Thoughtful Food


And the seasons change by Leda
October 29, 2010, 6:57 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Hard to believe it is nearly the end of October (and our internships at Four Frog Farm). The heavy rain last weekend (6-7 inches!) and the colder nights that have overtaken us have been a rude awakening, for me at least, that the summer vegetables and season are winding down. The last few weeks have seen us calling it quits on a number of crops that are done with production for the year. First was the summer squash: mulch and irrigation were taken up, the field was disced and beds were shaped. Earlier this week we mulched the aisles with straw to help with erosion. Today the first cloves of garlic went into the ground. Some were our own Dujanskii seed garlic that we had saved from our summer harvest and some were a softneck variety (California early white) purchased from Peaceful Valley farm supply.

As a farmer, this time of year seems to consist of both urgency and reflection. The methods that we choose to farm by dictate that we be diligent in transitioning fields from production into cover crop. However, it is hard to tear out plants that may have a few good fruit left (more immediate profits) in order to invest in future productivity. The best we can do is fondly recall the plant’s life cycle in which we have played a part and imagine the good we are doing for next year.

Right now, the days are getting shorter and the rhythm of work on the farm is changing as well. Indeed, this is the last week of work for the interns, and Ryan, who will be leaving to pursue his teaching certificate. That will leave Andrew, Logan, and Pablo to shoulder the work for the last few weeks of the CSA season. They will be harvesting less and attending only the Auburn farmer’s market, but I know they will find plenty to do.

I sure have enjoyed working at Four Frog Farm this season. Especially, on days like today with the sun warming my shoulders and fall in the air, it feels pretty good to be a farmer.

Thanks to Andrew and Logan for this great introduction to farming that they have graciously shared with me this year and I’m hopeful that I will be farming for many years to come!

-Farmer Leda

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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



I’ve got the cure! by Leda
September 26, 2010, 9:21 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

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



Oversized or just right? by Leda

My new favorite thing to do with “oversized” summer squash or zucchini is to make stuffed squash. In fact, I have been so excited about this new venue for cooking creativity that I utter a silent cheer every time I harvest a squash that is just too big to sell.

The basic recipe goes like this (Thanks Alana for the inspiration!):

1- slice the ends off squash and cut in half lengthwise. Hollow out each half by scooping out the seeds with a spoon.

2- fill your squash canoes with your favorite filling. and

3- bake in an oiled glass casserole dish at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes (or until the squash is tender). It is a good idea to check this half way through the cooking time just to be sure that the squash is not sticking to the bottom. You may have to drizzle with a little olive oil if this is the case.

A few of my favorite fillings:

spicy lentils and rice (pictured below)

sausage meat with spices

bulgar wheat with herbs (fresh rosemary and basil).

Any other good filling ideas?

-Farmer Leda



Market Shenanigans by Leda
August 17, 2010, 4:26 pm
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Farmer’s markets are like yard sales for vegetables. First and foremost, the goods that you are selling are dear to your heart. It is hard to sell the first real bike you ever had for $20 when you move. But, that’s life, and so is selling a bunch of beets for $3. Not just any beets; the beets that you have seeded, irrigated, cultivated, thinned, and finally hand selected, bunched, and washed. Those beets mean more than the $3 price tag. A farmer’s market is the perfect venue to capture that meaning. It is so satisfying to sell that bunch of beets directly to a couple who wants to tell you all about how they are going to prepare them for dinner that night.

In order to enjoy a market, you have to let the excitable folks outshine the complainers. There is not a market that goes by where someone does not comment on the “high” price of our produce. “Oh my, $4 for a basket of strawberries!” Yes, $4 is what it costs to nurture those strawberry plants without chemical fertilizers, weed and tend them by hand, grow them no farther than 1 hour from where they are being sold, and deliver them to this market stand no later than 24 hours after they were hand picked at the peak of ripeness.

On the other side of the spectrum (and luckily these encounters are more common) are those people who are just so pleased to see organic farmers. I have even begun to take for granted the comments about how beautiful our produce looks (see picture above, it does look good doesn’t it?). I must say, though, that my favorite conversations are with people who are just encountering this kind of quality food. I smile every time I think about the surprise on that little girl’s face after biting into a sungold cherry tomato and discovering that I wasn’t lying when I said they taste like candy.

If you haven’t been to a farmer’s market this season, please go check one out!

Four Frog Farm sells at these markets:

Nevada City Downtown 8AM-Noon, Saturdays

Nevada City Presbyterian Church, 3PM-6PM, Tuesdays

Truckee River Regional Park, 8AM-Noon Tuesdays

Grass Valley Downtown 5PM-8PM, Thursdays

Auburn Oldtown 8AM-Noon, Saturdays

Hope to see you there!

-Farmer Leda



Can you make a living as a small farmer? by Leda
August 7, 2010, 4:59 pm
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A little over midway through our internship experience, this is the question that Matt, Stephanie, and I are all wrestling with. I think that each of us has confirmed our initial suspicions that small-scale farming is a very satisfying and worthwhile pursuit. However, at the end of the day, we must decide whether or not making a career out of farming is economically feasible.

Currently, there seems to be no monetary incentive to become a small farmer. The reality that I have heard over and over again from small farmers is that they are worried about making it financially. These farmers seem to belong to two different groups: those who are financially independent from their farming endeavors (i.e., do not need to make money farming because of inheritance or previous earnings in another career field) and those who are struggling to support themselves. The USDA reports that 85-90% of the income brought in by farming households is earned off the farm. Thus, in their words, “for the majority of U.S. farm households, the availability of off-farm income is a more significant factor for financial well-being than are returns on farm production,” (www.usda.gov/documents/FARM_FAMILY_INCOME.pdf).

Despite these pessimistic reports, there are those people who contend that it is possible to earn enough on a small farm to support a family. Two of these people are Eliot Coleman, a successful and respected organic farmer in Maine, and John Ikerd, Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics at the University of Missouri Columbia. Eliot Coleman, in his book, “The New Organic Grower,” suggests that a family (or couple) can successfully farm on 5 acres if they can limit purchased equipment and maximize their efficiency of labor. Ikerd also supports the notion that small farms can be successful. However, he does not predict an easy path and cautions against borrowing too much money or trying to expand to quickly.

Maybe the single largest hurdle a young farmer faces financially is the start up cost of farming. The costs of land and infrastructure (i.e., tractor, implements, irrigation, greenhouse, etc.) are often prohibitive unless one has access to family land/money or decides to take out a small business loan. In speaking with other young farm interns in this area (Nevada County, CA) about our collective futures in farming, I can say that the problem of finding land is the first topic discussed. Certain young farmers I have talked with have parents or friends with land that they are considering farming. For the rest of us, finding land to farm remains a huge first step in pursuing this lifestyle.

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to the question of whether farming can support me financially until I start looking into the specifics of land cost (to lease or own) and infrastructure/equipment appropriate to that land. I think that for now the best I can do is to focus on improving my farming skills and knowledge every day and remain optimistic about my ability to make a living as a small farmer.

-Farmer Leda