NOFA-NY Field Notes

NOFA-NY Blog

Our blog is a great way to stay current on organic farming, gardening, certification, policy, and community information and issues that we regularly share. We help you stay on top of everything that relates to technical and practical organic farming and gardening, timely and important legislative policies, field days, conferences, consumer issues, and more.

We encourage you to follow our blog and leave a comment or follow-up question if you wish. To subscribe to the blog and receive notifications about new posts, click the envelope on the black bar below and enter your e-mail address.

When Worlds Colllide: Your Health and (Mis) Use of Antibiotics in Livestock

[caption id="attachment_245" align="alignleft" width="225"]Pastured dairy cow raised antibiotic-free Pastured dairy cow raised antibiotic-free


As many of you know, in May of this year I transcended a 30+ year career in health care to join the organic and sustainable food and farming movement as Executive Director of NOFA-NY.  During my decades in health care, misuse and overuse of antibiotics was a major public health issue, an area of significant focus and concern for those of us who saw firsthand how overuse and improper use of antibiotics to treat human illness was having a horrible and unintended consequence on our health.  New breeds of antibiotic resistant and sometimes deadly “super bugs”  such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) were becoming prevalent in hospitals and spreading in the wider community.   It is horrible to watch someone contract an antibiotic-resistant illness suffer such health consequences.  More than 2 million people in the United States suffer from antibiotic-resistant diseases every year, and more than 20,000 die from them annually.  The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) have taken this seriously and for years have included consumer and provider education regarding antibiotic use on their website.   The problem is not small, and despite the best efforts of many health care professionals, public health officials, and consumers, it continues to grow.

When I started my job with NOFA-NY, I thought I was leaving behind the public health impacts of antibiotics.  I avoid antibiotics when possible and use them responsibly when required.  I eat mainly vegetarian, and when I do eat meat or dairy I ensure that it's at least antibiotic free, if not certified organic (which means no antibiotics have been used).  Krys Cail’s article in the Fall 2014 Issue of NOFA-NYs  New York Organic News surprised even me, a veteran of the healthcare industry and a self-proclaimed responsible eater!  I was shocked to learn that the use of antibiotics in livestock (even that which I choose not to eat) is potentially affecting my health and your health, too.   A whopping  80% of antibiotic drugs, by weight, are used in the livestock industry!  The driving force behind this high use of antibiotics in conventional agriculture is the practice of feeding livestock low doses of antibiotics routinely in order to prevent illness in crowded living conditions and to promote growth.  In her article titled, “Foolish Practice,” Krys Cail, an agricultural development consultant and active member of NOFA-NY’s policy committee, describes the current issues and impacts of antibiotics in conventional agriculture and the health consequences this can have for all of us – even those of us who are vegetarians or who eat organic, antibiotic-free meat and dairy whenever possible.

Not one to take this lightly, I went to the health care providers' “bible” – back to the CDC website.  There I found a strong alarm:
Antibiotics must be used judiciously in humans and animals because both uses contribute to the emergence, persistence, and spread of resistant bacteria. Resistant bacteria in food-producing animals are of particular concern. Food animals serve as a reservoir of resistant pathogens and resistance mechanisms that can directly or indirectly result in antibiotic resistant infections in humans.”

“Scientists around the world have provided strong evidence that antibiotic use in food-producing animals can have a negative impact on public health.”

In fact, a 2013 study published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine found conclusive evidence that a person’s risk of contracting MRSA is significantly higher if he or she lives near a conventional hog farm or near a field fertilized with manure from a conventional hog farm.  This is just one of many examples of how the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock impacts public health.

100_0399We know that all farmers, both conventional and those who practice organic and sustainable methods, want to produce healthy, good food.  Many conventional farmers who feed antibiotics routinely to their animals would prefer to stop doing so.  However, until the practice is banned, market competition acts as enough pressure to force these farmers to feed antibiotics routinely to prevent illness and encourage animal growth in line with their peers' production.  This is not about hurting or blaming farmers.   It is not about appropriate use of antibiotics to treat illness.  It is about preventing mis-use and overuse of antibiotics in animals as well as people for the health and well-being of both.   If you would like to take action on this issue, you can check out Food & Water Watch’s campaign.

 
Continue reading
0 Comments

Surprising Sweet Corn - Fresh Today, Frozen Tomorrow!

[caption id="attachment_219" align="alignleft" width="225"]Corn from Maple Slope Farm August 2014 Fresh Corn from Maple Slope Farm


Sweet Corn!  We hope for it to be knee high by the 4th of July, but it's now tall and tasseled and ripe for the picking and enjoying, be it steamed, grilled, roasted or raw.  There is no bad way to eat fresh picked sweet corn.   There is no such thing as too much sweet corn.  There is only sadness when sweet corn season ends.  Well, I have found a way to enjoy the late summer taste of sweet corn all year round, and you can too.

Fresh sweet corn is very easy to freeze, and this is the time of year when I buy in bulk to assure my winter supply.  Just shuck the corn, remove the silk, and scrape the kernels off the cob using a sharp knife.  Put the kernels (along with any "milk")  into the freezer container of your choice - I like to use 1 quart sized freezer bags, and I put the kernels from 2 ears in each bag.  Then just pop the containers into the freezer, and you are done!  When the dark winter hits, you can use the frozen corn in any recipe that calls for corn - and it almost as good as fresh summer corn when simply steamed and served with some butter, salt and pepper.  It is like summer in a bowl for sure!

One of my favorite and most surprising recipes for fresh or frozen sweet corn is Sweet Corn and Herbes De Provence Risotto, a recipe from chef Cat Cora that I found on the Food Network website.  There is something very soothing about the process of making risotto, even for a marginal cook such as myself.   Anyone can stir a pot, after all!  It can be made using either the chicken broth as in the recipe, or you can use vegetable stock or even plain water if you prefer.  It requires a handful of ingredients that are easy to keep on hand (or substitute with local versions--a dry NY white wine, a hard sheep's milk cheese from one of our awesome farmers) and is delicious with either fresh or frozen corn.  This dish is particularly wonderful with a side of a lightly steamed, bitter greens like Swiss chard, spinach, or beet greens, which really compliment the sweet "pop" of the corn and the flowery notes of the Herbes de Provence.  Leftovers also freeze well!

For many more tips and ideas for freezing your produce, see our earlier post on this very topic.

 

 
 

 

 
Continue reading
0 Comments

Don't (just) let your children grow up to be farmers.

It took me about a week to sit down to read the heavily-circulated New York Times Opinion piece by a Long Island farmer named Bren Smith, entitled "Don't Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers."  I read many social media reactions and thought about what that title could possibly mean.  Farmers and farm supporters were not across-the-board siding with or against the opinions in the piece, so I was glad when someone handed me an actual paper copy of the piece.  I could mark it up, and read it undistracted by the many tasks of my job as Chief of Letting Children Be Farmers (also known as Beginning Farmer Program Coordinator).  I had been occupied each day of the week planning educational opportunities so more farmers would learn to be strong business owners, and contacting leaders of the current new farmer community with information they'd requested to further strengthen their skills as meat, vegetable, medicinal herb and dairy farmers.  I was not sure what I'd end up writing, but I wanted to highlight a few points of the article from my perspective of working nearly 4 years on this singular goal of getting more people to be on the path towards farming success (as they define it).  I'm leaving it a little raw and unedited, so forgive the stream of consciousness.  This is merely a blog post, after all, not a letter to the editor (many have been written in the past week).

First, that title.  Oh, that title.  As a lover of words and debate, I love the title.  It sparks interest, engages the reader to read more, and is subject to interpretation.  I actually agree with one interpretation.  I say, of course we shouldn't let children grow up to be farmers.  We don't merely let a child become a doctor, a lawyer, an electrician, an astronaut or a senator.  We nurture them.  Thus, we should HELP our children LEARN to be farmers if we want to eat.  A farmer who came from a family of farmers did so through an intention by the family.  If I (and many of my colleagues in the farm-education world) had my way, each family would spend a decade training the next generation in farm business management and allow the next generation time to explore farming practices away from the family farm.  We call this "Farm Succession Planning" and there are organizations and training programs for farmers on this topic.  Transfer of assets can happen over the course of a year, or through a signed legal document, but it's generally agreed that there is indeed work to be done to keep family farms going, and that work is in transfer of management.  So, family farmers, don't just let your children take over your established farm.  Teach them, guide them, encourage them to reach their potential as your farm's next great leader and business owner.  Allow them to have major setbacks, absorb their costs of learning, and incubate them before the risk is entirely theirs.  The older generation can retire, and the younger can run the farm with a solid grounding in the history of the farm's management and decision-making process, but with a new perspective for modern marketing and methods as well.

Farming is a career choice, and a viable one.  It is no accident. The majority of the aspiring and beginning farmers I work with are not family farmers.  They want to farm, and have chosen it.  I believe we can call our farmers as trained and professional as anyone else with a prefix or a suffix.  Shouldn't we call them Farmer ____ as we'd call a priest Rev. _____?  Or, shouldn't they sign their names, Mr. _____, Farmer as we'd call someone Mr. _______, Esq?

