Food for thought

A neighbor brought this over for us this week, and I couldn’t help sharing.

I especially like numbers 1-4. Five and six seem like tenets everyone pretty much holds dear, right?  And no one wants to waste food.

But I like that the US Food Administration is promoting these two things when it comes to the nation and food:  thoughtfulness and local buying (not sure when the “and Drug” was added but found this interesting as well and will have to do some research when I am not buried in children with colds, holidays, birthdays, and spring farm work).

Supermarkets and fast food make it so easy to not have to think about what’s for dinner.  And even those of us who give a lot of our attention to what we eat and where it comes from have those nights when we hit dinner-time wishing we didn’t have to think about it (Don’t we?  At least I still do on “those” nights).  My point being, the allure of easy and mind-less is there even for the diligent.

I feel the burden of all the thought I put into how we eat every time I go to the grocery store.  Local, Organic, non-GMO, non-processed…and for us gluten and dairy and soy free…and meat we really only want to get at farmer’s market or from our farm–it isn’t easy to make these choices today simply because they are not the choices everyone is making.

Not the majority of consumers.  Not the supermarkets or fast food chains (even though the marketing is there).  And not the US Food and Drug administration.

If they were, our food culture would look much different.  And easy and thoughtful would coincide beautifully with one another.

Free trade, globalism, commodities, and large-scale meat production are where most of our federal government’s food policy energy goes.  A lot of things have changed in the last 100 or so years apparently.

But there is hope.  And I do hope that we all can be a part of bringing some things on that list back to the front of people’s minds when they are thinking about what to eat.

Food.  Buy it with thought.  Cook it with care. 

Buy local.

(And in my opinion and that of the 1917 US Food Administration, you should also consider using less wheat and unethically raised meat).

Gathering together a new way of farming and eating

This weekend we hosted our second farm potluck of the year, this time in conjunction with Slow Foods of Yamhill County.  Unlike our earlier potluck this season, which was wide open to both farm members and market customers as well as our greater community of friends, this gathering brought in folks mostly from the Slow Foods mailing list along with members of Slow Foods and some of our farm members.   Many of the folks had farms of their owns, some were WWOOF-ers from another farm in town,and all of us were genuinely interested in not only eating and/or growing food locally, but in the greater implication of this act.

It occurred to me while talking with everyone that the new American small farmer can hardly help but also be a food and land activist as well.  While we not only attempt a different model of production from larger-scale agriculture through polyculture planting and direct marketing, we also attempt to take a somewhat man-centered activity–agriculture–and make it once again accountable to the rest of the ecosystem. This means many things, and covers a wide array of different approaches to raising crops and animals; but the common theme is that once again, farming feels as much like an act of stewardship as business.

a happy little frog hiding on a happy little pepper

And this is really the more important missing ingredient in modern ag today.  Large fields of monocuture grains aren’t going to dissapear and probably shouldn’t.  We buy grains for our animals and ourselves, and with the right approach, these fields could be providing just as much food without the chemical load and soil depletion that we commonly see.  And with even a wink and a nod toward the well being of animals, operations like Wright County Eggs wouldn’t be around to cause such huge food safety issues.

And one thing that has become clear to me this year, as more and more of our counties small farms add some portion of organic production to their retinue–a lot of this is demand driven.  The folks here at our farm this weekend are driven by conviction and belief, and this is a large percentage of where sustain-ably produced local food is going to come from; but many growers who have hitherto been fine growing more conventionally can see that the demand for less chemicals and more conservation is pushing them to make the decision to give this new model of growing a go.

And that is where all of us eaters come into the picture.  Our buying habits have more power than we can imagine.  Right now, there are not enough eggs being produced and sold at our farmer’s markets and directly from other small farms in the area–the demand is so high!  And yet, most of the time, if we can’t get eggs from a source such as this, we will still go to the store and buy them.  The egg industry can partly be the disaster it is today because we, as consumers, eat so many eggs.  This is a hard one even for us.  It is hard to see your way around consuming eggs year-round and as often as you would like when there is a such glut of eggs in production.

*nothing* compares to safe, healthy, delicious farm eggs

After we lost most of our laying flock to predators a few years ago, we had to go about a year without having our own eggs and we couldn’t always get them locally.  We would buy organic eggs from the store, raised in the Willamette Valley, but by bigger egg producers than could likely be considered sustainable.  When we got a small flock going again last year, we were happy to have just enough eggs for our family for a while.  Then this year we added enough to the flock to sell eggs again, but while we wait for them to start really producing (they are just now starting) and while we have an otherwise egg-laying strike going on with the older hens whom we moved mid-summer and disrupted somehow, we have not had enough eggs for ourselves again.  This year though, instead of buying eggs when we can’t get them at market, we are eating all sorts of non-breakfast breakfasts.  It has been a challenge for us all, in our minds mostly, getting over the egg thing; but it has been enlightening, and in light of the recent egg recall, it has felt especially important.

And all of this is just a roundabout reminder, to myself and others, to keep up the good fight we are all involved in, all at our own levels and in our own ways, of reshaping farming and food culture in this country, all with an eye towards a system that is more than just concerned with human activity and human desire.  Farming is at the same time so integrally connected with natural cycles and the natural world as it is so supremely anti-natural in what it attempts to do.  To bring these into balance is the goal of the new American farmer and should be the driving demand of the new American eater.  Together, small get togethers at small farms all over the country will be a much larger part of the picture than we ever could have imagined.


Staying Healthy

I spent most of this week on the farm tending to fevers and sore heads, throats, and tummies. As terrible as that sounds, the farmer was better by day 3, the kids each after 1 or 2 days. We made lots of chicken soup from Kookoolan Farms’ birds with lots of veggies to make a rich, healthy, and healing broth. We sipped tea with some of the elderberry syrup we made at summer’s end for just such occasions, and we took hot baths and rested. In the end, we were happy that it was over quickly and that it wasn’t too bad.

We tend to look to food for our vitamins and minerals and medicines, and I feel blessed to be able to continue to eat fresh, nutritious vegetables through the fall and winter, times when our bodies are called on to fight off the colds and flus that come during this time of year. All growing vegetables and fruits begin to lose nutritive value once they have been picked, and they also will not reach their maximum nutritive value if they are picked under ripe to make it through shipping and handling to stores far and wide. And although each season offers its own set of repeating foods, we hope that with your CSA share you notice a rainbow of colors, from dark leafy greens to bright orange carrots and squash, with red, cream, purple, and white roots. All of these provide a well balanced supply of various vitamins and minerals and antioxidants. There are, no doubt, always many pieces to the pictures of our health, and colds and flus are hard to avoid, but I hope that you are staying well and enjoying the bit of natural medicine the healthy and tasty produce we share together provides!

Looking forward

Greens, greens, greens!! There are a lot of greens in your share today, in true spring veggie style. Everything we are harvesting right now until the first spring planted radishes are ready (next week?!?) was planted last year in July, August, and September!! This is very exciting to us, to even have so much fresh food to eat in this season. Still, as we actually plan for next winter/early spring harvests at the beginning of the year rather than committing to growing year round in the middle of summer like we did last year, we are happy to be able to plan for potatoes and celery root for these harvests next year when they need to be planted rather than way past too late. With a grain restricted diet, we miss starchy root veggies to round out our meals. Still, on the menu last week with the veggies that your share included we had so many great and filling and more than sustaining farm meals. Goat and barley soup with leek tops, salad mix with nettle pesto, vinaigrette, and chopped hazelnuts, braised rack of goat and sauteed rapini, pizzas with nettle pesto and sheep’s feta and with olive oil, caramelized leeks, rapini, and Parmesan, coconut red beans and rice with baby perpetual spinach, oil and vinegar, and feta, falafel and chard cakes, rice noodles with kale, locally fished tuna, and buttery leeks. Spring eating is great, and now that we are harvesting again, and we are on the road to new crops, our own veggie intake gets to go up as we no longer have to wait to pick at the greens we have been wanting to grow more. Greens upon greens on our table, yeah!

But the season will move on, and we have to grow different greens and some not at all in the heat of summer, so we enjoy their sweetness and abundance now! Some of you have asked about what will be coming through the summer so that you can plan your own growing spaces, so this is one thing to consider. We don’t tend to harvest kale, arugula, or mustard and Asian greens in the summer, although you will have them through June, but we will continue to harvest chards and lamb’s quarters in the greens department. Traditionally, we have given out salad mix, which goes through minor transformations through the seasons, every week. We aren’t planning on doing this for 2009 even though our salad mixes have been called the best by many of you (thank you!). We do plan on giving out more heads of different, beautiful varieties of lettuce, and one or the other for each week is the goal. If you are a big salad eating family, please talk with us about adding a bag of salad mix to your regular share. By doing it just for those who have come to really want this every week, we can save some harvest time (our salad mix is very labor intensive). We are growing a lot and multiple varieties of these crops: beets, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, onions, beans, winter squash, tomatoes, and peppers. We are growing the same delicious Italian zucchini we did last year along with a Lebanese variety, some heirloom crooknecks and patty pan summer squashes, and will have loads of these and straight slicing Marketmore cucumbers. The spring will bring radishes and snow and snap peas. We will have pickling cucumbers and canning tomatoes available for u-pick, half price for CSA members. You can also pick cherry tomatoes and a bouquet of cut flowers near the house at your veggie pick up on us, our way to show our appreciation for your support and to make the drive (on top of the veggies) worth the while!

