October 14, 2018

A post every 18 months is better than no post at all, right? All right!!

Life has taken a series of twists and turns, as should be expected. The last post – from Feb 2017 – is from prior to when we bought Prudent Produce and moved it out to our farm. Now that we have many aspects of that operation running fairly smoothly (always some kinks!), it’s on to the next part of the endeavor: converting our 50-acre field that has been conventionally farmed for generations to organic production.

We have lots and lots and lots of questions about what this will look like in practice… what mix of livestock, grains / row crops, vegetables, and ?? should be included? A derivative question: who do we trust to help us arrive at answers to all of these questions? As a recovering academic, I know how able people are to be convinced that they are absolutely right about something, but the accuracy of their knowledge and expertise are limited by their own experiences. There is a great value in what experts can contribute, but their contributions alone are not sufficient to transcend broken systems.

This is very much on my mind as we consider pursuing organic certification — a marketing tool that in many ways is being / has been co-opted by the big boys. With Prudent Produce, we rely heavily on organic certification to know that the produce we deliver to our customers is free of synthetic chemicals, and therefore want to support that which we rely upon. At the same time, we do not want to support a process that is losing its focus and intent.

Engaging with government agencies and state universities — both of which are home to much knowledge, experience, and bureaucracy are also great limited by the status quo, and due to reliance on government funding and industry support, are largely unable to innovate at the speed required to achieve the types of systematic change in our agricultural systems that I want to see in my lifetime. Yet these institutions are critical in the pursuit of systematic change. How to partner in a way that is beneficial for all?

Other innovative farms provide much inspiration – including many members of Practical Farmers of Iowa – and the mentorship, inspiration, and lessons from these colleagues and friends is critical to success.

Shifting gears

The seed orders are in, and now it’s time to move on to a couple of other things that are critical to get lined up before the busy spring season arrives.

The things now at the time of my priority list:

  1. Marketing materials. It’s time to get word out about New Family Farm and all of the fantastic produce that will be available from us this year. The website and facebook are great tools for this, but we also need to get printed materials out to people. Also, we’re now listed on the LocalHarvest.org site – you’re welcome to check out our listing there.
  2. Space for germinating plants this spring. Many of the vegetables we grow will be started in climate-controlled environments. With an eye to energy savings, this means I need to get a greenhouse up in the next two months. This is entirely possible, but not without challenges!
  3. Equipment prep. One of my fall purchases was an Allis-Chalmers ‘G’ tractor (picture below). It was made in the 1950’s. I bought it because it’s a light-weight (minimizing soil compaction) and has the engine in the rear and a belly-mount cultivator (enabling me to see where I’m going and not run over crops). It currently does not have brakes, and the cultivator is not set up for the bed system that I’ll be using. (The bed system is basically using 5-foot wide “beds”, having between 1 and 5 rows in each bed, depending upon the crop. This differs from a row system, where every row would be the same width, say 30 inches.)

There are still plenty of other things for me to be thinking about: irrigation, delivery systems and produce handling, organic certification, and the deer fence. But I think ‘ll set those aside for right now, and focus on a few others.


Anticipating Abundance

It’s rather chilly today. Currently 1 degree. Fahrenheit. Not like 1 degree C – for my Swedish friends, which would be just above freezing. No, we are quite far below freezing here today. So I decided I needed to spend a little time reflecting on how hot things were last summer. For example, here’s the delivery from July 1st. It’s a great example of the early season: lots of greens and a few earlier roots – turnips, beets, radishes – and my personal favorite: kohlrabi.


Then there’s the fall delivery – this one’s from October, and was exceptionally bountiful. The farms that I worked with (Wild Woods Farm and ZJ Farm) did an every-other-week delivery in the fall, so the picture below is 2 weeks’ worth.  Carrots, squash, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, kale, chard, eggplant, garlic, broccoli, turnips, rutabaga, radish, and even – gasp! – a watermelon!

(photo credit to Kate Edwards)

Now that I’m sufficiently inspired (not really warmed up as I’d hoped, but at least inspired!), I can go back to the seeding plan in anticipation of the abundance of the growing season.


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!


Cutting boards: wood or plastic?

I found this fascinating – saying that wood cutting boards are better than plastic/acrylic cutting boards, and that the best way to kill any residual bacteria on the board is to microwave it for a few minutes each week: www.rodalenews.com/cutting-boards-and-bacteria

The thing is, there is still plenty of advice out there to use plastic or acrylic. Like this: culinaryarts.about.com/od/culinarytools/p/cuttingboards.htm.
Either way, it’s a reminder to take what has become “conventional wisdom” with a grain of salt.


Kohlrabi Fries

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

Recipe by Michelle Davis | Photo by Matthew Holloway

  • 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


  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.