CSA Newsletter Week 15A

Farmer Skip’s Letters from the Field

Pictured are students that we are training from the Escoffier School of Culinary Arts — this week they help harvest okra at our River Farm. This is the fifth year that we’ve participated in this Farm to Table program, which offers students a chance to work side-by-side with farmers in Central Texas.  Though most of these students had cooked with okra, they had never picked it. They soon found out why it’s not our most favorite crop to harvest! Bare skin soon starts to itch – and itch — long after you’ve come in from the field.

-Farmer Skip

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CSA Newsletter Week 14B

Farmer Erin’s Letter from Farm Camp

One of the best performing crops of our summer season has been our Junior Counselors (JC). An abundance of teenagers donating their time and energy has meant that this year’s Farm Campers have enjoyed unparalleled attention. Our green-shirted guides have taken on all tasks with smiles. Sometimes a JC spends a morning as a “Barn Buddy” to a camper with a bout of separation anxiety. Or is drafted to take over livestock care, ensuring rabbits and chicks get special attention in the heat of the day or they become sous chefs — making everything from squash spaghetti to cookies to foraged pizzas.

For me it’s a privilege to be a part of these kids lives, especially for the children who’ve grown the camp with us. Some JCs, like Ethan W., have been coming to Farm Camp for eight years. Once a shy camper, he is now a thoughtful, confident leader. When we put him on a task, we’re confident he will not only get it done, but done in a way that inspires others.  Likewise, twins Zane G. and Paxton G., who have been with us eight years as well, are now trusted, independent field hands capable of building and cementing a new paddock for the horse and goats with minimal supervision. These JCs are what make camp so worthwhile. We are so proud to be growing farmers, wholesome helpers, and passionate activists for good, clean, fair food.

To thank them for their contributions, a new camp tradition has been launched: floating counselors down the Colorado. Yesterday, six counselors, who had never been to our River Farm in Bastrop, got to spend the day floating and frolicking on what we call our “poor man’s Schlitterbahn”. We floated and floated again in the cool, quick current, then lolled, skipping stones, shrieking when fish nibbled our legs and mooing at fat cows as they lumbered down the opposite shore to drink and wade. A perfect summer day.

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CSA Newsletter Week 13A

Farmer Erin’s Letter From Farm Camp

Camper parents tend to dawdle at drop off. They linger, asking, “Why isn’t there a camp for adults?”  I tell them about our  Farm Camp for Adults, (next class: July 23); they sigh. They want to play. They don’t want to go to the cube farm. They want what their children have: the freedom to explore and enjoy this historic farm. Who can blame them?

One of the most important aspects of Farm Camp is the vibe.  For me, that means creating a sacred place where campers experience deep engagement and deep relaxation. After spending a year at school, the last thing campers need is a rigid schedule. Yet, we do want them to engage in meaningful work and gain an understanding of the importance of good, clean, fair food. So, mornings are about engagement. A farmer may gather campers to move chickens to a new pasture, for instance, while explaining the importance of manure and soil fertility. Or a counselor may lead a foraging expedition for tasty weeds and flowers for the pizzas they make from scratch and cook in the sun oven.  Little bits of information shared as we go.

At lunchtime the vibe shifts. Time for deep relaxation. For some campers, that means an afternoon of play or exploration with newfound friends or exploring the woods, climbing trees, eating lunch in a fort, swimming, reading a favorite book, playing foozeball, hanging out with the counselors, napping, daydreaming. They choose their favorites until we gather for Swap Blanket.

At the end of the day, we gather at Swap to check in and give voice to our desires, then the trading begins. Campers bring items from home (no electronics) that they no longer want to trade for new items, especially found farm treasures like a guinea hen feather or huge squash. This subtle lesson in recycling and sustainability is a mainstay at camp. And proof of its impact was confirmed when a parent reported that her camper squirreled away items all year in anticipation of gathering for Swap again at camp.

You can share in our Camp Vibe every Friday when campers take over our farm stand. They set up the stand, prepare signs, and are so eager to help you choose your food, flowers and treats. One camper has even launched a new gardening product sure to improve your blooms — bunny berry bags. Come see!

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CSA Newsletter Week 12

Farmer Erin’s Letter from Farm Camp

Our urban farm is abuzz with campers. Some are exploring fields and trees with Junior Counselor Josephine seeking flavor — herbs, edible flowers and berries — for the foraged breads they will make this afternoon. The “Sprouts” are feeding and caring for rabbits, chicks, horse, goats, pigs and kittens. The “Stalks” are creating a new paddock for White Sox and the goats, learning how to pound in T- posts and cement cedar posts. While another group learns how to build a raised vegetable garden bed, and still another bunch are intent on creating a beach under some trees. No one is ever bored on the farm.

Encouraging these suburban children to try and master new, unfamiliar tasks is one of my favorite aspects of our eight-year-old Farm Camp. Each week we take a group of children ages 5-15 and set the seeds for transformation. Never moved a chicken to a new pen? Here’s how. Don’t know how to cook a vegetable? You get to lead our daily Sun Oven Snack Squad. Should the farm adopt Muscovy ducklings from a farmer who is moving? Junior Counselors research this topic and present the pros/cons at Morning Meeting.

What began as a fairly simple idea — letting children take ownership of our organic farm — has blossomed thanks to contributions made by our partners. This week Artist Laura Greene showed us how to make art using vegetables. Last week Chris Mayor of Ravenswood Hand Forged showed us how to make and use knives. Next week Alison French, an award-winning beekeeper, may inspire campers to keep hives in their own yard. Showcasing the talents of friends and farmers is at the heart of New Farm Institute’s mission and is why this camp is a one-of-a-kind experience for all of us.

Despite excellent staff and months of planning, I never know what is going to happen each day. Sometimes campers are deliriously happy because they’re allowed to play wherever they choose. And sometimes serrendipitous connections are made. A scholarship student with a very troubled home life, for instance, has found a friend and role model in David, a man who patiently volunteers his carpentry and landscaping skills to us. Together, they repair rabbit cages, devise new construction while happily working together all day.

Tomorrow campers run our farm stand. They will set out luscious tomatoes, okra, potatoes, flowers, honey, eggs and more, while Community Relations Manger Carolyn discusses the importance of food justice before greeting new customers (from 10-3). Please join us!

………We’ve got room in camp and scholarships are greatly appreciated.

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Honey-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound/500g cherry tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon clear honey
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

PREPARATION

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C. Lightly oil a roasting pan. Halve the tomatoes and place them, cut side up, in the dish. They should fit snugly with little or no space between them.
  2. Crush the garlic with a pinch of salt, then beat it with the honey, olive oil, and a good grinding of pepper. Spoon this sticky, garlicky mixture over the cherry tomatoes. Roast for about 30 minutes, until golden, juicy, and bubbling.

Thanks to epicurious for this awesome recipe!