Friday, April 17, 2015

April Spring Update!

By Andrea Yoder

Spring is always an exciting time in our valley and this year is no different.  While we’re grateful for the bounty of fall root crops which nourish us through the winter months, we always breathe a sigh of relief when we finally have something fresh and green to eat again!  Last week we pulled the row cover off the overwintered spinach and were happy to see a sea of green leaves!  Couple that with the pretty little ramps growing in the woods and thus marks the start of our spring season.
Manuel and Juan Pablo planting the first Salad mix crop!

 Every year we anxiously await the transition from winter to spring.  It seems like nothing is happening and then suddenly everything is happening!  We’re excited to be attending our first farmer’s market in Madison this weekend and our first CSA delivery is only 3 weeks away.  This week we’re harvesting the first of our overwintered spinach and the first ramps of the season!  Soon the asparagus will be poking through the ground and before we know it May will roll into June and we’ll start picking strawberries!  Here’s a little snippet of just a few things happening on the farm.


Field of overwintered Spinach

First ramp harvest of the year!

       Last week our first group of field crew members returned after spending a few months in Mexico with their families.  The pace and energy of the farm changed overnight and we’re thankful that everyone made it back to Wisconsin safely.  Juan has been staying busy managing repairs in the shop.  Rafael got right to work spreading minerals on fields.  Jose Ramon wasted no time subsoiling
Jose Alejandro taking a turn at correctly putting out a fire!
some of the fields that were still a little wet so they’d dry out faster.  Rogelio has split his time between helping Juan with repairs in the shop and spreading compost on the dry days.  We've also taken advantage of these first few weeks of spring to put fresh coats of paint on our harvest wagons and to some of the rooms in our employee housing.  We managed to squeeze in a few safety trainings including how to use a fire extinguisher and an entire day devoted to chainsaw safety.
Benjamin helping to unload a bin of overwintered sunchokes.



       Chef Martin Clark, our summer farm chef for the 2015 season, joined our team this week.  The crew is anxious for him to start preparing lunch next week.  We’re excited to share all of our wonderful vegetables with Martin to see what kinds of creative things he can make with them!
The greenhouses are quickly filling up.  This week we’re transplanting celeriac and pepper plants into larger trays.  The jicama just started poking through & I’m happy to say the ginger plants are the healthiest looking sprouts I've ever seen!  Within the next several weeks we’ll be planting the herb packs so they are ready to send to CSA members in May!
Overwintered parsnip crew!
While we were able to plant some things last week, the rain held us back from doing very much.  We’re anxious to get some important plantings done this week.  Beets, carrots, peas, chard and even onion transplants are on the list for Friday and Saturday.  The guys have been busy preparing the fields and we have our fingers crossed that the rain will hold off until we can get some more seeds into the ground.

Juan Pablo with new baby goat!
Earlier this week the harvest crew finished the overwintered sunchoke harvest and quickly moved onto planting potatoes.  The packing shed crew has been diligently moving through each of our packing areas as they do our annual spring cleaning. Every corner gets cleaned, equipment is being repaired, and we’re getting everything ready to start a new season.  There’s nothing that makes me happier than a clean, neat and organized packing shed!
As for the pasture update, we’re happy to announce the birth of our first little baby goat of the spring.  He’s a healthy little guy who had enough strength to walk to himself from the pasture where he was born to his cozy little goat house!  Juan Pablo & Angel are back as our resident animal care-takers.  The chickens were so happy to see Juan Pablo that they laid 17 eggs one day last week!

       Needless to say we’re staying busy.  We’re happy to be back in the swing of farming and are looking forward to the growing season.  Thank you for your continued support of our farm and we look forward to growing delicious food for you this season!


