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.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

It all Starts with a Seed and a Dream

At our CSA, we have a Core Group that works collaboratively with our Humble Farmer to make decisions about the farm. Aside from Farmer Brian, the group is comprised of, you guessed it, the faithful Farmer Babe and two other key individuals (who, for now, shall remain nameless ;-)) that work with our Humble Farmer to ensure the mission of the CSA, manage the daily operations of the farm, and work to build our CSA member family. Recently, the four of us got together to discuss what we're planting in the upcoming growing season. So far, our planting list is as follows:

  • Arugula, Apollo
  • Bean, Fin de Bagnol
  • Bean, Provider
  • Bean, Pencil Pod Wax
  • Beet, Bull's Blood
  • Broccoli, DeCicco
  • Cabbage, Mammoth Red
  • Cabbage, Early Jersey Wheatfield
  • Carrots, Dragon
  • Carrots, St. Valery
  • Corn, Tom Thumb Popcorn
  • Cucumber, Mexican Sour Gherkin
  • Cucumber, Early Fortune
  • Eggplant, Florida High Bush
  • Gourd, Birdhouse
  • Kale, Dwarf Blue Curled
  • Leek, Blue Solaize
  • Lettuce, Reine des Glaces
  • Lettuce, Rouge D'Hiver
  • Lettuce, Crisp Mint
  • Onions, Ailsa Craig
  • Onions, Yellow of Parma
  • Peas, Amish Snap
  • Pepper, Hot Portugal
  • Pepper, Wisconsin Lakes
  • Potato, Chieftain (Red)
  • Potato, Kennebec
  • Radish, French Breakfast
  • Spinach, America
  • Squash, Waltham Butternut
  • Squash, Black Bounty Zucchini
  • Squash, Golden Zucchini
  • Swiss Chard, Fordhook Giant
  • Tomato, Amish Paste
  • Tomato, Black Krim
  • Tomato, Italian Heirloom
  • Turnips, Purple Top White
Plus Kohlrabi (as our Humble Farmer LOVES Kohlrabi...), and perhaps Fennel (as his Farmer Babe loves Fennel as much as Humble Farmer loves his Kohlrabi). So that's thirty-nine varieties of Heirloom veggies that we'll be growing this year...not counting the herb and flower garden project that the faithful Farmer Babe and her associates are planning.

Some of our choices may sound rather new or interesting to you. "What," you may ask, "is Tom Thumb popcorn?" Well, it's a dwarf variety of corn that produces these very small (3-4 inch long) ears of corn that, you guessed it, is a popping corn. In fact, when the moisture content of the ears is right (around 13%), you can put an ear into a small paper lunch bag with just a bit of oil or butter and pop it in the microwave. Voila! Popcorn that is not rife with chemicals, grown locally and naturally, and is amazingly delicious (is it obvious that Farmer Babe is a popcorn enthusiast? LOL).

So, why do we grow only Heirloom vegetables? Heirloom varieties are increasingly becoming more common in modern organic gardening...they harken back to more traditional times before agriculture was so industrialized. So much of the produce that is produced conventionally is genetically qualify as "Heirloom", a variety must be open-pollinated and therefore strictly non-GMO (not a genetically modified organism). There is a great deal of controversy surrounding the safety of GMO foods (it's a hotly contested debate, to say the least). Here at Hand in Hand, our beliefs are simple. Choosing to practice organic growing methods only to produce genetically modified produce makes no sense to us. So we only grow heirloom varieties, in keeping with our natural, reverent practices. We strive to produce the most healthy, delicious food for you, our CSA members, so that you are serving the most healthy delicious food to your family. Because in the end, that's what it's really all about. We grow, so that your family grows. Our natural practices and heirloom choices are all about you---you are why we are here, and why we continue to do what we do.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Food With a Farmer's Face on it

The concept of Community Supported Agriculture was born from many hungers – hungers for safe, nourishing food, hungers for healthy rural landscapes and communities, hungers for connection in an increasingly far-flung and disconnected world. Specifically, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) began in 1971 when a group of women in Japan recognized
their hungers for a healthy environment, economy and family and sought to satisfy these hungers by forming a relationship with a local farmer. They agreed to pay him upfront for a season’s worth of vegetables, so that the farmer would have enough money for all of the necessary inputs, plus have the assurance that his produce was sold at a fair price.
The Japanese name that evolved for this sustainable vegetable trade was “teikei,” which translates as "cooperation" or "link-up", and, in reference to CSAs, is often translated as “food with a farmer’s face on it.”

This remarkably simple concept has spread since then, feeding hungers worldwide. In the United States alone there are nearly 2,000 CSAs. Here at our CSA, we enjoy knowing that what we do facilitates healthful relationships – relationships with our land, our neighbors, our economy and our food growers (our Humble Farmer, Farmer Babe, and the Core Group). In the future, we will be bringing these faces to you and we hope you will take the time to read these and to introduce yourself to them when you see them. Our CSA growers love shareholder interaction – that is part of why they work here at Hand in Hand Community Farm, and for the Hand in Hand Family at large, for the real relationships that are forged with shareholders and the wider community. They also appreciate input from shareholders about what they would like to see at their farm.

I, as the faithful Farmer Babe, deeply appreciate knowing who is behind the produce I enjoy when I sit down to another delicious meal featuring Hand in Hand produce. I also enjoy having the opportunity to chat with our CSA growers, ask them questions, and thank them for the vital work that they, and all our team members, do. Look for more information about your CSA growers and about “teikei” in upcoming blogs.

Additions written by Jen Shaffer (a/k/a the faithful Farmer Babe), based on an original article by Elizabeth Thompson (adapted from the June 25, 2007 'Harvest Times', Canticle Farm, Inc. newsletter, all rights reserved). Prior to becoming the Farmer Babe of Hand in Hand Community Farm, Ms. Shaffer was the 2005 Community Relations Coordinator for Canticle Farm, Inc. located in Allegany, NY.