Teachers and Friends

pumpkin_dew_farms

For the last farmers’ market of the year, our friends at Dew Farms brought a truck load of 250-lbs pumpkins and hired a couple professional pumpkin carvers. (I know! Who knew such an occupation existed.)  The kids loved it. The big folk loved it. It was wonderful spectacle all around. This fantastic, mythical dragon a good example of the result.

Over the last year, I’ve spent a lot of time writing about us and our farm. And while I’m generally okay with the results, I don’t think I’ve done a very good job relating the core of the experience. So, as a welcome respite from my usual, grating narcissism, I’d like to spend a few words on some of the great local growers we met and learned so much from this last year. Their experience, knowledge, passion and friendship were a big part of the year for us. They filled out the experience and helped make the whole thing worthwhile. So, in no particular order, a bit about some of the local growers we respect:

Dew Farms

Aaron is the grower at Dew Farms. With his folks and his family, he started Dew within the Longmont city limits. Aaron came up as a competitive grower and his red cabbage has won Best of Show awards at six consecutive competitive events. Aaron and Dew are probably the growers with a model most similar to ours. All year long they’ve been there with support and advice for us. Thanks guys!

Ollin Farms

Not to gush but we wouldn’t be farming if not for Ollin Farms. Over the last several years we’ve shopped their farm stand and visited them at the market. Every time we left encouraged. Personally, I’ve never met anyone more selflessly devoted to community and local agriculture than Mark, the owner of Ollin Farms. He’s inspired and inspiring; 100% committed to interacting with people and building community. If local food is ever going to really “happen”, it’s going to require people like Mark and organizations like Ollin Farm. They also grow great produce and eggs.

Guerrilla Farms

Timpson is the grower at Guerrilla Farms. He intensively works a single acre between Longmont and Boulder and produces some of the nicest garlic I’ve ever eaten. Guerrilla was also the driving force behind the Left Hand Brewing companies farmers’ market this year. Timpson and his new wife Heather spent countless hours building a market that I hope will serve the community for years to come.

Aspen Moon Farms

Jason, the owner and grower at Aspen Moon Farms. They were also a big inspiration for us. They used to run an on-your-honor, roadside farm stand out of an old, beat up VW van. We loved it. Jason is also an irrigation engineer. We hope to hire him and his guys to help us with our system next year. While irrigation is Jason’s thing, we also owe him mightly for all the conversation and advice he’s given us this year. We’re grateful.

Our relationships with other growers were some of the most rewarding parts of last season. We’re better for them. We’re also honored to join many of them for two end of season farmers’ markets at the Niwot Market. We hope to see you there.

Niwot

Tomatillos and Salsa Verde

Tomatillos_detail

We didn’t grow any tomatillos on the farm this year. They are a minor niche crop that don’t sell especially well and frankly we couldn’t spare the space or time. Fortunately, Adam, grew several plants in his home garden (how does he have time for a home garden?!?) and he was generous enough to drop off a big bag of perfect fruit the other day.

I love tomatillos. I love their fresh, tart, almost lemony flavor. I love their bright green color. And I love how well they combine with other foods, especially with foods that are just a bit fatty like chips or enchiladas. Tomatillos are the base of all the traditional green salsas and sauces found in mexican and tex-mex cooking. Every tomatillo recipe I’ve ever seen is variation of the very simple salsa recipe presented here. If you’re hankering for sauce over salsa, just take this salsa recipe, double it, sauté it for a few minutes in lard or oil, thin it with stock (animal or veggie) and reduce it back to sauce consistency (until it coats the back of a spoon). It’s a very traditional preparation. Recently I’ve been taking a less traditional path and making a green sauce by simply blending the salsa verde with avocado. It produces a rich, velvety but still tangly sauce I like using on enchiladas or black bean cakes (and it’s much healthier than the traditional, avoiding both the oil and stock). Continue reading Tomatillos and Salsa Verde

Garlic Time Again

Garlic_Kettle_River_Giant

It’s fall again and we’re planting garlic again. Work like a metronome ticks out my life. Repetitive tasks set the rhythm and mark the time, blurring everything in between. We’re closing the poultry coop at night – that means another day is over. I’m loading the trailer for market- it must be Saturday, a week has passed. Gheda’s paying our taxes – a fiscal quarter is done, three more months down. And now, Adam is planting garlic. We’re planting garlic yet again – this time a whole year’s gone by.  We’re right back where we started. Are we any smarter? Any wiser? I’d like to think so. But who can tell?

