A Three-Journeyperson-Farm Bonanza!

Last week, I found myself walking fields with some very awesome, very smart, very hard-working new farmers.  I was in the Hudson Valley, where we have a “cluster” of Journeyperson farmers thanks to some generous funding from the New World Foundation’s Local Economies Project.  There was an added effect I hadn’t anticipated, visiting three farms in close succession: I could see a few recurring themes (similar to what I talked about with Ben and Courtney a few weeks back) like the challenge of keeping good notes and records, like feeling limited by equipment, of wondering how to farm and recoup investments, of having enough income to save for bigger ideas and scaling-up infrastructure, of distributing food effectively to those who want it, etc.  Of course there are a lot of common positives, that the farmers are finding solid guidance with very proactive and hands-on mentors, that they are indeed producing lots of good food, they are indeed finding eaters to purchase their food, and they are all finding joy in the daily success, despite the uncertainties.  I thought I’d share a little about what each are up to:

Peter Harrington, Ten Barn Farm in Ghent, NY

Peter’s growing a lot of food–that was my first big takeaway!  I of course was happy to see and munch on my first peas of the season (my odd travel schedule had me miss a few farmers’ markets at home), but could sense that Peter is producing much more food than he’s able to move at his current markets and through his small CSA membership.  He’s learning (that’s the point, to accompany these farmers in their learning process) about how to spread the word to more likely buyers, and is finding out how to be flexible with late sign-ups.  While the initial boost of income before a season helps the farmer make investments, a farmer like Peter might plant a good deal extra to protect against crop failure–that means that when things are going well or if not enough people signed up before he made a decision about how much to plant, he’s got an amazing, unsold harvest!  Though Peter sells at nearby farmers’ markets, casual purchases are note the same kind of security as the support of a CSA.  I promised I’d remind our readers that you can definitely still help him earn back his investment in materials and labor by signing up for his CSA, late!  I reminded Peter that he should be flexible with the commitments, enough to give people a sense of CSA, but he shouldn’t let the logistics of prorated/short-term membership detract from his actual farming.  So, the lesson is that he must keep good notes about planting, harvest, distribution and customer accounts and be firm in his limits with sales options.

What a perfect head of lettuce!

What a perfect head of lettuce!

Peter's mom milks goats and makes cheese, so of course we stopped in and said hello to "the kids."

Peter’s mom milks goats and makes cheese, so of course we stopped in and said hello to “the kids.”

Kohlrabi, already.

Kohlrabi, already.

What a dreamy fence.

What a dreamy fence.

Peter has extra-long beds of vibrant vegetables!

Peter has extra-long beds of vibrant vegetables!

Jalal Sabur, Sweet Freedom Farm

Jalal draws connections between growing food, youth empowerment and a better life for many more people than you’d think could be reached by the action of one farmer.  Food that Jalal grows is added to other local farmers’ vegetables, eggs and fruit in a box that a person can purchase.  The big bonus?  Someone purchasing this box is part of the Victory Bus Ride CSA, which includes a ride from New York City to upstate correctional facilities.  The price is less than other prison bus services, and it builds a community around healthy food and healthy lifestyles.  Beyond his farm fence, Jalal works with youth at River City Gardens in Hudson specifically as a food system educator via Roots & Rebels.  The focus of my visit with Jalal was hearing how these all combine into a unified vision (he’s still hammering out his “elevator pitch”), which he can market and gain support for.  He explained some deep connections between the abolitionist movement and maple syrup (maple producers historically rejected slave labor), which is just one example of what he brings to the surface for youth, adults, and anyone who has a conversation about the food system with this great beginning farmer.  Jalal has no equipment, which has made doing all this work especially challenging.  Thankfully, many of nearby farming community friends and all the people he helps out are pitching in as they can.  I hope you would also read more about this important work and see how you might be able to learn, get involved, and actively support farmer-led food justice projects.

Michelle and Jalal hard at work weeding.

Michelle, Jalal’s mentor, and Jalal hard at work weeding.

Jalal was proud to tell me he'd built this greenhouse on a shoestring, following a NOFA-NY Winter Conference workshop on that topic.

Jalal was proud to tell me he’d built this greenhouse on a shoestring, following a NOFA-NY Winter Conference workshop on that topic.

Michelle, Jalal's mentor, regularly visits to help with production and marketing/promotion of the farm.

Michelle regularly visits to help with production and marketing/promotion of the farm.