Many come to farm after other careers, or after an education in a different field. and so they come to it intentionally, planning to farm for some reason.  More often than not, I hear that my generation (I'm 29, college-educated and a returned Peace Corps Volunteer) wants work that allows them to add value to the world around them.  They want to improve a situation for others and live simply but healthily, and see farming (as well as craftsmenship and culinary trades) as a means to those goals.  Who are we to stop this group?  I'll mention that we can't be stopped, so why not join in supporting us?  Some will farm for a long time and see success in those goals.  To help, we (meaning the world of farmers, family members, supporters, politicians and advocates) must not let them slide into farm business ownership or management casually, without acknowledgment, without helping them find an education in production, business, marketing and self-care.  We must give them the chance to dabble and experience farming by providing healthy, safe, respected and affordable options for practical and academic education.  There are excellent farms that teach their motivated employees more than just the daily tasks that must be accomplished; these training farms provide an immersive experience so that aspiring farmers learn to make decisions about production, purchases, marketing and labor management.  There are "incubator farms" sprouting up that allow new farmers the opportunity to test their production and marketing skills in a somewhat risk-protected environment; equipment may be shared, land is available, and the farmer can make sales, invest in smaller purchases that can be taken with them, and grow their earnings before moving to independent farm ownership.  There are countless farmers who educate new farmers over the phone, through online forums, through consultation services and through mentorship programs.  This is the right way for our community of farmers to grow.  No mentor is about to give an unrealistic perspective on the realities of farming.  They have told me, time and time again, they don't want the next generation to repeat mistakes.  They want farming to continue into the future.

[caption id="attachment_222" align="alignleft" width="660"]Farmer mentorship in the field. Farmer mentorship in the field.


We need more farms who don't let "children" (which I use to mean "aspiring farmers" to reflect on the article's title) grow up to become farmers.  We need more farms who enable children to learn to farm.  There can be more of these farms if we embrace the concept of training farmers in a professional manner.  Many of these "children" will decide farming is not their passion, as it is a hard and unpredictable life.  Given the right opportunity to test their interest, aspiring farmers can self-sort into the producers-for-life and the farm-supporters-for-life.  Increasingly, there are farm training programs which a family can encourage their high school senior to seek out and apply for.  The Sustainable Agriculture Education Association compiles a list of degree and non-degree programs that teach production and business, often rounding that degree out with an education in food justice or rural development issues and economics.  When the author of last week's article talks about organizations and supporters, who better to grease those wheels and get farmers' ideas moving than those who have tried out farming or who have studied it in a focused way?  I'll count myself in that group.  I hold a B.S. in Plant Sciences from Cornell University (I focused heavily on sustainable agriculture and rural development issues), I have farmed and may farm again one day.   For now I'm involved in helping many many aspiring and new farmers get the education they need.  I refuse to let them grow up to become farmers.  I will fight so that anyone who might become a successful life-long farmer knows exactly their career pathway to that end, and that they are neither discouraged by their community nor underprepared for the challenges ahead.

We must not look the other way, lest aspiring farmers be fooled into thinking that farming is not a serious career and a serious decision.  Worse yet, if organizations do not intervene, our promising aspiring farmers and children may fail to find the right education or support program (government or otherwise) to catalyze their success.  To this end, I was confused by Farmer Smith's words that farmers must start organizations to get what they want, and that their stories must be told.  Farmers must make use of organizations and support and tell them how more they can help.  These organizations are eligible for grants for which farmers are not eligible, in many cases.  They can do the work that can't be done by farmers who want to be in the fields, producing food and selling it and enjoying the lifestyle they have knowingly, willingly, eagerly entered.  There are organizations, from the National Young Farmers' Coalition to The Greenhorns to Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) to the one I work for, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY) that are there to help farmers find their community, to organize, and to come out a step ahead.  National Young Farmers' Coalition runs an excellent blog, called Bootstrap, which follows several young farmers per year on their journey.  Those are real stories.  The Greenhorns is involved in everything from storytelling to compiling best practices into fresh, readable and useful literature on topics such as cooperative farming models to land access success stories.  These organizations regularly and reliably connect with farmers to enact policy change.  NOFA-NY also lobbies and supports policy that affects farmers.  Based on members' positions, we take on a few policy initiatives each year, inviting all in our community to participate in political action on legislation that affects small-scale organic and sustainable farmers.  Moreover, we organize on-the-ground education and networking opportunities for farmers on topics ranging from organic fruit pest control to scaling up equipment to meet the farm's ultimate vision for size and sales.  Research organizations like SARE provide grants for farmers to try innovative practices and guide research with university personnel, and share their findings with their community.  This research often has a bottom-line-assessment component, asking questions such as whether a certain labor-intensive practice impacts volume of production enough to change the farm's profit/loss numbers for the better.

[caption id="attachment_223" align="alignleft" width="660"]Farmers teaching each other, in community, about business practices. Farmers teaching each other, in community, about business practices.


Reflecting back on the whole article (as I've mostly just reflected on the title and a few points that really struck me), I see that the abrasive title doesn't exactly match the content of the piece.  It catches the attention, but when I read on, Farmer Smith and I certainly agree that more must be done to help farmers find success, especially when it comes to sales, marketing and policy.  I think the title of the article might be better with a few more words.  "Don't Just Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers: Find a Way to Help Them!"

Further Reading (Farmer Blogs):

Jenna of Cold Antler Farm reacts to "Don't Let..."

Letters to the Editor in response to "Don't Let..."
Continue reading
0 Comments

Wondering How to Avoid Food Containing GMOs? Read on...

[caption id="attachment_103" align="alignleft" width="225"]Frederick wheat GMO-free Organic Wheat


Genetically engineered (GMO) ingredients are found in much of the processed and conventionally grown foods available to us today.   Currently there is no requirement for food to be labeled if it contains GMO ingredients, making it challenging for people who prefer to avoid eating foods containing GMOs.  While the movement to require labeling of GMO foods is gaining steam across the country and in New York State, many people are wondering today how they can avoid GMO foods.  While we continue to fight for your right to know what is in your food, here are some quick and easy steps that you can take if you would like to avoid GMO foods when possible.

Buy certified organic. USDA Certified Organic foods may not utilize any GMO ingredients. This means certified organic beef, chicken and hogs may only be fed GMO-free feed.   Certified organic fruits, vegetables, and grains must be grown from GMO-free seed.  While some certified organic producers have taken the extra step to have their products also labeled as GMO-free, the fact is that ALL certified organic products are GMO-free – even those not specifically labeled as such.  When buying non-organic foods, look for products that are specifically labeled as non-GMO or GMO-free.

Shop local.   Get you know your local farmers at your farmers markets or through a CSA. You can ask your local farmers about their practices and often you can even arrange a farm visit so you know where your food is coming from and how it is produced.  When you buy your food locally and avoid processed foods, you can control the ingredients and know what you are eating!

Know your GMOs! When purchasing non-organic and processed foods, be aware of the top GMO crops and GMO ingredients:

  • Canola or rapeseed oil

  • Corn - including high fructose corn syrup

  • Cottonseed oil

  • Soybeans – including soy lecithin and soy additives

  • Sugar beets – which may appear simply as sugar


While there is currently no requirement for foods containing GMOs to be labeled as such, a groundswell of energy to label GMO foods is underway across the country, and you can help make this happen.

In NYS, a coalition that includes GMOFree NY, NOFA-NY, Food and Water Watch, Hunger Action, Consumers Union, NYPIRG, Natural Resources Defense Council, Catskill Mountaineer, Fire Dog Lake, Good Boy Organics, Green Party of New York, the Brooklyn Food Coalition and the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter is campaigning for a  rewritten state labeling law – A 3525 - S 3835. This bill will require that all genetically engineered food offered for retail sale in New York be labeled as such.

While A 3525/S3835 did not pass in 2014, we did get it through several committees in both houses.  So far, there are 70 sponsors in the Assembly and 17 in the Senate.   Please call your representatives and ask them to become sponsors for A 3525/S3835. Let’s push hard for the 2015 session so that NY can join Connecticut, Maine and Vermont in passing GE labeling. Then GE labeling for the whole country will be next!

For more information, links to your legislators and the latest action alerts see the NOFA-NY website www.nofany.org and https://www.facebook.com/GMOFreeNYnet

 

 
Continue reading
0 Comments

Frozen Foods for when the Ground is Frozen

It's now-or-never season. That is, it's now or never (this year) that you can buy an abundance of the freshest, most flavorful summer foods and store them for the long term. Sure, canning and pickling projects are worthwhile endeavors, but here we offer some freezer alternatives. Grab a permanent marker, some thick plastic bags and stackable containers, clear out some freezer space, and enjoy this roundup of freezable sauces and prepped meal components.

