Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Birch Point CSA Week 9: Soil Moisture=Increased Production and Weeds!

It finally feels like bounty has returned-- we are proud to share this week's harvest with you, and look forward to more diversity and quantity over the weeks to come.  We'll try to make sure your boxes are full and delicious without overwhelming you.  Keep in mind: we'll send an end-of-season survey, to help guide decisions next season, but we welcome your feedback any time!  Keep the comments, suggestions, and questions coming, please.

In Your Share This Week:

Swiss Chard- this most gorgeous of leafy greens is in the beet and spinach family-- in fact, chard and beets are the same species (Beta vulgaris)!  Our favorite preparation is a simple saute-- saute onions and/or garlic with chopped chard stems in olive oil, add in chopped leaves and saute til tender (not mushy).  Douse with your favorite acidic condiment (CSA member Kat Eldred recommends the espresso balsamic vinegar from Fustini's).  Perhaps some grated parmesan or toasted, chopped pecans?

Italian Parsley-- these generous bunches are intended to be used like a vegetable, not a garnish. Did you know parsley is an excellent source of vitamin C?  Besides its nutritional value, parsley is delicious-- of course there's the classic tabbouleh salad (chopped parsley, chopped tomatoes, diced onions/garlic, bulgur wheat, lots of lemon juice and olive oil), but use your imagination-- parsley is wonderful as the base of a salad, tossed with marinated and/or grilled summer squash chunks, coarsely chopped and tossed into hot (or cold) soup by the handful- not just a sprinkle, a handful ;)  And of course parsley potatoes  (to die for-- toss lots of chopped parsley with hot, bite-sized potato chunks and LOTS of butter, some salt and pepper. Cream=optional)!  It's hard to go wrong with Italian parsley-- we prefer it to the curly parsley for its superior flavor AND ease of cleaning (less dirt gets stuck in the large, flat leaves), but any parsley is a good thing.

Summer Squash/Zucchini OR Cucumbers-- more of these beautiful and tasty members of the Cucurbit family.  Check last week's blog for a marinated summer squash salad recipe.  Use little cucumbers the same way you'd use big ones. cheers!

Sweet onions-  you may get Walla Walla or Ailsa Craig, the two varieties we grew this year.  Sweet onions are fantastic as themselves (try marinating thick rings along with cucumber slices and serve as salad OR throw slices or halves on the grill just til hot) or in cooking-- they're not as pungent as yellow or red storage onions, so even the onion-averse might decide they like onions after all after trying these.

Beans!  Beans are really coming in like mad.  The pole beans (yellow Gold of Bacau, green Fortex, or Purple Podded Pole Beans) are producing crazy amounts of beans, and the second planting of bush beans (green, purple, and yellow) are coming into their own and starting to produce.  You could see any of these or a mix in your share this week. Try a fresh (uncooked) chopped bean, parsley, sweet onion, and cherry tomato salad with vinaigrette- yum.

Potatoes- the very first potato harvest!  We sample-harvested a bunch of different varieties just to check progress, and ended up with a nice amount to share with you. You may see Anushka (medium yellow-skinned white flesh), Purple Viking (purple skin with red streaking and white flesh), Bintje (small yellow/tan-skinned, pale yellow flesh), or any number of different redskin varieties.  A few shares may get fingerlings-- tiny potatoes with thin, tender skin that you can cook and eat whole. We determined that most of the spuds could stand to size up a little more, so we'll probably skip a couple of weeks at least before the next potato harvest.  It promises to be a GREAT potato season once they do size up!

Pea shoots- Saturday and Monday shares got pea shoots in their shares this week. Our favorite thing to do with them is a very brief, hot saute with generous amounts of minced garlic.  You can also toss them into any salad or at the end of any stir-fry.  They taste like peas, as you might imagine, and are a fun twist on greens.  Tuesday and Wednesday shares will get pea shoots in a couple of weeks, and extra beans for the time being.