Creamed Ramps and Overwintered Spinach

Chef Andrea Yoder, Harmony Valley Farm

Serves 4
2 bunches ramps,  ½ lb.
4 oz spinach
3-4 quarts water
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 pint cream
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
½ tsp salt, or to taste
¼ tsp ground black pepper, or to taste

  1. Bring 3-4 quarts of water to a boil.  Cut ramps into 1-2” pieces keeping the  bulbs separate from the leaves.  Blanch the ramp leaves by boiling just until wilted and bright green.  Remove from water and put in a colander.  Rinse with cold water and squeeze off excess water.  Repeat the same procedure with the spinach.
  2. In an 8-inch oven proof skillet, heat oil.  Saute ramp bulbs just until slightly tender.  Remove from heat and top with ramp leaves.  Season with ¼ teaspoon salt and a pinch of black pepper.  Layer spinach on top of ramps and season with ¼ teaspoon salt and pinch of black pepper.  Pour cream over vegetables and top with cheese.  
  3. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 20-30 minutes or until cream is bubbling and has thickened, and the top is golden brown.


Ramp Butter

Chef Andrea Yoder, Harmony Valley Farm
Ramp butter on bread served with soup!
Yield ½ cup

1 stick unsalted butter, softened 
½ bunch ramps
  1. Soften butter to room temperature.  
  2. Clean ramps and remove the root end.  Roughly chop the ramps (white bulb and green tops) into 1-inch pieces.  Place ramps in the bowl of a food processor and process until they are finely chopped. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  3. Add the butter to the ramps and process just long enough to evenly incorporate the ramps into the butter.
  4. Put into a covered bowl and refrigerate until ready for use. Will store for about 1 week in the refrigerator, or put some in the freezer to enjoy this winter!
  5. This is a super simple, yet delicious way to enjoy the flavor of ramps and can be used in a lot of different ways.  Here are a few ideas to get you started:
  • Melt ramp butter in a saute pan and cook your morning eggs in it.
  • Put a pat of ramp butter on top of a grilled steak.
  • Spread ramp butter on bread and bake it in the oven until the bread is toasted. Serve it as a side with your favorite soup!
  • Melt ramp butter on grilled asparagus spears.
  • Stir ramp butter into warm rice or pasta.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Book Review

Deborah Madison’s The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
Reviewed by Andrea Yoder

Deborah Madison has been one of my favorite chef-authors for many years.  She has written over 10 cookbooks including Vegetable Literacy and her most recent cookbook, The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.  I have a weakness for her cookbooks, so when I saw a copy of her most recent book on the shelf at the bookstore I couldn’t resist.  Deborah has focused her career on preparing simple, seasonal, vegetable-based cooking.  In her early days she worked at Alice Water’s well-known San Francisco restaurant, Chez Panisse.  She later opened her own restaurant, Greens, which focused on vegetarian cuisine.
   The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone was preceeded by an earlier cookbook Deborah published in 1997 entitled Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.  Her original work is considered a classic cookbook in the realm of vegetarian cuisine and has won several awards.  Her new cookbook is “for everyone interested in learning how to cook vegetables creatively, healthfully, and passionately.” The recipes are simple & written with the intent that they will be prepared at home, as opposed to being chef-y restaurant recipes. Since Deborah is cooking in a different region of the United States, there are a few times when you might need to make a minor substitution for an ingredient that we may not have available in a given season in Wisconsin.
   Deborah takes the time throughout the book to include her own personal commentary on most of her recipes.  She offers suggestions for making substitutions or slight alterations to recipes to give the cook more options to choose from.  She also makes suggestions for other recipes in the book that might pair well together so you can easily put together a full meal.  I also appreciate that she takes time in the beginning of the book to include some basic information about how to go about cooking in an approachable way.  She also includes a section on basic cooking fundamentals that enable any cook, no matter how much experience you may have, to become more savvy in the kitchen.
   While the list price for this book is $40, it is a value when you consider the book includes over 1600 recipes featuring many of the vegetables we grow on our farm over the course of the season.  If you’re looking for a good vegetable-centric cookbook to guide you through a CSA season, I’d encourage you to consider Deborah Madison’s The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.  Her simple recipes & vegetable storage information will be helpful to those who may be new to CSA and are learning to cook new vegetables.  Her book also may be appealing to cooks with more experience who are looking for simple recipes that highlight the delicious vegetables they’ve grown to love.
   I selected 3 simple recipes from her book to feature this month.  If you have some of these vegetables remaining from the late season 2014 shares, perhaps you can find a use for them with some of Deborah Madison’s ideas.

