Thursday, September 29, 2016

Vegetable Feature: Celery

By Andrea Yoder

     Last week the featured vegetable was celeriac, otherwise known as celery root. This week we are featuring its familiar cousin, celery. While these two vegetables are similar, they have some distinct differences. Celery is grown for its stalks above ground while celeriac is grown for its root. If you’ve never had celery grown in Wisconsin, you are in for a treat. It’s remarkable how much better it tastes than the celery grown in California!
     The celery in your box this week may look a little different than the celery you may be accustomed to seeing in the grocery store. Celery is actually a fairly large plant. It has a center core and section of stalks which are the portion of the plant most commonly eaten. Around this center, the plant sends up smaller stalks which actually cover up and shade the center from the sun. This results in blanching the center core which means it is lighter in color than the stalks in the outer portion. Normally these smaller stalks are trimmed away at the time of harvest, but this outer celery is completely usable and very delicious! So, we asked our harvest crew to leave the outer portion intact and we chose to send you the whole thing! All you need to do is cut the stalks off the main base and wash them well. Don’t discard the leaves, they too are edible and contain a lot of flavor. They can be added to stock or soup for flavor. You can also use them to make celery salt or you can make celery pesto!
     Celery is often used as a background flavor and ingredient, but seldom is it the star of the show. It is a staple ingredient used in the classical method for making stock, but is also often used to add background flavor to soups, braised meats and some fall and winter salads. It is cool and refreshing with a crunchy texture.  Celery pairs well with butter, olive oil, cream, walnuts, Parmesan, cheddar, blue cheese, pears, apples, olives, capers, potatoes, carrots and herbs including parsley, dill and cumin.
     Slice it thinly and add it in a salad or quickly stir-fry the thin slices and then drizzle with toasted sesame oil. Celery is also a delicious ingredient in fall and winter soups. It can be used to round out the flavor when combined with other vegetables, or make it the featured vegetable in preparations such as cream of celery soup.
     Store celery loosely wrapped in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer. It will keep for several weeks.

Chunky Celery Soup

Yields: 6 servings

1 large onion
Photo borrowed from Heidi Swanson's blog
1 large potato
3-4 small to medium carrots
10 medium-length stalks of celery, washed well
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
5 cups of lightly-flavored, great tasting, vegetable broth (or water)
2 cups cooked wild rice, brown rice, barley, or wheat berries
⅓ cup celery leaf pesto (optional, see recipe below)
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated (optional)

1. Chop the onion, potato, carrots, and celery into pieces that are about ½ inch or smaller. Do your best to cut everything roughly the same size, this will keep cooking time across the ingredients somewhat uniform. You should end up with about 2 ½ cups of chopped celery.
2. In a large thick-bottomed soup pot over medium high heat combine the olive oil, onion, potato, carrots, celery and a few big pinches of salt. Sauté for about ten minutes or until the onions and celery soften a touch and expel some water. Stir in the garlic and add the stock. Bring to a simmer and let cook for another 10 minutes or until the celery, carrot and potatoes are just cooked through - resist the urge to over cook them into mush. 
3. Stir in the rice a few minutes before the potatoes and carrot are cooked though. Remove the soup from the heat and ladle into soup bowls. Top each with a generous drizzle of the celery leaf pesto (optional) and/or some Parmesan cheese.

Photo borrowed from Heidi Swanson's blog
Celery Leaf Pesto

1 cup (lightly packed) celery leaves
1 large clove of garlic
¼ tsp salt
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1. Purée all of these ingredients in a food processor for about 30 seconds.

Recipe borrowed from Heidi Swanson’s blog,

Thursday, September 22, 2016

“Kids on the Frontline”

