Thursday, July 30, 2015

Vegetable Feature: Eggplant

Dancer Eggplant
August is upon us and that means it’s that time of year already-eggplant season! A member of the nightshade family, eggplant was once considered poisonous when introduced in Europe. Thankfully, those perceptions have changed and we now recognize eggplant for the culinary gem that it is. The eggplant varieties we grow are particularly delicious and have firm flesh that holds its firmness after both picking and cooking. Growing eggplant can be challenging, so we plant our eggplant in double rows on reflective mulch to combat the Colorado Potato Beetle and the flea beetle. The reflection from the silver plastic disorients the pests and deters them from the plant.
Lilac Bride Eggplant
Eggplant contains fiber, potassium, Vitamins B1 and B6, folate and magnesium. By itself, it is very low in calories. Eggplant should always be cooked, thus giving it a soft, creamy, silky texture and a mild taste. While many culinary sources will warn you to salt eggplant in advance to take away its bitterness, this step isn’t necessary with the varieties we grow. Old varieties do have some bitterness in the seeds and flesh, but newer varieties have been developed and do not have this trait.   Eggplant is thought to have originated in India & China, but has since been spread around the world. You will find a wide variety of ways to utilize eggplant from Indian dishes to curries, glazed with miso or fried & topped with marinara.
When it comes to cooking eggplant, there is no shortage of ways to enjoy it! Eggplant is wonderful when it’s grilled, braised, baked or cooked and pureed into a dip. In your box this week, you will find either Lilac Bride, Listada, Black or Purple Dancer varieties. Our Lilac Bride eggplant is perfect for slicing and including in a stir-fry. Listada is an Italian heirloom variety that can be used for grilling, roasting or stewing. Of course there is also the traditional Black Globe eggplant that shines in traditional recipes such as baba ganoush, eggplant Parmesan and moussaka.  Purple Dancer is one of our favorite varieties because it produces very well, has a creamy white flavorful flesh and is an “all-purpose” type of eggplant.
Listada Eggplant
Its flesh is very good at soaking up whatever you pair it with, like cream, olive oil or marinara sauce in your Eggplant Parmesan. Check out the delicious recipes featured in this newsletter for more ideas. Store your eggplant on your counter at room temperature and use within a few days. Eggplant is very susceptible to chill injury and should never be stored in the refrigerator.

Black Eggplant


Sweet & Sour Eggplant Salad
“Eggplant takes on a soft, almost melting, texture when cooked slowly in a pan.  Though I usually don’t peel eggplant, I do here just to emphasize that silky quality.  Spoon this piquant salad onto crackers or bread, and serve it with good cheese and a bowl of olives.”
—Domenica Marchetti, The Glorious Vegetables of Italy
Serves 8-10
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, sliced paper-thin
2 medium eggplants (about 1 ½ pounds), peeled and cut into ½ inch dice
½ to 1 tsp salt
3 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp minced fresh herbs (mix of basil, mint, oregano or other as available)
Crostini or Sliced bread, for serving
Pecorino Romano Cheese (or other hard cheese variety), for serving


  1. In a large skillet, heat the oil and garlic over medium-low heat.  Cook, stirring frequently, for 7 to 8 minutes or until the garlic is soft and translucent but not browned.  Add the eggplant and ½ tsp salt and stir well to coat the eggplant with the oil.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until the eggplant is just tender and cooked through, but not mushy.
  2. Spoon the eggplant, along with the garlic slices and any juices, into a bowl.  Sprinkle in the vinegar and herbs and toss gently to combine.  Taste and add more salt if you like.  Cover and let the eggplant sit for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before serving.
  3. Serve the eggplant salad on top of the crostini and top with shavings of the cheese.

Eggplant Fritters
Recipe borrowed from Mark Bittman’s book, The Best Recipes in the World.

Serves 6
1 ½ pounds eggplant
Salt
1 egg
½ cup fresh parsley leaves
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 garlic clove, peeled
Pinch of cayenne pepper
½ cup bread crumbs, or flour
Corn, grapeseed, or other neutral oil for frying
Lemon wedges, for serving

  1. Trim and peel the eggplant and cut it into 1-inch cubes.  
  2. Set a large pot of water to boil.  Blanch the eggplant in the boiling water for about 5 minutes or until soft.  Drain in a colander, pressing to get rid of as much moisture as possible.  
  3. Combine the eggplant in a food processor with the egg, parsley, Parmesan, garlic and cayenne and process until smooth. Pulse in enough bread crumbs or flour to make a batter that will hold together.
  4. Put enough oil in a large nonstick skillet to coat the bottom to a depth of about ¼ inch.  Turn the heat to medium-high and wait until the oil is hot;  when it’s ready, a pinch of flour will sizzle.  Carefully drop the batter from a spoon, as you would pancake batter, and cook until nicely browned on both sides.  Do not crowd the fritters, and adjust the heat as necessary so they brown without burning.  Total cooking time per pancake will be about 6 minutes.  Serve hot or warm, with lemon wedges.