Tomatoes- finally the field-grown tomatoes are starting to ripen!  Up til now we've gotten about a dozen tomatoes TOTAL from outdoors (not hoophouse-grown).  This week marks a turning point in that we finally have some ripe heirlooms coming in. At CSA pickup, your farmers are happy to help identify the different varieties by name and characteristics, if you're curious. If you just want to slice and eat them and do your own taste comparison, that's great too.  Fingers crossed for a critical mass to continue to ripen each week til frost! tip: never store a tomato in the fridge.  Keep at room temp for best eating quality (flavor and especially texture).

Cherry Tomatoes- the same mix of reds, Sungolds, bumblebees, and black (brown) varieties you've seen the past several weeks.  Enjoy!

OK, that's the list for now-- more juicy farm news next week ;)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Birch Point CSA Week 8: the rain came down! the spirits lifted.

The latest additions to the farm!

Glad I waited til today to send this newsletter- finally, the news we've been waiting to report: It rained on the farm!   Most of Tuesday we harvested in a steady drizzle that bordered on downpour at times.  The crew donned raincoats, rain pants, wellies, and hats, and STILL managed to get soggy socks and underwear-- hallelujah!  I've never been so happy to be so soggy. We got under 0.5" but that was enough to moisten the soil to the point where the low-pressure drip irrigation can finally keep up-- drip irrigation is wonderful for minimizing evaporative loss and foliar fungal disease, directing water at the plant root zones, and for ease of use, BUT by design it delivers less water at once than an overhead system.  Drip systems work great when there is already some soil moisture present; this year's incredible drought left many of our plants growing in dusty bricks instead of moist soil, and our well and irrigation system has not been able to keep up.  So we're going to keep irrigating, now that a base level of moisture has been restored, in order to keep it up for the rest of the season. Please DO keep those rain dances coming, though!

In Your Share This Week

Arugula- it's back!  This nutty, slightly spicy leafy baby green is super versatile- we like to use it as salad when it's so tender, but you can also quickly steam or saute it to enjoy with pasta or grain (cooking cuts what little spice is there, if your palate is on the mild side).   I recently ordered arugula salad at a great TC restaurant and was disappointed that it was basically micro-greens-- elegant looking, yet next to no substance on the fork or flavor on the palate. I prefer to know I've got food on my fork when enjoying a salad, so we let our arugula grow larger than that. We hope you like the more substantial leaf size-- it's still "baby," as this is the first cutting from these plants, so it's tender and mild.  What's YOUR favorite size of salad green? psst....have you tried arugula pesto? If you like arugula, you may love it. Just sub arugula for basil. yum.

Sweet onions: the first sweet onions are in! These are mainly a variety called Walla Walla, and they are smaller than any Walla Walla I've ever grown-- the drought hit them pretty hard. However, the sweet flavor is delicious as always.  Sweet onions keep best in the refrigerator due to their high water content, though there's no need to refrigerate if you use them within the week.

Basil- it's pesto time! See below for our favorite pesto recipe, OR enjoy basil fresh with sliced or chopped tomatoes, pasta, on bruschetta, tossed with a marinated green bean-and-summer squash salad, sky's the limit really. IMPORTANT: Basil does NOT like temps lower than 50 degrees F, which means do NOT refrigerate, or the leaves will turn brown and mushy.  Treat it like a cut flower for max shelf life: re-trim the ends of the stems, place upright in water in a small jar or vase on your counter top.  Try to keep the leaves out of water; they'll last longer dry. Trim leaves/stems as you need them for garnish OR toss the whole darn thing into the blender/cuisinart for pesto (yes, even stems, unless they're woody).

Summer Squash/Zukes OR Cucumbers- your choice.  The summer squash and zucchini have been bonzo the last couple of weeks; cucumbers- not so much.  You may see pattypans ("spaceship" squash), crooknecks, green or gold zucchini, pale green cousa "stuffing" squash, or classic green slicing cucumbers, little yellow cukes, green or white pickling cukes. All cukes are interchangeable with each other; all summer squash/zukes are interchangeable-- personal preference for shape and color is the major difference.  We'll try to make sure everyone gets plenty of both over the course of the season.  The current planting of squash is still going strong, and the later planting is coming on. There will probably be a little lull between the two waves of squash/cukes, but I think tomatoes, eggplant and peppers will fill that in nicely. See below for marinated squash and green bean salad recipe.