Photo borrowed from Pesticide Action Network Website
By Andrea Yoder
     In May of this year, the Pesticide Action Network North America (PAN) released their report, “Kids on the Frontline:  How pesticides are undermining the health of rural children.”  The purpose of this report was to look at how pesticide exposure is impacting the health of children, specifically children in rural areas where agricultural pesticides are used. All children, regardless of where they reside, are vulnerable to pesticide exposure. Residues may be on their food and they may be exposed to applications of pesticides in schools, parks and even their own homes. Children in rural areas are also exposed in these ways, however they have additional exposure to pesticides in their environment through drift, water contamination and pesticides that may be brought into their homes on clothing of a family member who applies the chemicals to name a few.
     “…Since 1945, overall use of pesticides has grown from less than 200 million to more than 1.1 billion pounds of ‘active ingredient’ per year…”  Additionally, there has been a 289 percent rise in global pesticide sales between 2000 and 2010 with worldwide sales expected to climb from $44.2 billion in 2010 to $68.5 billion in 2017. The authors state:  “…we control pesticides through a system of registration and labeling, with a primary goal of getting products to market. The result?  Each year, more than 680 million pounds of pesticides are applied to agricultural fields across the country. This 2007 figure climbs to more than a billion when common non-agricultural pesticide uses are included.”  To this they respond with, “We believe this is too much. Ever-stronger science shows that even at low levels of exposure, many of these chemicals are harmful to human health—and children’s developing minds and bodies are particularly vulnerable. It is also increasingly clear that alternative, less chemical–intensive approaches to farming are not only viable, but would strengthen the resilience of agricultural production… Put simply, there is no need for our food and farming system to put our children’s health at risk from chemical exposure.”
     This report outlines some key findings about the connection between pesticide exposure and children’s health. We continue to see a rise in childhood health problems including autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as well as other developmental disabilities. “The number of ADHD diagnoses has increased an average of three percent every year from 1997 to 2006, and an average 5.5 percent per year from 2003 to 2009 for an overall rise of nearly 50 percent over 15 years.”  The CDC estimates one in every 68 children in the U.S is on the autism spectrum which represents a 123% increase in just ten years! Leukemia and brain tumors are now the most common types of childhood cancer with rates increasing between 40 and 50 percent since 1975. In many rural communities, the rates of these childhood morbidities are greater than the national averages. It’s important to recognize that children’s bodies are different. “Quickly growing bodies take in more of everything:  they eat, breathe and drink more, pound for pound, than adults…At critical moments of development, even very low levels of pesticide exposure can derail biological processes in ways that have harmful, potentially lifelong effects.”  That final statement, “lifelong effects” is a strong one.
     You should know, Richard and I take this topic and those related to it very seriously. Partly because we believe fully in farming organically because it is a safer option, but also because we were both “kids on the frontline.”  Richard grew up on a cattle farm in South Dakota. His job as a teenager was to spray 2,4-D on the thistles in the fields. His spray protective gear consisted of a pair of leather gloves.  I grew up on a dairy farm in Indiana where my family and our neighbors used atrazine and later glyphosate on our fields and those throughout our community. When I look at maps of the U.S. that depict pesticide use and amounts across the country, Indiana is always a solid color indicating high levels of use. It makes me shudder and my heart skips a beat…not out of joy and excitement, but more of panic, anger and a feeling of urgency. We often talk about the potential of a seed. When we receive a seed into our care it is our responsibility as farmers to do everything we can to help that seed reach its full potential. At any point along the way our choices can either make a positive or a negative impact on the final outcome. I think it’s very much the same with children. It’s our responsibility to pave the way for the future generations. The bottom line…how long are we going to let history continue to repeat itself before we collectively say “ENOUGH!”
     Unfortunately our current system of agriculture is controlled largely by multinational entities who have their hands on all aspects of the production system from selling the seeds to the chemical inputs as well as setting the research agendas at public institutions. “Not surprisingly, these same corporations also hold significant sway in the policy arena, investing millions of dollars every year to influence voters and policy makers at the local, state and federal levels…The result is a system of food and farming that serves  the interests of these corporations well. It does not, however, adequately protect public health or serve the common good.”  The introduction of GMO seeds and the pesticides that go along with them was supposed to lead to less chemical use, but it is clear this is not the case. My own father made this observation on his farm. “The more chemical we used, the more weeds we had and the more chemical we had to use.”
     So where do we go from here?  PAN’s recommendation is this: “The best way to protect children from pesticide harms is to dramatically reduce the volume of use nationwide. We believe this shift is both achievable and long overdue. The burden of protecting children from dangerous chemicals cannot rest with individual families; policy change is required.”  First, reduce overall pesticide use by making this a national goal. Once this goal is in place, policy makers can work towards implementing strong policies to help us achieve this goal. Secondly, we need to prioritize action on pesticides most harmful to children by phasing out the “worst” chemicals, creating protective buffer zones and ensuring healthy school lunches made with organic food. Lastly, as a nation we need to “provide significant and meaningful support, incentives and recognition for farmers stepping off the pesticide treadmill. These commonsense measures are both ambitious and achievable. The current, continuous increase in pesticide use ignores accumulating scientific evidence of human health harms. This is unacceptable.”  They conclude their report with this statement:  “It will take strong public pressure to make the significant changes needed, but the time is ripe to muster the political will to build a truly healthy, thriving food and farming system.”
     In the meantime, it’s important to remember we can be that public pressure. Our individual choices can add up to collective change. The choices we make in our own households and communities bring strength to this big picture. Increasing our awareness of our environment and making choices for our own health by choosing organic food, safer means of lawn care, household pest control, and advocating for non-toxic management of public green spaces, etc. These are just a few things we can do as individuals. If you’d like to read this report for yourself, it can be downloaded from and is complete with all cited resources.

