Thursday, February 8, 2018

Connection…Does It Make A Difference?

By…Farmer Richard

I thought you might find it interesting to know that I started vegetable farming in Eagan, Minnesota with the help of students from one of the first Minneapolis Charter schools and a nearby group home for troubled youth.  At the time I also worked with autistic children at the University of Minnesota and later the St. Paul School system.  While working at the Dakota County Developmental Learning Center adjacent to my farm, I first became aware of the positive influence a farm environment could have on children.  A seven year old autistic boy who had never before spoken a word was feeding ears of corn to the horses when he yelled to me from across the barn, “MORE CORN!!”  Telling this story still brings tears to my eyes. 

Later I was a professional parent to 4-12 year old boys in “therapeutic foster care.”  They lived with me on my farm and helped care for the animals and raised vegetables which they sold on the roadside and at markets.  They earned their own money and learned to spend it wisely.  They were successful and self-confident.  They began to succeed in schoolwork, made friends and their teachers liked them!  They were a success for the first time in their lives.  One of my most dramatic experiences was with Ronnie.  He came to me from Fairview Hospital psych ward, heavily medicated with anti-psychotic drugs.  Once he was off the drugs, we realized he was very sensitive to food additives which were contributing to some of his behavioral problems.  He went on a strict diet of organic food with no preservatives, and he was a totally different boy!  Everybody liked this smart, happy, funny boy and he liked himself.  My lesson learned, food can make a huge difference!

Farmer Richard with his son Ari

The quality of food, connecting with the source, and being an active participant in the process of getting food to the table are all important elements of forming a healthy and holistic diet.  I was fortunate to have had some professional parenting training and valuable life experiences before raising my own son.  Really it’s about quite simple things, such as we all eat better when we are hungry!  If you are filling up on snacks, you won’t be hungry for a meal!  Either cut out the snacks or make it something healthy, like carrots.  We also had a few simple household rules.  Everybody ate a little bit of everything, but had the right to just take a small portion justified by the fact that they “were still learning to like it.”  Kids like to be involved in food procurement, preparation, picking up the CSA box and unpacking the contents.  Involving children in these acts helps to connect them to the process it takes to get it to the table.  As they are learning about new foods, it’s important for them to be able to touch, smell and taste.  A visit to the farm can be very formative for young children, even if it’s just one time.  As they walk (or run) through the fields they get to see what the plants look like, they figure out how to harvest the food and then get to eat it right in the field!  If you’ve ever eaten a warm strawberry right in the field, you know how memorable that can be.  My own son, now 29, grew up eating a wide variety of vegetables and is still a very good eater.  He still remembers eating daikon radish right out of the field and still counts radishes as one of his favorites. 

But it’s not just children!  Adult member lives have also been greatly impacted by participating in CSA and forming a connection with their farm.  We have great respect for the many adults who have learned how to eat through a box every week, were brave enough to try unfamiliar foods and have come to enjoy cooking.  They are committed to taking their healthy lunch to work and putting any extra in the freezer for winter.  Some have been generous enough to share their recipes with our Facebook group.  Adults are also impacted by a farm visit.  At the end of last season we received this email from a member:  “I also wanted to mention that I have hugely reduced my grocery store purchases of produce since switching to your CSA and signing up for the fruit share. I cut back to every other week, as my family has shrunk. I made the occasional trip to the local farmer's market to supplement as needed. I am a strong believer in what you are doing. We have been so impressed with your beautiful farm and the way you manage the land, as we have seen in our two visits for the strawberry picking. I also love your newsletters and recipes.

In our busy world, with so many choices and distractions, it can be a challenge to dive into eating out of a CSA box, but it is so worth it!  Over the 20 plus years we have been feeding CSA families, we have seen so many examples of what happens when families commit to CSA and healthy eating.  Yes, for families with children it takes some good parenting skills, but it results in beautiful, healthy, smart people who grow up and will change the world.  When parents make the choice to make organic food a priority, children have the opportunity to learn what real food tastes like and nutritious healthy food tastes good! 

