Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Compost it!

Sad to say that it's been a while, folks. The difficult part about writing a blog about farming when it's winter is that, well, it's winter time. Which tends to leave this blogger's brain short on ideas, which would otherwise be swimming with material during warmer months. Regardless, our Humble Farmer suggested that I blog about composting and vermiculture, so here goes!

An Introduction to Composting

Composting is the decomposition of plant remains and other once-living materials to make an earthy, dark, crumbly substance that is excellent for adding to houseplants or enriching garden soil. It is the way to recycle your yard and kitchen wastes, and is a critical step in reducing the volume of garbage needlessly sent to landfills for disposal. It's easy to learn how to compost.

There are a tremendous number of options for containing your compost. Some people choose to go binless, simply building a compost pile in a convenient spot on the ground. Others build bins from materials such as recycled pallets, or two-by-fours and plywood. And, of course, there are many commercial bins on the market.

Composting is not a new idea. In the natural world, composting is what happens as leaves pile up on the forest floor and begin to decay. Eventually, the rotting leaves are returned to the soil, where living roots can finish the recycling process by reclaiming the nutrients from the decomposed leaves. Composting may be at the root of agriculture as well. Some scientists have speculated that as early peoples dumped food wastes in piles near their camps, the wastes rotted and were terrific habitat for the seeds of any food plants that sprouted there. Perhaps people began to recognize that dump heaps were good places for food crops to grow, and began to put seeds there intentionally.

Today, the use of composting to turn organic wastes into a valuable resource is expanding rapidly in the United States and in other countries, as landfill space becomes scarce and expensive, and as people become more aware of the impacts they have on the environment. In ten years, composting will probably be as commonplace as recycling aluminum cans is today, both in the backyard and on an industrial scale. Many states in the USA have stated goals or legislative mandates to drastically reduce the volume of waste being sent to landfills. Utilizing yard and kitchen wastes (which make up about 30% of the waste stream in the USA) is a big part of the plan to minimize waste overall.

You can contribute to the 'composting revolution' by composting your own yard and kitchen wastes at home. If you have a large yard, you might prefer the ease of composting in a three-bin system out by the back fence. Cities and towns can promote composting through home composting education efforts and the collection of yard wastes for large-scale composting. Whatever your style of composting, there's plenty of room to get involved!

What to Compost

A great variety of things can be composted at home, saving them from a one-way trip to the landfill, and turning them into a valuable soil amendment for home use. This list describes some of the items you may want to add to your home compost pile. You may want to read about how to compost to learn about the difference between 'brown' and 'green' ingredients and the roles each plays in the composting process. Also, see the list of what not to compost.

The following items can be added to your compost pile:


Actually, it's usually easier to leave grass clippings in the lawn, where they will decompose and benefit the soil directly. However, they can be composted, too. Be cautious to add grass clippings in very thin layers, or thoroughly mix them in with other compost ingredients, as they otherwise tend to become slimy and matted down, excluding air from the pile. Fresh grass clippings are high in nitrogen, making them a 'green' compost ingredient.


Farmers are often very happy to get rid of spoiled hay bales that have been out in the rain, and will give them away or sell them at a low price. Grass hay will probably contain a lot of seed, which can resprout in your garden. Alfalfa hay will compost very readily. The greener the hay, the more nitrogen it contains. Be sure that any hay you plan to compost is well-moistened prior to addition to the pile.


Fruit and vegetable peels/rinds, tea bags, coffee grounds, eggshells, and similar materials are great stuff to compost. They tend to be high in nitrogen (this puts them in the 'greens' category), and are usually quite soft and moist. As such, kitchen wastes need to be mixed in with drier/bulkier materials to allow complete air penetration. Many people compost their kitchen wastes in enclosed worm bins or bury them 8" deep in the soil, to keep from attracting pests to an outdoor compost pile (check with your local government to see if it has regulations about this -- some forbid open piles containing food wastes because of the pest issue). Avoid composting meat scraps, fatty food wastes, milk products, and bones -- these materials are very attractive to pests.