Vegetable Feature: Celeriac

By Chef Andrea

     Celeriac, or celery root as it is also known, can be a bit intimidating if you’re encountering it for the first time. However, as with all vegetables, there’s really no need to be intimidated…it’s just a vegetable and it can be conquered and embraced. Celeriac is in the same family as celery. The difference is that celeriac is grown for its root and celery is grown for its stalks. The stalks on celeriac resemble celery and have a lot of delicious flavor in them. You will find they are more tough and fibrous than celery, thus they are not eaten like celery. Don’t throw them away though! Their flavor can add depth to a pot of stock or soup. If you aren’t going to use them all now, put them in the freezer and use them later this fall or winter.
     Now for the root bulb. First, scrub the exterior of the root the best you can. Next, thinly slice away the top and bottom of the root so there is a flat side on the top and the bottom. You’ll probably need to take a little more off the bottom to get past the majority of the roots and get into the more usable bulb portion of the root. At this point I usually cut the root in half or into quarters so it is easier to handle. Using a paring knife, carefully trim away the outer skin. Once you’ve removed the outer skin, rinse the remaining pieces of celeriac and clean your cutting board if there’s any residual dirt. Now you’re ready to use this gem!
     Celeriac has a subtle celery flavor that provides a background to soups, stews and root mashes. It also makes a delicious soup or gratin on its own or combined with potatoes or other root vegetables. It can also be eaten raw in salads and slaws paired with other fall fruits and vegetables and a simple creamy dressing.
     Celeriac stores quite well. Keep it in your refrigerator loosely wrapped in plastic or in the crisper drawer until you’re ready to use it. Enjoy!

Maple-Bacon Roasted Apples & Celeriac

Yield: 4 Servings

1 large celeriac, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
¼ tsp salt
2 apples, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 slices bacon, chopped
¼ cup pure maple syrup
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme or rosemary or ¼ tsp dried

1. Preheat oven to 450 °F.
2. Toss celeriac with oil, pepper and salt and spread on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until starting to brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Add apples, toss gently and continue roasting until the apples and celeriac are tender, 6 to 10 minutes more.
3. Meanwhile, cook bacon in a medium skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until just crispy. Remove to a paper-towel-lined plate with a slotted spoon; discard all but 2 tsp of the bacon fat. Add maple syrup to the fat in the pan and bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits. Add the cooked bacon and thyme (or rosemary). When the celeriac and apples are tender, gently toss them with the maple-bacon glaze and roast for about 5 minutes more. 

Recipe borrowed from

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Harvest Party 2016: An Official Invitation from Your Farmers

By Farmer Richard & Andrea

     Our Harvest Party is coming up in just a little over a week! We hope you’ll join us for the festivities on Sunday, September’s going to be a lot of fun! In our late summer newsletters we’ve been talking about forming a connection with nature and learning more about the source of your food. Well…now is your chance to visit your farm and see for yourself! The festivities will start at noon and will wrap up by 5 pm...leaving enough time to journey home and tuck the kiddos in for a good night’s rest before school the next day (trust us…they’ll sleep well after an afternoon at the farm). If you’d like to make a full weekend out of it, we’d love to share our campground with you! Spend a night under the stars in our valley. Listen to the flow of the river, the croaking bullfrogs, the owls talking in the distance and maybe even a little chatter from the coyotes.
     So what’s on the agenda? Pumpkins, of course! Our field tour will end in the pumpkin patch where you will find more than enough pumpkins for everyone. We have an assortment of pumpkins including warty knuckle-heads, Jack-O-Lanterns with nice handles, and even some pie pumpkins. But before we get to the pumpkins we have a few other stops. The Harvest Party is never complete without a stop in the sweet potato field. We have been checking them and they look pretty good…but still a little small. I’m anxious to see what we find after another week of growing. We’ll have to strip the vines and dig down to find them, so be ready to get your hands dirty! We’ll make a stop in the pepper and eggplant field as well. Here you’ll have the opportunity to pick the final fruits of the season. Make sure you bring a bag to carry away your vegetable treasures! In between the peppers and pumpkins we have a beautiful field of fall carrots. If you’ve never eaten a carrot just pulled out of the ground, then you are in for a treat. You might even find some yellow and purple ones!
     We always enjoy spending time with our CSA members as we tour the fields. Over the years we’ve engaged in some very interesting conversations about farming, eating local foods, etc. This is your time to pick our brains, ask questions about the things you are seeing in the fields or anything else that’s on your mind. Several weeks ago Bobbie wrote an article about our area, referred to as The Driftless Region. We encourage you to read that article before you come to the farm and pay attention to the landscape as you approach. It truly is a unique region with beautiful landscape and some real treasures, such as the effigy mounds we found last fall on our own land!
Photo Courtesy of Sonic Love Child's Facebook Page
     We’ll have plenty of activities for you to take part in and enjoy. Sonic Love Child, a group of musicians from the Twin Cities will share their talents as they play a variety of music including American folk, classic country, vintage pop and some originals. Sandy Syburg will be here from Purple Cow Organics with his SoilMobile. We introduced you to Sandy in last week’s newsletter. We encourage you to visit him and his SoilMobile to learn more about just how important soil is to our well-being. He’ll have veggie tattoos for the kids and you can even take a selfie with his Purple Cow mascot!
     Of course we’ll have plenty of delicious food to enjoy. We’ll have some light snacks before we head to the field including our favorite Caramelized Poblano Chile & Onion Dip. We have a special batch of Watermelon Kombucha to share with you, courtesy of NessAlla. Back by popular demand, we’ll be mixing up a batch of Iced Maple Latte featuring Kickapoo Coffee, milk from Castle Rock Organic Dairy and maple syrup from Alvin Miller. After we work up an appetite in the fields, we’ll return to the home farm for a potluck! It’s always fun to see our vegetables come back to the farm in the form of delicious salads, casseroles and such prepared by our members. We’ll also be serving HVF pulled pork and a big pot of vegetarian black beans featuring some of our late summer peppers and onions.
     Over the years we’ve heard a lot of positive comments from members who’ve visited the farm. Their day at the farm has left them with fond memories of playing in the fields, interacting with the animals and enjoying picking and eating vegetables right out of the fields. Children have changed their eating habits after they have had the opportunity to form a connection with “THEIR” farm. The experience of digging in the dirt, harvesting their own food and sitting on the tractor with their farmer are formative experiences that have a lasting impact. If nothing else…Farmer Richard has 7 new ducks including 2 setting hens who have eggs that should hatch around September 20. Richard’s pretty proud of his ducks and is hoping to have some ducklings to show you at the party!

