Sunday, August 26, 2012

CSA News: Week 12

Greetings from the farm desk! In this week's blog post: share items, rye for sale, canning/preserving shares, children's garden, fall expectations, and recipes

In Your Share This Week:

Baby Salad Mix is back! This week's mix is especially beautiful to me- lots of red lettuces and red baby beet greens, green lettuces, baby kale, tatsoi, pac choi, and endive, not to mention edible flowers!

Sweet little cabbages- these guys are phoenixes, rising out of the ashes of a flame- or rather, of a field we'd abandoned to weeds partway through the summer. Last week I got the idea to check and see if anyone was still growing there, and lo and behold, I found cabbage. It's small from the drought and weed competition, but it's there- and it's yours this week. See recipe for cabbage and rye berries below.

Sweet Onions- more Ailsa Craig and/or Walla Walla- delicious raw OR cooked

Beans! It's been a good month for beans- there's another planting coming on, AND the old plants are sending out new flowers, so I bet you'll see beans in your shares for a few more weeks :)

Summer Cucurbits! Green, white, and yellow Cucumbers, and baby zucchini, pattypan, and yellow summer squash- just a few, but tender and delicious.

Tomatoes- more cherry tomatoes AND large slicers. This week's newcomers are Ananas Noire, Garden Peach, and Great White, in addition to the varieties we started harvesting last week.

Peppers- the very first sweet bell peppers of the season. Lime green bell peppers are called "Flavorburst," (I know- a dumb name, but a nice sweet, crunchy pepper!) dark green bells could be several different varieties (which will soon start ripening to red or yellow- stay tuned for colored peppers soon). Also- just a few hot peppers- Hungarian Hot Wax (long, yellow-green, semi-hot), jalapenos, serranos, or pasillas (long, finger-shaped, dark green), to name a few.

Kale or Chard- the green leafies are back! My favorite simple meal this past week was sauteed kale and sweet onions, with several different colored tomatoes and toasted walnuts chopped and tossed in at the last minute, with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, served over couscous. Simple. yum.

Basil- it just keeps coming. It's a great year for basil- the heat, the drought (as long as it got some water from time to time), all excellent for this mediterranean herb. I hope you get your hands on some delicious fresh mozzarella to make Caprese salad with those heirloom tomatoes and basil!

I think we'll keep this lineup, with some variations, for the next couple of weeks- it's the all-star list of summer hot crops, and it's so exciting that they are finally all here!

1. Canning/Preserving shares available: Tomatoes, Pickling Cucumbers, and Beans available by the lug (approx 1/2 bushel)for $30, or half-lug for $15. Basil available by the one-pound bag for $10. Put in your orders now, and when we have a critical mass of these things, I'll let you know, and you can pick up your order within a week of notification. You'll need to have some flexibility in terms of scheduling your pickling or canning project, as I don't know exactly when we'll have the critical mass of each crop, but it will be between one and six weeks from now!

2. Locally-grown whole rye berries available to CSA members: Farmer Marty Heller, who grew dry beans last year, is branching out into grains. This year he grew and harvested hundreds of pounds of rye from the field at the DeYoung Farm (on Cherry Bend Road). Cleaned, whole rye berries available for $1 per lb, at CSA pick-up (Sat or Wed people, email me to order). I'll sell what we've got (about 50# on hand) til we run out, then take orders for more. I normally soak rye berries overnight, then cook just like brown rice- a 1:2 rye:water ratio, brought to a boil, then simmered 45-60 min til tender but still chewy and slightly firm.

3. The Children's Garden is bursting at the seams! CSA members and farm friends are invited to not only stroll through but enjoy the beans from the bean teepee and cherry tomatoes from the beautiful branch trellis. Hang out inside the sunflower house, or dig a hole in the floor of the bean teepee. Smell and taste the herbs and edible flowers. Borrow a "Children's Garden Scavenger Hunt" sheet from the barn, and see how many things you can find. Colleen and Shelly, head garden magicians, may even host a garden program for kids and families before the end of summer- for now, stop by and snack!
4. We've passed the half-way point of the season! Right now it looks like we'll go through the end of October with shares (the full 22 weeks), especially since the squash and fall brassicas (cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, etc) will be maturing so late from the late planting dates, and I want to be sure you get as many of these things as possible before CSA is over for the season. We'll continue to be at the downtown TC market Saturdays til the end of October, and Wednesdays til the end of September. Wed CSA people: once Wed markets end, we'll switch you to either Saturday morning market pickup or Tuesday evening on-farm pickup for the very end of the season.