Tomatoes-- all I can say is "thank goodness for plastic!"  Seriously-- there's some irony there, but if we didn't have a hoophouse, you'd have next to no tomatoes yet this year! Almost every cherry tomato and all the slicing tomatoes we've had this year have come from the hoophouse.  The late spring and cool summer temps are the opposite conditions of what tomatoes like.  Inside the hoophouse, tomatoes got planted earlier and have a warmer environment, so they've been very productive (though we're just starting to see the tidal wave we normally see 2-3 weeks earlier in the year).  Outdoor tomatoes are just hanging out, being green-- we'll feel lucky if we get two months of harvest from them this summer/fall.  We planted enough paste tomatoes to offer canning/preserving shares (1 lug paste tomatoes for $35), but until we get a heat wave, all canning/preserving orders are on hold til further notice. I'm getting itchy to can and roast and freeze, too!

Beans- so many varieties!  You may see classic green beans, purple beans (warning: they turn green when cooked, so serve raw for max purpleness), green pole beans (a variety called Fortex, which grow extremely long and convoluted and are fun to pick and to eat), or yellow pole beans (a variety called Gold of Bacau, my favorite bean- it grows big, long, and flat, a "romano" style that is fantastic when it gets longer and bigger- not starchy or tough like other big beans).  We tend to eat beans raw, with or without hummous or other dip, but of course you can steam, saute, or grill them, too.  The long beans are fantastic laid crosswise on the grill, brushed with olive oil, and just lightly cooked. yum.

Turnips- either small white Hakureis or red Scarlet Queens.  The summer turnips are finally sizing up! These two varieties are both so mild and tender that they're best enjoyed raw.  Hakureis are even milder and more tender than Scarlets; we usually eat them out of hand, like little apples, though slicing and salting first is even more delicious.  Turnips are also wonderful cooked, of course-- my fave preparation is cut into bite sized pieces, toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper, spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet and roast at 400 F for 20-40 min (depending on size of chunks) til edges are brown and caramelized and centers are soft. Enjoy.

Beet greens-- the first "beets" of the season, finally!!!!! A few shares might be lucky enough to get actual beets on the greens, but most folks will get the thinnings this week, which are intended to be used for greens.  Beet greens are totally interchangeable with Swiss chard in recipes -- they're actually the same species; just different varieties! My fave is a simple saute with onions or garlic, olive oil, toasted walnuts, a generous amount of balsamic vinegar, and a little heavy cream and chunked goat or feta cheese stirred in at the last minute. Try a pinch of ground nutmeg for fun.


1. Flower shares: we did NOT harvest flowers Tuesday due to the rain (water spots on petals reduces flower quality; I'd rather people get high quality flowers!).  Tuesday flower shares can pick up Sat at market, and/or doubles next week Tuesday.

2. Wednesday Little Fleet pickup will be unstaffed today; please take the box with your name on it and leave last week's box in a tidy stack in the corner. thank you!

Meet Your Farmers:

This week's featured farmers: Jae Gerhart (aka Jaebird) and Christina Barkel (aka Tina Sparkles)

This is Jae’s first season at Birch Point Farm.  After completing the Student Organic Farmer Training Program at MSU in 2010, she worked as the Production Manager of Sunseed Farm in Ann Arbor and piloted “The Goat Project,” a small goat-share CSA.  Jae is super stoked to be up in the Leelanau County area growing vegetables.  When she’s not farming she can be found swimming, biking (on her brand new Bianchi road bike!), or dancing.  Fun fact: Jae can walk on her hands for an unrealistic amount of time.  She LOVES ranch dressing and really really really loves dancing. 
Inline image 1
Farmer Jae with Allu

Christina grew up in Metro Detroit and has called Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ferndale home. She attended the University of Michigan, where she studied Environmental Justice. After college, Christina worked her first farm job at Frog Holler Farm in Brooklyn, Michigan, where she learned the fine art of salad making, carrot weeding and wheel-hoeing, among other glamorous skills. She next moved to Ypsilanti to work for Growing Hope, an urban farm and non-profit dedicated to healthy food access. Along the way Christina has also gained experience doing farm-to-school work, outdoor advocacy and nutrition education. A new resident to Traverse City, Christina hopes to call the area home for many years in the future. Christina is excited to be part of the Birch Point crew this year - she loves the physical and mental challenge of farming but is really in it for the food and the community. 
Farmer Christina at market