John Agostinho, Fatstock Farm

This world of cute/funny farm animal videos (a world I’m happy to live in) hasn’t completely ruined my sense of wonder at watching a livestock farmer in action.  John has a relationship with all the animals on his small multi-species farm.  The sheep herd is one he’s slowly earning equity in: the first year he had the flock he made 1/3 of the investments, earned 1/3 of the income from the meat sales, and owns 1/3 of the remaining flock.  This year, he’s a 2/3 investor-owner, and next year, the flock is entirely his.  This is a simliar arrangement to what is called “sharemilking” and is very useful to transfer livestock and dairy farms to new hands–animals and good genetics are very expensive, so this allows a beginning farmer with the right knowledge and experience to get started much faster, with less initial investment.  John also has lots of experience with pigs, and I was introduced to some very happy, very chatty (yes, chatty) pigs, including one about to give birth (I didn’t get to stay for that part of the day, though).  Again, this farmer is thinking every day about how to best market his product; with meat, there is the added question of humane, USDA-inspected and accessible slaughter and processing facilities.  John sells via a CSA model in conjunction with two farms that distribute in Queens, which helps reduce some of the logistical stress because he knows exactly what is sold, how many animals to process, and how it’s going to reach customers.  Still, he is bound by regulations and the availability of infrastructure.  This is a huge issue in the organic community at large, and is an acknowledged roadblock to success for small-scale organic meat farmers.  Once the animal goes to slaughter, the farmer loses their control, so they must trust the facility and its practices.  The type of slaughter facility, and subsequent processing facilities, determines how the farmer can sell their meat.  If you’re interested in some simple, complete definitions about livestock slaughter facilities, I’ll direct you to the Cornell Small Farms slaughterhouse map.  So, back to John at Fatstock Farm.  I saw how John is attentive to the sheep in the field, plus got to watch Ella the sheepherding dog do what she is clearly always interested in doing–herd sheep!  One got away, all the way back to the house, which was pretty funny to watch.  Seemed like she wanted to hang out in the barn with her friends–John’s been keeping small groups in the barn on rotation so he can monitor and treat a hoof concern.

John Agostino and a soon-to-be proud pig mama.

John Agostinho and a soon-to-be proud pig mama.

The sheep that made its escape.

The sheep that made its escape.

Boars definitely smile.

Boars definitely smile.

 

NOTE: The NOFA-NY Journeyperson Program is part of a multi-state project to support farmers in their first few years of independent farming, modeled off a highly successful program piloted by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA).  We take on a few farmers per year for this program, and the applications open in the fall.  Read more at www.nofany.org/jp!

Bread, from Wheat Field to Millstone to Our Bellies

Group behind wheat and weeds3
Last Wednesday, we had a farmer-education event* all about growing grains that are good enough quality for milling into flour for human food.  This is the holy grail of grain-growing, and an important topic for newer grain growers.  Elizabeth Dyck from OGRIN (an excellent, thorough teacher) joined farmer Ashley Loehr at her Sparrowbush Farm on a clear, sunny day in Hudson, NY.  Our own Robert Perry, Grain and Field Crops Coordinator, joined in the processing discussion, showing the components of our mobile grain processing unit that small-scale growers can use.  (The unit is currently parked in the Hudson Valley to support the network of small-scale grain growers involved in our Value-Added Grains Project).

Over 25 farmers (and a few bakers and extension agents) attended to learn about the impacts on quality that various factors can have.  We learned about wheat and grain varieties, crop management, weather, disease as they relate to the milling quality.  For instance, a weedy field means that grains are harder to harvest and mill because the weeds clog the equipment, or weed seeds “contaminate” the pure grain.  Planting dates, weather, cover-cropping practices and mechanical tillage all impact weed pressure–so, a farmer can be doing plenty of the right things and still find themselves with a weedy wheat field.

Grains are scored for quality by a processing facility, but a grower will have a sense of the grain’s final destination (human food/milling, distilling, animal feed) based on:

  • The amount of weed pressure observed in the field: weeds can be separated out, but through extra processing and care;

    Red Fife weeds and clover

    Though farmer Ashley has done everything right, the ragweed and lambsquarters have outcompeted her underseeded cover crop of clover.