Rye Berries with Cabbage, Walnuts & Toasted Caraway (lifted from here)

by Michelle McKenzie

The rye berries are chewy and deeply nutty, the cabbage sweet, and the mustard perfectly pungent. Using a high-quality Dijon mustard is important; each grain becomes bathed an unctuous, deeply savory sauce. Great as a vegetarian, one-dish lunch or dinner, and as a side to roast pork.


1 cup rye berries
3 cups filtered water or vegetable stock
2 cups raw walnuts
1 Tbsp honey
3 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp + 1 tsp walnut oil
2 tsp unpasteurized apple cider vinegar, or to taste
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, duck fat, or lard
2 tsp caraway seeds, toasted over medium heat until fragrant
2 medium red onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, green germ removed and minced
4-5 cups shredded Savoy or Napa cabbage (MF note: you can use any cabbage, including those little guys in your share this week!)
¼ cup chopped parsley
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Heat a large Dutch oven or stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the rye berries and toast for approximately 5 minutes, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon. When the berries have darkened considerably and a nutty aroma fills the room, pour them into a strainer and rinse well with cold water to arrest cooking. Return berries to the cooled pot; cover with 2 ½ cups water or stock and refrigerate overnight.

2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bring the rye berries and soaking liquid to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and allow the rye to simmer for approximately 45 minutes. Add sea salt and pepper to taste; allow to simmer for 15 minutes more, or until the berries are tender and the liquid is absorbed.

3. Meanwhile, spread the walnuts onto a parchment-lined sheet pan and place in the oven. Toast for approximately 8-10 minutes, or until a deep golden brown. Remove from the oven, toss with 1 teaspoon walnut oil and a pinch of salt. Set walnuts aside. (MF note: you can also just dry-toast them in a med-warm skillet til browned)

4. Once the rye berries are tender, add remaining ½ cup of water or stock, honey, Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, and remaining 2 tablespoons walnut oil; set aside and keep warm.

5. Heat olive oil (or duck fat or lard) in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add chopped onion and garlic; allow to soften slightly, about 2 minutes. Add shredded cabbage, a generous pinch of salt, a few grinds of black pepper, and toasted caraway seeds. Stir to coat cabbage in the onions and oil; cover the pan and allow the cabbage to steam in its own liquid, about 6-8 minutes, or until tender.

6. Add cabbage, walnuts, and parsley to rye berries; stir to combine. Taste for seasoning; add more salt, cider vinegar, or mustard to taste. Serve hot or at room temperature.

makes: 6 servings

Roasted Tomatoes

Tomatoes, sliced. (cherry tomatoes: slice in half. Big tomatoes: slice in 1/2" slices)
Olive Oil

Spread sliced tomatoes on cookie sheet, drizzle generously with olive oil. Sprinkle liberally with salt. Roast in 400 degree oven for 30-45 min, depending on thickness of slices. Look for browned, crackly edges. I sometimes toss in halved garlic cloves and/or thick-sliced sweet onion rings in the same tray. Remove from heat, and enjoy hot or cool down and store in freezer til winter- way easier than canning AND it tastes amazing! Use for tomatoes in any recipe this winter (blend or food-process to make sauce in a pinch, after thawing).

Monday, August 20, 2012

CSA Week 11

In This Post: items in your share, a pickle of a workshop, farm news and crop updates, and recipes at the end!

What's in Your Share This Week?

Lettuce! Two varieties: Devil's Ears (long, pointy deer tongue type), and Red Sails (crinkly red leaf)

Sweet Onions- either Ailsa Craig or Walla Walla, both large, sweet onions that are super juicy- refrigerate these until using.

Beans- either green Jade (my favorite green bean) or our Rainbox Mix (green, yellow, and purple). Did you know purple beans turn green when cooked? Enjoy these raw or just barely steamed if you want to eat purple beans.

Garlic- we've been doing two small, rather than one large, bulbs per share- how's that working out for you? Any pref?

Basil- enough for a small batch of pesto, OR a basil-tomato-fresh mozz Caprese salad

Potatoes- Dark Red Norland, an early redskin with white flesh, perfect for baking, boiling, or roasting. We've got small potatoes this year - see rundown of crops, below, for details.