Silent Spring #4-Glyphosate: Roundup's Best Friend Part 1

A Note from Farmer Richard
“Before we introduce the next topic in our ‘Silent Spring Series,’ I wanted to interject a comment about this series and our overall goal in publishing these articles.  We understand the topics in this series can be of a “depressing nature”  and we’ve received some comments to this point from some members.  This series of articles has grown out of our initial interest in preserving pollinators and responding to the White House’s National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.  Throughout our research, we are coming to understand that these systemic pesticides, neonics and glysophate, and GMO crops are having a wide-spread impact resulting in systemic contamination that is impacting our entire ecosystem and food chain.  Sarah has fearlessly attacked the research to get to the heart of the matter and we have found this has been quite an education for us in this process.  
So, I’d encourage you to please bear with us!  Once we understand the extent of this complex problem, there are many positive things that we can all participate in to turn this around.  Next week we are hosting a group of visitors representing the Xerces Society as well as federal representatives from NRCS & the USDA who are interested in looking at what we’ve done to establish pollinator habitats on our farm.   Stay tuned!”

Silent Spring #4- Glyphosate-
Roundup’s Best Friend Part 1
by Sarah Janes Ugoretz
In this fourth article in our Silent Spring series, we turn our attention to glyphosate—the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup. We’ll start by briefly exploring the development and proliferation of this chemical—primarily through the use of Roundup and genetically modified Roundup Ready seeds. From there, we’ll consider the implications glyphosate’s use has for human health and, in the subsequent article, for our world’s animal life and our environment overall.
In 1974, Monsanto introduced Roundup, a chemical formula anchored by glyphosate that kills weeds by blocking key proteins that are essential to their growth. Today, Roundup is the most commonly used herbicide in the world (Grossman, 2015). Early uses were focused on lawns, recreational spaces and cropland. With the creation and release of Roundup Ready seeds in 1996, however, agricultural applications skyrocketed. Using seeds that had been genetically engineered to withstand Roundup, farmers were suddenly able to spray entire fields without the worry of destroying their crops. As a result, today nearly all of the U.S.’ corn, soybean and cotton crops are regularly treated with Roundup. Chemically speaking, this translates to over 300 million pounds of Roundup being applied to cropland each year (globally, this number is near the 1.4 billion mark).
As the use of glyphosate has increased dramatically over the last two decades, Grossman (2015) echoes a concern that has long been held by many: we have a dearth of research that explores what happens once glyphosate is released into the environment. Though Monsanto (2015) maintains that Roundup is “supported by one of the most extensive worldwide human health databases ever compiled on an agricultural product,” Leu (2014) makes an astute (and rather obvious) point—one that may be missed by those operating outside of the scientific community. What it comes down to is a convenient designation called commercial-in-confidence. A majority of the studies Monsanto points to as working in its favor are classified as industry studies, which means they are not available for external scientists and researchers to review and assess. What is even more alarming is that these in-house studies—rather than independent studies published in peer-reviewed journals—are most often utilized by regulatory bodies as they make their safety assessments (Leu, 2014).
Unfortunately for Monsanto and their bedfellows, in March of this year, glyphosate was officially classified as a probable carcinogenic to humans (Reuters, 2015a). Operating under the auspices of the United Nation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), 17 experts from 11 countries reviewed animal, cell and human studies before reaching their decision. Among these studies were cases in which glyphosate was found in farmworkers’ urine and blood, cells were shown to have experienced chromosomal damage, exposed humans demonstrated a higher risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and exposed animals were prone to tumor formation (Grossman, 2015). Aaron Blair, a retired National Cancer Institute epidemiologist and chairman of the 17-member team of reviewers, said that the decision to classify glyphosate as a probable carcinogen was unanimous. “All three lines of evidence…said the same thing, which is we ought to be concerned about this” (Pollack, 2015). In lieu of the IARC’s findings, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, although it has maintained since 1991 that glyphosate is safe, has announced plans to review and revisit its official stance.
Having been officially regarded as a chemical free from safety concerns, the U.S.’ regulatory infrastructure surrounding glyphosate is virtually non-existent (Reuters, 2015b). As U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist Paul Capel points out, our country’s regulatory practices do not mandate that glyphosate residue be tested for in food or in human blood and tissues. “As a result there is no information on how much people are exposed to from using it in their yards, living near farms or eating foods from treated fields” (Grossman, 2015).
We do, however, have a growing number of studies to look to that suggest that our concern is justified. As Leu (2014, p. 62) observes, “the regulation of glyphosate is a good example of authorities ignoring an extensive body of published scientific study showing the harm that can be caused by this widely used pesticide.” In one peer-reviewed, U.S.-based study, researchers found a strong correlation between a rapid increase in glyphosate use and 22 diseases, including cancers of the kidney, liver, thyroid and bladder and urinary systems (Swanson, Leu, Abrahamson and Wallet, 2014). Another peer-reviewed study found that glyphosate—even at levels that are commonly found in humans—caused estrogen-sensitive human breast cancer cells to multiple at a rate five to thirteen times greater than they normally would in the absence of the chemical (Thongprakaisang, Thiantanawat, Rangkadilok, Suriyo, & Satayavivad, 2013).
Glyphosate has also been detected in human breast milk and is capable of crossing the placental cells (Leu, 2015). One study demonstrated that within 18 hours of exposure, glyphosate had caused damage to human placental cells, even at concentrations lower than those found in commercially available pesticides and herbicides (Richard, Moslemi, Sipahutar, Benachour, & Seralini, 2005). As Hemmelgarn (2015, p. 5) notes: “the chemical industry is quick to tell us not to worry about low levels of contaminants, such as pesticide residues on produce or the BPA that migrates out of food packaging and can linings into our food. However…the chemicals designed by drug companies, such as Ritalin to control hyperactive behavior in children, are active at levels similar to, or even lower than, the levels of toxins found in the blood of children and pregnant women.”
Another group of researchers, after studying four different commercial glyphosate formulas, detected breaks in 50 percent of the DNA strands present in the human liver cells of subjects (Gasnier et al., 2009). This damage compromised the DNA’s ability to communicate with various physiological systems, including the endocrine system. These breakages occurred at doses of 5 parts per million (ppm). As Hemmelgarn (2015) explains, chemicals like glyphosate are biologically active at parts per billion (ppb) levels. To give you an idea, 1 ppb is equal to 2 tablespoons of sugar dissolved into an Olympic sized swimming pool.
These findings represent a tiny fraction of the data that is currently available to us—data that has been gathered through transparent, independent scientific studies, with results rigorously reviewed prior to publishing. Despite this, Monsanto, in reacting to the IARC’s decision earlier this year, declared that the agency must have “an agenda” against the company and their good work. Vice President Philip Miller stated that designating glyphosate as a probable carcinogen was “starkly at odds with every credible scientific body that has examined glyphosate safety” (Pollack, 2015). Well, I suppose when you have Big Ag and a commercial-in-confidence hand trick on your side, anything becomes possible!
Join us again next week as we turn our attention to glyphosate and its impacts on animal life and the environment.


