being that they are a winter root vegetable, rutabagas will keep well in your crisper drawer for a month or more. If you’re the homesteading sort, you can experiment with packing your extra roots in moist sand. Kept in a cool (but not freezing) location, you’ll be able to keep these roots around for several months.

The first written reference to rutabagas dates back to 1620, when they were observed growing wild in Sweden. Accounts vary as to the actual origin of this vegetable, though many believe rutabagas first appeared in Scandinavia or Russia.

Early on, rutabagas were commonly used as a vegetable in family meals, as fodder for livestock and, for a time in Britain, as cannonball substitutes! Among residents of the British Isles, it was tradition to carve rutabagas into lanterns and fill them with coal on Halloween night as a means of warding off evil spirits. Today, rutabagas’ uses are primarily culinary in scope. Honestly, a rutabaga is at its best when used simply. They are a prime candidate for roasting and pureeing, and they make an excellent addition to hearty soups, stews and casseroles. In addition to other root vegetables, nice companions for rutabagas’ crisp, slightly sweet flavor include butter, cream, parsley, bay leaf, smoked paprika, bacon, apples and pears.
Rutabaga harvest at Harmony Valley Farm

Rutabagas do not taste the same the world-around. The eating quality of a rutabaga is very closely connected to the weather conditions during its growing and harvest season. This year was a pretty mild, cool year and as a result you’ll find these rutabagas are quite mild and slightly sweet. In contrast, when the growing season is hot, the flavor of the rutabagas tends to be more sharp, bold and sometimes a little on the bitter side. In a good rutabaga year, Richard’s standby method for vegetable prep holds true for rutabagas—“just add butter, cream and cheese.” We’ve shared this in previous newsletters, but can’t help but repeat this very simple way to enjoy a rutabaga. If you’ve tried rutabagas previously and didn’t care for them, we’d encourage you to try them again. You may find these taste quite different from what you’ve experienced previously.

Mashed Rutabaga Potato Supreme
This recipe is borrowed from our friend, John Peterson at Angelic Organics Farm. It was featured in his cookbook entitled Farmer John’s Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables. 

Serves 4
Salt, few pinches 
1 pound rutabaga (approx., 1 medium or 2 small), peeled, cut into ½-inch chunks
½ pound potatoes, peeled, cut into ½-inch chunks
1 medium carrot, chopped
¼ cup milk
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
¾ tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a few pinches of salt and then drop in the rutabaga; boil for 10 minutes. Add the potato and carrot and continue to cook until all the vegetables are tender, 15 to 20 more minutes. Once tender, remove from the heat and carefully drain off the water.
  2. Heat the milk in a small saucepan, but do not boil.
  3. Mash the rutabaga, potato and carrot with the butter until smooth, adding a little of the warm milk at a time until the mixture reaches the consistency you like. Stir in the salt, nutmeg and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Future of Food Series Finale

by Sarah Janes Ugoretz

As we conclude our Future of Food discussion series, I can think of few better topics on which to ruminate than that of the latest feature—the joy of food. Food means something different to each of us. To it, we attach meaning, memories, and value. We often place it at the center of our gatherings, and around it we, in the company of our friends and families, convene and converse. As we’ve followed National Geographic’s Future of Food series over the last five months, we have taken on some rather controversial topics—modern day fish farming, the Paleolithic diet, hunger in America, the industrial beef business and biotechnology’s application to food production. In this final piece, I’d like to take a step back and reflect on the worth of exploring topics such as these. There is no time like the present to consider what food means to us and to ask ourselves: “What kind of food system do I want to be a part of?”

When I’m looking for a nuanced, yet straightforward discussion around the current state of agriculture in this country, I turn—invariably—to Wendell Berry. As a farmer himself, Berry has long written of many of the topics on which we have touched and possesses that elusive ability to present an issue in a brutally honest, yet still uplifting sort of way. For the purposes of this discussion, one of the more powerful statements he has written is recorded in his book What Are People For? He states very simply that “…eating is an agricultural act.” Today, we tend to think of food as a product of agricultural toil, but we often fail to go beyond that and regard ourselves as not just customers, but as discerning consumers. We buy food in various forms and from various locales, but for the most part, we make these decisions in a passive way. We choose from among the food options presented to us, and we pay the price attached to these items without asking what that price reflects. As Berry sees it, “The industrial eater is, in fact, one who does not know that eating is an agricultural act, who no longer knows or imagines the connections between eating and the land, and who is therefore necessarily passive and uncritical.” I would modify this by suggesting that these two extremes exist not in isolation but instead along a continuum—that at any point in time, we can move closer to or further way from the industrial eater extreme.

Operating from this point of understanding, I think there’s value in addressing a topic that is often left out of this discussion—that of personal guilt. Pursuing the type of food system that Mr. Berry and we at Harmony Valley Farm are trying to imagine and create is no small feat, and in many ways, the deck is stacked against us. I’ve found that over the years, as I’ve come to more deeply understand the implications attached to my individual food choices, the more guilt I feel when I choose to move closer to the industrial eater extreme. It’s true—sometimes I buy conventionally grown grapes or cheese made with milk that is not rGBH-free. Quite honestly, I think it’s nearly impossible at this point to live a life beyond the reach of industrial, conventional agriculture. Admittedly, my main motivation for making these purchases is price—I buy them because they’re cheaper than the alternative. The guilt I feel is a product of my decision to embrace the notion that individual choices matter. Yes, it’s a romantic approach to take, but at the same time, I truly believe in the power that individual effort yields. After all, at the end of the day, individual choices are to a great degree what propel larger efforts forward.

The visual learner that I am, I often regard each individual food item as the tip of an iceberg—a small part of a much larger whole. Beneath the surface lies the collective history of that food item—the agricultural inputs, the labor practices and the farming philosophy that together created that specific product. It was not until I started digging into the literature and thinking about where this information fit in relation to me did I begin to feel intimately connected to and invested in this larger system. Similar to the topics of faith and spirituality, I think deciding what food really means to us is an individual, reflective and ever-evolving journey. Exposing ourselves to information—in the form of the pieces covered in this series, for example—allows us to gather facts, consider multiple perspectives and ultimately formulate our own opinions. From here, we take action—we join a CSA, we begin to garden, we have conversations, we rent a library book, we sit and think. There is no “right” way to approach and react to these difficult topics.

At this point, I have to bring in a critical piece that is, as yet, missing from this discussion—many people are, to varying degrees, limited in their capacity to participate in shaping the type of food system we’re envisioning. As we explored (albeit briefly) in an earlier feature on “The New Face of Hunger” there are multiple obstacles—many of them entrenched—that limit this capacity. Income, transportation, awareness, a preoccupation with basic survival—innumerable factors shape and restrict the degree to which people engage with the food systems operating around us today. While this topic requires much more space than a single paragraph, I’ll settle for the words of Geoff Tansey, a member of The Food Ethics Council: “We need a fundamental change in the food system that has developed in the rich world…It is dysfunctional and unjust—and it fails to deliver a safe, secure, sufficient, nutritious diet sustainably for everyone with equity.” Put simply, there is an enormous amount of work to be done. Naming this problem is merely the first of many steps.

As this discussion series draws to a close, where does this leave us? For starters, we know that we all need to eat, and we know that food is, inherently, the product of a larger agricultural system. The food options we are faced with reflect a complex network of explicit choices and practices. If we more fully insert ourselves into the equation and begin to transform ourselves into active, rather than passive consumers, we will be taking a firm step towards creating an alternative food system—one that is, as Tansey calls for above, both sustainable and equitable. It is my hope that throughout this series, the topics we’ve addressed and the questions we’ve raised have peaked your interest—to whatever degree—and have led you to consider your place within this food system that we are all part of.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Featured Vegetable: Daikon and Beauty Heart Radishes

By Sarah Janes Ugoretz

There are two kinds of radishes—the quick growing, spring varieties, and the slower-to-mature winter varieties. As winter varieties, daikon and beauty heart radishes share the spotlight for our vegetable feature this week. Members of the mustard family, radishes were first domesticated in the Mediterranean during pre-Roman times. By 500 B.C., traders had carried them first to China and shortly thereafter to Japan where cultivation quickly became widespread. Early on, radishes were most commonly grown for their seeds, which were pressed into oil. Despite the multitude of varieties, all radishes share certain characteristics—a crunchy texture, with a unique sharp bite and a varying degree of pungency. They are rich in vitamins C and B, are an excellent source of potassium, calcium and iron, and are often utilized as a digestive aid, detoxifier and blood cleanser.

