Thursday, October 29, 2015

Fall Flashback

Captain Jack The Dog Assists with Bulldozing
This is the time of year we start working more intensively on our fall “projects.”  In the field this often means clearing away brush and trees, cleaning up field perimeters, moving brush piles, etc.  Regardless of the work, there’s usually a task or two that require the assistance of our bulldozer.  We were reminiscing about this time of year recently and Richard remembered this article where we featured Vern & Ole—the original dozer operators who taught Richard everything he knows about bulldozing.  

This week’s article was originally featured in our newsletter on October 30, 2004.  Richard still has fond memories of working with Vern & Ole.  In fact, just a few years ago we cleared some land and excavated a site to build our house.  Who did Richard call to do the work?  Richard coaxed Vern out of retirement to excavate the house site…just to make sure it was done right.  We always knew Vern was here when we heard the hum of the dozer…as early as 5:30 am!  Vern, now in his 80’s, wanted to get his work done in the cool of the day.  Ole lives and works on a neighbor’s dairy farm.  As you can see, these two gentlemen have embraced the slower pace of retirement.  We hope you enjoy this little trip down memory lane.

—Richard & Andrea

Lessons From Vern & Ole

There is never a dull moment here at Harmony Valley.  Instead of winding down, in the fall we wind UP! We rush to stay ahead of the weather and to get all of our stored roots in before the ground freezes or the crops get damaged from the cold.  This fall has been very cooperative.  Mostly dry days and mostly above freezing temperatures have meant that we could keep the harvest coming.  The coolers are full, we have rented more refrigerated semi-trailers for storage than in past years, and we are ahead of schedule!

But, we have managed to fill up any spare time we might have had with our building projects.  First, we planned a machine shed to keep our more expensive equipment out of the elements and to have adequate space in which to repair them.  Then next to it we will build another greenhouse.  Our existing greenhouses have been too small for years now.  After a couple of drawings and sittings with Richard’s transit we were reminded that there’s very little level land on this farm that we don’t plant to crops.  We’d have to move some dirt from the upside to the down side to make a flat building site.  That’s where Vern and Ole come in.

Vern and Ole are originals.  They have lived in Vernon County for more years than we have memories.  Both should be retired, but neither have seemed to have heard the word.  Vern has been dozing so long that he can remember when he worked on constructing the first airstrips for O’Hare Field.  Knowing their reputations, we called on them for some advice and for their professional skills operating heavy equipment.

Vern and Ole both show up at first light.  They take no lunch break and you know they are around because there is a constant hum of diesel motors and clinking of dozer track.  In a few short days they transformed our hillside and pasture to the north of our yard into a flat, open space.  And the future machine shed and greenhouse across the road have an equally level home marked by stakes and pink ribbons.
     When Richard watches Vern and Ole work their magic with big machines, he stands transfixed.  At first he maybe didn’t understand quite how skilled they were.  Vern took a look at the site, with the fence, some tall, scruffy box elders and cottonwoods and Derek’s (summer farm chef) humble trailer home.  We all agreed, the fence would be removed, then the trees would come down.  But, Vern didn’t think the trailer would have to move at all. There stood Richard, eyes moving from the tops of the trees to the little white camper sitting just yards away, skepticism written all over his face.  Before long Derek was toting his stuff out of the trailer and Brian was pulling it to the other side of the yard.  NO FAITH!  By early afternoon the trees were gone, off in a pile, and the empty spot that had once been the camper’s location remained unscathed, not even a branch or twig rested nearby.  Lesson one had been learned.

For the next couple of days Vern and Ole teamed up; Vern on the seat of the dozer shaving off the hill, and Ole scooping up the dirt with a giant end loader, moving it across the road.  Then Vern began the tedious job of leveling the dirt Ole had hauled.  That’s when Richard learned lesson two.  Years of operating the dozer gave Vern an instinctive eye that really didn’t need the help of Richard’s expensive laser transit.  The transit sat unused until Richard came along at the end of the work to confirm that Vern was dead-on!

One day, before Vern and Ole loaded their equipment back up, we managed to coax them to the lunch table.  Derek had made grilled cheese on his signature sourdough and vegetable stir-fry with carrots, broccoli, parsnips and burdock! Both men ate with gusto, but it wasn’t lost on them that at least one of the vegetables was unfamiliar.  When Richard told them it was burdock, Vern told us a story.

He was hired by an old timer, a Polish immigrant, to “do a little work.”  When Vern arrived, the 84 year old man had already began the job.  He had excavated 1 foot deep all around the foundation of his barn, moving it all with a wheelbarrow and shovel; tons and tons of dirt!  Vern was amazed.  Vern later learned the man’s secret.  Balls of burdock burrs hung in the rafters of his barn.  The man said it was the burdock tea he made with the burrs and drank daily that kept him strong, and not sick a day in his life!  Wonder if Vern and Ole felt especially energetic after Derek’s lunch that day?

Vegetable Feature: Fresh Baby Ginger!

by Sarah Janes Ugoretz

Ginger Growing in the Greenhouse
The wait is over. Baby ginger is here! A member of the Zingiberaceae family, ginger is often referred to as a root, but it is technically a rhizome. This knotted, thick rhizome forms underground, growing downward from the surface, while its narrow, green, flowering stem extends up to 36 inches above ground.

We start the ginger in the greenhouse in either late February or early March.  It takes about 6 weeks just to start sprouting the seed pieces.  We transplant it into our cold frame greenhouse in June.  This location allows us to get more heat gain to give ginger the more consistent, warm climate it requires.  Even then, we will never reach the full potential of the plant before winter sets in, hence our ginger is called “baby” ginger.

Fresh Baby Ginger!
Ginger’s presence has been documented in Asian artifacts dating back 4400 years. Today, its uses fall primarily into the culinary realm, though it is also widely recognized for its herbal medicinal properties. In the kitchen, ginger is a highly versatile ingredient, easily incorporated into sweet and savory dishes alike, from breads and muffins to curries and soups. As a tonic, combine ginger with lemon, honey (and brandy, if you feel so inclined), and enjoy its warm, healing properties. Ginger is often recommended to help alleviate the common cold, as well as a host of other ailments.

