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Sunday, September 26, 2010
The dinner is Wednesday evening, and we'll be spending most of Tuesday and Wednesday preparing for it. Cheesemaking, vegetable prep, pre-making things like pasta and hummus, house-cleaning (especially kitchen), straightening up the farm, setting up tables & seating for 15 people, etc. We also still have to do our regular harvests along with restaurant deliveries on Tuesday afternoon. Anyone want to come milk for us on Thursday morning?
Tonight (Sunday) has a forecast low of 43, which means frost danger down in our narrow valley; we can easily get frosts whenever temps in Columbia hit the low 40s. So we spent some time covering peppers & cucumbers with light fabric to guard against that possibility, and harvesting some partially ripe tomatoes just in case. Crossing fingers it doesn't happen, or that it's very light if it does.
The fall cleanup process has begun, as we slowly remove finished plantings and prepare the beds for winter. For example, this afternoon I pulled all the cherry tomato plants and collected their twine. It takes a lot of time to really remove all the vestigial vegetation from the full summer's growth. Soon we'll begin hauling in manure and working it into the soil for next year's fertility; some beds already have a winter cover crop planted and growing.
Fall crops still take maintenance and harvest. Along with the greens we're selling now, there are cabbages and daikon radishes getting closer to readiness. We also did an early test harvest of a few crops we really like (sweet potatoes and fresh peanuts) and got very good results. A 2.5 lb sweet potato under one plant, and 1/2lb of peanuts under two of those plants. For the latter, that works out to about 20 lb of peanuts for the row, and if the sweet potatoes are all good there will be lots of those as well. These might show up at market later in the month if they really are all as good as these first few. Fresh green peanuts are fantastic boiled and will be a really neat specialty crop if we get enough (they were great last year). Based on this example, our yield is far better per unit space than last year, meaning the price might be almost manageable.
Otherwise, there's always still general weeding and maintenance to be done. Lots of things are going to seed this time of year and need to be pulled to keep the beds cleaner, while new fall weeds are germinating after the past week's abundance of rain (nothing new). I don't think things will really slow down at all until at least November.
Friday, September 24, 2010
With our abundance of peppers (it's been a great year but they're not selling well at market), I've been exploring Mexican cooking. Checked out a fantastic Rick Bayless cookbook from the library and have made this recipe twice already, both times coming out fantastic. Amazingly easy, just roast whole tomatoes, jalapenos, and garlic in the oven before grinding the garlic & jalapenos in a mortar & pestle and adding the tomatoes with a bit of salt and chopped onion. Takes almost no effort and is really amazing. We didn't even add cilantro (which we don't have); I can only imagine what it would be like with that. Pick up some garlic & jalapenos from us, and tomatoes from someone else, and try this recipe; I guarantee it's worth it.
Sweet sorghum stalks: This is a neat and unique treat. Sorghum may be most familiar as the thick, molasses-like syrup you can find locally made at certain area groceries. Larger operations crush the sorghum stalks to extract the sugar and then boil it down, much like maple sugaring. We grow sweet sorghum as well, though not enough to make any meaningful amount of sugar. The stalk, however, is basically like a locally-grown sugarcane. You can cut off small chunks at a time, and cut it open or knaw on it to extract the really tasty sweet juice inside. We're intending to have some mid-sized sections of sorghum stalk at market for folks to try. It's a neat treat or party trick, and one thing I haven't yet tried is boiling up some chunks to see if I can get a sweet enough liquid to make drinks out of. Anyway, if you're interested ask about it and see if we remembered to harvest some.
NEW THIS WEEK
Mixed lettuce greens: baby greens of various varieties, fresh-harvested Friday for excellent salads. Enjoy these all week.
Mixed baby greens: Kale, arugula, mizuna, mustard, tat soi...excellent for light sautes or flavorful salads.
Other greens: Mustard greens & chard, both excellent for sauteing or adding flavor to soups.
