It's August. We're halfway through summer CSA and in the busiest time at the farmers' market. Everything is busting at the seams – the crops, the weeds, the cooler, the van when we load up on Saturday. It can be a bit overwhelming! We're trying to make sure to take some breaks, get enough rest, and remember that there are a lot of months between us and the end of the winter market in December. At the same time, it's satisfying to be pulling in so much bounty – hundreds of ears of corn, hundreds of pounds of melons. The garlic are drying down in the barn, and we've got strawberry plants due to arrive in early September, so we're prepping beds for that. So far the disease and pest pressure hasn't been too bad (knock on wood!), and weeds are are biggest battle. We went from about 4.5 acres last year to about 6 this year; I'll write soon about some of the changes and investments we've made this year to streamline and improve our practices as we grow.
There may be arguments over what diet is best for human health, but everyone agrees that vegetables are a key part. Something we often hear from new CSA members is that they didn’t realize how much they weren’t eating vegetables until faced with a steady supply each week. (Our large share typically contains 6-8 veggies, which is pretty much one a day - with Federal guidelines suggesting 5 servings daily and many parties recommending more, it can be a wake-up call to realize how challenging it is to get even one or two servings!)
In our household, perhaps unsurprisingly, we tend to eat a lot of vegetables. One way, of course, is to just eat them straight - smashed potatoes, roasted broccoli or cauliflower, salads of all kinds. But I’ve also trained myself to pause throughout the meal preparation process and ask, "How can I get more veggies in this?" Herbs and garlic scapes in scrambled eggs or sauteed greens alongside eggs over-easy. Kale smoothies are a real thing (though I like spinach better) - frozen in popsicle molds, they’re a no-fail way to get some veggies in kids. Lettuce and herbs tucked into sandwiches and wraps, broccoli in mac ’n’ cheese, carrots grated into hamburgers, spinach chopped into pasta sauce. It is the rare soup not improved by a few handfuls of torn greens added at the end. We make a lot of one-pot sautes (like our recent beet greens and sausage recipe), and those are an endlessly flexible way to incorporate lots of vegetables into a main dish. Few recipes are so delicately balanced that you couldn't add another vegetable of some sort at some point. Finding some vegetable snacks you like is a help, as well. It all adds up!
(Check out our summer saute master recipe!)
Kohlrabi is currently my favorite vegetable. It's in the cabbage family - in fact, along with broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kale, it is the same species as cabbage! It's been bred for a big fat round stem, which is the part most-used, though the leaves are edible, too. The outer skin gets peeled off, and the interior is crisp, juicy, and both sweet and a bit peppery. The flavor is similar to mild radishes, salad turnips, or the stem of a broccoli. Definitely a cabbage relative. (Sonora calls it a cabbage-apple.)
I've been hassling Jeremy for years to grow this plant, and this is the first year that he gave in. (He thought he didn't like it.) Turns out that it grows well, and - though many people don't know it - we've been sampling it at the market, and most folks are pretty excited once they find out how yummy it is.
We like it best raw - sliced into salads, alone or mixed with cabbage in a slaw, or just dipped in hummus or ranch dressing. However, we've heard good things about it cooked in fritters, roasted, grilled, and even boiled and mashed like a potato. In the fall we might add it to a dish of roasted veggies. If you have a favorite turnip or rutabaga recipe, it would probably sub pretty well. I'm planning to pickle some in the coming weeks.
If you've got a favorite kohlrabi recipe, let us know!
Before it gets buried in the rest of what I want to say, here's the core: We have community members who would like to take part in our CSA but can't afford to -– but you can change that! If you are able, please donate to the NOFA Vermont Farm Share program and help us make our food available to everyone. Enter any amount, choose Farm Share Program, and designate Gildrien Farm. It's a tax-deductable donation and it will make a huge difference in the life of a local family this summer. (Read on or click here to learn more about Farm Share.)
If five people donate $25 each, a family that otherwise couldn't afford our CSA will be able to join. Can you help?
Now, the rest:
One of the major complaints leveled against the local & organic foods movement is that those foods are expensive. The truth of that charge varies depending on exactly what products one compares: organic processed food (cookies, cereal, etc) is often more expensive than conventional counterparts, but organic produce in season at the farmers' market is often cheaper than conventional in the grocery store. (It's true.)
Buying through a CSA, like ours, is generally an even better deal, since most CSAs, like ours, give a 10-15% discount on the product as a "thank you" for the early investment.
That early investment itself can be a challenge for many families, however. Even if you know you'll be saving money in the long run (and eating well, and, perhaps, getting to know a local farmer personally), coming up with a season's worth of grocery money in one lump might be out of reach. We do offer a payment plan, to help mitigate that burden.
But we also want good food - fresh, healthy, local, organic food - the food we raise - to be accessible to everyone in our community. A payment plan doesn't help if you simply can't afford the cost at all. As a family who have ourselves been on food stamps, we get it. Calorie for calorie, junk food is usually cheaper. The fact that cheap food is artificially cheap (and, for that matter, usually artificially food) doesn't change the fact that it is more affordable, especially when time is as tight as money. (If you counting nutrients instead of calories, or if you are able to prepare most of your meals from scratch, the equation changes – but it also gets a lot more complicated.)