There are a few key ways in which baby ginger differs from what you’re most likely used to working with. Texture-wise, baby ginger’s flesh is much more tender and juicy.  You’ll notice the skin is very thin with a pinkish hue.  In its fresh state, you don’t really need to peel baby ginger.  If left on your counter, your baby ginger will slowly develop a traditional thicker, grayish-brown skin.  

Harvesting Ginger
In terms of storage, baby ginger can hang out on your counter for up to one week. We recommend using the stems right away, however. Feature them as stir sticks in fancy cocktails, where they’ll also work to infuse their host liquid. For refrigerator storage, wrap your ginger in a paper towel and stash in a plastic bag in your crisper drawer. For storage that exceeds 1-2 weeks, you can preserve ginger by freezing it.  You can mince or dice the ginger and freeze it in small quantities or you can freeze it in whole pieces.  Simply clean the ginger to remove any dirt, and then cut it into pieces that you would consider to be the amount you might use at one time.  Put them in a freezer bag and freeze until you are ready to use it.  When you are ready to use it, remove a piece from the freezer and let it rest at room temperature for 5-10 minutes before you cut it.  In general, proper storage ensures you’re able to preserve both the potency and the incomparable flavor of your ginger. Enjoy!

Golden Milk

Yield:  2 cups
1 ½ -inch knob fresh baby ginger
One 1-inch knob fresh turmeric or 2 tsp
 powdered turmeric
2 tsp ghee
1 cup full-fat coconut milk
1 cup coconut water
1 Tbsp honey, or to taste

  1. Grate the ginger and turmeric (if using fresh) into a mortar or a bowl.  If using dried turmeric, add it to the bowl along with the ginger.  Spoon the ghee into the mortar or bowl and grind the ghee into the turmeric and ginger with your pestle or the back of a spoon until they form a fine paste.  
  2. Pour the coconut milk and coconut water into a saucepan, and spoon in the paste made with the turmeric, ginger and ghee.  Turn the heat up to medium-high and warm the ingredients together until little bubbles just begin to creep up the sides of the pot.  Turn off the heat and cover the saucepan, allowing the turmeric and ginger to steep about 3 minutes.  Strain the golden milk through a fine-mesh strainer into a tea pot or clean saucepan.  Stir in the honey and continue stirring until it dissolves.  Serve warm.

This recipe is borrowed from Jennifer McGruther.  She featured it on her blog, Nourished Kitchen
(  We enjoy this warm & tasty beverage in the winter months to ward off colds and illness.

Steamed Broccoli with Soy & Ginger

Yield:  4 servings
1 large head of broccoli (approximately 1-1.25#)
2 Tbsp sesame seeds
Olive oil
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
3 Tbsp soy sauce
½ tsp sesame oil
Juice of 1-2 limes
A Thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger

  1. Remove the florets of broccoli from the stem, staying as close to the stalk as possible.  By doing this you’ll be left with lovely small florets of broccoli and the stalk.  You don’t want to throw the stalk away as it’s absolutely delicious to eat, so peel it using a peeler then cut it in half and finely slice it up.  It will now cook at the same time as your florets.  Feel free to either steam or boil the florets and stalk;  just cook them so they’re soft enough but not overdone and mushy.
  2. While the broccoli is cooking, toast and toss your sesame seeds in a dry pan until golden.  Remove them from the pan and then put them to one side.  Add 3 Tbsp of olive oil to the pan, heat it up and slowly fry your garlic until golden and crisp;  like mini crisps.  I find that if I angle my pan so that the oil pools in one side, the garlic will fry really nicely.  Make sure you don’t let it burn as it will taste bitter.  When done, remove the garlic chips with a slotted spoon and put them next to the sesame seeds. 
  3. Now, instead of giving yourself another bowl to wash up, make your dressing in the pan—you don’t need the heat on, so turn it off and let the pan cool down a little. You only need to use about 2 Tbsp of the garlicky oil, so discard any extra, then add the soy sauce and sesame oil to the pan and swirl it around.  Add the juice from one of your limes, then grate your ginger with a fine grater.  At this point taste it—you should have a balance of nuttiness, saltiness and a lovely zing from the lime.  If it needs more soy sauce, olive oil or lime juice for perfect harmony then feel free to adjust to your taste.
  4. Serve the steaming broccoli in a bowl drizzled with your dressing (which you’ll need to keep shaking in the pan before serving so it doesn’t divide), and sprinkle with the garlic chips and sesame seeds—gorgeous!

The voice of this recipe is Chef Jamie Oliver.  He featured this recipe in his cookbook, Cook with Jamie:  My Guide to Making You a Better Cook.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Animal Welfare

by Sarah Janes Ugoretz

Our food choices look a lot different today than they did 70 years ago. Just one or two generations ago—prior to the industrialization and explosion of Big Ag—people living in the United States could feel comfortable assuming that any meat they consumed was raised the old fashioned way—on pasture, and as one member of a relatively small group of animals. But go to a grocery store or a restaurant today, and there are any number of stories that can tell the tale of how your meat made its way onto your plate. In this article, we’re hoping to start a conversation that is driven by one simple query: How do we want our meat to be raised? As we contemplate this question, we’ll consider not only our national production practices, but we’ll also draw in a few examples from around the globe.

For many of us, when the conversation turns to the meat industry and animal welfare issues, certain images may come quickly to mind—birds in cramped cages and “downed” cows, too weak to walk. Documentaries like Food, Inc. and books such as The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food have shed light on the myriad costs—to animals, to the environment, and to our fellow humans—that often accompany the U.S.’ industrial model of meat production. Meanwhile, when we think of responsible eating, we often tend to think of anything but large, feedlot-style production systems.