Cucumbers: Producing nicely, both picklers and mixed eating cukes, these have all sorts of uses. Make some fresh salsa and used sliced cukes as a great dipping chip; the cool sweet flavor really sets off the hot salsa nicely.
Okra: A mammoth yield this week. Freeze some, pickle some, make some Indian food, fry with cornmeal, etc...
Peppers: Both hot & sweet peppers, use for salads, cooking, etc. Hang some mini Thai peppers for winter use, cook up a skillet of sauteed peppers, roast a batch for an excellent salsa or sauce, etc...
Garlic: Good and useful as always.
Herbs: Parsely, sage, thyme, mint.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Tasting plate of hummus (blended farm cowpeas, parsley, garlic, yogurt, etc.), cuke & pepper slices, fresh pitas (Missouri wheat), cheese
Greek salad (coarse-chopped salad of tomatoes, cukes, peppers, onions, farm-made feta, garlic/herb vinaigrette)
Broiled polenta squares (farm cornmeal) with caramelized onions & peppers, grated aged cheese
Missouri dolmades (Chard leaves wrapped around Missouri rice, farm onions, garlic, cucumbers, peppers, herbs; steamed)
Fresh-made ravioli with cheese & herb stuffing (farm-made ricotta, herbs, & more)
Green salad (baby lettuce greens, fresh produce, boiled farm eggs, etc)
Custard (farm eggs & milk, possibly fruit topping)
If you're interested, want to see (or revisit) the farm, and eat a really unique meal sourced almost entirely from our farm, write:
to reserve a place. Tickets are $30/head, which covers some (but far from all) of our costs and labor & a Slow Food membership for the farm, with the rest going to SFKT's overall budget for local food events.
We need answers within the next few days, as we're about to start preparing for this (making cheese and so on) and it's not worth doing the same work for a small number of attendees. This is a really unique event, as most farm-table dinners I've seen involve chefs and multiple farms' items, rather than one farm with the farmers cooking. We'd love to be able to do it, if enough people sign up.
If you thought space was tight at the Columbia Farmers Market, be glad it's not this market in Thailand. From the Washington Post:
Resting silently beneath the crowd like a slumbering serpent, a single train track winds through the heart of Mae Klong food market in the small Thai province of Samut Songkhram. Flanked by bushels of crisp winged beans and water spinach, bulbous knobs of jackfruit and pallets of artfully arranged fish gawking in unison at oblivion, the narrow track serves not only as a place for vendors to display their wares but also as the market's main walkway. Until, that is, the train makes an appearance.
Take a look for yourself; view through the end for the full effect of just how completely the market absorbs the rail line. Apparently this happens up to eight times a day. Tourist bait for the upcoming Show Me Eats trip to Thailand?
Friday, September 17, 2010
Mixed baby greens. I don't have a good photo, but this is a nice mix of tender young greens including mizuna, tat soi, kale, and more. We do this every year and it's always popular. Use it as a salad mix if you like lots of diverse flavors, or lightly saute it as a side or topping for pasta. Always harvested on Fridays, it'll keep around two weeks if properly stored (a few customers have claimed three) so you can draw from it over and over. We plant this successionally so each bed begins to mature at a different time to allow consistent yields, but right now three beds are all ready to pick so we'll have a lot at market.
Cucumbers: Back on the menu after an absence, our later planting is yielding nicely right now. Enjoy the various interesting and tasty varieties in late-season salads, fresh pickles, and more. Or just use as scoops for salsas, hummus, and other dips.
Okra: These are going strong. We recieved an email request for 6lb of smaller ones for pickling, and that will draw down the market stock some, but there still be plenty to enjoy for frying, soups, and more.
Peppers: Both sweet and hot peppers will be available in quantity again. This has been our best pepper year ever, with good yields and great flavor. Last week we started selling loose pints of small hot peppers, great for stringing with a needle and thread and hanging in your kitchen to dry for winter. We do many long strings like this, and can then just pull down a dried hot whenever we need to throw one in something. Pick up a pint and put them up for winter.