Vegetable Feature: Leeks

By Chef Andrea

     I like the way Deborah Madison opens the section on leeks in her book, Vegetable Literacy. “Leeks embody the delicate side of the allium tribe, adding more of a whisper and less of shout when it comes to the onion flavor.”  While leeks are in the same family with onions, shallots, etc, they have a more subtle flavor and softer aroma. They have less sugars than onions do, so they really don’t caramelize like onions. Rather, leeks should be cooked more delicately using lower heat and a longer cooking time to soften the leek. It’s better to sweat the leek gently which will yield a soft, silky texture.
     Leeks have a long white shank with a bluish-green “flag” like top. The shank is made of many thin layers and is the portion of the leek most often used. However, the green portion on top is equally edible and at the very least should be added to stock for flavor. Throughout the growing process, dirt is hilled up on the leeks to cover and blanch the shank. As a result, dirt may get between the layers. While you need to take care to carefully clean the entire leek, the upper portion may have a bit more dirt between the layers and may need a little more attention. I find it easiest to wash the exterior of the leek and then slice it. Place the leeks in a sink of clean, cold water and swish them around to remove any dirt. Remove the leeks from the water and place in a colander to drain. If there isn’t much dirt between the layers, you may also just place the sliced leeks in a colander and rinse them.
A traditional use for leeks is to make Leek & Potato Soup, of which there are many variations. Leeks pair well with potatoes, fennel, cabbage, celery, celeriac, apples, lemons, thyme, parsley and tarragon to name a few. Other ingredients that complement leeks include butter, olive oil, hazelnuts, walnuts, cream, eggs and cheese. Leeks may be used in soups, gratins, as a base for roast chicken or simply poached or sautéed and eaten as a side dish or drizzled with a simple vinaigrette for a nice fall or winter salad. Store leeks in the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks.

Spaghetti Squash and Leek Skillet Gratin

Serves: 4-6 servings
3 ½ cups thinly sliced leeks
2 cups cooked spaghetti squash
1 tsp dried thyme
1 Tbsp olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
2 Tbsp butter
¾ cup diced sweet peppers
½ cup white wine
¼ cup heavy cream
2 oz cheese (smoked cheddar, gouda or sharp cheddar), shredded
Salt, 1 tsp plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. First, preheat the oven to 350°F.  
2. Next, place the thinly sliced leeks in a colander and rinse thoroughly.  Shake off as much excess water as you can.  Set aside.
3. Prepare the spaghetti squash.  Place the cooked spaghetti squash flesh in a bowl and mix in 1 tsp dried thyme, ½ tsp salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Set aside.
4. In a 10-inch oven proof skillet, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic and mushrooms and saute until the mushrooms begin to soften.  
5. Once the mushrooms are soft, add 2 Tbsp butter to the pan and allow it to melt.  Add the leeks, sweet peppers, ½ tsp salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Stir to combine and continue to cook. Keep the heat at medium-low and slowly sweat the leeks and peppers until they are soft and there is little moisture in the pan.  
6. Add the white wine and increase the heat just a tad.  Simmer until only a small amount of moisture remains in the pan.  
7. Once the wine has reduced, add the heavy cream to the leek mixture and bring it to a simmer.
8. Spread the spaghetti squash mixture evenly on top of the leeks.   Sprinkle the shredded cheese on top.
9. Place in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is golden on top.  Remove from the oven and serve warm.

Add Eggs:  After you spread the spaghetti squash on top of the leeks, make 4 shallow indentations in the squash.  Crack an egg in each and then sprinkle the cheese on top.  Bake in the oven until the cheese is golden, the egg whites are cooked through, but the yolk is still soft.
Add ground pork:  Brown 8 oz of ground pork in the skillet first.  Remove it from the skillet and set aside.  Proceed with the recipe as written.  After you add the heavy cream (Step 7), mix the ground pork into the leek mixture.  Proceed with the rest of the recipe as written.
Add chicken:  Mix 1-2 cups cooked, diced chicken into the leek mixture after you add the heavy cream (Step 7).  Proceed with the rest of the recipe as written.

