Interview with an Organic Bachelor Farmer
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
Kevin has about 170 acres of corn, soybeans, pasture, alfalfa, hay, barley, and dairy cows in southeastern Minnesota. The farm was not organic before he started farming it. (The potatoes were for “local” consumption—we had them at Thanksgiving!)
Why aren’t all organic farmers “certified”?
Cost is the primary reason, says Stuedemann. There’s the time and cost of keeping records—you’re required to have 3 years of what you’re growing, seed/feed sources, and methods. Each year, the farmer pays a fee to third party certifying agency for the annual certification ($500 - $1500). In addition, a portion of each sale goes to the certifying agency. That can be a lot of cash in a business that’s not particularly liquid. On the other hand, certification is your “ticket” into the organic marketplace where prices are higher.
Is there a producer you admire whose products are available in Greater Philadelphia?
Organic Valley is a great example of a successful organic cooperative, and it markets nationwide. Six hundred milk producers, mostly in the midwest, belong to it. Organic Valley procures and processes the milk and has a variety of dairy products on the market. It’s also getting in to eggs, orange juice (sourced from the south and west), and hogs for a total of 1200+ farms. The board members all are farmers, and profits go back to the coop. (Give OV a try! Coupons for Organic Valley products, click here.)
Do you see any trends in organic farming?
More organic meats are becoming available—even in Walmarts. Raising livestock organically is expensive—the feed has to be organically grown, of course, and the yield is less than that for animals that have been boosted with hormones. Last summer, Minnesota experienced a terrible drought which meant that farmers of grass-fed livestock had to pay through the nose to get hay from elsewhere. Processing also, whether crop or livestock, has to be certified as organic. The organic dairy processing and distribution infrastructure is reasonably well developed, but meat slaughtering and processing facilities can be harder to find. Consumers are very interested in buying organic meat, but at present the supply lags demand.
A love affair with maple syrup or how I discovered Spring Hills Farm
Sunday, January 27, 2008
When I was growing up, about once a month, my sister and I would be able to cajole my dad into making pancakes for Saturday morning breakfast. He had worked at IHOP as a short-order cook during his youth and in reaction to their mediocre pancake mix, had spent years creating his own special recipe for pancake mix. The actual proportions for his mix were a well-guarded secret, but every Christmas he’d make huge batches of it, bag it up and give it away to friends and family as gifts. I’ve been told that people greatly looked forward to receiving their ziptop bag of pancake mix and that many would turn it into their holiday breakfast.
One of the things that made my dad’s pancakes extra good was the fact that he always served them with real maple syrup. There was none of that fake, cloying, maple-FLAVORED stuff in our house (although on occasion my sister and I would beg for it—we were so stupid). Instead, there was always a large jug of authentic, grade B (it has a stronger, richer flavor) maple syrup. Some years it came straight from Vermont, gift from friends who ran a sap operation out there. Other times it would have been purchased in bulk from the local food co-op. Wherever it came from, there was always real maple syrup in our fridge.
These days, I don’t feel like my kitchen is adequately stocked if there isn’t a bottle of maple syrup behind the water filter. I went on a ‘baking with maple syrup’ bender a couple of weeks ago, making several loaves of Banana Maple Pecan Bread in rapid succession. During that process, I managed to use up my entire stock of maple syrup. I kept intending to get over to Trader Joe’s to replenish, but never managed to make it happen.
Then, while I was wandering the Fair Food Farmstand last Thursday during a Reading Terminal Market outing, I spotted a display of jars of maple syrup. Produced by Spring Hills Farms in Dalton, PA, this is some amazing syrup. It is fairly local (they are a bit north of Scranton), the trees are tapped in a sustainable manner and the farm is totally organic. At $16 for a quart (they also sell it in pints), it’s a bit more expensive than what I would pay at Trader Joe’s, but totally comparable to organic syrups available at Whole Foods. If you are in the market for some dark, gorgeous, tasty maple syrup, look no further.
Did You Do It?
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Way back in September of last year(!), I wrote a post about drying your own sweet corn, an age-old method of preserving the summer’s harvest in a manner that didn’t take up nearly as much space (or require any fancy equipment) as canning or freezing. It was something my grandmother had told me about, a story you can read here if you’d like to learn more about food traditions in my Pennsylvania Dutch farming family.
