Thoughtful Food


When life gives you cucumbers… by Leda
July 28, 2010, 9:07 pm
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Just like any other food, I can only eat so many cucumbers in a row before my palette craves a little variety. The tiny problem with this is that cucumbers are still breeding like rabbits at our farm and I feel like I should be taking advantage of this.

Luckily, my friend Kelly and I happened to run into a few folks this weekend who had a solution for my cucumber conundrum. They had planned to make a batch of pickles (and sauerkraut) that evening and so we asked if we could tag along.

Our two saviors were Joe and Tim, two experienced culinary wizs in the business of creating amazing pickles and sauerkraut. This was perfect because Kelly and I were definitely rookies. That evening, upon first arriving, we all  set out to wash the cabbage and cucumbers. The cabbage was from a number of different local farms: Riverhill, Mountain Bounty, and Living Lands Agrarian Network. The cucumbers were of two types: a pickling variety from Living Lands and a slicing variety (Olympian) from Four Frog Farm that we were going to experiment on.

The process for pickles and Kraut was surprisingly simple:

For the sauerkraut we washed the cabbage, then removed any  leaves with blemishes, and finally cut out the cores. Then, the cabbage was shredded with a mandoline (a handy cutting tool that allows for very thin slices). I believe without a mandoline a knife and a bit of patience would do the trick. Finally, we mixed the shredded cabbage with salt and spices. You can include any you wish (usual spices include: caraway seeds, dill seeds, and juniper berries). Tim kneaded this mixture with his fists in a mixing bowl. The salt will pull the water out of the cabbage and once it is kneaded enough you will end up with a nice frothy mixture of cabbage and spices and a good bit of water. You can pack this mixture in a 5 gallon crock and place a plate on the top(what we used) or glass jars would work too. The kraut then gets placed in a cool place and is allowed to ferment. The time it takes to ferment is variable, but you should check it after a few days.

For the pickles:

First, we packed the small cucumbers in a five gallon crock and the sliced Olympians in glass jars in layers of 2-3 inches with spices (dill, coriander seed, mustard seed) sprinkled between layers. Then, we stirred about 1/2 cup of salt into a gallon of water until all the salt dissolved. This was our brine mixture, which we poured over the cucumbers. We placed a plate on top of the crock and lids on the jars; all to be stored them in a cool place similar to the kraut. The pickles will ferment and should be ready in about a week.

We had a fun time playing around in the kitchen and learning how to make pickles and kraut. I sure hope that the pickles turn out well and can’t wait to do a little taste test!

-Farmer Leda

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To Till or Not To Till? by Leda
July 25, 2010, 8:41 am
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An interesting dilemma arises when trying to decide how to prepare fields for a succeeding crop. (Let us assume that the farmer has already adopted the practice of cover cropping). After a cover crop has been planted and has matured, the question becomes: how to best incorporate or use all of that organic matter (aka green manure) while simultaneously preserving as much of the soil life as possible (e.g., earthworms, arthropods, etc.), and reducing soil erosion.

Increasingly, research has been emerging that the best practice for preventing topsoil erosion and maintaining soil life is that of no-till (Blanco-Canqui et al., 2009). Additionally, no-till planting may be one method of increasing soil carbon which can improve crop yield (Lal, 2004). However, most farmers do not practice this method of transitioning between a cover crop and cash crop. This specific situation falls under a more broad conflict in agriculture that I am becoming increasingly aware of: the research-practice gap.

In my previous work as an RA in a clinical psychology lab I was painfully aware of the research-practice gap in psychology. Unfortunately, the reality in the field is that there is a marked difference between those treatments that have been supported by laboratory research and those treatments that clinicians actually use. Only a small number of clinicians regularly use empirically supported treatments (ESTs, i.e., treatments that are supported by research (Becker, Zayfert, & Anderson, 2004; Freiheit, Vye, Swan, & Cady, 2004; Mussell et al., 2000). However, I was unaware that a similar research-practice gap also existed in the realm of agriculture until I started reading more agricultural science as well as participating in the practical side of farming.

One instance where this gap has become increasing clear to me is that of tilling practices. Just as in the research-practice gap in psychology, in agriculture research that is conducted in a controlled setting (e.g., no-till planting into a cover crop) seemingly does not inform the majority of actual practice (e.g., most farmers till or plow).

Of course there are two sides to this conflict. On one side are the researchers who may not understand why those in the “field” do not immediately alter their practices to include those supported by research. Equipment is being developed and refined to make no-till planting a viable option (e.g., a rolling crimper that leaves soil intact but cuts down and crimps the cover crop in order to allow for planting the next crop).

