Progress

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Sparks fly as Jeremy modifies our new bed former

Dear Farm Partners,

As I’ve mentioned in several posts already, this has been a season of learning and growing pains at Excelsior Farm. Now, on the verge of October, we’re pleased to see progress. We recently added a new tractor to our farm fleet, and this week it has done wonders in allowing us to form our raised beds with ease and incredible speed. We’re tightening up our systems for harvesting, washing, and packing produce. Our farm space grows more orderly and more efficient as we organize, declutter, and rethink how to use our available space. We’ve learned to delegate certain kinds of work to other people, such as making deliveries, so that we can maximize our time on the farm. Now we feel confident that we can actually run this farm successfully! It’s wonderful to look back at all the struggles of the summer (even though it was pretty painful hitting some of those walls) and realize how far we’ve come in just a few months. We could only learn as much as we have by just jumping in, keeping it together even when things were really hard, and dealing with our mistakes. It’s a difficult process, but so necessary; you don’t end up with a perfectly efficient and profitable farm overnight. We’re grateful for this process and so happy that we have the opportunity to solve problems, make plans, struggle, and rejoice together as a couple.

In your boxes this week: Sweet Dumpling Squash, Napa Cabbage, Frisée, Celery, Eggplant, Lettuce, Kale, Bulk Beets, and Red Onions.

You have what is probably the last of the Eggplant and Celery for the season (I hope you all survived the eggplant boom!). End-of-season celery tends to be tougher, so I would reserve it for cooking. And not just as a little ingredient in stuffing, stir-fry, or a soup, although these all are fine. As this roundup of celery recipes from The Huffington Post indicate, celery can BE the soup. Or the gratin, or braised in butter or pancetta, or any number of wonderful things.

Napa cabbage is a new cabbage variety for us, and we’re excited to add it to next year’s rotation. A tall, elegant cabbage, it’s wide crunchy ribs and savoyed leaves are both delicious in stir-fries, and lend themselves well to salads and slaws. I am excited to make kimchi with it, and may even tackle cabbage rolls.

After today, it’s only FOUR MORE WEEKS of our CSA for year! It’s amazing to think that another CSA season will have come and gone. It’s definitely been our best year yet, and we hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have.

Enjoy the final moments of September as we move into the darker days of October!

Be well,

Ashli and Jeremy

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Autumn

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Radicchio

Dear Farm Partners,

The autumn equinox is upon us, and we can officially welcome fall. Summer has gone to rest for another nine months, and now the pace of autumn takes over, allowing us to slowly wind down, tie up loose ends, and transition into winter. Of course, there is plenty of work: the winter squash needs brought in, the last tomatoes will be torn out to make way for spinach and mesclun, and our field crops will gradually make way for cover crop and tarp. We will plant our garlic within a month’s time, which is always a significant task. Even though the fall is characteristically “the harvest season, we will harvest our produce through December. Still, autumn always brings a feeling of “finishing.” Summer crops will soon be long gone, but fall crops will not far behind them, as we need to prepare our fields for winter with the protection of cover crops. We harvest into the winter, but this will taper off as the CSA ends in October, followed by Farmer’s Market in November, and then finally finishing with our wholesale accounts before Christmas. We have to keep the pace, but we’re crossing finish lines as we go. Then we and the farm can rest during the deep winter until February, when it all begins again.

This is a special time for us. Now that we’re out of the thick of the growing season we can reflect on what happened and what we learned. We’re already making adjustments to our growing methods and thinking ahead for next year, but we’re really excited for this winter when we can really hash over this season’s notes and systematize what we learned for the coming season. Now we just press on and finish this season strong.

In your Autumn Equinox boxes this week: Winter Luxury Pie Pumpkin, Radicchio, Celeriac, Collard Greens, Lettuce, Scallions, Cucumber, Melon, Garlic, and Parsley.

I tend to have a personal “October 1st” rule when it comes to pumpkins, which means that no pumpkin or pumpkin item shall be consumed or even enter the house until October 1st. However, they are here, and we have a lot of them, so why should we not start the revels a little early? Nestled into your boxes this week are lovely heirloom pie pumpkins. I had to include the variety name “Winter Luxury” above because it sounds so wonderful. I love frosty-looking webbing on the skin. Our High Mowing seed catalogue says in its description of this pumpkin, “This 1893 heirloom is excellent for pie, cheesecake and soup.” I have not yet tried it (being until now bound by my pumpkin rule), but it is supposed to be very sweet.