However, rather than viewing meat production as a binary, composed of either “good” or “bad” systems, we at Harmony Valley Farm look at these practices as falling along a spectrum. At one end, we have a production method primarily guided by a cheap, cram-them-in mentality. Farmers are largely operating within the parameters the U.S. market has set up for them. As we move towards the opposite end of the spectrum, however, we find that animals are afforded more entitlements, albeit to varying degrees. Their cages and pens may be larger, and their diets may consist less of grains and more of grasses and bugs. They may even be so fortunate as to be recognized as sentient beings—capable of feeling emotion and pain—that are deserving of a pleasant life. On this end of the spectrum, animals are typically able to exhibit their natural behaviors. Chickens can flap their wings, roam and scratch. Pigs can socialize, flop onto their sides and forage. Cows, as ruminants, can graze on pasture, interact with their fellow herd members and experience fresh air.

If we zoom out and look at meat production from a mainstream, market-based perspective, however, choosing to treat animals as sentient beings is not yet highly rewarded in this country. Should a farmer choose to operate from an animals-as-sentient-beings standpoint, the burden of this choice primarily falls upon their shoulders and it is not always the cheapest road to travel. As Farmer Richard mentioned to me earlier this week, Harmony Valley Farm’s 15 pigs are all raised on 20 acres of pasture, which gives them the opportunity to freely roam, socialize, graze and root. The vegetable scraps and organic barley and flax they’re given are delivered daily by hand. Although these practices are all in line with pigs’ natural behaviors, this is not the way all pigs are raised.  We prefer to reside on the end of the spectrum where animals are treated with respect for their innate characteristics.  Did you know that cows and pigs like to have their heads scratched behind their ears?  If they trust you and are accustomed to your presence, you can move easily among these large animals!  We recognize the animals we raise for meat are not our pets, nonetheless we treat them gently and with respect so they do not live in fear of human touch or presence.  This creates a much more pleasant environment for them to live in and allows us as animal handlers and feeders to work amongst them more safely.  When an animal is fearful, they will react to that feeling and can do serious damage in an effort to defend themselves.

If we expand our scope and take a look at this conversation in a more global context, sadly we see that the U.S. is fairly far behind when it comes to the welfare of our animals. For instance, a growing number of countries—including the entire European Union and, most recently, New Zealand—have extended legal recognition to animals as sentient beings (McIntyre, 2015). In publicly acknowledging that animals experience both positive and negative emotions, these countries have not only made it easier to prosecute animal cruelty, they have also demonstrated to the world that they are willing to place their morals and the wellbeing of animals above the bottom dollar. In turn, with the support of the government, the market is more favorable to discerning farmers and consumers alike.

Meanwhile, innovative approaches to raising animals can be found worldwide—including here in the U.S. Imagine a piggery (though this set-up works with cows and chickens, as well) that produces no runoff or odor and attracts zero flies. In Mountain View, Hawaii, you’d find such a system. Operating in accordance with Korean Natural Farming (KRN) animal husbandry methods, this system incorporates a layering schema, whereby four feet of bedding—primarily consisting of twigs, logs, and green waste—serves as host to an active microbial, aerobic environment, kept dry by a vented, overhanging roof and an open-sided building plan. The lactic acid added to this system digests the pigs’ waste, thereby neutralizing the smell and maintaining a healthy environment. Once this system is up and running, bedding doesn’t need to be changed, only added to every few months (Prell, 2015). Farmer Richard encountered such a system when he was visiting Germany several years ago. Imagine his delight when he discovered that his hosts had established this set-up directly off of their kitchen! Contrasting this with what we are most familiar with in the U.S.—CAFOs, or concentrated animal feeding operations—is a powerful exercise that demonstrates very succinctly the range that exists along the animal-rearing spectrum we spoke of earlier.

When it comes to animal welfare standards at play in the U.S., broad, sweeping change is possible. However, at this point in time, I would argue that farmers and consumers are primarily on the hook when it comes to working towards this change. Farmers who decide to raise animals humanely, in a system where they can exhibit their natural behaviors, will continue to depend on consumers who choose to opt out of the mainstream, cheap meat mentality—and are able and willing to pay a premium for this. As the world—along with a selection of our own farmers—continues to provide us with examples of what is possible, we can stay strong in our convictions and strive to tip the scales to favor a higher and more just standard for the animals that some of us choose to consume.

McIntyre, S. (2015, May 17). Animals are now legally recognized as ‘sentient’ beings in New Zealand. Independent. Retrieved from

Prell, J. (2015). Better pig farming: Zero-runoff, no-smell, no-fly piggeries. Acres, U.S.A.

Vegetable Feature: Portuguese kale

by Andrea Yoder

This is one of those vegetables that you will likely never find in a grocery store or co-op in this country. This vegetable caught our eye in a seed catalog several years ago.  We only grow it once every few years, so take advantage of it this year and have some fun with it!

You’ll be able to identify this vegetable in your box pretty easily this week. It has large broad green leaves that are mostly flat but do have a little waviness on the edges. The leaves are thick, like a collard green, and have sturdy white ribs. It’s been really fun watching this plant grow—first it forms the large outer leaves, and towards the end of its growing season it forms more of a center head as the leaves curl towards the center. First it resembled collards, now the plants are behaving more like cabbage. We spaced the plants pretty far apart which has allowed them to grow up to 2 feet high and wide in some cases!  It’s quite an impressive plant!

In Portugal, this kale is the key ingredient in one of their national dishes called Caldo Verde. There are many versions of Caldo Verde, but all of them include several basic ingredients that characterize Portuguese cuisine. Some of the ingredients that complement Portuguese kale include potatoes, onions, beans and a spicy sausage (most often chorizo is used in this country). The recipe we’ve included in this newsletter is our favorite version of this Portuguese national soup. We’ve looked forward to eating this soup all year and think this is a great way to prepare this vegetable and you’ll only get to eat it once a year! This soup does freeze well, so make a big batch and put some in the freezer to enjoy later this winter!

One of the interesting things about this kale is that it is a little different from other kales in that the thick ribs can be eaten raw-simply remove the leaf from the rib. Thinly peel off the outer layer of the rib to expose the tender, sweet flesh—very similar to peeling and eating the stem of broccoli. The rib can be cooked separately or eaten raw. The leaves should be cooked. If you slice them thinly, they do not need quite as much cooking time. You should plan to cook the leaves in some kind of liquid—either added to soup, steamed or simmered in a small amount of water or stock. Store your Portuguese kale in the refrigerator wrapped loosely in a plastic bag. We hope you enjoy and appreciate trying this new kale as much as we’ve enjoyed growing it for you!

