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Friday, October 29, 2010
We've kept to plan this week, getting lots more garlic planted on Wednesday and butchering the first goat of the season on Thursday. As of Thursday night we have a nice collection of meat in the freezer, along with 2lb of fresh sausage and a 4lb batch of German liver loaf. We grilled the rib racks for dinner with a Filipino barbecue sauce, along with a huge bowl of fresh cabbage slaw, grilled flatbreads, and a friend's homebrew. Good stuff.
Over the next week we'll finish planting the garlic, make progress on the dairy barn, keep cleaning up beds and preparing them for winter, and possibly take some produce in to restaurants if we have time.
Monday, October 25, 2010
GENERAL FIELD WORK
We're working through the fall cleanup; pulling dead or finished plants, spreading & incorporating manure, planting winter cover crop, maintaining overwintering plantings like the row of kale at left, and so on.
This is garlic season. So far we've put in about 40% of the crop, and will get much of the remainder done this week. For each variety, we trench the beds into parallel rows, separate the cloves while rejecting any suspicious ones, plant the cloves about 6" apart, then cover & mulch them. We're experimenting with mulches this year, comparing traditional straw with on-farm leaf mulch. Once this is done, we may offer any leftovers for sale, though Red & Moe has also expressed interest in any remainder.
We've already disposed of the geese (eating one fresh and freezing two), and will be moving on to goats. This fellow has his date with the freezer on Thursday, the first moderately cold day in a long time. He's more than due, having recently learned to test and escape through fences and generally become a troublemaker. And we're more than ready to have steady supply of meat again.
One of my larger, and most desired, fall infrastructure projects. Planned for since last winter, when we milled the necessary lumber, I've finally gotten started on this. Sited just north of the vegetable field, at a reasonably central location for all our pastures, this will become the
Friday, October 22, 2010
I don't particularly want to do all the prep/harvest work Friday, get up before 6 on Saturday, and sit in the cold rain for four hours to make a few hundred bucks from the most loyal customers who still come out in such circumstances. On the other hand, after skipping last week, we have a large batch of really nice lettuce and mixed greens that really need to be harvested and sold soon while they're at their prime. So if I skipped market I'd have to try and move this harvest to restaurants, who may or may not be interested in a one-time batch and who won't pay as high a price as market retail. I also feel a responsibility to regular customers to be back after our short hiatus.
We're going to do the harvest work on Friday, since that has to be done either way. I'm likely to make a final decision when I wake up to the alarm Saturday morning; if the radar is full of storms that's the last straw and I'm going back to sleep. If it's light or almost over, I'm coming in and we'll find out if the football=crappy market trend continues. In the event that we come, here's what we'll have.
A mix of many shapes, colors, and flavors of baby lettuce, very tasty in all salads.
A mix of small greens including arugula, mustard, tat soi, kale, mizuna, and more; excellent for stronger salads or light sautes.
Various colors of midsize fall radishes; those I sampled this week were sweeter than I expected in this extended warm spell. They still have some bite but are tasty for those who like true radish flavor.
Our pepper plants have been surprisingly resilient through regular light frosts the last few weeks, despite the okra, tomatoes, and cucumbers all recieving more damage. So we did one more harvest before pulling the plants on Wednesday, and will bring a few tubs of these fresh mixed green and colored peppers for those who want them.
Parsley, sage, thyme, mint.
And coming up on a different weekend when I think I can sell them:
Good-sized leafy cabbages, lovely for fresh coleslaw or salads. We've also made good kraut with these. They'll hold in the field, slowly growing, until I'm ready to cut them.
We're waiting on colder weather for these; they should improve with some truly cold nights.
On our last market day, we sold out of our season's supply of garlic intended for sale. We are now part-way through the process of planting next season's ~2,000 heads. This always results in some leftovers as we save more than we need to ensure the right planting quantity (as there are always rejects or other unforeseen situations). Once planting is finished, within the next few weeks, we'll probably end up with a grab-bag of leftover heads of various varieties for sale. Or if there aren't many we'll just keep them for ourselves. But there's a decent chance we'll sell some as our saved planting stock is of high quality and would be worth selling.