If you live in an area where autumn leaves are still thrown away as garbage, cash in on the bounty each year by acquiring your neighbors' leaves! Generally, leaves are an excellent compost ingredient. They can mat down and exclude air, though, so be sure that any clumps are thoroughly broken up, or that the leaves are only used in very thin layers. Ash and poplar/cottonwood leaves can raise soil pH if used in compost -- this may not be beneficial if your soil is already alkaline, as many soils are in the West (especially in semiarid and arid climates). Dead, dry leaves are in the 'browns' category, while living green leaves contain abundant nitrogen and are considered 'greens'.


Dry straw is a good material for helping to keep a compost pile aerated, because it tends to create lots of passageways for air to get into the pile. Be sure to wet the straw, as it is very slow to decompose otherwise. Straw is definitely a 'brown' and also requires mixture with 'greens' to break down quickly. Many stables use straw as a bedding material for horses -- straw that has undergone this treatment is mixed in with horse manure and breaks down more quickly.


Many types of weeds and old garden plants can be composted. Avoid weeds that have begun to go to seed, as seeds may survive all but the hottest compost piles. Some types of weeds are "pernicious" and will resprout in the compost pile -- avoid using these unless they are thoroughly dead. Green weeds are (you guessed it) 'green', while dead brown weeds are 'brown'.


Wood products belong in the 'browns' category, because they are fairly low in nitrogen. Some sawdusts, especially from broadleaved/deciduous tress, will break down quickly in an active compost pile. Others, especially from coniferous trees, will take longer to decay. Stir sawdust thoroughly into the pile or use very thin layers. Coarse wood chips will very slowly decay, and are probably better used as mulch unless you have lots of time to wait. Be sure not to compost chips or sawdust from any sort of chemically treated wood-- you could be adding toxics like arsenic to your pile if you do.

What NOT to Compost

Whether because of toxins, plant or human diseases, or weed troubles, there are some things that shouldn't be put into compost piles. Avoid composting the following materials:


Sawdust is often available from constructions sites, friends, or your own building projects. If you are considering composting sawdust, be sure of the origin of the sawdust. Sawdust from chemically-treated wood products can be bad stuff to compost. For example, take pressure-treated wood (sometimes called CCA), which usually has a greenish tint to it (I have also seen it in other colors). It contains arsenic, a highly toxic element, as well as chromium and copper. There is evidence to suggest that arsenic is leached into the soil from these products when they are used to make compost bins or raised beds, so composting the sawdust would certainly be a mistake. You may wish to read the 'Letters' section of Organic Gardening, April 1994 and July/August 1992, for more information. Avoid other chemically-treated wood products and sawdust as well, such as wood treated with creosote or 'penta' preservative.


Many plant disease organisms are killed by consistent hot composting, but it's difficult to make sure that every speck of the diseased material gets fully composted. It's best not to compost diseased plant material at all, to avoid reinfecting next year's garden.


Human feces can contain disease organisms that will make people very sick. Composting human feces safely requires that the compost pile reach high (thermophilic) temperatures over a period of time. It isn't necessarily that difficult to reach these temperatures in a home compost pile, but the potential health costs of improper composting are high. Composting of human feces should not be attempted, except by experienced 'hot pile' composters who are well informed of the temperatures and times required to kill pathogens, and who are willing to take 100% responsibility for the process and product. If you would like to learn more about composting humanure, I recommend The Humanure Handbook, listed in the resources section of the Rot Web.


These materials are very attractive to pests (in an urban setting, this could mean rats...). In addition, fatty food wastes can be very slow to break down, because the fat can exclude the air that composting microbes need to do their work.