  • The weather: warm, moist weather during grain flowering can lead to diseases like Wheat Scab (Fusarium graminaearum) which at a certain level causes the grain to be considered unfit for human consumption.
  • The weather, again: humidity and wet weather leads to other diseases which reduce a crop’s eventual development into full, heavy grains.  So the amount that the farmer harvests and sells is less than they’d anticipate in a disease-free situation.
    Elizabeth Dyck with discolored and smutty Red Fife wheat

    Elizabeth Dyck shows a Red Fife wheat stalk with a few disease issues (note the discolored leaves and black grains)

    Harvest and post-harvest conditions:  Even out of the field, a farmer needs to ensure that the grain stay (or become) dry to at most 12% moisture.  There are machines and methods for this, and it’s so important!  A perfect crop can be ruined for human consumption if left too moist during storage.

Ashley Loehr in wheat

Ashley Loehr, who farms a lot of vegetables and is making use of her land to grow these amazing grains, too!

So, a grain farmer takes those things into consideration.  An organic grain farmer can’t rely on the arsenal of chemicals that a non-organic farmer would use for weed pressure and disease control, so their best practices include crop rotation, using very clean (weed-free, disease-free) seed from reputable sources, and a lot of good timing for everything from planting (to let the crops establish during the right time of year) to harvest (when the grain is ripe and the weather is dry).

A harvested batch of grain has its berries separated from the stalks, and then sent to be processed.   Grains are tested for:

  • Moisture content: for storage quality and as a preliminary measurement of quality

    Frederick wheat

    Frederick wheat: a lower-protein variety that makes a great “all-purpose” flour.

  • Test weight: a high weight-to-volume ratio indicates high quality and full grain development
  • Protein content: while not the only factor a baker needs to know, protein content largely dictates what type of flour–pastry, all-purpose, “bread”–a flour is considered.  Milled grains are often blended for a consistent protein content under a brand or label)
  • “Falling weight”: important measurement of how much pre-sprouting activity has happened (and therefore how much enzymatic activity has happened prior to processing).  Too much enzyme activity means that the grain will create a sticky dough, or in the case of malted grains, won’t germinate at a good rate to create the desired result.
  • Vomitoxin: amount of a particular contaminant; vomitoxin causes sickness, so the threshold for it is very low; disease and storage conditions affect this level.  NOTE: no grain is sold for human consumption if it exceeds the threshold; it may be re-purposed for animal feed or distilling.

Then we ate bread and had a discussion about the benefit of direct marketing.  For a small-scale grower, the ability to add value to the grain by milling it, working with a baker and offering bread to customers, or another arrangement, means that the effort is financially rewarded.  That’s why small-scale processing infrastructure is so key–growers need to be able to test and mill their grain locally and control what happens to their grain.  From the perspective of a baker, locally farmed grains offer the chance to elevate the flavor of baked goods, and developing a relationship with grain farmers might even result in custom-grown varieties.  Antoine Guerlain was the day’s resident baker (he bakes loaves with local wheat for Camphill Community–Copake) and he did an excellent job advocating for working with grains and flours because of their interesting “personalities.”  He had baked a variety of loaves, using a consistent formula (except for the 100% rye breads) to showcase the qualities that can be coaxed from different grains.  There were even differences between two strains of ancient wheat–Arapaho and Banatka.

Banatka wheat bread2Arapaho wheat bread1Spontaneous levain2Roggenvollkornbrot3

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resources:

Wheat Quality Indicators Fact Sheet by Elizabeth Dyck

Equipment Sources in the Northeast

The Wheat Flour Book

Bread Baking Classes at Wide Awake Bakery (Trumansburg, NY): Instructors provide a day of instruction, focusing on understanding the variability and interesting qualities of local, freshly-ground grains

*Our in-field farmer education events are called Field Days.  Check out all the NOFA-NY Field Days listings

Beyond Beautiful in the Hudson Valley

Sylvia Center Bee Garden June 2014

Bee Garden at the Sylvia Center

What this trip really needed was a poet, a photographer, and a painter.   That was my thought as I pressed my whining rental car up another hill in the Catskills, equipped with only a smart phone with an intermittent connection and a GPS that kept telling me I was out of range.  Would I be able to do justice to the remarkable story I saw unfolding before me?

This was my first extended trip to visit farms though the Central New York and Hudson Valley region.  My goal was to experience and gain a deeper understanding of organic and sustainable agriculture at its source – in the fields with the farmers.