On the other side are the farmers who question the applicability of the research done in a controlled setting to their more complex real world setting. Sure, a no-till operation might be successful in a plot of land with few weed problems or less productivity demands or without a need to make money off of the crop, but what about a farmer who already tills and crops a successful farm? Making the leap to no-till methods would present a number of challenges as well as risks (e.g, equipment costs, potential weed problems, lost productivity, poor germination). Thus, many farmers are hesitant to switch to no-till.

In order to improve the practice of sustainable farming (and indeed conventional farming as well) integrating research findings will be imperative. I can only hope  that there will be those people who acknowledge the importance of reducing the gap between research and practice. Ideally: agricultural research informs farming practices and farming practices inform agricultural research.

-Farmer Leda

References:

Becker, C.B., Zayfert, C. & Anderson, E. 2004. A survey of psychologists’ attitudes towards and utilization of exposure therapy for PTSD. Behavior Research and Therapy, 42.

Blanco-Canqui, H., Mikha, M.M., Benjamin, J.G., Stone, L.R., Schlegel, A.J., Lyon, D.J., Vigil, M.F., & Stahlman, P.W., 2009. Regional Study of No-Till Impacts on Near-Surface Aggregate Properties that Influence Soil Erodibility. Soil Science Society of America Journal, 73.

Freiheit, S.R., Vye, C., Swan R., Cady M., 2004. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety: Is dissemination working? The Behavior Therapist, 27.

Lal, R., 2004. Soil carbon sequestration impacts on global climate change and food security. Science, 304.

Mussell, M.P., Crosby, R.D., Crow, S.J., Knopke, A.J., peterson, C.B., Wonderlich, S.A., Mitchell, J.E., 2000. Utilization of empirically supported psychotherapy treatments for individuals with eating disorders: a survey of psychologists. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 27.



A Number of Cucumbers by Leda
July 12, 2010, 7:47 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

English Chelsea, Olympian, and Lemon Cucumbers (Left to Right)

I never thought I would say this, but I love cucumbers! There is such a difference between the waxy, flavorless grocery store cucumber (what I used to identify with a cucmber) and one picked fresh from the field or garden! A little taste of my cucumer love fest:

I love the explosion of vines that make walking between plants like an introductory course in tight rope walking.

I love the Easter-egg-hunt feeling of searching through the vines for the huge ridges of a footlong English Chelsea cucumber.

I love the instant of amazement when you happen upon funky shaped cuke (and the next instant when you holler at whoever is closest to come take a look).

I love to hold a hefty lemon cucumber in the palm of my hand, (kind of like a baseball).

and most of all…

I love the taste! The tangy crunch of a freshly picked lemon cuke and the bite of an Olympian cucumber sprinkled with chili powder just can’t be beat.

what’s not to love?

-Farmer Leda




Fried Green Tomatoes by Leda
July 6, 2010, 6:20 pm
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A couple of weeks ago we started noticing the first green tomatoes starting to come in on the farm. We had been cutting off the yellow flowers on all of our young tomato plants so that the plants would put more effort into growing taller and not into the fruit (The idea behind this is to get nice strong healthy plants and improve the ultimate yield of the plant). But, once we had planted some thousands of tomato plants there were too many flowers to keep track of and we inevitably missed some of them. Thus, the green tomatoes. Well, it was still too early to allow the fruit to ripen (read: the plants were still a bit small), so we picked the tomatoes off. I am the kind of person who doesn’t like waste and so I took a bagful home vowing to make fried green tomatoes.

The recipe is simple: slice about 2 cups of green tomatoes and lightly bread them with 1 beaten egg and bread crumbs, then fry them up in a skillet (I cooked them on low heat and flipped them when the bottoms were starting to brown).

They were delicious!

An update on the tomato plants:  we have stopped picking the green tomatoes and the red ones are on their way! Our biggest plants are topping out at about 6 feet tall!!! Good thing we picked those green tomatoes.

-Farmer Leda



The Great Garlic Harvest by Leda
June 23, 2010, 8:36 pm
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The garlic that you and I buy in the store is a tiny relic of a much bigger process. This Tuesday, yesterday, I began to get a sense of what the culmination of that process is all about. That morning, Andrew announced that our 1/6 of an acre of Dujanskij hardneck garlic was finally ready to be harvested! Since we have arrived we have weeded, watched, and cut skapes off of this garlic (cutting the skapes off aids the bulbing process), so this harvest was something we have all been looking forward to.