Roasted Beets, Apples, and Onions with Cider Vinegar
“This is a bold dish, far greater than the sum of its parts. Any leftovers make a great little
salad or item on a composed salad plate. Use any color beet or a mixture.”
Recipe borrowed from Deborah Madison’s cookbook, The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

Yield: 4 servings
4 medium beets, steamed, peeled and cut into ½ –inch dice
2 cups diced apples, skin on
½ onion, diced
¾ tsp sea salt
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
⅛ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 Tbsp brown sugar, optional
1 ½ Tbsp butter or sunflower seed oil
Freshly milled pepper
Apple cider vinegar or horseradish, for serving

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter or oil a 4-cup casserole or
gratin dish.
2. Toss the beets with the apples and onions, season with the salt,
vinegar, and nutmeg. If you favor extra sweetness, add the sugar as
well.
3. Slide the vegetables into the baking dish and dot with the butter or
drizzle with oil. Cover and bake for 1 hour.
4. Serve warm or even chilled. Season with pepper and have extra
vinegar or horseradish on the table, if you like their extra bite

Roasted Onions with Vinegar & Rosemary
“Serve these easily prepared onions as a side dish, or add them, chopped, to arugula or
spinach salad or spoon them over bruschetta with slivered Manchego cheese.”
Recipe borrowed from Deborah Madison’s cookbook, The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings
4 to 5 onions, sliced into ½-inch rounds
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic or aged sherry vinegar
1 Tbsp finely chopped rosemary
Sea salt and freshly milled pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. Toss the onions with the oil, vinegar, and rosemary. Season with salt and
pepper. Put them in a baking dish with a few tablespoons water.
3. Cover and bake for 30 minutes, then uncover and continue baking until the
onions are browned around the edges and tender, about 30 minutes more.
Give them a stir every 10 minutes or so toward the end.

Sweet Potato Muffins with Candied Ginger
“Chunks of candied ginger make these particularly good. If you don’t have ginger readily
at hand, replace it with chopped dates, raisins or fresh pineapple. Serve these with Brie or
other mild cheese, butter, or cream cheese.”
Recipe borrowed from Deborah Madison’s cookbook,The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

Yield: 10 to 12 muffins
⅓ cup chopped candied ginger
¼ cup butter, melted
⅓ cup unsulfured molasses
1 cup mashed cooked sweet potato
or winter squash
2 eggs, at room temperature
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1 ¾ cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Oil muffin tins.
2. Mix the ginger and wet ingredients in a bowl until smooth; mix the dry
ingredients in a second bowl. Combine the two, mixing gently until well
blended.
3. Spoon the batter into the muffin tins and bake on the middle rack until
lightly browned, 25 minutes


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Survey Says!

 By Andrea Yoder
   It’s hard to believe our first CSA deliveries of the 2015 season are just 7 weeks away!  We’re looking forward to all the special spring vegetables including overwintered spinach, wild-harvested ramps, tangy sorrel, asparagus, and sweet overwintered parsnips.  Over the past 2 weeks we’ve enjoyed some sunny, beautiful days and welcomed warmer temperatures.  Our small year-round crew has been busy trimming the willow hedgerows & washing the last of our winter storage crops.  They’ve also worked very hard to get our first two greenhouses cleaned and sterilized.  The houses are filling up quickly and it’s refreshing to see the vibrant, new green sprouts.
Laurel & Andrea unpacking lemongrass & ginger
   Richard and I have been putting together our plans for the season.  Richard has been plotting out his field plan, planning which fields need to have minerals applied this spring, and making sure we have all the necessary supplies for the field crew to get to work when they arrive in just a little over two weeks!  I’ve been working on planting plans for greenhouse plantings and making sure we have all the seeds for the season.  There is a lot that goes into the decisions we make from year to year, including the feedback we get from you….our loyal members!  At the end of the 2014 season we asked for your feedback in the form of our end-of-season survey.  Over 600 members contributed their input and we really appreciate the information we gleaned from the survey.  We wanted to share some of the results we received and a little insight into how this impacts some of our decisions for the season.

