Enjoying the Harvest from Canandaigua to Mattituck

Jazzy photo bombs harvest dinner

Jazzy photo-bombs my harvest dinner

One thing I learned this fall is that no one appreciates a good dinner party like a Corgi.   The other thing I learned is that if you invite folks to come to a dinner featuring fresh organic and sustainably grown food from local farmers, they will come!  They will come even if you tell them it is a fundraiser and they will need to make a donation to your cause!

In honor of National Organic Harvest Month, many of us on the staff and Board of NOFA-NY held harvest dinners at our homes across the state as a benefit for NOFA-NY.    I co-hosted my dinner with Sharon Nagle of Firefly Farm at my home in Canandaigua on a beautiful September evening.

My initial plan for a small dinner for 8 grew and ripened like my giant Brandywine tomatoes to a dinner for nearly 30 people.   Fortunately, Mother Nature smiled upon us and provided a late September Saturday where the temperature was 78, the breeze was light and the sky was perfectly blue.  We were able to set up a big tent outside along with folding tables and chairs.  Jazzy the Corgi designated it worthy of photo bombing.

This Way to Food!

This Way to Food!

A meal that took a few hours to eat was months in the making.  The food at the table came from more than 12 different farms from Canandaigua to Mattituck.  The fruits, vegetables, honey, and eggs, poultry meats and wine took months (and in some cases, years) of dedicated farmers’ time and skills to plant, nurture, harvest, age and ferment.  It was my thankful task to simply gather the bounty.  I was also very grateful for Sharon Nagle’s help as a farmer and co-party planner, for the culinary skills of local chef, Evan Schapp of Roots Café, who created an array of side dishes, and for my husband Chris, who manned the smoker that infused extra flavore into locally-raised turkey and Chris’s famous ribs.

Dinner started with an array of fresh vegetables and roasted acorn squash hummus from Sharon Nagle’s Fire Fly Farm located in nearby Canandaigua and delectable raw milk cheeses from NOFA-NY board president, Maryrose Livingston and her Northland Sheep Dairy in Marathon.  Both created a buzz with guests, who quickly searched their smart phones to learn that these were foods not typically (if ever) found at grocery stores.

For our main course, Chef Evan Schapp created an array of sides with Sharon’s vegetables, including a velvety potato-leek soup in the French style, a medley of roasted potatoes with foraged white pine needles, and a fermented slaw of baby bok choy.  Alongside was the most amazing corn bread, made with roasted white corn flour from the Iroquois White Corn Project in Farmington and raw honey and certified organic eggs from Browder’s Birds certified organic farm in Mattituck.

Iroquois White Corn

Iroquois White Corn

During the meal we discovered that there is nothing like Hampton tomatoes – and what a treat all the tomatoes were from Board member Phil Barbato’s Biophilia Organic Farm in Jamesport.  We ate beans from the famous Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett,  fresh rosemary from Marion Gardens in East Marion, wheat berries from Amber Waves Farm in Amagansett canned heirloom tomatoes from Sang Lee Farms in Peconic.

YUM!

YUM!

Browder’s Birds honey also found its way into a signature Finger Lakes Fall dessert – grape pies made with locally raised concord grapes from Naples, NY.  We also had wild apple galettes served with fresh organic cream, along with chocolates and ice cream from Rochester’s Hedonist Artisan Ice Cream and Chocolates.

As I explained all about NOFA-NY to my guests, the fragrance, textures, and tastes from so many different farms and regions of our beautiful State wafted around us.  New York State is wooded, grassy, flowery, hilly, flat, rocky, smooth, salty, loamy, sandy, and if there is such a word, “clayey”.   Each of these soils and micro-climates transferred a unique flavor to the food raised upon it.  Some of my guests had never experienced this range of fresh, local organic and sustainably-grown food.   Most had no idea the diversity and flavor available from their neighborhood farmers.

Biodynamically grown grapes from Shinn Estate Vineyards

Biodynamically grown grapes from Shinn Estate Vineyards

 

The sun set a red cloak over the Bristol Hills, the crescent moon rose up and the stars leapt out.  Somewhere on a distant hill, a small town held a fireworks display.  The food was amazing, fresh, and all local.  The company was wonderful, and we made a number of new friends and some generous donations for NOFA-NY.  Thank you all!

If you, too, would like to donate to NOFA-NY during our Harvest Appeal, please head to our online donations form, or if you have questions, contact Cecilia Bowerman at (585) 271-1979 ext. 512.