Morning glory/bindweed, sheep sorrel, ivy, several kinds of grasses, and some other plants can resprout from their roots and/or stems in the compost pile. Just when you thought you had them all chopped up, you'd actually helped them to multiply! Don't compost these weeds unless they are completely dead and dry (you may want to leave them in a sunny place for a couple of weeks before composting). Remember also that composting weeds that have gone to seed will create weeds in next year's garden, unless a very hot pile temperature can be maintained to kill the seeds.


Dog and cat feces may carry diseases that can infect humans. It is best NEVER to use them in compost piles. Some people do bury them 8" deep in the soil, but ONLY in areas where food crops are never grown.

Composting Systems: Vermicomposting/Worm Bin Composting

There are a tremendous number of options for containing your compost. Some people choose to go binless, simply building a compost pile in a convenient spot on the ground. Others build bins from materials such as recycled pallets, or two-by-fours and plywood. And, of course, there are many commercial bins on the market.

Maintaining an enclosed bin specifically for 'vermicomposting' is an excellent way to take care of food wastes. In fact, such a system can even be kept indoors. With the exception of holes for drainage and ventilation, worm bins for indoor use are typically completely enclosed, with a lid of some sort to cover the top. Outdoors, worms can be turned loose in a pile in your compost bin, or contained in a worm bin built specifically for vermicomposting.

Some municipalities, fearful of rodent pests and the diseases they may carry, discourage or even prohibit the composting of food wastes in open piles, recommending enclosed worm bins instead. A sturdy outdoor worm bin is protected from pests, and produces compost quickly during the warm season (or year-round in mild climates).

One of the challenges of beginning a vermicompost system is finding a source of worms. A typical earthworm from the garden won't do. Vermicomposting requires a species that is adapted to living in decomposing organic materials rather than in the soil. Two species are Eisenia foetida and Lumbricus rubellus. Also known as the redworm, manure worm, or red wiggler, Eisenia foetida is often available at bait shops (ask for red wigglers), but can be mail ordered less expensively from worm farms listed in the classified ads of Organic Gardening Magazine. Governments and organizations that promote vermicomposting may maintain 'worm banks' as a low-cost source of worms for the general public.

The general idea is to provide a cool, moist bedding (some kind of 'brown' compost ingredient such as shredded leaves or paperboard) for the worms to live in, and then bury kitchen wastes in the bedding. As bacteria and fungi begin to decompose the materials, the worms graze on the bacteria and fungi, and also break up the ingredients with their movement through the bedding. Eventually, the worms have ingested the ingredients and bedding, turning it all into worm castings (feces) that are an excellent finished compost.

Composting with worms is very easy to do, but there are a few basics of vermicomposting that are helpful to understand. You may wish to read the vermicomposting guide available on the World Wide Web from CITY FARMER, an organization in British Columbia.

I hope that you've found this blog informative and helpful, and will hopefully feel inspired to start your own composting project. This year at Hand in Hand, I'll be working with the Core Group to expand our current composting efforts. If you're a CSA family member that is not already home composting and you would like to drop off your appropriate scraps to our pile, please contact us and let us know.

Thanks for reading!

The Farmer Babe

The Farmer Babe ©2010

Composting Resource List

Online Resources:



published by Harmonious Press, Ojai, California, 1992 (ISBN 0-9629768-0-6). This is the simplest, most easy to read how-to guide for composting. It is short and very easy to read, yet presents all the basics.96 pp.


by J.C. Jenkins, Jenkins Publishing (P.O. Box 607, Grove City, PA 16127. $19.95 ppd., ISBN 0-9644258-4-X). The composting of human manure is controversial, or even outrageous, to many experienced composters. Joe Jenkins takes on the composting 'establishment' with this book, presenting a persuasive argument for why 'humanure' should be composted, as well as citing research to support the safety of his method. By carefully building a pile so that it reaches high enough (thermophilic) temperatures, and by monitoring the temperature of the pile over time, Jenkins argues that it is possible to safely compost human manure at home. Those with minimal experience in composting may find this book an interesting read, as it is very easy to understand. However, humanure composting should not be done unless one is an experienced 'hot pile' composter who makes an informed choice to take 100% responsibility for the process and its product. This is an important book in that it opens one's eyes to the loss of what should be considered a valuable natural resource. I found the book very interesting and helpful. Some may be offended by the terminology used. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book! 198 pp.