Recipe by Andrea Yoder

Leek & Potato Soup

Serves: 6 servings

2 pounds leeks
3 Tbsp olive oil or butter
1 Tbsp chopped thyme
1 bay leaf
1 pound potatoes
6 cups chicken stock
Salt, to taste
Champagne or white wine vinegar (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp chopped Italian parsley or chives

1. Prepare the leeks:  Trim off the root ends and the tough upper green tops.  Halve the white part of the leeks lengthwise and then, without cutting through the root end, cut lengthwise into ¼ inch-wide strips.  Then cut the leeks crosswise into ¼-inch dice.  Wash the diced leeks thoroughly in a large basin of cold water. Once the dirt has settled, scoop them out with a sieve or strainer.  Drain and set aside.
2. Heat a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat.  Add the olive oil or butter, followed by the leeks, thyme and bay leaf.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are tender, about 10 minutes.  Peel the potatoes and cut them into ¼-inch dice or slices.  Add the potatoes to the pot and cook for 3 to 4 minutes.  Pour in the chicken stock, season with salt, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to maintain a low simmer, and continue cooking until the potatoes are tender, but not falling apart.  Taste for salt and adjust as needed.  Let the soup cool to room temperature, and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
3. Before serving, remove the bay leaf and reheat the soup over medium heat and taste again for salt.  If you like, add a splash of champagne or white wine vinegar to sharpen the flavors.  Ladle the soup into warm serving bowls.  Finish with a few grinds of the peppermill, and garnish with chopped parsley or chives.

Author’s Notes & Variations:  
- Vegetable soups often taste best several hours later or the following day.  If time allows, make ahead and reheat gently before serving.
- Remove the bay leaf and puree the soup before serving.  Garnish with small fried croutons along with the herbs.
- Stir in ⅓ cup heavy cream before serving.

Recipe borrowed from Alice Waters' cookbook, In the Green Kitchen.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The SoilMobile...Come see it for yourself!

By Andrea Yoder

     We’re moving into that point in the season that Farmer Richard likes to refer to as the “the crack between two worlds,” otherwise known as fall. Summer crops are winding down, fall crops are starting to come in and before long we’ll be harvesting the final crops for winter storage. This is also the time when Farmer Richard makes it a priority to “put the fields to bed for the winter.”  This means applying generous amounts of compost and planting cover crops. So why is this such a priority?  First of all, we don’t like to leave fields vulnerable to erosion by leaving them barren over the winter and the cover crops help keep the soil in place. The other reason cover crops and compost are high priority is because they help replenish and build the soil. The combination of cover crops and applications of compost are vital to ensuring our soils remain rich, full of biodiversity, and have bioavailable nutrients in place for next year’s crop.  Soil is nothing to take for granted…it is literally our life source, and it directly impacts our survival. So, as we set out, year after year, to grow food for you and your family, we take great care to ensure we are doing what we can to enrich and care for our soil. We admit, we’re still learning. Yes, after over 40 years of farming Richard is still learning about how to care for our soil! The bottom line is not all soil is created equally, and it’s just one more reason why it’s so important that we all understand where our food comes from, how the soil it grows in is cared for and form that connection between our food choices, our health and well-being and the environment.
     Our Harvest Party is coming up on September 25, and we’d like to introduce you to one of our friends who will be joining us for the day, Sandy Syburg. You’ll know Sandy when you see him…he’ll be the guy with a smile on his face talking about soil, compost, microbes…oh, and he’ll be standing beside a big bus with a purple cow on the back, a farm scene painted on the side, and quotes about soil written all over the outside of the bus.  Sandy is the President/Co-Founder of Purple Cow Organics, located in Wisconsin, and what I just described to you is Sandy’s SoilMobile. We have worked with Purple Cow for several years now. They make all of the potting soil we use to grow our transplants in the greenhouse and for the past two years we’ve purchased compost from them by the semi-truck load to put on our fields in the fall. We’ve invited Sandy to come to the Harvest Party with his SoilMobile, not because he’s looking to sell you potting soil or compost, but because he has a passion for soil and wants to help others learn more about how important it is for all of us…not just farmers! Sandy’s SoilMobile is actually a repurposed school bus that runs on alternative fuel. 2015 was declared the “International Year of Soils,” and Sandy had the idea to use the SoilMobile as a tool to bring attention to this important topic. Sandy toured around the Midwest in this bus with an educational mission to share this important message:  “The key to life as we know it is healthy soil, and if a nutrient is missing from soil it is not in the food we eat. Plants take nutrients from soil, and our soils are often depleted of the nutrients that plants, animals and humans need. Therefore our soil needs to be rejuvenated.”  Among Sandy’s messages: … “instead of loading soil with chemical fertilizers to make up for nutrients, microbes and organic matter lost over time, replace them organically. It can take hundreds of years to create just a small plot of healthy soil and less than two decades to destroy its usefulness. With soil under siege, everyone should be involved in learning and implementing ways to improve this vital ingredient in growing healthy plants and food.”  Sandy’s message isn’t just for farmers, he’ll talk to anyone! Urban gardeners, community gardens, basically anyone who is interested in growing healthy plants and/or eating healthy food.
     I had the opportunity to talk to Sandy last week to find out more about how he became so passionate about soil. I found out that Sandy actually has many interests and a whole hosts of projects that spin off of each other. To start off, Sandy is actually a “farm boy.”  He grew up on his grandparents’ farm. His grandmother had a 3 acre garden and grew vegetables for the five families that lived on the farm. Sandy’s job was to manage the compost pile under his grandmother’s direction. He remembers her talking passionately about “feeding the soil” and considered it criminal to let any organic residue go to waste. In fact, he remembers his grandmother seeing someone burning leaves in their yard….she did not approve. She sent her grandchildren to pick up the leaves and bring them back to their compost pile. She also referred to hauling manure as “hauling sunshine.”  Thus the concept and practice of making compost and respecting the integrity of soil was something instilled in Sandy’s mind even as a youth. Little did he know that it would become a major part of his life’s work!
     Sandy has been making compost since the mid 80’s. Over the years he’s been involved with promoting and developing the practice of composting.  In the early 90’s there were only a handful of compost facilities in Wisconsin. Over the years this picture has changed and now there are over 200 composting facilities in Wisconsin. In 1993 the DNR banned yard materials from going to the landfill. In 2005-2006, Sandy worked with the state to write new guidelines for composting. This is great because we are no longer sending usable natural products to the landfill. Instead, these residuals are being converted into usable nutrients. As Sandy says..“It’s a no-brainer! Why wouldn’t you allow nature to capture nitrogen in the air instead of having to buy it or use synthetic fertilizer.”
     As we concluded our talk, Sandy reminded me that everything is so connected. We are at the intersection of local food and an understanding about how, where and by whom it was grown. Farmers are learning more profitable and sustainable ways of farming by managing nutrients differently and returning carbon to the soil. Consumers are becoming more ecologically aware and we hope more are becoming interested in the connection between the health of our bodies and the health of our food.
     In case you haven’t noticed a theme in our newsletters recently….we’d like to encourage each of you to build and form a strong connection with the source of where your food is being grown and learn more about how it is grown. We hope to see you at the Harvest Party!