We have one more bed of peanuts unharvested, in a higher area which has not yet received frost. These will be harvested next week. If the yield is good we'll consider bringing another small batch to market for those who enjoyed the first round (I heard from several who did). No promises, though.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Despite some early hiccups and miscommunication in arranging attendance, we ended up with 15 people out of 16 slots, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. Here's a brief summary of the event and menu, which was inspired by Mediterranean cuisine; all photos courtesy of Martha Dragich.
We showed the group around the farm, with special attention on the ingredient sources for the night's dinner. Some attendees had been here before, but farms are always different on each visit. I tried not to talk too much, and as a result we actually returned to the house on schedule.
We were able to fit most folks around one large setup, with four good sports at a second table just to the right (we chose those four as folks we were sure would enjoy one anothers' company).
On to the food; ingredients are listed in italics if made & sourced on-farm.
Hummus: cowpeas, garlic, fresh yogurt, herbs, salt.
Raita/tzatziki: fresh yogurt, cucumbers, mint.
Pita wedges: scratch-made, partially from Missouri-sourced flour.
Vegetables: heirloom cucumber & pepper slices
The dried cowpeas, related to black-eyed peas but with a milder flavor, cook quickly and make an excellent substitute for chickpeas in this hummus.
Freshly-made pasta (egg, flour, salt) stuffed with fresh soft goat cheese, garlic, and herbs, topped with sauces of tomatoes, garlic, herbs and garlic, sage, butter, ricotta. These were, I think, the highlight of the evening. Nothing beats fresh scratch-made pasta.
For bread, we served homemade baguettes (containing Missouri wheat flour) accompanied by Siberian garlic butter.
Coarse-chopped salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, brined goat feta, dresssing of garlic, herbs, oil & vinegar. Made to my personal recipe, Greek salad is one of our favorite ways to use produce & cheese.
BROILED POLENTA SQUARES
Fresh-ground heirloom cornmeal, butter & salt, topped with caramelized onions & peppers, grated aged goat cheese, broiled. A nice treat showcasing our cornmeal & cheese.
Chard leaves wrapped around a filling of Missouri rice, onions, garlic, cucumbers, peppers, herbs; briefly steamed. Our version of the Greek staple using grape leaves. Folks seemed to enjoy it, though I thought it came out better in my trial runs than on this night. One difference seemed to be the Missouri rice, which stayed wetter than the standard organic rice I'd used in practice and thus the whole thing was a bit soggier than I intended. This was definitely an experiment but one worth repeating, it's really easy to make.
Baby lettuce greens, other mixed greens, sweet peppers, boiled eggs, oil & vinegar. A simple, refreshing dish, served Italian-style as the final course before dessert.
Eggs, goat milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, topped with farm strawberries. A good way to feature our fresh eggs & milk, with the very valuable treat of some of the first strawberries grown on the farm (frozen at peak ripeness).
Monday, October 18, 2010
We also needed to make a run to Smithville, MO (north of Kansas City) to pick up our order of new blueberry plants, and decided it would make sense to combine these two goals into one. The original plan was to spend the night in Kansas City proper and enjoy the city's food & parks to relax in a completely different environment. However, with a few days to go we decided that the city would still not be relaxing enough, as well as inevitably being expensive. So we made some last-minute changes to the itinerary and followed our favorite mode of travel; poking around backroads in rural Missouri to explore Conservation Areas, State Parks, small towns, and all the interesting things you find off highways. It ended up being one of the best trips we've ever taken together; everything went right and we found a lot of really amazing places and things. Here's what we did:
Heading northwest from the farm, we passed through Fayette & Glasgow before heading north into the core pecan-growing regions around Brunswick. We'd hoped to find some pecan stands open, but there was little activity and judging from the various groves we passed, most pecans are still on the trees. The river bottoms around Brunswick are beautiful, with scattered pecan groves dotting the rich fields active with farmers happily harvesting corn & soy in this mercifully dry weather. We explored some quiet back roads, and found a series of pecan trees overhanging the road and just starting to drop nuts:
And so we were able to gather a nice collection of fresh, raw Missouri pecans without trespassing or stealing. Here they are in their native state, showing the outer husk that opens to release the nuts, which are still encased in their inner shell. We cracked a few and found them delicious, and will use the rest for a special meal later.
