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We had a great time at our cooking class this past weekend.  More than a dozen CSA members met in the home of Terry and John Burke this past Saturday, to learn about the wonders and fun of fermented food from Shane Brill.  Class participants learned how to prepare a host of fermented foods and were able to take samples ad supplies home with them to fuel their new inspiration for fermenting.  We all had a lot of fun as we cooked and ate together, sharing knowledge and community over the food products of organisms we often take for granted: microscopic organisms like bacteria and yeast.

The class helped me to better appreciate the vast microscopic communities of organisms around us.  A seemingly whole other world, where vast colonies of alien looking creatures live out their lives; creatures that we live with symbiotically every day through our food.  Many people have heard of the bacteria in our digestive systems that help us to process the food we eat, but people have also been working with bacteria and other microscopic organisms to make/prepare food since before recorded history.  

Though they may not have appreciated that they were making a deal with invisible organisms to digest, prepare and preserve foods in exchange for steady meals, our distant ancestors reaped the benefits of bacteria and yeasts, same as we do today.  In fact, many of the processes Shane taught about in the class had very old origins in the cultures they arose from.  Kefir comes from the northern Caucasus Mountains, Kimchi from Korea, pickling from India and sauerkraut from Germany (although the process is thought to have been introduced to Europeans by Genghis Khan after he invaded China).

Needless to say, the class was a big success!  Hopefully all those who participated are inspired to continue their own experiments in fermenting foods.  One thing we learned is that the limits of what and how you can ferment foods (farm veggies included) seems to only be limited to your supplies and imagination.  For all of those who missed out on the fun, don’t worry, we hope to offer more classes on fermenting in the future.  Stay tuned!  In the meantime check out more exciting cooking class opportunities with us over the next couple months, featuring locals chefs like Sabrina Sexton and Glenn May!

 

Summer is a beautiful time to be on the farm.  The fields are teeming with life, in all shapes and sizes, and the world around you feels alive; you can hear it in the call of birds and the buzz of insects, and you can smell it in the hot air.  Baby swallows sit atop trellis posts, waiting for their parents to bring them meals from the field.  Gusts of wind blow countless specks of corn pollen from one stalk to another, a clever pollination trick.  Dozens of species of plants (planted and wild) flash colorful flowers to advertise their wares; a giant bazaar of vendors shouting out with colors, shapes and pheromones.

There is no better time to see the farm in action than during summer.  The fields are in full production, and the edible bounty of the planet is ripe for the picking.  A meal cooked with the diversity of veggies we are harvesting right now will have you working in every color of the rainbow!  The farm right now is a busy place, filled 24/7 with the endless interactions of organisms with each other and their environment.  It feels rejuvenating when you’ve had time to go out into nature and feel a little closer to the environment around you, to see and be reminded of how you are connected to the land you live off.

Our farms mission statement explains that we strive to strengthen the relationship between community members, their farmers, their food and the land.  Our endeavor is always to be a place from which you can find knowledge, comfort, wonder and fun as you connect with the natural world; indeed, we would agree with the Japanese farmer/philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka when he said that “the ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”  What better way can we offer to serve you than to invite you out to the farm?

Talk to us about coming to volunteer some time out in the fields.  Whether you can stay with us for a day or a couple hours, we’d love to have your help and to show you how your food grows.  Whether you make it a regular thing, or a single experience I urge you to find the time to come out and connect with the earth, through your food.  Take time with us to get a fresh perspective of the world around you, or to rejuvenate from a hectic schedule.  We’re here all day, everyday, and we’d love to see you!

Several people at markets and CSA pick-ups expressed that they need new ideas for what to do with the cabbage we have in season right now. Well ask and you shall receive! I’ve compiled four different recipes here to give you some ideas about what you can do with this delectable veggie, besides coleslaw of course. The first two recipes contain meat, while the second two do not and could be used for vegetarian dishes. All four recipes come from the website http://www.thekitchn.com/. Having tried all four recipes at this point, I will personally attest to their deliciousness. I also found that they are easy recipes to mess around with when you like (for instance substituting one meat for another or choosing different herbs to change the spiced flavor of the dish).  These culinary delights are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cooking with a seemingly plain head of cabbage; hopefully these recipes inspire you to do your own exploration with cabbage in the kitchen that you can share with us online or at a market!