Garlic: I think we'll have five varieties tomorrow, still a basic set of mild to strong flavors.
Fall greens: Mustard greens for sure. Green chard is certain. Not as certain on collards and kale which are being hit by aphids at the moment; we do have lady bug larvae that are actively devouring aphids, so we expect the planting to recover eventually.
Herbs: Probably the same mix as usual; parsley, thyme, and more.
ON THEIR WAY OUT
There may be a few last summer squash and sauce tomatoes, but this will be the last week if that's so. Cherry tomatoes are already finished.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Average Saturday market attendance for the last few years is around 4,000/week, which includes kids. The survey reported that most people come to the market in pairs (plus kids). So let's assume it's actually 2,000 separate households. Each household spends an average of $20, so that's an estimated $40,000 spent each week. Multiply that by 30 weeks, and that's $1.2 million dollars. Obviously, this is a rough estimate of spending at Saturday markets. But sales data from the Fayetteville Farmer's Market in northwest Arkansas suggest that the estimate is probably of the right order of magnitude. That market has 100 member vendors, summer Saturday customer counts in the 4,000s, and total annual sales of a bit over $1 million (as reported in Growing for Market).
Over a million dollars sound great, until you split it up among all the vendors. Divide that by 80 vendors (for CFM), and you get an average gross annual income per vendor of $15,000. Even as a net income (which it certainly is not), that doesn't come close to supporting independent farms. Obviously there are much smaller vendors making far less in gross income, and a few big vendors making more in gross income, but the core point is that there's nowhere near enough consumer spending at the market to support more than a handful of real, full-time (not hobby or part-time) farms. Keep in mind that very few of the vendors at CFM, even most of the bigger ones, are actually farming full-time and earning a living. Most have other jobs, or spouses with jobs, or Social Security & retirement benefits, or some other outside incomes that means they don't have to make all their living from food sales.
Another angle: From some quick online research, the average American family seems to spend $100-$400/week on groceries. If the normal/dominant consumer at market spends $20/week, that means that only 5%-20% of personal food spending is happening at the farmers market, despite the market having the vast majority of foods that fit into any normal, healthy dietary regime, and those foods easily being fresh enough to last all week to the next market. Again, this is not going to sustain any real shift toward independent small farms, especially when it's only among the 5-10% or so of the Columbia population who're even bothering to shop at all.
Local foods are all about the economics. Green or not, small independent, full-time farms will succeed only if people spend real money with them, and will not if they remain a cute boutique source for Saturday night's dinner with the other 20 meals coming from food corporations. That's the reality we're up against, and it's something too many journalists and non-profit small farm advocates ignore or forget when praising the local foods movement. Certainly things are better than 20 years ago, but it's far from an economic success story in the long run.
Also, whenever considering numbers like these, remember that such sales numbers =gross, not net, and it's hard to judge farm-by-farm what a good income is. For example, a meat vendor may bring in a high total cash-flow at market because their products are more expensive, but their net may be low. A farm like ours that focuses heavily on low-overhead methods may never be as big or bring in as much gross as an expensive tillage farm, but our net (or at least our net/gross ratio) may well be better.
Finally, to be clear, I'm not saying we haven't come a long way toward rebuilding local foods and small farms. We have. What I'm warning against is "Mission Accomplished" syndrome, in which food writers and nutritionists and journalists expound upon how vibrant modern farmers markets and local food systems are, without ever checking under the hood to see just how healthy the admittedly improving patient really is.
Monday, September 13, 2010
Friday, September 10, 2010
Our peppers have been great this year, though I've only been selling about half what I'm bringing to market. Pricing them is hard, because there are so many different sizes and weights. I've tried both unit and bulk pricing, and neither works very well. People don't react well to higher pepper prices, even though I'm still charging equal or less than the equivalent organic peppers in grocery stores I've checked. For whatever reason, I don't feel like I'm getting credit for being organic with these; there are just too many overly cheap non-organic peppers at market.
