Ten years ago, we celebrated Farmer Skip’s 50th as we moved into the now 114-year-old Bergstrom farmhouse. The house was empty yet we were filled with anticipation.
Because when I had asked how Skip he wanted to celebrate his mid-life birthday, he said, “I want to raise my own pig on my farm and invite all my friends to celebrate.”
This request came from a man who wore a tie to work, wrote speeches at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and hadn’t lived on a farm in nearly forty years. While some friends suspected a mid-life crisis, I knew that this yearning was not new. The man I married would not feel complete without realizing his dream to farm, so we set the wheels in motion.
Ten years ago, there were no friends. I had been away from Austin for many years so it was my family that gathered to cut his birthday cake. Ten years ago, there was no pig and Green Gate Farms was nothing more than a rototiller and a crazy dream.
Today Skip is 60. And on Saturday we will celebrate him and the countless friends who helped create a community farm through generosity and passion. There will be a pig roast thanks to chef Tony Grasso. And there will be good news.
A year of negotiations between Green Gate Farms, Roberts Resorts — the farm property’s new owner — and the City of Austin bore fruit last week.
TBG Partners, hired by our landlord, devised a plan that will incorporate our four-acre farm into Roberts’ larger development of tiny homes, RVs and manufactured homes. This plan includes Green Gate Farms and the historic 1902 Swedish buildings – barn, farmhouse and cottages. The drawings will be unveiled at Saturday’s Potluck Party (4-10pm).
In addition, our long-awaited desire to extend our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program to SNAP (a.k.a. food stamp) users has been realized thanks to the Sustainable Food Center. Did you know that 25% of Austinites qualify for SNAP? Now, these vouchers can be redeemed and doubled at our farm stand because of funding from the Double Dollar program. Be sure to tell your favorite musician, artist, teacher, military vet, Americorps worker and other SNAP users that we are hosting a sign-up party and free farm tour on June 11, 11-2 that will ensure their food budget goes twice as far.
As we look forward to another decade of feeding and growing community, a beloved CSA member has arranged for her Aztec dance troop to bless the farm. Following this, we will gather for a Barn Hug. All hands are needed to encircle the Big Red Barnthat has provided so much fun, shelter, and service. (Anyone have a drone that can photograph this event?).
So spread the word. It’s time for new beginnings – birthdays, graduations and a hopeful
Bring a friend, bring an instrument, bring a dish to share. Let’s celebrate!
His death seemed likely often yet I was stunned when it came.
There was the time he ate Avery’s pin cushion, a stuffed frog full of straight pins. We gave him a matter of hours before his gut was shredded. Instead, he nonchalantly threw up broken, half digested pins then returned to his sprawl on the floor, engaging in his favorite pastime: lunging at flies.
There was the first time he was hit by a car. His whimpering on the porch late one night was our only clue that he had been injured. Then there was the second time he was hit by a car…
Buddy was not promising from the beginning. One fine spring morning in 2008, an animal control officer called me from a rural vet’s office. Word was I wanted to adopt a Newfoundland. I had been on a secret quest for a lifeguard for our small children who swam in the Colorado at our River Farm. My plan was to surprise them with a fluffy puppy; however, what was on offer was a skeletal, abused black mop they estimated to be about two years old.
“We rescued him from an animal hoarder who stopped feeding him,” said the officer as he struggled to stand. Apart from his enormous head and floppy mouth, this mutt was not what I had in mind. But, he was the Keith Richards of dogs – mangy, beat up, and somehow irresistible. Needless to say, everyone was surprised when I brought him home.
What no one could anticipate was how after a few months of heaping bowls of giant dog food and love, he’d blossom into the largest lap dog you’d ever seen. As Skip says, he became our Clifford. True, he was a drooling, dirt encrusted, 145-pound black mutt that could incite terror by his mere presence, but if that’s all you saw, you missed the point entirely. He was all lover. He never wasted time with balls or jumping for Frisbees. He lived to smear slobber across your thighs in his persistent, clumsy attempts to nuzzle. His favorite place was in your arms, preferably in the middle of the massaging flow of the Colorado River.
Lucky for him, our community farm is full of visitors, campers and tubs of water. We created a “Grooming Basket” loaded with brushes and combs to not only assure children that he was gentle, but to coopt them into grooming, which required a battalion of helpers. We encouraged the kids to brush and release, brush and release. Over the years, several birds nests were found lined with his fluffy clumps.