by Stu Campbell, Storey Communications, Inc., Pownal, Vermont,1990 (ISBN 0-88266-635-5). This is a good general how-to guide for composting. It's very easy to read, but includes considerable detail for those who want to learn more about the composting process. 152 pp.


by Mary Appelhof, Flower Press, Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1982 (ISBN 0-942256-03-4). Mary Appelhof is an expert with more than twenty years experience using worms to compost kitchen fruit and vegetable trimmings. Her book is the best source of detailed information on the simple art of "vermicomposting" kitchen wastes. Interesting reading, with cartoons, drawings, and diagrams. 100pp.


by Mary Appelhof, Mary Frances Fenton, and Barbara Loss Harris, Flower Press, Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1992 (ISBN 0-942256-05-0). A resource book for teachers who want to try vermicomposting with their students. Activities are appropriate for grades 4 and above. 214 pp.


These booklets and pamphlets, or similar ones, may be available from cooperative extension offices in your state.

COMPOSTING TO REDUCE THE WASTE STREAM, Northeast Regional Agricultural Engineering Service, Ithaca, New York, 1991.

COMPOSTING YARD WASTE, Service in Action Bulletin #7.212, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Fort Collins, Colorado, 1991.

HOME COMPOSTING, Seattle Community Composting Education Program, Seattle, Washington.

RECYCLING YARD AND GARDEN WASTE, Circular #ANR-700, Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, Auburn University, Alabama,1992.


WORM DIGEST, P.O. Box 544, Eugene, OR 97440, $12/year (4 issues).Worm Digest is a quarterly journal that covers the use of worms in composting and soil improvement. This is a great journal for anyone seriously interested in worm bins, and especially for those interested in teaching others or spreading the word about vermicomposting.



from Earth to Earth Productions, P.O. Box 1272, Burbank, CA 91507-1272 (approximately 50 minutes long, ISBN 1-881647-02-1). This video covers everything from why to compost, and different ways to make and use compost, to how composting can save money on garbage bills. Very easy to understand, and complete, yet concise. Recommended for new composters who like how-to videos and for public libraries/organizations that want to provide user friendly how-to resources for their patrons.


from Flowerfield Enterprises, 10332 Shaver Road, Kalamazoo, MI 49002 (26 minutes, with a 48-page teaching guide, $38.40, ISBN 0-942256-07-7). Mary Appelhof has produced, partly with the help of a National Science Foundation grant, this video on the subject of worms and vermicomposting. In the video, Worm Woman visits a family, teaches them about worm biology, and helps them set up a worm bin for composting kitchen wastes. Several worm-related songs by Billy Brennan make up part of the video, which covers a lot of ground in a concise fashion, but is entertaining and engaging. Microvideo is used to illustrate worm anatomy. Worm movement, feeding/digestion, and reproduction are all covered, as well as the role worms play in improving soil drainage and organic matter content. A great video for libraries, school districts, master composter groups, and agriculture or biology classes. This is not primarily a how-to video for vermicomposting (use Mary Appelhof's excellent book Worms Eat My Garbage for this purpose), but would be good for general outreach to promote the idea of vermicomposting, or as a supplement to how-to education.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Our Chickens are Poultry in Motion

As you may remember from a previous blog, I wrote about our Ladies, the laying hens. Today I'm going to turn the tables a bit and talk turkey (and chickens) literally. After a break for the 2009 season, Hand in Hand Community Farm will be once again proudly offering pastured poultry shares.