Caldo Verde-Portuguese Kale Soup

by Chef Andrea Yoder
Serves 6-8
¼ cup olive oil
1 large onion or 2 leeks, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 cup of Portuguese kale ribs, peeled and sliced in ½” pieces
5-6 medium potatoes, peeled and large diced (Purple Viking potatoes are our favorite ones to use in this soup)
8 cups cold water or pork/chicken stock
10 ounces chorizo, diced
4 cups Portuguese Kale leaves, thinly sliced
Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to taste

  1. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions or leeks and cook until they are translucent. Add the garlic and kale ribs. Cook for 3-5 minutes. 
  2. Add the potatoes, and water or stock. Cover and simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender. 
  3. Remove the soup from the heat and take off the cover. Allow the soup to cool for 5-10 minutes. Puree the soup in a blender until smooth. 
  4. Return the soup to the pan and put it over low heat. Add the chorizo, cover and simmer over low heat for about 5 minutes. Add the kale leaves, return the cover and simmer for another 5-10 minutes or until the kale is tender. Adjust seasoning with salt and black pepper to your liking. Serve hot.

**Note: If you’d like to make a vegetarian version of this soup, you can eliminate the chorizo and season the soup with a bit of smoked paprika.

Avocado & Beet Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette

Serves 6
6 medium red or golden beets
Salt and pepper
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, diced fine
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp orange juice
1 Tbsp chopped chervil*
¼ tsp chopped lemon zest
¼ tsp orange zest
2 firm, ripe avocados
Chervil sprigs

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Trim and wash beets. Put them in a baking dish, add a splash of water and cover tightly. Roast the beets in the oven for about 45 minutes, until they are cooked through.
  3. When the beets are cooked, allow them to cool uncovered. Peel and cut them into wedges. Put them in a bowl, season generously with salt and pepper, add the red wine vinegar and 1 Tbsp of olive oil and toss gently.
  4. Put the diced shallot in a bowl and add the white wine vinegar, lemon juice, orange juice, and a pinch of salt. Let macerate for 15 minutes. Whisk in ¾ cup olive oil and stir in the chervil, lemon zest and orange zest. Taste for seasoning.
  5. Cut the avocados in half lengthwise and remove pits. Leaving the skin intact, cut avocados lengthwise in ¼-inch slices. Scoop out the slices with a large spoon and arrange them on a platter or individual dishes. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange the beets over the avocado slices and drizzle with the vinaigrette. Garnish with a few chervil sprigs.

* Note: May substitute fresh tarragon or parsley if you don’t have chervil.

Recipe borrowed from Alice Water’s Chez Panisse Café Cookbook.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Vegetable Feature: Parsley Root

by Andrea Yoder

Parsley Root
Parsley root is an interesting vegetable that we rarely have the opportunity to include in CSA boxes.  We were introduced to parsley root years ago upon request of Chef Odessa Piper who recognized the subtle, yet striking, role parsley root can play in fall and winter meals.  While used more widely throughout Europe, it is not as well-known in the US.  Parsley root is the root of the parsley plant.  While both of these crops have similar plants, there are varieties grown specifically for the root versus the herb.  Parsley root is a challenging crop to grow with a limited market for selling, thus we only plant it every couple of years.  In order to get a nice, straight root, parsley root must be direct-seeded versus herb parsley which is started in the greenhouse as a transplant.  Parsley root seed is very hard to germinate & has a long growing season.  These two factors are what make this crop hard to manage and require an investment in time to cultivate and hand weed several times throughout the season.

Just harvested parsley root, still with green tops
While parsley root resembles parsnips, they are very different in flavor.  Parsley root has a mild parsley flavor and provides a sweet, subtle background flavor to dishes prepared with it.  It can be eaten raw or cooked.  In its raw form, you can grate it on top of a greens salad, or make it the center ingredient in a salad.  Combine shredded parsley root with carrots, diced shallots and toss with fresh parsley and a lemon vinaigrette.  Parsley root pairs well with other root vegetables and makes a delicious addition to soups and root mashes along with potatoes, celeriac, parsnips, etc.  If you enjoy making your own homemade stock, I encourage you to consider investing all of your parsley root into a pot of stock this week.  Chicken stock in particular is elevated to the next level with the addition of parsley root along with carrots, celery and onions—all included in this week’s box!  We have often heard that parsley root is the secret ingredient in Grandma’s chicken soup…which starts with a good stock.

Savor and appreciate this little taste of something special.  It will be a few years before we grow it again!

Red Lentils with Winter Squash & Greens

Servings:  4
1 cup red lentils
3 Tbsp olive oil
¼ cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 inch fresh ginger, minced
¼ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp salt, plus more as needed to taste
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds (optional, but highly recommended)
2 Tbsp fresh lemongrass bulb, minced
1 handful fresh curry leaves (optional—the recipe is great even without them)
1 fresh red chili (such as a guajillo or red fresno pepper), sliced thinly (may substitute a pinch or two of dried pepper flakes)
5-6 cups water
1 cup diced kabocha or butternut squash
1 bunch mustard greens OR 4 cups raw spinach
Fresh lime & Cilantro, to garnish
Cooked Basmati Rice or Potatoes 

  1. Rinse the lentils well using a mesh strainer.
  2. Heat a skillet to medium heat and add the olive oil. Once the olive oil is shimmering, add the onions & garlic. Sauté for about 5 minutes, then add the lentils, ginger, turmeric, salt, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, lemongrass, curry leaves (if using), and the red chili.  Stir to combine, then add 3-4 cups of water, or enough water to bring the level of liquid over the lentils by about ½-1 inch.
  3. Cover and bring to a simmer.  Once the lentils are simmering, remove the cover and add the squash.  Add an additional 1-2 cups of water and continue to simmer until the squash is tender, the lentils are soft, and the mixture looks smoother. 
  4. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the greens.  If you are using mustard greens, wash the leaves and then tear or cut into bite sized pieces before adding them to the lentils.  Simmer for just a few minutes more until all the greens have wilted into the lentils.
  5. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.  Serve alongside cooked basmati rice or boiled potatoes. Garnish with a squeeze of fresh lime and chopped cilantro.  
Beautiful Red Mustard Greens

