Monthly Archives: October 2016

Veggie Tips

Pomegranates: There is a video on our web site showing you one easy way to seed a pomegranate.  You can keep the seeds in the refrigerator in a covered container, or leave them out as a snack.  If you get your box every other week, you are on the pomegranate schedule — let us know if you would like to get on a different plan…

Karinata Kale: This is a very special kale grown only by two Capay Valley farms. It is a cross between red Russian kale and Mustard. Lately I’ve been chopping up my greens, then cooking them in a bit of water flavored with apple cider vinegar, or some other acid like lemon or wine vinegar.  When they’ve absorbed most of the water, you can add a bit of butter and stir fry them for a few minutes. 

Leeks: Cut the leeks lengthwise to clean them.  Then put the two sides back on top of one another to chop and you have pretty, perfect sized half rounds!

Potatoes: These potatoes should be treated like a fresh vegetable rather than a storage vegetable — put them in the refrigerator and don’t leave them in light.  The skins have not ‘set,’ so don’t worry if they get scuffed up— the potato is tender and creamy.

Salad Mix/Lettuce: If your salad mix or lettuce is wet when it arrives, you might want to shake out some of the excess water — we do try to do that at the farm, but sometimes we don’t have time to dry the lettuce properly.  At some time we may invest in an industrial-size salad mix drier.  The salad mix is one of the most fragile things in your box this week — eat it first!

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News From the Farm | October 31, 2016

We have been enjoying rain and the forecast for unsettled weather has created a marked difference to the start of this fall rainy season compared to the past 5 years when there was no fall rainy season. We have surpassed 3 inches here, creating a hue of soft green emerging from the straw-yellow hills. All edges have come alive as warm temperatures double plant growth in a great start to Fall. 

Fall work includes tomato fields to clean up, cover crops to plant, hoeing and cultivation of our greens and winter crops, hard squash in the fields to be picked up, pruning, early grasses to till in ahead of November grain planting, and repairs to equipment that is limping toward the year-end finish line.

This rain is a blessing that requires a bit of adjustment on our part. The more that it rains, the more the calculus changes. Little or no rain means that we adjust with pumped water, providing the moisture needed to grow crops. A lot of rain creates muddy fields where the crops that we harvest are carried to the edges. Picking slows down, tractors stop and raingear-clad crews carry 5 lbs of mud on each boot. 

This morning I received an update from a wonderful farmer who was an intern here at Full Belly.  Jack Hedin and family now farm in southern Minnesota in an operation that grows a wide variety of fresh market vegetables that serve the upper Midwest marketplace. His organic farm, Featherstone Farm, has settled into a corn and soybean region where there is little or no vegetable production. Vegetables from Mexico and California have displaced local food producers like Featherstone.  Jack’s carrots or tomatoes need to compete with desert grown crops where the vagaries of weather aren’t a production factor. In a desert environment, rainfall is a momentary disruption rather than a prolonged challenge. The ability to grow and ship large acreages of vegetables, and the economies of scale therein, along with inexpensive fossil fuel that can move those crops across the country puts Jack’s modest 250-acre farm at a pronounced disadvantage.

Featherstone had a rough year. Rains in July and August ruined his storage cabbage, cauliflower, onions and brassica crops. There was so much rain that the resulting diseases wiped out a springtime of work and investment, and put his farm in position where economic failure looms. Full Belly can usually produce year-round, risking crop loss from cold and rain in the month of December. But Midwestern farmers need to have their crops in the barn if they want to have cash flow in the wintertime. Jack built his business model on the ability to sell crops harvested and held in storage—cabbage, carrots, hard squash and other hardy brassica crops like kale and broccoli were the keys to his winter cash flow.

Why is this important? Featherstone represents a movement to farm diversification and local fresh vegetable production in a part of the country where corn and soy are dominant.  It is an attempt to diversify the local rural economy with new jobs, keeping employment and the circulation of money local. Featherstone represented a model for other farmers by producing a variety of organic vegetables and extending the season with new crops. Regional local vegetable production is creating other options for access to fresh produce in a market dominated by the ability of west coast and desert growers to continue using inexpensive fossil fuel and increasingly scarce water to grow and ship produce long distances. 

The uncertainties of a changing climate and weather patterns that create the conditions for farm failure require out attention.  The Federal Government declared the counties surrounding Rushford Minnesota disaster areas as weather related crop losses were widespread. It is not clear that Jack’s county will receive that designation.