Beyond the nutritional value of the food, CSA allows children and families to connect with the people and source of their food.  Eating can just be a passive act, but it becomes much more meaningful when you know where your food came from and can form a connection.  Whether it’s simply participating in the weekly ritual of picking up your CSA box and unpacking it, or it’s the experience of actually visiting the farm, these are memorable experiences that shape and mold a child’s view of food and where it comes from.  We wanted to share a few stories with you, and then we hope some of you will share your stories with us! 

We love it when members visit the farm and enjoy seeing children explore and experience new things.  It’s the little things such as holding a fuzzy, baby chick or feeling the goats nibble grain out of their hand for the first time.  Last year a mother contacted us to see if it would be possible to bring her daughter to the farm for her birthday.  The birthday present this girl was looking for was the experience of being able to touch and feed our farm animals.  She had a blast and it was really fun to see the joy on her face as she stood amongst our critters in the pasture. 

I love to see the excitement in a child’s face as they get to harvest their own vegetables and eat them in the field.  We’ve had parents nearly faint as they watch their children run up and down the rows of vegetables in the field.  Kids who fuss at the table because they don’t want to eat their vegetables, and here they are picking and eating them in the field!  There was one little boy who marched up to Andrea and asked her if she would like him to show her how to pick the best peas.  He confidently explained how to do so and then picked a few for them to eat so he could prove his techniques were solid.  This was one of those children who would not eat a vegetable, however his parents told us that after that visit to the farm he now willingly eats vegetables…if they were grown at “his” farm by Farmer Richard. 

Some kids find the harvesting experience to be quite rewarding and we’ve been surprised at some of the vegetables they’ve pulled from the ground.  One little guy pulled a huge scarlet turnip out of the ground on one farm visit.  Strength must run in the family, because we remember when his older brother (full of excitement) pulled an entire kohlrabi plant out of the field—roots and all!  If you aren’t familiar with kohlrabi, I’ll tell you that those plants are very firmly rooted.  He was so excited to show us what he had pulled and when his mother asked him what it was he replied “I DON’T KNOW!”  It didn’t really matter…he was having a great time.   

Last summer we received this email from a Twin Cities family:  “At dinner the other night, our two-year-old told my husband, ‘These veggies are from Farmer Richard. He grows our veggies and brings us our fruit. He's a part of our family.’ Thanks for letting us raise our boys eating delicious produce and knowing where it comes from!” 
And then there’s this recent story shared with us this past December 2017.  It’s the story of one of our “grown-up” CSA kids.  “My son came home tonight to  say Hi, saw the box and checked the contents, he was thrilled to see the celeriac and rest of the goodies and grabbed the box before anyone could tell him no.  He then asked if perhaps there was another celeriac he could have, maybe one from the swap box to take back home.  Alas no, but never in my life could I imagine a 21 year old man seeking out and excited about celeriac.  To have an incredible box in mid-December and a young man transfixed and transformed by HVF produce is a great kick-off to the holiday season.

These are just a few stories, but we know there are many more.  We would love to hear your stories and would encourage you to share them with us!  How has CSA impacted your family, your children, your health, your perspectives on food & agriculture?  If you are willing to share your stories, please send us an email, make a quick video, or just pick up the phone and call! 

When I was in my twenties, I set out to do meaningful work.  I may not have chosen the easiest career in the world, but it has definitely proven to be very meaningful work.  Just as every family has their “family doctor,” I hope more families will thoughtfully consider who they want their “family farmer(s)” to be.  If you choose Harmony Valley Farm, we hope you’ll take advantage of the opportunity you have to come and see your farm for yourself.  Even if it’s just one time, we promise you it will be a memorable experience….and it might even change your life. 

Welcome back to the Chef’s Corner!

