Fields of Greens at Remembrance Farms

There is nothing quite like the late afternoon light on a summer day in the Finger Lakes.  As I pulled up the gravel road to Remembrance Farms in Trumansburg, New York, even the dust kicked up from my tires seemed to shimmer.   This was my first visit to a certified biodynamic farm and I was curious and excited to learn more about this unique way of farming.

A fellow farmer taking notes in the fields of greens

A fellow farmer taking notes in the fields of greens

Remembrance Farm offered a fascinating view of how the philosophy behind biodynamic farming turns into something we can see, touch, and taste.  As we followed farmer Nathaniel Thompson down the farm path, the fields of greens rolled out in waves ahead of us, all in various states of maturity depending on when they were planted.  The Golden Cornet hens squawked and ran and the geese honked a warning from their pasture as we walked by.  A row of mustard trials waved their yellow flowers in the breeze, and on the other side of the hedge row, varieties of onions and other root crops stood their ground despite the recent downpours.

Remembrance Farm is the only Demeter-certified Biodynamic farm in the Finger Lakes region, where Nathaniel and his wife Emily specialize in baby salad greens and stored root crops for wholesale markets throughout New York State and a collaborative CSA in the Ithaca area, the Full Plate Farm Collective.   Grains are used on-farm to feed the laying flock, and the eggs are sold to primarily to CSA members.

As the crowd gathered, Nathaniel gave us a brief overview of the history and philosophy of biodynamic farming.   Biodynamic agriculture is a holistic method of farming which emphasizes sensitivity to subtle processes in Nature, with the goal of producing food that truly nourishes the body and spirit. While the fundamental principles of present day organic farming (the exclusion of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers in crop production) are included in biodynamic agriculture (and to be certified biodynamic one must first be certified organic according to NOP standards), its breadth and depth extend beyond the technical definition of organic farming.  A biodynamic farm is understood to be a living, breathing organism, so farming practices strive to balance the overall health of the farm in order to produce the very highest quality food.  The role of the farmer in biodynamic farming is to understand and nurture, in very intentional way, the health of the farming organism.

On the farm something was always being planted, germinated, growing, and harvested.  Nathaniel explained and showed how through trial and experimentation he used biodynamic principles to learn what worked best on this particular farm.  In some cases he was partnering with other farmers, such as Fruition Seeds located outside of Naples, to discover which plant varieties had the best germination and production levels in the unique climate of Upstate New York.  Certainly the winter of 2014 helped all of us discover truly winter hardy varieties!

The mustard trials

The mustard trials

Nathaniel also showed how organic and biodynamic farming can also be quite mechanized and efficient in its production. Nathaniel has invested heavily in buildings and equipment and pays close attention to cleanliness and safety in his salad green packing area.

Remembrance Farm was an amazing combination of beautiful, practical, and mystical. As we closed the day and the evening light turned gold, I felt the experience could not really be described fully in the two hours I spent there. For more information, you can check out their website at http://www.remembrancefarm.org.

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?

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.

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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)