References

Gasnier, C., Dumont, C., Benachour, N., Clair, E., Chagnon, M.C., & Seralini, G.E. (2009). Glyphosate-based herbicides are toxic and endocrine disruptors in human cell lines. Toxicology, 262(3), 184-191.


Grossman, E. (2015, April 23). What do we really know about Roundup weed killer? National Geographic. Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/04/150422-glyphosate-roundup-herbicide-weeds/

Hemmelgarn, M. (2015). Little things, big impacts. Acres, U.S.A.

Leu, A. (2014). The myths of safe pesticides. Austin, TX: Acres U.S.A.

Leu, A. (2015). Glyphosate under the gun: World Health Organization weighs in. Acres U.S.A.

Monsanto. (2015, March 20). Monsanto disagrees with IARC classification for glyphosate. Retrieved from http://news.monsanto.com/news/monsanto-disagrees-iarc-classification-glyphosate

Pollack, A. (2015, March 27). Weed killer, long cleared, is doubted. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/28/business/energy-environment/decades-after-monsantos-roundup-gets-an-all-clear-a-cancer-agency-raises-concerns.html?_r=0

Reuters. (2015a, March 20). Monsanto weed killer can ‘probably’ cause cancer: World Health Organization. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/20/us-monsanto-roundup-cancer-idUSKBN0MG2NY20150320

Reuters. (2015b, April 20). Regulators may recommend testing food for glyphosate residues. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/04/20/us-food-agriculture-glyphosate-idUSKBN0NB1N020150420

Richard, S., Moslemi, S., Sipahutar, H., Benachour, N., & Seralini, G.E. (2005). Differential effects of glyphosate and roundup on human placental cells and aromatase. Environmental Health Perspectives, 113(6), 716-720.

Swanson, N.,L., Leu, A., Abrahamson, J., & Wallet, B. (2014). Genetically engineered crops, glyphosate and the deterioration of health in the United States of America. Journal of Organic Systems, 9(2), 6-37.


Thongprakaisang, S., Thiantanawat, A., Rangkadilok, N., Suriyo, T., & Satayavivad, J. (2013). Glyphosate induces human breast cancer cells growth via estrogen receptors. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 59, 129-136.

Friday, July 24, 2015

HVF's "Culture of Cleanliness"

By Farmers Richard & Andrea
Color-Coded Brushes: Red is for cleaning equipment and green
is for cleaning harvest totes and trays.
Earlier this spring we had our annual visit from our Food Safety Inspector, Dr, Kolb.  For over 10 years we’ve chosen to do a third-party, voluntary food safety audit of our farm.  When the inspector comes, he checks out all areas of our operation from the packing shed to the field and everything in between.  He looks at equipment, storage facilities, tractors, records, etc.  He actually starts his inspection before he ever pulls in our driveway!  As he approaches our farm he looks at the roadsides scouting out trash and debris.  Seriously, are we responsible for the roadsides too?  Yes!  Any area near or surrounding our farm is important to our “Culture of Cleanliness,” a term we adopted from Dr. Kolb’s food safety jargon.  We want every person who visits our farm to have a positive “first impression” that leaves you thinking “Wow!  What a clean, organized farm!”
When we first started down this road many years ago, food safety on farms was not as much at the forefront as it is now.  Many smaller farms still don’t have a food safety program in place and are scrambling to pull it all together given more recent legislation and increased regulation regarding food safety at the farm level.  While the requirements of this legislation are still being determined, it’s inevitable that the requirements will only continue to become greater.  One of the biggest complaints from farmers is the time and money they need to invest to implement a food safety program.  Yes, it is an investment of both time and money.  We have two crew members who spend several hours per week doing pest control monitoring around the farm.  We also take time to put up fencing in vulnerable field areas to exclude critters such as deer & raccoons from crop areas.  Every month we do environmental lab tests which cost not only time, but also the cost of the lab analysis.  Every day we invest time in properly cleaning and sanitizing wash lines and equipment.  These are just a few of the expenses we incur to support our program.  Nonetheless, we feel it is important to be aware of food safety issues and stay well ahead of the curve.  Many of our wholesale accounts now require documentation of our food safety program in addition to organic certification.  But the value of our interest in food safety goes beyond satisfying a buyer’s request.  With each visit from our inspector we learn new things and are challenged to make improvements to procedures, facilities, machinery, etc.
Moises is preparing the wash tank at the beginning of the day
 (notice the red bucket we use only for cleaning).
Over the years Dr. Kolb has taught us to see our operation through a different set of eyes.  Over the course of time we have developed what we referred to previously as the “Culture of Cleanliness.”  This mentality extends to all areas of the farm.  Everyone on the farm, regardless of position, shares a responsibility in upholding the policies we have in place as well as helping us continue to identify areas for improvement.  We are proud of the progress we have made over the past 8-10 years that has led to a more organized, clean farm that we are all proud of!
We don’t just think about food safety once a year when the inspector is coming.  No, we think about it every day.  We take our job of providing you and your families with safe food very seriously.  Color-coded brushes, red buckets, orange buckets, white buckets, stainless-steel equipment, food-safe grease, clean equipment bearings, yellow-handled harvest knives, tractor-diapers and general good hand-washing….these are just a few parts of our day-to-day work lives that are directly related to food-safety.  We have many SOPs (standard operating procedures) in place and more yet to develop.  Every year we set aside time to do annual training to remind every crew member about the SOPs and build upon previous knowledge.