Fungi and Bacteria and Viruses, Oh My!

Maryellen Sheehan, NOFA-NY’s Fruit and Vegetable Coordinator and co-owner of Hartwood Farm in Fenner, NY, shares with us some of her experiences growing organically in 2014, plus invites the organic producer community to learn together on October 21st.

After moving to NY from a high-elevation frost pocket in NH (average 95 days frost-free), I belatedly realized the sole advantage of a super short growing season—frost kills your plants before disease has time to off them!  Switching to farm in the lower Hudson Valley’s vaguely tropical 160 frost-free day season was both amazing (so many new crops to grow!) and educational (twice the warm weather hosts exponentially more insects and disease to kill plants!).

While my inner scientist remains fascinated by finding and identifying all the new plagues offing our plants at Hartwood Farm in Fenner, NY (new this year: Swede midge, bacterial spot, and the undetermined soil funk that melted 3 plantings of lettuce), the market farmer part of me does not enjoy these new discoveries.  The NOFA-NY technical assistance part of me dreads hearing about the challenges faced by some of our members this season, but that part of me is able to take action by planning educational events for growers who, like me, face all sorts of unexpected challenges each year.  At the end of each season, and throughout the winter, we have the opportunity to reflect on the diseases that impacted our community and learn what practices and controls are proving most effective.IMG_5721

We have dedicated researchers and educators committed to helping organic and IPM growers identify their problems and find effective control options.  On Tuesday, October 21st, Cornell’s Chris Smart, Abby Seaman, Meg McGrath, and Sarah Pethybridge will join up to teach organic management for bacterial and fungal pathogens, soil borne disease, and late blight.  It will be a full and informative day with plenty of time to ask questions—we hope to see you there!  There is no other way to get this small-group access to these great (and busy) researchers; at $25 for the full day, including lunch, it’s worth the day off the farm.  Register HERE or read the full workshop description HERE!

Why think about diseases now?  Since organic control options are based on prevention, now is really the best time to plan for potential problems!  In the heat of the summer, most of us won’t have the time to research and shop around frantically for last minute insect and disease controls.  In the mid-winter, a lot of the daily challenges have faded (and some of us even attempt to go on vacation, leaving less time to learn and plan).  During the late winter and spring, growers are busy enough going to conferences and conventions, seeding, planting, and doing a thousand other things, so it can be difficult to think about preventative sprays and staying on top of a disease control program.  It’s easier when you pre-program that into your schedule by planning for it before any of next season’s action.  Variety selection, field layout, and soil amendments all affect your crops as well, and you certainly need to account for all of that before you open those gorgeous seed catalogs in the winter.  Our instructors at both October events are planning to give great information about these strategies, from organically-approved sprays to soil-building for robust plants at our October events.

004For a little teaser about organic disease management concepts, UVM’s Vern Grubinger has a short article that really hits on the key points here: http://www.uvm.edu/vtvegandberry/factsheets/diseasemanagement.html.  There are often multiple pest, disease and climate-related concerns that confuse and confound farmers.  While a great resource to help learn disease identification is the Vegetable MD website: http://vegetablemdonline.ppath.cornell.edu/, I’d still recommend you come to our workshops with any photos, data, or questions about what you experienced this past season.  With many farmers and plant pathologists in one room, we’re bound to learn what’s trending in terms of organic production problems.

Hopefully these resources help you as you get started thinking about next year’s potential crop health challenges, and we hope to see you in Geneva on October 21st!

On October 30th, we’ll tackle many of the same issues, but hone in on some marketing and variety research as well, all related to the diverse and appealing Brassica plant family.

Fall’s Royal Crop: Growing, Selecting and Eating Storage Squash

Erik Fellenz weighs red kuri squashWith names that tend toward the fairy-tale (Cinderella, Moonshine, Black Forest, Hubbard, Carnival) to the exotic (Rouge Vif D’Etampes, Musque de Provence, Kakai, Red Kuri) to the downright confusing (Long Island Cheese Pumpkin, NutterButter, Pink Banana), the thick-skinned storage varieties of the Cucurbitaceae plant family (which also includes summer squash, zucchini, cucumbers, decorative gourds, chayote, and luffa gourds) represent a diverse and flavorful food source for us in the Northeast.  Many of us are accustomed to paying rock-bottom prices for pumpkins and gourds destined only for carving and decoration, and buying canned pumpkin off a grocery store shelf (organic canned pumpkin is available in this day and age, a nice alternative for the non-DIYers among us).  A conventionally-grown or imported pumpkin creates quite a toll on the environment, and builds a perception that all thick-skinned squashes, whether for centerpieces, Jack-o-Lantern carving, or eating, should be a cheap food.  Squash may not be as precious as baby salad greens at the start of the spring, or those heavy 3-lb heirloom tomatoes at summer’s peak, but growing flavorful, ripe squash at a small scale, without conventional pesticides and fertilizers, and in our unpredictable climate zone, causes farmers to either take a loss to bring us these colorful fall favorites at our expected price point, or ask a large price for something we’ve come to expect to be cheap.