Tomatoes- more cherry tomatoes (from the field AND the hoophouse, finally!), as well as big heirloom slicers. The first heirlooms in from the field this year are Cherokee Purple, Crnkovic, Moskvich, Valencia, Eva Purple Ball, and Japanese Trifele Black. More varieties to come!

The very first summer cucurbits! You may get Miniature White Cucumbers (which range in color from white to yellow- similar to a Lemon Cuke but elongated, not round), baby summer squash, or zucchini. More of all of these, and green cukes too, in the next few weeks.

Optional Extras: Turnips and Radishes- we pulled an entire old bed of turnips and radishes. That means we have a lot, but some of them are super spicy, and others have some insect damage. There are three types of turnips- Scarlet Queen (red stem, red root), Hakurei (small green leaves, white round root), and Nabo (a spanish variety bred for its leaves and big roots- big green leaves and spicy, elongated white roots). Easter Egg (multi colored) radishes. If you love turnips and radishes, these are yours to sort through and enjoy the good ones. If not, the chickens will happily do it for us ;)

Pickling Workshop:
Food Preservation
: Dilly Beans and Cucumber Pickles / Thursday August 23 from 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm at Birch Point Farm / 7506 E. Birch Point Rd, Traverse City, MI
Come learn how to make brined and fermented pickles and dilly beans; or if you know how, come join in the fun of preserving food in a group setting. Produce, canning jars and lids will be provided. Each participant will prepare and can pickles and dilly beans hands-on, and take home a share of the jars at the end of the workshop. There will be take-home info and resources available. $25-35 sliding scale. Preregistration required. A partnership of ISLAND, Birch Point Farm, NMSFC, and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. For more information or to pre-register call (231) 622-5252 or email

Field Notes
It's been a long time since I've sent any farm news- I hope this update is worth the wait! As you know, it has been a HOT, DRY season. It has been the strangest weather of any growing season to date, in my experience (12 years since my very first farm volunteer gig!). Except for 2009, the year we lost all the tomatoes to late blight, it's been the hardest growing season yet. We've strained the irrigation beyond its capacity, got behind in laying irrigation at all in some places, gotten one or no harvest only from some crops (like baby salad) that normally we'd get two or more cuttings from, weeds have been rampant and loving this heat, and insect pests have attacked in unprecedented numbers and varieties. We lost the entire first planting of cucurbits (squash, melons, cucumbers) to the heat- newly germinated plants fried and died, so we had to scramble to replant for a later harvest. Also, we've got small potatoes- the drought set back or killed most potato plants after they'd formed spuds but before they grew much. We'll have lots of small potatoes, and maybe the recent rain will re-start the growth of the plants that are still green! We'll see. That's the bad news.
The good news is that some heat-loving crops like tomatoes, peppers, and basil (and the new planting of cucurbits) are doing great! Assuming we got irrigation on as soon as we planted, the plants did GREAT. You will soon be consumed by tomatoes. :) Hopefully cucumbers in the next couple of weeks, too! Peppers are looking good, just barely starting to ripen, but some of the plants are loaded with fruits. The dry weather is good for minimizing rot on fruits, so they have a better chance of ripening from green to red (or yellow, etc) without developing rot. However, dry weather also makes it harder for the roots to absorb calcium from the soil, which results in a condition called blossom end rot in tomatoes and peppers- a black sunken spot on the very tip of the fruit. We can mitigate that by continuing to irrigate, to make that calcium available and absorbable to those plants.
Fall plantings (more carrots, beets, turnips, radishes, as well as the cabbages, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Asian greens, etc) all got pushed WAY back this year, as the ground where we wanted to plant these things was a solid brick, from lack of rain, and impossible to till, until very recently. The transplants have been busting out of their trays, and finally getting in the ground! That means all those fall brassicas will be later than normal, and maybe smaller, depending on the weather the next 2 months. We'll continue to irrigate, weed, and hope for the best. (Right now it looks like CSA will run over 20 weeks, possibly the full 22, to make sure everyone can get in on all that fall bounty!) Thanks to my neighbor Jake for coming in with his 5-ft tiller to prep all that planting space, once it was possible.
Every year I learn something useful from the season, and this year a few things stand out:
1. Weather is becoming less and less predictable, and more and more extreme
2. Because of item #1, infrastructure like hoophouses, irrigation, and storage space become more important, to accommodate the unpredictable weather and crop and harvest needs.
3. The investor model of membership is great! I am a pretty hard-core CSA advocate, and as such I encourage people to become traditional CSA members when it can work for them, but for those who can't, the investor model is working really well. I've gotten good feedback from everyone I've talked to, except a few folks who live on my road and don't always go to town on Sat or Wed for market. It's hard to justify driving 8 miles to market for food grown 1/2 mile down the road, but right now we don't have a good system in place for them. I don't want to start a farm stand- any ideas?
4. The farm passed the threshold of reasonably hand-workable acreage this year. For the first time, we worked up over 4 acres and attempted to manage it all by hand (the only tractor tilling happening early in the spring, and all bed prep and subsequent cultivation with hand tools). In addition to unanticipated stresses from extreme weather, the sheer amount of space I planned to cultivate was too much for our current system, and I ended up calling Jake (the neighbor with the 5-ft tractor-drawn tiller) to till certain spaces more frequently than I'd anticipated. We were dependent on his schedule and equipment maintenance, and if he hadn't been available, we would have been, in a word, screwed. I'm thankful for him and his tiller, but it brought home the fact that Birch Point is ready for its own traction system. I wanted to refine hand work systems enough to not rely on tractor tillage, but this year made it evident that we're past that scale now. I'm considering either a walk-behind tractor (a commercial-scale BCS tiller with mower and other attachments) or a 40-50 hp tractor for tillage, mowing, and cultivation. The BCS certainly costs less ($5,000 vs over $20,000 for a new tractor), but the tractor may be a better long-term investment, as we may pass the scale of walk-behind tractor work soon, too.
This is a hard decision for me- not only is it a huge investment, it goes against my communal nature. On paper I really don't see any reason for everyone on this road to have their own tractors, and we have good relationships with our neighbors (and often bring them veggies or do other favors for each other, which I love). However, the farm has gotten to the point where a week of waiting for someone else to have time to mow for me can result in an acre of thistle seed dropping into three acres of garden, causing unknown future labor cost (hoeing and weeding). Also, I could never have anticipated the difficulty of explaining to Jake a bed-system vs. a row-system, of planting, and what that means for the pattern of tillage in a field (with some weird tillage resulting!). The bigger the scale (up to a point), the bigger the stability of the farm, but also the bigger the risks, whereas before when I had less garden space, every risk was a smaller one, and the benefits of not maintaining my own tractor outweighed the risk of letting weeds go to seed around the garden, for example. Now the benefits of having a tractor at my disposal, on my schedule, seem to outweigh the risks of the investment and tractor maintenance. So traction is the next big thing for Birch Point- hopefully by next spring!