Chopped vegetables and fruits: How to Avoid Ice Blocks and Make Cooking from Frozen Easier

Many vegetables and nearly all fruits can be frozen simply, and mimic what we are used to finding in the frozen foods sections of a grocery store.  Since most home cooks don't have access to technology for individual quick freezing (which is what creates the grocery store frozen peas, etc.), you'll need the following technique to get better quality and to avoid a solid frozen block that would be hard to cook with.  It's recommended that you spread a layer of the cleaned, dried and sliced/chopped/shredded vegetables on baking sheets (hopefully ones with rims).  When sufficiently frozen, transfer the vegetables to labeled plastic freezer bags, bang them around a bit to loosen the stuck-together pieces, and squeeze out the air before freezing and sealing.  Shredded veggies (like zucchini and carrots) can be pre-measured and packed into muffin tins.  Once you have frozen pucks of shredded veggies, you can freeze them in bags.  Make your life easier by writing how many cups make up each zucchini puck.

freezing abundance

Some vegetables do better in the freezer after being blanched.  Blanching is the process of quickly boiling (3 minutes on average) and then chilling vegetables in an ice bath.  This will help them keep their color and texture better than if they were just frozen from fresh.  This is especially necessary with spinach and other leafy greens.  Leafy greens can be frozen in smaller portions by placing "nests" of blanched greens on baking sheets, or in muffin tins, before freezing.

[caption id="attachment_201" align="aligncenter" width="676"]Nests of blanched beet greens await their turn in the freezer. Nests of blanched beet greens await their turn in the freezer.


A lengthy guide to freezing and blanching can be found at Mother Earth Living online.

The Next Level: Freeze in Natural Combinations

Prepare in the same individually-frozen technique, but using multiple vegetables that you'd likely use together or in a particular way in recipes.

  • Classic mirepoix (because how often can you get local celery, onions and carrots at once?)

  • Cajun-creole holy trinity

  • Stir-fry or saute mix: just visit the frozen-foods aisle in the grocery store for inspiration!


Condiments are great candidates for freezing, and ice cube trays are a nice size mold for freezing your preparations.  Once frozen, release from the ice cube trays and package in labeled freezer bags.

herb cubes the kitchn

Tomatoes and tomatillos hold up nicely to the freezer, though they'll exude some water after defrosting.  No reason not to stow away some bruschetta topping, salsa verde, or pico de gallo with hot peppers, herbs, onions, garlic and tomatoes from right now!

Cook-the-Glut Technique: This takes your preparations a step further than blanching, but is not as much a commitment as frozen meals and recipes.  Think about how you're likely to want to incorporate the vegetable in question at a later date.  Would you be excited to have pre-grilled slabs of eggplant and zucchini to easily layer into casseroles, or to chop up and reheat as a stew this winter?  Prepare your vegetables in bulk in these simple ways, then let them cool, and finally freeze as instructed above (single layers on baking sheets).  This works particularly well with large pieces of sweet peppers, whole hot peppers, chunks or slices of onions, garlic (squeeze out of its casing once roasted and store in a small bag or airtight container), slabs or chunks of eggplant, slabs or chunks of zucchini (drain some of the excess water after cooking), whole tomatoes (your choice whether to drain) and tomatillos.

  • Oil-salt-and-pepper coated, then roasted or grilled

  • Herb-and-garlic marinated, then roasted or grilled

  • Soy-sauce-and-garlic marinated, then roasted or grilled


[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="487"] Roasted Tomatoes (click for some time travel)


Purees and Liquids:  A smart, space-saving way to store liquid items like sauces, soups, fruit purees and more is to pour them into freezer bags and lay the bags flat (use any freezer-safe pan or plate to create a flat surface) until frozen.  Then you can stack them vertically or horizontally.  Check out this post from The Kitchn for some freezer organization inspiration.

  • Fruit purees

  • Winter squash and sweet potato (cooked) purees

  • Roasted (better yet, fire-roasted and smoky) eggplant, smashed

  • Roasted garlic, squeezed out and smashed

  • Big batches of summer soup

  • Tomato puree (raw)

  • Tomato sauces (marinara and its friends)

Continue reading
0 Comments

Be Prepared for Late Blight (and other Leaf Disease!)

Our Fruit and Vegetable Coordinator, Maryellen Sheehan, shares very timely information about late blight, a serious disease affecting tomatoes and potatoes.  Gardeners and farmers alike should be careful to scout for and properly dispose of the infected plants.

These past few cool, wet weeks were unfortunately quite conducive to a host of foliar diseases. Keep an extra eye on your tomatoes and potatoes for signs of late blight in particular, which has been confirmed in parts of western, central and eastern NY, Long Island, and central PA.  A national map of confirmed late blight cases (and sample submission protocol) can be found at: http://www.usablight.org/map.

Late blight spores are airborne and move quickly. We generally see lesions on middle and upper level leaves, but key signs are when the moist looking, gray-brown lesions form on the plant stems and leaflets. On potatoes, the lesions can almost look greasy. Identification and scouting help can be found in E-Organic’s scouting video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCzIFVfyNow and NYSIPM’s video to help separate late blight from all of its imitators (this is also a bad year for early blight and other leaf funk): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aA4PuEKaQpY

[caption id="attachment_187" align="aligncenter" width="676"]Images courtesy of Meg McGrath and the Long Island Horticultural Information & Research Center Images courtesy of Meg McGrath and the Long Island Horticultural Information & Research Center


If you find suspected late blight on your farm, please report it immediately to your Cornell Cooperative Extension Vegetable specialist (or through www.usablight.org) and find out how to send in a sample (it’s important to have these samples to see which race of blight is spreading this year).

The late blight pathogen comes on so fast, by the time it is found in a planting, it is often too late to save the crop. Preventative management, including pruning, wide plant spacing, trellising, and preventative sprays, is key to blight management. If you scout daily, catch an infection early, and have a lightly affected planting with good airflow and trellising, it might be possible to try and save the plants by starting off just removing any affected tissue and beginning a fungicide program immediately (remember to check with your organic certifier before using any products!). However, a widespread infection on heavy, lush plant growth will likely not be controllable. Late blight spores spread disease rapidly, so removing infected plants quickly helps prevent infection spread to neighboring plants (and your farming neighbors).

Additional late blight management articles can be found at:

http://www.mofga.org/Publications/MaineOrganicFarmerGardener/Spring2010/LateBlight/tabid/1555/Default.aspx
http://lateblight.nysipm.cornell.edu/
http://vegetablemdonline.ppath.cornell.edu/PhotoPages/Spin/Tom_Spin.html
http://lateblight.nysipm.cornell.edu/files/2011/08/Pot_LB_OrganicMgt10.pdf
http://www.longislandhort.cornell.edu/vegpath/photos/lateblight_tomato.htm
Continue reading
0 Comments

Fields of Greens at Remembrance Farms

There is nothing quite like the late afternoon light on a summer day in the Finger Lakes.  As I pulled up the gravel road to Remembrance Farms in Trumansburg, New York, even the dust kicked up from my tires seemed to shimmer.   This was my first visit to a certified biodynamic farm and I was curious and excited to learn more about this unique way of farming.

[caption id="attachment_179" align="alignleft" width="225"]A fellow farmer taking notes in the fields of greens A fellow farmer taking notes in the fields of greens


Remembrance Farm offered a fascinating view of how the philosophy behind biodynamic farming turns into something we can see, touch, and taste.  As we followed farmer Nathaniel Thompson down the farm path, the fields of greens rolled out in waves ahead of us, all in various states of maturity depending on when they were planted.  The Golden Cornet hens squawked and ran and the geese honked a warning from their pasture as we walked by.  A row of mustard trials waved their yellow flowers in the breeze, and on the other side of the hedge row, varieties of onions and other root crops stood their ground despite the recent downpours.

Remembrance Farm is the only Demeter-certified Biodynamic farm in the Finger Lakes region, where Nathaniel and his wife Emily specialize in baby salad greens and stored root crops for wholesale markets throughout New York State and a collaborative CSA in the Ithaca area, the Full Plate Farm Collective.   Grains are used on-farm to feed the laying flock, and the eggs are sold to primarily to CSA members.

As the crowd gathered, Nathaniel gave us a brief overview of the history and philosophy of biodynamic farming.   Biodynamic agriculture is a holistic method of farming which emphasizes sensitivity to subtle processes in Nature, with the goal of producing food that truly nourishes the body and spirit. While the fundamental principles of present day organic farming (the exclusion of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers in crop production) are included in biodynamic agriculture (and to be certified biodynamic one must first be certified organic according to NOP standards), its breadth and depth extend beyond the technical definition of organic farming.  A biodynamic farm is understood to be a living, breathing organism, so farming practices strive to balance the overall health of the farm in order to produce the very highest quality food.  The role of the farmer in biodynamic farming is to understand and nurture, in very intentional way, the health of the farming organism.

On the farm something was always being planted, germinated, growing, and harvested.  Nathaniel explained and showed how through trial and experimentation he used biodynamic principles to learn what worked best on this particular farm.  In some cases he was partnering with other farmers, such as Fruition Seeds located outside of Naples, to discover which plant varieties had the best germination and production levels in the unique climate of Upstate New York.  Certainly the winter of 2014 helped all of us discover truly winter hardy varieties!

[caption id="attachment_180" align="alignright" width="225"]The mustard trials The mustard trials


Nathaniel also showed how organic and biodynamic farming can also be quite mechanized and efficient in its production. Nathaniel has invested heavily in buildings and equipment and pays close attention to cleanliness and safety in his salad green packing area.

