CSA Spring CSA Week4B Newsletter

Some days in Spring are especially busy for the farm and today was one of them. Crazy busy. 

There were melons to plant, tomatoes to trellis, slicing onions to dry. There were weeds to pull (nothing new about that.) And then, of course, the harvesting for this week’s share, which is a nice balance of the last of the winter crops and the first of the summer crops.

And then there were the kids. One hundred and two, to be exact. And I”m not talking baby goats. No, these were well-behaved, exuberant third graders from Elgin ISD who arrived at nine this morning for a field trip.

Erin is constantly hosting field trips at the city farm and most of them she can manage alone or with the help of Carolyn and one or two other farm educators. But today was different. Even before the dew had dried, three yellow buses pulled up to the barn and enough kids spilled out to encircle the entire barnyard several times.

Erin is our general and soon all seven of us foot soldiers for good food  are at our stations, ready to spend the next two hours giving these kids a real farm experience. For the farmer, who so often spends hours alone in the field, it is exciting and exhausting at the same time — all these questions thrown at you, ones you haven’t thought about in years. 

Some you can answer without thinking: what is organic, where does a potato come from, how old is Spot (our 800-pound boar)?  

And then come the one’s that give you pause. What is that pink thing on the back of Spot?  Why does the rabbit have red eyes. How do the goats make babies.? How do vegetables get their names? Do worms eat plastic?

 Humor goes a long way on days like this. And sometimes the kids run with our games. Our daughter Alex was in charge of the chicken and rabbit station. Pointing at the round rabbit droppings beneath the cage, she explain that we don’t call it poop. “

“We call it bunny berries,” she explained.

“Oh,” asks one astute third grader. “Can we eat them?”

“Yeah,” another chimes in. “It looks like Coco Puffs.”

Ah, life on the farm. Never a dull moment.

-Farmer Skip

Purple Potato Salad with Fennel and Mustard Greens

Serves 4 to 6

2 pounds purple fingerling potatoes
2 teaspoons salt, divided, or to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra as needed
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar (or white vinegar)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups purple mustard greens, torn into bite-size pieces
1cup sliced fennel fronds 
Handful of mustard flowers (optional)

Place the potatoes and salt in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Partially cover and simmer until potatoes are tender but not mushy, 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes. Drain and cool slightly. When cool enough to handle but still warm, cut potatoes into large bite-size pieces. (The salad should be chunky).
Transfer the potatoes to a large bowl. Add the oil, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, and black pepper. Toss to coat. Add the garlic, mustard greens, and fennel. Toss to combine and slightly wilt the greens. If the salad is too dry, add a little more oil to achieve desired consistency. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt if desired. Before serving, scatter the mustard flowers over the potatoes. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

CSA Spring Week2B Newsletter

For years Erin has challenged me to try no-till farming, at least as an experiment on a couple of our fields. This year, after meeting an intense, passionate farmer from Arkansas named Patrice Gros, I decided to give it a try.

The Frenchman’s detailed sharing of his 10-year experiment provided the recipe, which requires four main ingredients, two of which were available on the farm this year — massive amounts of leaves and wood chips, and a five-species cover crop I planted in the fall.

The one ingredient that makes it unsustainable right now was having to purchase compost. Lots of compost. The initial bed-making requires literally tons of organic matter and the combination of leaves, compost and mulch are the secret to keeping weeds down while also building up the critical microbial habitat that can break down all that organic matter you heap onto these raised beds.

The fourth — and most critical — ingredient is lots of hands. As in hard labor. There is no way to skimp on this requirement — making the beds, weeding, and then pulling back all the decayed vegetative material to the shoulders when you get ready to plant the next season.  

Fortunately we have had lots of volunteer help this season. I won’t even try to estimate the number of wheel barrels that were filled and emptied for just one-quarter acre.

Another incentive for going no till this year was the fact that our old Shubaru tractor had stopped running; it, too, was tired of tilling up the ground each year.

Farming no-till organically on larger plots requires special equipment and ideal conditions. But for small plots on farms that have lots of volunteer hands, this style of no-till seems is about as sustainable as it comes. But it also requires a long-term commitment. Gros has been doing no-till for 10 years now and only recently has he felt like he has created the perfect system. His organic matter during that time has increased from 1 percent to more than 8%, which is about three time what we have in our fields right now.

Last week’s pac choy is the first crop to come from these no-till beds. The mediocre results were not unexpected. The leaves and cover crop underneath the thick layer of compost did not have enough time to break down and allow the roots to penetrate into the soil below.  The plants were fairly stunted and it didn’t help that our record warm spring forced the plants to bolt several weeks early. Next season will undoubtably be more fruitful.

Like a kitchen table after a hastily prepared meal, these fields are messy, with cover crop still growing in the crooked isles and uneven rows that were laid down without the benefit of string. And as with any undercooked meal, the farmer is still chewing on what he has wrought and whether this last-minute experiment is going to take off and become the apple of his eye.

Either way, the farmer feels good that he is pushing the envelope and wishes he had listened to his wife a long time ago.

-Farmer Skip

Click here for this week’s Newsletter in full.

Notes from the Field 11/22/16

Howdy Folks,

Welcome to week 9, where things are going smooth so far. We thought we wouldn’t have them but, carrots are in this week! We will likely have enough for everyone to get a taste of their crazy, crunchy-ness. Come and get ‘em, more are available at our farm stand on Friday and Saturday 10:00am- 2:00pm. The fields at our city farm are going through transition with this cold weather. We pulled our rows of squash out and moved them to the sweet compost bin to be turned into soil. Golden frill mustard was planted in some of it’s place. Peppers and some of our baby starts were hit by the cold over the weekend. Kale, although aphids have found their place within them, are still going strong. Collards, head lettuce, and other treats are coming in soon. At the city farm we will be hosting a composting class on December 3rd from 11:00am- 12:30pm. Learn all you need to know from Zach Halfin, one of the most seasoned composter I know; $25.00 – group discounts may apply. Thanks for being a part of Green Gate’s CSA and prepare yourself for our winter CSA starting January 9th, aka let us know if you want to join!
Ali Stone
Urban Farm Manager
Green Gate Farms
612.619.5251