Winter radishes are, you might have guessed, built for storage. In order to preserve their quality, however, be sure to keep them sealed in plastic bags in the refrigerator. Preventing moisture loss is key to maintaining freshness! If stored properly, daikon will store for several weeks and beauty heart radishes will store for several months. Don’t let a little browning on the surface fool you. This is a normal development with extended storage, but the radish is still good on the inside.

Daikon radishes
Daikon radishes, commonly referred to as Japanese horseradish or mooli, are rather easy to identify. A staple in Asian cuisine, daikon radishes are much milder than the traditional red radish. Their crisp, juicy texture is complemented by a sweet, slightly peppery bite. Interestingly enough, the thickest part of the root is the mildest, with pungency increasing as the root narrows. Although the typical daikon will measure between 15-20 inches in length, certain varieties can grow to be 36 inches long!

Beauty heart radishes
Beauty heart radishes, on the other hand, look more like a storage turnip than anything. Their pale, cream-colored exterior hides a rather stunning interior, however, the flesh exploding with unique patterns of fuchsia, white, and green. It’s no surprise then that their Chinese name, Xin Li Mei, literally translates to “heart inside beautiful.” At the Harmony Valley Farm market stand, the crew continually encourages patrons to give beauty hearts a try. They are, as we say, “the radish for non-radish lovers.” I like to think of these beauty hearts as a gateway variety—one taste of this mild, slightly sweet radish and you’ll be whisked away into a glorious world filled with tens upon tens of radish varieties! Well, maybe that’s wishful thinking, but these radishes are most certainly a culinary treasure.

Daikon radish is most often used raw and is often pickled. It can be used as a condiment to eat on sandwiches, alongside vegetarian rice dishes, or to accompany grilled or roasted meats. It is also a common ingredient in kim chi.

Beauty heart radishes can be eaten raw or cooked. They are a beautiful addition to winter vegetable slaws or can be the feature of a winter radish salad. We also enjoy them on winter crudité platters served with creamy dip or sliced cheese or slice thinly and put them on a sandwich for a little crunch. They also make a nice addition to stir-fry and are a great vegetable to add to simple soups such as miso or hot & sour soup.

If you are looking for recipe ideas, go to our searchable recipe database on our website and use the search terms “daikon radish” & “beauty heart radish.” You can also look to the Local Thyme online CSA recipe service for more ideas. See our weekly email for sign up instructions.

Hot & Sour Soup
This is a recipe sent to us by CSA members who adapted a recipe for Hot & Sour soup to incorporate beauty heart radishes. The original recipe came from The Meatless Gourmet by Bobbie Hinman (now under the title The Vegetarian Gourmet’s Easy International Recipes). 

Yield: 4 servings (1 cup each)
¼ cup water
2 Tbsp cornstarch
4 cups vegetable broth (4 cups water + a veggie bouillon)
1 large carrot, coarsely shredded
1 cup beauty heart radish, coarsely shredded
1 Tbsp sherry
4 ounces firm tofu, sliced, then cut into small rectangles
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1½ Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
½ tsp pepper (white or black)
2 green onions, thinly sliced (may substitute minced red onion)

1. In a small bowl, combine water and cornstarch. Stir to dissolve cornstarch. Set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan, combine broth, carrot, beauty heart and sherry. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 5 minutes.

3. Add tofu, vinegar and soy sauce. Increase heat to medium and when mixture boils again, cook uncovered, 3 minutes. Stir cornstarch mixture and add to saucepan while stirring. Continue to cook and stir for 2 more minutes. Remove from heat and stir in sesame oil and pepper. Garnish with onions.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Sustaining our Woods:

by Richard de Wilde

Our primary focus is producing top quality vegetables for our thousands of customers throughout the Midwest region. Our silt loam valley fields are prime land for vegetable production with rich soils mixed with sand and silt loam deposited in this valley over thousands of years. Our tillable land for vegetable production on the land we own is about 40 acres, however our total property is about 500 acres. There are another 60 acres of hillside fields that were tilled in the late 1800’s, sometimes with disastrous erosion problems. These have since been converted to pastures for grazing animals. This is a much more appropriate use for the land and helps to prevent invasive plants such as prickly ash, multiflora rose, sumac and unwanted trees from taking over. Beyond vegetable ground and pasture, we still have over 400 acres of woods that are not suitable for either vegetables or animals.

Armando logging on the hillsides surrounding our farm.
So just what do we do with all of this wooded land? Unfortunately, we pay a high tax rate for this land based on ‘recreational value’, ie, deer hunting, bird watching, mushroom hunting and just enjoying nature. Our other option is to put the land into a “managed forest” program through the DNR. This would significantly decrease our taxes, however this program would require us to conform to a plan which dictates when trees will be harvested every 10 to 15 years. It is assumed that we will hire a logging company to come in and cut down the trees when indicated. While the logging company does have some obligation to seed down the logging roads they need to access the trees, their interest is in removing the best timber which is most saleable. So what remains when they are done? The crooked, storm damaged or diseased trees are left behind. This is not a recipe for forest improvement, but a huge taxpayer subsidy of the large scale forest industry! In addition, the amount of money the landowner receives for the logs that are removed is only about 1% of the value of the lumber when it is sold as a finished product to the consumer. The bottom line is you will never get enough return from selling standing timber to cover the tax liability, pay for the land and compensate for the time spent managing the woods over time in order to maintain a healthy woods and produce more “good” lumber-quality trees (ie removing undesirable trees). At present, we have about 80 acres of woods that is in the managed forest program, while we manage the remaining 320 acres ourselves.

Manuel and Nano Morales stacking wood
Over the past three years we have been selectively logging and cutting down trees that are too close
to our fields or were left from previous logging. We have tried to put this resource to use by using much of the wood for firewood to fuel clean-burning stoves which heat as many as 6 buildings on our farm. We also saved 15,000 board feet of lumber that, after kiln drying, was made into paneling and flooring that we were able to use in our new home. We have a great satisfaction in ‘knowing’ the trees that became our house! We learned a lot in the process and want to continue to sustainably manage our woods well into the future. However, our on-farm needs for wood are limited in comparison to the amount of this resource available to us. Thus, we are now considering options that would make this resource available in a variety of ways to many of our customers who may also have a use for wood. Perhaps you are considering building a home or have a remodeling project and would like to use wood for flooring, paneling to cover walls or ceilings, cabinets, or furniture. You could quite literally choose the trees that would end up in your new house, addition or room. If you are planning a project and are interested in wood products, give us a call and we can send you samples of wood, paneling and flooring.

Richard preparing to haul a load of freshly
sawed board to the kiln to be dried.
Sawing logs into boards at Harmony Valley Farm. 
We are planning to build our own solar kiln this spring, which would allow us to kiln dry our own lumber instead of having to haul it to a kiln for drying. This fall we cut down quite a few ash trees that died as a result of the emerald ash borer. We’re hoping to turn some of this into lumber that could be used for building projects, furniture, doors, etc. As we look into the future, we know we will have many more ash trees that will soon succumb to the invasive ash borer and need to be harvested. In addition, we have several varieties of oak, cherry and walnut that will need to be removed to make room for new growth. We would like to turn some of this wood into interesting and unique products such as cutting boards, cheese and bread boards, bowls, wooden kitchen utensils and wine bottle stoppers, all finished with beeswax and organic oils safe for use with food. We have some of these types of products made for us by family members and friends and really cherish their uniqueness in our own home. In our end-of-the-year survey, we will be asking you about your interest in this endeavor and value your feedback as we explore this opportunity. Other options we are considering for adding value to this resource includes deliveries of firewood brought right to your home, cut, stacked and ready to load into your wood stove or fireplace.

