Laboring on Labor Day
The origins of Labor Day were the topic of discussion on the farm today. Your farmers spent the day harvesting for Tuesday’s share distribution. In planning for not having a crew here like a normal Monday, we tried to choose “easy” items for the share thinking we could get a few things done on our own without our workers. Bear in mind that all summer we have had four hardworking women harvesting and washing on Mondays in addition to ourselves. We did not get a lot done without them.
The holiday was initiated well over 100 years ago while our nation was struggling to improve working conditions. There was no such thing as an eight-hour work day and there were no age limits in the workplace. People were working seven days a week, often 12 hours a day. Children were employed in factories because they would work for less money than adults. There were no safety regulations. The holiday was born from the labor movement during the industrial revolution to give people a break from grueling, hard work. It was during this time that people were starting to organize and work as a group to demand better wages and better working conditions.
What those people did back in the 1800’s isn’t completely different from what needs to happen today in farming. Folks need to figure out how to work together to make things better for the whole. But instead of striking for the attention of the company boss, farmers need to work together to improve markets and stabilize the chains of supply and demand increase the value of our commodities. We aren’t talking about corporate farms, we are referring to the little guys, family farms. Sustainable growers like us, trying to make a difference. Those without a voice and no such thing as a marketing budget. There is a group trying to do just this. It is called the Farmer’s Union and we are proud to be members. There may not be a national holiday for farmers, but there is a lot to celebrate compared to where we were as a nation when Labor Day was initiated in 1882.
Laboring on our terms,
We are missing week 13, but will try hard to find it. We apologize for the inconvenience!!
Until next time,
The End of Summer
To many it feels like summer is just about over. Traditionally, Labor Day marks the end of those relaxing summer days spent staying cool by the lake or taking family trips. You’ve been working hard to keep up with the yard work or running this way and that with for kids. We crossed the half way point of the share season last week. How can we only be half way?!
We are excited for the summer that remains in the month of September although it claims some of our hardest, longest harvest days. Digging root crops mostly. With the cool fall weather, it truly is our favorite time of year. The crops are at their peak abundance and the weather is enjoyable. Who wouldn’t want to work outside? Unless there is a cold rain. We stay inside on those days and cook soup.
That first frost marks the end of another of our seasons, but unlike the end of summer for the kids, it brings relief not despair. The average annual first frost for our area is September 12. Fortunately we farm on a high spot geographically and we usually gain a day or even a week over the folks who live in lower areas around us. Last season, we did not get that frost until well after CSA season was over. While we would love to base our decisions on last season, we have to go off of the averages. There is a lot of farming left to do after that first frost. This is a time when season extension tools like tunnels and row covers show their worth.
Many crops require cooler weather. The fall crops we plant just for this time of year require 50 degree or cooler nights to grow. Lettuce won’t germinate if it is any warmer. Neither will spinach. Radishes bolt in the heat, but grow perfectly in the cool days of fall as do rutabaga, turnips and arugula. The longest crops we plant are brussel sprouts and sweet potatoes with 100 and 110 days to maturity. Sprouts taste even better with a light frost sweetening their starchy complex flavors. While we hope to stretch the growing season as long as possible, we appreciate the normalcy of a standard growing season and look forward to the calm at the end.
Ready for the season change,
Our members are each receiving a gift from our amazing friends. Last season, following a very stressful day, we left the farm to run some borrowed equipment to Red Door Family Farm which is on the way to Athens. They weren’t expecting us to pop-in, so we helped them with the work they were doing just so we could get our mind off our troubles. When their potato harvest was done, we all plopped down on makeshift chairs in their pack shed as Tenzin cut into a sun jewel melon that had just been harvested out of the field. The unfamiliar looking melon was still warm and had an intoxicating sweet flavor. Mmm, that first bite! It tasted so much better than the watermelon and cantaloupes we had tried growing in the past.
When this season started, we planted these jewels on our farm. Alas, they were not a success having chose a bad location. Poor drainage in heavy clay soil and one heavy rain drowned the little seeds. Jump forward two months… after helping serve an awe-inspiring farm-to-table dinner at Red Door, we were sitting around the campfire discussing our melon maladies. Stacy and Tenzin, did not hesitate to extend the offer to share their melon bounty with our CSA members. Last night, we went to their farm and helped harvest the deliciousness and you are receiving them today.