While squash indeed grows in our region, and is prized for its nutritious flesh that keeps within a protective shell throughout the winter, our Northeast summers are not ideal for this plant to bear and set fruit.

Challenges and Strategies for Growing Winter Squash:

More days in the field means more potential for pest infestations, disease-producing conditions, weeds taking over, and mammals to munch leaves.

Other crops (including those high-priced greens and tomatoes) can’t be grown in a squash field for the whole spring-summer-fall season, an example of an opportunity cost.

Plenty of heat and sun (temperatures in the 80’s during the day and 60’s at night) are needed for squash to grow well.  With 2014 providing an excellent example, it’s clear that our climate doesn’t provide that consistently.  Growers have some management options here, including black plastic, Biotella biodegradable mulch, or dark landscape fabric (all of these help with weed suppression, too), a well-sited field with southern exposure, and starting the plants in a greenhouse or cold frame to have them maturing for more of the hot days of the year.

Squash are susceptible to moisture-borne diseases, namely powdery and downy mildew.  Variety selection and air circulation are key for crops, but no grower is immune to poor weather.  While some growers will provide cucumbers a drier environment in a high tunnel, this is not practical for the area of space and amount of time (again, it’s an opportunity cost, this time with expensive infrastructure) the pumpkins and winter squash require.  Disease-tracking reports are available to help growers be aware of the movement of disease via tropical storms.  Yearly crop rotation and proper disposal of infected plants help the chemical-free grower avoid future issues with these diseases.  Organic producers must always be on the preventative side, planning management tactics into their production plans, rather than wait for disease and pest problems that can be killed via non-organic methods.  If you’re interested in being such a savvy producer (of more than winter squash), attend the October 21st workshop in Geneva, NY, which will feature a number of experts in organic disease management!

Squashes need lots of soil fertility, so a grower needs to build soil for years prior to a planting of winter squash, and any crop that follows squash should be one that returns nutrients to the soil (like leguminous cover crops), or at least does not require a lot of soil fertility.  This long-term planning, and heavy use of resources outside of the actual growing year for the squash crop, makes the cost of production even higher than most farmers calculate.Joshua Levine (13)

Squash plants are spaced out significantly in the field to allow the roots to soak up nutrition, and the vines spread out to absorb the 3-4 months of sunshine that go into ripening each hefty, colorful, knobbly, lovable fruit.  Weeds can populate the between-vine and between-plant space and cause serious competition.  Cultivation and tillage when the plants are young might be one option for controlling weeds, but hand labor or deciding to not weed are the late-season options for weed control.  Growers use mulch to reduce the areas of the field where weeds can catch sunlight and flourish, and there has been some research into no-till methods of growing squash.  Conventional squash fields can be sprayed with certain herbicides to kill grassy weeds, and organic farmers can’t take that option.

Ripe squash fruits are heavy and require lots of labor and proper conditions to move from the field to storage, and from storage to sale.  Fair labor and living wages for farmers and their crew mean that squash harvest is pricey!  Squash must also be “cured” for 7-10 days at 80 to 85 degrees, meaning a grower must hope for late-summer/early fall heat waves or use up high tunnel and greenhouse space for curing.  A good storage facility for long-term storage has temperatures around 50 degrees and 60% relative humidity.  Beyond that, there should be good protection from rodents and the stock should be checked regularly for signs of storage decay, which can spread.

Further resources:

Enjoying and Eating Winter Squash:

pumpkins groupNow that you know the ways that your local farmer is working to bring you these great foods, you’re probably in the market for a few good techniques to prepare these squashes.  Some are better for certain applications, and your best bet is to ask a farmer about how watery/dry the flesh is, and how sweet/savory the flavor.