It is exciting to learn more about this valuable, beautiful natural resource that we are blessed to have on our property. Our goal is to preserve and care for our woods well into the future and set the precedent for the generations of caretakers of this land that will follow in our footsteps. We have a lot of logistics to explore and many more details to work out, but we’re excited to see what the future may hold.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Featured Vegetable: Collard Greens

By Sarah Janes Ugoretz
Collard greens in July

Collard greens are descendants of wild cabbage, and their existence has been traced back to prehistoric times. For this reason, researchers joke that collards count themselves among the dinosaurs of vegetables. Likely originating in Asia Minor, written and pictorial accounts have ancient Greek and Roman civilizations cultivating collards, and by 600 B.C., Celtic wanderers had begun spreading them far and wide throughout Europe. Towards the end of the 17th century, collards arrived in the U.S. but contrary to popular belief, they were not introduced by enslaved Africans.

Today, collard greens are integral in traditional southern American cuisine, though they are becoming more popular in other parts of the U.S.. Part of this rise in popularity is likely due to the fact that collards are nutritional powerhouses. Not only are they high in vitamins K, A and C, they’re also a good source of calcium, iron and fiber. Studies show steamed collards coming out ahead of steamed kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale when it comes to each vegetable’s ability to bind bile acids in the human digestive tract. What this means is that collards contribute rather significantly to the lowering of cholesterol levels. The cancer-preventive properties of collards are also high. Four specific glucosinolates help to lower cancer risk by supporting both detox and anti-inflammatory systems.

Collards, like kale, grow well into late fall in colder climates like ours. The collards in your box this week were actually cut from the top of the plant, thus the leaves are a bit smaller and more tender than fully matured leaves. Steaming collards for five minutes is the fastest way to get them onto your plate and into your stomach, but you can also try your hand at the more traditional way of preparing them. If you’re going for the latter, boil a ham hock and 3 cloves of garlic in 10-12 cups of water for two hours (with the pot partially covered). In the meantime, de-stem and cut collards into thick ribbons. Once two hours have passed, remove the ham hock and add the collards, cooking at a simmer for another 45 minutes to 2 hours (again with the pot partially covered). Sauté an onion in bacon fat or canola or veggie oil, and add the shredded ham hock meat. Add the cooked collards to this mix, top with salt and pepper, and you’re all set! Word to the wise—the cooking liquid in which you simmered your collards is full of nutrition and loaded with flavor, so consider using it in a stock. In advance of preparing your collards, store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, removing as much air as possible.

Wilted “Baby” Collards with Ginger & Shoyu
Recipe borrowed from Chef Andrea Reusing’s book, Cooking in the Moment.

Serves 2
¾-1 pound collard greens, (smaller leaves less than 9 inches long are ideal), cut into ½-inch wide strips
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp shoyu soy sauce, or less if substituting regular soy sauce
½ tsp toasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 scant Tbsp very thinly julienned fresh ginger
1 dried red chile, such as de Arbol, crumbled into small pieces
Kosher salt
⅓ cup chicken stock

  1. Blanch the collards for 30 seconds in a large pot of salted boiling water. Drain, and then quickly transfer them to an ice bath. As soon as they are cold, drain again and gently squeeze them with your hands to remove as much moisture as possible. Transfer the collards to a medium bowl and toss with your fingers to separate, adding the shoyu and sesame oil and thoroughly distributing them.
  2. Heat the vegetable oil in a medium saute pan over medium-low heat. Add the ginger and chiles. Saute for a minute, until the ginger is wilted and fragrant but has not colored. Raise the heat to medium and add the collards. Season with salt and toss to coat and incorporate the ginger and chiles. Add the chicken stock and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes, until the greens are very hot. Season with additional salt if necessary.

Collards & Black-Eyed Pea Soup
Recipe borrowed from Lorna Sass’ Complete Vegetarian Kitchen.

Serves 6
6 cups water or vegetable stock
1 Tbsp oil
2 cups black-eyed peas, picked over and rinsed
1 small bunch collard greens
2 large onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery or ½ medium celeriac, finely chopped
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
½ tsp dried thyme
Pinch cayenne or crushed red pepper flakes
Hot Sauce, optional
Salt, to taste

  1. Bring the water, oil, and peas to a boil in a medium stock pot. Meanwhile, wash the collards. Cut the thick stem from the middle of the leaf. Chop the remaining leaves and tender stems into 1-inch strips. Add the collards, onions, celery or celeriac, garlic, thyme, and cayenne to the pot.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the peas are tender, about 45 to 55 minutes.
  3. Stir in salt to taste. Serve piping hot with hot sauce if desired.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Winter is Here!

by Andrea Yoder
Winter sets in to the valley surrounding Harmony Valley Farm
The onset of winter came a bit early this year and I must say I’m still adjusting to this change of season. Before the cold set in, we scrambled to harvest what we could and managed to bring in tons of root vegetables (literally), as well as the last of our greens. We stretched the greens season as far as we could and the collards and baby bok choi in this week’s box will be the last of the fresh greens. It’s official…we have transitioned to our winter diet.

When choosing to support local food systems and eat locally, by default you also choose to eat seasonally. With four distinct seasons to eat through, seasonal eating in the Midwest keeps things interesting and can be a lot of fun. As the seasons change, our bodies crave the foods it needs to nourish it at that time of year. On the flip side, nature provides us with what we need at that time as well. In the spring we can’t get enough of the early season fresh greens and other light, cleansing foods to bring our bodies out of winter mode. During the summer we eat light, refreshing foods to cool our bodies...cucumbers, watermelon, tomatoes, etc. Fall is the time of bounty when summer and winter vegetables collide and we have a window of time when both summer and winter crops are available. Peppers make it into dishes alongside winter squash. Greens that were once topped with summer veggies are now served with apples and pears. Finally, winter sets in and we transition completely to a diet based on storage crops. We work very hard to grow and harvest winter squash, cabbage, root vegetables, onions, garlic, and other crops to put into storage. These foods are meant to be stored and will last throughout the winter. They are rich in nutrients and will nourish us during a time when we aren’t able to harvest vegetables from our fields. These foods, along with anything that was preserved during the summer, frozen meat, dried beans, etc will sustain us until spring breaks through. Each season brings its own set of ingredients and an abundance of opportunities to explore endless ways to prepare them.

Storage vegetables offer seasonal cooking options through the winter
For those who may not have as much experience with seasonal cooking & eating during the winter, a box of storage vegetables might be a bit intimidating. “What am I supposed to do with all of this food? I’ll never be able to eat all of this!” Don’t worry…you’ll be able to eat it all, but you aren’t supposed to eat it all in one week. Most of the items in your box this week and the ones we’ll be delivering in December and January are meant to be stored and eaten over time. If stored properly, you should be able to get the full value out of the vegetables in your share. Refer to the storage tips in the back of your CSA calendar, as well as the information we include in our weekly newsletters, to help you determine how to store each vegetable.

“How will I prepare all of these vegetables?” First of all, don’t ever let a vegetable intimidate you…it’s just a vegetable! Most storage vegetables can be cooked in a variety of ways and in today’s world of technology there are endless resources to guide you along the way. If you’re worried about getting bored with eating roots, cabbages, squash and sweet potatoes for the next several months, I would encourage you to approach this time of year with a different set of eyes. People all around the world eat some of the same vegetables we’re eating. Take a little time and look to some other cultures for recipe ideas to keep cooking interesting and fun. For example, there are some great curry dishes that include squash, sweet potatoes, and root vegetables. Stir-fry is a dish that can be made any time of year based on the vegetables you have available. Choose your favorite stir-fry sauce and meat if you wish. Stir-fry carrots, onions, garlic, ginger, beauty heart radishes, cabbage and even turnips. Put the veggies, meat and sauce together and you have dinner!