We have touched on the topic of cooperation between CSA farms in the past, but it is worth mentioning again. One thing that has truly taken us by surprise is the willingness of other CSA farms in our area to help out and extend some very generous offers at the drop of a hat. Everything from bed shapers to root vegetables. One might have assumed we are in competition with these folks but upon meeting them, it doesn’t take long to realize that we are all in this together. And as long as we are all working toward the goal of getting more people to embrace and choose local food, we are all winning. We owe Red Door (and our farming friends at Stoney Acres and Cattail Organics too) a bit of thanks for having helped us in so many ways these past four years. If you get the chance, please express some gratitude on our behalf.
We increasingly feel that restaurant menus simply don’t offer much that we find both appealing and healthy. We often feel like we could make better food at home. We’ve evolved to appreciate simpler, boldly flavored dishes with a seasonal rhythm. We’ve come to despise the same old protein-focused menu with ribeye or breaded shrimp that every eatery offers all from the same white food distribution truck. Oftentimes, restaurant food makes us downright sick and we know this and plan for the digestive discontent that will follow before we walk through the door. Why have we settled on paying for food that doesn’t make us feel good?
But the concept of a “healthy restaurant” would never sell. Right? Well, that depends on one’s concept of health food. The old notion of tofu and sprouts step aside. A new “healthy” is emerging. The concept that vegetables and fruits can take center stage, with lean protein in smaller portions to accompany. Boost the nutrition by including farm-to-table greens, roots, and legumes prepared with healthier oils like avocado and olive. All of this combined with fresh, bold herbs and fresh ground spices. A whole new concept of healthy restaurant dining. Flavor! Show us a menu that doesn’t include bloat, indigestion and night sweats. Don’t even get us started on the kids menu. Chicken tenders, grilled cheese or burger. How creative!?
What is preventing local restaurants from making their food healthier? A large part of it is cost. It is cheaper as well as easier to offer partially processed, starch laden food. The other big factor is demand. When a local restaurant offered a new roasted winter squash salad with nuts and fruit we heard all about it. This seasonal offering quickly became a full-time side dish because people raved about the quality and flavor. Customer feedback and requests is how we get our eateries to change. Have a conversation with the host, wait staff or owner about their fresh or local menu options. Seek out establishments with a menu that changes regularly and includes local food with seasonal flavors. Browse thru FarmShed Farm Fresh Atlas available at our booth to find eateries that offer something a little fresher. Don’t settle for digestive discontent!
Until next time,
Wasted Food Epidemic
As Americans, we hold the title of “greatest food wasting nation in the world.” This isn’t the most appealing honor, but perhaps it is debatable. Or maybe some of us waste far less than the average one pound per day while others must be picking up our slack and wasting much more. It really depends on what you mean by waste. Simply having been grown and not consumed by humans, then yes, we waste a lot. Or harvesting and never making it to the table, or perhaps being used to supplement an animal’s feed or compost pile… there is room for interpretation.
By now you have noticed that not all of your veggies are picture perfect. Far from it actually. While we are getting a little better at what we do with each season, we still have cucumbers just a bit bigger than planned, dill with a few dead leaves, potatoes with bits of skin removed, lettuce with brown tips, and the list goes on. We apologize and thank you at the same time. We rely on our CSA members to lower their standards. We hope that you will take an extra second to trim instead of throw the entire piece out. On our farm, if we threw every damaged piece of produce away there wouldn’t be much left! This is the way it is on all produce farms, don’t be fooled.
This past Tuesday at market, we had some oddly shaped, heirloom tomatoes on the sale table. A young girl pointed to the fruit with a disgusted look on her face and insisted her mother look at the ugly tomato. Her mom replied something along the lines of the ugly tomatoes taste better. They went back and forth a bit, but the mother could not convince her young daughter that she too could learn to appreciate flavor over appearance of the ugly tomato if she just tried it. I praised the mother for her efforts and we conceded that hopefully one day the girl would grow a garden of her own and come to understand.
This week’s produce is no different. You might find some insect damage on the cabbage or a crack in your tomato. Please continue to help us waste less by taking time to make ugly food into beautiful, nourishing meals.
Enjoying the beauty of the garden,
In light of a conversation this weekend with our farming friends about employee woes, we realized we are fortunate to have the people we have working with us day in and day out. We don’t always get to do exactly what we want all the time. There are tasks on the farm that we dread. Green beans are the least favorite item we have to harvest, largely because there are so many and they don’t hold well in the field so we can’t really push it off until tomorrow and jeopardize the crop. In order to pick the entire 250’ three row bed, two of us would need to spend about 4 hours harvesting. We grow bush beans, so it is a lot of bending over.
Friday we had every crop crossed of the pick sheet except the beans and there was only an hour left in our day. Enough procrastinating! We had a wholesale order to be delivered that afternoon calling for 60 lbs. It had been raining all day. We were on our second change of clothes and soaked through again. But our crew, tackled the task with little complaint.