The farmers showed me that New York State has some of the most remarkable beauty you can imagine.  In the early morning there are rolling hills shrouded in mist so lovely that even the construction workers at the side of the road look mystical.  There are brilliant bursts of color in the rainbow garden at the Sylvia Center where they plant flowers between the vegetable rows to attract pollinators.  Grain is not just amber, but also blue, red, green and gold at Migliorelli Farms and at the Hudson Valley Farm Hub where they are restoring a bread basket lost 200 years ago.   There are old barns lovingly restored at Mettabee Farm and a whirl of tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers flowering and ripening in their hoop houses at Common Thread Farm and Katchkie Farm.

The farmers showed me how to hear and appreciate the sounds of a healthy ecosystem.  There was a remarkable mix of song birds in the hedgerows of each place.  I went to sleep with the soft lowing of cows and woke to chuckling chickens.   I heard the hum of bees in the gardens, the rustle of wind through the tall grains, the sound of kind words and gentle laughter.

The farmers showed me what generosity means.  At Common Thread Farm where they are just in their 2nd year, Wendy and Asher still find a way to donate food to the local food cupboard.  At Migliorelli Farms and at the Hudson Valley Farm Hub they are taking on risks and sharing their experiences with smaller farmers who are trying to learn the nuances of grain growing in New York.   At Hawthorne Valley Farm they are continuing decades of assuring children from urban areas can experience what it means to be stewards of the land.  Katchkie Farm shares its soil and its bounty with the Sylvia Center to inspire children to eat healthy fresh food.  And at Mettabee farm, Elizabeth and her children demonstrated their vision of loving kindness by sharing their home with me for the night – and though I was a complete stranger I was treated like family.

The farmers showed me that organic and sustainable agriculture is more than a way of farming.  It is about caring in a deeply personal and meaningful way for the health and wellbeing of the earth and the animals and people who inhabit it.  It is about fairness, open-mindedness, and consideration to all.  It is about being an eternal optimist, a scientist, an artist.   And each farmer has a story worth telling by a poet, a photographer, and a painter.    It is a story I will do my best to tell in the next few blogs.

Thank you all for a wonderful experience.

On the Trail at Once Again Nut Butter

 

The best cookies, and gluten free!

The best cookies, and gluten free!

My nose knew I had arrived at my destination well before my eyes.  As I came through the four corners in the charming village of Nunda, NY, the gently sweet aroma of lightly roasted nuts wafted through my car.  Just ahead was the Once Again Nut Butter production facility and I was excited to visit the home of my favorite crunchy peanut butter.  I was soon to learn that Once Again Nut Butter is about more than peanuts!

Once Again Nut Butter’s motto is “We Spread Integrity”.  I wasn’t too sure what that meant until I toured the facility and talked with Gael Orr, Communications Manager. It soon became to clear to me that when you purchase a jar of Once Again, you partner in a mission to make the world a better place – from the ground up!

Once Again was founded in 1976 by Jeremy Thaler and Constance Potter. A friend mentioned to them the idea of purchasing a small, used coffee roaster and trying to roast bulk nuts.  Production began in an 800 square foot space in their basement and the rest is history!  Today Once Again is located in a 27,000 square foot state of the art food production facility.  From its humble beginnings, Once Again has grown to become a national market leader in production of organic and natural nut butters and boasts food safety and quality management practices that have earned it Safe Quality Foods (SQF) 2000 Level 3 Certification – the highest Safe Quality Foods Qualification that can be attained.

Touring the pristine production areas I could see what makes these nut and seed butters among the best in the world.  Nuts were toasted fresh and immediately ground into the appropriate nut butter and packaged.   And everyone was smiling – the organization is 100% employee owned and democratically managed, and was among the first Certified Fair Labor Practice organizations in the country.

Gael explained to me that Once Again sees itself as being a mission-oriented company that also makes great tasting nut butters!   This means that Once Again is involved in helping make the world a better place – from helping the local Rotary to addressing issues of poverty by paying fair prices for commodities and starting farm co-ops in developing economies.   As a healthy food pioneer, Once Again helped develop the organic peanut growing standards for the United States and they are currently supporting regional beekeepers from family farms and assisting United States organic sunflower growers with crop development.