Roasted root vegetables, soups, stews and gratins are also warm favorites for this time of year. You can keep these dishes varied and exciting by experimenting with different spice combinations and different ingredients as garnishes. For example, treat yourself to a nice bottle of flavored nut oil, such as hazelnut or walnut. Add just a drizzle to a bowl of butternut squash soup or roasted root vegetables to add something a little different. Aged cheeses, toasted nuts and seeds, flavored vinegar, dried mushrooms, dried fruit and dried chiles are just a few things you can experiment with as garnishes to finish a dish and add an element of interest.

Finally, if you get stuck and can’t think of anything to make for dinner, use your resources. Fairshare CSA coalition’s cookbook,  Farm-Fresh and Fast is a great resource to guide you through a Midwestern winter. Don’t forget about Local Thyme, an online menu planning service for CSA. As a Harmony Valley Farm CSA member, you have free access to the Local Thyme website. You can search for recipes, get further information about specific vegetables and create your own menu plan with a shopping list. There is more information about this resource in this week’s “What’s In the Box” email. Finally, use your community. There are other people in your neighborhood who may have some of the same vegetables in their refrigerator as well. Have a potluck and inspire each other! Every December there is a group of Madison CSA members that get together to celebrate root vegetables with their annual Root Party. It’s a lot of fun, the food is always great, and it gives you ideas of other ways to use your vegetables.Our online recipe database can give you ideas for using some of those root veggies lurking in the back of your refrigerator.

We are grateful for the opportunity to have grown vegetables for you this year. We hope your Thanksgiving tables reflect the bounty of our fall harvest next week and your winter is full of nourishing, warm meals to share with family and friends.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Featured Vegetable: Brussels Sprouts

By Andrea Yoder

“Brussels sprouts are the only vegetable I cannot eat unless the weather is cold. No frost, no sprouts. I am not alone…Frost makes the sprout...Eaten at the wrong time of year, cooked too long or served with too much else on the plate, the sprout is hard going.” –Nigel Slater in Tender
Brussels sprouts full of sweet flavor in cold weather!
Sprouts spiral up stalk shaded by tuft of leaves
Brussels sprouts are a highlight of fall and its transition to winter in the Midwest. They grow on a tall, thick, sturdy stalk. The sprouts spiral up the stalk and are shaded by a tuft of leaves at the top, but also down the stem. Chef Deborah Madison describes them like this: “There is something so silly and Dr. Seuss-like about a stalk of Brussels sprouts with its little hat of leaves that it makes you smile and want to eat the sprouts.”

There are several points that are very important when it comes to Brussels sprouts. First, as stated in the opening quote from Nigel Slater, frost and cold temperatures contribute significantly to the eating quality of Brussels sprouts. After a frost, the flavor of the sprouts is sweet, slightly nutty and pleasant. California is a major Brussels sprouts producer for the United States. While Brussels sprouts do grow well there, there are many who are of the opinion that the mild California coastal climate just isn’t quite cold enough for Brussels sprouts. Thus, consider yourself lucky that you live in Wisconsin & Minnesota where we can grow some delicious, sweet sprouts! In fact, this week’s sprouts survived our first hard frost of about 20˚F!

The second point of importance is DO NOT OVERCOOK THEM! When the color fades from bright green to a dark olive color, the flavor fades too. Overcooked Brussels sprouts go from crisp & tender to soft and mushy in texture and their sweetness is traded for a strong, unpleasant flavor with a pungent smell to accompany it. Larger sprouts should be cut in half or parcooked if left whole. Smaller sprouts may be left whole or cut in half. When you are ready to use them, simply trim the end and remove any spotty leaves. Rinse and then you are ready to use them. They can also be shredded by cutting them in half and putting the cut side down and slicing them thinly with a knife. Brussels sprouts may be sautéed, roasted, or lightly steamed just until the color is bright and they are tender to slightly al dente. While most frequently eaten cooked, Brussels sprouts may also be eaten raw. One pound of Brussels sprouts is equal to about 4 cups halved or 7-8 cups shredded.

Brussels sprouts pair well with smoky and salty foods including bacon, ham, aged or sharp cheese and blue cheese. Additionally, preparations often include mustard, walnuts, pecans, lemon juice, onions and garlic.

They are definitely worth eating from a nutrition standpoint. They are high in fiber, folate, magnesium, potassium and vitamins A, C and K and are packed full of powerful, cancer-preventing properties as well. Store your Brussels sprouts in the fridge in the bag we packed them in. You should open the bag a bit though and let them breathe.

Brussels Sprouts with Mustard-Cream Vinaigrette
Recipe borrowed from Deborah Madison’s book, Vegetable Literacy.

Serves 4
Mustard-Cream Vinaigrette
1 clove garlic
Sea salt
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp aged sherry vinegar
1 shallot, finely diced
5 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp sour cream
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Pound the garlic with ¼ tsp salt in a mortar (or on a cutting board) until creamy.

2. Put the garlic in a bowl and stir in the mustard, vinegar, and shallot. Let stand for 10 minutes, then vigorously whisk in the oil and sour cream to bring everything together. Taste to make sure the proportion is right, adjusting as needed with more mustard, vinegar or oil. Season with pepper. You may need to rewhisk just before serving.

Brussels Sprouts
1 pound Brussels sprouts
1 Tbsp olive oil 
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

2. Halve the Brussels sprouts lengthwise, or quarter them if they are particularly large. Drizzle with the oil, season with salt and pepper then spread them in a single layer in a large baking dish. 

3. Roast about 20 minutes if the sprouts are small, somewhat longer if they are very large. They should be tender, not mushy, and the cut sides browned.

4. Pile the sprouts into a bowl, toss with several tablespoons of the mustard-cream vinaigrette to moisten well, and serve.

Keralan-Style Brussels Sprouts
This recipe is Laura A. Russell’s version of a vegetable dish typically made with cabbage in the state of Kerala in India. This is one of many creative and simple recipes featured in her recently published book, Brassicas: Cooking the World’s Healthiest Vegetables. This is a cookbook worth adding to your collection, especially as a CSA member. She includes recipes for many vegetables in the brassicas family including kale, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, Asian greens and root vegetables including radishes, kohlrabi and turnips.

Serves 4
6 Tbsp shredded, unsweetened dried coconut
2 Tbsp water
1 pound Brussels sprouts
2 Tbsp coconut oil or vegetable oil
1 tsp brown or black mustard seeds
1 tsp ground cumin
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp red pepper flakes

1. In a small bowl, combine the coconut and water and set the bowl aside.

2. Trim the ends off the Brussels sprouts. Halve the sprouts through the stem end, turn each flat side down, and cut the halves into shreds. You should have about 8 cups.

3. In a large (12-inches or wider), deep frying pan or a wok, heat the oil with the mustards seeds over medium-high heat. Cook for about 3 minutes, until the seeds start to sizzle. Stir in the Brussels sprouts, cumin, salt, turmeric and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes, until the sprouts wilt. 