Next we headed further north for a trio of related natural areas: Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Fountain Grove Conservation Area, and Pershing State Park. The first two are managed primarily for migratory bird habitat, and we were hoping to catch some early fall migration populations (we've been seeing migratory songbirds passing through the farm, as well as wood ducks). We didn't see much in the way of waterfowl, but saw a couple good raptors. We're fairly certain we saw a Golden Eagle riding thermals over Swan Lake, and that's a rare sighting for the refuge. It was a large bird with slightly upturned wing tips and two-toned coloration on the back. We also saw several Northern Harriers during the course of the day, including one that we followed for about half a mile as it flew and hovered over a bottomland field. The weather was gorgeous and it was simply thrilling to explore these areas on a perfect sunny fall day.
Next up, Pershing State Park exceeded our expectations. It preserves a rare northern Missouri landscape, an un-channelized river bottom with associated wet bottomland forests and the largest (and only?) significant remaining tract of native wet prairie, over 800 acres. We followed a well-constructed boardwalk through the wetlands and out to the prairie edge, which doesn't photograph well but was lovely with a light fall breeze blowing across to the horizon.
We drooled over the 6+ mile hiking trail that follows Locust Creek down to connect with Fountain Grove CA, allowing longer backpacking trips into the Conservation Area (another time) and enjoyed scouting a nice mixed flock of birds in the woods on the way back.
Next up was Locust Creek Covered Bridge State Park, the longest of four remaining covered bridges in Missouri, built in 1868. As a history & transportation buff, I can't get enough of exploring 19th century technology and customs, so had a great time exploring this well-preserved site. Especially interesting was investigating the Howe Truss construction, with which I'm familiar from illustrations of period railroad bridges but had never seen up close before (or used in a covered bridge). It's quite different from Union Covered Bridge in northeast Missouri, built with a Burr Arch truss (I'm possibly the only one reading this who cares, though).
Throughout both days, we indulged in our second-favorite observational pastime after bird-watching: train-watching. North-central Missouri is home to a number of busy and diverse rail lines, including the seriously busy BNSF mainline from Chicago to Kansas City, a parallel secondary line, another busy Norfolk Southern route from Moberly west, a Union Pacific line, and the somewhat busy Kansas City Southern line through Marshall and Glasgow. So we did our best to parallel and stop along these routes, eating lunches and snacks where we could sit and wait for trains, and in general had very good luck, such as this freight we caught up with west of Sumner, MO.
By late in the day, it was time to stop exploring and head west toward Smithville, where our next big treat awaited, dinner at the famous Justus Drugstore restaurant, a premier example of farm-table done right. We truck-camped in the town's basic campground, paying $12 for the privilege of rolling out a few foam pads and sleeping bags in the back of the truck, thus saving the rest of the money we'd have blown on an urban hotel for use at Justus. We spent 2.5 hours enjoying possibly the best meal we've ever eaten out, savoring every bite and talking to several of the staff about our farm and farm-table in general. More about this meal sometime if I get around to it. Around 10pm, we crawled into the truck and spent a warm & comfortable night sleeping off the food, wine, and thrill of a fantastic day off.
