Week 9

Dear Farm Partners,

With another 10-day forecast of 90-100 degree weather upon us comes the final push to transplant and direct sow the remainder of our fall crops. At times we have wondered if we are even going to make it through this part of the year, let alone have enough crops to finish out the fall! But we do a little at a time, and we are making it happen. I’m definitely recoiling at the thought of all this “unseasonable” (or do they mean “unreasonable”?) heat making a second round, yet if we balance our work between the early morning and later evening hours we will be able to manage.

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It has been a really exciting season for us, though, despite the unpredictable weather and intense insect pressure (this is by far the worst year for flea beetles that we have experienced–they have wreaked havoc on our fall brassica crops, but I think we are starting to get the better of them!). Every year Jeremy and I feel as though what we learn, and the rate at which we learn, increase exponentially. It helps that this past year was our first full year farming together; our collective experience has helped us run the farm with better efficiency and a lot more confidence. We are also are getting a better grasp of what we want for the future of Excelsior Farm, and what kind of life we want to have as farmers. We have each come to terms, in our own ways, with the fact that farming is our life, and I learn to embrace it more as I grow into being a better farmer. Much is still up in the air concerning our next steps with the farm, but we will be sure to share our progress (well, hopefully it will be progress!) with you all by degrees as we figure things out. While the pressure is on, we still feel very enthusiastic (when we aren’t dead tired) about our work and are eager to keep building up the farm.

We do have a ways to go still, but we have been fortunate in some really superb crops this year! So encouraging. Some of our favorites:

In this week’s basket: French Fingerlings, Radishes, Carrots, Romaine Lettuce, Tomatoes, Scallions, Eggplant, Onions, and Cucumbers OR Sweet Peppers. Some of you have roma tomatoes, while the rest have delicious cherry tomatoes. The cherry varieties are Sungold (the little orange sugar bombs) and, my personal favorite, Black Cherry. I like the Black Cherry variety because it is a little more savory, and the super-ripe ones taste almost like plums. Beautiful!

On a final note, thanks again for supporting a local farm and the people who produce a portion of your food. Whatever side you fall on regarding food politics, the point of what we do in our CSA (as well as in our sales to natural food stores and at farmer’s market) is to help lessen the divide between producers, consumers, and the food products in question and foster community rather than isolation. The path to a more sustainable food system is one that we all walk together. Thank you for walking with us!

All the best to you from our farm.

Ashli and Jeremy

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Summer in a Box

Dear Farm Partners and Friends,

It is all summer today in your Harvest Baskets with Tomatoes, Eggplant, Sweet Peppers, Onions, Leeks, Carrots, Cucumbers, and Parsley. We are excited finally to be able to share these summer favorites with you!

Especially high on my personal list of favorite vegetables is the eggplant. They are beautiful and quirky to behold, and so delicious and versatile that I am constantly amazed at how many uses there are for them! Eggplant is loved all over Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, and recipes abound, sure to please everyone. We have two types of Eggplant this year, a European-style and a Japanese, and you may have one or the other (maybe a mix). They might differ slightly in flavor but mostly in shape: the European is larger and rounder, while the Japanese resembles a purple banana.

The type you have will help you determine how to use it. If you would like to do a dish that requires more volume, like eggplant parmesan or a dip, then the European is a good choice. The Japanese is a great slicer for rounds or half-moons in stir-frys, sauces, and casseroles. I love a teriyaki eggplant over white rice with a little carrot salad. Both types are wonderful on pizza or slapped on the grill, and pair well with tomatoes and peppers (they are in the same family, after all!) Classics like ratatouille and caponata can be used as sauces, side dishes, and spreads. Eggplant makes wonderful dips: Baba ghanoushEggplant caviarPersian eggplant and caramelized onion dip. I know, I am suggesting far more recipes than you have eggplant to make them with, but the versatility of the eggplant really deserves to be praised now and again!

As for your other items: the tomatoes and peppers are getting better and better as the season progresses, and you can look forward to many more of them. The peppers really are all sweet peppers, even the severely pointy ones that look like giant cayenne peppers (I tried to tell someone this last week and I think he was still skeptical). They are “frying” peppers rather than the more familiar bell pepper, and in my opinion superior in flavor and texture.

If you are having trouble making it through your carrot bunches try this recipe: Moroccan-style Spicy Carrot Dip. It combines softly caramelized carrots with warm spices, fresh herbs, pickley olives, and (one of my very favorite things) harissa for a really killer-sounding spread. Thanks again to our CSA member Sydney of Spoiled Foodie for bringing another great dish to our attention!

I think we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief (for the present, that is) that temperatures have gone back to normal for this time of year. It really does make me long for autumn, though! I always start craving the fall right about now.