4. Add the coconut mixture and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more, until the Brussels sprouts are just tender. Taste and add additional salt if needed. Serve hot or at room temperature. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Film Review: GMO OMG

by Sarah Janes Ugoretz
Doesn’t a movie review sound like a fun feature? We thought so too! This week, we’re shining the light on a documentary film called GMO OMG. In this 2014 film, filmmaker Jeremy Seifert sets out to examine an issue that has no doubt been on many of our minds over the last decade or so: Who controls the future of our food? In considering this question, Seifert explores the pervasiveness of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food supply, the lack of transparency surrounding the use of GMOs, and the environmental impacts of GMOs and conventional agriculture—two factors that, at times, seem almost synonymous. While this issue has certainly seen its fair share of exposure, Seifert’s approach is a creative one—in asking these big questions, he does so with his family in tow, road-trip style. 
The father of three young children, Seifert connects the emergence of his and his wife’s concerns over the presence of GMOs in America’s food system to parenthood. Being responsible for feeding small human beings, they quickly began to realize that, once they took a closer look, everything seemed to contain GMOs. The question then became: Who else knew about this? Based on the reactions of various pedestrians Seifert petitioned in one of the film’s opening scenes, the answer seemed to be: Not very many. And so, without further ado, Seifert and his family file into the family’s van and take off—destined for the offices of Pioneer-Hybrid and Monsanto, the Rodale Institute, Seed Savers Exchange, and even Norway’s Svalbard Global Seed Vault. 
It’s clear from the beginning that Seifert is highly skeptical of GMOs and their corporate and, he makes the argument, governmental bedfellows. Due to and perhaps in spite of his unapologetically critical view of GMOs, Seifert reaches out to the corporate executives, seed distributors, and conventional farmers who make up this GMO conveyor belt. Of his many interactions, one in particular stood out to me. During a stop in Iowa, Seifert speaks with a conventional farmer about the use of GMOs in agriculture. Despite his belief that organic farming is a good thing, this farmer insists that the associated low yields makes pursuing this type of production system nearly impossible. “One billion people are living on less than US$1 per day, so if we all cut our production, what are you going to tell these people? You can’t eat?” 
This conversation illuminates two key points—that growing GMOs does not make someone a bad person, and that the corporate “feed the world” argument has largely succeeded in justifying the use of GMO crops. Speaking to the first point, Seifert seems to reflect this in his interactions with and portrayals of conventional farmers. What could have added additional depth to his discussion, however, is a deeper, more realistic consideration for the degree to which conventional farmers are embedded in this mainstream system. Without the skills, knowledge, and government subsidies, farmers likely feel overwhelmed at the thought of transitioning from a conventional to an organic production system—especially if they’ve been operating the same way for a long period of time. If the power balance is ever to tilt in favor of the organic producer, this is one conversation that must be had. In stopping off at the Rodale Institute, Seifert sheds light on the second point. Over the last three decades, Rodale’s researchers and farmers have called into question the argument that organic equates to low yields and instead have demonstrated that organic methods can match and even exceed those yields produced conventionally. If organic production can produce in excess of conventional methods, then why is the majority of corporate and governmental support directed towards conventional producers? 
MONEY! That, in short, is Seifert’s explanation. He draws connections between the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Monsantos of the world, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)—all of which appear to share mutual interests in the expansion and proliferation of GMO technology. One of the more powerful illustrations Seifert draws revolves around the great and rather expensive lengths to which Monsanto has gone to defeat legislation requiring GMO labeling in various states. For example, Monsanto spent US$45 million in California alone to defeat their GMO labeling ballot initiative! GMOs are so pervasive in our food system right now that if you choose not to consume them, you’re basically shutting yourself off from the majority of the food found in the average supermarket. As Seifert says: “Opting out of GMOs today means opting out of culture and tradition.” 
In considering genetic diversity, the use of GMOs constitutes further cause for pushback. For example, in the U.S. 93 percent of crop varieties have been lost over the last century. The mainstream system we are faced with today, Seifert argues, is one that exalts a corporate-run monoculture at the expense of diversity, seed saving and sharing, and farmers themselves. Intellectual property battles, soil degradation and toxic runoff, Roundup resistant weeds and pests—these, Seifert says, are the consequences of such a system. Fortunately, visits to Seed Savers Exchange and Svalbard introduce a note of hope, as Seifert outlines the actions being taken to preserve the genetic diversity that is, essentially, the essence of life. 
In GMO OMG Seifert has, I think, done a decent job in exploring his concerns surrounding the rise and permeation of GMOs. Apart from a few scenes that struck me as overly theatrical, the questions he asks are significant, the corporate-government connections he highlights are concerning, and the perspectives he elicits are thought provoking. That said, I would encourage you to sit down and watch GMO OMG and treat it as a point of departure off of which to further develop your views on this matter. Look to your local library or Amazon for copies, or, if you have Netflix, you can watch it instantly!

Visit the film's website for more information at

Friday, October 31, 2014

Feature: Fresh Baby Ginger

By Andrea Yoder

Ginger growing in the greenhouse
Ginger is a very interesting and unique crop, unlike anything else we grow on the farm. It is actually a rhizome, which is a stem that grows horizontally underground. It produces roots to anchor it and sends up shoots to grow into foliage above ground as it grows and expands. We grow the plant in one of our greenhouses that has a dirt floor. Ginger grows best in an ideal soil temperature of about 65°F, so trapping heat within the greenhouse helps us provide a longer period of warmth so we can maximize growth. Given our shorter growing season, we will never reach a full-sized ginger, so our ginger is actually “Baby Ginger.”

Ginger has thin skin with pink to purple scales
Ginger is used as both medicine and food. As a medicine, it is said to have an anti-inflammatory effect and can sooth a whole host of gastrointestinal maladies. It can also be an effective pain reliever and part of a treatment plan for cancer. It is a common ingredient in many Asian cultures, often pairing with garlic and scallions in Chinese stir-frys or combine it with chiles, lemongrass and a variety of other ingredients to make Thai curry pastes. Ginger has a spicy, warm flavor which also makes it an excellent ingredient to pair with other spices and rich, comforting foods such as sweet potatoes, winter squash, mushrooms, broccoli, etc. It can be used extensively to make beverages, teas, baked goods, stir-frys, salad dressings, vegetable dishes, curries and much, much more!

Baby ginger has a very thin skin with pink to purple scales. You don’t need to peel the thin, delicate skin of fresh, baby ginger. Simply trim away the scales and you are ready to use the ginger. You’ll find baby ginger to be tender, juicy and very flavorful. Baby ginger is excellent to use for making pickled ginger. The leaves and stems also contain quite a bit of flavor. Use them to flavor soups or stocks or steep them in hot water to make tea. You could also use the ginger stems as a stirring stick for a tropical beverage. Fresh baby ginger can be stored at room temperature for several days. For longer storage, you can put it in the refrigerator or freezer.

We hope you have as much fun experimenting with and experiencing the delicious flavors of fresh ginger. We’ve had a lot of fun growing this crop for you!
Brussles Sprouts with Ginger & Cranberries
Recipe by Andrea Yoder

Serves 4
4 oz bacon, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 heaping Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1 small onion, small diced
3 cups Brussels sprouts, halved
Salt & Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup fresh cranberries, finely chopped

1. Heat a medium saute pan over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add the bacon. Cook the bacon until it is just turning golden and is crispy. Remove the bacon pieces from the pan, put them in a bowl and set them aside. Pour the bacon grease out of the pan and into a glass jar. Reserve one tablespoon of the bacon grease. 

2. Put 1 Tbsp of bacon grease back into the pan. Add garlic, ginger and onions and sauté 1-2 minutes or until the vegetables are fragrant and slightly sizzling.

3. Add the brussels sprouts and continue to sauté until the sprouts are tender and browned on the cut side. Remove from the heat and add the cooked bacon and cranberries.

4. Gently stir to combine all the ingredients. Season with salt and pepper.

Ginger Bug
“This is a marvelous fermented concoction that mixes well with a variety of syrups and juices to create carbonated drinks with added ginger flavor. It takes some tending and up to 10 days to really carbonate well, but the tending is very minor…easier than feeding the cat!” –Recipe and introduction by Eugenia Bone from her book The Kitchen Ecosystem.

Yield: 1 quart
1 quart water
1 Tbsp plus 10 tsps minced, unpeeled fresh ginger, divided
1 Tbsp plus 10 tsps unrefined cane sugar, divided

1. Place the water in a gallon jar, leaving about 2 inches of headroom at the top. Add 1 tablespoon each of the ginger and sugar, place a lid on the jar, screw on the band fingertip tight, and give it a good shake. Leave the jar out on your counter.

2. Every day for the next ten days, add 1 tsp ginger and 1 tsp sugar to the jar. This feeds the fermentation, increasing the amount of carbonation. When you give the jar a shake, you will see the bubbles along the top of the liquid, and if you open it, it may really bubble up..and out!