Whatever I go with price-wise tomorrow, these are really good peppers and should be heavily indulged in while they're available. The standard bell-types are thick-walled and great for salads, while the long, thin Jimmy Nardellos at bottom right (a Slow Food Ark of Taste variety) are sweet raw but really good roasted or sauteed. They're also very easy to prepare, just chop along their length and don't worry about the few seeds. I'll probably also bring some hot peppers again this week.
NEW THIS WEEK
Salad/saute mix: First cutting of mixed baby greens, including kale, tat soi, mizuna, and more. Good for diverse salads or light sautes.
Daikon radishes: First harvest of these tasty fall radishes; use in salads or stir fries.
Last week for edamame. There won't be much, just whatever we get from the last picking. Hope you've enjoyed it while you can. It'll be on the menu at Sycamore until their stocks run out.
Summer squash: Still going, should have plenty. Hopefully another two weeks left on these plants.
Okra: Producing wonderfully. I started packing these in pints as well as bulk last week, and promptly sold twice as much even though the price didn't change. People just relate better to $3.50/pint than $7/lb. Pick up some extra and freeze for the winter, if you like. It's easy to throw into soups, like the chili and stew I made this week.
Garlic: We're down to six varieties (give or take one, I'll know tomorrow), but still have a diversity of clove size and flavor.
Cherry tomatoes: Have a nicer harvest than last week, though the plants are overall on their way out. Still the same tasty mix of sizes, colors, and flavors.
Sauce tomatoes: A lower amount than last week, these too are dropping off but still yielding some. Just been a tough year for tomatoes. I've also been taking batches to Main Squeeze each week, where they're having a hard time getting local tomatoes, so that's cutting into market quantities some.
Fall greens (mustard, collards, kale): These sold surprisingly slowly last week, given that I was about the only stand there with them. I hope it was just Labor Day, as market was slow overall. This week we'll have a good quantity of these and I hope people indulge in the fresh fall harvest.
Herbs: Probably parsley, sage, and thyme. (Wish we had rosemary, too.)
Lettuce: Probably a few more heads of summer lettuce. We'll taste at harvest time to decide what's worth selling. This planting was a bit of an experiment; we used heat-tolerant summer lettuce varieties, and they performed reasonably well given the conditions, but they did experience the worst of the hot & dry weather.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
They love to eat tomato plants and can be rather damaging, defoliating large areas very quickly. They're hard to spot, but their presence is easily determined by (a) large areas of missing leaves and (b) piles of increasingly large caterpillar crap on the ground or cupped in remaining leaves. For example, look at the classic example at the end of the upper right critter in the photo below.
Over the past two weeks, we've seen an explosion in their numbers. Our friends down at Happy Hollow Farm (an Organic CSA in Moniteau County) have seen the same. Here's one morning's bumper crop:
Monday, September 6, 2010
Peanuts and ball games go great together; the salty shelling snack balances the beer perfectly and keeps the hands busy. But I'm not about to pay overblown peanut prices, so we boiled up a large batch of fresh edamame before we left, figuring they'd make a great substitute. We were right. Here's me displaying our gallon bag of farm-fresh goodies:
As we sat in our $13 seats, alternating between Boulevard Wheat and shelling edamame, watching a very enjoyable 2-1 win, I think we got a pretty good value out of the day. And if this fall's peanut harvest goes well (we have several rows planted), maybe we'll set aside a very special batch for this time next year. In the meantime, I can attest that our edamame travel well and complement baseball nicely.
Friday, September 3, 2010
Greens! We'll be bringing the first small harvest of mustard greens, and some heads of late summer lettuce. These latter are several varieties of supposedly heat-tolerant lettuce that we tried; they're stronger in flavor than a good sweet spring lettuce but certainly enjoyable in a diverse salad. One employee couple loved their taste. The mustard greens are the first picking of a larger set of mustard, collards, kale, and more that will be coming on through September.