Your Humble Farmer, Brian, has over 5 years experience raising on pasture, the best tasting, hormone, and antibiotic free broiler chickens and turkeys. High-end chefs in area restaurants demand antibiotic/hormone free pastured broiler chickens due to their exceptional taste; many are willing to pay well over market price. For those who are unfamiliar with pastured poultry, here are some facts and differences between commercial and pastured poultry:

*The meat is clean. Commercial poultry is washed with heavily chlorinated water which leaves a residue on the meat. This is why Russia and the European Union have banned importing poultry products from U.S. processors.

*Pastured poultry are raised in bottomless cages on grass where they peck and scratch at the ground and hunt for bugs and seeds along with their grain. Their manure is spread over wide areas of pasture as they are moved. This is better for the birds and the soil.

*Balancing the essential fats in your diet is easy with pastured poultry because it has more Omega-3's than commercial chicken meat (green vegetation is rich in Omega-3's - 30% of the chickens diet is from the grasses they are raised on.)

*Pastured poultry meat has more vitamins E, C and Beta-Carotene.

*Pastured poultry is Arsenic free. Commercial poultry are fed trace amounts of arsenic in their feed. This is a poison that stimulates their appetites. Traces of Arsenic can be found in commercial meat.

Our chickens are raised on open pasture where they are free to roam a large area (fenced to reduce predation). They get plenty of exercise, fresh air, clean water, and their pen is periodically moved so they are not bedding down in their own fecal matter. The added by-product, and benefit to the soil, is their waste - FREE Organic Fertilizer!

Our chickens are processed on farm in a safe, sanitary environment (they are humanely processed - Your Humble Farmer prays over the birds before processing, thanking them for their lives.) Our chickens are renowned for their large breasts and meaty thighs (the chicken breed is: Cornish-X.)

Our chickens are sold in a similar fashion as our CSA vegetables are - we offer Full Shares, picked up monthly (dates to be determined but are scheduled for 5 months: June, July, August, September, and October.) Each Full share consists of 4 whole broiler chickens each month, for 5 months (20 total) ranging in weight from 3 to 5 pounds. We do not weigh the birds at pick up, experience has shown that the birds weigh, on average, 4 pounds.

Day One - Chicks
We receive our Day Old Chicks from a local hatchery that is licensed by state and federal agencies. Unlike commercial hatcheries who de-beak (burn the tip of the beaks upon hatching to prevent pecking - commercial birds, raised in large indoor pens, sometimes numbering in the tens of thousands, become hostile and would peck each other to death) our hatchery does not de-beak the chicks.

Week One - Chicks
For the first 14 days, our chicks are kept in a brooder under strict controlled temperatures, slowly reducing the heat to acclimate them to their environment. They are raised in fresh pine shavings that are added layer upon layer with each subsequent batch - the lower layers actually contain 'good' micro-organisms and at the end of the season, the shavings are composted.

Week Three - First Day out of Brooder
Week Three and our 'chicks' are fully feathered. The first day the brooder door is opened, it's interesting to see them peak out the door taking those first tentative steps. They spend one week in this controlled outdoor chicken run as they get their 'chicken legs'. The end of week three they are moved out to pasture where they become broilers.

Week Six - On Pasture
Two weeks on pasture and the chickens are at home in the grass. The hot days of summer often find them in the shade of the movable pen. The chickens are still growing (evidenced by frequent leg stretching); they will pack on more muscle in these last few weeks. Antibiotic and Hormone Free, these birds live as natural a life as we can provide them. There is simply no comparison to the superb quality of these birds!

I hope that you've enjoyed learning more about the pastured poultry that we have on our farm. If you're interested in learning more, please contact us. We look forward to hearing from you!

The Farmer Babe

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Working Over-Thyme to Plan our new Herb Garden

Pink, small, and punctual,

Aromatic, low,

Covert in April,

Candid in May,

Dear to the moss,

Known by the knoll,

Next to the robin

In every human soul.

