Sunday, February 21, 2010

A universe of stars-a field of suns

Last week I learned that it is, in fact, possible to see more of Orion than just his belt. Lying upside down on the deck of the Green String schoolhouse, three of us interns shared a moment of clarity and saw Orion in his entirety for the first time. Meanwhile, as Lansing Christman describes, in the fields around us there is blooming "another universe of stars, a slope of blossoms". The flowers are coming out one by one, creating new constellations in the fields and trees, and it is a very beautiful time at the farm.

We interns had a great week, starting with a wine tasting session with the Cline/ Jacuzzi Director of Winemaking, Charlie Tsegeletos. Next came a visit to a couple-thousand-year-old bay tree during a class on tree surgery.

But the highlight of the week came on Saturday, when, after a long and harsh winter deprived of blood-red root vegetables, we harvested BEETS for our Winter Harvest Dinner with Petaluma Mentor Me. Kids, mentors, and interns all had a blast harvesting vegetables and salad greens, then chopping, cooking, and enjoying a lovely winter's feast. Hearty food and much merriment was shared, culminating in what you may call a bit of a barn dance.

Did I mention we had beets? That brings me to the official recipe selection of the week. Hailing from the dark, dark, sasquatch-laden forests of the far northwest (Seattle), I give you:

"Back to Your Roots Cookies"

Things you will need:

1 cup Butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup cooked, mashed beets (or carrots!)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cardamom

Things you will need to do:

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Then mix in your mashed beets (or carrots!), egg, and vanilla, and set aside. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and cardamom. Add the dry ingredients to the beet mixture and blend thoroughly. Drop by heaping teaspoons onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 20 minutes or until the top is slightly soft and the bottoms are beginning to brown. Makes about 30 small-ish to medium-ish, beautiful red cookies.

* To add a little something-something, I mixed in some chocolate chips with the dough. Probably about a third of a package, so the chocolate does not take center stage but still says hello.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Natural process agriculture

I have been an intern at the Green String Institute for a little over two months now. Shortly my introduction to natural process growing, under the teachings of Bob Cannard, will be coming to an end. Though I am returning to my home of the Pacific Northwest, I will be taking with me important lessons for what is actually possible in the transformation to sustainable agriculture that is needed.
There are varying thought processes that define different practices for how nature truly grows. Teachings of Masanbou Fukoka and Bill Mollison are two prominent philosophies/practices in this area. Bob Cannards life observing and interacting in a natural food system, has brought him to the teachings that I am currently receiving. Natural process farming has three main tenets (as I see it); full maturity of crop cropping systems, actively aerated aerobic compost tea, and broad-spectrum mineral application. Though there are many other practices being used on this farm, through the use of these three practices soils that have been destroyed by our previous culture are now coming back to tilth. Thus the end goal of providing for humanity while leaving the land better than when we started is achieved.
The machines and animals of our ancestors destroyed the native forests and ecosystems, replacing it with poor management. Soils became compacted, supporting low level life forms, as nutrients and minerals washed away with the feet of soil. This land is riveted with gullies that continue to form as the scars from our culture cement our attitude towards nature. But this is changing…
I’ve worked on various biodynamic, Permaculture, and organic farms—mostly throughout the NW—and none have rival the full potential that is the Green String way. Not only does natural process farming build soil, reinoculating biological communities with broad-spectrum nutrients and minerals in conjunction with soil organic matter; it is also easy. These methods are able to be applied on a large scale; big enough make the large transition we need from industrial agriculture to local sustainable agriculture and small/effective enough so we don’t repeat the same mistakes.
This has given me hope. I have hope for our future, when erratic weather conditions due to global warming, peak oil, consolidation of corporate agriculture, loss of biodiversity ,and economic/ social instability leave little room it. Slowly our culture is realizing that naturally grown food makes more sense than the herbicide ball from industrial agriculture, and that it tastes better. Slowly with time, we can make this tremendous shift back to growing our food near our homes, and we can also move into a new era where humans take responsibility for our role upon Earth and grow a future more prosperous and bountiful than ever imagined.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

lessons learned in a cardoon (or artichoke) field

cardoons take finesse: to spell, to cook, to find. or maybe not finesse, but savvy. they are wonderful when prepared with some caveats and with friends with whom it gets along (heavy cream [yes, do it, don't skimp] breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese) but can be like eating stringy packing thingies if they are not picked well or undercooked. if follows then that all you gastronomically inclined folks must be wondering.