Now the question is, did you do it? Did you dry your own corn? I hope the answer is “yes”, because I have a delightful dish to share that features that crunchy dried corn. The resulting chewy-but-not-soft texture is very unique and compliments the rather nutty flavor nicely.
OLD-FASHIONED CREAMY (dried) CORN
2 c. dried sweet corn
2 1/4 c. fat free milk
1 1/2 c. heavy cream
2 t. sugar
2 T. butter
dash of cayenne pepper
freshly ground nutmeg
generous pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 or 4 strips of cooked (soy) bacon, crumbled
1/4 t. dried marjoram
Place corn in a large heavy saucepan and stir in milk and heavy cream. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
When ready to use, stir in the sugar, butter, cayenne, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 35-40 minutes until the liquid is absorbed. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Place in warmed serving dish and top with crumbled bacon and marjoram. Serve immediately.
Help Wanted: Urban Farming
Sunday, December 09, 2007
What’s more local than food from a nearby farm? Food from a farm a few blocks away. This may be a bit out of the ordinary, but I thought it would be of interest to Farm to Philly readers. A member of my CSA recently sent me an e-mail looking for participants for an urban farm in South Philly. Here are the details…
I’m presently establishing a farm down in South Philly. A non-profit down there owns a bunch of vacant lots they’d like to see something done on, and they like my idea. My plan is for it to be a participatory thing, connected to the alternative currency I established. I elaborate on the plan in a message to my alternative currency pals. I’m telling you, one, to invite you to participate yourself if you want, and two, I thought you might be able to spread the word.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Although I was not local over the holiday, I did eat locally in the Twin Cities where I spent my Thanksgiving. One of the highlights was the butter and cream from the farm where these sweet creatures live in New Prague, Minnesota. The farm is organic, and the cows feed on grass only. Because of a summer drought, the farm has had to buy grass to feed the herd (there’s a big group of adult cows across the road from these young ones), and buying organic grass is some serious coin.
My stepsister Meg is the Organic and Diversification Specialist for the Minnesota Dept. of Agriculture—a very nifty job. I’ll have a little interview with her soon about trends in the organic food industry.
Turkey Day Challenge: Forget the Mashed Potatoes!
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Okay, maybe you shouldn’t really forget the mashed potatoes this Thanksgiving since they are awfully good. But a nice supplement to the “mashed vegetables alongside the turkey” category would be mashed turnips with roasted garlic. Mild turnips, such as the white Hakurei, are best for those who aren’t huge turnip fans. If you enjoy their spicy, somewhat bitter taste, opt for a variety such as Scarlet Queen. Turnip season is in full swing and many varieties are available around the city’s various farmers markets. These lovelies came from Weavers Way Farm.
TURNIPS AND ROASTED GARLIC MASH
2 bunches of mild turnips (Hakurei variety works well)
1 large head of garlic
2 T. butter
generous pinches of salt and pepper
fresh chives to garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place whole head of garlic, unpeeled, on a baking sheet lined with foil. Roast garlic in oven for 30 minutes or until very squishy. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
While garlic is roasting, bring a large pot of salted water up to a boil. Wash turnips well, trimming off tops and roots. Cut into 1 inch pieces and boil until tender, about 20 minutes depending on the variety. Drain off water and allow to sit for five minutes. Turnips will release more water as they cool. Drain additional water off and use either a potato masher or an electric mixer to begin mashing up the turnips.
Cut a half inch off the top of the roasted head of garlic, exposing the cloves inside. With your hand, squeeze out all the garlic pulp into the turnips. Add butter and salt and pepper before continuing to mash turnips to the desired consistency. If turnips appear to be releasing more water after being mashed, drain it off and add more salt if necessary.
Serve immediately with a few snips of fresh garlic chives. If desired, serve cooked turnip tops along side turnip mash. To cook turnip tops, simple wash and roughly chop. Heat olive oil or butter in a skillet and add turnips when hot. Season with salt and pepper. Turnip greens are fairly bitter.