I adapted this recipe from one originally written by McKel Hill for her blog—  The mustard greens are delicious in this recipe which is quite easy to prepare.-Chef Andrea

Potato & Parsley Soup with Parsley Root

Serves 4 to 6
1 ½ pounds potatoes, peeled
2 medium parsley roots, scrubbed
1 ½ Tbsp butter or olive oil
1 medium to large onion, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
½ cup dry white wine
2 cups chopped parsley
1 ½ tsp sea salt
6 cups water or vegetable stock
⅓ cup cream, or additional water
Freshly ground black pepper
  1. Quarter the potatoes lengthwise and thinly slice.  Grate the parsley roots. 
  2. Melt the butter in a soup pot and add the potatoes, parsley roots, onions and bay leaves.  Cook over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Raise the heat, add the wine, and let it reduce until syrupy. 
  3. Add 1 ½ cups of the parsley, the salt and the water; bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the potatoes have broken apart, about 30 minutes.  
  4. Stir in the cream and remaining ½ cup parsley and heat through.  Taste for salt and season with pepper.  Remove the bay leaves and serve.

Recipe borrowed from Deborah Madison’s cookbook, The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Winter Squash 101- Everything you need to know!

This week, we’re honing in on all things winter squash because, let’s face it, fall is here and that means it’s time to embrace winter squash. Before we get into the specifics of each of the winter squash varieties that we grow, we’ll take a step back and give you a little background about the planning and strategy that goes into getting these squash into your kitchen.

Long before the planting season begins, Farmers Richard and Andrea begin the process of selecting which winter squash varieties to grow in the coming year. For the most part, these decisions are based on a few simple factors: appearance & size, taste & sweetness, and how well it stores. The squash you’ve seen this fall in your boxes or at our market stand all possess this trifecta of ideal characteristics—albeit, to varying degrees.  We also try to select squash that will span the season with some being best shortly after harvest and others that get better with time in storage. 

Winter Sweet Squash
 Once planting season arrives, squash transplants are nestled in along row after row of silver—or reflective—mulch. This practice largely serves as a deterrent to common pests like cucumber beetles and squash bugs. Based on the thickness of each particular squash variety’s shell, their vulnerability to these pests and their razor sharp mouthparts varies somewhat. Typically, however, any bacteria that makes its way into one of these hardly noticeable nibbles inflicted by a cucumber beetle produces a spot. This tiny spot will affect the shelf life of the squash.

Knowing this, we take great care to ‘baby’ each and every one of our winter squash as we handle them during harvest & packing. Using large portable tanks, our crew washes each squash in the field during harvest, a process that removes both dirt and bacteria. This allows us to minimize the amount of handling, which in turn limits opportunities for puncture wounds. From the field, our crew moves the day’s harvest to our warm and toasty greenhouse where they undergo a process of curing and then are held in storage.

Orange Kuri
Whether it be in the field or on the packing line, we keep an eye out for those spots I mentioned before. Any afflicted squash are culled immediately. But alas, the Harmony Valley family can only consume so much squash!  While we deliver squash with nearly every box once fall sets in, you don’t necessarily have to eat it right away.  It’s much easier for you to keep your eye on a few squash than it is for us to monitor thousands of squash nestled into bins.  Once you receive your squash, your job is to keep an eye out for any signs of aging, spots forming, etc. Even if a spot appears on the surface, it is still perfectly edible. Simply cut out the spot and eat that squash or cook it and freeze the cooked flesh. Overall, store your squash in a warm, dry place—like your kitchen table for seasonal décor or your countertop. Do not store squash in the refrigerator or in an uninsulated garage.  They could get chill injury from being in a cold environment less than 45 degrees. It also helps to be aware that the sweeter the squash and the more thin the rind, the poorer its storage ability.  These varieties should be eaten first.

And now, let’s take a look at Harmony Valley’s 2015 winter squash varieties!

 Orange Kabocha 
Orange Kabocha and Orange Kuri: These squash are similar in appearance and use.  Kabocha is rather squat in shape and features a bright orange, dull and slightly bumpy skin. Orange kuri has a similar appearance except it is pointier on top.  Both have a sweet, rich, nutty flavor profile and a chestnut-like texture that is quite similar to a sweet potato, with pumpkin influences. Highly versatile, these can be steamed or baked. If opting for the latter, cut your squash in half and remove the seeds first.  Bake in the oven in a pan with a small amount of water, cut side down.  Thanks to their dense flesh, this squash is ideal for curries, but may just as easily be pureed for your next batch of squash soup.  It’s also a good selection to use in baked goods.

Butternut Squash
Butternut: This winter squash variety has a long and somewhat slender neck and a more bulbous, rounded bottom. We intentionally grow smaller varieties so they can be used in entirety once cut.  Butternut features a mild flavor and a silky texture. Its smooth skin makes it easy to peel using either a vegetable peeler or paring knife. The seeds can either be discarded or roasted and eaten as a fall snack. Butternut can be used in both savory and sweet dishes, from soups and pastas to breads and mashes. Stored properly, butternut will keep for several months.
Honeynut Butternut

Honeynut Butternut: The product of crossing a butternut and a buttercup, honeynut butternut squash are adorable. They more closely resemble their butternut parent, though they’re much smaller in size and feature a rust-colored skin. Honeynut butternut’s flesh is very sweet, with a smooth, non-stringy texture. Their high sugar content makes them ideal for sweeter preparations, though they can also be substituted for regular butternut in any recipe. These little squash are challenging to grow and are not the best keepers.  We delivered them in some boxes over the past two weeks.  If you have one on your counter, we’d recommend you use it soon.
Sugar Dumpling Squash

Sugar Dumpling: Whitish-yellow and green in color, sugar dumplings are small and compact, with ridges that run vertically. Their flesh is sweet and flavorful. Sugar dumplings can be used in sweet or savory preparations and are ideally suited to recipes that call for sweet potatoes or pumpkins. In general, you can halve, quarter or even whole-roast and stuff these little squash. Like honeynut butternut, sugar dumplings aren’t the best keepers. We delivered these several weeks ago.  If you still have some, keep your eye on them and use them within the next few weeks.