Bold little beauty,

Bedecked with thee,

Nature forswears


- -Emily Dickinson

This year at Hand in Hand Community Farm, we're putting in a new, experimental herb and flower garden. So far we've compiled a nice list of both that includes (click on the links for pictures and details on each herb/flower):
Some of the names are probably more familiar than others. Some are typical household cooking herbs, which can be used fresh and/or dried (depending on preference) in cooking, or in beverages such as teas. Others are medicinal (although we never make recommendations regarding the use for this purpose---ingest herbs at your own discretion, and always speak with your doctor first), and some are simply for aesthetics and/or for crafts (potpourri, sachets, candles, soap making, essential oil components, etc). One of my future goals is to use what we grow to create all-natural products made with our herbs/flowers and other locally grown (and made) ingredients; to formulate our own product line of soaps, sachets, scents, and cosmetics (lotions, creams, powders, etc).

As for flower choices, English lavender was an easy one, as it's a favorite of our Humble Farmer. California Poppies, on the other hand, are the Farmer Babe's favorite...and both are reputed to be exceptional producers, organically speaking. Dog roses are simple and beautiful; their smell is intoxicating and heady. New England Asters are adorable pink and purple wildflowers that make lovely, sweet-smelling table bouquets. And Marigolds are not only pretty, but are reputed to act as a natural deterrent to the deer that inhabit the woods outside of the farm.

Ever thought of drying your own herbs? It's less difficult and complex than you might think. Just follow these steps, and you'll have a fragrant, dried bouquet of your own:
  1. Cut healthy branches from your herb plants.
  2. Remove any dry or diseased leaves.
  3. Shake gently to remove any insects.
  4. If necessary, rinse with cool water and pat dry with paper towels. Wet herbs will mold and rot.
  5. Remove the lower leaves along the bottom inch or so of the branch.
  6. Bundle 4 - 6 branches together and tie as a bunch. You can use string or a rubber band. The bundles will shrink as they dry and the rubber band will loosen, so check periodically that the bundle is not slipping. Make small bundles if you are trying to dry herbs with high water content.
  7. Punch or cut several holes in a paper bag. Label the bag with the name of the herb you are drying.
  8. Place the herb bundle upside down into the bag.
  9. Gather the ends of the bag around the bundle and tie closed. Make sure the herbs are not crowded inside the bag.
  10. Hang the bag upside down in a warm, airy room.
  11. Check in about two weeks to see how things are progressing. Keep checking weekly until your herbs are dry and ready to store.
Then, to store your newly dried herbs:
  1. Store your dried herbs in air tight containers. Zip closing bags will do. I like to use small canning jars.
  2. Be sure to label and date your containers.
  3. Your herbs will retain more flavor if you store the leaves whole and crush them when you are ready to use them.
  4. Discard any dried herbs that show the slightest sign of mold.
  5. Place containers in a cool, dry place away from sunlight.
  6. Dried herbs are best used within a year. As your herbs lose their color, they are also losing their flavor.
  7. Use about 1 teaspoon crumbled dried leaves in place of a tablespoon of fresh herbs.
On a final note, we're interested in your input regarding what you'd like to see us grow in this new garden. If you have a suggestion or recommendation, we'd love to hear it. We are most certainly interested in hearing about other organic flower options that will thrive in our climate zone. If you as a CSA member have a favorite flower that you'd like to have us grow, please let us know.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

This One's for the Ladies...

Ooooh yeah...put on some Barry White and prepare yourself to get in the mood to talk about--get ready for it--our laying hens, whom we affectionately refer to as "The Ladies."