Valley Shepherd Creamery, Long Valley, NJ
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Yesterday my husband, Ben, took a personal day from the office so that we could go on a little autumn excursion. After lunch in historic Lambertville, NJ, we headed for the Valley Shepherd Creamery, where we had heard that very good cheese was to be had.
Some of Valley Shepherd’s cheeses are in fact available through Williams-Sonoma, and they’re all available at the farm, which also hosts educational farm tours tailored for ages K-4 and all the way up to college level, featuring specific tours in food sciences, entrepreneurship, animal management and biology. Valley Shepherd’s cheeses are East Friesian sheep and Jersey cow milk cheeses, some mixed milk, some pure. The farm will continue to make cheeses over the next few weeks into November, when the cheesemaking stops for the winter, but cheeses aging now in the farm’s hillside cave will still be sold through the farm’s shop. (Fresh lamb meat begins to become available in the shop right around the time of year when cheese production ceases.)
We purchased a mixed-milk blue, a very sharp Provolone-like cheese called Fairmount, a ball of ricotta, and a wedge of a soft, orange-rinded wheel that I pulled indiscriminately out of the back of a refrigerator. We were sorry that no cream cheese was available that day, and Ben drew the line at the cheese with the stinging nettles in it—both of these, I will perhaps get another shot at on a future visit. In addition to cheese, sheep’s yogurt, and aracauna eggs (naturally light blue in color and naturally lower in cholesterol than white or brown eggs), the shop features many sheep-themed gifts (I actually got some sheep chopsticks) and fiber items. I also purchased yarn from the farm’s alpacas, and for those who are not knitters, blankets woven from the farm’s fibers are also for sale.
In the time we were shopping, someone came in and asked if any raw milk was for sale; they were, of course, told that it was not, but Valley Shepherd supports Garden State Raw Milk, a grassroots campaign to legalize the sale of raw milk in New Jersey. Tours of the cheese caves are only available on weekends, so we did not get to see the caves this time around… but we will be back, for sure, and not only for the cave tour—for the day-long artisan cheesemaking class that is offered, where participants can make their own wheel of artisan sheep’s milk cheese and leave it to age in the hillside cave, then return for it when it is at its best. What an amazing gift! (The classes, or a wheel of handmade cheese!)
Regular weekend tours include, in addition to the visit to the cave, the Ewe Barn (where, depending on the calendar, baby lambs may be seen), and North America’s only rotary milking platform, which can milk over 300 sheep an hour.
Ben and I left the farm armed for the long drive home with a lot of very earthy-smelling cheeses. Our ride was blindingly bucolic—the Garden State is awash in color right now, and it was a windy, blustery day. We tried all of our cheeses except the ricotta on the ride home, at least one of which—that orange-rinded devil—was not meant to be opened in a damp, closed car under any circumstances. All things being equal, however, it was one of the most enjoyable “stinky cheeses” I have ever had, and the Fairmount—the sharp Provolone-like hard cheese—was the clear winner of the day.
(guest posting by Amber Dorko Stopper)
For Those Short on Space
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Let’s face it, a lot of us in the city are operating in small kitchens that have limited shelf space and even more limited freezer space. Canning and freezing fresh produce to use over the winter isn’t nearly as feasible under these conditions. Still, you don’t want to be left out of the “eat local” revolution for six whole months until Mother Nature decides to dust off her chilly shawl. Cooks in by-gone days solved a similar problem (their’s being more along the lines of “I have a fireplace and an ice box”) by drying much of their summer harvests. Once vegetables are dry, they’ll keep for several months and can be used much as you would the fresh version once they’re reconstituted after a soak in hot water. I’ll be trying my hand a various drying techniques over the next few weeks on www.straightfromthefarm.net. Let’s start here with some corn since its season is winding down fast.
Use fresh sweet corn, husked and silk removed with a brush. Six ears will fill up one standard baking sheet and yield about 2 cups of dried corn.
Cut corn off the cob using a sharp knife and a shallow bowl or cutting board. Be sure to cut as close the cob as you can to remove all the kernels and juice possible. Line a baking sheet with foil and give it just a very light coat of nonstick spray. Spread corn kernels out on the baking sheet into an even layer.