It was Autumn a year ago, during garlic planting, that we decided to make a go of the farm. That’s when we decided to take it from a hobby garden to a business. The intervening year has been productive; we incorporated a business, got insurance, grew a lot of food, sold a lot of food, made a busload of new friends, earned some money, paid some bills, preached the good news of local, sustainable agriculture and went more or less sleep deprived for months. I hesitate to draw any conclusions about the year. Did we do any good? Did we waste a lot of time and energy? I avoid questions like that. All I know is that we’re setting up for another year, wholeheartedly believing we can do better than we’ve done up to now. There’s redemption to be found in looking forward.

Garlic_cloves Continue reading Garlic Time Again

Fennel Pollen

Fenel_patch

This year I let all our fennel go to seed, never harvesting more than a few bulbs. I know, it looks bad for me. Still more evidence of my fundamental sloth and incompetence, some might say. Fortunately, it’s different this time, because this time I had a plan. And my plan was this: I was going to let them bolt. Yep. That’s it. I was going to let them bolt. You see, this year I wasn’t in it for the fennel bulbs. Instead, I wanted to harvest fennel pollen. Unfortunately, after harvesting the pollen, I’m not sure what to do with it. Of course we’re going to eat a bunch. And there is a good market for fennel pollen. It’s a big market and can be quite lucrative (the pollen brings $20-$40/oz). But despite harvesting the entire patch, I only have a few ounces, too much to eat but nowhere near enough to make it pay.

Probably because of the glaringly, half-baked nature of my fennel plan, our farm partner, Adam, was… I’ll say… skeptical. Every week he wanted to cut some plants for market. “People are begging for bulbs,” he’d plead. But like a desperate, degenerate junkie, I couldn’t deviate from the plan. I wouldn’t. I was on the verge of a huge pollen score. I couldn’t just quit.

Fennel_Flower

Continue reading Fennel Pollen

Fall Planting

Fall-Spinach3

It’s the middle of September but it feels like springtime all over again. The days have been warm, the nights have been cold, the grow room is full of plants and once again, lamentably, we have a lot of work to do. Thankfully, fall planting should be our last big push of the year, then we can rest. I’m looking forward to the rest. But before we get there, we still have to put in a few thousand transplants, plant the alliums, direct seed carrots and mache, build some hoops, frame out the ends of our tall hoops, get everything protected against the winter cold and prep our dormant beds for next year. It’ll be a lot of work but it’ll be over soon enough. One last big push.

Fall-Spinach2-2

Continue reading Fall Planting

The Tomato System, V1.0

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Things are nervous on our tiny farm. The first hard frost is lurking like a vandal. The season is ending. I can smell it. It’ll be Armageddon for cucumbers and catastrophe for peppers. The zucchini blossoms will all turn black and crunchy. No more basil. No more melons. No more pansies for our salad mix. Fortunately, our tomatoes are protected. They’ll survive awhile longer. But even their end is near. The time has come to take account.

It’s been a long year for us on the farm. And to be totally honest, the amount of energy (and the number of hours) I’ve been able to put in has been waning for a while. I’ve been getting by on good intentions and the grace of my friends. Fortunately, all the hard work we’d done earlier in the year laid a solid foundation and allowed us to coast a bit. Otherwise we’d have augured a long time ago.

With that in mind, looking back on the year, I focus on the positive. I focus on our  plant / soil block sales. I focus on our greens. And I focus on tomatoes.

This was our year to finally learn to grow tomatoes. And while we still have a lot to learn, we’ve come a long way. Our system allowed us to be among the very first growers to have ripe tomatoes at market. We’ll likely also be among the last. Our yields were great and our quality was very good. Of everything we’ve done around here, I might be most proud of the tomatoes. We’ve struggled mightily in the past. It’s good to have turned at least one corner, at least temporarily.

Tomatos_Gheda1 Continue reading The Tomato System, V1.0

Summer Kale Part 3 and Citrus Kale Salad

Lacinato_top

Three months ago I decided to do a short series of posts about summer kale. The thought was that while people are becoming okay with kale in the winter, it still gets overlooked in the summer. That’s a shame. Kale is one of very few veggies that can be grown all year long. It’s always in season. My plan was to argue the case for summertime kale. This is the third and final post in that series.