Remember that CSA members are always welcome to visit us on the farm! We love connecting with you personally when possible, as this is a fundamental value of the CSA system.

All the best to you,

Ashli and Jeremy

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Tomatoes, Celery, and some Wedding Pictures

Dear Farm Partners,

A year ago Jeremy and I did a crazy thing: we got married in the middle of July. If you have read any of my recent posts, you should have some idea of just how intense this time of year is for farmers. On top of things, I had just moved back to Eugene from New York, having just obtained my Master’s degree. You can imagine, then, that between the stress of planning a wedding, finishing school, and keeping the farm running, we were pretty good candidates for the crazy house. Perhaps setting the wedding date for sometime in the fall or winter would have been more logical. Because it truly was INSANE.

But it was so, so beautiful, and so good for us.

 

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We had a wonderful community celebration in which we were able to share the bounty of our farm with at least 200 family members and friends. We grew all of the vegetables and flowers, and our families and friends contributed home-brewed beer and handmade pies. One of my closest friends created a fabulous dinner, and another made my wedding dress. The ceremony and reception took place at the church where we met, in view of Jeremy’s first garden where we got to know each other. The whole celebration was personal, and not just about Jeremy and I, but about every person there. It could not have come together without the support of so many dear people.

 

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And Jeremy and I gained some perspective from all of it. No matter how crazy things continue to be on the farm, we can always say, “Well, at least we’re not getting married this summer.” Indeed.

In your Harvest Baskets this week: Russian Banana Fingerling Potatoes, Sweet Peppers, Celery, Tomatoes OR Cherry Tomatoes, Carrots, Cucumbers OR Zucchini, Fresh Onions, and Garlic. Our Farm pick up site has sugar snap peas.

We are finally into our true “summer” crops with tomatoes, peppers, onions, and celery! Hurrah!

The tomatoes are a mix of classic red tomatoes, paste (or roma) tomatoes, and a dark tomato similar to the heirloom Black Prince. All of them have great flavor and deserve to be eaten raw, sliced, and by themselves, maybe with a little bread and salt. The paste tomatoes are generally used for sauces, so if you like you can use them for cooking. The cherry tomatoes are a sweet variety called Sungold. The rosy onions are an Italian Torpedo-type onion, aptly named for their elongated rather than round shape. These are best stored in the fridge since they are fresh, and the green tops are usable as well.

Your fingerling potatoes this week are more of the classic, knobby, finger-looking fingerlings. And they do not taste like banana. I do not know how they came by the name, but the combination of “Russian” with “banana” is very amusing! My suggestions for using you French fingerlings apply to these.

Celery is a very special item this week! Fresh, organic celery is difficult to come by and is so delicious. Who knew celery could actually taste good, or “taste” like anything at all? I feel like it is a revelation to me every year.

We are now roughly one third of the way through the Harvest Baskets season! It has been a real pleasure for us. Thank you all for your support.

Best,

Ashli (and Jeremy)

 

Leeks, Favas, and Carrots this week!

Dear Farm Partners,

I never thought I would be so excited for 85 degree weather, but after the past three weeks I am happy to welcome anything under 90. Let us hope for more normal summer weather, because neither the plants nor the farmers appreciate the heat wave!

The Harvest Basket assembly line

The Harvest Basket assembly line

In this week’s basket: French Fingerling Potatoes, Sugar Snap Peas, Summer Leeks, Carrots, Beets, Ostergruss Radishes, Lettuce, Garlic, and Parsley. Fava Beans are on rotation.

I love this week’s Harvest Basket! Both Jeremy and I are encouraged when our produce comes together so nicely in one place. It helps put things in perspective for us, since everything does not always look that great out in the field. Some basket notes:

French fingerling potatoes are a marvelous potato with a pretty red skin and golden interior (and yes, they are actually fingerlings; this variety tends to be on the large side). These do not take much to make them delicious; simply cut them in half (or quarters, etc. for larger ones), toss them in olive oil and salt, and roast them at 425 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. They will be tender, creamy, and golden. You can season them with herbs as well. Honestly, though, my favorite way to eat these is boiled and dipped in homemade mayonnaise! It’s like potato salad without the fuss.

Summer leeks are a smaller variety of leek (unlike massive overwintering leeks), and I prefer their sweetness and lack of pithiness. As a relative of the onion, leeks can be used to bring onion flavor to a variety of dishes, but definitely deserves a more forward position to showcase their special flavors. I love leeks in egg quiches and frittatas. This Huffington Post article features several leek-centered dishes, including two classic soups, as well as recipes for preparing leeks on their own as a vegetable.

Ostergruss radishes are funny little radishes, which you might have thought were pink carrots at first. This is a German variety (the name means “Easter greeting”) and they are on the hot side, especially since the weather has been so warm. It you do not care for the spice level, you can take the edge off by sautéing them (use this recipe as a guide).