It didn't frost Thursday morning, but was nicely chilly when we cracked the truck cap open. A relaxing breakfast of homemade coffee cake, hot tea, and an Uprise Bakery cinnamon roll got us started, after which we drove the short few miles to Waters Blueberry Farm and picked up a load of young blueberry plants to add to our growing orchard area (there are four already established). That accomplished, we headed for our other major destination of the trip, Watkins Woolen Mill State Park.
Now this place...this blew us away. I'd found it online doing research on 19th century Missouri mills, and had had it on my to-do list for some time. It's a homestead and farm established in the early 1800s, grown to a prominent diversified farm & industry, including sawmill, woolen mill, grocery store, and all-around self-sufficient. The buildings and history have been remarkably preserved, including the 3-story woolen mill with a spectacular collection of original equipment inside. The grounds are immaculately preserved, the visitor's center is excellent, and the staff seem to take very seriously their mission of preserving and interpreting the entire site as an example of a real 19th century self-sufficient yet prosperous farm. You might imagine our interest, as both history buffs and the rare modern Americans who do many of the same things this family did in 1860. Here's the mill and mule pasture:
And here are the house & heirloom gardens.
I could spend all day raving about this place, but will stop. This should be a required visit for every Missourian interested in their rural/agricultural history, and for anyone remotely interested in such things. Really a fantastic experience, with a tour guide for the mill who had clearly done his homework and held a large store of useful knowledge (I've been on far more NPS or MO State Park tours where the guide knows little more than what they read in the brochure, if that). The associated park, with campground & long hiking trails, beckons us back for the many days it would take to do this place true justice. Make a point to go there.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
The ongoing story of Morningland Dairy needs to be followed by anyone cares about small farms and local foods. This Missouri family dairy is facing economic ruin because of poorly-run tests done by the State of California under dubious circumstances, and they are now facing an order from the Missouri State Milk Board to destroy their entire inventory of aged cheese despite no further testing on that inventory, despite FDA tests of their dairy coming up clean, and on top of weeks of forced dumping of their and other local dairies' milk. From their latest press release:
Morningland Dairy has issued an objection to the Missouri Milk Board’s “order to destroy” their inventory of raw aged cheese. The cheese is being held on their property under an embargo issued by the Missouri Milk Board on August 26th, 2010. The embargo on all Morningland’s product was issued in response to tests done by the California Department of Food and Agriculture on cheese seized in a raid on Rawesome Foods in Venice, Ca. on June 30th. The embargo halted all production and sales of Morningland cheese.
Missouri Milk Board gave Morningland a verbal order of destruction on September 24th. Joseph Dixon, owner and General Manager of Morningland, then requested that Gene Wiseman, Executive Secretary of the Missouri Milk Board, provide written notice of the order to destroy and the method of destruction. Wiseman wrote the order to destroy on October 1st and it was hand delivered by Don Falls of the Missouri Milk Board to Morningland Dairy on October 1st, but it did not include the
Denise Dixon, owner and General Manager of Morningland Dairy says, “Morningland has been producing raw aged cheese for 30 years, and in that time, absolutely no reports of illness have been made by anyone who has consumed our product. We are, and remain, wholly committed to providing good, healthful food to our customers. The order to destroy 50,000 or so pounds of our cheese is not associated with even one complaint of illness, and we believe it’s an over reaction at best.”
Here's Morningland's side of the story ; read from the bottom up to follow the increasingly desperate timeline as they try to figure out what they're even supposed to do with multiple agencies giving them conflicting information while escalating the threats.
Now, I've never been to Morningland and do not know what their procedures or cleanliness are like. But their accounts read true to me, as they fit a common pattern of food safety paranoia getting in the way of common sense. This could just as easily happen to a vegetable farm if a health inspector thinks they've found a contaminated bit of produce even if it's not under the farm's control (say, a grocery store or restaurant with poor handling procedures; or a customer who leaves something on a counter which has held raw meat). Indeed, some versions of the food-safety legislation working through Congress give explicit authorization for various agencies to order the closure of a farm or destruction of all their product inventory (including in field) if contamination is "suspected".