Summer squash: Our second planting is producing wonderfully, despite bug pressure, so enjoy this truly organic squash while you can.
Okra: Still going gangbusters, there will be lots. Freezing okra is very easy; we just chuck it into gallon bags and straight into the freezer (don't blanch). Then it's quick to pull out all winter long and chop for frying in cornmeal or adding to stews. Regarding price, we've decided that selling by the pound scares people off for no good reason. Several conventional stands were selling pints of okra for $3 last week; a pint weighs 1/2 lb (for an effective price of $6/lb). So our top rate of $7/lb for high-end small okra is perfectly competitive as an organic product, while our rate of $5/lb for mid-sized okra meets or beats conventional. But it sounds scary, and we've gotten a lot of guff for it, so we're going to pack more into pints and quarts this week even though it's more work.
Edamame: We're harvesting from our last planting now; I would expect edamame to last this week and the next week, with maybe a very small harvest afterwards. Last week we chose to sell some 2nds-level beans at a lower price, because we're getting a lot more this year under weather conditions that are truly terrible for all kinds of beans. I don't like doing it, but it's the only way to make the income needed from those beds. They're still the same flavor and freshness, just some are deformed or have some beans missing where fertilization wasn't complete.
Garlic: We'll be down to around 6 varieties, as some have sold out for the year and all we have left is our seed stock and the tiny or deformed heads that make up our personal winter supply. Still lots of options to choose from and enjoy; this is a bit more manageable selection.
Sweet peppers: These are doing great right now, and taste fantastic. We only sold half our harvest last week, so hope to do better this week. Roast them, chop into salads, add to sauces, eat whole...sweet peppers are so good. And most of these will be harvested Friday morning for true freshness and long life.
Leek scallions: One more week of this experimental variety. They taste nice and are a neat way to get leek flavor before true leek season, but they're too much work and take too long to do next year. Enjoy the other half of the small test planting this year.
Cherry tomatoes: These are dropping off; probably won't be that many.
Sauce tomatoes: About the same amount as last week, another mix of useful varieties. Plenty more stuffing tomatoes as well; anyone have a report on these?
More fall greens, some radishes, etc.
Also, Joanna won't be at market with me this weekend, so please be patient with some possibly longer lines. We're hoping to take a day off soon (to celebrate Eric's birthday), so Joanna needs to get some work done on the farm Saturday to catch up with enough tasks to make that possible. A day at market is too much time lost.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Since then, we've needed to move their fences every 3 days instead of closer to once a week (this is also partly due to the kids maturing and eating more brush instead of just milk). This creates a lot more work for us, but saves us a significant amount of grain purchases. Like everything else on this farm, we're replacing money & inputs with labor. Even with the extra work, I like knowing that our milk & cheese is that much more farm-based and that much less dependent on government ag policies, weather, and other uncontrollable factors.
We feed a custom mix of organic corn, roasted soybeans, oats, and a feed/mineral supplement. I get these bulk in 50lb bags and mix it fresh as needed. Read more about our economic model for homestead dairy goats.
I don't want to get rid of the grain ration, as our pastures are quite variable in quality & content and it's not ideal to vary the goats' nutrition too much. Maybe for meat goats, but dairy goats are using a lot more energy and should be treated well. But this has been a good experiment to test how dependent they are on grain, and how we can balance the need for convenient nutrition with the desire for independence from off-farm inputs.
Unfortunately, as long as we have government-subisidized grain available, it will always be cheaper to feed that to animals than to manage a pasture well enough to exclude the need for grain. So we're splitting the different by trying to minimize our needs while still recognizing the economic forces that say it's just not cost-effective for us to manage an all-pasture dairy herd while running a vegetable farm.