Our food safety program will likely never be “finished.”  It will always be a work in progress as we make continuous improvements and build upon our current program from year to year to ensure we’re always moving forward.  This past year we invested in some pricey stainless steel packing shed equipment that was greatly needed.  We also implemented a new procedure for knife control.  Upon Dr. Kolb’s recommendations, we’ll be putting together a HACCP plan over the next year and further developing some of the details of our traceback program.  While traceback has been part of organic inspection for many years, we’re starting to see an even greater emphasis on being able to trace back a vegetable not only to the field in which it was grown and harvested in, but also down to the exact lot of seed and every input and operation the crop went through over the course of its growing season!
Pedro and Catarino utilizing designated painted totes as
temporary tables for their work station.
Despite the time, energy and resources a good food safety program requires, we feel that this is one area that is well worth the investment.  We are not scrambling to comply with regulations and feel that our farm is much better overall because of our food safety program.  This year we earned an 100% rating score on our audit and a huge compliment from Dr. Kolb. When he sent his report and our certificate, he stated ‘I was absolutely serious when I said Harmony Valley Farm is a “Model Facility”  - it is at the top of its game and very few in the produce industry can hold a candle to what you have done.’

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Vegetable Feature: Rainbow Chard

by Sarah Janes Ugoretz
This week, we’re honing in on rainbow chard. Now, I know what some of you may be thinking—that, in the words of the wonderful Deborah Madison, “…chard isn’t really all that exciting.” Regardless of chard’s wow-factor (or lack thereof), Madison does point out a few characteristics that are perhaps more important than the degree to which it excites the dedicated eater—namely, chard’s reliability, its usefulness and its pleasantness to work with. So, if you have yet to give chard a try, read on and then go out and get yourself some of this humble, highly nutritious vegetable!
Chard is a relative of spinach and beets. Unlike the beet, however, the majority of chard’s nutrients are concentrated in its leaves. Interestingly enough—and in great contrast to the sturdy beet—chard roots are inedible. Chard leaves and stems, on the other hand, are quite edible! While the stems are crunchy and taste slightly sweet, the leaves are thick and have a deep “greens”  flavor similar to spinach and beet greens.  In fact, if you’re in a pinch, you can easily substitute chard for either of these two leafy greens.
People tend to associate chard with winter. While chard can grow throughout the year and does have a preference for cooler weather, its prime cultivation period spans from June to October. Although chard isn’t a fan of extreme heat, it’s unlikely to bolt, as is common with other vegetables like spinach, arugula and basil.
In the kitchen, chard is extremely versatile. Whether your method is to sauté, steam or braise, chard will play along quite nicely. In terms of basic preparation, stack leaves and stems on top of one another. Trim the ends, and then separate the stems from the leaves. The general rule for dealing with the different level of thickness between chard’s leaves and stems is to cook the leaves as you would spinach and the stems as you would asparagus. For instance, if you’re sautéing your chard with some olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and sea salt, cook the chopped stems until they’re relatively tender before adding the chopped leaves for a final few minutes on the heat.
I will include one disclaimer here. Due to its leaves being somewhat thick, chard doesn’t work well as a raw addition to salads (unless you’re using very young leaves). Feel free to toss raw leaves and stems into your blender or juicer, however, and it’ll be sure to give you a nutritional boost.
Speaking of nutrition, chard is reputed to be just as nutritious as kale. (What?! Yes, so eat up.) Its plethora of antioxidants qualifies chard as a superfood. Meanwhile, chard is an excellent source of vitamins K, A and C. Time for a fun fact! While a single serving of chard has only 35 calories, this same serving contains more than 300% of your daily vitamin K needs. You’ll also be getting a healthy dose of potassium, magnesium, iron and fiber with each forkful.
For storage purposes, remove the twist tie from your rainbow chard, wrap the bunch in paper towel and store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to seven days.
Sources: Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy; The Wisconsin Master Gardener Program: Swiss chard

