February is coming!

February is coming, and with it a whole lot of activity on a whole lot of different levels!

At the national level, word is that there is a new farm bill that is likely to make it’s way through congress within the next couple of weeks. As a vegetable farmer, my sense is that there is very little that will affect me directly. As an Iowan, an environmentalist, a member of the Iowa Farmers Union, and a human – there are quite a few things that will affect me. Overall I’m glad to see that the bill is moving forward and will continue to support both people who need to eat (through SNAP) as well as people who produce the food.

At the state level, the Practical Farmers of Iowa annual conference was last week. It was my first PFI conference, even though I’ve been to enough events over the past year that I feel like I know everyone (almost!) who was there. Ok- so that’s a stretch. But they’re all such great people that if you don’t know someone, you just start a conversation with them and soon that’s taken care of. Highlights included Susan Jutz (my mentor) receiving the Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award (PDF), Andy Dunham (another mentor) talking about Weathering the Weather, and Laura Krouse (another mentor) talking about growing potatoes. There was also a “short course” the two half-days before the conference on holistic management – focusing on how people – farmers especially – need to look beyond only the business plan to find the things that they really want out of life and to make sure that short-term decisions are aligned with that. It reminded me very much of my research work in Sweden – backcasting from desired futures, creativity within constraints, and so on –  and the masters programs (strategic leadership – MSLS and sustainable product innovation – MSPI) that are currently accepting applications to join them in the fall of this year!

At the local (farm) level – I’m just finishing up what may be the most complicated taxes ever… the combination of having been in Sweden last January, starting a consulting business to continue some academic work independently, starting a farm, and some short-term capital gains…. well, it got interesting! Between that and the PFI conference, not a lot of farm work has been done over the past week. And tomorrow I’ll head to Florida for a few days – while I’m currently cash-poor, I’m points rich thanks to some strategic use of credit cards and several years of flying to/from Sweden! Hopefully I’m going far enough south to see the 70′s. I’d still rather be going fishing this summer, but the life of a vegetable farmer doesn’t allow for summer vacations, at least not at this stage of the game.

For now, I think you should contemplate kale – and the four dishes suggested over at DM Juice. If it gets you thinking about summer veggies like I hope it does – consider joining our CSA this summer to get your weekly box of fresh produce!

One of the kale pictures from dmjuice:
The Winterset Salad Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, at at The Cafe in Ames.

December soup

I was hungry last night, and realized that we had some kale that had been in the refrigerator for about a month. It was a BIG bag of kale – large garbage bag size that we had rapidly hurried to harvest for the last delivery of last season with the expectation of freezing what was left for our own use throughout the winter. The freezing part just had not happened yet.

So. I had kale and leftover ham from a Christmas dinner. Sounded like time for soup! I took a big pot and filled it 1/3 of the way with water, and put it on the stove to get hot. Then I chopped up several potatoes – enough that I was sure I could feed three people dinner and still have leftovers. I put the potatoes in the pot, then moved on to onions. I chopped up a few small yellow onions and two bigger red onions. The yellow onions I sautéd in a frying pan to sweeten them up, then put them in the soup pot. The red ones I put directly in with the potatoes. Next I pulled kale off the stem by folding the leaves over (the long way) and pulling 1-2 inch strips off the stem. This way I had a nice size to go into the soup, and I could quality check the kale and easily put bad parts of leaves into the compost bucket. Then I chopped up the ham and added it. I went ahead and added a 1/4 teaspoon (t.) salt and maybe 1/2 t. oregano. Then let it sit for about 45 minutes – until the potatoes were soft – and started eating!

20131230_kalehampotatooonion_soup

Kohlrabi Fries

From http://www.jrorganicsfarm.com/blog/recipes/baked-kohlrabi-fries/

Recipe by Michelle Davis | Photo by Matthew Holloway

Ingredients
  • 2 pounds of kohlrabi, skinned and cut into matchsticks no larger than a finger
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce or tamari
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons brown rice flour or white flour
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

 

Directions
  1. Warm the oven 425 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.
  2. Mix together the flour, spices, and salt in a small bowl.
  3. Toss together the lemon juice, soy sauce, and olive in a large bowl and add the kohlrabi.
  4. Sprinkle the spice mixture over the kohlrabi and mix until everything is all well coated.
  5. Spread the kohlrabi over the baking sheet and bake for about 30 minutes, turning half way through, or until the fries are golden and slightly crispy.
  6. Serve warm and with your favorite dipping sauce.

Cream of Asparagus Soup

Cream of Asparagus Soup

This is a great recipe for a rainy spring day… after the asparagus has started popping, but when it’s a little chilly or rainy and the comfort of a hot soup still feels good.

2 c. water or stock
1 1/2 c. chopped onion
6 Tbs butter
6 Tbs flour
1 1/2 lbs fresh asparagus
4 cups scalded milk
1 tsp. salt
white pepper

optional flavor-adders:
dash of tamari
few pinches of dill

Break off the tough asparagus bottoms and put them in your compost bin. Then break off the asparagus tips and set them aside. Chop what remains of the stalks, then saute them together with the onions in the butter and a touch of salt for 8-10 minutes until onions are clear.

Then sprinkle in the flour. Continue to cook over lowest possible heat 5-8 minutes. Add water or stock.

Cook another 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until it thickens.

Purée the sauce and milk bit-by-bit in a blender, blending until smooth. Return the purée to a kettle, and add flavors (salt, pepper, dill, tamari). Heat the soup very gently! Don’t boil it. As the soup is heating, sauté the asparagus tips in a little butter until tender, but still very green. And these (whole) to the soup.

Serve immediately.

Note: the first time I made this, I used a cast iron skillet (frying pan) for the first several steps. Then after blending, I poured into a cast iron kettle to finish heating up the soup. They worked great! When using cast iron, you have to be extra careful not to get the pots too hot – it takes them a long time to cool down. But for that reason they are perfect for this soup – because you can heat them slowly so the soup gets hot (without boiling), and the soup will stay warm for quite a while after taking it off the stove.