And now for the Fava beans. Fava beans are delightful and adored the world around. To prepare them, remove the lima-looking beans from the large green pod. At this point, you can take a further step and peel the white skin from the bean (read how here), or you can eat them as they are. I was under the impression that one had to peel them, but it seems that this is a uniquely French method (see this Wall Street Journal article for more info, if you care). I have not used fava beans too much, but here are some recipes that I am excited to try:

Fava Bean and Pecorino Salad from Alexandra’s Kitchen

Fava Puree from Saveur (Fava hummus also looks great!)

Smashed Peas and Fava Beans with Mozzarella from Food52

Thanks for walking through the summer with us! We are almost a third of the way through the Harvest Baskets season, if you can believe. We look forward to interacting with many more of you as the season progresses. If any of you are interested in visiting the farm, do not hesitate to contact us! CSA members can visit any time. Remember that you can also visit us at our Farmer’s Market stand on Saturdays in downtown Eugene.

I hope you continue to have an enjoyable summer.

Ashli

We are at the Lane County Farmer's Market from 9-3 EVERY SATURDAY on either 8th, Oak, or Park streets.

We are at the Lane County Farmer’s Market from 9-3 EVERY SATURDAY on either 8th, Oak, or Park streets.

Taking time

Dear Farm Partners,

At this time of year Jeremy and I have to consciously stop and appreciate our work. It is so easy during these long summer days to just keep our heads down and work, and I find that days go by during which I have not really looked at anythingSo, I decided that once a day, either in the early morning or late evening, I need to take a tour around the farm and just observe. Some observations:

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The evening light transforms neat beds of lettuces into jewels.

 

 

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Or a bed of roses.

 

 

 

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Little radishes peeking out, protected by a veil of insect netting.

 

 

This has been a very restorative practice. It restores my body, because it allows me to loosen up and take in the benefits of the fresh air. It restores my mind, lifting the mental stress of figuring out all that needs to be done and helping me to have peace. It also helps me appreciate the experiences that I often take for granted as a farmer. I may not always like being exposed to the elements (read: I AM NOT A HOT WEATHER PERSON SO PLEASE CUT IT OUT), but I get to spend the majority of my life outside, which I love better than all the years I spent as a student. The extended work days can be rough, but the early morning and late evening hours of a summer day are some of the most beautiful, and somehow I always look forward to them. It is a lot of work to grow vegetables, especially organically, and as young farmers we still have a lot to learn (and face a lot of disappointment); but we eat really, really well. Sometimes, on my morning/evening tours, I will sit admiring a tomato or a little lettuce and then remember, Hey, I could eat that right now, right out of the earth. And I do eat it, the freshest food possible. I get to mess around in the dirt and run through sprinklers all day. I have to take time to remember these things.

In your baskets this week: Mini Head Lettuce, Frisée, Japanese Turnips, Collard Greens, Cucumbers, Red Scallions, Garlic, and Thyme. Sugar Snap Peas are on rotation.

Your adorable little lettuces (one type is pictured above) are a special variety actually bred for salad mixes. If you slice off the bottom core, you end up with a quantity of perfect, loose leaves that require no further chopping. They also have the density of mature lettuce leaves, giving them a better shelf life in mixes as opposed to the more fragile baby lettuce. We do use them in our mesclun mix, but we love to harvest them as miniature heads because they are delicious on their own as well as so beautiful. They are new to us this year, but they are already a favorite!

Frisée or Endive (also called curly endive or chicory) is a bitter green also found in salad mixes. I adore its bitterness and relish it by itself as a salad, but if you find the bitterness overwhelming, wilt it just a little bit in a pan with some butter. This softens the bitterness and give it succulence. A favorite light and fast meal of mine is lightly wilted frisée with a couple of poached eggs.

I wanted to revisit my last post and draw your attention to another blog, Spoiled Foodie, which is written by one of our Harvest Baskets members and has great recipes and tips for using your weekly produce. I think the CSA member perspective should be especially helpful, and what’s more, she actually makes things with her produce. I mean, I make things too, but mostly I make suggestions that sound good to me rather than actual recipes. Because honestly, I rarely have time to cook this time of year. In fact, I rarely have time to eat. The strategies I suggested last week come from fall and winter, when I have time to cook, so they are mostly fall-and-winter-y things (although I love soup all year. It’s just a thing I have). I realized, though, that more summer-heat-wave-friendly suggestions would probably be welcome, so here are her strategies for using your produce without heating up the house any further. I love this kind of feedback from members, so if any of you have questions, suggestions, or something you made that you just LOVED, share them with me! You can always email or call.

Stay safe in this heat! Keep your fingers crossed for cooler, cloudier days, and maybe, just maybe, some rain.

Best,

Ashli