3. After 10 days, strain and pour the ginger bug into bottles and close them with a cap or cork and refrigerate. The ginger bug will hold for about 1 month.

NOTE: You can find additional information about Ginger Bug & how to use it at

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Future of Food Series, Part VI: Carnivore’s Dilemma

by Sarah Janes Ugoretz

In this most recent Future of Food article, Robert Kunzig—senior environmental editor for National Geographic—explores the Carnivore’s Dilemma (or, as I would comically rephrase it: How I Decided to Embrace the Feedlot System and Love Industrial Beef). Kunzig’s guiding question is one that asks whether it’s ok for Americans to eat beef, given what we know about expected population growth, rising global demand for meat, the associated and/or potential environmental and health implications of industrial meat production and livestock’s contributions to global warming. In attempting to arrive at a deeper understanding of this question, Kunzig spent one week in Texas amongst the cowboys, the nutritionists, the veterinarians and the higher-up executives of Cactus Feeders and its subsidiary, Wrangler Feedyard.

In Texas, the number of calves born each year outnumbers babies by a ratio of 10:1, while feedlots the size of Wrangler tend to ship, on average, one million head of cattle to slaughter. The existence of such industrial operations has secured the United States’ place as the world’s leader in both meat production and consumption. Last year, each American consumed an average of 54 pounds of beef, while only allocating 11 percent of their income towards food purchases (though I’ve come across numerous sources—notably, The Economist—that put this number closer to 6 percent). This is to say that we’re able to eat a lot of meat, for not a lot of money. Indeed, that appears to have been the point. Paul Engler, CEO of Cactus Feeders, recounts how his father, who founded the business in 1975, envisioned a world where beef was cheap enough for all. Considering that in 2013, the U.S. produced the same amount of beef as in 1976 but did so by slaughtering 10 million fewer cattle, the elder Engler appears to have gotten his wish.

Efficiency is the commonly held goal amongst the Wranglers and the Cactus Feeders of the world. Cactus’ creed says it all: “Conversion of Feed Energy Into the Maximum Production of Beef at the Lowest Possible Cost.” Indeed, the consensus amongst those that Kunzig cites throughout the article confirms that this level of efficiency is paramount if the U.S. is to meet the rising demand for meat across the globe—a responsibility that Kunzig adopts from the article’s onset. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a place for anything but industrial production in this most humble of quests. Other types of systems appear unable to keep up with the amount of beef needed to satiate demand. Jason Clay, a food expert with World Wildlife Fund, confirms this suspicion, stating: “Feedlots are better than grass fed, no question.” Clay insists that what we really need to do is intensify—to produce more with less.

When it comes to the question of emissions, industrial production systems come out on top again. Pointing to data collected by scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Kunzig explains that cows allowed to graze on pasture produce twice as much methane as their commercially raised counterparts. With more time to belch, expel waste and gain weight, these cows appear to do little more than contribute to global warming. In terms of livestock-related emissions in general, however, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) suggests that we needn’t be very worried. At present, beef production accounts for 6 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. If the world were to abstain from beef entirely, we’d see a reduction in emissions of less than 6 percent. This is because the fertilizer and fossil fuels used in producing and shipping grain would continue to contribute to emissions, since farmers would keep growing grain. But what if Americans in particular ate less beef? Would there then be more grain with which to “feed the world?” The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) used an economic model of the world food system to ask this question and found that, apart from minor benefits, the impact on global food security would be minimal at best. Basically, if Americans were to eat less beef, American farmers would be less likely to export wheat and rice—two staples in the global food chain—to Asia and Africa.

At this point, it appears that Kunzig’s question—can Americans keep eating beef?—has a favorable answer. However, we’ve now reached the topic of sustainability. If feedlots are the model through which we’re to feed ourselves as well as the rest of the world, we must ask how sustainable they are. Kunzig states that this question is too complex to really address in this space, which I think speaks to the major limitations of this piece in general. He does take the time to mention concerns about antibiotic use in feedlots and their possible connection to the development of antibiotic resistance in humans. The environment gets a few sentences, mainly relating to the unclear effects the excretion of antibiotics might have on the environment, and the very real possibility that grain production might succeed in exhausting the Ogallala aquifer by the end of the 21st century.

When all is said and done, however, Kunzig’s conclusion is basically this: “Here’s the inconvenient truth: Feedlots, with their troubling use of pharmaceuticals, save land and lower greenhouse gas emissions.” What Kunzig doesn’t say in this space says quite a lot. He breezes over the issue of ethics and animal welfare when it comes to beef production, and his discussion of the local environmental impacts of feedlots is virtually non-existent. What strikes me most, however, is that despite discussing in detail the various cocktails of hormones, steroids and antibiotics required to keep feedlot cows healthy and able to digest a diet that they’re unable to process naturally, Kunzig doesn’t discuss the superficiality that has become inherent in this type of system. If feedlots are, as this article suggests, the way to ensure that the world gets its meat, then these questions cannot be so quickly overlooked. Kunzig expresses his wish that Americans would stop “reducing complex social problems…to morality tales populated by heroes and villains.” While I agree that too often food system discussions devolve into this “easy way out” conclusion, Kunzig seems to paint a picture that, to people who are concerned with and widely read on this issue, does not give equal weight to all of the major concerns.

I encourage you to sit down with this article and consider your own reactions, but for now, I’ll leave you with mine. In their current state, feedlot systems strike me as far from sustainable. In order to keep pace with global demand, production would need to be scaled way up, which, to put it mildly, concerns me. Alternative production systems are only mentioned in detail towards the end of the article—and briefly, at that—and yet there is great potential in smaller scale grass-based systems, like what we at Harmony Valley are committed to, and in management intensive grazing systems. These models are almost certainly accompanied by an ecological component, in which the environment and the animals themselves are afforded a considerable degree of consideration. While reading this article, I couldn’t help but think of Black Earth Meats, a nearby slaughterhouse that is humane-handling certified and that works with farmers committed to such alternative systems. The contrast between their creed and Cactus Feeders’, which I stated earlier, could not be more stark: “We Honor These Animals, for By Their Death, We Gain Life.” Efficiency is still a concern—after all, everyone needs to make a living. The difference here is that it’s obviously not the be-all end-all goal. I think it is a mistake to conclude that industrial feedlot systems are the only way in which to meet global demand for meat, and I would go as far as to say that attempting to do so would be a deeply regrettable and environmentally costly mistake. You can read the full article online at

Friday, October 24, 2014

We are what we eat….so we better make sure it’s good!

by Farmer Richard

There is a lot happening at the farm this time of year. We’re running a race against time to harvest as much as we can before winter sets in for good. We’re busy planting some of next year’s crops already…garlic, sunchokes and horseradish are just a few. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle, we also have to start thinking ahead to the next season as this is a crucial time of the year to lay the foundation for next year’s crops. The nutritional well-being of our soils and plants is paramount to the success of our crops, our health and yours! Our philosophy has long been to provide our plants with everything they need for healthy, vigorous growth. Healthy plants are strong & can defend themselves. They can outgrow the weed competition and insects are not attracted to them. They are also more resistant to disease. The result is dependable production, higher yields, and food that tastes really good! While this is a basic concept of good organic farming, it is not easy. However, we can attest to the fact that it actually works!

Just as with human health, a lot has to go into the system for everything to function optimally. Right now we’re in the midst of reviewing our annual soil tests. Every fall we take samples from our fields and send them off to a soil lab where they are analyzed for a variety of nutrients and indicators of soil health. One of the important results we always look at on our soil test is the CEC, cation exchange capacity. Simply put, CEC is an indicator of the organic matter in the soil and the soil’s ability to hold nutrients. We are blessed with some very rich soil in our valley. In particular, the fields on our home farm are a soil type known as silt loam. These fields have a high CEC, which we can see on our test results, but also in the quality of the crops that grow in these fields. Soils with high CEC are more resilient and have a more stable soil structure. They hold water and nutrients that can support plants during periods of drought, yet at the same time they drain well during times of excess moisture. We strive to increase the CEC and amount of organic matter in all of our fields. But how?