Birch Point Pesto
2 c. basil- include stems if they're tender and not woody
1/2 c. nuts- either toasted pine nuts or walnuts or sunflower seeds, or any combo of any of those
2 fat garlic cloves, peeled
big pinch salt
1/2 c grated parmesan (optional-- can also be added just before serving)
1/2 c olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
pinch black pepper

Toss it all in the cuisinart and buzz til it's a consistency you like.  I tend to leave it slightly chunky so tiny pieces of nuts and leaves are still identifiable, but creamy is equally wonderful.  If using a blender, you might need to stop and push everything back down into the blades once or twice, and/or add more liquid (olive oil or lemon juice). If freezing for future use, I usually leave out the cheese, since frozen cheese can make the texture weird.  Tip: try substituting arugula, parsley, dill, or cilantro for the basil-- equally delicious and versatile!

Marinated Summer Squash and Green Bean Salad
1 pint worth of mixed summer squashes/zucchini, sliced super thin-- if you have a mandoline, that's ideal. If not, just get your sharpest knife and your razor-sharp eyeballs and slice squash super thin, lengthwise.
2 small sweet onions, sliced crosswise into thin rings
1/2 quart green (or purple or yellow or a mix) beans, stems removed and "frenched" (if you have a bean frencher- yes, it's a thing) or cut lengthwise into skinny shards. Don't sweat this step too much; just slice them into something pretty and edible rather than entire pods.
1/2 c. chopped or chiffonaded fresh herbs-- our faves are basil, dill, mint, or anise hyssop, but any fresh herb you've got on hand will be delicious
1 c. apple cider OR white wine OR rice vinegar
1/2 c. olive oil
generous pinch salt and pepper

Mix oil and vinegar, s/p, onions, and fresh herbs in the bottom of a mixing bowl.  Add squash and beans, toss to coat evenly.  Let marinate in the fridge 15-20 min or longer.  Toss again before serving.

Birch Point Tuesday Vegetable Soup-- Tuesday was the first day that felt like soup weather in a long time! So this is what we cobbled together for lunch.

2 med summer squash, cubed into bite sized pieces
2 med potaoes, cubed into bite sized pieces
3 med sweet onions, coarsely chopped
1 c frozen corn from last summer
1 c cooked dried beans (or one can beans of your choice)
2 tsp celery seed
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
4 Tbsp butter
1 very generous sploosh olive oil
1 qt. canned tomato juice from last summer
1 pint canned tomato sauce from last summer
2 c. water
1 Tbsp "Better than Bouillon" veggie bouillon-in-a-jar

Heat olive oil and butter til butter melts. Saute onions, celery seed, salt and pepper til onions are browned. Meanwhile in large pot, heat tomato juice and sauce, add chopped potatoes, beans, and frozen corn.  Add browned onions to soup, use remaining fat in pan to saute summer squash til browned.  Add to soup, scraping every last drop of oil/butter and celery seed/pepper into the soup.
Follow bouillon directions (add to hot water, then add that to soup, stir well). Top with fresh minced onion, fresh diced herbs, sour cream and/or grated cheese (optional).

Christina and Brenin on our sailing outing

Monday, August 4, 2014

Birch Point CSA News Week 7: Still no rain :( Veggies still growing :)

What's in Your Share This Week

Lettuce: Most of you will be getting the wonderful red and green butterhead variety

called Skyphos. Not only is it one of our favorites for looks and taste, it has been

handling the warm, dry conditions remarkably well. Some people may get crisp green romaine or green butterhead.

Cherry Toms: Thank goodness these summer delights like these conditions. The

Sungolds are really producing and the other cherries are starting to ripen as well.

Salad mix: Still going strong but there may be a lull for a couple weeks as the next

crop grows out.

Rutabaga greens: Kind of a new crop for us, but a fun surprise. They are very

similar to turnip greens but with a little more substance. They are great prepared

the same way as any braising green.