Chard with Raisins & Pecans
Recipe sourced from Wild About Greens, by Nava Atlas.
Serves 4
1 bunch rainbow chard
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup marsala or other dry red wine
⅓ cup raisins
1 Tbsp capers, optional
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

⅓ to ½ cup finely chopped pecans

  1. Cut the chard leaves away from the stems.  Trim about an inch from the bottom of the stems, then slice the stems thinly.  Stack a few leaves at a time and cut them into ½-inch ribbons.  Chop the ribbons in a few places to shorten them;  repeat this process with all the leaves.
  2. Heat the oil in a medium skillet.  Add the garlic and saute over low heat until golden.  Add the marsala wine and as much chard leaves & stems as will fit comfortably in the pan.  Cover and allow the greens to wilt down briefly;  continue to add the chard until all of it is in the pan.  Cook, covered, until the leaves are tender, about 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the raisins and the capers, if you’re using them, then season with salt and pepper.  Scatter the pecans over the top and serve at once either on its own or spooned over soft polenta or rice.

Green Pancakes with Swiss Chard
Recipe sourced from Clotilde Dusoulier’s book, The French Market Cookbook.
Serves 4
1 cup all-purpose flour
Salt, to taste
4 large eggs (2 whole and 2 separated)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 Tbsp dry white wine
½ cup milk
8 ounces chard leaves, finely chopped
Olive oil for cooking
  1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour and 1 tsp salt and form a well in the center.  Add 2 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks and stir to mix with part of the flour from the mound.  Sprinkle with pepper.  Add the garlic and wine and then pour the milk in a slow stream, whisking as you go, until all the flour is incorporated and the mixture is creamy and mostly lump-free.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

  2. When ready to cook the pancakes, remove the bowl from the fridge and fold in the greens.
  3. In a clean bowl, beat the 2 egg whites with ¼ tsp salt with an electric mixer or a whisk until they form stiff peaks.  Fold them into the batter with a spatula, working in a circular, up-and-down motion to avoid deflating the egg whites.
  4. Heat 1 Tbsp cooking olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Ladle about ¼ cup of the batter into the hot skillet, without flattening.  Repeat to form as many pancakes as will comfortably fit in the skillet, probably no more than 4.
  5. Cook until the edges are set and the pancakes are golden underneath 4 to 5 minutes.  Flip and cook until the other side is set and golden, 3 to 4 minutes.  Transfer to a warmed serving plate, grease the skillet again, and repeat with the remaining batter.  You should have enough to make 10 to 12 pancakes.
  6. Serve hot, adding a little more pepper and a sprinkling of salt on top.  

**Serving Note from the author of the recipe:  “They make for a lovely weeknight dinner, paired with a green salad, and they’re a welcome brunch item too.” 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Silent Spring Series #3: Neonicotinoids, Part 2