Summer Vegetable Box
According to the survey results, 95% of members were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the box contents, overall value of their shares, and newsletter content.  The most important factors members consider when deciding whether or not to purchase a CSA share are Quality, Variety & Freshness.  This was true for not only vegetable shares, but also carried over into the fruit, cheese, & coffee shares as well.  We’re happy to see such a high rate of satisfaction and will continue to strive for producing and delivering a variety of high quality products this season.

Radish Seed Pods
 One of the challenges we face throughout the season is striking a balance with the contents of our CSA shares.  Given our long delivery season, we try to include a variety of vegetables to make your CSA experience interesting & exciting. We realize some members may be up for more of a challenge than others.  Those who are new to CSA prefer to focus on mastering their use of
more familiar vegetables such as green beans, carrots, broccoli & tomatoes.  We also find we have quite a few members who have been with us for 5 years or more and enjoy experimenting with new vegetables each year.   The feedback we received from our recent survey indicates that the majority of members are happy with the variety of the box contents.  There were some members who expressed that they would like to see some of the unusual crops we’ve grown previously included in shares again. We agree with you!  Based on member feedback several years ago we felt like perhaps members were getting tired of some of our more unusual crops.

Lemongrass
We didn’t want to stop growing them completely, but thought we’d try rotating them in and out of the growing plan and taking a year or two off from some of these.  Some of these crops include lemongrass, Portuguese kale, Egyptian spinach, jicama, radish seed pods and some of our specialty greens.   Based on feedback from the recent survey, it sounds like it’s time to bring a few of these crops back.  This year we’re planning on growing a small amount of lemongrass as well as Portuguese kale.  I myself have missed both of these vegetables and am really looking forward to making some of my favorite dishes this year!  We are also planning to try a few new interesting greens including one called “Amara.” This is a green I read about in a cooking magazine last year, but couldn’t find a source for the seed at the time.  It originates in Africa and is also known as Ethiopian kale.  I was excited to find it in one of the catalogs we received in January and quickly added it to our order.  They are supposed to be good in salads as well as cooked and are described as having “an excellent, rich flavor.”   For those who like to keep things interesting in the kitchen, we hope you’ll enjoy some of these interesting vegetables.  If you’re not as familiar with some of these less familiar vegetables, we hope you’ll give them a try.  We’ll be sure to give you recipes and information to guide you along the way.  Who knows…you just might discover a new “favorite” vegetable this year!
   We were pleased to receive quite a few comments related to the greens we included in the boxes.  Many of the members who commented on greens stated that they really enjoyed the variety.  For many years Farmer Richard’s mantra has been…. “Eat your greens every day!” Perhaps his efforts have paid off!  Some members expressed they’d like more salad mix, spinach and some of the heartier greens such as gold & rainbow chard and kale.  Salad mix and spinach do best in the spring and fall, so their season of availability is a bit more limited.  Other salad greens such as baby arugula, sauté mix and baby kale mix are more heat tolerant and have a longer season of availability.  We will do our best to include more of these items throughout the season and try to strike a balance with the selection of greens.

Harvest Party!
   One of the basic CSA concepts is that members have an opportunity to connect directly with the farm where their food is produced.  While there are many places to purchase and source food, one of the benefits of CSA is the transparency that comes along with your food.  We encourage our members to come and visit their farm so you can see for yourself where your food is produced.  We realize it’s not feasible for everyone to visit, so we try to bring the farm to you every week through our newsletters.  We put a lot of time and energy into producing weekly newsletters to accompany each of the shares and appreciate that 70% of survey respondents who received vegetable shares read the newsletter weekly.  About 63% of respondents who received fruit shares read the fruit newsletter with each delivery.  We also received quite a few positive comments from members who appreciate the variety of content within the newsletters.  Every year we brainstorm different topics that we’d like to include throughout the season.  If you have any suggestions for topics you’d like to read about, please send them our way so we can consider them as well.
   One comment we heard frequently throughout the survey was “more recipes!” We will continue to tap into our creative culinary minds to come up with simple, tasty and interesting recipes to feature in our newsletters.  Several members commented that they’d like to see more recipes shared by our members.  So would we!  If you have a recipe you’ve tried and found to be a hit with your family, please send it our way.  We’d love to try it in our kitchen and share it with other members.

