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. 
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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

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