According to Jack, “Two things are unique about the losses of 2016, in historical context. First, generally crop losses are offset by a very few crops that will perform above expectation. In the past, bad news in crops x and y has been offset by good news in crops a and b. This is the essence of risk management on a diverse farm. In 2016 however, income from ‘good crops’ (kale, and cherry tomatoes) was dwarfed by losses in ‘bad crops’.

“Secondly, the losses we’re experiencing in 2016 are at both a depth and breadth that I believe to be unprecedented in 20 years at Featherstone Farm. In the past we’ve had big issues with a few crops, say, or moderate level issues with a broader set of crops. But to have deep losses on such a wide range of plantings… 

“The reasons why this is happening are as diverse as the crops themselves. Many, of them are rooted in the near constant wet we’ve experienced all summer. Not just the 2” downpours (there have been lots of these…), but the hot, muggy weather between, in which soils and crops simply could not dry out adequately, spreading Black Rot and other diseases. But other things have gone wrong as well… It’s in the nature of farming that we have to invest money for months and months in plantings and in people, on the assumption that crops will produce at a certain level. When it becomes apparent (often at the very end of the growing season) that productivity is low, there is less expense that can be cut. Production costs are 90% sunk, even if yields are not there to pay for them. In 2016, this may be as much as a $300k shortfall.” For more information see Featherstone Farm and prospectus.

The essence of the organic food system is to think in terms of a system. Our relationship with other organic farms is a network of learning, and support of these goals. We will support Featherstone with a donation because they are part of a network of farms bringing new ideas and good food to the heartland of this country. Their work is important, we hope that you might also consider some level of support. Thank you.

— Paul Muller

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Veggie Tips

Mizuna: This is an Asian green, very mild and can be eaten raw or cooked.You can add it to your salad or put it in a miso soup. Or you can steam it very lightly and toss it with your pasta and fresh parmesan.

Golden Nugget Winter Squash: You can store your squash on the counter in a cool dry place.  It should be good for several weeks if you don’t use it right away.  

Salad Mix: If your salad mix looks wet when it arrives, it wouldn’t hurt to shake out some of the excess water — we try to do that at the farm, but sometimes we don’t get it all out.  The salad mix is one of the things that you should think about eating earlier rather than later in the week.  We don’t treat it with chlorine like they do the bagged mixes in the stores.

Tokyo Turnips: Separate the green tops from the bottoms.  These mild turnips are delicious cut up in rectangles, lightly salted (to wilt them like a quick pickle) and then served with a little bit of lime or lemon juice.  The turnips, once separated from their greens will store well.  The greens are delicious — don’t forget them in your refrigerator!

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News From the Farm | October 24, 2016

Our news this week is very specific to those of you who are members of our CSA:  Full Belly has launched an on-line portal that will allow you to manage your CSA member account yourself.  This program has been a long time coming and we’re very excited that it is ready!

Once you have activated your account you will be able to look at your upcoming schedule for CSA boxes and special orders, check your account information, view your payment history, and submit an updated credit card.

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We still love to hear from you and you are always welcome to email or phone us, but now that you have access to your account we hope that the process of renewing your box and updating your credit card will be easier.  Some of you have already received an email from us with an activation code.  If you haven’t received that email yet, rest assured that you will get one within the next 10 days.  If you want to set up an account and can’t wait, by all means let us know and we will send you your special activation code right away.  The code allows you to link with all of your current information.

With this new system, you will have the option of putting your order on auto renewal. If you indicate that you do want an order put on auto renewal, we will always send you an email before we charge your credit card, giving you the opportunity to opt out — and only if we don’t hear from you, will we go ahead and renew your order.  

We owe a great deal of gratitude and appreciation to Maxwell Klein who did the back-end development of a truly cadillac system that we are proud of.  We are also blessed to be working with Elisa Rohner Design.  Elisa built our public web site as well as the screens that you will see when you sign into your account.

Let us know if you have any questions about setting up your on-line account!

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Veggie Tips

Beets: Beet greens are very similar to chard.  The roots will store longer than the greens, especially if you cut the greens off before you store them.

Pomegranates: There is a video on our web site showing you one easy way to seed a pomegranate.  You can keep the seeds in the refrigerator in a covered container, or leave them out as a snack.

Leeks: We usually provide a vegetable from the allium family year-round.  We have heard that a few of you have had enough of the garlic, and our onions are a little bit small, so we’re moving on.  A good way to clean the leeks is to cut them in half lengthwise and rinse out any soil that was trapped in the layers. We have a nice list of recipes that use leeks on our web site and the Leeks Vinaigrette features them as the main attraction.