To roast small squash (Delicata, Acorn and Carnival varieties), you can split them stem-to-end, scoop out the flesh, and rub them with just a little fat, salt and seasoning (see below for ideas).  For larger varieties, peel and cut the squash into chunks or slices and massage with the oil and seasoning combination, then bake until tender.  Bake halves on a tray (line with parchment or foil, or just embrace the scrubbing you may need to do later) cut-side down in a 400 degree oven until you can pierce the skin with a fork and find soft flesh underneath.  Make a whole batch of roasted squash, and see all the ways that it can feed you.  Intact but cooked-through and chilled squash pieces even work well in salad, and any amount of cooked flesh can be dumped into simmering broth, then pureed into soup.

The drier fleshed squashes can be sliced very thinly and added to skillet sautees and even stir-fries (make sure they get good browning in a hot pan with oil, and that they cook through).

All squash will steam up nicely, cubed, sliced or chunked.  Keep an eye on it to keep it from disintegrating (use it for soups and better-than-potato mashes if you end up with too-soft pieces).  Pile some cooked beans and salsa atop, dress simply with olive oil, or add to a pasta dish.

A pressure cooker (assuming it’s the right size) makes quick work of halves and quarters of squash.  Just 10 minutes atop a steam insert is really all it takes.  Add some strong herbs into the steaming water for a lovely infusion of flavor.

Try these flavor combinations with squash:

  • olive oil, black pepper, garlic paste, and rosemary
  • sesame oil, maple syrup, and miso paste or soy sauce
  • butter, crushed fresh or dry sage, thyme and honey
  • olive or sunflower oil, crushed hot pepper or chile powder, cocoa powder (not cocoa mix), smoked paprika
  • coconut oil and curry powder or garam masala blends of spices
  • “Pumpkin Spice” mixes tend to include cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves; they go well with butter
  • finish any of your squash dishes with chopped and toasted nuts or (appropriately) pumpkin seeds or something creamy

Make your own pumpkin puree (via Local Kitchen, the key is straining out lots juice from the cooked flesh, then it will act much like the canned type, but with local flavor!)

Variety guide (Co+Op)

See the ode to winter squash (and all Cucurbitaceae) in Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy.

Tips for cutting the tough and dense raw fruits abound on YouTube: Soften the skin in hot water (Down to Earth Organic & Natural), navigating the butternut shape (Chef Tips), Use the microwave (CHOW)

More fun recipes: Pumpkin Spanikopita (Local Kitchen), Butternut Squash and Kale Beef Stew (Girl Meets Paleo), Red Kuri Creme Fraiche Pie (Co+Op), Roasted Winter Squash Salad (101 Cookbooks)

Lots of Locavores in the Kitchen

By Tess Gee, Locavore Challenge Intern

Every group of friends has that one thing they all bond over. Maybe it’s a TV show, playing a certain sport, or a favorite band. With my friends, it’s food. Whenever we get together, at one point someone usually asks when the food is either arriving or going to be made. All of us love to cook, and some of us cook for a living, so our meals are never casual and the old saying “too many cooks in the kitchen” takes true form.

Cooking is therapeutic for me; it is similar to watching a seedling grow from start to finish to produce a flower or hearty vegetable. I love the entire process, from buying fresh ingredients to the end result on the kitchen table. And finding a great group of people that have the same ideals feels even better. Making brunch together is one of the best meals I make with my friends. It usually begins with a late, frantic rush to the market on a Saturday or Sunday morning. After we regroup, we all take stock of what we have and start brainstorming our menu. Eggs are always in someone’s bag, along with tons of veggies to add to the beaten eggs for an on-the-fly frittata or crustless quiche. [Editor’s suggestion: try this Soft Boiled Egg Breakfast Salad for a new brunch favorite].

eggs

We end up with more fruit than we know what to do with, so a massive fruit salad is ever-present. And someone usually ends up buying some yummy cookies or sweet bread to top it all off. Foraging at the market with a group is beneficial to both sides involved. We get a fresh meal that we can feel good about eating, and our local farming community keeps thriving. It’s a win-win.

Laura Knight (13)Cooking with friends is the highlight of my week. Everyone swaps ideas and techniques, there is laughter, shouting, and side debates about how to cut a mango or the best way to caramelize an onion. Creating a meal from scratch with and for people you care about is one of the most comforting things you can do, and a great way to keep connected to each other. Knowing that we are also involving our community by using fresh ingredients from local farms makes it that much better.

A few more autumn recipes that would feed a crowd: