Eating Seasonally

Spring is here!

Find us at The University District farmers market on Saturdays, 9-2, and the west seattle farmers market on sundays, 10-2.

If you are interested in joining us for our 2015 Summer CSA season, click here for our 2015 CSA Application. Summer starts June 9!

A Farmer Rant

I don’t rant often. I keep it to myself, or complain to a select few farmer friends. Mostly I try to keep things positive. It’s better for me, and it’s better for everyone else.

But as I was just finishing my last chipper blog post about chaos and spring, Mike was out doing evening chores. He calls, and says, “We’ve got an emergency here!” Never a good thing.

I grab my coat and boots and run out there, and much of the smoke has already dissipated. But it’s still smoky. There are a bunch of little dead chickens in the brooder, and the shavings on the floor are smoldering with a few coals. Of course, it’s amazing that it’s not in flames. It’s amazing that any of them are alive at all, considering that the first time I got a whiff of smoke from INSIDE our house was several hours earlier. I checked the dryer vent, I checked the space heaters. I looked at all the neighbors’ houses who usually have smoky fires in their fireplaces. Nothing. I wrote it off.

Those poor little three-week-chicks. Some were dead. Many were nearly dead. Most were wheezing and coughing and sneezing. Smoke inhalation is nasty, and even more so for birds. They have more delicate lungs than mammals do. You’ve heard about “the canary in the coal mine”. More delicate. More sensitive. And they are babies.

So, we get air flow going. We shovel out the smoldering shavings. We stop new smoke from forming. And then we pull out the dead bodies. 26 out of 100. We know there will be more in the morning. It may take several days for them to stop dying. And there’s just no way to give all those little chickens emergency oxygen therapy to help them.

And after we are done cussing at ourselves, and blaming, and cleaning up. Then we wonder why we do this. We wonder why, and we wonder if we should start more. And then we come in the house to make dinner, because life goes on.

And during dinner, we complain about the people who complain about egg prices. We gripe about how many chicks your ordinary egg-buyer could keep alive. How many would they be able to keep safe from cold snaps. From wind storms. From that first hot day in July that threatens to overwhelm everything. When young birds die from heat stroke. From predators.

Just how many eggs would your ordinary egg-buyer get from their attempt at chicken-raising. How many years would they perservere, and keep trying, and trying to get enough eggs to reach that magical “profitability” number? And then they complain about the price of eggs. Some are genuinely shocked into standing open-mouthed when an egg-farmer says “$9″. In January, when those chickens aren’t laying very many eggs, but they are still eating $20-$30 of feed every day. When they are not paying for their keep.

The average egg-shopper doesn’t realize that all of this goes on, 6 months before the first egg is laid. $7 per dozen doesn’t make a profit. Even $8 per dozen doesn’t pay a farmer a living wage. Really, at $9 per dozen, not really either.

Of course, I realize that most of our loyal customers are not in this group that we complain about. But I see it every weekend at the farmers markets. That shocked look. And the ones who actually verbalize their shock. It makes me ill, and it’s hard to not retort. Really hard to turn the other cheek. Hard not to accidentally throw a bunch of wet kale in their direction.

Because they really have no idea at all.

Spring Week 3: Staying Flexible

Torpedo Onions that didn't get harvested last year, are the beginning of Spring Bounty.

Torpedo Onions that didn’t get harvested last year, are the beginning of Spring Bounty.

THIS WEEK’S SUBSCRIBER MENU:

• Spring Onions
• Turnip Rapini
• Pea Shoots
• Cilantro
• Kale
• Cilantro or Thyme

Click on the links above for information and recipes about these crops.

COMING SOON: Radishes, Lettuces, Arugula, Spinach, Carrots

I'm so glad I did extra searching for a bright red variety of Rhubarb! They don't taste much different from the green stalks, but they're sure prettier!

I’m so glad I did extra searching for a bright red variety of Rhubarb! They don’t taste much different from the green stalks, but they’re sure prettier!

It goes without saying that Spring is a big season of change on the farm. What you don’t know is that this post has been hanging in my browser for several weeks, and I have changed the title three times—Spring Week 1, Spring Week 2, and finally Spring Week 3. And I’m finally getting it done.

There is the change in weather, from too darned wet and cold to do anything, or even think about doing any farming. And suddenly it becomes, OMG, it’s been dry for a couple days, we should try planting something! And then, we could try planting more! Or @*%& It’s raining again, I guess we’ll wait some more.

After Easter, my kids were begging for healthy food, "like greens". So, I mixed up the last bunch of broccolini, the last bunch of curly kale, and a small bundle of asparagus. With garlic and olive oil. Hits the spot!

After Easter, my kids were begging for healthy food, “like greens”. So, I mixed up the last bunch of broccolini, the last bunch of curly kale, and a small bundle of asparagus. With garlic and olive oil. Hits the spot!

In our house, there is also a change of lifestyle—from full-time school to on-again, off-again farming. It’s a grey area of chaos. Where the schedule that I make suddenly can be thrown out the window, and I end up stressing out because nothing is getting done. The kids actually enjoy this, because it inevitably leads to extra screen time. Which results in a massive yo-yo effect of me backpedaling and throwing in extra chores, and more chaos, and more school, and more sun—oh no let’s plant more stuff!

So, yes. Spring is chaos here. On many levels.

Like my desk. This is why it is so important that you send in those silly pieces of paper called “application” for CSA and eggs, and poultry. Because on a chaotic day, I may not enter you into the computer before I do the deposit. Please send your silly paperwork. Just so that I can make sense and order on the rainy days, when I tidy up all the papers that I find under the seed receipts, and seed catalogs, and sticky notes, and lesson plans, and books, and dog toys.

The first asparagus of 2015—I sautéed them hot in a skillet with butter. So sweet and tasty!

The first asparagus of 2015—I sautéed them hot in a skillet with butter. So sweet and tasty!

I’m happy to report that we have a new employee. Jesus. He’s new to farm work, but is eager and hardworking, and chipper. And he and Teo get along well. They have been planting onions—and there are many. 40,000 plants or so. So far 4 beds of 17 have been planted. It’s a major job, but one that will pay off beautifully from June through September, and even next spring. Because those onions you are eating right now were actually planted this time last year!

Every year we dedicate a little more greenhouse space to early carrots. This year they get a WHOLE 30' wide tunnel to themselves. Lots of carrots coming in May!

Every year we dedicate a little more greenhouse space to early carrots. This year they get a WHOLE 30′ wide tunnel to themselves. Lots of carrots coming in May!

Speaking of planting—we got the greenhouses going super early! We are already picking cilantro, and this week we are harvesting the first of the Japanese turnips that were planted in early March. Hopefully next week we’ll have salad greens and radishes, and in a few weeks’ we’ll have the first of the early carrots! NEWS FLASH: We applied again for a hoophouse grant from the NRCS, which means we’ll be able to install two more big greenhouses in the fall. Thank you, USDA, for helping the little guys!

 

“Sprinter”—Our New Northwest Season

Cosmo, the Chick-Whisperer. 100 baby laying hens.

Cosmo, the Chick-Whisperer. 100 baby laying hens.

What a crazy-warm winter-spring we’re having! I don’t even know what to call it—maybe Sprinter is a good word to describe the sunny, 70° March days? It also describes our work ethic right now: between soggy days, we sprint out to get a bit of ground worked up, and get something planted.

Our asparagus is green, but the emerging tips are always purple.

Our asparagus is green, but the emerging tips are always purple.

Spring means Rhubarb!

Spring means Rhubarb!

We’ve been pretty successful so far. Spinach, Arugula, Mizuna, Beet Greens are all growing nicely and should be ready to harvest in 2-3 weeks—way ahead of our normal schedule. Cilantro, Chervil, Turnips, Radishes, Salad Mix, and Carrots are all planted, weeded, and growing in the greenhouses, and we’ll be picking and eating all of those things by May.

Torpedo Onions that didn't get harvested last year, are the beginning of Spring Bounty.

Torpedo Onions that didn’t get harvested last year, are the beginning of Spring Bounty.

Mint beds are freshly weeded and growing fast.

Mint beds are freshly weeded and growing fast.

It’s been a bumper year for pests—specifically, rats. So many big ones! We planted peas in a greenhouse to try and get juicy pods early (like, May) but the blasted rats dug them up and ate them! We spent two weeks trapping, discovered one of our dogs (Mario) is a born ratter, and Cosmo collected a $1 bounty per critter for every one dead. Still, there were more. I replanted and have enough for an experiment, but not as I’d hoped. Alas, we’ll have to wait for outside peas after all. We’ll try again NEXT year.

I think this is a Calfie—Teo is getting friendly with Cosmo's new heifer, Garnet.

I think this is a Calfie—Teo is getting friendly with Cosmo’s new heifer, Garnet.

Teo is really excited to start picking again. Winter is a dull, if restive, time of year. But he likes it when the farm is producing—it gives us all energy. Between cleaning up and weeding, he’s found time to sneak in a little time with Cosmo’s new calf, Garnet. I think we should call these photos “calfies”.

Cosmo and his  3-month old heifer, Garnet. He wants a milk cow that he can raise from a baby. Yes, he'll be 13 when he finally gets to milk her. That's a lifetime.

Cosmo and his 3-month old heifer, Garnet. He wants a milk cow that he can raise from a baby. Yes, he’ll be 13 when he finally gets to milk her. That’s a lifetime.

Other good news this week: We were lucky enough to receive a $6,000 hoop house grant from NRCS! We believe we can squeeze that into two more large greenhouses, which means even MORE deliciousness next spring!

40,000 onion plants have arrived, and are waiting here for their beds to be made so they can be planted.

40,000 onion plants have arrived, and are waiting here for their beds to be made so they can be planted.

We’ve got the farm stand cleaned and a new floor put in—rest assured, the skunk who made it home in January is no longer inhabiting the building, but it IS staying nearby. (I love skunks, so we will not be hunting or destroying this one, but that does not mean it was welcome in the farm stand!) We believe it’s now living under one of the shipping containers—remember, it takes a lot of warnings before they actually spray, so just don’t surprise it or make it mad and you’ll be fine.)

We start our Spring CSA season this week—and we are already at capacity for this limited season. We also start farmers markets Easter weekend—University District on Saturday (9-2) and West Seattle on Sunday (10-2). Columbia City opening day is May 9. At the beginning of the Spring Season we count on any crops that overwintered, and this year we have LOTS of Spring Onions! We’ll also have Rapini, Broccolini, a bit of Kale, Sorrel, Mint, and Cilantro. Chervil and Pea Shoots will be coming along soon…

This is how we do crop rotation planning.

This is how we do crop rotation planning.

AND, we are creeping along with our plan to purchase our farm property and the one next door. Baby steps, and waiting in between. But we’ll get there!

Getting Ready for 2015

Bookkeeping Break. Pretty pictures and dreams, seed books and schemes.

Bookkeeping Break. Pretty pictures and dreams, seed books and schemes.

January is the time to do a lot of desk-work. Not my favorite, but necessary. Last year I started homeschooling the kids, so now winter is prime unschooling season. We all learn a lot and do cool stuff, cramming as much cool stuff in as we can before busy spring planting season comes around again.

You know we’ve had farm interns for the last two years, and they’ve been great. It’s been a wonderful experience for me and I hope for them as well. But this year will be different. This year, the kids will be learning how to farm. I haven’t entirely figured out how it’s going to go yet, but they will be my interns. I will encourage them to help plan, plant, harvest, and interact with customers. I hope to have them help with the CSA, which is one of the reasons we will be downsizing our CSA slightly this year, from about 150 families (2014) to about 100-ish families. I also hope to take each of them to farmers markets with me, so they can learn some customer service hustle. If you’ve had tweenagers, you can imagine how daunting that idea is, but I hope to make the best of it. Those are skills that can’t be taught in school, they only come from experience. And they are life skills. Customer service, hustle, and knowing how to grow food. Definitely life skills. Throw in a little creativity, science, and math, and you’ve got it made.

I am hopeful that this will be a year of growth. We are planning on hiring two employees to help Teo with general farm work, of which there is more than plenty. I will also need someone to help me at the busy markets. And I am in search of volunteer(s) to help us with the U-Pick garden, so it will be amazing again.

This is also the year, finally, that we will be buying our farm. Actually, our farm and the neighbor’s farm, together. Now, I have only a vague idea of the mechanics of the deal, but I am confident that it will happen. It may require creative funding, I’m pretty sure it will involve a crowd-funding scheme like Kickstarter, but it will mean land security, and that will be a huge relief after renting for 15 years.

I have updated our website and put together the new versions of CSA materials. They are finally done! You can find the 2015 Farm Flyer here: 2015 CSA Farm Flyer, and the 2015 CSA application here: 2015 CSA Application. I have checked with Tonnemakers, and we will be hosting their fruit CSA again but they don’t quite have their materials ready yet, so keep an eye on your in-box.

I will be raising fryers and turkeys again this year, and I have already ordered the chicks and poults. In March I will send the application for poultry, and for egg subscriptions. The rampantly spreading bird flu is making me nervous to commit to poultry products, so I just want a bit more time to make sure that our birds will be safe before we take your money.

We start planting the first week of February, and the beginning of the spring season is just 8 weeks from there. Spring really is just around the corner!

Winter Week 9: I Dreamed of Rapini

We usually put in a big planting of all the different kales in early fall. We harvest the leaves through the winter, but the sweetest reward comes in the spring, when we have lots of these delicious broccolini to pick.

THIS WEEK’S SUBSCRIBER MENU:

• Lots of  Winter Squash
• Topless “Nelson” Carrots
• Topless “Yellowstone” Carrots
• Several Varieties of Potatoes
• Cabbages
• Leeks
• Kohlrabi

Click on the links above for information and recipes about these crops.

COMING SOON: SPRING

Last night, I dreamed of Rapini.

I went to bed on the cusp of our third freezing spell of the winter. But in my dream it was sunny, bright, and warm. That spring kind of warm where a chill lingers in the shadows, but in the sunny spots your body wants to melt because it feels so good. There were fat robins singing and hopping. And hints of green everywhere. The trees were budding, the weeds were sprouting, and the brassicas were…shooting.

The rows of cabbage plants that looked so miserable and dissolved all winter from being repeatedly frozen and rained-on were renewed. From their slimy hearts emerged fat, green, juicy flower stalks. They acted just as designed, so that they could come back to life and reproduce when conditions favored pollination and seed-setting.

I inhaled the sweet, buzzing, springtime air and the beautiful, fat, green, juicy stems were calling to me—as they do. Like Alice’s little pill—”EAT ME”. They whispered, “Pick me and take me home to your frying pan. To your pizza crust. Take me!” So I did! Because on the farm, the farmers get the first harvest.

I was there, alone, with the mumbling plants.

I pinched off their juicy stems. I heard them snap, I felt the sprinkly spray of sap. I tasted the end of the sweet stems of Cabbage Rapini. And then the dogs were barking and I woke up.

Sigh….

Spring WILL be here. We are so looking forward to a productive season. We have an abundance of crops that will overwinter for a solid spring harvest. So many brassicas—cabbages, brussels sprouts, kales. Onions and garlic that were left behind. Turnips.  All of those crops whose tops died back with frost will return with the warming days and increasing day lengths of spring. Even though they seem dead now, the will be resurrected with abundance. It’s just a few short months away.

And here, I am going to put our commitment in writing—on the internet, where it will live and grow, and become reality. This will be the year we buy our farm. Not only our current farm property, which we have leased for 15 years, but also the property next door. T&M Berries, where we have leased several acres for two years now, and where I got my farming start. We have big plans, and we have every intention of making them real.

2015 is going to be a very special year, and we have all of you to thank for it. We wish you all a quiet, productive winter, building strong roots with which to push up those growing shoots in spring and set seed for new projects and big dreams!

April Fools' Day, and the ladybugs are out, looking for nectar to feed on until they mate and lay eggs. The arugula is blooming.

Winter Week 6: The Choices We Make

IMG_7413

THIS WEEK’S SUBSCRIBER MENU:
• “Delicata” Winter Squash
• Topless “Nelson” Carrots
• Topless “Yellowstone” Carrots
• “German Butterball” Potatoes
• Cabbage
• Leeks
• Garlic

Click on the links above for information and recipes about these crops.

COMING SOON: Brussels Sprouts, Horseradish

The first freeze did a lot of damage. The second freeze was worse. Now we are left with lots of the super hardy crops outside: carrots, cabbage, and leeks, and lots of squashes, onions, and garlic inside.

After a careful evaluation, we have decided that we don’t have enough product to do it all. We have enough to complete our Winter CSA, and not much more. This is where the choices come into play—continue going to farmers markets and give the CSA folks a credit toward next year, or complete our CSA obligation and stop going to markets.

So, we have decided to abandon the markets for this weekend. We WILL attend the Solstice weekend markets because, well, they’re fun. And, it seems like a good plan to go out with a bang. That will be our last for the year. If you pick up your CSA at either University District or West Seattle market, you have received an email with the CSA pickup information. Please let me know if you don’t get it.

We are so thankful to those faithful, loyal CSA families who have already paid for 2015’s harvest. Just last week I was driving the market van and lost the alternator—yes, the bracket broke and the alternator fell out on the freeway. Since the repair involves taking the front end of the van apart, we decided to replace the aging suspension in the van as well. And we were able to make that choice based on the income we received from YOU. Thank you!


One of the great things about the Seattle Farmers Markets that we attend are the many programs that allow us to help the needy. Food banks pick up food at the end of the market day, and distribute it to their clients. We have the EBT and Fresh Bucks programs to help lower-income families buy fresh, healthy farm produce. But we also have the opportunity to talk with the everyday needy folks. Those that need to talk to someone about their farming childhoods, or their situation, or their medical treatments and cures attributable to fresh, organic food.