In related news (big things)- we're putting up a heated greenhouse this fall, for transplant production and sale! We (Birch Point and Bare Knuckle, my cohort in this project) will primarily be producing our own transplants to get an extra-early start to the season. However, the sky's the limit in terms of plant production in that space. Ideas include vegetable, herb, and flower transplants for sale at market, custom orders (from other farms or gardeners who don't have transplant production space), perennials for gardens and landscapes, and ornamental annuals. What would YOU do if you had extra heated greenhouse space? We're taking suggestions :) Thanks for reading; enjoy the following recipes, and we'll see you at CSA pick-up.


Roasted Roots
Any root vegetables you have- potatoes, turnips, radishes (yes, radishes are excellent roasted!), carrots, beets, garlic, onions, etc.
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
Lemon Juice or Apple Cider Vinegar (optional)
Dried herbs like rosemary or thyme (optional)

Preheat oven to 400. Scrub and cut roots into bite sized chunks. Toss in a bowl with optional lemon or vinegar, salt and pepper, optional herbs, and last of all, the olive oil, to coat thoroughly. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet, and roast for 30-60 min, depending on size of chunks, or til edges are dark brown and caramelized, and centers are soft. Turn/stir at least once during baking. Serve hot or room temp.

Grilled Onions
Sweet Onions
Olive Oil or Marinade (optional)

Slice onions into thick (1/2" or wide enough to stick a skewer through) rounds or half-rounds. Skewer through all the layers to hold slices together (you get what looks like an onion lollipop). Baste with olive oil or any marinade you like (or not- they're fine without), and lay flat on hot grill. Cook until layers start to separate and droop, and edges are black, turning over once or twice. Serve as themselves, or with anything you like with onions!

