CSA Newsletter Week 5A

Farmer Skip’s
Letters from the Field 
Intercropping cowpeas and lab lab with maize in Mozambique.
Cowpeas on the top of photo and lab lab beans on bottom.

This week, we’re sampling a new item in your share. Before we tell you what it is, remember, it’s not fair to judge a vegetable by its looks — or its name.

Last month, while Erin and I were teaching African farmers how to intercrop cowpeas with their maize, our own cowpeas were fixing nitrogen in the River Farm field that provided you potatoes this summer.

Cowpeas by any other name — black-eyed, crowder, purple hull — are still cowpeas; that name stuck because European colonists preferred English peas and this “poor man’s” pea was fed to livestock.  Across most of Africa and South America, however, cowpeas are a major source of human food, providing much-needed protein and other essential nutrients in dry, hot climates. More than 200 million people consume Africa’s indigenous pea — from the slender green pods and leaves to the dried peas.

Cowpeas also capture nitrogen from the air and make it available in the soil. Hence, its importance as a summer cover crop here in Texas. Each summer we plant several acres, tilling the lush plants back into the ground before they set fruit.

Planting cowpeas between maize plants is a creative way of getting two crops in a single row in a single season. That’s a valuable benefit for small farmers who have limited land and resources. Ironically, though we knew the practice worked, we had neither intercropped ourselves, nor had we eaten cowpeas.

Fast-forward two weeks and we came home to an infestation of pickle worms that quickly spread from cucumbers and squash to six rows of green beans. Losing those crops made a difficult start for the fall season, especially for the beans, which also had to contend with hungry deer. As I worried about what we could harvest for you,  I noticed an acre of cowpeas sprouting little peas from its yellow flowers. This weekend, I was greeted with long thin pea pods that were just begging to be eaten.

So here you have it. A little taste of Africa and something new to consider. The fresh beans look like green beans and the dried peas, which some of you may receive, can be mashed, boiled, stir fryed….Our farmer friend at Guinea Hill Farm, who is known for her delicious black-eyed peas, has loaned us her sheller so we will see how that works out.

One final note. It turns out that the cowpea is more nutritious than the common green bean we had planted this fall. Similarly, many of its African cousins, such as lab lab, were lost when colonialists forced farmers to give up their native beans and grow the more common English varieties.

By chance, Erin and I visited a large farm in Mozambique, owned by Australians, that was growing tons of lab lab and exporting it.  They gave us a few pounds and we took it to the farmers we were training to plant as a cover crop as well as to eat just as their forebears did. It had been so long since the bean was grown in their fields that no one had heard about this highly nutritious bean that, back then, was called the Tonga bean.

-Farmer Skip


Read our CSA  Newsletter Week 5A in full here

CSA Newsletter Week 4B

Letters from the Field

Blue skies at River Farm this month. Atmospheric changes are altering the plants we eat. 
One of the big selling points of eating organic produce is the increased nutrient density it provides compared to conventionally grown and GMO crops. While some recent studies have refuted this claim, the preponderance of evidence has supported it.

Reversing the ill effects of a compromised food system is one reason we organic farmers put up with the downsides of growing with nature instead of against it — the daily battle with weeds and bugs and disease is worth it if you are creating an environment that restores long-term health rather than depletes it.

Now comes a startling discovery that our restoration gains in the soil are very likely being offset by a little-known interaction going on above it. Warning of a “great nutrient collapse,” scientists are learning that one unexpected outcome of increased CO2 in the atmosphere is nutrient loss in plants. A fascinating — and worrisome — explanation of this discovery and its implications — was recently published in Politico.

For more than decade, scientists have shown that nutrients — from protein to calcium, iron and vitamin C — had declined in most garden crops since 1950. The obvious reason was the switch in varieties that favored quantity instead of quality. But that appears to explain only part of the reason. As the article in Politico explains:

“Rising CO2 revs up photosynthesis, the process that helps plants transform sunlight to food. This makes plants grow, but it also leads them to pack in more carbohydrates like glucose at the expense of other nutrients that we depend on, like protein, iron and zinc.”This process, first discovered nearly 15 years ago when looking at zooplankton and algae, means that our CO2-enriched atmosphere is yet one more contributor to “junk food.”

I read this article on the same day it was announced that the EPA is reversing regulations on clean air. Last evening, Frontline aired a worrisome expose on how the EPA is being dismantled and essentially being led by lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry. Taking a critical look at how human behavior damages this planet — its soil, water, and air — is now taking a back seat, at exactly time when we should be put it front and center.

Organic farmers are doing their part in restoring soil. You are doing your part in supporting their efforts while improving your own health. Yet clearly we need to do more than just grow well and eat well. We need to act well, too;  spending our dollars supporting good environmental practices across the board is not just a good cause but an essential one — one we can all join, anytime, anywhere.

Farmer Skip

P.S. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, not sure how to get started, we recommend reading, Deep Green, a very affordable ebook written by our friend and sustainabilty teacher Jenny Nazak. You will be inspired! (https://www.facebook.com/deepgreenbookjennynazak/)

Check out the rest of Green Gate Farm news HERE

CSA Newsletter Week 3A

Farmer Skip's Letters from the Field



Our farming adventure took two extraordinary — and fairly exotic — detours these past few months; hence, a partial explanation for our long absence from these pages.

In August, we were watching ourselves on reality TV, relieved we didn’t make fools of ourselves. In early spring we had answered the casting call for a new show on the History Channel called “You Can’t Turn This Into A House.” While the title is rather forgettable, the experience was memorable in driving home how obsessed we Americans are with any new angle in the production of food and shelter. So what better setting than an organic farm for a fast-paced, quixotic show trumpeting “sustainability”?