Vegetable Feature: Potatoes

By Chef Andrea
     Last week we finished this year’s potato harvest and as the rain falls again today, I’m very thankful our precious potatoes are safely tucked away in the cooler. Even though this year has been a bit on the wet side, we are pleased to tell you it was a bountiful harvest and the potatoes look very nice!
     This year we grew five different varieties. It’s important to understand the qualities of each type of potato variety as it will help you decide how to use them. Potatoes are classified as either waxy or starchy potatoes. This classification is based on the type of starch the potato has. Starch is a stored form of energy and is the whole reason the plant produces a potato. Waxy potatoes are more moist and creamy. They hold their shape after they are cooked which makes them good candidates for roasting, potato salads and soups where you want the potato to hold its shape. These are not good for making mashed potatoes as they get too sticky and are kind of like wallpaper paste. Starchy potatoes are more dry and fluffy when cooked. They don’t hold together as well, which makes them a good candidate for a soup where you might want to use the starch as the component that will thicken the soup. This is also the best type of potato to use for making fluffy, smooth mashed potatoes.
     This week you are receiving Purple Viking potatoes. This is kind of an all-purpose potato that sits on the fence between the two classes. It is waxy enough that it holds its shape well, but it also has enough of that dry, starchy characteristic that you can get away with making mashed potatoes with this variety, and they make an excellent soup. Purple Viking potatoes are characterized by their purple and pink skin with white flesh. This is one of our favorite potato varieties.
     Potatoes are a versatile food and can be prepared in many different ways. You can enjoy them roasted, boiled, baked, pan-fried, deep-fried, in soups, gratins or even breads and rolls. Potatoes pair well with any kind of dairy—cream, cheese, milk or sour cream. They also pair well with other vegetables in summer and fall including tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, winter squash and many root vegetables.
     Potatoes are best stored in a cool, dark, dry place at about 50-55°F. If exposed to light, the potato will produce solanine which is a bitter alkaloid that gives the exposed portion of the potato a green color. If you see this on potato, trim that portion of the potato away.

Potato Cakes with Goat Cheese

1 pound starchy potatoes, roughly grated
1 small onion, roughly grated
1 small carrot, roughly grated
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 Tbsp flour
1 oz goat cheese, mashed with a fork
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp high heat sunflower oil

1.  Preheat the oven to 350´̊F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2.  Mix everything except the oil together in a bowl and season really well with salt and pepper.
3.  Heat the oil in a large frying pan, drop double teaspoonfuls of the mixture into the pan, and fry them for 2 minutes. Carefully flip them over and fry on the other side until golden.
4.  Pop the potato cakes on the prepared baking sheet and finish cooking them through in the oven—they should take 5-10 minutes.

HVF Note:  The original recipe states this recipe yields 2 servings if served as a side dish, however we felt like it served more like 4-5 as a side dish.  Also, these are tasty served as is or with a little more fresh goat cheese spread on top while still warm.