Your very autumnal box also includes two European favorites (and two of my favorites): Radicchio, a bitter member of the chicory family, and Celeriac, or celery root. Radicchio is often added to salad mixes for color and flavor, but it is really good prepared on its own either as a salad or as a cooked vegetable. It is quite bitter, so if you would like to take the edge off some techniques include pairing with something sweet or fatty, or simply shredding very finely. Food52 has some wonderful suggestions and recipes to get you started.

Celeriac is simply the celery plant bred for the root bulb; it tasted lightly of celery and parsley, and is crisp and refreshing raw, sweet and creamy when cooked. I can’t rave enough. It is a little difficult to prepare; you will want to sharpen your paring knife, and your patience, a little bit to get it peeled, but don’t be deterred. A classic celeriac salad includes shredding peeled celeriac and mixing it with mayonnaise and Dijon mustard. You can also mash it with potatoes or make it into a creamy soup. Allow this Huffington Post article inspire you.

My beloved Collard Greens are back, ready to be braised with bacon or creamed with onions.

I just love this time of year.

We hope you all enjoy the official beginning of fall!

Ashli and Jeremy

Red Kuri Squash and Heirloom Carrots

Dear Farm Partners,

Many thanks to everyone for the good wishes on our baby announcement! We are very touched by your support and enthusiasm. It’s great to finally share the news widely–between going public and hearing the baby’s heartbeat, it starts to feel more and more real, at least to me. It also helps that I’m feeling so much better than I did for the first several weeks, which has coincided nicely with the change of weather. I feel as though my pregnancy and the remainder of our season can actually progress now, instead of feeling stuck in seemingly endless heat and nausea.

We both have the sense that the farm is moving forward. We always have setbacks, days of discouragement, days of total drowsiness (after so much sun the clouds have made us very sleepy!), and we deal with difficulties as well as we can. But we learned so much this season. Now that we’ve passed the peak we keep looking back and saying, Wow, that was so hard, but we learned and figured out so much. So often we felt we were just trying to survive (true), and that so many things went wrong (also true), but in the end it was productive. It pushed us to solve problems more quickly, leading to decisions that have allowed us to implement short- and long-term changes on the farm sooner and more effectively. We’ve written down lots of notes in our What Went Wrong notebook. We have a better sense of what we need to grow, how to grow it, and where we need to try and sell it. Farming is surprisingly complex, but we become more aware of the complexities of farming and how to adapt to them with time.

I hope you all have had a very cozy week. I know I have. Of course, I have spent much of it outside, but I find the gray, chilly weather so enjoyable after such a hot summer.

In your very full, heavy boxes: Red Kuri Hubbard Squash, Chioggia Beets, Royal Chantenay Carrots, Hakurei Turnips, Red Russian Kale, Butterhead Lettuce, Cantaloupe, Sweet Peppers, and Parsley.

We hope you enjoy the fall bounty this week! Summer is certainly not the only time of year when the garden produces in abundance. Our featured winter squash is the beautiful Red Kuri Hubbard. I just love the color and the tear-drop shape of this squash! It’s also delicious, nice and moist and just a little sweet. I made this simple Red Kuri Pumpkin Soup from The Nourished Kitchen earlier in the week, which has been perfect for our fall weather.* I would also like to try this gorgeous-looking Kale and Red Kuri Squash Salad.

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Your carrots are a French heirloom variety that was common in French markets one hundred years ago. We’re very charmed by their fat, stubby roots! The flavor is also very good. They are wonderful raw and can easily be used for cooking.

Thanks again for all your good wishes and your support, and sorry this week’s post is a little late.

Happy Fall,

Ashli (and Jeremy)

Saturday's market stand

Saturday’s market stand

*a note about the Red Kuri soup recipe: the recipe calls for some odd roasting temperatures for the squash and onions (480 and 430 degrees Fahrenheit), which I assume are approximate conversions from Celsius. You could probably get away with roasting the lot for 400 degrees F for 30 to 45 minutes, until tender and roasty. I just used squash that I had roasted the previous day.

Small Things

Dear Farm Partners and Friends,

Jeremy and I have been enjoying the dramatic shift from summer to fall which has occurred in the weather this week! Even though it will heat up a little one more time, it’s a different heat, a totally different feel. The sun is less overbearing, the days are noticeably shorter, and the mornings and evenings have that distinctly autumn chill upon them. We can’t slow down just yet, but we will be able to soon. Such a comforting thought!