Harvesting garlic is about what you would expect: A shovel is used to loosen the roots and then the stalk is pulled to unearth the loose plant. Our crew rotated duties from shoveling to collecting armfuls of the loosened garlic. This is what we on the farm like to call a vigorous activity (and I think we all felt a little drained today from all the vigor).

Within the span of one day we harvested approximately 800-900 pounds of garlic. With seven people you can see that we each were responsible for about 120 pounds of garlic! That’s a lot of garlic! The picture above is the garlic laid out on tables we set in a shady grove next to the greenhouse (the garlic will cure for about 3-4 weeks). I cannot wait to cook with those delicious cloves!

-Farmer Leda



Keeping Greens Freshhhhhh by Leda
June 15, 2010, 7:59 pm
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The abundance of greens that are now ubiquitous at Four Frog (and in your CSA boxes this time of year) have been a great blessing and a little bit of a burden. I should be thankful for all of our lettuces and arugula and kale that allowed us to finally start selling at farmer’s markets and get the CSA season underway, not to mention provide the farm crew with some fresh veggies. I am thankful for all of that, but I have to be honest: greens stress me out a little bit. Perhaps my anxiety stems from the fact that natural processes are working against the goal of delivering ideal greens to market. First of all, you have to harvest lettuce, arugula, etc. before it bolts (bolting, i.e., flowering lettuce tastes bitter and arugula gets too spicy when it is bolting, no good for selling or eating). Then, after harvesting the greens the trick is to wash them all and pack them before they start to wilt in the heat. Do not leave a head of fresh lettuce in the sun, or it will melt faster than a marshmallow in the middle of a bonfire. I would feel much better if I could just place a freshly harvested head of lettuce into each CSA and market customer’s hands immediately after harvest. Barring this extreme fantasy of mine becoming a reality, the next best solution is good handling practices after harvest.  We store greens in a cool place out of the sun and try to keep them sprayed with water for best results. Also, there are some things that you can do once you get your greens home to keep them looking and tasting their best.

Here are some tips on storage for freshness (be sure to share these with your friends so they do not turn green with envy):

1- For greens like chard and kale that have thick stems, clip about 2 inches off the bottom of the stems and place in a glass or vase of water. This may remind you of the procedure for keeping cut flowers fresh longer, similar idea.

2-Lettuce- place fresh lettuce in a plastic produce or grocery bag before placing in the refrigerator. This will help keep the leaves crisp and prevent them from wilting.

3- I find that an easy rescue for older greens that may have passed their prime as raw salad fare is to throw them in a quick omelet. For instance, saute a large handful of destemmed kale, chard, spinach etc. in olive oil just enough to soften the leaves. Whisk 3 eggs in a small bowl and then add to the greens. Sprinkle with fresh rosemary or parsley and season with sea salt and black pepper to taste. Flip omelet after about 5 minutes on medium heat or when the sides have firmed up enough to slide a spatula clean underneath. Cook a few more minutes and enjoy!

4- Try to eat your greens as soon as possible after buying, after all that is why you are buying fresh greens in the first place: to enjoy them in their prime!!!

-Farmer Leda



The time has come by Leda
June 8, 2010, 8:46 pm
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Yesterday has been a long time coming. Stephanie, Matt, and I have been waiting for that day for 2 months and 5 days.  Andrew and Logan have been working for that day since last October or November.

Yesterday was the first day of our CSA (community supported agriculture) pick up and it was most excellent. It sure felt good to be harvesting and packing up boxes with lush green lettuce, spicy  arugula, brilliant red radishes, tasty little salad turnips, and crisp yellow onions. We were all hoping these vegetables that we had worked so hard to produce were well received. As the first few members drove up to the farm we all felt like proud parents brimming with nervous excitement.

We have come a long way from the beginning of April when onions and garlic were the only cash crops to be seen. The other 9 acres of the farm were blanketed by oats, vetch, (our winter cover crops) and untended swatches of weeds.

Now, upon entering the farm one is met with rows of green arugula, salad turnips, mustard greens, and quickly maturing strawberry plants. Further down into the fields from the greenhouse the cucumbers and melons are growing vigorously along with healthy looking tomato and pepper transplants.  Everywhere you look it seems that some young plant is thriving. I think that yesterday just stoked our enthusiasm and optimism that the season will only become more bountiful.

-Farmer Leda