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News From the Farm | October 17, 2016

Seasonality is a characteristic of agriculture.  Some seasons are busy, others less so. Busy times mean more employees — and less busy times – well, seasonality in farming is why it has always been hard for farm workers to find year-round steady work. Most people still think of farm workers as migrants, moving from one part of the country to the next, following the harvest as crops mature. For migrant farm workers from time immemorial, there have always been periods of time when work is scarce. This is unlike almost any other profession.  Sure, teachers have traditionally had time off in the summer.  Landscaping and construction are also kind-of seasonal.  But I think not to the extent that is built into the very nature of farming.  Harvest time is fraught with urgency — the crop must be in the barn and out of the rain, or at the processing plant and out of the field, in a short window of time, or it will be lost. All the effort of keeping the crop safe, growing it from a seed to a grain, or from a bud to a fruit, can be for naught, if the harvest fails for one reason or another.  

That popular conception, of farm workers as migrants, isn’t in fact, accurate any more.  The number of farm workers who migrate within the US has fallen by 60% since the 1990’s, just as migration back and forth from Mexico has fallen.  Now, as documented by agricultural economists, only a small percentage of farm workers migrate within the U.S. and this is true for both undocumented and documented workers, and in all areas of the country, in all demographic groups. There are several reasons for these changes at the marco level, and one is that the agricultural workforce is now older, and more experienced in farm work.  Workers are more likely to be married and living with their families, with kids in school, and a car in the garage. As farm working immigrants put roots down in their new communities, they are less willing to migrate.  Another important part of the changing picture has to do with immigration policy. While there are still workers moving in and out of the country from Mexico and Central America, that flow has diminished.  In our Capay Valley, we have seen all of these factors at work.

It has always been an important principal at Full Belly Farm to provide year-round employment for a core group of employees.  In our climate we can grow broccoli, carrots and greens in the cold season, from November through April, keeping our staff working, although with only 5 instead of 6 days per week in January, growing to 10 instead of 8 hours per day in June. Come Spring, the work-to-be-done skyrockets, and we need all hands on deck, planting, weeding, trellising, harvesting and taking care of the high-value crops that are the farm’s sustenance. But even though our labor needs go down in the cold season, we have been able to provide year-round work for a group of core employees.

I looked at the trends from the past ten years of Full Belly labor records and noticed that there has been a steady, slow increase over the years in the number of people that we have on payroll in January.  These are the core employees that stay through the winter, and their numbers have grown as the farm has grown.  But every year, we prepare for the summer, starting in April, by bringing on new employees, and we have had a harder and harder time doing so in the last few years. We always hire on some summer high school students that can work a few days a week, but the full-time workers that we need to help us in the busy and critically important summer season, have been harder and harder to find. This means that fields and crops are left untended. I compared two years: 2011 and 2016, and noticed that we have actually been adding fewer people to our staff each year, and that certainly hasn’t been because we haven’t tried. These are trends for us to ponder, because the ag economists are saying that they aren’t going to change.

Of course, we would like to even out the seasonal changes in our labor needs, just keeping the core group of workers, without having to hire on additional summer help. But that is a wish that flies in the face of agricultural reality.  We add additional people to our staff because there is work to be done from daylight to ‘dark-thirty’ (a term that we use in the summertime when we find ourselves loading trucks and printing invoices when we should be getting ready for bed). For example, in 2011 our employees worked almost twice as many hours (total, for the whole crew) in June as they did in January.  In 2016, even though our workforce didn’t increase proportionately, the total employee-hours worked in June was almost 2- 1/2 times more than in January.  That’s what “seasonal” means at ground zero! The number of hours in a week gets stretched to capacity, farther than you thought was possible.

We would like our community to understand some of these farm realities. Sometimes you might hear farmers saying that they think agriculture is ‘different’ from other industries.  This seasonality in labor need is one of the differences. There aren’t as many farmers now as there used to be, so the urgency of bringing in the harvest and the need for additional labor at that time, is no longer a shared responsibility.  But growing fresh fruits and vegetables, bringing them to local markets, providing nutritious food — what is the measure of the value of these activities?  Each farm will face these challenges alone, and find solutions (or not) that work for their unique conditions. The question that remains, for policy makers and for communities that value local food, is do we value our local farms enough to share the challenges and find solutions together? Of course, we are hoping that the answer is yes!  Let us know your thoughts.