By Sarah Janes Ugoretz

After a brief hiatus, we return this week to our Silent Spring series as we look deeper into the arguments surrounding the rapidly expanding use of neonics. Before we dig in, I want to mention that in August we’ll bring this series to a close by considering where we go from here. That is to say, although reading these articles might leave you with a deepening sense of despair, we promise to provide you with positive examples of individuals, communities, states and nations taking proactive steps to push back against the use of neonics and other similarly harmful agents. In the meantime, our goal is to present you with as much information as possible so that you have the knowledge and the resources from which to steer your own course of action.
In February 2014, Forbes ran a piece in which the author opines that those who are concerned about the connection between neonics and—in this case—the plight of the bees are comparable to “…the fictional parents in the edgy comedy show South Park who blame Canada for all of their woes” (Entine, 2014). In other words, this author would like for us to get over it and move on. After all, he assures us that compared to organophosphates, neonics have a “comparatively benign toxicological profile.” Fortunately for those of us who take empirical evidence seriously, we have a mounting collection of independent, science-based studies to counter with.
Going back to 1992—just one year after the first neonic compound was introduced—the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that sparrows that consumed very small amounts of imidacloprid had difficulty flying. As this dosage increased, they quickly became immobile (Bittel, 2014). Fast-forward to today, and researchers have had decades to collect data and build an even stronger case against the use of neonics. Take, for example, the recent findings of the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides (TFSP), a group made up of 29 multi-disciplinary, independent scientists whose self-imposed mandate is to “provide the definitive view of science to inform more rapid and improved decision-making.” After reviewing more than 800 scientific, peer reviewed studies on the uses an
d implications of neonics, the TFSP concluded that: “…neonicotinoids…are causing significant damage to a wide range of beneficial invertebrate species and are a key factor in the decline of bees.” They further concluded that there is sufficient evidence to “trigger regulatory action” (TFSP, 2014). The peer reviewed report, entitled Worldwide Integrated Assessment of the Impact of Systemic Pesticides on Biodiversity and Ecosystems (WIA), lists bees, butterflies, lizards, earthworms, snails, fish, water fleas and birds as being among those at great risk.
If you do a 5-minute Internet search on this topic, you’ll quickly find that skeptics often point out that there are numerous factors that could be contributing to the deaths of pollinators and other beneficials like earthworms. Caspar A. Hallmann—an ornithologist and population ecologist with SOVON, the Netherlands’ Radboud University and lead author on a monumental new study recently published in Nature—says that “…when [his] team looked at the data, none of these [other possible] explanations held up.” Instead, Hallmann is confident that the evidence against neonics is mounting (Bittel, 2014).
But hang on a minute—we have good news! Spokespersons with Bayer CropScience assure us that we really have nothing to worry about, as long as we follow instructions. “Neonicotinoids have gone through an extensive risk assessment which has shown that they are safe to the environment when used responsibly according to label instructions” (Bittel, 2014). Of this point, Bayer is “convinced” (Bayer CropScience, 2013). Unfortunately for neonic advocates, independent peer reviewed studies have found the opposite.
Among the long list of neonics’ discontents, there is one characteristic that most others can be traced back to—their persistence in our environment. Let’s look to water contamination as an example. Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey found that among sampled Midwest rivers and streams, imidacloprid was present at an average of 32.7 nanograms per liter. Research has confirmed that this compound is toxic to aquatic organisms at levels ranging from 10 to 100 nanograms per liter. Levels of clothianidin and thiamethoxam—the second and third most used neonic compounds—were measured at 257 and 185 nanograms per liter, respectfully (Henein, 2014). What this study suggests—that contaminated water is toxic to wildlife—is further corroborated by Caspar A. Hallman and his team of scientists. After gathering long-term data on farmland bird populations and surface water contamination, they found that in areas where water contained certain concentrations of imidacloprid, bird populations tended to decline by 3.5 percent each year (Bittell, 2014).
The persistence of these compounds in our environment equates to the ongoing exposure of target and non-target organisms to neonics. While exposure can be instantly lethal—as in the case with bees exposed to airborne neonic particles (Bittel, 2014)—it can also be chronic and sublethal, as we saw with the EPA’s 1992 study on sparrows. In the event of the latter, organisms typically experience a wide range of impairments. A range of outcomes may befall this toxic organism: it may be consumed by and contaminate another organism; the impairments—such as an inability to fly or an increased susceptibility to disease—may lead to death; or the cumulative build-up of neonics within the organism may eventually kill it. In emphasizing the gravity with which to approach even a sublethal dose of a neonic compound, scientists with the TFSP have stated that metabolites—the compounds which neonics break down into—are often “as or more toxic than the active ingredients” (TFSP, 2015). With this in mind, TFSP has reported that certain neonics are five to ten thousand times more toxic to bees than DDT (TFSP, 2015).
We must also consider one additional factor—non-agricultural applications. Hopwood et al. (2012), focusing their attention on the management of ornamental and landscape plants, outline another grave point of concern. Their research found that neonic compounds are often administered at an alarmingly higher rate—potentially 32 times higher—than those approved for agricultural crops. This data has led Lowe’s—a large retail chain—to plan for a complete phase-out (though not until 2019) of plants treated with neonic compounds (Reuters, 2015). Although we have focused primarily on the impacts of neonics on non-human organisms, it is certainly worth mentioning that we humans may not be immune to these compounds. While our own EPA does not draw firm connections between neonics and human health, the European Food Safety Authority has stated that these compounds may “…adversely affect the development of neurons and brain structures associated with functions such as learning and memory” (European Food Safety Authority, 2013).
Proponents of neonics have long argued that these compounds are a crucial component of farmers being able to control the various pest populations that threaten their crops. After the European Commission voted to impose—beginning in 2014—a two-year moratorium on the application of certain neonics throughout Europe, Bayer CropScience was quick to express its grave concern for what this would mean for European farmers. “Restricting the use of these neonicotinoids…will put at risk farmers’ ability to tackle the destructive pests that can severely damage crops and restrict their capability to grow abundant, high quality, affordable food” (Bayer CropScience, 2013).
Yes, it’s true—conventional farmers are struggling (Gray, 2014). Without the neonics they have come to rely upon, they’re scrambling to find ways to protect their crops and their livelihoods. This highlights what Quarles (2014, p. 3) has pointed out over and over again—that these pesticides “allow growers to ignore good farming methods and IPM [integrated pest management] approaches in favor of systemic protections.” In a troubling turn of events, some farmers—in their struggles to phase out neonics—have turned to alternative pesticides like pyrethroid sprays, which are generally recognized as being more environmentally damaging (Gray, 2014). Dave Goulson, a professor of biology at the University of Suffolk, recognizes that finding ways to support farmers in identifying less harmful pest control methods is a priority in need of immediate attention. “You have to sympathize with farmers who have lost their crop, [but you also] have to weigh up the damage of [using] neonicotinoids over many years” (Gray, 2014).
As we conclude for this week, I’ll leave you with a quote that I believe really gets to the heart of the matter for us as eaters and as environmentalists. Dr. Jean-Marc Bonmatin, one of the lead authors of WIA, states that: “Far from protecting food production, the use of neonics is threatening the very infrastructure which enables it, imperiling the pollinators, habitat engineers and natural pest controllers at the heart of a functioning ecosystem” (TFSP, 2014). When all is said and done, if we protect these pollinators and beneficials, we will essentially be taking strides to protect ourselves (Quarles, 2011).
In two weeks’ time, we’ll turn our attention to glyphosate (better known as Roundup) as we consider the impact this pesticide is having on our environment and our invaluable ecosystems.