Before I left, I decided to ask Gael for advice on a problem I was facing – it was all employee staff meeting at NOFA-NY this week, and the theme of the pot-luck was “gluten-free”.  Since being told of the goal of gluten free, of course all I could think of was food laden with gluten!  Gael gave me a recipe booklet of gluten free treats made with Once Again products, and a handy pack of nut butters to try.  The Once again Cashew Butter is a staff favorite and we learned it is great on apples.  I actually baked the gluten free Trail Mix Cookie recipe from the Once Again Nut Butter recipe book as my dish to pass.  Those cookies were so good there was not a crumb left!

Thank you Gael for the tour and to everyone at Once Again Nut Butter!  For more information about Once Again Nut Butter including the Trail Mix Cookie recipe, you can check out their website at http://www.OnceAgainNutButter.com.

 

Fresh Picked, My Favorite!

 

All "Jazzed Up" about the first veggies of the summer!

All “Jazzed Up” about the first veggies of the summer!

Finally!  After months of eating roasted root vegetables, pickled and preserved products, and most recently more asparagus than is wise, my garden is yielding its first fresh summer vegetables.  Jazzy my Corgi is a big fan of visiting the garden and is not above stealing green beans and tomatoes out of my basket for herself, but to her grave disappointment, it is not yet time for those. 

 

So far my garden has given me some very nice early cauliflower, young Swiss chard, spinach and a variety of lettuces.  The parsley and cilantro in the herb garden are going wild, but the basil seems to be lagging.  The tomatoes are so excited with the long-awaited sun and rain, they are growing and flowering with abandon and I am not too sure those extra strong tomato cages are going to work this year!  The sweet potatoes are eeking along and I wonder if I will actually get sweet potatoes this year, or spindly tubers like last year.  Patience is my challenge with root vegetables, I always want to check them!

This is the time of year when I discover my plants are conspiring to undo my planning.  I ended up with some asparagus self-seeding in my flower beds, and some poppies self seeded into my tomato beds.  A volunteer violet has shown up in my roses.  It looks nice, but I have no idea where that came from!  There is an iris blooming in the brush along the hedgerow.  My lawn, such as it is, appears to be transforming into a sea of Greek Oregano.

How is your garden growing so far?

Ben and Courtney: Journeyperson Farmers at East Hill Farm

On June 2nd, when Anne was visiting Maryrose and Donn (and Bob the donkey), I (Rachel, Beginning Farmer Program Coordinator) was on my own field visit!  I spent a sunny morning with Ben Pino and Courtney Sauer, who moved to the long-established East Hill Farm (where the Rochester Folk Art Guild lives and works) this past winter.  As farmers in our Journeyperson Program, Ben and Courtney receive educational and business planning stipends, support of a paid farmer mentor, educational and networking opportunities and a specific commitment by NOFA-NY to ensure that we help them find footing during their first few years of farming independently.  This visit is part of that commitment–nothing replaces real-time observation of the farmers on their farm.  I witnessed how Ben and Courtney communicate with each other (very well), keep records (okay, I encouraged them to record their evening day-is-done conversations on their phones to listen to later), and how they react to seeing fields (they’re a little concerned about the late timing this year).

Though Ben and Courtney have plenty of farming experience and grab at educational opportunities as often as they can, they’re experiencing what many beginning farmers deal with: how to apply what you know to a new place, with its obvious and subtle tendencies and quirks.  Ben and Courtney now know more than they did months ago about the condition of the soil at East Hill Farm, which has a high clay content (so when it’s wet, it’s really wet, and when it’s dry, it’s very dense).  They’re discovering that though they have irrigation and tillage tools to use, their preferred method of production might not sync up with those tools; they ask themselves, their peers and their mentor (and me) about what to do to accomplish their goals, and what impacts new methods will have.  For instance, they are currently wondering if they should abandon the old Allis Tramers G tractor because it works with a bed setup that seems too wide to manage, in favor of bed spacing that they don’t have equipment for, but would give them a more comfortable hand-labor situation.  On top of that sort of thing, they are dealing with the challenges of the floods last month (they’re just a stone’s throw from Penn Yan, which you’ll remember was greatly affected by flooding).  I loved seeing how they were thinking about these topics from a practical and idealistic perspective!

Some brave greens surviving through flood-erosion-drying soil conditions.

