Greetings from Farmer Tom
Who says you have to live in the countryside to start a self-sufficient life-style?
On the front page, no less, of last Tuesday's Wall Street Journal, amidst its
mostly mind-numbing financial news, was an article about front yard mini-farms.
If the Wall Street Journal (considered to be the daily financial horoscope for
investors around the world) runs a front-page article on a subject such as self-sufficient
gardening, is this an indicator that the wheelbarrow may be replacing the mighty
shopping cart? Folks with a more pessimistic perspective might interpret the
message as we’re on the verge of another Great Depression. The last
time victory gardens were in fashion and people grew their own food was during
World War II.
It’ll be awhile yet before lawns, the trademark of American suburbia, come
under siege and homeowners recognize their value as a potential
resource for growing food. Over 80% of US households have lawns, which adds up
to a whopping 30-40 million acres of land – something like the size of
Kentucky and Florida combined. Americans spend an average 40 billion dollars
annually on their lawns, applying over 70 million tons of pesticides and fertilizer – about
10 times more than the average farm applies per acre. Most yards today
serve as a status symbol. The greener the lawns and bigger the dahlias the more
attractive the home (and often the more valuable when appraised). A compost
pile and thriving vegetable and fruit garden in the front yard is not (at least
not yet) considered a valuable landscape feature in most urban and suburban neighborhoods.
Not long ago our ancestors really did garden for self-sufficiency; it wasn't
an option, it was a way of life. My mother still tells me stories how in her
family money wasn't used for things you could grow or make yourself, but only
for tools, clothes, or sometimes luxury items such as coffee and chocolate. This
may sound a bit radical, but imagine if CSA members grew food in their own gardens
and then sold or contributed a portion of their production to fellow CSA members.
From Debbie's point of view this would probably be the ultimate logistical nightmare.
But it's conceivable to see neighborhood pick-up sites becoming outlets for productive
local neighborhood gardens.
It was exactly a year ago that Debbie's husband Ken launched an interactive game
on the web called World Without Oil
which opened with the ‘alternate reality’ that
gasoline had hit $4 a gallon. In real life, less than a year later, we are already
paying over $4 a gallon for diesel fuel to operate our farm machinery. The
future of an abundant and healthy food supply is going to depend increasingly
on local and regional food belts, where consumers develop direct relationships
with food producers. I like Slow Food’s concept of consumers (or eaters,
to be more precise) being “co-producers”, i.e. intimate participants
in the food growing process. Being a Community Supported Farm we are well
on our way to building our network of food producers and co-producers.
Finding energy-efficient strategies for growing and delivering crops to you,
our ‘co-producers’, is becoming increasingly important. From
my point of view, I am looking for ways to become more efficient in how we package
and distribute our shares; I am also looking into ways to reduce the cost of
outside inputs by increasing our own compost making capabilities. We were fortunate
this winter to have seized an opportunity to acquire a piece of land adjacent
to our farm, which in the long term will substantially cut our production costs
since it will reduce the amount of time and transportation required to tend our
fields (currently we grow crops on 5 different leased parcels, two only a mile
or so away, but three, although still here in the Watsonville area, are much
further). Having our own land also removes the uncertainty that comes with leased
Our goal, as Carlos Petrini (founder of the Slow Food Movement) so well describes
in his book "Slow Food Nation", is that our food must meet three criteria:
quality, purity, and justice. We are what we eat, and we are all called upon
to evaluate how our food is produced, sold, and consumed. When I see Elisa play
in the fields, tasting and exploring the treasures this land sprouts forth, it
reminds me that the most important thing about food is that it is pleasurable.
When food meets Petrini's three criteria, it will inherently be more pleasurable
to consume. The pleasure of food serves as the primary reason why we should care
about a sustainable food system, which in turn contributes to a happier and healthier
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Notes from Debbie's Kitchen
here to go to recipe database
Aaaah, the pleasure of food – now Tom’s talkin’ right up
my alley! There is so much joy in it; certainly in my life anyway! There’s
the fun of picking up the box each week (I like to ride my bicycle), seeing what
new goodies are in it. Even though the veggie list is in the newsletter ahead
of time, it’s just not the same as opening up the box and peering inside
to see all that vibrant freshness. And I really enjoy the ‘processing’ part
too – taking the time to prepare and store each item in such a way that
it will be good as new when I go to use it later in the week. Then there’s
the joy of cooking and preparing meals, the fun of looking at what you have and
creating something good to eat from it. When you have such fresh produce to work
with, it doesn’t require a lot of fancy preparation – the flavors
of the produce shine with simple preparation. And last but not least, the pleasure
of eating... well, that goes without saying!