Remind me why any sane person would want to go into farming (or any business) when you can lose it all and more to the whims of government with no recourse? Even if Morningland somehow wins this fight, they'll never get back any money or cheese from any of the states or agencies involved. And I sure see no rational reason for us to ever contemplate entering the cheese business, despite consistent rave reviews from guests to the farm. For local foods to keep growing, farmers like us have to feel reasonably confident of their future and stories like this take that all away.
Finally, one of the core problems here is the presumption of guilt and innocence. In regulatory cases like this, it's almost always assumed that businesses are guilty and any problem found must be a symptom of wider dysfunction. Thus the order to destroy all Morningland's cheese stock despite no actual testing having been done on any of those batches. In addition, it's almost always assumed that the regulatory agency involved must be innocent; they are impartial and competent upholders of the public-spirited law. Thus one lab test 2,000 miles and several months away from Morningland's cheese room is sufficient to shut the entire business down. There is no practical framework for questioning the quality and motivation of a government agency's actions; anyone who has battled the IRS knows this. At best you'll win your fight and make the problem go away, but the agency will never suffer for its mistake. Until regulatory agencies are held to the same standards of guilt, innocent, proof, and penalty that private businesses and individuals are, this sort of abuse will continue.
Monday, October 11, 2010
We ended up not paying as much attention to these logs as we would have liked, and were concerned about maintenance of log moisture and signs of a competitive fungi. From our reading, we knew that it could take a full year for the first mushrooms to appear, though it was possible that a few mushrooms could show up in the fall of the first year. And that's just what has happened. A few weeks ago, shiitakes started appearing (triggered by September rains) and we've enjoyed several small flushes of early mushrooms since:
Joanna has never liked mushrooms, while I love them. This was my best chance to prepare really good mushrooms in a way that might convince her otherwise; we've often found that we learn to like a previously scorned food when it's sourced fresh from the farm and prepared well. I've gotten much more tolerant of zucchini and asparagus, while Joanna becomes ever more fond of meat.
A nice collection of truly fresh mushrooms like these, only minutes off the log, can be prepared in a variety of easy and excellent ways. Sliced or chopped and sauteed in butter, they're just the right texture with a great flavor; the stems add great flavor to stocks and soups. We used a batch on fresh pizza where they really stood out, and also made an excellent shepherd's pie of fresh potatoes, parsnips, carrots, onions, and mushrooms with a scratch-made biscuit topping. Heaven.
These logs should produce mushrooms for 3-5 years with proper maintenance. We still have a lot to learn about the details of outdoor shiitake cultivation, but it's nice to have a literal taste of success. Having seen that we can produce something with a manageable amount of work, we're now intending to double the number of logs next spring and work toward building up a market-worthy quantity. That would be a nice diversification of income, but at the very least it's another source of on-farm food for a minimal investment of money, relying mostly on farm-sourced materials and labor. Just our style.
Friday, October 8, 2010
NEW THIS WEEK
Peanuts, one time only. We had some success with these last year and were really pleased with the yield this year. We're keeping most of these for ourselves but do want to gage customer interest and feedback, so will be bringing some pints along with recipe cards for Southern-style boiled peanuts (the only proper way to prepare these fresh, green peanuts).
Scallions, one time only. We planted a small amount of these for fall, to test a new growing arrangement, and will bring the results to market.
Mixed baby greens: Saute greens & baby lettuce mix.
Fall greens: Small amounts of collards & kale.
Okra: Last week for okra. We had three nights of frost here (Sat.-Mon.), but surprisingly the okra made it through undamaged, probably due to its height.
Garlic: Our standard late-season four varieties.
Herbs: Parsley, sage, thyme, mint.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
A lot of fertility work happens in October, as we start hauling in manure to be spread and incorporated in the growing beds. We like to get this done after crops are finished but before winter sets in. First focus goes to beds in which garlic will be planted.