#1 — Asian Cabbage Rolls with Spicy Pork:

 

 

 

A delicious, simple but complexly flavored dish featuring pork, rice, mushrooms, cabbage and ginger soaked in a soy sauce/vinegar sauce. This mixture is then wrapped in a cabbage leaf (green or red) and baked. This dish serves 4 people and takes ~35 minutes to bake. Find the full recipe at: http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-asian-cabbage-rolls-wit-137820

 

 

 

 

#2 — BBQ Cabbage and Sausage Stuffed Sandwiches:

These easy to make sandwiches are great for any summer cook-out or picnic! Plus, once prepared, they can be stored in the fridge or freezer to enjoy later. This recipe has you stuffing dough with cabbage, sausage, garlic, onions, provolone and of course BBQ sauce before baking it into a roll with a crunchy crust and succulent filling. This recipe makes 8 sandwiches that take 15-25 minutes to bake. Find the full recipe at: http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-bbq-cabbage-sausage-stu-140577

 

 

 

#3 — Cabbage in Mild Yogurt and Mustard Seed Curry:

 

What can’t you put in curry? I have yet to find a veggie that can’t be worked into one of the many styles of curry that are out there, and cabbage is no exception. This simple curry, with classic flavors like cumin, turmeric and coriander, uses the mild crunch of cabbage as the main texture and substance of the dish. This recipe serves 6 people and takes 20-30 minutes to prepare. Find the full recipe at: http://www.thekitchn.com/cabbage-in-mild-yogurt-and-mus-157670

 

 

 

 

#4 — Grilled Cabbage Wedges with Spicy Lime Dressing:

Sometimes the simplest recipes are the best, and this one (usually prepared as a side dish or appetizer) manages to overwhelm with good flavors and textures just by having grilled cabbage with dressing on top. The whole thing can be prepared in a matter of minutes; grilling the cabbage will take no more than 14 minutes and the sauce is just a matter of mixing everything together before pouring it on the cabbage. If you can’t grill the cabbage try roasting it! This dish serves 8 people. Find the full recipe at: http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-grilled-cabbage-wedges-157671

Keifer relaxes after work with his buddy, Aristotle.

Keifer relaxes after work with his buddy, Aristotle.

My name is, Keifer Russell, and I am from Casper, Wyoming. Aside from this work, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, exercising, and listening to music. I am lucky to be here in what is now my second season of organic farming as I spent the last season in London, Ohio. Finding this path, what I now consider to be my career path, has taken the entirety of my young life. There were signs all along the way that I didn’t see until I looked back, until I started listening more equally to my head and my heart. I will try and explain this path as briefly as I can.

When I first started in college all I really knew was that I wanted to do something health related. At Casper College, a community college in my home town, I earned an Associate’s Degree in Athletic Training as well as one in Physical Education. Neither of these programs really reached me and upon graduating I took the next two years off. I had already been working construction while attending school but the two years of full time work that followed, for many, many reasons, motivated me to go back to school. I felt I owed it to myself but also, more than anything, I wanted to enjoy the work I did, to have a sense of purpose. I decided to apply for the Kinesiology and Health Promotion program at the University of Wyoming. I didn’t like the limitations of completing either of my original degree paths and was hoping to have more options upon graduating. Thankfully I was accepted and began to become genuinely interested in the field of public health and of preventative health efforts. I was especially motivated to pursue this course when I began to learn more about the incredible disparities of our time and of the idea of undeserved power and privilege.