Okay, enough yammering! ;-) I’m going to start by covering the new veggies
this week, and simple preparations for them. Depending on how much time I have
(these newsletters always take longer than I expect!) I’ll add some more
recipes at the end. - Debbie
Red beets, at long last!! We have been without them since late fall, when
Tom’s seed vendor sent him incorrectly labeled seeds, and so we had a huge
crop of white beets instead! All winter long, the only beets we got were white
ones, so I’m thrilled to have the color back. Tom says the greens from
this particular planting were not so presentable, so they will be topped in the
field as they’re harvested, and the leaves will be plowed back into the
soil with the next planting. (Normally I talk about cooking with beet greens
too, so I’ll hold off on that until we’re getting the green tops
along with the beets.)
Simple beet preparation: beets can be eaten raw or cooked. They can be cooked
many different ways too (roasted, baked, steamed, boiled), but a ‘quick-and-easy’ if
you’re new to them is to use a pressure cooker. A great reference for this
is a cookbook by Lorna J. Sass called “Cooking Under Pressure” which
has a whole section on ‘Vegetables A to Z’. In a nutshell, place
whole, unpeeled (easier to peel after cooking; see below) beets in a rack over
boiling water (2C to be safe; you don’t want the cooker to run out of water),
lock pot and bring to full pressure. Once pressurized, cook 10 to 15 minutes
(Lorna says 11-13 min for ‘small’, 3-4 oz. beets, and 20-22 min.
for ‘large’, 5-6 oz. beets), release pressure. Test beets for doneness:
they should pierce easily with the tip of a sharp knife. If they are still a
little firm, lock lid and cook for a few more minutes.
To peel cooked beets, first allow them to cool enough so you can handle them
(of course!) – sometimes when I’m in a hurry I’ll run them
under cold tap water a few seconds. Then cut off tops and tails, and you’ll
find that the skin just slips off! Very easy.
For your first taste test of a new veggie, I always encourage very simple preparation,
so you can see what the veggie tastes like before adding more elaborate flavors.
So take your cooked beets and cut them into wedges or slices, toss them while
still warm with a little butter so it melts, and then sprinkle with salt. Yum!
Also new this week are the mustard greens, although they’ll only
be in the Family Share this week (small shares will get their turn). I love the
mustard greens, especially the red mustard. I love using them as a salad green,
actually! (See below for using in salads.) First timers try this: take a fresh
leaf of red mustard, one that’s bright and alive, and pop it
in your mouth. Chew it slowly and thorouhly. Notice how at first, it’s
just kind of grassy... but then yowza! you get the flash of mustardy-heat that
it is named for. I love snacking on my leafy greens as I’m washing them.
My husband always manages to wander through the kitchen when I’m washing
greens so he can snack likewise.
Here’s an excerpt from a 2005 newsletter on how to wash and store them: “Key
rule: don’t stick wet veggies in a bag in the fridge; they’ll rot
quickly. You want humidity, but not wet. Place leafy greens in a sink or basin
of cold water and swish around gently but sufficiently to dislodge any dirt or
grit which will then sink to the bottom. Then remove them in small handfuls,
separating and tossing any excessively bruised or yellowed leaves (or the occasional
weed!) and place the washed greens in a salad spinner. Spin two or three times,
dumping the water after each spin (you want to get rid of that excess moisture!),
then spread the greens out on a cotton towel (or paper towels), layering if necessary,
and then roll up and store in a bag, gently squeezing the air out before sealing.
If you take the time to do this, I promise you will be glad you did come mid-week!
Fresh, washed, bagged greens? Piece o’ cake (and a joy!) to use.”