Remembrance Farm was an amazing combination of beautiful, practical, and mystical. As we closed the day and the evening light turned gold, I felt the experience could not really be described fully in the two hours I spent there. For more information, you can check out their website at www.remembrancefarm.org.
Continue reading
0 Comments

Learning from Expert Host Farmers

Our Beginning Farmer Program is always a little tough for me to explain to people.  I've created an extensive set of inter-linked pages back at the NOFA-NY website, to which I'm happy to direct anyone who's seated at a computer, but it still doesn't quite tell the underlying story about what it is I do!  Nope, NOFA-NY doesn't run a training farm for beginning (or experienced farmers), but we do provide a suite of support services and programs that help beginners (and experienced and transitioning-to-Organic farmers) get the information, experience and boost they need to continue in their farming careers.   Just as importantly, we provide resources for experienced farmers, often simply lifting up the best practices that farmers have developed for training beginning farmers, so that more farmers will be skillful and encouraging trainers to the up-and-coming set of aspiring farmers.  Better trainers will mean better-equipped and more beginning farmers!

For the past nearly 4 years, NOFA-NY has been a part of a project with 6 other Northeast states (5 other NOFA state chapters and MOFGA in Maine) to develop several distinct programs or services, all within a broader "Beginning Farmer Program."  We rely on farmers' expertise and experiences to develop broadly-applicable and useful information for beginning farmers.  Sometimes they teach workshops for other host farmers, and sometimes they teach directly to beginning farmers.  Recently, they were teaching me and my interstate colleagues!

farm tour panorama

We went on a daylong learning retreat to discover and be inspired by the on-farm training practices of some of our region's respected host farmers.  Sure, there are legal issues regarding on-farm labor that each NOFA provides resources and trainings about (the laws vary by state), but the core design and intention of any on-farm training program is critical to successfully train new farmers.  It must be fulfilling to both host and aspiring farmer, and increase the aspiring farmer's preparedness to take a next step in farming without dropping the productivity of the farm to an unsustainable level.  Not easy, but not impossible.

We visited Indian Line Farm, Caretaker Farm and Cricket Creek Farm, all in the Western Massachusetts region.  Elizabeth (Indian Line) and Don (Caretaker) both have nearly a decade of training aspiring farmers on their farms.  Suzy (Cricket Creek Farm) is newer to that role, though has developed an excellent structure that works for the less-experienced host farmers among us (more structure is better in that situation, to establish clear chains of command).  They shared specific details about how they assign the work on their farm (good lessons whether or not a farm is trying to train the next generation of farmers) but also about how they discern and decide about aspiring farmers to bring on to the farm.  Some best practices I noted, which are generally good practices for having anyone working on your farm.

Clear, central, visible task lists accompanied by permanent guidelines for tasks.  The guidelines (or Standard Operating Procedures) are taught, but all workers can refer back to them in the central location.  So while apprentices may be harvesting or weeding for the first time, they have a standard to refer to, lessening the likelihood for mistakes that can be avoided.

[caption id="attachment_173" align="aligncenter" width="302"]Chore list bulletin board and Elizabeth Keen Elizabeth Keen of Indian Line Farm shows off the task board, complete with instructions and the Chore board (each apprentice plus Elizabeth rotates between being responsible for the big 4 areas: Watering, Driving the Truck (and managing the greens, just because those tasks seem to go together), Unloading, and Spraying/Nutrient Management.


Captains/leaders rotate through roles.  This helps the farm run smoothly and forces each apprentice or worker to think about all the little things that need to happen under their watch.  The crew becomes invested as they are accountable, but the manager/lead farmer is never so removed that the tasks can't be explained until the crew is comfortable.

[caption id="attachment_174" align="aligncenter" width="405"]Don in apprentice book library Don Zasada at the Caretaker Farm lending library.


A priority and emphasis on learning aside from daily tasks.  All farms we visited were members of a CRAFT group, so the apprentices are provided with a schedule of farm tours on other farms.  It's a chance to make a group of apprentice friends, get off the farm, and learn new ideas and methods by seeing the way other farms do what they do.  This particular CRAFT group enforces a "no penalty for going on CRAFT farm visits" policy.  The farmers explained that it is good for the morale of the apprentices, gets them excited to think about problem-solving on the farm, and helps lessen the load to teach everything or represent more farming methods than the farm actually employs.  A lending library and apprentice-captained research or building projects allow apprentices to dig even deeper.

Scheduled Checking In and Communication.  Each farm does this differently, but each farm we visited did one thing the same: they scheduled communication meetings to talk about the way things were going for education goals, for farming production goals, and for interpersonal issues.  At Caretaker Farm, each meeting takes a slightly different structure so feedback is given all around, in a way that makes sense for that point in the season.

Whole-Farm Perspective.  Farmers give the apprentices on-farm "workshops" or learning opportunities to talk about the business aspects of farming; everything from keeping good records to calculating budgets and financial statements.  Apprentices must learn these skills to know how they would manage a farm for themselves.  Regular farm walks and discussions allow apprentices and workers to understand the flow of all the aspects of the farm, especially as they begin to specialize in one area or a different area is less visited during the season.

Caretaker farm panorama1
Continue reading
0 Comments

A Chef, a Famer and a Child Transform a Field at Katchkie Farm and the Sylvia Center

[caption id="attachment_161" align="alignleft" width="225"]Flowering Bok Choy at Katchkie Farm Flowering Bok Choy at Katchkie Farm


Inspiring was the first word that entered my mind as I drove into Katchkie Farm in Kinderhook, NY.  What had been a tangled mess of scrub brush, weeds, and rocks just 7 years ago had been transformed to a vibrant, year round organic farm certified by NOFA-NY Certified Organic LLC.  As I pulled in the drive and stepped out to meet my guide, Julie Cerny, my eyes quickly feasted on the rows of vegetables and flowers, brimming greenhouse, and the bordering woodland preserve.  Julie explained to me that the transformation was made possible by the imagination of chef Liz Neumark, owner of the catering company Great Performances, the vision of farm manager Bob Walker, and the lively energy of children and young adults participating in the on-site Sylvia Center.

Katchkie Farm is dedicated to building connections between food professionals, families, and healthy delicious local food. Katchkie prides itself in holistic stewardship of the land and its bounty, celebrating local flavors, and through its partnership with the Sylvia Center, inspiring children to eat well.

Katchkie supplies Great Performances with fresh produce for special events, as well as farmer’s markets and Great Performance’s cafes.  This focus on farm to restaurant meant a few pleasant surprises for me. I was treated to the taste of my first summer tomato from the high tunnel, a sample of an unbelievably sweet strawberry from a field – and perhaps my favorite, a nibble of a flower from a bok choy that had been let go specifically for the purpose of providing edible flowers for salads.  They are a lovely yellow and taste like a brassica.  Katchkie also supplies an 800 member CSA.

Katchkie Farm also hosts the Sylvia Center, which is a non-profit organization that works with over 1000 youth and their families each year.  Through its garden-to-table program, the Sylvia Center inspires young people to discover good nutrition on the farm and in the kitchen.  Julie toured me around the rainbow shaped garden, where children and young adults are able to taste fresh food right out of the garden and learn to plant, tend, harvest and cook food for their own fresh meals.  A popular spot is the amazing wood-fired pizza oven, designed in the French style and impressively stationed in the nearby gazebo overlooking a pond and meadows.  I had to stop and admire the flowering bee garden that made up part of the rainbow.

[caption id="attachment_162" align="alignright" width="225"]Pizza oven at the Sylvia Center Pizza oven at the Sylvia Center


At the end of my visit, Julie helpfully gave me a copy of a calendar with tips on eating locally grown food year round.  For more information about Katchkie Farm and the Sylvia Center, you can check out their website at www.katchkiefarm.com.
Continue reading
0 Comments

The Backyard Party a la Locavore

Sarah, our Membership and Development Coordinator shares her family's outdoor cooking experiences and adventures in smoked meats with us, in honor of the upcoming July 4th holiday (plus the entire rest of the summer and fall when we like to cook outdoors)

If you’re looking for noteworthy meat dishes or a satisfying food hobby, try smoking your meat! My husband started smoking meats last July for our daughter’s birthday party.  Here’s what we’ve learned since then.

[caption id="attachment_145" align="aligncenter" width="676"]Beef Brisket and Pork Butt Beef brisket and pork butt. The brisket was smothered with mustard and rubbed with brown sugar, chili flakes and powder, garlic and onion powder, paprika, pepper and salt. The pork was soaked in orange juice overnight with whole allspice, cloves and star anise and then rubbed with the same seasoning as the brisket. Smoked with apple wood at 180 – 200 degrees until reached temperature, about 20 hours for the brisket and 18 hours for the pork.


Buy Organic: Like any food, the quality of your meat starting from the source really matters! My husband and I have noticed that the texture of organic meat is far superior to non-organic meat, and requires less seasoning, if any, to be tasty.

Buy Local: Locally sourced meat is the way to go if you’re looking for freshness and to potentially save your pocket book. There are many ways to source your meat locally. We asked our local butchers if they were able to source local, organic food. If yours doesn’t offer an organic selection, their local selection will likely still be fresher and cheaper than meat at a grocery store. We also shopped around the markets, often finding that we liked different types and cuts from various farms. The price of meat at a farmers’ market may not always be the cheapest option, but we have found that it can sometimes be well worth the extra expense! In these cases, you could always ask the farmer if you can buy larger portions for a better price per pound.