Festival Squash

Festival: Festival squash—often called carnival squash—are the product of an acorn-sweet dumpling cross. Yellow or cream in color with green and orange striping, festival squash feature a mild, nutty flesh and a firm texture. This variety is an excellent choice for baking or stuffing. Typically, preparation doesn’t require peeling, but do note that festival’s skin is not typically eaten. This squash will keep for up to one month.

Delicata Squash Tacos, find the recipe here:
Delicata Squash and Black Bean Tacos
 With Salsa Verde and Lime Sour Cream

Delicata: Delicata squash are oblong in shape, with yellowish skin and green striping that runs top to bottom. Their flesh is sweet and creamy—similar to a sweet potato but on the earthier side. Delicata’s thin skin is edible, so there is no need to spend time and energy on peeling. Halve this squash before roasting—or slice it into rings for even faster cooking, taking care to remove the seeds. Partly due to their thin skin, delicata are very poor keepers. These were among the first squash we sent your way.

Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti: Spaghetti squash are oval-shaped and light yellow to gold in color. After cooking, one scrape of its mild flesh will tell you how this squash got its name. Spaghetti squash’s long, noodle-like strands are similar to angel hair pasta—they’re tender and somewhat chewy, but still on the delicate side. In terms of preparation, there’s no need to peel this squash—simply roast and scrape. Due to its very mellow flavor, spaghetti squash are best incorporated into bold, savory dishes where it won’t have to compete for attention—it’ll simply blend in. This squash can also step in as a healthy alternative to pasta. Spaghetti squash will store for about one month.

Cha-Cha Squash

We have a few other varieties you might see in some of the latter boxes.  We have been trialing a few new varieties including a dark green kabocha called Cha-Cha.  The past two years we’ve also grown a squash called Winter Sweet.  This is a unique one in that it is actually better after it has been in storage for several months.  We selected this one specifically because it is one we can store and then deliver in January. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Vegetable Feature: Celery

by Beth Brown-Lucas

Harvesting Celery
Celery is considered by most people to be a kitchen “staple”, much like potatoes, onions or garlic. It is often used more like an herb than a vegetable, being used to flavor stocks and soups or added to a pot roast. It’s also used as a snack food, and who doesn’t love pairing celery with peanut butter and raisins for the classic Ants on a Log?

Celery can be a difficult vegetable to grow. We estimate that we have 40-50% good, harvestable celery out of what we plant. Celery is very susceptible to aster yellows disease. Even with these challenges, we choose to continue to grow a small amount of celery for our CSA and market members. We prefer growing celeriac as it is much more resistant to aster yellows disease.

Celery Bin
Nonetheless, the celery we grow is delicious and has great flavor. We trialed many varieties, and there are not many available. Our celery is grown from seed gifted to us from our friends at Seedway. We are growing two varieties-Tango and Merengo. The Tango is not as disease resistant, while the Merengo has a better success rate. Richard estimates we are able to harvest 60-65% of the Merengo variety.

Fresvindo shows off his celery harvest

When it comes to preparing your celery, you may find it to be a little different than the California celery found at the store. Wisconsin-grown celery has much more flavor! The outer stalks are best used to flavor stocks and soups or roasted with other vegetables. They can also be sliced thinly and stir-fried or tossed with a light vinaigrette in a salad. The inner stalks are suitable for eating raw-try pairing with cheese or, of course, peanut butter! Celery leaves can also be used to add flavor to stocks, stews or a green salad. You could also dry the leaves and make your own celery salt. It’s a very simple process, and there are several tutorials available online to guide you through it. Celery also has a strong enough flavor that it can be the main flavor in a pureed soup, especially with a little cream and bacon! Check out the recipes below for more cooking ideas.

Curried Celery Soup

Servings:  4-6
2 tsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 leek, sliced
5 ½ cups chopped celery
1 Tbsp medium or hot curry powder
1 ½ cups washed and diced unpeeled potatoes
3 ¾ cups vegetable stock
2 Tbsp chopped fresh mixed herbs (parsley, thyme, etc)
Salt, to taste
Celery seeds and leaves, to garnish

  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion, leek and celery.  Cover, and cook slowly for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  
  2. Add the curry powder and continue cooking for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  3. Add the potatoes and stock.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Simmer for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender, but not too soft.  
  4. Remove the soup from the heat and cool slightly before processing it.
  5. Transfer the soup to a blender or food processor and process in batches until smooth.
  6. Add the mixed herbs, season to taste with salt and process briefly again.  Return to the saucepan and reheat slowly until piping hot.  Ladle into warm bowls and garnish each one with a sprinkling of celery seeds and a few celery leaves before serving.

Recipe sourced from The Soup Bible edited by Debra Mayhew.

Mushroom & Celery Salad with Parmesan Cheese

Servings:  6
6 ounces fresh white or cremini mushrooms, sliced thinly
3 ounces fresh oyster mushrooms, thinly sliced
3-4 stalks celery
3 ½ Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 ½ Tbsp finely chopped shallot
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 ounces baby spinach, baby kale or salad mix
3 ounces Parmesan cheese

  1. Lay the mushrooms on sheets of paper towel;  cover with clean, damp kitchen towels.  Thinly slice the celery, and transfer it to a bowl; cover with plastic.  Refrigerate both until you’re ready to assemble the salad.
  2. Stir together the lemon juice and shallot.  Let stand at least 15 minutes or up to 2 hours.  Whisk in the oil until emulsified, and season with salt and pepper.  Toss the mushrooms and celery with the dressing;  let stand 10 minutes.  Divide the greens among plates, and top with the mushroom mixture. Shave the cheese with a vegetable peeler over the top of the salad.

Recipe adapted from The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook:  The New Classics.