Fruit Share
   Beyond our vegetable shares, we asked for feedback regarding the other shares we offer.  With regards to the fruit share, over 75% of members who received fruit shares and answered the survey expressed that they were “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with the variety & quality of the fruit selections last year.  Some members did comment that they were disappointed with the quality of some of the fruit selections last year and some members felt like the variety was greater in previous years.  Last season was a challenging year for many of the fruit growing regions we source our products from.  Due to weather challenges, there were times during the season when the supply of fruit was pretty limited and some selections we’ve received in previous years were crop failures last year.  With over 30 plus years of work in this industry, our fruit buyer, Rick, has developed many  good connections directly with the growers.  Even when the supply was tight and the challenge was high, Rick was able to secure fruit for our boxes.  When I met with Rick this winter I shared some of the survey feedback with him.  He was grateful for the feedback and will continue to work hard to meet the demands for both quality and variety.  He spent some time visiting growers on the west coast this past January.  He was able to meet some new folks and has his eye on a few interesting varieties we hope to include in the upcoming season.
   We continue to receive mixed feedback regarding the preferred size of the fruit share.  In 2014 we reduce the size and price of the fruit share based on feedback we had been receiving from members that there was just too much fruit in the shares.  Throughout the course of the season and in the survey results, some members expressed that they’d prefer to go back to the size of share we previously packed.  On the flip side, we continue to receive comments from some members that the share is still too large.  We did make the decision to continue with the same size share as last year, at least for the 2015 season.  We’ll reassess the share size in the fall before we make our decisions for the 2016 season.
   Thanks again to those of you who took the time to complete the survey.  We also appreciate the feedback we receive throughout the season through our conversations with members and email communication.  While we can’t accommodate every request or suggestion, we do value your input as to what is working as well as considering ways we might improve our CSA.  We’re looking forward to a new growing season and hope you’ll join us for another year of good food!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Vegetable Feature: Guajillo Chile Peppers

By Sarah Janes Ugoretz
   
Our featured vegetable this week is an exciting one—the beautiful and ever-so-sultry guajillo chile pepper! Pronounced “gwah-HEE-yoh,” we dry ripe, fresh guajillos at the end of the summer so we will have them to enjoy in the winter. Their deep cranberry-red color has made them attractive not only for their culinary uses but also for their ornamental applications. (I’ll admit it—I have a string of these chiles hanging in my kitchen purely for aesthetic purposes.) Guajillos offer a moderately spicy and tangy flavor—you may even pick up on a hint of citrus. The Scoville scale, which measures the pungency of chile peppers, places guajillos somewhere between 2,500 and 4,000 units on a scale that—believe it or not—extends beyond one million!
   
According to Rick Bayless, a well-known American chef who specializes in traditional Mexican cuisine, guajillos are “workhorse chiles with a lot of dazzle.” They are used extensively in Mexican cooking and lend their rich flavor to pastes, butters, and rubs for various kinds of meat. Almost invariably, guajillos are also used in making salsa for tamales. Bayless makes the case for using whole, dried chiles like guajillos and chiles de arbol rather than store-bought powders, insisting that dried chiles bring more spice and freshness to a dish, offering nuances that you would otherwise almost certainly miss. A similar comparison can be made between freshly cracked peppercorns and the shaker-grind variety of pepper that may have spent the last few months hanging out in your pepper jar.
   