I wanted to share this recipe for Butternut Squash & Caramelized Onion Galette.  This recipe looks lengthy, but don’t be deterred by that.  There are three main components to make before you assemble the galette, but none of the components are difficult or time consuming to prepare.  Your time investment is in the time it takes to roast the squash, caramelize the onions and bake the galette.  You can prep the three components in advance and keep them in the refrigerator.  This makes for a quick and easy dinner on the night of your choosing.  Just pull out the components and assemble the galette while the oven is preheating.  Pop it in the oven to bake it and dinner is done. 

The beauty of a galette is that it isn’t fussy and it’s very forgiving.  If you shy away from things that have a pie crust (eg quiche), you might find you’ll like a galette.  It’s kind of like a pie, but much more free form and forgiving—it’s not supposed to be perfect.  It’s versatile like a quiche, but you don’t have to mess with the custard filling.  If you have some left over, it reheats well for breakfast or lunch.

As always, we’d love to know what you’ve been cooking this winter and our Facebook Group is a great place to do that! If you aren’t already a member, click here to join.

See you next month!
Chef Andrea

Butternut Squash & Caramelized Onion Galette

Yield:  One hearty 12-inch galette or Two 9-inch galettes
For the Pastry:
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface (may include ½ cup whole wheat flour if you like)
½ tsp salt
12 Tbsp unsalted butter (1 ½ sticks)
½ cup sour cream
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
⅓ cup ice water

For the Filling:
2 ½ pounds butternut squash, peeled & diced (5-6 cups)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 ½ tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp butter
5 medium red or yellow onions (1 ½ pounds), thinly sliced
¼ cup red wine
1 tsp maple syrup
⅛ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried sage
2 cups (6 oz) grated fontina or gouda cheese
1 egg, beaten, for glazing the pastry (optional)

  1. First, make the pastry.  In a bowl, combine the flour and salt.  Cut the butter into chunks and add them to the bowl.  Using a pastry blender, break up the butter into bits until the texture of the flour and butter mixture is like cornmeal, with the biggest bits the size of pebbles. 
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, vinegar, and water.  Pour this over the butter-flour mixture.  Stir with a spoon or a rubber spatula just until a dough forms, kneading it once or twice on the counter if needed to bring it together.  Pat the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic, and chill it in the refrigerator for 1 hour or up to 2 days.
  3. Next, prepare the squash.  Preheat your oven to 400°F.  Peel the squash, then halve and scoop out the seeds.  Cut into ½ to ¾-inch chunks and put in a mixing bowl.  Drizzle with 2 Tbsp of the olive oil and season with ½ tsp salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Toss to thoroughly coat all the pieces, then spread the squash on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 30 minutes, or until the squash is tender and just starting to brown.  You may need to turn the squash once while it is roasting.  Once done, remove the squash from the oven and set it aside to cool slightly.  Leave the oven on.
  4. While the squash is roasting, caramelize the onions.  Melt 1 Tbsp butter and the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy skillet.  Add the onions and 1 tsp salt.  Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until soft and tender, about 25-35 minutes.  Don’t try to rush this process.  When the onions are very soft, add the wine, maple syrup, cayenne pepper, thyme and sage to the onions.  Continue to simmer over medium-low heat until nearly all the wine has been reduced.  Remove from heat and set aside.
  5. Now it’s time to assemble the galette.  On a floured work surface, roll the dough out into a 16-17 inch round (or two 11-12 inch rounds).  Transfer the pastry to a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet.  Spread the onions on the pastry, leaving a 2 to 2 ½ inch border.  Spread the roasted squash on top of the onion layer and then spread the grated cheese evenly over the galette filling.  Fold the border of pastry over the filling, pleating the edge to make it fit.  The center will be open.  Brush the outside crust with egg, if using.
  6. Bake until the pastry is golden brown, 30-40 minutes.  Remove the galette from the oven, let stand for 5 minutes, then slide it onto a serving plate.  Cut into wedges and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Recipe adapted from Deb Perelman’s book, Smitten Kitchen.