We are going to try to grow small watermelons and muskmelons in a hot spot on the farm with a constant supply of safe greywater in an attempt to get a harvest at least for the family, perhaps to share with members if they would like, but not to sell. Melons like it hot, and they like a lot of water, and to this point we haven’t had any ripe ones in Oregon, but we know it is possible, so we are working on it! Our apple trees may produce this year, but whether it will exceed family needs and suitable for the CSA or only be enough for a market crop has yet to be seen. Our first planting will be three years old, our second, just two, some only one year old, so yields will still be small. That is it on the fruit front for now, our kids will likely eat all the strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries we get this year!

Our whole eggplant planting failed in the greenhouse this year, so we are purchasing just 50 organic eggplant starts from a Beaverton farm this year. Eggplant isn’t a heavy producer here in Oregon, so this will likely only translate to one or two weeks of eggplant harvests for the CSA. If you love eggplant, this would be a good one to put in your home garden. We also will not be growing any sweet corn for fresh eating. This could be the subject of a whole other newsletter since we have many things factoring into this decision. We grow only open-pollinated varieties, and this in and of itself makes fresh corn difficult. OP sweet corn is perfect for harvesting in about a one day window and then good for eating in about a one day window. This is hard for scheduled harvesting and weekly boxes. We also have a neighbor who grows genetically modified corn, so we have been unsure about growing open- pollinated corn for fear of cross-pollination. Now we have gotten variety and plant dates from our neighbor, selected a corn variety that will pollinate within the safe 3 week distance from the GM corn, but it will be for drying, and we will be using a lot of this for supplemental chicken and pig feed. However, we will also batch grind some for cornmeal and polenta for our family, and maybe for the winter CSA! We know that sweet corn is good, but it is also water intensive, space intensive, and poor on the nutritional scale, so this is where we are going with corn. We always buy or receive a few meals worth from other local farmers, and encourage you to enjoy this summer treat from Farmer’s Market or from you own garden! We are growing some Cannellini beans this year too, for fresh shelling and dry beans!

Of course, it is hard for us to know what this will translate to given our last two years…we have had problems with certain crops each year. Yet, there are a lot of things that make us feel more confident that all of these crops will be on our tables in abundance. We have learned so, so, so much in the last two years. So much of when we were just large scale home gardeners hasn’t translated, but we feel like we are learning a lot of what will make us great market gardeners. We now see that as we work to build and build healthy soil and bio-diversity to ultimately deal with pest pressure and plant health, we have to use things like row covers, trap crops, and nettle brew in the foliar sprayer pro-actively to fight pests, and that we have to add to the soil organic fertilizing amendments (compost, granular, and fish emulsion for the greenhouse and transplants). These are intermediate ways to help with the problems, not long term solutions nor our long term goals. Still, we love carrots just as much as all of you (who doesn’t!) and we want at least most of what we plant to be beautiful and harvestable. So this year, we feel like the crops we say and plan to have, we will, and that is a good place to be this year!

This week…

We baked in the sun, but the veggies loved the heat and we could use some more of it to ripen some of those heat lovers out in the field!

Relished the thunder, lightning, and rain that followed the heat and refreshed all of us, animal, vegetable, and human alike!

Spent all of my newsletter writing time yesterday trying to get our truck back home from town because the ignition is not working (Uhhhgg!)

Said good-bye to family as they headed back home for California.

Enjoyed some intensely beautiful sunsets all week and a lovely full moon.

Feasted on the first of our meat chickens. We were afraid to raise the standard chicken breed used for meat because although the cross of a cornish chicken and barred rock chicken produces a fast growing (6-8 weeks rather than 16-24) bird with large breasts, we had heard that these birds didn’t’ forage at all and just sat by the feeder eating feed and getting big so fast that they could hardly walk. However, after a year of roosters raised for a longer period that ended up being so tough that they all became soup birds, we decided to try for some chicken we could roast. We were so pleasantly surprised. We started them in our green house which has a grass floor and had plenty of mustard starts that we weren’t planting. From the beginning these birds foraged for green stuff in addition to eating grain, but never once have they gorged on grain and not ranged for bugs and good green matter. They are healthy in all ways, (they do indeed mature quickly), like every other chicken we have raised the birds are delicious !!

We were one of three farms featured in The Oregonian today in their Market Watch where they did a write up on the McMinnville market!!