April 2015

Chicken Processing, Rain and Personal Storm Clouds

. . . Apr 20, 2015 | posted by Josephine
Chicken Proccessing Helpers

This week we processed our spring batch of freedom ranger broiler chickens.  In addition to me and Randy and our friends Chris and Claire we had three college students plus one of their dads come help out!  Kudos to them for taking an adventurous interest in food and experiencing an important part of the food system first hand.  We managed to get 77 chickens ready to be bagged up by lunch time.  And yes, it was raining. 

Between rain storms we have started getting our summer crops planted.  Some of the tomatoes are finally in the ground but the lion’s share is still waiting not-so-patiently in the greenhouse!   There are a lot of steps to planting tomatoes.  Two weeks ago we made the tomato beds in the field.  We intentionally make them early to allow any weed seeds close to the surface to germinate.  Then we flame-weed the beds to kill the small baby weeds.  Next we put t-posts in the ground and put up the wire fencing that will support the plants.  We amend the soil with chicken manure compost and finally we are ready to plant!  These beds will also get a line of drip-tape for irrigation and a thick layer of straw mulch.   About half of the tomato beds are getting a black woven ground cover instead of straw mulch.  We hope to reap some of the benefits of black plastic but with a reusable material.    For these beds, the drip-tape must be rolled out and the ground cover put down before the trellis is put up.  We are banking on the fact that by spending a little more time getting the beds ready we will save a lot of time weeding and trellising later!          

Co-Dependent Saps and Storm Clouds
I admit I was dreading going to the farmers market the Saturday of our first CSA distribution.  Lily Rose was due to kid at any moment.  I know there are loads of people who keep goats (and pigs, cows, sheep, etc.) and have day jobs that take them off the farm for ten hours a day.  Frankly, I don’t see how they do it.  The anxiety would kill me.  Moreover, the abysmal weather this spring means I had near to nothing to sell.  I hate sitting at an empty table.  I feel like I am letting customers down and letting the market down.  Just for the record, all you farmers market shoppers, never comment on a farmer selling out like it’s a good thing.  It is always a bad thing.  Unless it is five minutes before the end of the market, then it’s okay.  And being friendly is tiring.  I have never been a naturally outgoing person.  Those of us behind the table are on display, too.  Being “on” comes naturally to some people: people who are perfectly at home at a party where they don’t know anyone.  Not me.       

I’m like a little kid who doesn’t want to get into the bath but has a great time once they are in there.  Of course I love going to the farmers market.  I get to see friends I haven’t seen in months.  I love talking shop with other farmers, and I love meeting and talking with our customers.  It feels good to be part of this community.   

When I got home I had to admit to Randy that I had a good time.  He endured my complaining Friday night.  He knew I would enjoy myself, I always do (except some of those sweltering days in August).  “Besides,” he said, “being around people makes you happy.  You sounded really happy when you called me from the market.” 

I know he meant it in a good way.  Still, I felt instantly guilty.  Has Randy been getting all the grumpy Josephine while I give away all the cheerful Josephine to people who are not nearly as important in my life?  There has been a lot to grump about lately.  The wet weather meant our spring garden is only half as big as we had planned and everything got planted late and may or may not have time to produce before it gets too hot.  My favorite crop, the carrots, did not germinate well.  The cold and wet meant a record number of broiler chickens died.  We lost a lot of hens over the winter to predators and now we have some egg eaters in there so we aren’t getting as many eggs as we should.  The pigs are not gaining as well as we thought.  And it is still raining.  There isn’t a lot of wiggle room in our farm budget this year so losing money on everything is a wee bit stressful.  I am optimistic that we’ll have some bumper crops to pick up the slack, but right now it’s hard to imagine what those might be.      

Yes, farming makes me happy in a big picture sense, but does it make me an unpleasant person to live with in the moment?  In college, I knew some husband and wife teams that taught and did research together.  I thought that sounded horrible.  You have to really like someone to spend all your work time and personal lives together.   What co-dependent saps they must be.  Oops, I guess I’m one of those co-dependent saps now, too.  I think the hardest part for me is bringing my best self to the table and being aware of the energy I am putting out.  I can still take time to complain and vent and pull my hair out without skulking around the farm in my own personal storm cloud.

Surprise CSA!

. . . Apr 07, 2015 | posted by Josephine
Bok Choi in the hightunnel

Welcome to our 2015 CSA!  This is the beginning of our fourth year as CSA and market farmers.  We are so pleased that you all have decided to join us this season.  Our members make it possible for us to do what we love, and that is to grow the best fruits and vegetables and raise the best meats that we can.  We’ve already been working hard for the past few months to bring you a variety of tasty, naturally grown produce.  It is a great feeling to finally get harvesting!  Every week, this newsletter will bring you information about what to expect in your share, updates about what is happening on the farm, and ideas for preparing the vegetables in your CSA.     

I know it seems like we just can’t decide when the CSA is going to start.  When we started planting in the high tunnel eight weeks ago, we didn’t know we were headed towards freakishly cold weather and near record rainfall in March.  So voila! Our high tunnel crops are ready on time for a beginning of April start.  We had hoped they would wait and give the field crops a little time to catch up but the fast growing Asian greens refused.

In fact, some of the mizuna and bok choy has started to flower.  Don’t worry, the whole plant is perfectly edible and delicious.  They are cousins to broccoli, after all, and the most desirable part of the broccoli plant is the cluster of flower buds we refer to as a head.  All your greens have edible stems, so there is no need to discard them.  When sautéing a bunch of greens I start chopping at the stem end.  I cook the stems for a few minutes before tossing in the middle section of the bunch, cook those for a moment and then finally throw in the last leafiest part to wilt.  This way the most tender parts don’t get over cooked.                 

Spring opens with lots of greens.  After all, the leaves are the first part of any plant to grow.  Eating with the seasons can be a big shift from eating off the supermarket shelf where it is simultaneously spring, summer and fall 365 days a year.  We hope you are ready to eat like a farmer!  That means eating a lot of what is in season when it is in season.  The secret is to go completely overboard. I try to eat so much lettuce that by the time summer’s heat rolls around and the lettuce wilts I am absolutely sick of it and can’t bear to face another salad.  By the time I am craving those leafy greens again, fall will be right around the corner and greens will be coming back soon. 

When approaching an unfamiliar vegetable…
We grow several crops that you are unlikely to find in most grocery stores, especially greens.  Try it raw.  If you don’t like it raw, cook it.  Pretty much any vegetable can be sautéed in olive oil with a little garlic.  Or, as we do here in honor of the great southern culinary tradition, pan fried in lard or bacon grease.   We try to give you suggestion for preparing unfamiliar veggies but don’t be afraid to just forge ahead on your own.  Give your “not favorites” another chance.  I have had more than one CSA member tell me they thought they didn’t like cabbage until they tried it fresh from the farm!

Mizuna is an unfamiliar green to many.  It is sweet and mild and excellent raw.  Use it in a green salad or as a bed for potato salad or chicken salad, for example.  During greens season, we serve anything and everything on a bed of some kind of leaf or another.  Put it in a smoothie or on a sandwich.  It can also be sautéed and pairs well with your bok choy (but add the mizuna after the bok choy as it will cook faster).

In Japan, mizuna is often pickled.  Place a layer of leaves in a dish (for example a glass casserole dish), sprinkle with salt, then more leave, more salt, etc.  Thinly sliced red chilis can be added if desired.  Place a weight on top such as a Ziploc bag of water and put it in the fridge overnight.  Squeeze out the excess liquid and chop.