Recipe borrowed from Mamushka: A Cookbook by Olia Hercules

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Soil Will Save Us by Kristin Ohlson

Photo Borrowed from Author Kristin Ohlson's Website
A Book Review By Bobbie Harte

     If you’re reading this newsletter, you already know many of the benefits of organic farming. You intuit that organic practices make tastier food, encourage biodiversity, and promote clean air and water. What you may not be aware of is that soil is connected to climate change, that land mismanagement contributes to 30 percent of the carbon emissions that enter the atmosphere, or that certain farming and land use practices may even reverse global warming. Striking the perfect chord of reality and optimism, Kristin Ohlson’s 2014 book, The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers, and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet, explores just that.
     In college, I chose Botany 101 to fulfill a five-credit science requirement. I like plants and I wanted to learn more about them, but the class was a disappointment.  We covered the biology and chemistry of photosynthesis, and we grew plants in milk containers and exposed them to different kinds of light. Sadly, I don’t remember anything else. What I really wanted from that class was something like Ohlson’s book: an exploration of the complexity of the soil and its connections to all of life. The book begins with a discussion of carbon farming and goes into the science of soil and photosynthesis. Ohlson effectively presents complicated scientific ideas in a digestible way, and she seamlessly shifts from details to the big picture. With her engaging writing style, Ohlson takes us to visit scientists, farmers and ranchers from Zimbabwe to North Dakota to Western Australia, as well as urban landscape managers in New York, Portland and Boston.
     Healthy soil prevents droughts and floods, purifies water, grows healthy food and sequesters carbon.  Soil is a collection of fungi, worms, bacteria, protozoa, nematodes, microarthropods, earthworms, beetles, voles and more. How many microorganisms are in a cup of healthy soil? “More than all the humans who have ever lived,” Ohlson writes.
     Working together, those living things create healthy soil. “Weirdly, we’ve all been schooled in the notion that plants are takers, removing nutrients from the soil and leaving it poorer,” Ohlson writes. “But when plants are allowed to work with their partners in the soil, they’re givers. They feed carbon exudates to the community of bacteria and fungi to keep them thrumming with life and pulling mineral nutrients from the bedrock as well as from particles of sand, silt, and clay….When the predator soil organisms eat the bacteria and fungi, all those nutrients are released near the plant. There’s always enough, unless human or some other force messes up the system.”
Mulch and cover crops can be an alternative
means to amend and protect soil integrity
     How can humans mess it up? Chemical fertilizer is one way. Scientists determined long ago that nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus are essential for plant growth, and most chemical fertilizers are a combination of the three. But scientists have discovered more and more essential nutrients, and healthy soil is not a simple recipe with a list of ingredients and instructions for their combination. Plants obtain the minerals they need through complicated interactions with soil microorganisms. “Even after tilling,” Ohlson writes, “soil microorganisms will still be in the soil, but they aren’t likely to provide these varied nutrients to the plants once the chemical fertilizers are applied. Simply put, these applications interfere with one of nature’s great partnerships. By the terms of this partnership, plants …distribute carbon sugars through their roots to the microorganisms in exchange for nutrients. Fertilizer disrupts this pay-as-you-go system.”  Putting nutrients at a plant’s roots via fertilizer means the plant doesn’t have to give up any carbon to get them, and the soil organisms can’t get enough food, says Ohlson, quoting USDA microbiologist Kristine Nichols. “Without their carbon meal, the mycorrhizal fungi can’t grow and stretch their strands of carbon through the soil. They and the other soil microorganisms can’t produce the glues that fix carbon in the soil and build the aggregates that hold water. They go dormant and given enough stress, can die. At that point, the soil is so depleted of life and structure that a farmer can’t get a decent crop without chemical fertilizers….” If the relationship that makes nutrients available to plants is absent, then farmers must add more and more fertilizer each year to maintain or increase yields, which in turn creates a new set of problems. The nutrients that the plants cannot absorb runs off into waterways, where it causes algal growth. This depletes the water’s oxygen which kills aquatic life.
     As I read this book, again and again I marveled at the interconnectedness of all living things. In 2015, Robert Waldinger gave a TED Talk about the 75-year Harvard study on human happiness. Waldinger is the fourth director of this study which began with 724 men in 1938. Using questionnaires, medical records, blood tests, brain scans, interviews and more, the study continues today with 60 of the remaining men, and has expanded to include wives and some 2,000 children of the original participants. So what has the Harvard study uncovered about the secrets to human happiness? People who are more connected to family, friends and community live longer, Waldinger says. “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.” This was also the idea that stood out to me most in Ohlson’s excellent book. The key to health is relationships, whether human or microbial. Our future depends on our ability to nurture relationships, and we need to nurture them everywhere.

Note from Farmers Richard & Andrea: Soil is one of the most important components of what we do and is an essential part of life for all of us. Even after all these years of farming we continue to learn more about soil and how to care for it…..and are continually amazed by the complexity of its system. We hope you’ll consider reading this book to gain even just a glimpse into the world of soil and continue to learn along with us. In next week’s newsletter, we’ll introduce you to Sandy Syburg. Sandy is the owner of Purple Cow Organics, the company that makes our potting soil mix for the greenhouse as well as compost for our fields. Sandy is passionate about soil, loves teaching others about it and has even created a “Soil Bus” that he uses in his efforts to spread the good word about soil. He’ll be bringing the bus to our Harvest Party on September 25! See the Harvest Party Invitation sent via email for more details.