All of that is why we believe and participate in NOFA Vermont's Farm Share Program. Farm Share works by gathering community donations - raised by the farm (like this right here) and by NOFA during the annual Share the Harvest fundraiser. Limited-income Vermonters apply and are matched with a local farm. They pay half the cost of the CSA, the farm-raised donations pay one quarter, and the NOFA-raised donations pay the other. It's really a phenomenal solution - people in need get access to good food, local farms get new customers. At times, we've had up to a third of our membership participating through Farm Share, but we need the community's support to make it work. Can you donate $25 and make a season of local, organic food possible for a local family?
August. August can be a bit of a slump month where morale is concerned - the weeds are tall, the diseases and pests are proliferating, the zucchinis have no respect for Sundays, and that first hard frost looks impossibly far away. This year, the effects of all the rain in May and June are still making themselves known - we've got gaps the production of lettuce and beans from the weeks when we couldn't get our equipment in the field to prepare beds to plant successions, onions swimming in weeds from the weeks we couldn't get in the field to weed, and cucumber plants giving up the ghost early because of diseases that came up on the storms. The great bounty and beauty of August can begin to feel like a burden when the cooler is already full and the tomato hornworms have just moved in.
The upside of August, of course, is the arrival of the deep summer fruits - tomatoes, eggplants, melons. Those, of course, have all been a bit late due to the cool and wet early on (see above), but they're starting to roll in. We had three whole cantaloupes at market on Saturday, and there are a lot on the plants, so we expect to have them in force soon.
(And soon, we'll make some time for an afternoon at the lake or a long bike ride or a little dinner party, and then we'll love farming again.) Fall will be upon us before we know it, and we'll be wishing for a few more weeks of August to get done everything we want to do.
We've got a lot of lovely produce for the market tomorrow - some gorgeous broccoli, summer squash, carrots, beets, cabbage, eggplant, tomatoes, and more!
Don't forget that starting this weekend, the Middlebury Farmers' Market will be held in the north parking lot of the Marbleworks (by Costello's, Otter Creek Yoga, and the pharmacy). This is to give the Marbleworks folks a chance to finish their landscaping and fix up the lawn. The hours will be the same, and there should still be plenty of parking.
This Saturday is also the MiddSummer Fest, so bring a cooler if you plan to stay all afternoon. See you there!
Although it's looking to be mighty hot this week, we're glad for the sun and heat and lack of rain. It'll give us a chance to catch up on weeding, which had been a real challenge in the wet weather. Fewer weeds and more sunshine should give the plants a big boost this week, and the dry weather will hopefully push back against some disease and pest problems that crop up when it's moist for too long.
One potential issue we're keeping an eye on is a disease called late blight. You might remember it from 2009, when it wiped out tomatoes and potatoes across most of New England. Late blight can't overwinter here, but the spores get blown up on storms from the south, where it is present year-round. Usually it doesn't get here until late summer (thus the name), but it has been confirmed already in Massachusets and New York. Under organic management, there aren't a whole lot of options beyond pruning tomatoes well to encourage air flow and hoping for a good stretch of dry weather to slow down or stop the spread of the disease. Conventional growers can use several powerful anti-fungal sprays, but the only one available to organic farmers is copper, and it only really works if you use it before there are any symptoms. So we're pruning, and hoping, and keeping a close eye on the maps.
With luck, we'll have tomatoes for CSA pretty soon, and for a while!
We were glad to get a bit of sun and warmth over the weekend, but the combination of hot and humid with torrential downpour has had us playing a tedious game of tag with the greenhouse, which has sides that roll up to let heat out. We don't want the tomatoes to get wet, so when it rains we run over to close the sides and doors. (Tag!) But we don't want it to be too hot or humid in there, because that can stress the plants and cause disease. So when the sun comes out, we run over and open it all up. (Tag!) I think we must've done that a dozen times yesterday as storms swept through.
The strange weather has also made it hard to judge when crops will be coming ready - two weeks ago we had several little zucchinis, which generally indicates lots of imminent giant zucchinis, but they've mostly just stayed little. However, the peas are still cranking out peas, and everything is coming along, if slowly. We continue to be grateful for our good, sandy soil - we spent years looking for a farm and "not clay soil" was one of our major criteria. This season is making us glad that we held out for this great piece of land. Even still, some big downpours have caused washouts in a few places in the field, and one spot that's usually a bit wet now has a little running stream. Jeremy took the tractor through with the plow attached and dug a ditch to give the water somewhere to go; hopefully that'll help it drain out of the rest of the field. We know farms that have really flooded in the rain, so despite the frustration, we're glad to just be suffering from slow growth, muddy boots, and big weeds.
Greens are good, peas are pleasant, but POTATOES are the spring treat we get most excited about here at Gildrien Farm. Friends and loyal customers will have heard this before, but new potatoes - those first, teeny early ones with tender skin glowing bright as - are a revelation every year.
Most people expect that a fresh, local tomato grown in good soil and picked at the peak of ripeness will be better than fed on chemical fertilizer and picked green so that it could withstand a 3,000 mile trip. Well, it is just as true that a little baby potato unearthed just days before from its home in healthy soil will taste better - so much better, and so different - than a giant Russet that's been bred for size, sprayed with nearly 40 pesticides, and then treated to prevent sprouting during its year in storage. Even a local, organic potato that you might still have in your root cellar from last fall will pale in comparison. Even the local, organic potatoes harvested fresh in the fall for winter storage are not nearly as good. These new spring potatoes are a delight, and we hope you like them as much as we do.