I believe that a majority of our world’s health problems stem from unequal access to resources (food, health, justice, etc.). In a world where it seems that anything can be bought and sold, those who have the money have the ability to buy food, health and justice. In our country, as evidence shows, the vast majority of wealth, and therefore access, is in the hands of a few. This is the exact opposite of justice and, as a result, we are faced with the enormous disparities that plague us today. I have enjoyed a great deal of power and privilege in my own life and have come to realize that some of which, perhaps more than I will ever know, has been unearned. Being a heterosexual, middle-class, white male makes me part of the dominant class in our society. It should be no surprise then that I am in good health. Realizing this, learning that to remain neutral is to side with the oppressor and not the oppressed, I decided I had to find a career path which allowed me to give back for the unfair advantage I have had. In pursuit of such work, I took an internship at a Public Health office and worked under the Public Health Response Coordinator for roughly two school years. While this was a very interesting position and taught me a lot, what it taught me more than anything was that I did not have the patience for the pace of government and was simply not happy sitting at a desk. Luckily for me, my search within my major for everything public health lead me to take a Food, Health & Justice course (Hints my repeated use of the phrase). In learning about the food system, in working in community gardens, I found what I knew in my heart to be my path.

Food system work has provided me the much needed hope and optimism in the field of social reform. I am very attracted to the hands-on, community-level nature of the work itself, along with the quick positive return. This is certainly not to say that community gardens or organic growing operations are fool-proof, but rather that such projects can, in my mind, be undertaken with lower cost and greater ease than projects in other areas of social change. Also, there is a myriad of potential positive benefits to this type of work which include: Increased food access/availability (esp. healthy, sustainable, fresh, tasty food), social support, physical activity, stress relief, education, fulfillment of civic duty, positive role modeling, preservation of open space and natural systems, and the strengthening of local communities, economies, and food system defense. These co-occurring benefits to food system reform essentially improve the wellness of a community’s members. Wellness refers to overall well-being and incorporates the mental, emotional, physical, occupational, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of a person’s life.

This work is also is a nice reminder of the construction work aspects that I actually do miss and an even better reminder of why I went back to school. In many ways this work is brand new for me, despite the countless hours I’ve spent shoveling. While I did help to “build” some important infrastructure in my day, none of which, nor the total amount of which, could equal the importance and the satisfaction of the outcome of this shoveling. Being involved in this sort of food production was a first for me, as I barely remember the gardens we had when I was younger. Not only do I have my hands in the actual production of healthy, organic, sustainable foods, but I have my hands in social change as well. This farm, this food, is a challenge to current social norms, many of which I feel are flawed. Working to feed someone, to change my community, to change our relationship to the natural world and to change not just the food system but the whole system, brings a reward that is, for me, more satisfying than any pay check I have ever earned. Though minimal, my food system experience and knowledge gained have given me great hope that I might be able to not only do what I love for a living, but to do so for the sake of the greater good.

While I may have stumbled into this work, that certainly does not mean I take it lightly. I like to think that my food system reform beliefs are founded in unbiased, undeniable scientific evidence. As it turns out, and despite the claims of conventional agriculture, small scale, organic farming is the best option for feeding the world as it produces competitive yields in a healthy, sustainable way while also supporting local communities and cultures. Organic systems also produce a more diverse array of food and nutrients and are better positioned to produce yields in adverse conditions, which are sure to come given global warming and the global fight for water. What I also like about this movement is that it reminds us to think about food in terms other than just production. Our goal should be not just feeding the world, but feeding the world well—returning as much as we take in order to ensure our future.

In summary, I took this position to continue my journey to find my place in the closing of the inequality gap. The more I learn, the more I see, the further I push myself outside of my own bubble, the more I feel that I truly am either part of the problem or part of the solution. “If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.” ~Lyndon B. Johnson.

At Colchester Farm CSA we have had a lot of opportunities recently to think about food. This might sound silly, considering our daily labor out in the fields to produce the makings of good food, but we have been involved with many events this spring, most notably the wonderful talks given at Washington College as part of the Recipes for Change lecture series put on by anthropology professor Bill Schindler. This series ran through a vast diversity of idea about the culture of food, from the hunter/gatherer diets of our distant ancestors to food marketing and school lunch programs. The series just ended last week with a talk by the inspiring urban farmer, Will Allen. Going to these talks and discussing issues of food afterwards has prompted us to better examine our local food system; where does our food come from, what are we eating and is it nurturing us?