I spoke briefly about my first encounter with The Ladies when our Humble Farmer and I first began dating. Since then, he and I (along with our Hand in Hand CSA Core Group Members) share in the responsibilities of caring for these special hens, including feeding and watering them regularly, and collecting their delicious eggs. Typically, our Ladies are free range during most months but are currently lounging in our greenhouse for the winter---a MUCH warmer space for their winter "vacation" compared to the great outdoors. Regardless of the season, The Ladies are fed a vegetarian all-grain diet to compliment what they might come across while foraging. Humble Farmer says that, when the ladies are free ranging, 90% of their diet comes from what they find (bugs, snakes and frogs are non-vegetarian, of

Please note: I am sincere when I say their eggs are delicious. There is a HUGE difference in taste, quality, and freshness of our free range eggs over any store-bought variety I've tried, including other organic and free range brands. Happy chickens really DO produce better-tasting eggs.

Our Ladies are very special...not just because we love them, but because of their variety. They are Red Sex Links (also known as Red Stars); their genes have been "tweaked" so that the girls are born red and the boys are born yellow, as otherwise no one would be able to tell the girls and boys apart until they were approximately six or seven months old. Red Sex Links are also known to be "eggcellent" egg producers, and have a reputation for being friendly (as evidenced by our Ladies behavior). According to our Humble Farmer, hens typically start laying eggs at around six months in age, and continue to lay eggs for 18-24 months. The average hen produces one egg a day, and at the rate of approximately 24 hens, that means during their peak producing times, our ladies are making roughly 60 dozen eggs per month in total. Humble Farmer also says that it should be noted that Red Sex Link eggs need XXL egg containers as they are VERY big eggs (which make very big omelettes, I might add). When they stop producing, our Ladies "retire" and live a life of leisure on the farm. Our Ladies are NEVER used for food, and are our beloved pets.

As a side note, it's a rather endearing moment when the Humble Farmer and I pull up to the farm in his truck, and he yells a friendly hello out the driver window. One by one, the flock gathers and heads towards the truck, bawking hellos all the way. And inevitably, one hen is selected to be the special recipient of a truck ride down the short hill, and is surely the envy of all of her hen friends. Then there was the day that we sat in the truck while having a short conversation, and were suddenly joined inside the truck cab by several ladies (see slightly above) that seemed hell-bent on driving themselves... which is always a risk with free-range chickens ;-).

So, I hope you've enjoyed hearing about our Ladies. Egg shares are limited for the 2010 season to seven shares, with preference given to our returning CSA customers. For more information about our farm and/or our Ladies, please contact Farmer Brian or myself.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Ask me anything related to organic farming, sustainable agriculture, love, life, and raising chickens.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Strong to the Finish, 'Cause we eat our Spinach...

Seriously my loyal readers, despite the humorous title (adapted from our beloved Popeye, of course), spinach is no laughing matter---in fact, it's a powerful food tool for any healthy lifestyle. Full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, spinach is a nutritionally dense food that boasts a whole host of health benefits.

Please, check this chart out. One cup of boiled spinach has just 41.40 calories, and is an excellent source of Vitamin K (1,110% of the RDA--recommended daily amount), Vitamin A (377%), Manganese (84%), Folate (65.7%), Iron (35.7%), Vitamin C (29.4%)and Calcium (24.5%). This serving of spinach also contains roughly 17% of the RDA for Dietary Fiber and, for protein, 10% of the RDA. What a powerhouse!

So where did this vegetative heavy hitter come from, you might ask? Excellent question! Spinach is thought to have originated in ancient Persia (then known as Iran). Spinach made its way to China in the 7th century when the King of Nepal sent it as a gift to this country.

Spinach has a much more recent history in Europe than many other vegetables. It was only brought to that continent in the 11th century, when the Moors introduced it into Spain. In fact, for a while, spinach was known as "the Spanish vegetable" in England. Spinach was the favorite vegetable of Catherine de Medici, a historical figure in the 16th century. When she left her home of Florence, Italy, to marry the king of France, she brought along her own cooks, who could prepare spinach the ways that she especially liked. Since this time, dishes prepared on a bed of spinach are referred to as "a la Florentine."