While East Hill Farm’s legacy of farmers and gardeners have built up the soil through incorporating plant matter and compost into the ground and utilizing crop rotations to let nutrients and organic matter build up between years of crops, Ben and Courtney are thinking about more ways to encourage healthy, better-textured and nutrient-filled soils.  It’s a long process, but since they are planning on building up the farm’s soil and being around for a long time to manage this the long-term vision of soil health.  Their mentor, Nathaniel Thompson, has been giving them great advice about producing high-quality greens (you can learn from him at our field day at Remembrance Farm on July 10th).  This goes along with their dreams of diversifying the farm to use its large acreage for grazing livestock and growing more grains.  Enjoy a few photos, and if you’re visiting the South Wedge or Penfield Farmers Markets this summer, say hi to these farmers!

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The Journeyperson Program is so rewarding for me, as the Beginning Farmer Program Coordinator, because I get to witness the passion, pain and personal growth (I had to go for an alliteration there) that these high-potential farmers go through.  I get to flex my muscles and work my knowledge to come up with the appropriate training and technical guidance options for these farmers!  While their mentors and the classes they take can give them so much technical knowledge, my job is to facilitate connections, and to reflect back to the farmers about what else they might want to learn about, practice, connect with, etc.  This program has me learning alongside the farmers, in some cases; at other times, the Journeyperson farmers communicate a need for training or resources that don’t exist, and that’s when NOFA-NY sets something into action (planning a conference workshop, writing a fact sheet, encouraging other service providers to offer a service, etc.)

The NOFA-NY Journeyperson Program is part of a multi-state project to support farmers in their first few years of independent farming, modeled off a highly successful program piloted by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA).  We take on a few farmers per year for this program, and the applications open in the fall.  Read more at www.nofany.org/jp!

Dreamy Spring Greens

So it’s greens season!  Here’s a little info to help you dive in and enjoy what’s out there this spring.

cropped-farm-pics-nov-04-007.jpg

First, figure out what kind of greens you’re dealing with (or just looking at).  Knowing which plant family your greens belong to gives you a clue about their flavors and complementary seasonings and preparations.  If you know you like spinach prepared a certain way, you’re likely to be able to substitute chard.  The only trick here is to sort out the vegetables that aren’t as enjoyable in their raw form (cooked vegetables are generally a direct substitution, with attention to when the vegetable is cooked to your liking).  Bold words are the plants’ taxonomical family, followed by the most popular leafy foods within that family.

brassica seedlings3

Brassica seedlings before transplant.

Brassicaceae (brass-ih-kay-see-ee): “Mustard” greens, kale, arugula, bok choi, pak choi, komatsuna, mizuna, anything labeled “asian greens,” radishes, turnips (the tops of Haukeri/salad turnips are a great addition to your greens collection); the brassica family also includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kohlrabi.

The brassicas all have a bit of a spicy/mustard-y bite to them, which is mellowed in cooking.  Growing conditions (heat and rain/drought) greatly impact flavor, so one bunch is never like the next bunch!  Because of this, many farmers will let you try before you buy (and if you received a mess of greens from a CSA or subscription box, just get to work sampling!).  All are safe to eat raw, but cooking might be more pleasant for the novice greens-eater.  Pair well with: sesame, soy sauce, miso, black pepper, hot pepper, mixed vegetable sautees, garlic and onions.

Chenopodiaceae (keen-oh-poh-dee-ay-see-ee): Chard, spinach, beets (thus, beet greens), lambs quarters, quelites

Chard (we'll forgive it for not being 100% green, as it's certainly leafy)

Chard (we’ll forgive it for not being 100% green, as it’s certainly leafy)

This family of greens (which translates to “goosefoot” because the leaf supposedly has a similar look as a goose’s foot) cooks from often-giant raw form into just a fraction of its size.  So don’t be alarmed at what seems like too much vegetable for you or your family–cooking will wilt it significantly.  The stems of chard and beet greens, as well as the “crowns” of spinach are worthy edibles, but need a good chopping and cooking to tenderize their fibers.  They pair nicely with creamy-textured foods, so try a nut butter sauce or salad dressing; or stir in yogurt, cream or cheese to cooked greens; of course, they’re a natural fit for making a few eggs into a main dish (and a great way to make your breakfast healthier).

Asteraceae (ass-ter-ay-see-ee): Lettuces, dandelion greens, endive

Though we tend to only think of lettuce as a raw food, give grilled or stir-fried versions a try.  The lower and inner parts of a head of lettuce are often sturdy enough to hold up under a quick, high-heat cooking situation.  Lettuce that’s harvested when it’s hot mimics its more bitter relatives, the dandelion and endive–all of which can be mellowed out with good olive oil, salt, pepper and a little sweetness (think of a honey or fruit vinaigrette and a wilted salad).  With an abundance of lettuce greens, it’s time to perfect a house salad dressing.