Bud loved all farm guests. He took any quilt on the ground as an invitation to flop down in the middle, crush toys, knock over picnics, insist on love and drool on squealing vistors.
Though he was rarely the brightest bulb in the pack (why did he occasionally mark customers? Why did he repeatedly get sprayed in the face by skunks?), Bud taught me about discrimination and presumption as he unnerved canine and human alike.
“Does he bite?” the Hispanic teenagers would shout from across the street when I took him lumbering through our neighborhood. When we passed by the RV park next to our home, a chorus of RV-sized mini canines rang out in a frenzy of barking as he made his rounds. Chihuahuas were the worst, teeth bared, straining to get him. Bud stared down at them dumbfounded and moved on. He was a lover, not a fighter.
During a recent post-vet appointment meander down South Congress, a woman across the street shrieked. Bud and I looked around wondering what was the emergency. But she was yelling at us – “Is that a bear? I thought that was a bear. WHAT IS THAT?”
Even his canine partner, Boonie, a white Italian sheepdog (our first rescue dog), felt compelled to assert his dominance daily by humping Buddy’s face. As Boonie focused on thrusting, Buddy lay sprawled on our dusty dirt driveway, head between two huge paws not even flinching. You could almost see Bud’s little brown eyes roll in his head as he said to himself, “OK, little man, get it over with it.” Though visitors were appalled, we came to find comfort in the ritual “Face Hump,” which was as predictable as roosters crowing and people staring.
What folks (and Boonie) failed to understand, is that Buddy was really a big baby, who could by turns be embarrassed and silly.
Like when we had him shaved to the skin to alleviate his hot spots. The groomer had transformed his lionlike mane into an effette poodle leaving only fluffy ears and a pouf at the end of his tail. He was mortified. He raced into the house and hid for several days.
Or the time Skip bagged a deer and was looking forward to presenting this hard-won roast to the family. The meat was perfect, glistening and cooling on the kitchen island. Skip stepped out, forgetting that Bud’s mouth was table level. When the meat went missing we looked everywhere. In the garden, in the driveway where he took his dirt bathes. But, no, he had shoved it under Ethan’s bed, certain it would never be found.
He loved Ethan’s bed. That’s where he hid his treasures – purloined dinners, rotting carcasses excavated from the compost pile, gnawed crayons…Thunderstorms and firecrackers sent him racing into Ethan’s bedroom as he tried to shove himself under the twin bed. When that didn’t work, he thought nothing of catapulting his dripping, filthy self onto the mattress and under the sheets.
I loved our Bud, dirt and all. How I wish he were here to trek in more. Instead, he took an evening amble this week that ended badly. We guess he must’ve gone down to the river to cool off and a snake got him in the check. He died in our arms gasping as venom swelled his head and shut his throat. He deserved a better end, but given his proclivity for mishap and unprovoked aggression, perhaps not surprising. Our sweet Bud is gone and he has left a giant size hole in our hearts.
Tessa, a Workshare member who traded food for work for several seasons, came to us with a simple request for her wedding: please create Peter Rabbit-inspired arrangements featuring veggies with flowers. She provided the ceramic bunny centerpiece and we went to town. So much fun to have a theme. And work with what we had: turnips, radishes, onions, celosia, beauty berry,….
Our farm stand customer – Nancy from the RV park – helped us make sure that the bridesmaid’s bouquet was just right.
The bouts were boxed and ready.
So that our beautiful friend of the farm…..
could have as much fun as possible on her big day.
And she did.
The lack of rain now exceeds the lack we suffered during the 2011 drought. Back then we held our breath as Bastrop flames raced toward our farm. We could smell the fire and feel that loss was imminent. And there was nothing we could do but wait. Though more than half the trees on our farm died of drought, we were spared.
This past week, I suffered a bout of PTSD as great smoke plumes, once again, blanketed our farms in Bastrop and in Austin. Again, we were fortunate. Those who suffered most are east of our farm, in Smithville. Our hearts go out to them all.
If you are new to Austin or don’t have a visceral reaction to smoke, you might enjoy reading Randy Fritz’s book, Hail of Fire. He recounts how his family lost everything in the 2011 fire, including his beloved Lost Pines.
What a strange time we are living in.