The Asa Lift & Its Operator

by Lisa Garvalia

Parsnips being harvested with the Asa-Lift
Living on a farm myself, I have a deep appreciation for the use of good, efficient equipment. One example is the round baler which has taken the place, on many farms, of the need for a square baler. The square baler requires someone to pull the tractor over the windrows, while the baler makes the squares, then the bales are thrown onto the wagon that is attached to the square baler. If the square baler does not have a “kicker” to throw the bales onto the wagon then someone has to manually pick the bales off the field and throw them into the wagon. There is usually someone on the wagon to stack the square bales up neatly in order to get a maximum load on the wagon. When the wagon is full, it is pulled back to the barn by another tractor and the bales are manually loaded on an elevator and dropped in the haymow. There is also someone in the haymow to stack the square bales neatly for maximum storage with less waste. I am tired just writing about the whole process.
The Asa-Lift

Now that I have given you an example of the efficiency that certain farm equipment can bring, let me tell you a bit about the Asa-Lift, our single row root crop harvester. I had the pleasure of hearing about the workings of the Asa-Lift from the main operator, Rafael. One of the most important things that was stressed in my discussion is that the settings on the Asa-Lift must be precise in order for it to operate at its best.  That being said, there are a lot of things to pay attention to so the precision is there. The front of the Asa-Lift has a leaf row cutter that separates the leaves from one row to the next.

Leaf row cutter, plow & torpedo bars
 There is a plow that lifts the plants out of the ground and 2 torpedo shaped bars that rotate and pick up all of the leaves from the plant. A belt grabs the leaves and moves the plant upward out of the ground and toward the topping bar. The dirt is cleaned off the plants from below by rubber fingers, and metal topping bars cut the leaves off the plant. After the leaves are cut off, the produce then travels farther up the conveyer and drops into wood bins. The bins are waiting on a flat rack, or wagon, that is being pulled by another tractor alongside Rafael with the Asa-lift.
Rubber fingers to clean dirt
Asa-Lift harvesting with the 2nd tractor pulling flat rack

In total it takes two tractors, and 4-5 people to make this operation work. Both tractors must travel in synchrony to make this work. One or two people ride on the flat rack to “catch” the produce with the pad and one to pick out the leaves and culls. One person also walks behind the Asa-Lift to watch the operation and pick up any leftover roots from the field. Rafael has many different things to pay attention to when he is operating the Asa-Lift.
He has to make sure that everything is working correctly because if there is one setting even a few inches off, it can either do damage to the crop, plug up the conveyer, or the dirt may not all get cleaned off. Another thing that is always on his mind is the safety of everyone around the Asa-Lift when it is in operation. He likes to work with the same crew as they are familiar with how it should be running when it is working properly and also the things that should be watched for safety reasons. On the tractor with the Asa-Lift is a small square box of controls that is right at the fingertips of Rafael and it runs all of the different components of the Asa-Lift, from the PTO to the pumps to moving the conveyer. Rafael is very keen to listen when the machine is running as he can tell by the sounds if something needs to be adjusted or looked at.  Rafael has a very important job running the machine and he takes it very seriously. If one small thing is overlooked it can cause something big and unpleasant to happen.
Topping Bars

Rafael running the Asa-Lift
Now that I have given you a brief summary on how this machine works, let’s look at what kind of efficiency it brings to Harmony Valley Farm.  When it comes to purchasing tractors and equipment, farmers must take into consideration many different things to justify the expense. Besides looking at the cost, they also look at how the equipment may improve quality of life and time saved.

With the Asa-Lift they can harvest approximately 9 different root crops and they can fill up to 40 – 50 bins per day depending on the produce being harvested. Now if this were to be done manually, it would take 10 people 4 hours to fill 6-8 bins with produce. We still have many crops that involve lifting crates and hand harvest, but whenever possible we use pallet jacks, machinery, and forklifts to harvest and move heavy roots.

The Asa-Lift was purchased from Denmark because no machines are made in this country for small vegetable farms like ours.  Another important benefit of the Asa-Lift is that it can be used at any time, even if there has been a stretch of rain, where manual harvest would be affected. This should give you an idea of why the Asa-Lift is such an important piece of machinery. Besides the time factor, it also saves on back strain that could be caused by all of the manual work that would need to be done.

Bins of celeriac being harvested by the Asa-Lift.
Vicente is on the flat rack catching celeriac and
pulling off extra leaves. Each bin holds 600-800 pounds of roots!
There are many other pieces of equipment that are used on the farm, all of which help to make the job easier and more efficient. The time that is being saved along with the health of the workers is taken very seriously. My hope is that you have enjoyed reading about the awesome Asa-Lift, its operator Rafael, and understand our appreciation of its usefulness!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Harvest Party Recap!

by Beth Brown-Lucas

Captain Jack loved meeting everyone
We could not have asked for better weather for our Harvest Party this past Sunday! It was a beautiful sunny day with temperatures in the upper 70s and there was not even a chance of rain. Our party kicked off at noon with a Mix & Mingle and snacks.

Folks started arriving right at noon, excited to tour the farm and meet their fellow CSA members. Captain Jack was ready, making sure he greeted everybody as they arrived. We had delicious light snacks prepared and everyone raved about the Caramelized Poblano Chile & Onion Dip and Roasted Beet & White Bean Dip made by Farmer Andrea. Everybody mingled & chatted while enjoying NessAlla Kombucha and cold press Kickapoo coffee. We had a few activities planned, and kids tried their best to guess the seeds in the “Name that Seed” game or ringing a pumpkin in the Pumpkin Ring Toss.
In the pepper field

At about 1:00 Farmer Richard began loading the wagons for the farm tour. A few families were already on the wagons in anticipation of starting the tour! We loaded up 4 wagons and made our way down the road. Kids & adults were excited to catch a glimpse of the strawberry field and the rhubarb-we had a great view of the fields below. As we continued on our way to the sweet potatoes, we were also able to see the parsley, daikon and leeks.

The sweet potato digging begins

When we arrived at the sweet potatoes, we were all anxious to get off the wagons and into the field! Richard & Andrea led groups of children in digging the first of the sweet potatoes. Before long everyone was pulling sweet potatoes out of the dirt, and there were plenty to go around. Farmer Richard explained how to tell when a sweet potato is ready to harvest, and how the crew has to cut the vines back by hand when harvesting them. Jose Ramon, Alvaro and Rogelio helped cut the vines & dig the potatoes while our guests helped pull up bunches of sweet potatoes. One party attendee found one of the biggest sweet potatoes anyone had ever seen! It was over 2 feet long!