Article Sources
Bayer CropScience. (2013). Decision to restrict use of neonicotinoid-containing products will not improve bee health [Press release]. Retrieved from http://beecare.bayer.com/media-center/press-releases/press-release-detail/decision-to-restrict-use-of-neonicotinoid-containing-products-will-not-improve-bee-health

Bittel, J. (2014, July 9). Second silent spring? Bird decline linked to popular pesticides. Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/07/140709-birds-insects-pesticides-insecticides-neonicotinoids-silent-spring/


Entine, J. (2014, Feb. 5). Bee deaths reversal: As evidence points away from neonics as driver, pressure builds to rethink ban. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonentine/2014/02/05/bee-deaths-reversal-as-evidence-points-away-from-neonics-as-driver-pressure-builds-to-rethink-ban/

European Food Safety Authority. (2013, December 17). EFSA assesses potential link between two neonicotinoids and developmental neurotoxicity [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/131217.htm

Gray, L. (2014, October 1). Neonicotinoid ban hit UK farmers hard. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/oct/01/neonicotinoid-uk-farmers-rapeseed-crop-bees-pesticide

Hallmann, C.A., Foppen, R.P.B., van Turnhout, C.A.M., de Kroon, H., & Jongejans, E. (2014). Declines in insectivorous birds are associated with high neonicotinoid concentrations. Nature, 511, 341-352.

Henein, M. (2014, July 31). Contaminated water: Neonics detected in Midwest rivers. Honey Colony. Retrieved from http://www.honeycolony.com/article/neonicotinoid-pesticides-detected-major-midwest-rivers/

Hopwood, J., Vaughan, M., Shepherd, M., Biddinger, D., Mader, E., Hoffman Black, S., & Mazzacano, C. (2012). Are neonicotinoids killing bees? A review of research into the effects of neonicotinoid insecticides on bees, with recommendations for action. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

Pesticide Action Network UK. (2015). Neonicotinoids. Retrieved from http://bees.pan-uk.org/neonicotinoids

Quarles, W. (2011). Protecting bees, birds, and beneficials from neonicotinoids. Common Sense Pest Control Quarterly, 27, 1-4.

Quarles, W. (2014). Neonicotinoids, bees, birds and beneficial insects. Common Sense Pest Control Quarterly, 28, 3-10.

Reuters. (2015, April 9). Lowe’s to stop selling neonicotinoid pesticides that may be harmful to bees. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/09/lowes-pesticides-bees_n_7035208.html


The Task Force on Systemic Pesticides (TFSP). (2014). New four-year scientific analysis: Systemic pesticides pose global threat to biodiversity and ecosystem services [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.tfsp.info/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/WIA-PR-REL.pdf 

Vegetable Feature: New Potatoes

by Andrea Yoder
The potatoes in your box this week are a variety called Red Norland, an early variety red-skinned potato with creamy white flesh and this week they are classified as a “new potato.” The difference between a new potato and others we’ll deliver this season is not the variety or the size, but the way they are harvested.  New potatoes are classified as such if they are harvested off a plant that still has green leaves on it.  With latter varieties, we’ll mow the potato vines about a week in advance of harvest.  In the week between mowing the vines and actually harvesting the potatoes, changes take place in the potatoes that help to set the skins and make them better for storage.  They are also easier to handle without damaging the skin.
New potatoes have a much more thin, tender and delicate skin.  They need to be handled with care so as not to disturb the skin and expose the flesh.  Potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark place, but not in the refrigerator.  It’s important they are not exposed to light or they will turn green and be bitter.  In general, potatoes will store for a few weeks at room temperature in a brown paper bag.  However new potatoes will not store as well and are best eaten within one week. Do not store potatoes in a plastic bag or in the refrigerator.
New potatoes are tender & creamy with a fresh, pure potato flavor.  This week’s variety is a “waxy” variety.  They lend themselves well to basic boiling, roasting or pan-frying.  You could make “smashed” potatoes with them, but I’d discourage you from making mashed potatoes out of them as waxy potatoes have a tendency to become sticky when mashed.  We still have several more varieties to dig.  Check the newsletter each week to find out more information about each variety and the best ways to prepare them.

Crushed Potatoes with Cream and Garlic
Recipe sourced from Nigel Slater’s book, Tender:  A cook and his vegetable patch.
Serves 4 as a side dish
1 pound new potatoes
3 cloves fresh garlic
1 cup heavy cream
8 sprigs fresh thyme
Salt & Black Pepper, to taste

  1. Lightly scrub the potatoes but do not peel them.  Boil them in a pan of deep, lightly salted water for fifteen to twenty minutes or so, until tender.
  2. While the potatoes are boiling, peel and lightly crush the garlic cloves.  Pour the cream into a small saucepan, and add the leaves from the sprigs of thyme, the garlic, a little salt and some black pepper.  Let the mixture simmer over medium heat until it has reduced by about a third.
  3. Once the potatoes are drained, put them in a shallow dish and crush each one lightly with a fork—you want to break the skin and flatten the potato just enough for its flesh to soak up some of the hot cream.  Pour the cream and thyme over the crushed potatoes and eat while hot.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Managing Weeds at Harmony Valley Farm

How do you manage weeds? That is a great question we’re often asked and it has a variety of answers depending on the crop, the stage of growth of the crop, the weather conditions, etc.  While conventional farmers often use chemical forces in their battle against weeds, we turn to non-chemical methods including mechanical cultivation and flaming. Richard and Rafael keep a close watch over our fields. Richard referred to Rafael as the “Weed Manager”. His observations have been extremely helpful in deciding when to cultivate and which implement to use on each crop. The goal is to reduce the weed seed, also known as the ‘seed bank’ in the soil. Weed seeds can live for 10 – 30 years in the soil, just waiting for the perfect time and conditions to grow. Our job is to remove weeds and not let them produce any more seeds. Below I will summarize some of our equipment, crew and processes that take on the task of keeping the weeds at bay!