Evaluate the Cut: The cut of your meat matters too! Brisket, for example, should flex easily when bent in half by hand and tastes best when it has a thick layer of fat on top, and well distributed marbling in a pork cut is ideal for pulled pork. Before you select your meat, do some research as to what the ideal characteristics are for your cuts of meat. There is no need to reinvent the wheel on this one.

[caption id="attachment_144" align="aligncenter" width="526"]Smoked trout caught by a neighbor from Lake Ontario. Salted overnight, lightly seasoned with dill, garlic granules, lemon slices rosemary and pepper. Smoked with apple wood at 180 degrees for 2 – 3 hours. This trout was caught by a neighbor from Lake Ontario. We salted it overnight, lightly seasoned with dill, garlic granules, lemon slices rosemary and pepper. After this picture was captured, we smoked the fish with apple wood at 180 degrees for 2 – 3 hours.


Pair your Wood: Typically, hickory and mesquite wood is used to smoke beef, while fruit woods offer a milder flavor for fish, poultry and pork. However, pair your meat and wood to your taste buds. I personally like the fruit woods best for all the meats we use, and we often get this wood from local farms.

Share the Goods: My husband usually cooks very large amounts of meat, but gives most of it away. We found sharing delicious food gets people talking about food, which inspires more delicious food. It has also sparked new and strengthened standing relationships within our community. He even brings his smoked meat back to the butcher to taste, and it’s never a bad idea to butter up your butcher.

And to add to all that goodness, we wanted to give you some extra options for locavore ideas during your outdoor cooking and eating adventures:

Once again, Kaela at Local Kitchen Blog is a source for grilled (meat) recipes and techniques suitable for the locavore cook--from 100% local ingredients to highlighting local meat with great sauces and marinades involving extra ingredients from farther off.

The veggies are amazing this time of year--here are locavore tips for making salad great.  If you're making a grain-based salad, that's an excellent choice for a vegetarian--include a cooked grain and a cooked bean and it's a very nutritious, filling locavore choice.  Try to use an actually-local grain (quinoa and rice are really only grown on an experimental scale at the moment in New York): farro, spelt berries, freekeh, wheat berries are all great choices that are often found locally-grown from farmers or at natural foods stores.  Grilled vegetables also go great on top of salad--no need to keep things 100% raw!

[caption id="attachment_141" align="aligncenter" width="676"]This summer locavore salad includes roasted tomatoes, sweet corn, kale, peppers, cabbage, zucchni, green beans, carrots.  Lettuce-less salads hold up very well over longer times, and can be prepared ahead. This summer locavore salad includes roasted tomatoes, sweet corn, kale, peppers, cabbage, zucchni, green beans, carrots. Lettuce-less salads hold up very well over longer times, and can be prepared ahead.


[caption id="attachment_142" align="aligncenter" width="676"]Farro atop greens, with some other veggies. Farro atop greens, with some other veggies.


Cold soups, when not too thick and nicely pureed, can be served in teacups, juice glasses, etc. to be made more hand-held than you'd normally think of for soups:

Marcus Samuelsson's Lemon-Scented Summer Squash Soup would be perfect in this situation, and as we're not yet tired of summer squash in early July.  If you find lemon balm or lemon basil from farm-fresh sources, you'll be able to eliminate the need for non-local lemons in this recipe; just include a bit of that herb, chopped up, along with the standard basil it calls for.  Need to simplify?  Eliminate the cooked-flour roux step and you'll have a less thick soup, and have spent less time with hot cooking.


Classic Tomato-based cold soups start off with the best tomatoes you can find (local and in-season only, please, as you need that amount of juiciness and flavor that far-traveled tomatoes don't have), whizzed in a blender, food processor or even crushed by hand.  Throw in some raw garlic, onion, peppers and herbs for a simple choice, or soak some old bread in the tomatoes' juice before pureeing for a thicker soup.  Cucumbers are not at all bad in this soup, either.


While we could once again expound the fact that butter, dairy and flour are all available locally, therefore cakes and cookies and pies are inherently locavore-ready, make the sweet side of your party or picnic even simpler and oven-free:

A chilled bowl of cut-up local fruits drizzled with a little local honey, will be amazing on a hot day.


You can even grill your fruit:  

Clean and dehull strawberries and skewer them, grill over the low heat and watch carefully.  They're "done" whenever you want them to be, probably not more than a few minutes will cause them to release their juices.  Just don't let them melt into the fire!


Make a foil "tray" and place cleaned berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries) and sliced rhubarb in a single layer.  Add a little sugar and about a tablespoon of butter.  Place flat on the grill and allow the berries to get juicy and cooked.  This makes a great topping for cakes, yogurt and ice cream.


Halves and slices of peaches, nectarines and melons will be great grilled once they come into season.


In the fall, try grilled apples and pears, sprinkled with cinnamon once they've been taken off the grill (burnt cinnamon isn't a great flavor).




[caption id="attachment_147" align="aligncenter" width="500"]grilled-peaches For something more advanced and decadent, Sarah recommends: Mix a stick of softened butter, 1 tsp cinnamon, 2 tbsp sugar and a pinch of salt together in a bowl. Cut 6 peaches in half and remove the pits. Baste the flat surface of the peaches with oil and place them flat side down onto the grill. Grill until golden brown and top with your butter mixture. Garnish with mint. If you use salted butter, you can skip the pinch of salt.


Need to keep your foods chilled?  No worries, do what farmers do at market: chill from below with a few packs of ice wrapped in towels underneath the bowl.  Be food-safe by changing the ice packs when needed.

Working with such nice ingredients and feeding large crowds means you should brush up on best practices for food safety working with raw meats.  Here are detailed (and perhaps extreme) guidelines from the FDA.

 

 
Continue reading
0 Comments

A Three-Journeyperson-Farm Bonanza!

Last week, I found myself walking fields with some very awesome, very smart, very hard-working new farmers.  I was in the Hudson Valley, where we have a "cluster" of Journeyperson farmers thanks to some generous funding from the New World Foundation's Local Economies Project.  There was an added effect I hadn't anticipated, visiting three farms in close succession: I could see a few recurring themes (similar to what I talked about with Ben and Courtney a few weeks back) like the challenge of keeping good notes and records, like feeling limited by equipment, of wondering how to farm and recoup investments, of having enough income to save for bigger ideas and scaling-up infrastructure, of distributing food effectively to those who want it, etc.  Of course there are a lot of common positives, that the farmers are finding solid guidance with very proactive and hands-on mentors, that they are indeed producing lots of good food, they are indeed finding eaters to purchase their food, and they are all finding joy in the daily success, despite the uncertainties.  I thought I'd share a little about what each are up to:

Peter Harrington, Ten Barn Farm in Ghent, NY

Peter's growing a lot of food--that was my first big takeaway!  I of course was happy to see and munch on my first peas of the season (my odd travel schedule had me miss a few farmers' markets at home), but could sense that Peter is producing much more food than he's able to move at his current markets and through his small CSA membership.  He's learning (that's the point, to accompany these farmers in their learning process) about how to spread the word to more likely buyers, and is finding out how to be flexible with late sign-ups.  While the initial boost of income before a season helps the farmer make investments, a farmer like Peter might plant a good deal extra to protect against crop failure--that means that when things are going well or if not enough people signed up before he made a decision about how much to plant, he's got an amazing, unsold harvest!  Though Peter sells at nearby farmers' markets, casual purchases are note the same kind of security as the support of a CSA.  I promised I'd remind our readers that you can definitely still help him earn back his investment in materials and labor by signing up for his CSA, late!  I reminded Peter that he should be flexible with the commitments, enough to give people a sense of CSA, but he shouldn't let the logistics of prorated/short-term membership detract from his actual farming.  So, the lesson is that he must keep good notes about planting, harvest, distribution and customer accounts and be firm in his limits with sales options.

[caption id="attachment_113" align="aligncenter" width="300"]What a perfect head of lettuce! What a perfect head of lettuce!


[caption id="attachment_114" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Peter's mom milks goats and makes cheese, so of course we stopped in and said hello to "the kids." Peter's mom milks goats and makes cheese, so of course we stopped in and said hello to "the kids."


[caption id="attachment_115" align="aligncenter" width="225"]Kohlrabi, already. Kohlrabi, already.


[caption id="attachment_116" align="aligncenter" width="225"]What a dreamy fence. What a dreamy fence.


[caption id="attachment_117" align="aligncenter" width="225"]Peter has extra-long beds of vibrant vegetables! Peter has extra-long beds of vibrant vegetables!


Jalal Sabur, Sweet Freedom Farm

Jalal draws connections between growing food, youth empowerment and a better life for many more people than you'd think could be reached by the action of one farmer.  Food that Jalal grows is added to other local farmers' vegetables, eggs and fruit in a box that a person can purchase.  The big bonus?  Someone purchasing this box is part of the Victory Bus Ride CSA, which includes a ride from New York City to upstate correctional facilities.  The price is less than other prison bus services, and it builds a community around healthy food and healthy lifestyles.  Beyond his farm fence, Jalal works with youth at River City Gardens in Hudson specifically as a food system educator via Roots & Rebels.  The focus of my visit with Jalal was hearing how these all combine into a unified vision (he's still hammering out his "elevator pitch"), which he can market and gain support for.  He explained some deep connections between the abolitionist movement and maple syrup (maple producers historically rejected slave labor), which is just one example of what he brings to the surface for youth, adults, and anyone who has a conversation about the food system with this great beginning farmer.  Jalal has no equipment, which has made doing all this work especially challenging.  Thankfully, many of nearby farming community friends and all the people he helps out are pitching in as they can.  I hope you would also read more about this important work and see how you might be able to learn, get involved, and actively support farmer-led food justice projects.

