Thoughtful Food


Field(s) Trip(s)! by threefrogs
September 27, 2010, 9:19 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

In the last couple of weeks, the four frog farm crew has been going on some visits to other farms in the area (i.e., about a 2 hour radius). This has been a wonderful opportunity to see other models for successful small farms. Perhaps the most important thing that I’ve come away with is the idea that there is not just one prototype to aspire for in small organic agriculture.  There are many different ways to do business (and these farms are certainly not afraid to explore new business ventures)!

One of the farms that we went to see was Sierra Valley Farms run by Kim and Gary Romano, and their son Joey. This challenging farm setting (e.g., a four month growing season, one of the shortest in the West) makes for an efficient or out-of-business farmer. Indeed, Gary has tried his hand in various creative “extras” on the farm to supplement his income from produce alone. He has held farm house dinners in his old barn (pictured below)

and grown native plants. The Romano’s have also made ccertain value added products with their produce, such as cocktail sauce and bloody mary mix. More recently, Gary has even hosted a farmer’s market at his farm and charged stall fees. Such supplements to the farm income seem to be what makes this farm work!

More recently, we visited a farm a little closer to our vicinity. Riverhill farm is an organic fruit and vegetable farm in Nevada City, CA. Farm owners Alan Haight and Jo McProud grow a similar assortment of vegetables and fruit to Four Frog Farm (Andrew was an apprentice under Alan for 2 years). But, Riverhill also has fruit trees and sells cut flowers and various herbs.

One of the main draws at Riverhill is their beautiful farm stand building (pictured below), that is nestled in between rows of flowers and a spectacular herb garden. This farm stand is where most of their 170 CSA members pick up their vegetables every week. I cannot think of a more enjoyable setting to visit on a weekly occasion (what lucky members)!

Thanks to these farms for giving us young farmers more ideas for our future farms!

-Farmer Leda

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I’ve got the cure! by Leda
September 26, 2010, 9:21 am
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Did you know that you cannot pick an olive from a tree and eat it?

If you did, you would be perfectly shocked at the horrible bitter taste that you encountered. So, how do bitter olives on a tree turn into those delightfully tasty morsels that you and I are used to eating?

The most common way that olives are cured or de-bittered is by soaking them in lye. Lye (sodium hydroxide) is a poison. It can be harmful if it comes into contact with your skin and the fumes are also toxic. Lye is the main ingredient in Drano. The thing that makes lye an attractive curing agent is that it speeds up the process. Not worth the risk in my opinion.

There are a few alternative methods to lye curing: such as brine curing, water curing, and dry salt curing. Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to be introduced to all of these methods. The event I attended was put on by Chaffin Family Orchards in Oroville, CA and included a tour of their 100 year old olive orchard as well as a curing seminar put on by olive-curing guru Don Landis. The orchards were absolutely beautiful and the trees looked like something out of a fairytale.

I knew I had to try out one of these curing methods, so I ordered 5 pounds of olives from Chaffin and came home with a mission. I elected to water cure my olives because I wanted to expedite the process (okay, I get points for not lye curing, but I am still kind of impatient sometimes).

Here is Landis’ water cured olive recipe:

*use firm green olives, any variety will work (I am using Barouni olives from Chaffin Family Orchards)

1- sort out any bruised fruit and remove stems

2- slice each olive with a knife and place immediately in water

3- when all olives are sliced and in water, hold them down from the surface. They cannot float and contact air.

4- Change the water every 24 until de-bittered (can start tasting after 2 weeks, but may take up to 4 weeks depending on your taste)

5- prepare the finish brine. 1 pound of canning and pickling salt per 1 gallon of water. You can add any herbs and seasonings you like at this point.

6- Jar olives and refrigerate. The olives can last up to 1 year if refrigerated properly.

Enjoy!

-Farmer Leda



Farming Flow by Leda
September 12, 2010, 9:55 am
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Being involved in various sports since I was young, I tend to view life through sports analogies. Farming is no different. Today, I realized the feeling that I get often when I farm has a good analogy in sports lingo. There is rarely a day that goes by at the farm that I am not overtaken by “farming flow.”

Being in “flow” is most often used in the context of athletics to describe an experience in which the athlete feels confident, in control, and is completely immersed in the action taking place. The term “flow” is credited to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who penned the 1990 book, “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.” Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as the joyous experience of living in the moment and acting without effort (http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199707/finding-flow).

I have experienced flow sometimes while playing basketball. During these times, every pass feels crisp, every shot feels like it is going in, I feel completely in control of the game and my contributions. It is truly an incredible experience.

Let me give you an example of farming flow. I am kneeling amid rows of tomato plants, the goal: harvest 4 flats of red slicing tomatoes. I begin at the end of the row and scan the block of tomato plants to my right, a little flicker of red catches my eye, so I snake my hand out and grab a ripe tomato and place it in the box in front of me. The next tomato I see is rotten on one side, I throw it to the side. The next five tomatoes, all good, all in the box, I look more closely at the area I am in for any last glimmer of red. Two half-ripe tomatoes stare at me, taunting me to pick them. I resist and move my gaze to the next block of green vines. I hear a noise and am startled out of my focus.

I stand up and hear Andrew yelling my name. I call back and he informs me that he has been trying to get my attention for the last 5 minutes. Apparently, in my state of concentration, I have blocked out all his attempts at communication.

A further component of “flow” involves losing track of time due to an intense focus on immediate events. I often have this experience while running. I will start off a run and maybe feel a little stiff and my steps will be choppy and forced.  Usually, though, within 5 or 10 minutes my body warms up and I begin to enjoy the rhythm of my strides and breathing. The next 20-40 minutes pass quickly as I relax into my pace and just watch the scenery come and go. Being in flow while running is incredibly enjoyable. Each step is not so deliberate and somehow the efficiency of movement overtakes any other thoughts about past or future.

Being in a flow state during farming, means that time on the farm often passes quickly. Just like running, if I can coax myself through the first part of the day and really delve into the task at hand, I find that I can often become entrenched in the moment. Before I know it, the sun is starting to warm up the day and  a few hours have passed by while I was busy cutting and bunching basil.

The worlds of farming and athletics definitely have their differences. But, for me, these are the environments in which I currently seem to thrive and find myself in states of flow the most. Where do you find flow in your life?

-Farmer Leda