For years at the West Seattle market, I have had a regular observer. I don’t know if she’s homeless, or if she’s frugal. If she’s in need of help, or just interested in the scene. I had never spoken to her in all of our years at that market. But last weekend, she visited my tent at closing time. Usually, by the end of a market, we are all anxious to pack up and get home. Market days are long—longer than the 4 hours we are open, so generally we make sales while we take signs down, but after 5 or 10 minutes, the grace period ends.

This old woman came at about 15 minutes after closing. I was irritated and continued packing up and chatting with other vendors. But she was so thoughtful, gently picking up the tiniest squashes and eying them like treasure. First a Sweet Dumpling, then a Honey Bear. But she settled on a Gold Nugget—the smallest one in the basket. She fondled it lovingly, and then gently put it back in the basket, and then she started to walk away.

But I was feeling outgoing, so I asked her if she wanted one of the squashes. She turned around and looked at me, wistfully. “Really?”

I said, “Sure. You should take it. It looks like it will make you happy.” She got a tear in her eye, and then she started to tell me her story. She said she grew up in Kent. In O’Brien, actually, and did I know where that was? I’ve spent a fair amount of time perusing old maps and photos of the Kent area, so luckily I could say yes. It’s south of Orillia, but not as far as Langston’s Landing. It was where Cruz-Johnson Farm used to be, and where Albert Drisow used to grow radishes and green onions. And it’s where O’Brien Nursery used to be. All of these agriculture ventures pushed out by the sprawling housing of the likes of Paragon, and the industrial development started by Boeing. I told her that we are in Thomas, between Kent proper and Auburn.

“Oh, I remember Thomas.”

 

Winter Week 5: Arctic Blast, Episode 2

At least for Episode 2 of Arctic Blast we got some snow! Snow before freezing is actually better, because it insulates the crops better and keeps them moist. That dry cold is a killer. There are radicchios under this snow, covered with frost blanket.

At least for Episode 2 of Arctic Blast we got some snow! Snow before freezing is actually better, because it insulates the crops and keeps them moist. That dry cold is a killer. There are radicchios under this snow, covered with frost blanket.

THIS WEEK’S SUBSCRIBER MENU:
• “Jester” Winter Squash
• Topless “Nelson” Carrots
• Topless “Yellowstone” Carrots
• Topless Beets
• “Desiree” Potatoes
• Cabbage or Radicchio
• Leeks or Onions
• Kohlrabi
• Garlic

Click on the links above for information and recipes about these crops.

COMING SOON: Brussels Sprouts

Another cold spell is not our favorite weather. But at least this time we got some snow! Not only is it prettier, but it insulates the crops with moisture so they don’t freeze-dry. It’s still been in the 17°-19° range every morning, so that means breaking ice on the animals’ water tanks and removing the ice before refilling with buckets, because all the water lines are frozen. Interestingly, all of the animals tend to drink more water when it is very cold.

Brrrr. The rogue chickens are looking for handouts—21°, It's a winter wonderland!

Brrrr. The rogue chickens are looking for handouts—21°, It’s a winter wonderland!

What about the vegetables, you ask? Well, we have the same survivors that we did after the last freezing spell! Lots of carrots, beets, leeks, cabbages and radicchio. And of course, all of the squash and onions in storage. In case there is any doubt, we expect to fulfill the last few weeks of our Winter Season, even if it does get a bit repetitive. At least we still have produce, and it’s going to keep getting sweeter and sweeter with the cold snaps!

The cows and donkeys enjoyed a romp in the first snow of the year, which was pretty entertaining. And the turkey that escaped T-Day harvest stayed out of the way. At least he didn’t end up in a pan.

We had twin turkeys for Thanksgiving, since they finished up smaller than expected.

We had twin turkeys for Thanksgiving, since they finished up smaller than expected.

Our hummingbirds have become year-round residents, after a decade of leaving feeders out. Now I’m committed to keeping the feeders thawed all winter so they don’t starve. It’s worth it to keep their jeweled little bodies buzzing around in the summer.

It took me a decade to get hummingbirds to stay year-round, and now I'm committed. Even if it means bringing the feeders in at night and taking them out every morning. We've got at least 5 pairs that fight over four feeders all winter.

It took me a decade to get hummingbirds to stay year-round, and now I’m committed. Even if it means bringing the feeders in at night and taking them out every morning. We’ve got at least 5 pairs that fight over four feeders all winter.

It always surprises me to have people emailing about next year when it’s only December, so I’ve updated our CSA application form. If you are interested in joining us again next year (and we hope you are!) there’s a link here 2015 CSA App.