The first question we have to ask ourselves though is why we should bother to think about food so much. The answer goes far beyond the concerns of health and safety in the production and consumption of food (which are great); we must remember that when we are talking about food and it’s preparation we are talking about a vital part of our daily lives, something we must engage in every day. It should come as no surprise that such an essential part of life could be found rooted deeply within culture, science and art. The art of cuisine is a very serious tradition that all cultures uphold, because food is one of the primary ways that a people can distinguish themselves. A cultures food can tell you about their customs, beliefs, geography and aesthetic. Throughout human history food has been an effective way to bond people together; it is a powerfully symbolic act to share food (nourishment) with someone. The sharing of recipes can be an intimate way to pass on personal and cultural knowledge from one generation to the next.

We can see the importance of food framed eloquently when we read from the work of L.R. Kass, who once wrote, “We human beings delight in beauty and order… sociability and friendship… song and worship. And, as self-conscious beings, we especially crave self-understanding and knowledge of our place in the larger whole… The meal taken at table is the cultural form that enables us to respond simultaneously to all the dominant features of our world… and the mysterious source of it all… Meals eaten before the television set turn eating into feeding. Wolfing down food dishonors both the human effort to prepare it, and the lives of those plants and animals sacrificed on our behalf… Especially because modern times hold us hostage to the artificial and the unreal, we do well to remember that the hearth still makes the home, prepared and shared meals still make for genuine family life, and entertaining guests at dinner still nurtures the growth of friendship. A blessing offered over the meal still fosters a fitting attitude toward the world, whose gracious bounty is available to us, and not because we merit it… The materialistic view of life, though it may help put bread on the table, cannot help us understand what it means to eat…”

Because of the great importance of food in culture and health, a great deal of time has been invested, through science and technology, into the study, production and sale of food. The “food industry” encapsulates every part of the production, transport, and sale of food all around the world. Such a vast system includes the efforts of such diverse fields as agriculture, bioengineering, chemical manufacturing, mechanical engineering, economics, marketing, transportation logistics, nutritionists and other medical professionals, educators, politicians and lobbyists…the list goes on and on.

So we can see now that food is a very important topic, one that affects all people in many different ways, and is therefore worth our attention. The next question is what is there to talk about? What do we understand about the food we eat and is there anything that needs to be changed? You can learn a lot about someone by learning about what they eat regularly. Many times the fastest way to learn about a person from their diet is to look at what they don’t eat. Do they have reasons of personal taste and cultural appetite? Is it a medical reason like an allergy? Or is it a moralistic or social statement like the refusal to eat meat to protest the treatment of animals? We say a lot about ourselves with what we choose to eat, and in this modern, technologic age of global economics and genetic engineering we seem to have more and more opportunities to make crucial statements through our food choices.

Practices like genetically modified organisms (GMOs), globalization of markets and monoculture production, combined with poor political action and the placement of profit over health, have created a worldwide food system that has not succeeded in meeting the food and nutritional needs of so many around the world, while simultaneously degrading the rest of the environment. Though it may seem small, uneventful, and passive, the fight against these dangerous practices is being fought every day by you and I. We have the power to choose if we want these damaging practices to persist, because we are the ones who buy the food products. There are many more things we can do to actively create and support a safe, local, transparent culture of food in our area, but the ultimate fight will be won with every small victory of deciding to buy products based not on your wants and desires, but on taking a few steps back to see the needs of your local economy/community/ecosystem and potentially going out of your way to support a product and/or solution that you see having lasting, beneficial effects on your health and the health of those around you.

Let me introduce to you the latest addition of livestock to our farm:
Red Wriggler worms

EARTHWORMS!!!

What would we keep worms for?  It’s not their meat… it’s their poop, which people who practice vermiculture (the cultivation of worms) have given the less crass name of “worm castings”.  Ok so you know that we keep the worms for their “castings”, but why on Earth would we do that?