While the process of turning two dilapidated dairy trucks into a livable space was messier than anyone anticipated, the result was, with the help of “TV magic,” a thing of beauty indeed. We got to experience the demanding, repetitive nature of TV production and were rewarded with an almost functional tiny home that overlooks the gorgeous fields rolling down to Wilbarger Bend. After we add power to it, our plan is to make it available for renting to you and your pals. (Leads on an affordable way to add solar power, appreciated.)

A few weeks later, we found ourselves in the mountains of Mozambique, teaching organic farming in a country where subsistence — not sustainability — is the primary concern and where entertainment television — or television period —is a luxury few can afford.

Mozambique. The sound alone summons beautiful images of blue beaches and green safari parks. But that is not what we experienced. This former Portuguese colony, twice the size of California, sits above South Africa and across from Madagascar. People speak more than 43 languages and for two very busy and productive weeks we attempted to master a few of them.

After a 20-year absence from Africa, Erin was keen to accept this all-expenses paid offer to participate in the highly respected volunteer farmer-to-farmer program at CNFA (Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture). I was less enthusiastic. I’d been to Africa twice: once as a tourist, then again as a journalist covering the AIDS epidemic. Returning as a farmer this time, to help other farmers, was honorable and badly needed, but we had two farms to run and two kids just getting back in school.

Fortunately, I let Erin lead the way. And where she led us was to a place that will always remain close to my heart.

The farmers we trained didn’t speak our language or share much of our technology and techniques. Yet I’ve never felt more comfortable in a group of strangers. In the most fundamental ways, all farmers share the unspoken language of the soil; of working with nature in the most intimate way; of depending on forces outside yourself yet relying on inner strength — and others — to keep going when things get tough. We learned as much from them as they did from us, in ways I never could have anticipated.

We learned what it means to live without paved roads, waste services, or environmental protections against predatory gold and tree mining. And the consequences of living near the bottom of every health and economic indicator. Where half the population is under age 18. And three out of four are farming to feed themselves or try to raise their standard of living above the national income average of $39 a year!

Yet, despite endless challenges, we found Mozambiqueans eager to claim their future, to create businesses and move beyond the constraints of colonialism. Meeting such people as Alan Schwarz at his agroforestry initiative (http://mezimbite.net/) lifted our spirits to do what we can to further his efforts in restoring the forest and teaching job skills. We’re inspired to help him sell his gorgeous, truly sustainable wood products here so let us know if you have ideas on how to do this.

If you come to Spot’s Birthday Party and Barn Hug Potluck on Saturday (6-10), you’ll see some clips from our experience and hopefully be reminded why volunteer work is the best work of all.

Note: See CNFA.org for several volunteer opportunities to teach farming, nutrition and other sustainability topics around the world.

Click here to read our Newsletter Week 3A in full! 

Mozambique farmers proudly displaying their training program certificate.


CSA Newsletter Week 2B


Welcome to the Fall CSA everyone!  We’re so excited to have our community of organic produce lovers joining us for another season as we savor the shift into some cooler weather and the crops that come along with that sweet relief.  If this is your first season as a part of our CSA, welcome aboard- we have quite a few exciting community events this Fall to get you acquainted with the farm, the animals, and the staff.

    With the heat index pushing temperatures into the low 100’s the past couple weeks, it’s been hard to say with a straight face that fall is in the air.  But looking around the farm, Fall is definitely in the ground.  We have brassicas galore- kale, cauliflower, kohlrabi, turnips, collards, mustard greens, cabbage…the list goes on.  These are some of my favorite vegetables to mix into eggs or to throw into a big steaming pot with bacon and a little vinegar.  But I would have to say that with as much of a fan as I am of the brassica family, it seems that cabbage loopers and gypsy moth caterpillars enjoy the tender young leaves even more.  Though it’s quite whimsical to see the interestingly marked moths flitting about through the field, floating from leaf to leaf, in the back of your mind you can’t help but think of the eggs they are leaving behind that will soon turn into leaf chomping machines.  Luckily there is a range of organically produced pest prevention, sometimes as simple as covering your rows with a tunnel of thin cloth called reemay.  Despite these pests, we look forward to bringing you beautiful bouquets of leafy greens in the coming weeks.

    One of my favorite things out at the river farm at the moment is watching the progress of the different varieties of gourds coming in.  They were seeded by our young farm campers this past summer.  We threw them in a couple of rows with our butternut squash as a bit of an afterthought, and I’ve been amazed at how they’ve taken off!  Definitely keep an eye out for these festive fall decorations in your future shares…

    As I write the rain has begun to fall, ushering in those cooler temperatures.  Within a month or so all of the pecan trees out here by the river will begin to shed their leaves.  The changing of the seasons can be a dramatic and exciting transition- what a joy to be a part of a community that participates in this transition through the food we share.

P.S. Be sure to come say hi at our first fun-filled event of the season- Spot, our big ol’ pig, is having a birthday party on October 7th! 

Happy Fall Y’all!

Farmer Matt

Read CSA Newsletter Week 2B in full HERE!

CSA Newsletter Week 1A


We are looking forward to a delicious season packed full of exciting events and farm happenings. Don’t miss the community party on October 7th celebrating Spot’s 7th birthday! Check out our amazing farm-based education classes we are offering this season. Come out and volunteer at our Austin and Bastrop locations! Visit Farm Stand when we open in early October! 
Keep reading for more information on these exciting opportunities.New to the CSA? We would love to have you join us for a Farm Tour (held every Saturday 12-1pm at our Urban Farm-8310 Canoga Avenue). The tour is free for CSA members and $10 for everyone else.
See where your food is coming from and learn how to get involved! 

If you need to put your share on hold please email carolyn.greengatefarms@gmail.com 
Questions? Concerns? 512-484-2746

To read the CSA Newsletter Week 1A in full CLICK HERE!