"how do you pick good cardoons?"

patience mostly.

early on (think right now) in the season for cardoons and artichokes they are few and far between, artichokes much more than cardoons, but more on them in april when there will be billions.

cardoons, if you really want to get technical are a specific sort of naturally occurring cousin of the globe artichoke of which there are many cultivated varieties. traditionally you pick the entire cardoon plant before it has opened completely and you get nice small, usually blanched stalks. but you don't get anything else after that, nothing grows back. so once, when we ran out of true cardoons for a restaurant order, we cut some artichoke stalks and lo and behold, they preferred them. makes sense, they are so closely related as to be indistinguishable once prepared and cutting artichoke stalks means the entire plant is not killed, so long as not too many are taken from one plant. so it worked out for both us and our customers.

but it doesn't make finding the nice ones easier. when i say a nice one, i mean a fairly large stalk that is free from bubbles it's entire length (which indicates hollow or soft stalks) and is firm enough to resist a hard squeeze between thumb and forefinger. obviously old or damaged stalks are no good.

so there you are, out in our front cardoon-ichoke field, it's lightly raining but you can see sun a couple miles away, 52 degrees and you wonder if the people glancing at you from their cars on the road do so with envy or pity. you have five boxes to fill and you start at one end where the plants are mostly small but there is a cluster of larger ones. you dismiss several plants around you as you pull one or two stalks to look down them and see large bubbles the whole length. as you move toward the cluster of larger plants you check a few smaller plants that might just be long enough. you feel at the base of the stalk and it seems good, so you cut three from the plant and keep walking, none of the cluster of large plants is any good. didn't somebody say that cold is what helps the stalks harden up completely? well, definitely not frost, cut a cardoon stalk when it's frozen and see if the restaurants appreciate getting an entirely floppy useless box of cardoons, you let your mind wander as you try more and more, accumulating perhaps one cardoon per twenty tested. after half an hour you take a look at your box and notice a few smallish bubbles higher up on the stalk of a few of them. they're still usuable though, right? to know for sure you take your knife and cut one about midway down the stalk and discover a marked hollowness that was not even hinted at from the look of the base of the stalk. curses follow, you had three quarters of a box picked, but now it looks more like half a box with the three from that first plant tossed out. exasperated, you continue, the box is getting heavy so you set it down and concentrate only on seeking out those nice, big, solid stalks. no, bubbles, no, too small, no, not firm, too small, bubbles, none of these are any good, oop, old birds nest, here's two good ones, too small, bubbles, uh-oh...where did you put the box. it was right behind that one plant, right? or in the next row over? you carry around the two good stalks, sure that the people in those cars are laughing riotously as you wander around searching for your lost farm box, you can just hear them.

to avoid this situation, avoid being overly single-minded. avoid being in a hurry. embrace the weather and your soaking wet pants. don't lick your lips after picking cardoons all day, the bitterness from the plants sticks to them, and definitely don't rub your eyes unless you like having watery, itchy eyes for an hour or so.

these are all lessons learned in a cardoon field, now i've gotta go get three more boxes, see ya.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

February Newsletter

Read the full newsletter online
Download the PDF

In this issue:

In the Store

see the list

Farm News

We have 200 (adorable) baby chicks coming in this first week of the month, which means that in another year we'll have many more eggs... read more

Featured Veggie: Turnip

It's hard to think of a vegetable that's as under-appreciated as the turnip... read more

Upcoming Events

Winter's Harvest Supper, Farm tour, family day, and community workdays... read more

Recipe: Cardoon Gratin

Cardoons have all the flavor of their close relatives, artichokes, but are significantly easier to prepare. read more

Recipe: Paprika-Glazed Turnips

This buttery, tasty dish will make a turnip-lover out of anyone. read more

Recipe: Crispy Lacinato Kale

Cook kale over high heat and it transforms into a crispy snack. read more

Winter's Harvest Supper

Green String Farm is proud to present a Winter’s Harvest Supper. In collaboration with Mentor Me Petaluma, Green String Farm would like to invite community members to the farm to enjoy a meal entirely harvested and prepared by Mentor Me Petaluma mentors and mentees.

Feast along with the Green String interns and Mentor Me Petaluma. Put on your dancing shoes for dinner, live music and hearty merry-making beginning at 5:30pm. Tickets available at the Green String Farm store.

Saturday, February 20th, 2010 5:30-8:30 P.M.
Green String Farm Barn 3751 Old Adobe Rd. Petaluma, CA 95494
Sliding scale $25 to $50

All proceeds donated to Mentor Me Petaluma.