Every week there is physically taxing, downright dirty work on the farm. Pulling thistles and weeds as tall as our ten year old, ripping out expired brassicas, picking rock, hauling manure and the list goes on. But we have come to learn that even the worst of jobs can be tolerable and maybe even fun with the right people working with you. We are fortunate enough to have those people on our farm. Not a single one of us wants the other to overdo themselves or have to pull more weight. We are always taking turns on the fork, or on our knees, or with our hands in the cold water to make sure we each get a break. And there is no whining and very few complaints other than joking about the who is more miserable. The simple humor and vegetable puns never end and an accidental bump into the pile of poles with the van full of harvest bins keeps us laughing for days. A far cry from our days of laboring on a road crew or being in a dramatic office setting. We love what we do because of the people doing it with us.
A Social Farm
Last week, we told you about selling our farm by creating connections. The past few days we have been busy doing just that. There were 108 people on the farm for dinner on Friday night and it was a fantastic evening! Our guests got to taste and savor the flavor of each bite of food just feet from where it was grown. Fresh, never frozen or processed and it was a treat. For us, one of the best parts is seeing people all seated together at the long tables.
Talking with friends and strangers alike. Listening to the strumming of the guitar. Patiently waiting for each course to be served and wine glass to be poured while honeybees visit the floral centerpieces. Slowing down enough to enjoy the meal for more than just the food. Making connections with fellow fresh food enthusiasts.
Looking ahead, we have one more week of preparing for guests on the farm. Thursday’s Wisconsin Farmers Union event will be a different type of connecting with both beginning and experienced farmers gathering on our farm. Agriculture as an industry is struggling. We are at a point in time when farmers are receiving an all time low percentage of the food dollar when you consider inflation. One conversation or cooperative effort with another farmer can be the difference in profit or loss for an entire season. We take to heart others’ stories of success and failure as there is a learning opportunity in these conversations. Simply gathering together with our farming neighbors is another long lost tradition making a resurgence, much like eating fresh from the farm.
Thursday morning, Mr. Quan Ban will bring his students to the farm. He keeps an incredible garden at Prentice School complete with a nursery of native plants for prairie restoration, honey bee hives, grape arbors, and apple orchard. He is working to inspire a green thumb in his students and give them the knowledge needed to grow their own food. He also teaches them that people can make a living in agriculture in rural areas hoping to retain young people in small towns like Prentice. Bringing people together to spark conversations about growing and eating local food will be even more important for these young people interested in farming as our local food movement continues to take shape. Getting people to connect to the land where food comes and the farmer who grows it comes one small victory or farm visit at a time.
You wouldn’t think it would be difficult to convince a person that fresh farm produce is good for them. But it is. It is also mysterious to us that someone wouldn’t think twice about buying a sugar-laden processed snack for three-times as much as a delicious farm-fresh cucumber, but people are becoming more and more comfortable with the disconnect in their food system. Sort of like how a teenager would rather send a text message than make a phone call. Or why the next generation seems to have a hard time with face-to-face socializing. It is easier and more comfortable for most people to not know the face behind their food. This convenience and stay-at-home comfort is driving the fresh food delivery industry and creating a disadvantage for small farms.
A huge part of what we do is marketing. Perhaps not in the form you are most familiar with. We’re not dealing with fancy packaging or noisy commercials. We have to sell ourselves, our farm and our philosophies and convince people that eating whole, fresh food from our farm is better or at least more fulfilling than whatever else they are already eating even though it isn’t always convenient or comfortable. This is largely done through educating and a face-to-face conversation. We read magazine articles, scientific journals, summaries from recent studies… all in hopes to find that one tidbit of information that will sway someone to buy their food from We Grow. Something that sparks a connection, a common-thinking about what is good.
This week, we will host our annual farm-to-table dinner. We don’t invite folks to our farm for a meal just to sell some food of course. Our primary goal is to establish a connection, hopefully a long-term connection. We want people to see how hard we work and what it takes to produce food for a community, even if we are only reaching a tiny portion for now. The folks who sit around the table with us become our friends. We want them to be successful in what they do just as much as we want success for ourselves. This is what makes a community resilient and fun to be a part of. And even if you can’t make it to the farm this week, consider a future event. Set your feet on the ground where your food comes from and find that connection for yourself.
Until next time,
The CSA Eating Experience
This past week you received what we consider to be more challenging items, chard and broccoli shoots. We don’t know what happens after you get the veggies home but we make assumptions leaning toward the theory that you each are doing everything you can to figure out how to get your produce used up. There will be weeks when you have the best intentions to be a super-chef and maximize your CSA experience, and then life sets in and you find yourself eating raw broccoli with ranch dip.