To add a little perk to this week’s bouquet, we’ve added beauty berries. Yes, you can eat the little purple balls, you could even make jam. But this week, they are all about beauty. Finding bits of pretty in a crispy landscape aching for reprieve.
by Farmer Skip
Adapt or die is nature’s first and final law. Defy it all we want, nature demands change and even the greatest fortunes cannot maintain the status quo.
This past week I saw that sobering truth up close at Shelburne Farms in Vermont– the Downton Abbey of Sustainable Ag. Here in the land of plentiful barns, the Vanderbilts built one for the record books – a horse breeding barn that was the largest free-standing structure in the country in the early 1900s. Today it stands empty, awaiting the same rebirth that transformed two other magnificent horse barns tucked away here on 3,800 acres of rolling hillsides above Lake Champlain.
This grand vision for agriculture, matched only by the grand fortune of the Vanderbilt empire, never reached its lofty goals. By 1910, with the advent of the car, farm’s horse enterprise began to shrink. Yet like the thousands of samplings planted by Vanderbilt’s army of gardeners, a new vision grew up out the land and now stands out as the nation’s model for farm-based education and conservation.
How gratified I felt as I toured the most elegant of the three barns. Summer camp was in full swing and children outnumbered livestock as they wandered through the bakery and cheese factory and petting pens where young educators reconnected them to the bottom of the food chain. A thousand miles away, in a barn that also found a second life, Green Gate Farms camp season was hitting its stride as campers prepared for its newest feature – a 4th of July parade through our neighboring RV park.
The tale of these two barns begins at the turn of the 20th Horses were still kings and queens of road and field. The Bergstrom boys, Swedish immigrants who built our mule barn, were a world apart from the Yankee Captains of Industry who transformed agriculture in ways even they could not anticipate. Seward Webb, husband of William Vanderbilt’s daughter, Lila, plowed their fortune into this horse breeding empire just as the model Ts were rolling off the assembly lines. Our modest old barn could fit inside one of Shelburne’s cottages. Yet 30 years ago, Vanderbilt’s magnificent structures, with their copper roofs and granite walls, were falling apart and developers were storming at the gates.
Fortunately, the heirs to this gilded heritage envisioned a new kind of agriculture, not momentous and exclusive but down-to-earth and inviting. Lacking the fortune of the their grandparents, a new generation created a non-profit that has transformed ruined aristocracy into thriving democracy. Today, thousands of visitors see and taste the substance behind its mission of “cultivating a conservation ethic for a sustainable future.”
After three days of touring, resting, and idea-sharing with the Shelburne staff, I returned to Green Gate Farms with a greater appreciation for what Erin created. What began as a response to a CSA member’s innocent request to have her boys “learn how to catch and cook a chicken,” has become so much more. As an active member of Shelburne’s Farm-based Education Network’s alliance, Erin relishes her time in Vermont because it inspires the work we do on our farm.
Shelburne’s network of farmers and educators share a deep understanding that we must meet in the middle if we want to overcome the challenges in this age of extreme. In the previous age of extreme, the downstairs staff of Downton Abbeys came upstairs only to serve. Shelburne turned that Old World on its head. Here everyone eats the same food served at the that same table. That’s how I came to meet Alex Webb, the Vanderbilt descendant who has spearheaded this transformation – waiting in line at the farm’s food truck.
We hadn’t even made introductions before we were sharing our challenges to make farm-based education more mainstream. It’s no small task to wed city and country, to break the industrial food chain and forge higher expectations link by link. Yet this is how the straight line of mass consumption becomes a balanced circle of need, just as nature demands. Planting and harvesting, producing and consuming, life and death – they are inseparable on the farm and it is these other immutable laws of nature that today’s youth hunger to experience.
Whether nourished on the grand landscape of Shelburne or the much-diminished fields of this old Bergstrom farmsteads now known as Green Gate Farms, an idea that is worthy of the times will flourish and multiply. As we celebrate our tenth year here, it’s good to reflect on our agricultural roots. Better yet, to reconnected with these old farms as new farms evolve.
A truly sustainable future, true-to-nature, depends on preserving the one while nourishing the other.
As we get deeper into the summer, and closer to the end of the CSA, the heat is really starting to set in. I do have to say it has been pretty mild so far, though. The steady heat is making the pigs out at the river pretty irritable, and the crops a little droopier, but we’ll press on for a few more weeks to keep pulling delicious food from the fields.