 

Storage:  According to sources like How to Keep Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Longer with Less Spoilage, by Tracy Frisch, greens will keep up to two weeks (and we notice that they keep even longer when they’re very fresh) under high humidity and very cool temperatures.  Some great advice can be found at the blog Food in Jars.  In short, keep the atmosphere around the greens moist using damp cloth or paper towels, but avoid directly wetting or compressing wet leaves.  Store greens and the damp towels in containers or the drawers of your fridge to contain the moist air.


Recipe Resources: New York Times’ Recipes for Health: Chard, Beet Greens; Food52’s Greens Contest; Saveur’s cooked greens recommendations; one amazing recipe for getting greens at breakfast (or any time of day you want to eat eggs: Alexandra Cooks Crustless Quiche, Loaded with Kale)

 

 

Darlings, dogs, and more at Northland Sheep Dairy

Some places just aren’t found by GPS.  I knew to watch for the blushing house at the top of a hill that would mark the spot for Northland Sheep Dairy, so I ignored my GPS warnings that I had “left the designated route” and turned up the gravel drive. It was a spectacular day and I was looking forward to seeing Maryrose Livingston, farmer and also president of NOFA-NY, and her partner Donn Hewes.  I also had another motive for visiting – a few weeks before, Connie the Suffolk mare and Eddie the American Mammoth jack had welcomed a new mule colt– baby boy Bob – and I just had to meet him!

Baby Boy Bob taking a nap.

Baby Boy Bob taking a nap.

Northland Sheep Dairy is located in Marathon New York, about 30 miles outside of Ithaca.   The farm can best be described as a collaboration with nature that is part art, part science.  The result is a healthy, tranquil farm that is essentially self- sustaining.  Maryrose is the shepherd and cheesemaker and Donn works the farm with his team of draft horses and mules.  I had tasted some of Maryrose’s delectable raw sheep’s milk cheese in the past (you have not lived until you have some of Maryrose’s Bergère Bleue cheese), and I was eager to see where it came from.  All of her cheeses are hand made from 100% grass fed sheep, and as we meandered up the lane to the meadow, I could see, smell, and feel the terra that created those cheeses – Birdsfoot trefoil, white clover, wildflowers, herbs, mixed grasses and legumes.  The dogs Jack and Miley came along in hopes for a chance to show off their herding skills, but a stern Maryrose said no, so they had to make do with leaning against me for a pat.   The sheep – about 37 ewes, were peacefully resting in the shade of some trees, and when Maryrose called them, they stood up and gingerly came our way, a bit wary of a stranger and the knowledge of those dogs ready to go to work any minute.

As we strolled past the gigantic bleeding hearts, lilacs, and wild roses tumbling along the path back to the barn, Maryrose explained to me that she had come to raising sheep the long way around.  She started with a passion for dairy cows that began after a visit to Ireland at age 9.  Years later, while still pursuing her dairy farming dream, Maryrose and Donn traveled to Europe on a cheese-making research expedition.  During that trip they spent two months on a sheep dairy farm in Timsbury, and that is where Maryrose fell in love with dairy sheep!  After returning from England, they partnered with pioneering dairy sheep farmers Karl and Jane North, and after 5 years of working with the Norths, purchased the property.

"The darlings" nibble some sweet grass.

“The darlings” nibble some sweet grass.

Maryrose also humored my hankering to see the mules.  Baby Boy Bob was snoozing so soundly, it was all he could do to raise his head a bit for a photo.  Mom Connie gave me a kindly but stern glance – everyone knows you should never wake a sleeping baby.  Outside, the Percheron mares Lady and Polly graciously accepted a pat while being hitched to the spreader.  In the paddock the gawky mule yearling “Tall Pete” and the stoic elder mule “Uncle George” were being pestered by the lively mule filly Lee, who really was in a “girls just wanna have fun” mood.  Poppa Eddie entertained us with an impressive bray!  Some attention here please!

A chat over a pot of tea with cream, some delectable risotto, and a dish of vanilla ice cream with Donn’s freshly made rhubarb sauce and it was back in the car for me.

Thank you Maryrose and Donn for a wonderful visit!  If you would like more information about Northland Sheep Dairy, you can check out their website at www.northlandsheepdairy.com.