Zee Besto Pesto
2 cups basil leaves and tender stems (remove woody parts, but use tender parts)
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts, and/or walnuts, and/or sunflower seeds (any nut, seed, or combo will work)
2 fat garlic cloves or more to taste
generous pinch of salt
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
generous pinch of pepper

Pulse basil, garlic, and some of the olive oil in food processor til coarsely chopped. Add nuts, continue to pulse til they achieve desired consistency (either coarse or fine- try different textures and see what you like best- there's no wrong way to do pesto if your ingredients are good!). Add more olive oil as you go, in case the batch clumps up and needs liquid. Add rest of olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and cheese, and pulse to mix. Taste. Add more of anything if you want. I like slightly chunky pesto, where the different ingredients are still identifiable, but creamy, blended pesto is delicious, too. Up to you. If you plan to freeze pesto for future use, some people recommend omitting the cheese and adding it just before using (frozen cheese sometimes gets a weird texture). It's up to you. Seriously- you don't need a recipe for pesto :) Throw some stuff in a blender til it's a nice consistency. Serve it with pasta. Voila.

My Most Recent Favorite Salad (or anything) Dressing

1 tsp ground yellow mustard
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp fine salt (or more to taste)
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup olive oil or any neutral (vegetable) oil
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar or cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. maple syrup or honey (optional but so delicious) ;)

Blend it all. Dress lettuce salads, cucumber salads, steamed beans, grilled onions, boiled potatoes, you name it. Enjoy.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

CSA Week 10! Aug. 11 and 14

Hello CSA friends, this is your farmer writing. I have been away from the computer (you may have noticed) for the past two weeks (gettin hitched, and all the hoopla leading up to the wedding!), but I'm back! I hope the interns and the farm crew treated you well in my absence. More farm updates coming soon! Meanwhile, in your share this week:

Tomatoes! More cherry tomatoes from the hoophouse and the field, and just a few of the first big heirloom slicers. Ask a farmer for details on varieties.

Cilantro OR parsley- time for salsa? or a bowl of tabouli?

Lettuce- "Devil's Ears" a strikingly pointy-leaved leaf lettuce, the first of the late summer heading lettuces, more to come (and baby salad mix will be back on the scene soon, too- that drought and heat wave really set it back, but there's a new planting coming on beautifully)

Beans! Our tri-colored mix (green Jade, purple Royal Burgundy, and yellow Rocdor)- they're so tender there's no need to cook them, unless you want to.

Shallots- the first of the season. Shallots are interchangeable with onions, but their lovely, sweeter flavor really shines when used raw. I recommend a sherry-shallot vinaigrette to dress your lettuce-and-tomato salad or your lightly steamed beans with garlic

Garlic- more! Please let us know how the garlic quantity works for you- too much? too little? would you rather have a giant quantity at once, to store yourself, or continue getting one to two bulbs in each share? These are still relatively fresh bulbs, harvested about a month ago, so they're still nice and juicy. You'll notice the garlic drying and becoming easier to peel as the season progresses.

Radishes- either French Breakfast (pink and white) or Easter Egg (multi colored). These were grown under reemay (frost fabric) to protect them from insects, which resulted in incredibly tender greens (diffused light made them grow long, and protection from wind made them tender), so if you're steaming or sauteing greens, toss in the radish tops!

Carrots- probably the last of the early carrots- the next planting is still small, so we'll have a carrot gap in the next few weeks. But never fear, more tomatoes and other summer items will be happy to fill that gap!

Beets- So, you thought you'd get off easy (without beets) this week? Think again! They're just so pretty and delicious (and you all requested more last year), AND they store wonderfully (remove greens and store in a plastic bag in the fridge, for months if necessary). We thought we'd load you down with roots one more time before the onslaught of summer fruit-vegetables hits (tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, peppers, etc).

A note about cucumbers and summer squash (and melons and winter squash)- Why haven't we had any yet? The first planting we put in all died- we planted, it rained torrentially, many seeds washed away, and those that remained and germinated got fried in the heat- dried and crispy. So we scurried to re-plant, and now the second round is lovely, with baby squash and cukes forming, but later than I wanted. If the heat wave and/or late frost holds out, we'll have PLENTY of everything, including melons and winter squash, just late. If not, we'll still have plenty of cucumbers and summer squash over the next couple of months. Thanks for "sharing the benefit, and sharing the risk" in this most bizarre season of heat and drought.