Turn oven onto 150 F and place tray on the middle rack. The drying process will take several hours (up to 12, depending on the freshness and juiciness of your corn) so be sure to check on it every 2 hours or so, turning it and shaking the tray gently to loosen any kernels that are sticking together or to the tray. You’ll begin to notice the kernels shrinking and eventually becoming much darker and hard. When all the moisture appears to be out of the corn, remove the tray from the oven and allow to cool off completely.
By the way, if you don’t really feel like monitoring the stove for 12 hours straight, you can turn off the oven, letting the tray sit inside, for several hours and come back to it later. Or, if you have an older gas stove with a large oven pilot light, you might not even have to turn the oven on - just leave the corn sit in there for a day or so to dry on its own.
When the dried corn is cool, place in a paper bag and hang in your kitchen to dry out any remaining moisture. After about a week or so, transfer dried corn to a ziplock bag and store in your cupboards for use later this winter.
Cooking Straight from the Farm
Thursday, September 06, 2007
If you’re a self-proclaimed localvore or just someone interested in unusual farm produce, you won’t want to miss this opportunity. On Saturday, September 29th, Weavers Way Farm, in coordination with the Mt. Airy Learning Tree, will host a unique cooking workshop that starts with students strolling rows of heirloom tomatoes, okra, squash, pumpkins, flowers, herbs, swiss chard, beets, carrots, peppers, and more to learn about natural growing practices and local urban farming as well as how to take advantage of seasonal crops at home. Students will talk with the farmer and volunteers to understand how much effort and passion goes into naturally grown/organic food. Once students have gathered this farming knowledge, they will then help harvest some vegetables (and buy more to take home if they wish) to take into the kitchen.
In the kitchen, the farm’s food blog host will demonstrate how to prepare three or four quick dishes using the farm’s more unusual produce (including marjoram pictured above). Dishes will be determined by seasonal availability, but are almost certain to include quesadillas with tomatillo sauce and squash blossoms, sorrel almond pesto, seasonally filled empanadas and other delectable and super fresh treats. After the cooking demonstration, students are encouraged to stick around to feast on the harvest dishes and participate in a round-robin discussion on buying local resources and urban farming in Philadelphia.
To sign up for the workshop, visit Mt. Airy Learning Tree’s site for online registration.
Head to Headhouse and Make this Soup
Thursday, August 30, 2007
The bounty of the much-touted Headhouse Farmers Market inspired this soup recipe. Make a list of the ingredients and head to the market to see if you can get one item from a different stand to spread the love around. Or, just stop by our table, Weavers Way Farm, and buy everything but the corn. Deliciously fresh, this soup can be served hot or cold so it’ll make the transition between seasons with you. To stock up for the colder months, buy extra fresh corn to cut off the cobs and freeze. Then buy bushels of tomatillos to make salsa verde to also freeze or can. That way, when winter settles in, you can call upon your stockpiles to make this hearty soup to remind you of the freshness of summer.
Corn and Tomatillo Chowder
Adated from The Cook’s Encyclopedia of Soup
2 T. peanut or corn oil
4 large shallots or 1 medium onion, diced
1 hot pepper such as Hungarian Hot Wax, diced
1 sweet pepper (purple, red or green), diced
2 ears of fresh sweet corn, kernels cut off (about 2 cups)
12 or so tomatillos
3 c. of vegetable or chicken stock
1 c. light cream
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Husk tomatillos, place in a small sauce pan and cover with water. Place on high heat until water boil and then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes until tomatillos loose their bright color and float to the top.
Meanwhile, heat oil in large deep skillet. Add the diced onion and peppers, reserving a tablespoon or so of the pepper for garnish later, to the hot skillet and saute over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes until they get soft and brown on the edges. Add the corn kernels to the skillet and saute for 2 minutes until softened and the color pales. Finally, drain tomatillos from their hot water and add to skillet to toss with sauted vegetables. Stir to incorporate.
Carefully pour contents of skillet into a blender (or use an immersion blender for extra ease) and process until smooth, adding a little stock if needed to loosen it up. Transfer blended contents back to skillet and slowly add in stock over low heat. Allow soup to simmer for 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes to scrap up any corn sticking to the bottom of the skillet.