Summer Squash: So many great kinds of squash this time of year and not your

grandma’s baseball bats either (though we’ll have those for you zucchini bread

lovers). We harvest squash and zukes when they are small and tender. Many of you

may be familiar with the Pattypan type shaped like a flying saucer, but for those of

you uninitiated, this is another type of summer squash. The name comes from the

French word for a kind of baking pan or patisson.

Peppers OR Eggplant: These crops don’t mind the dryness so much, but they really

want heat, which it seems we’re finally getting after so many chilly nights. There

is a mix of eggplant varieties this season including the standard black elongated

type. Don’t be intimidated by any green ones you might see. This is a variety called

Applegreen and it’s one of my favorites. I was actually quoted in the Fedco seed

catalogue this year singing its praises. I think it holds its texture really well, which is

nice if you don’t like your eggplant mushy. I’ve been sautéing it by itself lately to put

on sandwiches. You may get a smattering of green or colored bell peppers, Feherezon paprika peppers in yellow-green stage (shaped like a frying pepper, mostly sweet with a touch of heat sometimes), and/or Hungarian Hot Wax-- long, lime green, sweet-hot.

Beans: Both our bush beans and pole beans are producing now. I like all kinds

of fresh beans, but am especially fond of the flat poded Romano type. They get

nice and big, which makes them fast and easy to pick, but have a nice juicy crunch.

Everyone will have a chance this type, but we also have green, yellow and purple

podded round beans.

Herbs, Dill, Parsley or Cilantro

Mini Cabbage: Either compact green heads (Early Jersey OR Gonzales) or tiny reds. These little guys are a baby variety called Red Express that has been

grown for European markets for a while now. It can be prepared any way you

would cook cabbage, but these might be fun cut in half and either roasted in the

oven or grilled. Have fun!

In some boxes depending on the day of pickup:

Slicing Tomatoes: Yay! Tomatoes are in. These are mainly from the hoop house,

but the flavor has been really great. The field tomatoes are starting to produce as

well. Those who don’t get slicers this week will get more cherries.

Cucumbers: We’re starting to get more cukes, but aren’t at the green avalanche

stage. Hopefully we’ll get there soon. Rain wouldn’t hurt.


1. A-Z Cookbooks are in, come and get your copies! $15 each.

2. We are putting out a request for plastic grocery bags- if you have a stash of clean plastic handle bags, we are accepting donations to use at farmers' market AND if folks forget their bag/cooler when picking up CSA shares Tuesday at the farm.

3. We are missing a good number of CSA boxes, take a look around to see if you've squirreled one (or more!) away.  Each TC share (Sat, Mon, and Wed. pickups) are allocated two boxes for the season-- please remember to bring back the previous week's empty box when you pick up the full one!  Thanks.

Field Notes

First off we want to thank all of you for your support in our decision to suspend the

CSA boxes for a week. We received so many kind words of hope and encouragement

from many of you as we struggle through this drought. The diversity and quantity

in the boxes this week are fruits of that rest time. Unfortunately there is no real end

in sight and it has become a real 24-hour a day job to keep the irrigation going. We

got our hopes up a couple days ago when the forecast was predicting a long period

of 80% precipitation this weekend, but that has dwindled to a few hours at 30% or

less. Not very encouraging. At this point all we can do is keep on keeping on. Lots

of new crops have been planted and seeded and are surviving the harsh conditions.

Hopefully they’ll get a good soaker one of these days soon. On a bright note, the land

we are farming south of town (in Grawn) has been receiving more moisture (also a little bit

of hail) and are looking very healthy. There are also little things to be grateful for

in the midst of a huge challenge. Last night I went out late to change the irrigation

zones and while I was listening to make sure the drip lines were filling properly, I

got to watch the deep orange slice of the moon sink towards the hills and listen to

the sounds of the frogs, insects and coyotes. It was so beautiful I forgot about all the

worries and consternation over the lack of water.

Our dear visitors Holly and Kelsey have headed out on the next leg of their journey

to the sorrow of everyone on the farm. They brought so much fun and hard work

to the farm. They also got the farm crew out for a fun social event that we’ve been

hoping to do all summer. As part of their traditional half-birthday celebration we

went sailing on the bay. It wasn’t much of a windy day but a good time was had by

all as we tried to stay out of the way of all the fancy racing boats.