Though their slow movement and simple appearance might cause people to easily overlook or even avoid them, earthworms (like red wigglers) play a crucial part in our lives; they are one of the primary species that create and sustain the living soils that we are dependent on.  Like all organisms, worms manipulate and change their environment; they burrow through the ground, making tunnels that can form complex systems running throughout the soil in all directions.  These tunnels are important in that they allow for water and chemicals in the air like oxygen to be accessed by plants and other organisms that live in the soil.  Also, as earthworms travel through the ground they eat soil particles and organic matter (decaying plant and animal matter) as well as tiny soil particles like grains of sand.  As all of these materials travel through the worms digestive system, they are broken down into smaller, simpler, compounds and nutrients and deposited in the form of a “cast”.  These casting are small bits of soil that have high concentrations of nutrients that in turn fertilize plants and feed other organisms.  By constantly eating and moving through tunnels, worms are circulating soil and nutrients throughout the Earth non-stop, 24/7.

Having worms in your garden soil is an easy and wonderful indication of healthy soils; where worms can be sustained there will be moist, nutrient rich soils which sustain all other plants and animals.  The more earthworms you have the more worm castings they are producing that will better fertilize your soil and sustain a healthy soil ecosystem.  Worm castings are a boon to farmers looking to sustain plant crops on the same soil year after year, and it’s no surprise that people have started trying to take greater advantage of this phenomenal organism.  Vermiculture, or vermicompost, is the process of composting material specifically using different types of worms to create a highly homogenous, nutrient rich organic fertilizer.  Composting, the process of utilizing decomposition to break down organic matter into rich soil material known as humus, has been practiced here at Colchester Farm CSA for years.  But vermiculture gives us the opportunity to use worms to make decomposed soil humus faster, and have it contain higher concentrations of nutrients.

We have worms in our compost piles but, the pile being just a pile, the worms can come and go as they please.  What we have done is create a contained space in which to hold the worms, commonly referred to as a worm bin.  There are as many variations on vermicomposting as there are any other type of agriculture, so here we only will discuss the practices and procedures we know and use at Colchester.  Having said that, vermiculture is new for us here and we are treating it as a research project until we can learn more from experience and better care for and use the worms.

Laying down the wire netting floor that will hold in our worms.

Laying down the wire netting floor that will hold in our worms and keep out mice.

We built a worm bin out of cinder blocks to house our new workers.  We wanted an open bottom exposed to the soil so that proper flow of air, nutrients and water could occur, but we didn’t want the worms we put in the bin to be able to escape the bin.  We need to keep the worms contained in order to harvest their castings, so we laid down a small mesh wire netting as the floor of our bin.  A removable screen insert allows us to create two different piles to work with without preventing the worms from traveling between the two piles.  This will help us to determine when one pile is totally decomposed and ready for use (as the worms will run out of food and migrate out of this pile into the other).  We will begin with ~5 lbs. of earthworms in our bin, which were bought from a supplier.  In trying to create a home for the worms that contains ready made soil and new food sources, we will be creating a mixture of soil, compost, and food/veggie scraps to welcome the worms to their new home.  Once they acclimate we will feed the pile with regular plant waste to ensure the worms have a regular source of food to digest and process.

 

 

Keifer, a seasonal intern, puts the finishing touches on the bin.

Keifer, a seasonal apprentice, puts the finishing touches on the bin.

This is an exciting new project to start with the seasonal apprentices, who moved in just a few weeks ago.  A big part of their experience on the farm is to learn about and experiment with different ideas and strategies that could someday help them in future farms or other agricultural operations they will be involved with.  They can help plan and maintain this home for earthworms we have constructed, and because it’s new for us too, we can all learn it together.  Right now, we see vermiculture as a unique, low-maintenance way to improve and diversify our farming operation.  We look forward to learning much more about it and reaping the benefits of worm poop!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ten Ways to Eat and Acorn Squash
http://www.thekitchn.com/10-ways-to-eat-an-acorn-squash-129731

Better Than Butternut: Roasted Delicata
http://summertomato.com/better-than-butternut-roasted-delicata-squash-recipe/

Healthy Delicata Squash Recipes
http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes_menus/recipe_slideshows/healthy_delicata_squash_recipes

Stuffed Delicata Squash with Quinoa Stuffing
http://www.edibleperspective.com/home/2012/11/16/stuffed-delicata-squash-with-quinoa-stuffing.html