Using mustard greens in salads: Treat the peppery greens like you would
arugula; they’re good offset by fruity flavors – or even fruit, for
that matter! Try making a dressing with a sweeter vinegar such as balsamic, a
little dijon mustard, pinch of salt, and a mild or nutty oil (I like using roasted
walnut oil or flaxseed oil) and if you like, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and
a dab of honey... toss greens with this then top with sliced strawberries! You
can embellish by adding chevre or feta cheese, and/or maybe a little bit of very
thinly-sliced onion. Toasted walnuts are nice too if you have ‘em but certainly
The favas are maturing nicely, so most of you are probably transitioning
to peeling off the pods and just using the beans within. (If you missed my discussion
on how to do this, see the Week
2 newsletter. Scroll down until you get to 'Fava Beans, continued')
Here is a recipe lovingly hand-written and mailed to me by member Carol Locke
last year. She has written me twice with info about this recipe actually, and
I have been saving them for the arrival of beets, as last year I became very
interested in fermenting foods. This is a compilation of both letters,
as she had different nuggets of info in each! [My comments in square brackets,
as per usual!]
Carol says, “Beet Kvass is a lactofermented product like kombucha or
kimchi or sauerkraut. In parts of the world where beets are a big crop, beet
kvass can take the place of vinegar in soups or dressings. Also it is an excellent
blood tonic, aid to digestion, etc. To get the health benefits of beets (raw
beets no less!) and those of a lacto-fermented beverage as well, I make beet
kvass and drink a 4 oz. glass morning and night. It has an unusual flavor but
quite pleasant and refreshing. If salt predominates, let it age in the refrigerator
until it develops a tangy acidity.”
3 medium-large organic beets, or equivalent smaller ones, peeled and coarsely
chopped. Do not grate beets for kvass as the small pieces exude too much juice
resulting in too rapid fermentation, favoring the production of alcohol rather
than lactic acid. [ ‘Course who knows? That may be interesting too!]
¼ C whey – obtained by dripping a good quality plain yogurt through
a coffee filter. The yogurt thickens and can be used for other things; save the
whey that drips out!
1 tbsp. sea salt [don’t use table salt, which has additives]
Place all ingredients in a 2 qt. glass mason jar [or similar], and add filtered
or distilled water to fill [tap water has chlorine which is counterproductive
to the fermentation process; don’t use tap!]. Stir well. Cover securely.
Keep at room temperature 2 days, then refrigerate. Pour off and use the liquid ‘kvass’. [I
keep my kvass at room temp for up to a week before refrigerating. If it develops
a 'bloom' of mold on the liquid's surface, that won't hurt anything: simply scoop
it off and discard. I find using a coffee filter for this works best: I carefully
slide it down one side of the jar mouth and under the mold, then slowly bring
it up under the other side. The kvass drains out and the mold stays on the filter.
Do this a couple times until you've removed the stuff to your satisfaction.]
When the liquid is gone, a second batch can be made by filling the container
again with filtered water and leaving at room temp. 2 days again, etc. After
that, discard [compost] the beets. You may want to use some of the liquid from
a former batch as a ‘starter’ for your next one, but it is not required. [I
also add more whey and salt with my second go-round.]
Additional notes from Debbie: the recipe can be easily doubled. I've
also used a mix of red and golden beets... and the kvass comes out mellower,
different. But delicious!
3/11/09 update: for further discussion on Beet Kvass, click
scroll to end of Winter Newsletter Week 8)
I missed this gem in Carol’s first letter – she talks about how “the
strong flavor of beets stands up to garlic very well. I like beets so well this
way [sliced cooked beets in a vinaigrette with lots of garlic] I seldom prepare
them any other way any more. They are good hot or cold, a great addition to salads,
but I also like them in sandwiches (!) with plenty of mayonnaise, lettuce,
salt and pepper!” So there you have it folks: beet sandwiches!
Roasted Broccoli with Lemon and Breadcrumbs
This is a variation on a recipe I ran in 2004; my friend and fellow member
Alie Victorine made this for me the other night and it was so easy and so delicious,
I had to run it again!
Broccoli cut into florets, stems peeled and cut into equivalent pieces
olive oil, salt and pepper for roasting
butter and olive oil
minced garlic [yes green garlic] or onion
juice from lemon [remember to zest it first!]
Toss broccoli with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in a hot
oven, about 425 degrees, for 20 minutes or so, until lightly browned.
In a small skillet or saucepan, melt butter and olive oil together. Add garlic
or onion and simmer a bit; add lemon zest and breadcrumbs and stir/cook until
they begin to crisp and brown. Remove from heat.
Put roasted broccoli in a bowl and squeeze lemon juice over all. Add prepared
breadcrumbs and toss together, then serve. Oh this is just so tasty!!
<> You can steam the broccoli instead of roasting it
<> Try adding chopped fresh mint to the breadcrumb mix
<> Try adding grated fresh parmesan to the ‘toss’ at the end
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