[caption id="attachment_120" align="aligncenter" width="225"]Michelle and Jalal hard at work weeding. Michelle, Jalal's mentor, and Jalal hard at work weeding.


[caption id="attachment_121" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Jalal was proud to tell me he'd built this greenhouse on a shoestring, following a NOFA-NY Winter Conference workshop on that topic. Jalal was proud to tell me he'd built this greenhouse on a shoestring, following a NOFA-NY Winter Conference workshop on that topic.


[caption id="attachment_122" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Michelle, Jalal's mentor, regularly visits to help with production and marketing/promotion of the farm. Michelle regularly visits to help with production and marketing/promotion of the farm.


John Agostinho, Fatstock Farm

This world of cute/funny farm animal videos (a world I'm happy to live in) hasn't completely ruined my sense of wonder at watching a livestock farmer in action.  John has a relationship with all the animals on his small multi-species farm.  The sheep herd is one he's slowly earning equity in: the first year he had the flock he made 1/3 of the investments, earned 1/3 of the income from the meat sales, and owns 1/3 of the remaining flock.  This year, he's a 2/3 investor-owner, and next year, the flock is entirely his.  This is a simliar arrangement to what is called "sharemilking" and is very useful to transfer livestock and dairy farms to new hands--animals and good genetics are very expensive, so this allows a beginning farmer with the right knowledge and experience to get started much faster, with less initial investment.  John also has lots of experience with pigs, and I was introduced to some very happy, very chatty (yes, chatty) pigs, including one about to give birth (I didn't get to stay for that part of the day, though).  Again, this farmer is thinking every day about how to best market his product; with meat, there is the added question of humane, USDA-inspected and accessible slaughter and processing facilities.  John sells via a CSA model in conjunction with two farms that distribute in Queens, which helps reduce some of the logistical stress because he knows exactly what is sold, how many animals to process, and how it's going to reach customers.  Still, he is bound by regulations and the availability of infrastructure.  This is a huge issue in the organic community at large, and is an acknowledged roadblock to success for small-scale organic meat farmers.  Once the animal goes to slaughter, the farmer loses their control, so they must trust the facility and its practices.  The type of slaughter facility, and subsequent processing facilities, determines how the farmer can sell their meat.  If you're interested in some simple, complete definitions about livestock slaughter facilities, I'll direct you to the Cornell Small Farms slaughterhouse map.  So, back to John at Fatstock Farm.  I saw how John is attentive to the sheep in the field, plus got to watch Ella the sheepherding dog do what she is clearly always interested in doing--herd sheep!  One got away, all the way back to the house, which was pretty funny to watch.  Seemed like she wanted to hang out in the barn with her friends--John's been keeping small groups in the barn on rotation so he can monitor and treat a hoof concern.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/Iil9wSQxgIQ]

[caption id="attachment_124" align="aligncenter" width="300"]John Agostino and a soon-to-be proud pig mama. John Agostinho and a soon-to-be proud pig mama.


[caption id="attachment_125" align="aligncenter" width="300"]The sheep that made its escape. The sheep that made its escape.


[caption id="attachment_126" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Boars definitely smile. Boars definitely smile.


 

NOTE: The NOFA-NY Journeyperson Program is part of a multi-state project to support farmers in their first few years of independent farming, modeled off a highly successful program piloted by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA).  We take on a few farmers per year for this program, and the applications open in the fall.  Read more at www.nofany.org/jp!
Continue reading
0 Comments

Bread, from Wheat Field to Millstone to Our Bellies

Group behind wheat and weeds3
Last Wednesday, we had a farmer-education event* all about growing grains that are good enough quality for milling into flour for human food.  This is the holy grail of grain-growing, and an important topic for newer grain growers.  Elizabeth Dyck from OGRIN (an excellent, thorough teacher) joined farmer Ashley Loehr at her Sparrowbush Farm on a clear, sunny day in Hudson, NY.  Our own Robert Perry, Grain and Field Crops Coordinator, joined in the processing discussion, showing the components of our mobile grain processing unit that small-scale growers can use.  (The unit is currently parked in the Hudson Valley to support the network of small-scale grain growers involved in our Value-Added Grains Project).

Over 25 farmers (and a few bakers and extension agents) attended to learn about the impacts on quality that various factors can have.  We learned about wheat and grain varieties, crop management, weather, disease as they relate to the milling quality.  For instance, a weedy field means that grains are harder to harvest and mill because the weeds clog the equipment, or weed seeds "contaminate" the pure grain.  Planting dates, weather, cover-cropping practices and mechanical tillage all impact weed pressure--so, a farmer can be doing plenty of the right things and still find themselves with a weedy wheat field.

Grains are scored for quality by a processing facility, but a grower will have a sense of the grain's final destination (human food/milling, distilling, animal feed) based on:

  • The amount of weed pressure observed in the field: weeds can be separated out, but through extra processing and care;

    [caption id="attachment_91" align="aligncenter" width="676"]Red Fife weeds and clover Though farmer Ashley has done everything right, the ragweed and lambsquarters have outcompeted her underseeded cover crop of clover.

  • The weather: warm, moist weather during grain flowering can lead to diseases like Wheat Scab (Fusarium graminaearum) which at a certain level causes the grain to be considered unfit for human consumption.

  • The weather, again: humidity and wet weather leads to other diseases which reduce a crop's eventual development into full, heavy grains.  So the amount that the farmer harvests and sells is less than they'd anticipate in a disease-free situation.

    [caption id="attachment_96" align="aligncenter" width="225"]Elizabeth Dyck with discolored and smutty Red Fife wheat Elizabeth Dyck shows a Red Fife wheat stalk with a few disease issues (note the discolored leaves and black grains)


    Harvest and post-harvest conditions:  Even out of the field, a farmer needs to ensure that the grain stay (or become) dry to at most 12% moisture.  There are machines and methods for this, and it's so important!  A perfect crop can be ruined for human consumption if left too moist during storage.


[caption id="attachment_104" align="aligncenter" width="225"]Ashley Loehr in wheat Ashley Loehr, who farms a lot of vegetables and is making use of her land to grow these amazing grains, too!


So, a grain farmer takes those things into consideration.  An organic grain farmer can't rely on the arsenal of chemicals that a non-organic farmer would use for weed pressure and disease control, so their best practices include crop rotation, using very clean (weed-free, disease-free) seed from reputable sources, and a lot of good timing for everything from planting (to let the crops establish during the right time of year) to harvest (when the grain is ripe and the weather is dry).

A harvested batch of grain has its berries separated from the stalks, and then sent to be processed.   Grains are tested for:

  • Moisture content: for storage quality and as a preliminary measurement of quality

    [caption id="attachment_103" align="alignleft" width="225"]Frederick wheat Frederick wheat: a lower-protein variety that makes a great "all-purpose" flour.

  • Test weight: a high weight-to-volume ratio indicates high quality and full grain development

  • Protein content: while not the only factor a baker needs to know, protein content largely dictates what type of flour--pastry, all-purpose, "bread"--a flour is considered.  Milled grains are often blended for a consistent protein content under a brand or label)

  • "Falling weight": important measurement of how much pre-sprouting activity has happened (and therefore how much enzymatic activity has happened prior to processing).  Too much enzyme activity means that the grain will create a sticky dough, or in the case of malted grains, won't germinate at a good rate to create the desired result.

  • Vomitoxin: amount of a particular contaminant; vomitoxin causes sickness, so the threshold for it is very low; disease and storage conditions affect this level.  NOTE: no grain is sold for human consumption if it exceeds the threshold; it may be re-purposed for animal feed or distilling.


Then we ate bread and had a discussion about the benefit of direct marketing.  For a small-scale grower, the ability to add value to the grain by milling it, working with a baker and offering bread to customers, or another arrangement, means that the effort is financially rewarded.  That's why small-scale processing infrastructure is so key--growers need to be able to test and mill their grain locally and control what happens to their grain.  From the perspective of a baker, locally farmed grains offer the chance to elevate the flavor of baked goods, and developing a relationship with grain farmers might even result in custom-grown varieties.  Antoine Guerlain was the day's resident baker (he bakes loaves with local wheat for Camphill Community--Copake) and he did an excellent job advocating for working with grains and flours because of their interesting "personalities."  He had baked a variety of loaves, using a consistent formula (except for the 100% rye breads) to showcase the qualities that can be coaxed from different grains.  There were even differences between two strains of ancient wheat--Arapaho and Banatka.