The several-week stretch of garlic planting starts in mid-October, when we put next year's 2,000 heads in the ground. This may stretch into early November depending on weather conditions.
Also sometime in October, we'll be putting in more blueberry plants. This involves pre-digging the holes and getting everything set up just right, then travelling to the farm near Kansas City from whom we're purchasing the plants. And of course actually getting them properly in the ground.
October also begins the seasonal meat harvest, as we spread out our butchering needs over several months so as not to get too sick of it. We'll probably do one kid in early October, along with the three geese that have overstayed their welcome. Then the other kid in late October/early November, followed by one or more deer during hunting season starting mid-November. Somewhere in there we have some extraneous roosters to process as well. We'll wait on the pig until sometime in December to allow for more growth, and have another adult goat (Gloria) for probably late December or early January. Each non-poultry animal takes us a full day to process, including putting down the animal, cutting/packaging/freezing meat, disposing of the carcas, and cleaning up.
At some point in October I'll also start on my major fall project of building a permanent dairy/goat barn out in the field, an established location to do year-round milking and house the goats securely over the winter. I have most if not all of the lumber I need already milled (it's been taking up space in the pole barn all summer) and just need the time to get started once the growing season starts winding down. I want to have this done in time to move the goats indoors for real wintry weather. This is partially weather-dependent as I can't dig and build foundations when it's too wet or cold, so am anxious to get started while it's still nice out.
There is a lot of general cleanup work, especially now that we've had several frosts. Dead or finished plant material is reincorporated into the beds or pulled/cut and hauled off, beds are manured and turned in, and possibly mulched or planted in a late-season cover crop like rye. Post-frost crops like greens will stay in their beds longer, and those areas may not get attention until spring. But much of the farm will need some work before the true winter sets in.
We've also agreed to several off-farm events. Yesterday we went down to Westminster College in Fulton to speak before a freshman Environmental Science class, and some of the class will be touring the farm later in the month. In addition, I'll be going in to Lee Elementary School in Columbia to participate in Slow Food's Harvest of the Month program which introduces kids to farmers and farm products. Last year we worked with our corn & cornmeal; this year it will be garlic.
We're hoping to have short trip away as a break, probably an overnight in Kansas City. Multiple friends are willing to farm-sit the animals to make this possible, and we're looking forward to it, weather-depending. This trip will hopefully be combined with the blueberry-fetching.
Firewood is on the agenda; I have plenty cut from last winter but need to start collecting and stacking it properly near the house and under cover for winter. There are a variety of winterization tasks that need attention in the next month.
We expect to be at the farmers market for another few weeks, but the time will soon come when the products available and potential income just aren't worth the two days of work per week it takes us to prepare for and go to market. This is partially due to an active decision a while ago on our part to end the season early, knowing we had so many other projects on tap that needed to get started in early fall. We could have pushed harder and planted far more fall/winter items, but then would have been far more stressed about failing to make progress on many other things that will help set us up for a better year next year. So we made the choice to cut our losses this year, accept a tight winter, and work toward a good start in 2o11.
Friday, October 1, 2010
Also, we're likely to get our first frost this weekend, with general temperatures expected to drop into the 30s both Saturday and Sunday night, so that will affect what comes to market. We'll be bringing in lots of green peppers and tomatoes as a one-time harvest, so think about what to do with those...
NEW THIS WEEK
Most likely daikon radishes and scallions, depending on taste-tests during harvest tomorrow. Also green peppers and green tomatoes as indicated above.
Mixed baby greens: Saute greens, mixed salad greens, baby lettuces.
Fall greens: A small amount of mustard; this has mostly been going to restaurants.
Cucumbers: A few, whatever have developed since our midweek dinner harvest.
Peppers: Some sweet, lots of green, some hot.
Okra: Mostly the smaller variety.
Garlic: Our standard late-season four varieties.
Herbs: Our usual, parsley, sage, thyme, mint.
Sweet sorghum: A tasty sugar-cane style treat.