Remove skillet from heat and stir in cream. Serve soup chilled or warm. If serving warm, gently reheat - never allow soup to come to a boil. Garnish each bowl of soup with diced pepper and thin slices of an uncooked tomatillo.
(makes 4 large servings)
When Fresh Truly Counts
Friday, July 27, 2007
I suddenly feel so accomplished! I made something I thought only restaurants serve. After all, how many times have any of us come to the call of “Dinner’s ready!” to find fried squash blossoms stuffed with fresh herbed goat cheese? I certainly haven’t had the pleasure before. Readers extraordinaire, you must give this recipe a try if you can get your hands on some fresh squash blossoms. It wasn’t nearly as hard as one might think to make these delicate and tasty beauties.
Indeed, the beauty and the flaw of this dish are the squash blossoms themselves. First, they are not a common supermarket find. Second, if you do find them but you don’t get them very very fresh and take good care to keep them cool and moist, they get rather difficult (read: rubbery) to handle (although you can still make it work). That being said, I know there are some of you out there dutifully growing squash plants up the side of the fence in your tiny Philly rowhouse backyard, in urban plots/pots or, for those luckier ducks, in your large suburban kitchen gardens. You, my friends, have no excuse not to give this one a go. In fact, I think you owe it to those that don’t have easy squash blossom access to put your good fortune to use.
How, pray tell, does one harvest a squash blossom? Since squash develop from the blossoms, you don’t want to pick the “female” blossoms that are found low and in the center of the plant. Rather, pick the “male” blossoms that are on long slender stems higher up in the plant. You’ll easily be able to tell the difference once you’re actually looking at a squash plant.
For those of you without your own squash plants, check out the Headhouse Farmers Market on Sunday’s in Philly. This new and unusually lively market is located in the historic “shambles” on 2nd and South Streets. There you’ll find loads of local produce, including a few vendors, such as Weavers Way Farm, selling squash blossoms picked that morning. You really must get them as fresh as possible!
Once you’ve aquired your delicate blossoms by hook or by crook, store them in a ziplock bag filled with air (to cushion them) and with a damp paper towel. Keep in the fridge for up to a day.
Let us know if you try this recipe and how they turn out. Also, what other uses do you know of for squash blossoms. According to my trusty kitchen garden reference book, they are suppose to be good in salads and stir frys. I’m so fixated on the fried stuffed version that I haven’t gotten around to trying either just yet…
FRIED SQUASH BLOSSOMS STUFFED WITH HERB CHEESE
Adapted from Chez Panisse menu
12 large squash blossoms
8 oz. goat cheese, room temperature
1/4 c. finely minced fresh herbs (thyme, basil, chives, sage, or others)
1 large shallot, finely minced
salt and pepper
1/4 c. milk
1/2 c. corn meal mix (look for one that includes salt and baking powder) or masa harina (available in some larger stores)
Freshly ground pepper
1 c. vegetable oil
Place the goat cheese in a small bowl. Mix in the minced herbs, shallots and salt. Mixture will come together easier if the cheese is at room temperature. Once mixed, cover and place in refrigerator for 15 minutes or until firm again.
Prepare your “assembly line” by beating the eggs and milk together in a shallow bowl. Place corn meal mix or masa harina in another shallow bowl and mix in the freshly ground pepper. If blossoms have not already been prepped, gently remove all but a small tip of the stem and look closely for any dirt or insects. If you find anything, gently wipe clean with a damp towel.
When cheese mixture is firm, take teaspoon size amounts and roll into small balls with your hands the way you would chilled cookie dough. Place a cheese ball into the center of each blossom and twist the ends of the petals together to fully enclose the cheese.
Dip each blossom into the egg mixture. Let excess drip off. Quickly and gently roll blossom in dry mixture, shaking excess off. Set blossoms in refrigerator until ready to fry.
Place vegetable oil in a skillet and heat to approximately 350 degrees or until a tiny pinch of corn meal dropped in produces a good sizzle. Carefully place half the blossoms into the hot oil. Turn them over to brown evenly on all sides. When golden brown, remove and place on a paper towel to drain. Bring oil back up to temperature and fry the remaining blossoms.
Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and serve immediately with any leftover cheese as a garnish in the center of the plate.
(makes 12, serves 4)