It can feel like you’re “failing” at your original goal to change the way you eat, but remember that eating more vegetables, even if it’s just with dip, is already a win. Some veggies may rot in your fridge in a particularly hectic week, and that’s okay. Believe it or not, this still happens to us too. It takes time to develop new habits, and learn to enjoy the spontaneity of a CSA share. Being flexible in your weekly menu is key. Afterall, you’re giving up control over what veggies come to your kitchen each week.
We are not huge fans of chard, but tonight we tried a creamy bacon chard recipe and gave it one last whorl. Over a half pound of chard and our family of four ate nearly the entire pan full. So now we wave the white flag and stop fighting something we did not think we liked. Chard is our new side!
A good CSA will push you to try new foods and explore variety in your kitchen while eating with the seasons and being able to shake the hand that feeds you. Our ultimate goal is to change the way you eat. Slow down. Think about not only what you put into your body, but the social aspect of supporting local people. Gathering over a meal made of food grown by hard work and determination by someone you know is meaningful. It is not a secret that we rely on you for our livelihood. We are of course grateful that you have chosen to support our family, but perhaps more so that you eat what we produce. Afterall, there is hardly a more intimate choice than the food we choose to nourish ourselves and our family. Knowing your farmer makes eating a whole new experience.
Until next time,
Food For Thought
As we are packing another week of hard-to-get-clean greens coming from our field due to those heavy rains a week ago now, we joke about the dirt contributing to our immune systems. After a few gritty bites of spinach, we wondered if it could be true. Does eating dirt actually improve our health?
A quick search on the internet and apparently there is a movement called the “Eat Dirt Movement.” Yes it is real and apparently people are curing a whole host of health issues simply by eating dirt and the soil-borne organisms within. These organisms enter our bodies both from unclean food and unclean hands. They aid the body in absorption of specific nutrients and antioxidants and apparently it is changing people’s lives. Recent research has shown that exposing children to a diverse range of microbes early in life, particularly those found in the soil where they live, reduces their risk of allergies and asthma and strengthens their immune system. Admittedly, we already suspected this to be true but never read the research.
When a school group was on the farm on Wednesday, we mentioned that most herbicides kill the micro-organisms in the soil rendering it life-less and no longer able to breakdown nutrients or make them available to the plant. Growing sustainably, we need our plants in prime condition to fight off diseases and pests, so our soil has to be in peak health for us to make a living. Not-to-mention chemical residue in our food deteriorates our body’s microbiome, which breaks down our nutrients during digestion not unlike what happens in soil. When you realize how many illnesses are linked to inadequate gut bacteria, this should be a serious concern. Perhaps most importantly, our microbiome plays a role in our immune system. It is lesser known that it also influences gene expression. The scientific understanding of biological functions is becoming more and more complex every day!
So the take-away we are pondering today is that the latest and greatest “superfood” is in fact dirt. The five-second rule is in effect to make sure we are allowed to consume that pound of dirt annually. And your dirty greens are providing food for thought.
Capitalizing on the latest superfood,
Good Bug, Bad Bug
This weekend on a farm walk with visitors, we found a real, native lady bug busily foraging on aphids. With today’s technology, it is easier than ever to snap a photo of an insect, upload it to social media and have it identified within a matter of minutes. We also found a similar looking bug called a spotted pink lady beetle that feeds on aphids and the Colorado potato bug larvae. The good bugs reminded us of our first season when we lost several crops to aphids and couldn’t find a lady bug for miles. Since then, it has been a game of good bug versus bad bug.
A conventional farmer might be quick to treat an insect pest with a chemical insecticide. This would work in the short-term, but the pest would eventually return and it would have to be treated again. Overtime, the pest develops immunity to the chemical treatment and the new generations require a new chemical or they flourish because the predator population was never allowed to respond. Much the same as antibiotics in humans and animals.
On the other hand, allowing predators to find the pests will increase the good bug population and over time the two populations achieve a natural balance. Sometimes the predator is another insect. Specific flies and wasps will lay their eggs inside many of our pests. Their young feed on the host and kill it during metamorphosis into an adult. Other times it is a fungus or nematode feeding on the bad bug. Birds hunt in the brassicas for cabbage worms and even tiny shrews scavenge for grubs and maggots under the soil. We still get a few aphids, but we see lady bugs chomping them up almost as quickly as they hatch.
Yes, we do push the natural process at times by increasing the population of “good bugs” to prevent a complete crop loss. But bear in mind that when native species are utilized, they too will run their course and reach equilibrium thus allowing us to farm without synthetic chemicals which are generally detrimental to a wide range of insects including pollinators. Sleep better knowing the food from our farm is not part of an unscripted science experiment on the yet-to-be-determined effects of chemicals on the human body.