— Judith Redmond

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Veggie Tips

This is a wonderful moment in the march of the vegetables through the seasons — we have summer and fall vegetables at the same time in your Box…

Watermelon Radish (also known as Red Daikon): It is probably not quite time to make roasted vegetables (red daikon is very good roasted), so you may want to try our Miso Soup with Kale and Daikon, a simple, quick recipe.  Daikon radishes are ubiquitous in Asian cuisine and a worthy vegetable to get to know.  

Bok Choy: Another Asian green, also easy for you to use.  Bok Choy is often served with rice.  The stalks are meant to be a little bit crisp after you cut up the leaves and stir fry them.  Salt, garlic and a little sesame oil (if you have it) will make this a delicious vegetable dish.  Add some tofu and you have a complete meal.

Buttercup Squash:  We grow many different varieties of winter squash. There are smaller varieties like Sweet Dumpling and Delicata that have lighter colored flesh and thinner skin (you can eat the skin on all of the winter squash, but especially these two).  We also grow the well-known varieties like Butternut and Acorn, available in most stores.  For several years we have grown a smaller version of butternut, called honeynut — you are likely to see that in your boxes soon.  Green Kabocha and Red Kabocha have deeper colored, earthier flesh.  Your squash this week is Buttercup — more like the Kabocha than the Delicata. It is a hearty squash that can be eaten straight out of the oven after roasting, or made into a soup.

Parsley: Chimichurri sauce, green sauce (with avocados, cilantro, jalapeño, lime, olive oil, nuts), or as a flavoring for the greens, or veggie bowls that you make during the week.  Parsley is a superfood — very nutritious.

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News From the Farm | October 10, 2016

This week we are sharing some correspondence that we received:

Dear Sir or Madam,

Recently, my 8th grade history teacher had my class and me give up one of our favorite foods for five days.  The purpose of the experiment was to show us what it might have been like for Europeans to go without some luxuries when they searched for new lands.

I chose to give up strawberries for this project because strawberries are one of my favorite fruits and I eat them quite often with my lunches.  Strawberries give me a burst of flavor that makes me a bit happier for the rest of the day.  When I was not allowed to eat strawberries, I realized how important to me they were.  I craved strawberries, and thought of their juicy, fresh, slightly soggy, bite sized, sweet flavor, and had a bit less happiness throughout the day.

From this experience I learned that when I can’t have something, I want it so much more, and that absence truly does make the heart grow fonder.  I thought more about strawberries when I couldn’t have them, and now that I do have them, I enjoy eating them so much more.

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter.

Sincerely,

Kai R. Weiner

P.S. Would you be so kind as to send me some strawberries, you don’t have to, but I would appreciate it, thanks.

 

Dear Kai,

Thank you so much for writing to us. Its not often we get such wonderful letters like yours. You must have a great teacher. We all loved hearing about your experience of not having strawberries. I am sure that challenge must have been really difficult. I think strawberries are amazing and likely could not live without them either. I am one of the education coordinators here on the farm and wanted to let you know a little about what’s happening to your favorite fruit on the farm. 

We would love to send you some strawberries, but unfortunately they are out of season for us. Each year in September we plant brand new seedlings out in one of our fields for the following spring. Most farmers who grow strawberries don’t have to plant them each year. Strawberries are perennials and keep growing from year to year. In the summertime our farm can get as hot as 115º outside. This usually leads to our strawberry plants melting into the ground. We plant them in the fall and then we can begin harvesting them the following April. The season only lasts 2-3 months as they usually disappear in June. 

strawberrySince I can’t give you strawberries now I have sent along a photo of our plants growing. We are so happy that you love strawberries and hope that you enjoy ours when the season is right. Thank you again for the wonderful letter. You have many of the farmers here smiling after a long summer. 

—Jordan Dixon 

Education Coordinator

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Wreath Making Class at Full Belly Farm

Every year Full Belly offers a class to our members so that all of you have the opportunity to learn how to make a beautiful dried flower wreath right here at the farm where the flowers were grown and dried. The wreaths make perfect holiday gifts, and they last for years. The class will take place on Veteran’s Day, Friday November 11th, from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm.  We will serve you a delicious organic lunch and provide all of the supplies that you need.  The cost is $50 for adults and $25 for children (we don’t provide child care). Class size is limited, so please call or email to reserve a spot: 530-796-2214, or belly@fullbellyfarm.com.

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