Vegetable Feature: Witch Stick Peppers

By Chef Andrea

     Every winter the seed catalogs tempt us with pretty pictures of vibrantly colored vegetables.  We’re always looking for new things to try, and this past winter this unique pepper caught our attention.  Richard, always the practical grower, surprised me when he said he thought it would be fun to try these new witch stick peppers, a red, corkscrew pepper that is mostly sweet but sometimes reveals a hot one.  I agreed and added it to our seed order.
     Fast forward 9 months and here we are, harvesting these cool peppers!  The long, skinny, slightly twisted red peppers in your box are this unique pepper.  As I mentioned, they are sweet most of the time, but occasionally you might find a hot one.  The seed is produced by a Japanese company, so I thought maybe there was a traditional way to use the pepper.  However, if you Google this pepper, you won’t find much regarding how to use it since it is seemingly new to the US market and perhaps the world!  So, I was faced this week with the challenge of figuring out what to do this pepper.  I called the seed company to see if they had any recommendations for how to use this pepper. They suggested using them in sauces and stews.  Ok, that sounds fine, but the beauty of this pepper is its shape….it just seems like we should find a way to use it other than just chop it up!  So I set out to discover this pepper, and here is what I found.
     First, this pepper has a very thin skin and a thin wall of flesh.  This is an attribute that makes it a good candidate for drying.  If I weren’t looking for a culinary use for this pepper, I’d tell you to dry them and use them as a Christmas tree ornament!  This pepper also has a pretty extensive seed cavity which extends about three-quarters of the way down the pepper.  If the pepper is raw, I found that it’s easiest to cut the stem off the top of the pepper.  Next, use your finger to create a small tear starting at the top of the pepper.  Run your finger down the pepper following the natural separation of the pepper.  I was intrigued to find that the pepper skin followed a corkscrew pattern as I ran my finger down the side of the pepper. Once you’ve opened up the pepper, lay it flat on a cutting board and remove all the ribs and seeds.  Now you have a usable piece of pepper.
Oven Roasted Witch Stick Peppers
     I also tried cooking them—both sautéed on the stovetop and roasted in the oven.  I actually prefer the flavor of the pepper better when cooked as it has a fruity and sweet profile.  I found it easiest to remove the seeds before sautéing, but the same is not true if you’re going to roast them in the oven.  I roasted them at a temperature of 375°F for about 25 minutes.  Before I put them in the oven I brushed them lightly with oil.  About halfway through the cooking time I flipped the peppers over. I considered them done when the skin was starting to turn golden and had a shiny, translucent appearance.  Once they are cool enough to handle, carefully pull the stem end and you can fairly easily remove the entire section of seed nearly entirely intact.  Once the seeds are removed you can use the roasted pepper flesh however you wish to.
     I have to admit, I don’t feel like I’ve mastered this vegetable.  I am looking for a way to use this pepper that really maximizes the uniqueness of its shape.  It just seems like it would be a shame to just chop it up and treat it like any old pepper!  So the idea I kept coming back to was pickled peppers, which is the recipe I included in this week’s newsletter.  I did find that it is easier to use the peppers if you seed them out first.  Even if you end up chopping up the pickled peppers to serve them, at least you can enjoy their beautiful appearance in the jar for awhile!
     So I am passing the challenge on to you.  If you find a fun way to use this pepper that takes advantage of its unique shape, please share your recipe with us!  Send it our way along with a picture (  We’ll offer a $20 gift certificate for the most creative idea for using this pepper!  Have fun!

Witch Stick Pickled Peppers

Yield: 1 quart

5 witch stick peppers
3 medium carrots
1 medium or two small onions
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 ½ cups white wine vinegar
1 cup water
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp dried thyme
2 bay leaves

1.  First prepare all the vegetables.  To prepare the peppers, trim the stem off the top.  Tear the top of the pepper a little bit and then run your finger down the pepper to open up the pepper all the way to the tip.  Lay the pepper down on a cutting board, spread out the  flesh and remove all the seeds and ribs.  Curl the pepper back into its original shape and set aside.
2.  Peel the carrots if desired and cut into ¼” thick slices.  Peel the onion, cut in half and slice thinly.
3.  Next, pack the onions, carrots, peppers and garlic cloves into a clean and sterilized 1-quart canning jar and set aside.
4.  In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the vinegar, water, sugar, thyme and bay leaves.  Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then let the mixture come to a simmer.  Remove the vinegar mixture from the heat and carefully pour it into the jar with the vegetables.  Fill the jar almost to the top, leaving about a ½” to 1” headspace.
5.  Put a lid on the jar and refrigerate for 24-48 hours.  Store the pickles in the refrigerator and eat them within a few weeks.

Serving suggestions:  Pickled vegetables are a tasty addition to sandwiches, either on the sandwich or serve them on the side.  They are also delicious served alongside eggs, tacos, on top of steaks, etc.

Recipe by Chef Andrea