We’re starting to see melons slowly ripen, so you can expect to see those in your shares soon (provided we don’t get too much more rain…) The peppers are loving the heat, and eggplants are starting to come on as well. This week you’ll see more peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, arugula, and some beautiful summer squash. Hopefully we’ll have enough long beans for everyone and more cucumbers.
We’ve now started our fall tomatoes, so start thinking about the fall season. Thank you so much for supporting us!
RECIPE SHARE WITH FARMER KATIE
COOKING WITH FROZEN TOMATOES
When the bounty of fresh-picked tomatoes overflows in late summer, a quick solution is to put all the extras in the freezer. This home preservation method simply requires rinsing, cutting out the cores and setting the tomatoes on a pan to freeze individually. Stored in freezer-safe bags, the low-calorie, vitamin-rich vegetables are ready at a moment’s notice to include in a nutritious meal. While freezing preserves that just-picked fresh flavor, the skins get tough and the texture becomes so soft that the tomatoes are best in preparations where taste takes precedence over form.
Hold a frozen tomato under warm running water for 20 to 30 seconds to thaw the skin. Peel the tomato by pulling the loosened skin off and discarding it. Repeat the process for four to six large tomatoes or eight to 10 medium-sized tomatoes.
Set the peeled tomatoes in a bowl to thaw until they are soft enough to crush. Smash the tomatoes with a fork or squeeze by hand to break the tomatoes down into small chunks.
Cook 2 to 3 tbsp. olive oil, one medium chopped onion, and three to four minced garlic cloves — depending on your taste preferences — over medium heat in a large pot, stirring until the vegetables are a light golden brown. Add the crushed tomatoes to the pan along with 2 to 3 tbsp. fresh chopped herbs such as basil, thyme, marjoram and oregano. Season the mixture lightly with salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste.
Stir continuously until the mixture boils. Reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for an hour, without a lid, for a chunky sauce to serve over pasta. For a smoother sauce, simmer an additional 30 to 45 minutes until the sauce thickens.
Allow the mixture to cool, then puree it in a blender.
Soups and Stews
Thaw the outer surface of frozen tomatoes by placing them briefly under warm running water. Remove the skins by peeling them away.
Chop frozen tomatoes before they thaw completely to keep the juice from dripping on your work surfaces. Cut the frozen tomatoes into large chunks for meat and bean stews that have long cooking times. Make smaller pieces of tomato for faster-cooking vegetable soups.
Add chopped frozen tomatoes to light, broth-based soups about 10 to 15 minutes before serving to maintain the fresh-tomato flavor. Stir tomato chunks into hearty soups and stews made in the slow cooker at the beginning of the cooking process so that the flavor blends with other ingredients and seasonings.
Tips and Warnings
Substitute peeled, frozen tomatoes for fresh tomatoes in gazpacho soup to enjoy the fresh flavor of tomatoes even when they are out of season.
Season tomato-based sauces very lightly with salt while cooking, because the flavors intensify when the moisture evaporates and the sauce thickens.
Things You’ll Need:
- Cooking pot
- 2 to 3 tbsp. olive oil
- Onion, medium, chopped
- 3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
- Basil leaves, fresh, chopped
- Thyme leaves, fresh
- Marjoram leaves, fresh, chopped
- Oregano leaves, fresh, chopped
- Ground pepper
CSA WEEK 14A: SUMMER ABUNDANCE CONTINUES
[1 Squash] [2 Long Beans] [3 Bell Peppers] [4 Hot Pepper] [5 Purple Basil] [ 6 Arugula] [7 Okra] [8 Potatoes]
CLICK HERE FOR VEGETABLE GUIDE
TELL YOUR FRIENDS: THERE’S ROOM IN OUR SUMMER CSA. Pro-rated memberships available for the remainder of the season. Load up on tomatoes, basil, peppers and other summer goodness.
YOU CAN ALSO RESERVE YOUR FALL YUMMIES, JOIN THE FALL CSA TODAY! At just $25 a week, and 14 pick-up spots (and more forming) all over town, our CSA is affordable and convenient.
4th of July Plans?
Hey members! Leaving town for the Fourth? If so, we’re happy to prepare your share for pick up prior to Friday or hold for after the holiday. Just let us know. We’ve got plenty of goodies for the grill so let us know if we can help with your party.
GREEN GATE FARM IS HIRING
Looking for your next career move and dream job environment? Consider working with Green Gate Farms.
We are hiring a part-time 15-20 hour a week Office Manager for our urban farm site.
For more information about this position click here.