Rafael flaming the cilantro
field before the crop sprouted.
If you have ever been to our farm or seen field pictures, you have seen our raised bed fields. Our first line of defense is to reduce the weed seed in the top 2 inches of soil before planting a crop. We try, but do not always have the perfect weather conditions or enough time, to make the beds 2 weeks prior to planting, thus giving the weeds time to sprout. If that happens, we can use the ‘Flamer’ to burn off the weeds that have sprouted prior to planting. Juan or Rafael have been Richard’s go to guys when it comes to flaming our fields. The ‘Flamer’ is a piece of equipment that takes the propane from the large tank mounted on the implement and through the pipes to create, in essence a flame thrower.  Sounds pretty cool right!  No, there is no big ball of flames; it is really just enough heat/flames close to the ground to burn the weeds that are already growing, but can save a huge amount of time and manpower.  We can also use the ‘Flamer’ after the crop is                                                          planted but before the plants push through the ground to                                                                  burn the weeds that are already growing.





Rafael cultivating the cilantro field
with the 5 Row Basket Weeder




A closer look at Rafael basketing the
cilantro field!


Once the crop is out of the ground we lose the option to flame. Now we have to turn to a variety of different cultivating implements for help. This will depend on the crop and how big it is in the field. A good example is our cilantro. It is planted on raised beds in rows of 5 on top of each raised bed.  We use the 5 row ‘basket weeder’ to loosen the soil and pull out any small weeds that are already growing in the top inch of soil. Rafael has done an excellent job with perfecting his basketing procedures.  Rogelio, Ramon and Jose Manuel have also done a great job with the basket weeder.


Oscar (driving the tractor) and Luis operating 'The Kult'
to take care of those pesky weeds in our beautiful parsnip field.

A closer look at the fingers of 'The Kult' working!
Last year we purchased an awesome German made K.U.L.T. Kress Cultivator. We refer to this as ‘The Kult’. Rafael learned how to operate this implement and has now taught Oscar and Luis how to use it. Weeds growing in the row are a huge problem as they are hard to get to without damaging the crop. This implement, when conditions are good, will help to reduce those pesky weeds in the row. There is one person (Oscar) driving the tractor and another (Luis) steering the implement to make sure the crop does not get pulled out. The Kult has little fingers that come close to weaving together near the base of the crop loosening the soil and ‘stirring’ out the small weeds. We use this machine with our transplanted brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, etc). We transplant our brassicas to give them a head start on the weeds, giving them the advantage of being larger than the sprouting weeds.  It is way easier to get rid of smaller weeds when our crop is larger and easier to see in the row and the Kult works very well with these crops.    








Vicente using the 2 row Lilliston
cultivator in the corn field.



Vicente using the disc Lilliston
to bury the weeds in the potato field.
For other larger crops, it makes more sense to bury the weeds with dirt. This is a great option for crops like potatoes or corn.
 Vicente has learned how to use the Lilliston cultivator with ease. The open steel fingers on this implement pull up the soil between each crop row and push the loose soil around the plant, essentially burying the weeds.
       





Corn row before (top) and
after (bottom) the Lilliston.
When all mechanical attempts have been applied,
we have one more tool: our hands to do hand weeding. This is very time consuming but also necessary in some cases.  With carrots or parsnips, both of which have longer germination rates, the weeds generally pop up before the crop. After the field is flamed with the flame weeder and the crop starts coming up, we need to make sure the hand weeding gets started soon.  This takes very good eye-hand coordination as well as knowing the difference between the crop and a weed.
I can’t stress this enough, but extreme precision while using any of these implements makes the difference between a well weeded crop and not having any crop at all because it was all pulled out or buried.   You have to watch the front of the tractor to see where you are going, but also the back to make sure you are not pulling up any plants.  Even the hand weeders need to be careful.



Picture of the tool room where we
store the hand weeding tools.




Here are some parting thoughts on weeds.  Richard estimates that we kill 90 -95% of the weeds in our fields with the mechanical weeding techniques, leaving only a smaller amount for the hand weeders. Did you know that 1 weed that has gone to seed can produce up to 20,000 seeds and that these seeds can and will be carried by birds, water and the wind? This means that even though we remove most of the weeds, we will always have some weeds to deal with on the farm. Did you also know that Mother Nature does not like bare ground? Turns out she doesn’t like to be naked!  We use cover crops to help with the weeds (and other reasons) since if we don’t cover it, she will use the weed seeds in her seed bank to cover herself up. I know we have only touched briefly on the weed subject and there is a lot of information out there we didn’t discuss.  Rest assured that Richard and Rafael are on top of the weed battle. Discussing when to cultivate, which crops, upcoming weather, which implements to use, should they use fingers, discs, knives or how deep to go when cultivating are just some of the conversions that they have on a daily basis. In the end, we are grateful to all of our cultivating crew for their attention to detail, which allows us to have healthy crops to harvest and eat!