Organic matter is built by adding compost, growing cover crops, and by supporting microbes in the soil that break down crop residue thereby returning it back to the soil. Many of our farm’s fields are vibrant colors of green right now, as they were seeded to a cover crop earlier this fall. As soon as we finish harvesting a crop we immediately plant a cover crop. This fall we planted a diverse mix of oats, millet, rye, winter peas, vetch and clovers. The purpose of a cover crop is to keep the soil covered and protected from wind and water erosion that can occur over the winter. They also support soil microbial life, capture and hold available nutrients and produce nutrients by capturing sunshine. We have found that cover crops are one of the most efficient ways to maintain and build soil fertility. After the crop is planted, there is no further buying, hauling or spreading necessary. Everything happens right in place in the field. The cover crops will go into the soil to be digested by soil organisms (ie tiny microbes to earthworms) and become food for our next vegetable crop.

Cover crops and soil building are still just part of the big nutrition picture. Our fall soil tests also help guide us in making decisions as to what additional minerals we will apply in the fall for each field. Every year we take nutrients out of the soil in the form of vegetables which we send your way. In order for the complex system to work, we have to make sure we replenish them and provide them with a balance of nutrients to draw from for their critical life processes. So we buy and spread mixed mined minerals to replace the ones that left the farm in the form of food for others. Does this really make a difference? We think so! Minerals and trace elements are key components to many plant and soil processes. If they are not present or are not in appropriate balance, systems do not function optimally and the crop may not have as many nutrients.

While much of our soil building efforts happen in the fall, we also invest in the nutrition of our plants during the growing season by providing them with additional minerals and nutrients at critical stages of their growth. We do this by adding nutrients to irrigation water delivered through drip lines to the roots and also foliar feeding which feeds the plant through the leaves.

Many farmers question whether all this nutritional hoopla is worth the extra effort and expense. As stewards of the land, we feel that it is our responsibility to not just take from it, but to also care for it so it can be productive for many years to come. We also feel that it is our responsibility to grow the highest quality food we can grow. Isn’t the whole point of eating to nourish our bodies? So when we’re asked if it is worth it to spread minerals and compost, plant cover crops or provide additional nutrients, we find it hard to not answer “YES!” Maybe you can taste those nutrients too?


by Andrea Yoder
Tat Soi with Garlic
Tat soi is a unique fall vegetable we look forward to every year, both for its beauty and its flavor. You’ll recognize the tat soi in your box this week as the large, flat, flower-like green. Tat soi is related to bok choi and mustard greens. It has dark green, spoon-shaped leaves that grow from a main base on the plant. The leaves are tender and very flavorful with a mild, sweet mustard flavor. The stem of the tat soi is edible as well and you’ll find it to be sweet and crispy since this is where the plant stores most of its sugars.

We intentionally plant this green late in the season with the intention to harvest it from the field as late as possible. This year it is a little early, but it should survive into November. As the temperatures start to decrease, the plant lays itself flat to hug the ground for warmth. The result is a very open, flat rosette that is a gorgeous deep, dark green. Tat soi is very resilient to cold temperatures and can recover after being frozen. If you see some leaves on the outside of your tat soi that have a whitish hue to them, this is a little bit of frost damage. If you can be forgiving of a few frosted leaves, I think you’ll be very happy with the flavor of this green.

Tat soi can be eaten raw or cooked. As a raw vegetable, tat soi makes a delicious salad. Combined with other veggies such as carrots, beauty heart or daikon radishes, carrots, and cabbage, tat soi only needs a light, simple vinaigrette to enhance its rich flavors. It can also be lightly sautéed, stir-fried or steamed, similar to bok choi. Tat soi pairs well with onions, garlic, mushrooms, winter radishes, carrots, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice, cilantro, toasted almonds and sesame seeds. It adds a wonderful flavor and texture to brothy soups such as hot and sour soup or a basic chicken and rice soup.

To prepare tat soi for use, turn it over with the bottom facing up and carefully trim each stem from the base. Wash the stems and leaves vigorously in a sink of clean, cold water. Remember, tat soi lives very close to the ground so there is often dirt on the stems at the base of the plant. Once the leaves and stems are clean, spin them dry in a salad spinner or loosely wrap them in a large kitchen towel and shake them to remove excess water. If you are cooking the greens, it is a good idea to trim the stems from the leaves and put them in the pan first to give them a 1-2 minute head start before you add the leafy portion. To store your tat soi, place it in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.

Winter Greens Salad with 
Carrot-Ginger Dressing
Recipe adapted from one published in the October 2014 Yoga Journal magazine. 

Serves 4
2 medium carrots, grated (about 1 cup packed)
3 Tbsp sesame oil
⅓ cup sunflower oil
2 Tbsp peeled ginger, chopped
2 Tbsp rice vinegar or apple-cider vinegar
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp honey
Salt & Ground black pepper, to taste
6-8 cups Tat soi, cut into bite-sized pieces

Additional salad toppings of your choosing may include: sliced onions, radishes, nuts or seeds and chicken or fish.

In a blender or food processor, process carrots, oils, ginger, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, soy sauce and honey until smooth. Thin the dressing with ¼ to ½ cup water if desired. Toss the dressing in a bowl with the greens and any other salad toppings and serve immediately. You may also refrigerate dressing in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Moroccan Stuffed Squash
Recipe borrowed from Sara Forte's book, The Sprouted Kitchen-A Tastier Take on Whole Foods.

 Serves 4
2 medium sugar dumpling or festival squash
3 Tbsp coconut oil, divided
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup quinoa
1 (13.5 oz) can coconut milk
1 tsp sweet paprika
¼ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground cumin
2 Tbsp grated lemon zest
2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
3 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
½ cup pomegranate seeds
½ cup feta cheese, plus more for garnish
½ cup chopped toasted pistachios (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Rub 1 Tbsp of the coconut oil on the cut sides of the squash halves and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the squash, cut side down, on a baking sheet and pierce the skin a few times with a fork. Roast for 20 minutes. Flip them over and continue cooking, cut side up, until you can easily poke a knife through the flesh at its thickest part, another 10 to 20 minutes depending on its size. Remove from the oven and let cool.
  2. While the squash are cooking, bring the coconut milk to a gentle boil over medium-high heat, with a pinch of salt and pepper. Add the quinoa, turn the heat down to a simmer and cover. Cook until the liquid is absorbed, 15 to 18 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the quinoa steam in the pot for 5 minutes. Add the remaining 2 Tbsp coconut oil, the paprika, coriander, and cumin to the quinoa and toss to combine. Add the lemon zest, mint, cilantro, orange juice, pomegranate seeds and feta and toss together. Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary.
  3. Divide the mixture between the cavities of the squash. Garnish with a sprinkle of feta and the pistachios. Serve immediately.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sweet Potatoes

by Farmer Richard and Farmer Andrea

First there was the rush to get them planted, then the waiting and hoping game…will they get enough
warm days to form sizeable sweet potatoes? Next came the threat of frost, which for this tropical vegetable would mark the end of its life cycle. We scurried to get covers on them and just in time. Safe from frost and warm under their covers, they pushed through a few more weeks of growing time. Finally, it was time to harvest. After several good, hard days of harvest, over 45,000 pounds of sweet potatoes were safe in the greenhouse! Every year we anticipate the first tastes of sweet potatoes, and they are finally ready!

So where did sweet potatoes come from? Who knew a sweet little vegetable could have such a sordid history and cause so much controversy. The answer is, well– it depends on where you look for the answer. There are a lot of different theories and stories. In our research, we found they have been domesticated for at least 5,000 years. While there are no definite answers as to their origin, which was more than likely South America, it seems they made their way to Europe via Columbus somewhere in the late 15th century. There are references to sweet potatoes dating back to the 16th century in China. Asia and Africa come into the picture in the 17th and 18th centuries. Sweet potatoes are the most widely grown root by quantity in the world, although China feeds quite a bit of them to their animals. (How silly!) Most of the sweet potatoes grown in this country come from southern states and California.