Banatka wheat bread2Arapaho wheat bread1Spontaneous levain2Roggenvollkornbrot3

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resources:

Wheat Quality Indicators Fact Sheet by Elizabeth Dyck

Equipment Sources in the Northeast

The Wheat Flour Book

Bread Baking Classes at Wide Awake Bakery (Trumansburg, NY): Instructors provide a day of instruction, focusing on understanding the variability and interesting qualities of local, freshly-ground grains

*Our in-field farmer education events are called Field Days.  Check out all the NOFA-NY Field Days listings
Continue reading
0 Comments

Beyond Beautiful in the Hudson Valley

[caption id="attachment_86" align="alignleft" width="225"]Sylvia Center Bee Garden June 2014 Bee Garden at the Sylvia Center


What this trip really needed was a poet, a photographer, and a painter.   That was my thought as I pressed my whining rental car up another hill in the Catskills, equipped with only a smart phone with an intermittent connection and a GPS that kept telling me I was out of range.  Would I be able to do justice to the remarkable story I saw unfolding before me?

This was my first extended trip to visit farms though the Central New York and Hudson Valley region.  My goal was to experience and gain a deeper understanding of organic and sustainable agriculture at its source – in the fields with the farmers.

The farmers showed me that New York State has some of the most remarkable beauty you can imagine.  In the early morning there are rolling hills shrouded in mist so lovely that even the construction workers at the side of the road look mystical.  There are brilliant bursts of color in the rainbow garden at the Sylvia Center where they plant flowers between the vegetable rows to attract pollinators.  Grain is not just amber, but also blue, red, green and gold at Migliorelli Farms and at the Hudson Valley Farm Hub where they are restoring a bread basket lost 200 years ago.   There are old barns lovingly restored at Mettabee Farm and a whirl of tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers flowering and ripening in their hoop houses at Common Thread Farm and Katchkie Farm.

The farmers showed me how to hear and appreciate the sounds of a healthy ecosystem.  There was a remarkable mix of song birds in the hedgerows of each place.  I went to sleep with the soft lowing of cows and woke to chuckling chickens.   I heard the hum of bees in the gardens, the rustle of wind through the tall grains, the sound of kind words and gentle laughter.

The farmers showed me what generosity means.  At Common Thread Farm where they are just in their 2nd year, Wendy and Asher still find a way to donate food to the local food cupboard.  At Migliorelli Farms and at the Hudson Valley Farm Hub they are taking on risks and sharing their experiences with smaller farmers who are trying to learn the nuances of grain growing in New York.   At Hawthorne Valley Farm they are continuing decades of assuring children from urban areas can experience what it means to be stewards of the land.  Katchkie Farm shares its soil and its bounty with the Sylvia Center to inspire children to eat healthy fresh food.  And at Mettabee farm, Elizabeth and her children demonstrated their vision of loving kindness by sharing their home with me for the night - and though I was a complete stranger I was treated like family.

The farmers showed me that organic and sustainable agriculture is more than a way of farming.  It is about caring in a deeply personal and meaningful way for the health and wellbeing of the earth and the animals and people who inhabit it.  It is about fairness, open-mindedness, and consideration to all.  It is about being an eternal optimist, a scientist, an artist.   And each farmer has a story worth telling by a poet, a photographer, and a painter.    It is a story I will do my best to tell in the next few blogs.

Thank you all for a wonderful experience.
Continue reading
0 Comments

On the Trail at Once Again Nut Butter

 

The best cookies, and gluten free!The best cookies, and gluten free!

My nose knew I had arrived at my destination well before my eyes.  As I came through the four corners in the charming village of Nunda, NY, the gently sweet aroma of lightly roasted nuts wafted through my car.  Just ahead was the Once Again Nut Butter production facility and I was excited to visit the home of my favorite crunchy peanut butter.  I was soon to learn that Once Again Nut Butter is about more than peanuts!

Once Again Nut Butter’s motto is “We Spread Integrity”.  I wasn’t too sure what that meant until I toured the facility and talked with Gael Orr, Communications Manager. It soon became to clear to me that when you purchase a jar of Once Again, you partner in a mission to make the world a better place – from the ground up!

Once Again was founded in 1976 by Jeremy Thaler and Constance Potter. A friend mentioned to them the idea of purchasing a small, used coffee roaster and trying to roast bulk nuts.  Production began in an 800 square foot space in their basement and the rest is history!  Today Once Again is located in a 27,000 square foot state of the art food production facility.  From its humble beginnings, Once Again has grown to become a national market leader in production of organic and natural nut butters and boasts food safety and quality management practices that have earned it Safe Quality Foods (SQF) 2000 Level 3 Certification - the highest Safe Quality Foods Qualification that can be attained.

Touring the pristine production areas I could see what makes these nut and seed butters among the best in the world.  Nuts were toasted fresh and immediately ground into the appropriate nut butter and packaged.   And everyone was smiling – the organization is 100% employee owned and democratically managed, and was among the first Certified Fair Labor Practice organizations in the country.

Gael explained to me that Once Again sees itself as being a mission-oriented company that also makes great tasting nut butters!   This means that Once Again is involved in helping make the world a better place – from helping the local Rotary to addressing issues of poverty by paying fair prices for commodities and starting farm co-ops in developing economies.   As a healthy food pioneer, Once Again helped develop the organic peanut growing standards for the United States and they are currently supporting regional beekeepers from family farms and assisting United States organic sunflower growers with crop development.

Before I left, I decided to ask Gael for advice on a problem I was facing – it was all employee staff meeting at NOFA-NY this week, and the theme of the pot-luck was “gluten-free”.  Since being told of the goal of gluten free, of course all I could think of was food laden with gluten!  Gael gave me a recipe booklet of gluten free treats made with Once Again products, and a handy pack of nut butters to try.  The Once again Cashew Butter is a staff favorite and we learned it is great on apples.  I actually baked the gluten free Trail Mix Cookie recipe from the Once Again Nut Butter recipe book as my dish to pass.  Those cookies were so good there was not a crumb left!

Thank you Gael for the tour and to everyone at Once Again Nut Butter!  For more information about Once Again Nut Butter including the Trail Mix Cookie recipe, you can check out their website at www.OnceAgainNutButter.com.

 

Continue reading
0 Comments

Fresh Picked, My Favorite!

 

[caption id="attachment_70" align="alignleft" width="281"]All "Jazzed Up" about the first veggies of the summer! All "Jazzed Up" about the first veggies of the summer!


Finally!  After months of eating roasted root vegetables, pickled and preserved products, and most recently more asparagus than is wise, my garden is yielding its first fresh summer vegetables.  Jazzy my Corgi is a big fan of visiting the garden and is not above stealing green beans and tomatoes out of my basket for herself, but to her grave disappointment, it is not yet time for those. 

 

So far my garden has given me some very nice early cauliflower, young Swiss chard, spinach and a variety of lettuces.  The parsley and cilantro in the herb garden are going wild, but the basil seems to be lagging.  The tomatoes are so excited with the long-awaited sun and rain, they are growing and flowering with abandon and I am not too sure those extra strong tomato cages are going to work this year!  The sweet potatoes are eeking along and I wonder if I will actually get sweet potatoes this year, or spindly tubers like last year.  Patience is my challenge with root vegetables, I always want to check them!

This is the time of year when I discover my plants are conspiring to undo my planning.  I ended up with some asparagus self-seeding in my flower beds, and some poppies self seeded into my tomato beds.  A volunteer violet has shown up in my roses.  It looks nice, but I have no idea where that came from!  There is an iris blooming in the brush along the hedgerow.  My lawn, such as it is, appears to be transforming into a sea of Greek Oregano.

How is your garden growing so far?
Continue reading
0 Comments

Ben and Courtney: Journeyperson Farmers at East Hill Farm

On June 2nd, when Anne was visiting Maryrose and Donn (and Bob the donkey), I (Rachel, Beginning Farmer Program Coordinator) was on my own field visit!  I spent a sunny morning with Ben Pino and Courtney Sauer, who moved to the long-established East Hill Farm (where the Rochester Folk Art Guild lives and works) this past winter.  As farmers in our Journeyperson Program, Ben and Courtney receive educational and business planning stipends, support of a paid farmer mentor, educational and networking opportunities and a specific commitment by NOFA-NY to ensure that we help them find footing during their first few years of farming independently.  This visit is part of that commitment--nothing replaces real-time observation of the farmers on their farm.  I witnessed how Ben and Courtney communicate with each other (very well), keep records (okay, I encouraged them to record their evening day-is-done conversations on their phones to listen to later), and how they react to seeing fields (they're a little concerned about the late timing this year).

Though Ben and Courtney have plenty of farming experience and grab at educational opportunities as often as they can, they're experiencing what many beginning farmers deal with: how to apply what you know to a new place, with its obvious and subtle tendencies and quirks.  Ben and Courtney now know more than they did months ago about the condition of the soil at East Hill Farm, which has a high clay content (so when it's wet, it's really wet, and when it's dry, it's very dense).  They're discovering that though they have irrigation and tillage tools to use, their preferred method of production might not sync up with those tools; they ask themselves, their peers and their mentor (and me) about what to do to accomplish their goals, and what impacts new methods will have.  For instance, they are currently wondering if they should abandon the old Allis Tramers G tractor because it works with a bed setup that seems too wide to manage, in favor of bed spacing that they don't have equipment for, but would give them a more comfortable hand-labor situation.  On top of that sort of thing, they are dealing with the challenges of the floods last month (they're just a stone's throw from Penn Yan, which you'll remember was greatly affected by flooding).  I loved seeing how they were thinking about these topics from a practical and idealistic perspective!