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After last week’s post I thought I would share some of the things that I loved about about this past week. Our life gives us many joys, and here are some of them:

-The chilly mornings, and the opportunity to wear long pants to work!

-The dark mornings. You’d think that as a farmer I would cherish every shred of daylight, but lately I’ve loved getting up early before the sun. I feel like I’ve “beaten the day” and have a chance to be quiet without the pressure that the long summer days bring.

-Parsnips. I’m such a fall person. We’ve had tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant coming out our ears this year, but really, I just get excited about vegetables like parsnips. I bought some from another Farmer’s Market vendor and relished the first tastes of fall!

-We actually went on a date last week! What do tired out farmers do for dates? This time we managed dinner and then, of all things, an evening viewing of Jurassic World. What’s not to love about burgers and 3D dinosaurs?

-The first rain in a long, long time. This parched Oregonian is feeling a little more normal again.

-This week we’ve been tearing out spent summer crops from our greenhouses. I love seeing a season come to an end in such a tangible way. We’ll be planting fall crops in those beds, ones that we want to last past the first frost. It’s amazing that our first frost date is already upon us!

-Today I got to hear my baby’s heartbeat for the first time during an appointment with my midwife. Yes, Jeremy and I are expecting our first baby in March! Needless to say, this news added much to the challenges of the summer (we found out in July-add “pregnancy” to The Hottest Summer in Recorded History), but we’re just thrilled to have a child and be a farming family! We both look forward to having our kid experience the farm alongside us.

These might seem like small things (not the last one, but the others, like parsnips-although I suppose the baby is a small thing yet!), but we have come to appreciate small things so much more the harder we work (and the more difficult our work is). Everything is meaningful. We have much to be thankful for.

We hope you enjoy some of our first fruits of fall this week with Delicata Squash!

All the best,

Ashli and Jeremy

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Lovely Delicata Squash

September

Dear Farm Partners,

September. We made it. We feel as though we can breathe deeply again. The rain (the RAIN!) and cooler temperatures help us feel calm, like we can work steadily and peacefully now, without the fear and panic induced by day after day intense heat (dramatically put, I realize, but it was a thoroughly traumatizing summer. Ask any farmer). We have pushed hard through it all and, thankfully, we had no huge losses during the summer, we managed to keep everything alive and productive, and indeed managed to salvage some pretty hammered fall crops that now appear to be pulling through. It looks like it will be a decent fall as far as production, and the farm itself actually looks clean and organized with little trace of the hysteria that was. And your farmers may still have a little sanity left, and even a few brain cells. Under the circumstances I think we’re doing all right.

Lovely radicchios sizing up

Lovely radicchios sizing up

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These fall lettuces and chicories turned out to be some of our best starts of the year!

I do not mean to be negative when I describe the hardships we face as farmers, nor do I intend to be dramatic. I do mean to give you a realistic picture of our work, and this includes the hard stuff, the crappy stuff, the struggles. It is not the rosy, sentimental picture that people often have when they think of “the good life” of farming, which is mostly sunflowers and blueberries and cute “vintage” signs that say “Fresh Milk” on them. Please don’t mistake me–Jeremy and I do think that this is the good life. We just mean something different by “good”. Farming is good because it’s a real thing, which makes it wonderful and hard. We plan, cultivate, sow, grow, harvest, and provide for others, all of which can be very rewarding. But it is very vulnerable and scary to be at the mercy of nature, and for all our planning we are not in control. We accept this reality and ultimately I think this is what makes our life so good, not in the sense that it’s easy, but in that it’s rich.

Working Hands Farm in Hillsboro, Oregon published a wonderful newsletter yesterday which provided a lot of inspiration for this post. I hope you read it. It really says it all. In fact, you should just read it instead of my post (except that you probably already have read my post–ha!). This farm is generally inspiring for Jeremy and I and it is so encouraging for me to read the farming wisdom of some more seasoned farmers.

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In your boxes this week: Eggplant, Tomatoes, Peppers, Basil, Carrots, Beets, Cucumbers, and Cherry Tomatoes. We’re so glad to finally have Basil for you all! And this week’s tomato varieties are Margold (yellow and orange), Pink Berkeley Tie-Dye (self-explanatory), and Arbason (red beefsteak).

One suggestion for cooking: ratatouille. You won’t be sad that you made it.

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Warmly,

Ashli and Jeremy