Sweet potatoes are a member of the Morning Glory family, not the ‘Potato’ family also known as the Solanaceae family. It is true that the sweet potatoes pre-date the ‘regular’ potato. Now that we’ve made that distinction, lets tackle the controversy between sweet potatoes and yams. George Washington started calling them ‘sweet potatoes’ to distinguish them from the traditional ‘Irish’ potatoes. The term yam was used to distinguish the orange flesh sweet potatoes from the traditional white flesh sweet potato in Louisiana. Yams and sweet potatoes are not related. Yams have dry, starchy and often white-colored flesh. Sweet potatoes have a more sweet and moist flesh. While both the yam and the sweet potato are considered tropical plants, the sweet potatoes are also a temperate plant. Yams will only grow in tropical climates.

Sweet potatoes are not senescent, which means they do not grow old and die. Tropical countries are able to replant a piece of the vine to regrow them year to year. We ‘propagate’ our sweet potatoes from a new shoot or vine growing from selected potatoes saved from last year’s crop. This does require quite a bit of greenhouse space in April, so we supplement our plants with ‘slips’ from the south. In the warmer climate, they can be produced in outside beds. This year we had a new supplier from North Carolina who is certified organic. It has been challenging to source organic sweet potatoes slips in the past, but this farm sent us a timely shipment of very nice slips. We plant a total of 16,000 slips on raised, plastic covered beds. We used a variety called Covington, which originated from The University of North Carolina. There are really only 3 (maybe 4) varieties of sweet potatoes that will yield well in our area of the North. Thus far, we like the Covington variety better than the Beauregard or the Georgia Jets.

Covers extend the growing season of our sweet potatoes.
Because it was a cool summer, we covered our 2 acre field in September to protect the sweet potatoes from frost and trap heat under the cover. They grew up very well to yield 46,000 pounds of very nice size and shaped tubers. The national average yield is 14,500 pounds per acre, so we are well above that number! Although that number is still below the 30,000 pound average per acre that a good southern grower might get, we are still pretty happy with our yield.

The average sweet potato consumption in the United States is down to about 5 pounds per person per year, although I bet the average CSA member’s annual sweet potato consumption is much greater than this. In the 1920’s that number was closer to 29 pounds per year, which is a huge change. In recent years, the average number is again on the rise, and that is being attributed to a renewed interest in their high nutritional value, including the beta carotene content.

Sweet potatoes curing in greenhouse at high temperatures
and high humidity.
Because the sweet potato is not senescent, it will never develop a thicker skin in the field. We must harvest them with ‘kid gloves’ so to speak and handle them with extreme care until they have cured fully. We cure our sweet potatoes in our greenhouse a full week at temperatures of 85° – 90°F and the same high humidity. This will ‘toughen’ up the skin so they can be easily handled and have a longer storage potential. The curing process also converts the starches in the sweet potatoes to sugars, thereby making them a truly “sweet” potato.

Sweet potatoes do store very well and they are so versatile that it’s hard to grow tired of them! They can be baked, roasted, boiled, pan-fried and even deep-fried. You can dice them up and add them to soups and stews. You can bake them and then scoop the flesh out and puree it. The puree can then be used in baked goods, desserts (sweet potato pie or cheesecake!), breads or as a spread or ingredient for pizza, quesadillas, lasagna, etc.

Because sweet potatoes are part of cultures all around the world, you’ll find many different ways to prepare them. They pair well with a variety of ingredients including apples, oranges, coconut, cranberries and limes. Common spices used with sweet potatoes include cumin, coriander, chiles, thyme, rosemary, chili powder, curry powder and more. Sweet potatoes can be accompanied by a variety of cheese, including Parmesan, fresh goat cheese, gouda or others. One of the most basic ways to enjoy a sweet potato is to simply pop the whole sweet potato into the oven and bake it until it is tender. Cut it open and garnish it with coconut oil or butter and a dash of cinnamon or chile powder. Captain Jack’s all-time favorite way to eat sweet potatoes is sweet potato French fries….hold the spice and add a side of gravy if you really want to win him over.

Sweet potatoes will only get better with time, so don’t feel like you have to eat them all within a week (although it’s hard not to!) The ideal storage temperature for sweet potatoes is about 55°- 60°F. If you want to store sweet potatoes well into the winter, try to find the spot in your home that is closest to this temperature range. Sweet potatoes are sensitive to cold temperatures, so if you don’t have an ideal storage location it’s better to err on the side of a little warmer instead of a colder temperature.

We have a lot more sweet potatoes to come your way. While we have our favorite ways to prepare them, we’re always looking for new recipes. If you have a favorite recipe, we’d love for you to share it with us! You can email them to

Sweet Potato Vinaigrette
Recipe adapted from Lorna Sass’ Complete Vegetarian Kitchen

Yield: About 1 cup
1 medium (8 oz) sweet potato, baked until very soft
¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp sunflower oil
3 to 4 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp maple syrup
Large pinch ground cloves
½ tsp cumin
⅛ tsp cayenne
Sea salt, to taste
¼ cup water, approximately

1. Peel and mash the baked sweet potato. (You should have about ½ to ¾ cup)

2. In a blender or food processor, combine the sweet potato, oil, 3 Tbsp vinegar, maple syrup, cloves, cumin, cayenne, salt and enough water to create a thick but pourable dressing.

3. Taste and add more vinegar and salt as required. Allow the vinaigrette to set for about 15 minutes, then taste and adjust seasonings to your liking. Use immediately or refrigerate in a tightly sealed container for up to 5 days. If the dressing thickens in the refrigerator, thin it with a tablespoon or two of water.

Variation: Add complexity to the dressing by substituting ¼ cup hazelnut or walnut oil for ¼ cup of the sunflower oil.

Serving suggestions: I (Andrea) was intrigued by this recipe and had to give it a try…I would never have thought to use sweet potatoes to make vinaigrette! I recommend using this vinaigrette to dress a fall spinach salad garnished with thinly sliced red onions, chunks of apples and toasted nuts. You could also use this vinaigrette as a dipping sauce or sandwich spread. You might even toss roasted vegetables with this vinaigrette for the last 5 to 10 minutes of cooking time.

Peanut & Sweet Potato Soup
“This Africa-inspired peanut soup is roundly seasoned with spices, enriched with peanut butter, and given a crunchy, aromatic finish with roasted peanuts, cilantro and red pepper flakes.” –Deborah Madison, Vegetable Literacy.

Yield: 6 servings
1 small bunch cilantro
2 to 3 Tbsp roasted peanut oil
1 large onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 (1-inch) piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1½ tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp red pepper flakes
2 pinches of ground cloves
1 cup crushed canned tomatoes
3 cups sweet potato, medium diced (about 1½ pounds)
Sea salt, to taste
½ cup organic peanut butter
½ cup salted, roasted peanuts
Juice of 1 small lime
Red pepper flakes, to taste

1. Wash the cilantro, including the stems, then separate the stems from the leaves. Finely slice the stems and set the leaves aside.

2. Warm the oil in a wide soup pot over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and cilantro stems, give them a stir, and cook until the onions have begun to soften and even brown in places, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric, pepper flakes and cloves. Add the tomatoes, sweet potatoes, 1¼ tsp salt and 4½ cups water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the sweet potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. Stir in the peanut butter. Taste for salt.

3. Puree 3 cups of the soup in a blender until creamy. Stir the puree back into the pot. Or, if you prefer a completely creamy textured soup, puree the whole amount. Taste for salt and stir in half the chopped cilantro leaves.

4. Chop the rest of the cilantro with the peanuts, leaving some texture, and mix in a few pinches of pepper flakes and the lime juice. Ladle the soup into bowls and add a spoonful of the peanut-cilantro mixture to each.