Some brave greens surviving through flood-erosion-drying soil conditions.

While East Hill Farm's legacy of farmers and gardeners have built up the soil through incorporating plant matter and compost into the ground and utilizing crop rotations to let nutrients and organic matter build up between years of crops, Ben and Courtney are thinking about more ways to encourage healthy, better-textured and nutrient-filled soils.  It's a long process, but since they are planning on building up the farm's soil and being around for a long time to manage this the long-term vision of soil health.  Their mentor, Nathaniel Thompson, has been giving them great advice about producing high-quality greens (you can learn from him at our field day at Remembrance Farm on July 10th).  This goes along with their dreams of diversifying the farm to use its large acreage for grazing livestock and growing more grains.  Enjoy a few photos, and if you're visiting the South Wedge or Penfield Farmers Markets this summer, say hi to these farmers!

[gallery link="none" type="slideshow" ids="34,33,32,31,35"]

The Journeyperson Program is so rewarding for me, as the Beginning Farmer Program Coordinator, because I get to witness the passion, pain and personal growth (I had to go for an alliteration there) that these high-potential farmers go through.  I get to flex my muscles and work my knowledge to come up with the appropriate training and technical guidance options for these farmers!  While their mentors and the classes they take can give them so much technical knowledge, my job is to facilitate connections, and to reflect back to the farmers about what else they might want to learn about, practice, connect with, etc.  This program has me learning alongside the farmers, in some cases; at other times, the Journeyperson farmers communicate a need for training or resources that don't exist, and that's when NOFA-NY sets something into action (planning a conference workshop, writing a fact sheet, encouraging other service providers to offer a service, etc.)

The NOFA-NY Journeyperson Program is part of a multi-state project to support farmers in their first few years of independent farming, modeled off a highly successful program piloted by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA).  We take on a few farmers per year for this program, and the applications open in the fall.  Read more at www.nofany.org/jp!
Continue reading
0 Comments

Dreamy Spring Greens

So it's greens season!  Here's a little info to help you dive in and enjoy what's out there this spring.

cropped-farm-pics-nov-04-007.jpg


First, figure out what kind of greens you're dealing with (or just looking at).  Knowing which plant family your greens belong to gives you a clue about their flavors and complementary seasonings and preparations.  If you know you like spinach prepared a certain way, you're likely to be able to substitute chard.  The only trick here is to sort out the vegetables that aren't as enjoyable in their raw form (cooked vegetables are generally a direct substitution, with attention to when the vegetable is cooked to your liking).  Bold words are the plants' taxonomical family, followed by the most popular leafy foods within that family.

[caption id="attachment_54" align="alignright" width="300"]brassica seedlings3 Brassica seedlings before transplant.


Brassicaceae (brass-ih-kay-see-ee): "Mustard" greens, kale, arugula, bok choi, pak choi, komatsuna, mizuna, anything labeled "asian greens," radishes, turnips (the tops of Haukeri/salad turnips are a great addition to your greens collection); the brassica family also includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kohlrabi.

The brassicas all have a bit of a spicy/mustard-y bite to them, which is mellowed in cooking.  Growing conditions (heat and rain/drought) greatly impact flavor, so one bunch is never like the next bunch!  Because of this, many farmers will let you try before you buy (and if you received a mess of greens from a CSA or subscription box, just get to work sampling!).  All are safe to eat raw, but cooking might be more pleasant for the novice greens-eater.  Pair well with: sesame, soy sauce, miso, black pepper, hot pepper, mixed vegetable sautees, garlic and onions.

Chenopodiaceae (keen-oh-poh-dee-ay-see-ee): Chard, spinach, beets (thus, beet greens), lambs quarters, quelites

[caption id="attachment_55" align="alignleft" width="225"]Chard (we'll forgive it for not being 100% green, as it's certainly leafy) Chard (we'll forgive it for not being 100% green, as it's certainly leafy)


This family of greens (which translates to "goosefoot" because the leaf supposedly has a similar look as a goose's foot) cooks from often-giant raw form into just a fraction of its size.  So don't be alarmed at what seems like too much vegetable for you or your family--cooking will wilt it significantly.  The stems of chard and beet greens, as well as the "crowns" of spinach are worthy edibles, but need a good chopping and cooking to tenderize their fibers.  They pair nicely with creamy-textured foods, so try a nut butter sauce or salad dressing; or stir in yogurt, cream or cheese to cooked greens; of course, they're a natural fit for making a few eggs into a main dish (and a great way to make your breakfast healthier).

Asteraceae (ass-ter-ay-see-ee): Lettuces, dandelion greens, endive

Though we tend to only think of lettuce as a raw food, give grilled or stir-fried versions a try.  The lower and inner parts of a head of lettuce are often sturdy enough to hold up under a quick, high-heat cooking situation.  Lettuce that's harvested when it's hot mimics its more bitter relatives, the dandelion and endive--all of which can be mellowed out with good olive oil, salt, pepper and a little sweetness (think of a honey or fruit vinaigrette and a wilted salad).  With an abundance of lettuce greens, it's time to perfect a house salad dressing.




 

Storage:  According to sources like How to Keep Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Longer with Less Spoilage, by Tracy Frisch, greens will keep up to two weeks (and we notice that they keep even longer when they're very fresh) under high humidity and very cool temperatures.  Some great advice can be found at the blog Food in Jars.  In short, keep the atmosphere around the greens moist using damp cloth or paper towels, but avoid directly wetting or compressing wet leaves.  Store greens and the damp towels in containers or the drawers of your fridge to contain the moist air.




Recipe Resources: New York Times' Recipes for Health: Chard, Beet Greens; Food52's Greens Contest; Saveur's cooked greens recommendations; one amazing recipe for getting greens at breakfast (or any time of day you want to eat eggs: Alexandra Cooks Crustless Quiche, Loaded with Kale)

 

 
Continue reading
0 Comments

Darlings, dogs, and more at Northland Sheep Dairy

Some places just aren’t found by GPS.  I knew to watch for the blushing house at the top of a hill that would mark the spot for Northland Sheep Dairy, so I ignored my GPS warnings that I had “left the designated route” and turned up the gravel drive. It was a spectacular day and I was looking forward to seeing Maryrose Livingston, farmer and also president of NOFA-NY, and her partner Donn Hewes.  I also had another motive for visiting – a few weeks before, Connie the Suffolk mare and Eddie the American Mammoth jack had welcomed a new mule colt– baby boy Bob – and I just had to meet him!

Baby Boy Bob taking a nap. Baby Boy Bob taking a nap.


Northland Sheep Dairy is located in Marathon New York, about 30 miles outside of Ithaca.   The farm can best be described as a collaboration with nature that is part art, part science.  The result is a healthy, tranquil farm that is essentially self- sustaining.  Maryrose is the shepherd and cheesemaker and Donn works the farm with his team of draft horses and mules.  I had tasted some of Maryrose’s delectable raw sheep’s milk cheese in the past (you have not lived until you have some of Maryrose’s Bergère Bleue cheese), and I was eager to see where it came from.  All of her cheeses are hand made from 100% grass fed sheep, and as we meandered up the lane to the meadow, I could see, smell, and feel the terra that created those cheeses – Birdsfoot trefoil, white clover, wildflowers, herbs, mixed grasses and legumes.  The dogs Jack and Miley came along in hopes for a chance to show off their herding skills, but a stern Maryrose said no, so they had to make do with leaning against me for a pat.   The sheep – about 37 ewes, were peacefully resting in the shade of some trees, and when Maryrose called them, they stood up and gingerly came our way, a bit wary of a stranger and the knowledge of those dogs ready to go to work any minute.

As we strolled past the gigantic bleeding hearts, lilacs, and wild roses tumbling along the path back to the barn, Maryrose explained to me that she had come to raising sheep the long way around.  She started with a passion for dairy cows that began after a visit to Ireland at age 9.  Years later, while still pursuing her dairy farming dream, Maryrose and Donn traveled to Europe on a cheese-making research expedition.  During that trip they spent two months on a sheep dairy farm in Timsbury, and that is where Maryrose fell in love with dairy sheep!  After returning from England, they partnered with pioneering dairy sheep farmers Karl and Jane North, and after 5 years of working with the Norths, purchased the property.

[caption id="attachment_50" align="alignright" width="320"] "The darlings" nibble some sweet grass.


Maryrose also humored my hankering to see the mules.  Baby Boy Bob was snoozing so soundly, it was all he could do to raise his head a bit for a photo.  Mom Connie gave me a kindly but stern glance – everyone knows you should never wake a sleeping baby.  Outside, the Percheron mares Lady and Polly graciously accepted a pat while being hitched to the spreader.  In the paddock the gawky mule yearling “Tall Pete” and the stoic elder mule “Uncle George” were being pestered by the lively mule filly Lee, who really was in a “girls just wanna have fun” mood.  Poppa Eddie entertained us with an impressive bray!  Some attention here please!

A chat over a pot of tea with cream, some delectable risotto, and a dish of vanilla ice cream with Donn’s freshly made rhubarb sauce and it was back in the car for me.

Thank you Maryrose and Donn for a wonderful visit!  If you would like more information about Northland Sheep Dairy, you can check out their website at www.northlandsheepdairy.com.

Continue reading
0 Comments