Now that's a giant sweet potato!
After we finished digging sweet potatoes, our wagon caravan made its way to the next stop- peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos and eggplants. Kids were so excited to pick the mini-sweet peppers and eat to their hearts’ content. Everyone wandered through the rows picking Orange Ukraine peppers, tomatillos, eggplant and some tomatoes. We made sure to tell everyone which peppers were the hot peppers, although a few brave souls tried eating raw jalapeños and lived to tell the tale! We were asked lots of great questions, like “How do you know when an eggplant is ready to harvest?”, “Why are the peppers planted on that reflective stuff?”  and “Do you have extra bags?” Our expert farmers and crew were happy to answer questions and help everyone pick and carry lots of great treats back to the wagons.

Picking the perfect pumpkin!
From there we headed to the main attraction-the pumpkin field! Andrea & Richard helped people find the Cinnamon Girl pie pumpkins and we see a lot of pies and pumpkin soup being made soon. Others wanted the big pumpkins for carving and a few took armloads of pumpkins back from the field. Andrea searched high and low for her special pumpkin carved with her name until somebody called out that they found a pumpkin with “AJ” written on it. Captain Jack’s special pumpkin was never found even though Richard made it very easy this year and just carved “Dog” into the pumpkin.  He wasn’t too disappointed that nobody brought his pumpkin back for him though. After everyone had picked their pumpkins, we loaded up the wagons and prepared to head back for the pig roast. A few adventurous partygoers took a tour of the effigy mounds with Richard while the rest of us made our way back to enjoy the food.

The food was plentiful!

Everyone worked up a good appetite with all the field work, and the pig roast was accompanied by an abundance of side dishes, salads and desserts. So many people commented on how wonderful the food was and went back for second and third plates just so they could sample everything! It’s safe to say that nobody went home hungry.
Thanks for coming to our party!

At the end of the day, it was a very successful Harvest Party. Many people commented that it was a perfect day to visit the farm and that they loved the chance to see where their food is grown and meet their farmers. It was wonderful to meet so many new people, and see long time friends of the farm. A big thank you to all the Harmony Valley crew who volunteered to help with set-up, drive tractors and clean up after the party ended. Thanks to all who attended the party and made it such a fun day. We were so happy to be able to share the day with you and had so much fun showing you the farm and talking with you. We hope to see you next year!

Vegetable Feature: Jicama

by Sarah Janes Ugoretz

Harvesting Jicama
Before we kick off this week’s vegetable feature, let’s cover one thing right off the bat—pronunciation! Our delicious feature this week is jicama, which you can choose to pronounce one of two ways: HICK-uh-mah or HEE-kuh-mah. Also known as the Mexican yam or Mexican turnip, jicama is native to—you guessed it—Mexico! This vegetable is the edible tuberous root of a vine that can grow to be 20 feet in length. The largest recorded jicama weighed in at a whopping 50 pounds! At Harmony Valley Farm, we deal in much smaller versions of this vegetable, keeping them to less than 5 pounds each—a much more manageable amount to work with in your kitchen.

Apart from its brown papery skin, jicama is entirely edible. The creamy white flesh is firm, sweet and slightly starchy with a very distinct crunch. Thinking of jicama as a savory apple, as TheKitchn describes it, may help in classifying this unique food that many of us may have had limited exposure to.

Jicama is typically enjoyed raw, though it can be sautéed or stir-fried and still retain its crunch. To prepare, begin by peeling the skin. Using a chef’s knife, remove a thin slice from the top and bottom of your jicama in order to create a flat surface on each end. Working from top to bottom and following the curve, carefully slide your knife under the skin to remove it. Once peeled, you don’t need to worry about removing any seeds as the entire interior portion is edible.  Jicama is often served in very simple preparations such as salads, slaws, salsas or just eaten raw on a vegetable tray.  It pairs well with citrus fruits, peppers, avocado and cilantro.

The jicama harvest begins! 
Unlike apples and other fruits, jicama doesn’t oxidize (turn color) once its flesh has been exposed to air. Store half of your jicama in the fridge for later use and all you’ll need to do is remove the thin layer of exposed flesh that has become somewhat dry. In general, store your jicama loose in a cool, dry place at room temperature where it should keep for about 2 to 3 weeks.  The storage for jicama is similar to sweet potatoes.  They are actually subject to chill injury at temperatures less than about 50 degrees.

While it’s challenging to grow jicama in the Midwest, we’re continuing to learn about growing this crop in Wisconsin.  One of our employees, Jose Antonio Cervantes Gutierrrez, introduced us to this crop several years ago with a small handful of seeds he brought from home.  After some experimentation, we’ve finally figured out how to pull off this crop with success.  We use a combination of an early start in the greenhouse and the use of plastic mulch to trap heat and increase the soil temperature to create a microclimate more similar to the ideal growing conditions for this crop.  We hope you enjoy this little taste of the tropics!

Jicama Sticks with Chile & Lime 

(Botana de Jicama con Chile y Limon)

Servings: 6
1 pound jicama, peeled
Juice of 2 limes (about ¼ cup)
Juice of ½ bitter orange (about 1 Tbsp), optional
1 Tbsp distilled white vinegar
¼ tsp ground dried chile, cayenne or red pepper flakes
¼ tsp salt
⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp finely chopped cilantro, optional
1 tsp sugar, optional

  1. Cut the jicama lengthwise into ½-inch thick slices, then cut the slices into ½-inch wide sticks. 
  2. Place the sticks in a medium bowl and toss with the rest of the ingredients.  Arrange in small 2-ounce shot glasses, standing them up like breadsticks, and moisten with the juices of the marinade.

This is a traditional way to enjoy jicama in Mexico and is a common street food offering.  This is Maricel Presilla’s interpretation of this method of preparation that is featured in her cookbook, Gran Cocina Latina.