Entomologists in training,
A Week on the Farm
We wanted to share how our week looks at We Grow. On Mondays, our crew typically consists of our worker shares Linda and Jessica putting in the morning shift harvesting and washing for shares. In the pack shed, we weigh and count items out for the 50 shareholders and fill crates which will go into the walk-in cooler for Tuesday delivery. One of our hired workers, Racheal is also on the farm all day to execute our harvest list or tend to the crops. Oftentimes, it get too hot to harvest late in the day.
Tuesday morning, we are greeted by worker share Tom generally bright and early. With Tom’s help we will harvest the last share items. Volunteer Sally and her husband Nate join us and wash and bag for an hour before packing the Phillips shares for delivery. When the Phillips shares leave, if we have some time we will harvest a bit of extra produce for market or head into Medford for downtown farmers market. A majority of our shares are distributed on Tuesday with only two shares going out on Saturday.
We have the opportunity to make Wednesday a “day off” with only animal chores. Susan, our seasoned employee comes this day and could take care of the farm without us if needed. This gives us a chance to schedule meetings away from the farm, host groups or make plans with our children. As of late we have been using this day to get caught up on planting, but this week we are hosting middle schoolers from Medford who plan to help us do some planting and learn about sustainable farming practices.
The past three years we attended the Rib Lake market on Thursdays, but decided to give it up this season. This has given us another work day and we can see the difference on the farm. Thanks to worker shares Anna and Greg along with Susan’s help we get non-harvesting tasks accomplished. Then on Friday, with both hired workers, we harvest and pack for Saturday market and our final shares of the week. Saturdays we wrap up farm work in the late afternoon and relax. Sundays we try to only do animals chores then leave the farm, but sometimes use this day to get caught up on our task list. Afterall, we have the winter to relax!
Getting back into shape,
Welcome to the Farm
Finally, a new farm share season is here! We are beyond excited to have the opportunity to share our vegetables with each of you. There is hardly a more personal choice than the food with which we choose to nourish ourselves. Thank you for choosing our farm.
With each weekly share, you will receive this newsletter with a brief editorial that will either give you an idea of what is happening on the farm or be an opinion piece written by your farmers about current issues. We encourage your feedback and response to these newsletters. We love to hear from you. Please read the newsletter. It only takes a few minutes but can mean the difference in knowing what to do with a strange item versus tossing it in the compost after it lingers in your fridge for two weeks. Ever heard of napolini?
Now for an overview of how our farming spring has gone. We didn’t get started as early as normal with the snow and winter temps hanging out for about three weeks longer than normal. When we did get early crops planted, everything looked great and on schedule. Then things started to get warm. Then too hot. Our cold weather crops grew quickly and many went straight to bolt, which means they are not harvestable. Some have been infested with insects not normally present in cool springs. In the case of our early radishes, they came in so fast we picked as many as we could and sold at the May markets but a majority bolted resulting in a pretty yellow flower and tough, woody root. Beautiful napa cabbages came in about two weeks ahead of schedule. The second planting of napas didn’t do very well in the heat and we discovered total loss from heat loving cabbage root maggots.
Fortunately, some things are growing so quickly that we will have them much earlier than planned. This is the earliest we have ever had broccoli to share. Cucumbers and tomatoes are not far off either! The peas are full of blossoms, so we are hopeful to share these very soon as well. It has been an unusual spring to say the least, but with a nice bit of rain showers the past week it might just prove to be a fantastic growing season yet.
Farming the weather rollercoaster,
Week One Newsletter
This is a good recipe for fresh pac choy, napa cabbage or any oriental cabbage. Make this recipe your own by adding craisins, julienne carrots, or grape slices. We also like to add crunchy low mein noodles just before serving. A hit at potlucks!
- 1 – 3 oz. package of chicken flavored ramen (spicy flavored is very good also)
- 4 cups shredded or chopped oriental cabbage
- 1/2 red onion sliced very thin
- 2 tablespoon sesame seed
- 3 tablespoon vinegar
- 2 tablespoon sugar
- 2 tablespoon salad oil
- 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
- 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
Crush noodles and place in colander. Pour boiling water over noodles to soften slightly. Drain well.
In a large mixing bowl combine noodles, oriental cabbage, onions and sesame seeds.
For dressing, blend noodle seasoning packet, vinegar, sugar, oil, pepper and salt. Blend. Pour over cabbage mixture and toss.
Cover and chill several hours or overnight.
Stir in almonds just before serving.
Makes 6-8 servings as a side-dish.