We grow three varieties of kale on our tiny farm; Curly, Red Russian and Lacinato. In many ways, they’re all quite similar, sharing a basic, earthy kale-ishness. At the same time, they’re unique and distinct enough to more than justify our offering all three varieties. Here’s a quick rundown of how they differ and how we use them: Continue reading Summer Kale Part 3 and Citrus Kale Salad

The Big Corn Paradox

Corn_field

Taken at just another huge, local corn field

This might be the best summer recipe ever:

Grilled Summer Corn

ingredients

  • Fresh picked corn, still in the husks
  • Sea Salt

method

Pick them. Grill them, ASAP, still in the husks. Eat them, maybe with a pinch of salt.

There’s nothing better than fresh corn. I absolutely love it, and I’m not alone. Everyone I know loves it. This time of year it’s one of the best selling item in the produce world. Peaches, cherries and corn; in the summer everything else is an also-ran.

I love corn but I don’t grow any. I need to grow corn but I can’t grow corn. Thinking about it hurts my brain.

Imagine a small town with a single male barber. Let’s say all the men are close shaven. Let’s also say this barber shaves all and only the men who don’t shave themselves. The question then becomes: Does this barber shave himself?

Alternatively, can an omnipotent being create a stone too heavy for her to lift?

On a tiny farm growing corn is a lot like that. It’s a paradox. People love corn. They crave it. And few things drive more foot traffic. We don’t have it and, as a result, half the people walk right past our stand. On the other hand, it takes a lot of land to grow and it has almost no economic value. In my day job I work at a large natural foods grocery. Right now we are selling corn 4 for $1. At the farmers’ market, the guys across the isle from us have gone as low as 50 ears for $5. We could conceivably plant our entire 1/8th acre farm to corn (we’d yield about 2,000 ears), wait an entire season, harvest it all at once, sell out in a day and generate less than $500. Corn is brutal! We gotta have it to drive traffic but if we do it’ll break us. Pure Paradox. This paradox is even harsher for organic corn. That’s why it’s so hard to find. What’s the best way to become a million dollar organic corn grower? Start with $10-million and a dream.

Continue reading The Big Corn Paradox

Chard and Summer White Bean Ragout

Chard_Rhubarb

I hate to admit it but we’re the Kelsey Grammer of market gardens. Which is to say, we’re typecast. Like Kelsey playing the same character across three different sitcoms, we’re at our best when growing greens. Sure people come to us for a lot of things like carrots, beets, broccoli and such, but our regulars, the folks who come every week and who’ve been with us for months now, all come for our greens.. We’ve been strong with greens from the very start, opening our first market, way back in April, with three kales, two types of spinach, mizuna, tatsoi and lettuce. Latter we were one of very few growers with Broccoli Rabe (rapin), which sold great. Over the summer, we’ve kept up with our three kales and might be the only one still bringing spinach. We’ve had to step down to a single spinach variety but we’re still there and it sells out every week. Recently, with summer blazing, we’ve added chard to the lineup. We’ve had it at market for the last five weeks or so and as we’ve come to expect from our wonderfully greens-centric customers, it’s sold great.

Chard_Stems

Continue reading Chard and Summer White Bean Ragout

Our New Tomato System and Linguine with Roast Heirloom Tomatoes

Tomato_Pasta

What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago we were struggling through the most horrible tomato season imaginable. (It’s here: My first ever post!) This year it’s a whole new story. Now we’re swimming in tomatoes, like Scrooge McDuck backstroking through his big vault of money. I can’t believe how well they’re coming and how good they taste. What’s more, we’re selling out every week at market. It’s great.

I’d like to take all the credit for our turnaround. And I’d like to blame all of last year’s crappiness  on environmental conditions. It’s been a long season. I deserve the props and could use the validation. So I’m tempted. But that wouldn’t be true. We made plenty of mistakes last year. We deserve as much blame as does the weather. And this year the conditions have been much better, granting us a natural advantage. That being said, this year we’ve done a lot to influence the outcome and improve our results.

Tomato_Heirloom

Continue reading Our New Tomato System and Linguine with Roast Heirloom Tomatoes