Calorie for calorie, leafy green vegetables like spinach, with its delicate texture and jade green color, provide more nutrients than any other food. Although spinach is available throughout the year, its season runs from March through May and from September through October when it is the freshest, has the best flavor and is most readily available. Spinach grows well in temperate climates. Today, the United States and the Netherlands are among the largest commercial producers of spinach.

We all know that Popeye made himself super strong by eating spinach, but you may be surprised to learn that he may also have been protecting himself against a variety of cancers (prostate and colon cancers among them), arthritis, and other diseases at the same time. Indeed, if Popeye truly loved his Olive Oyl, let's hope that he fed her some spinach from time to time as well, as his spinach would have been a weapon in the fight for her against osteoporosis, ovarian cancer, and heart disease.

Colorful history and reputable health benefits aside, I'm willing to admit that spinach seems to be a "love it or hate it" vegetable for most folks. Interesting how both our Humble Farmer and the Farmer Babe HATED spinach as children, but now love it as adults. We eat it raw, boiled, creamed, souffled, and as an integral part of other dishes (check out this spinach lasagna recipe, courtesy of the Food Network). For the sake of our children (collectively speaking), I'm all for moving beyond the mundane boiled spinach and suggesting these recipes for Spinach and Potato Cakes , and kid-friendly spinach meatballs. As a child, one of my most favorite Sunday dinners was spaghetti and meatballs at my Gram's if we can encourage healthy eating in our children by including this green dynamo in more typical meals, then why not do it? Not only for it's culinary versatility and subtle flavor, but for the extraordinary, vitamin-rich superfood that spinach is?

In conclusion, I hope that you've enjoyed learning more about Spinach and its benefits to our healthy eating lifestyles. My hope is that the next time you happen to cross paths with a bunch of spinach, you'll roll up your sleeves, grab your nearest cookbook and make this veggie an integral part of your next family meal. If you do, let me know how it goes...I'd love to include your responses in an upcoming blog. If you are interested in more family friendly and healthy spinach recipes, contact me for ideas and suggestions.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Lettuce put our Heads Together

During my ever vigilant countdown to spring (March 20th, respectively), I'm filled with thoughts of the first crop of veggies to sprout on our farm. Lettuce, of course, is always in abundance during those first precious weeks of the season. In honor of one of the most overlooked and undervalued vegetables, I've written the following tongue-in-cheek ode to the humble head...if you click on the links of the names, you can learn more about each variety of lettuce.

After putting on my Mascara (something The Farmer Babe never goes without) and driving down to the Farm, I stand among the raised beds and admire the seas of Red Coral, their red heads stand out from the brown of the earthy ground, along with the varied green shades of the kale and greens, along with others that are Speckled; in combination are highly reminiscent of a Pablo Picasso. I take the Tennis Ball I was carrying in my pocket, toss it to my left and yell to my dog, "Fetch!" Sadly, he is getting older and is therefore a Slobolt. His Amish Deer Tongue hangs languidly out of his mouth while he slowly, gingerly heads towards the direction in which I threw the ball.

Without seeing his approach, our Humble Farmer suddenly grabs my hand and pulls me close to him for a quick Tango (he is rather dashing and spontaneous, after all). He admires what he calls my Yugoslavian Red hair. My face flushes, and is now the color of Red Velvet if I've been lit up from the inside by a Flame. After a quick, Crisp Mint(y) kiss, he returns to his plowing, while I continue to attempt playing fetch while admire the many colorful rows we've lovingly planted together.

Underneath a head of Baby Oakleaf, I found a Bronze Arrowhead...something that my Grandpa Admire's. I feel as though I'm in a Gold Rush, and wonder what other treasures I can unearth during my adventure. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I spied a Red Leprechaun...but quickly laughed at myself and dismissed this daydream. Turning back to the beds of heads, I marvel at the Merveille Quartre then I pick up the Tennis Ball, and head off with Fido into the Sunset, hoping for another Tango with my love the Humble Farmer, and suddenly hungry for a salad.