CSA Newsletter Week 16B

Become a Guest Teacher at Green Gate

Do you have a special skill related to agriculture, gardening, cooking or sustainability you want to share with our community?
Become a part of our farm-based education team by becoming a guest speaker/teacher at Green Gate Farms!

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Past classes include: beekeeping, composting, rabbit raising and harvesting, chicken harvesting, herbal soapmaking, cheesemaking and more. Just email your course suggestion (include your bio, price, timing) and we’ll see about adding you to the roster.

Send details to info@newfarminstitute with ‘potential guest teacher’ written in the subject line.

Thanks for advancing farm-based education in Central Texas!

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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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CSA Newsletter Week 11

Meditation on Abelmoschus esculentus

The first okra harvest is always the hardest. The plants are short and your back is bent and the row is long.  And it’s hot, of course.

This is the only time you wear gloves picking vegetables; the pair you found on the shelf are shriveled and hard, like dried banana peels. You rarely use clippers either and they feel like a blunt, slightly menacing instrument in your hand after holding a pen all morning.

Because organic okra seed is so expensive,  you entice young kids to shell the dried up pods each fall. They enjoy it and now you have bags and bags of purple BB-like seeds.  In the green magic of early spring you got a little carried away and planted six rows, each 250 feet long. Everyone survived infancy.

As you stare at this hardy regiment of floral soldiers waiting for your attention, you have to ask: What was I thinking?” The yellow hibiscus flowers that teased your eyes with their beauty have transformed into elusive “lady fingers” hiding under their big floppy leaves. Making matters worse, these adolescent plants seem to be leaning away as you loom over them, resisting as you pull their stems toward you. Their canopy is too big for their body, just like the hair on your 15-year-old’s head — unruly and thick — and you recall how he too pulls away when you reach out to touch it or threaten to take him to the barber.

In this earliest stage of fruiting, the okra is still trying to get it right. Their colors are off, too pale or mottled. So are their shape — oddly twisted or deformed. Some look like bullets instead of arrowheads, as if still experimenting, not sure who they are, and here again your son comes to mind.

Like with any first cutting, you’ve lost feeling for the mechanics and rhythm of flesh working with metal. Several long passes are needed before you start cutting confidently, without seeing,  like a puppeteer’s hands working in tandem under the table. After a nine-month hiatus, your guiding hand and your cutting hand are finally working together like dancers amid stems and weeds and bugs in your face.

If there is one good thing about adolescent okra it is this: it’s leave are only mildly irritating at this stage. The fierce itch that comes later as its toxins mature in ever darkening reds and greens is now just a reminder of the misery to come. These teens will soon grow independent and proud for having survived all manner of assaults and won’t let go of their possessions without a sore fight.

In truth, the farmer and the okra plant need each other. Yours is a silent give-and-take relationship that deepens as the summer grows hotter and you both grow tougher. Your cut-and-come-again tactic forces it to keep producing until eventually it grows beyond your reach or gives out just about the time you do too.

Either way, it’s going to be a long summer. You’ll get sick of each other by mid July and need a vacation. But today, you are still enjoying an almost parental pride of having coaxed and cultivated these young plants into productive citizens of the farm. Today the harvest is too small for so much effort but now summer has officially begun and these sun-loving, heat-seeking plants will stand by you and faithfully deliver.
-Farmer Skip