While the thought of cooking with whole chiles may seem somewhat intimidating, I promise you that working these ingredients into your culinary routine is much easier than you may think. First off, when working with dried chiles, it’s always a good idea to wear gloves. Once the gloves are on, cut or slice your chile open lengthwise and remove as many seeds and ribs as you can. If you prefer your food spicier, feel free to reserve a few seeds for later. Next up we have the toasting process, which assists in further intensifying the flavor of your chiles. In a dry skillet or frying pan over medium heat, toast chiles for 20-30 seconds per side, taking care not to burn them. At this point, your chiles are ready for reconstitution. Soak the guajillos in warm water for 15-20 minutes and then drain them, discarding the water as it will have taken on a bitter flavor. Now you’re ready to chop, blend, or puree your guajillos. For a step-by-step visual guide, head to YouTube and search for “
The Test Kitchen: How to Clean and Use Dried Chiles—Gourmet Magazine.” If you’re a visual learner, this 3-minute video will be immensely helpful.
   
Guajillos can be used to make traditional Mexican molé, sauces for enchiladas, or incorporate them into tasty soups and stews.  They will keep for more than a year if stored in a dry location.  Feel free to put them in a jar on a shelf where they can be seen and enjoy their beauty until you are ready to use

Second Edition: Meet our Support Team!

By Farmer Andrea

In our last newsletter we featured some of the people we work with regularly to keep our farm running smoothly.  As we made the list of all these people, we quickly ran out of room! This week we want to share more of these people with you and give you a little insight into who they are and why they are important to our farm.  While I won’t be able to mention every individual, I do want to say we are very thankful to have such a wide network of people to help us take care of things.
 

Larry and Jack saying 'Hello' before working!
Let’s start off with two of Jack’s favorite repairmen.   We have a lot of refrigeration units to maintain and they need to work well or we risk losing valuable product.  Larry is responsible for teaching me everything I never wanted to learn about refrigeration!  I do appreciate his patience and thorough explanations that have helped me do a better job of managing our coolers so things run well.  Larry also understands that when I call him I usually have a problem that needs his professional attention and he responds quickly so we can fix the problem without creating more!  Plus, Larry and Capt Jack are great friends and love to squeeze in a game of stick when Larry comes to do work.  Larry breaks all the rules and lets Jack do things he usually isn't allowed to do….like eat an entire package of bologna as a treat!  Thanks, Larry, for being Jack’s big brother.  And then there is Randy, our copy machine repairman.  When Randy comes to fix the copy machine, Jack likes to corner him in the office and ‘invite’ him to play a little ball.  While Randy’s trying to figure out what’s wrong with the copy machine, Jack quietly passes the ball to him and patiently waits for the return.  Randy is kind to Jack and takes a little time to play.  He is always quick to come when we call him and usually can diagnose the problem and fix it quickly….so as not to delay newsletter printing!




Pandora & Clint our Farm Insurance Agents
Adam and Jody our
Health Insurance Agents









Aaron and Greg our CPA's
We feel lucky to have some very knowledgeable folks to help us maneuver the worlds of insurance, banking and taxes.  Pandora & Clint help us with the majority of our farm insurance needs while Adam & Jody take care of health insurance.  These four people attend to all the small details to make sure our policies are up-to-date and are quick to respond if we
have a question.  Sandy & Kathy are the bank gals who make sure our bank accounts are in order and payroll goes through without a hitch.  We also appreciate working with Terry, our banker from State Bank.  In this day and age, it’s unique to be able to work with a community bank where the business stays local and the bankers still will do business at our kitchen table.  And then there’s the dynamic duo of Greg & Aaron, our CPA's.  They deal with all things tax-related and keep us up-to-date on changes to tax laws that impact our business.  We really enjoy working with all of these individuals and are grateful to have them as a resource.




Charlie













Robert (above), Peter & Troy




We can’t forget Charlie, our neighbor, friend, landlord and plumber.  He’s done many a quick repair for us when we have a broken pipe or a leaky valve and he always has a story to go along with the job.  Greg is the guy we call when we have computer repair needs that go beyond what we can diagnose and fix ourselves.  We rely on the use of computers a lot on a daily basis, so when the systems aren't working properly it can really affect our work.  DJ & Mike are our trusty UPS delivery guys who have learned quickly that the most appropriate place to put a box of seeds is NOT in the puddle of water.  Peter, Troy and Robert are some of our longtime truck drivers that work for some of the delivery companies that deliver orders for us to other parts of the region.  They are conscientious, reliable and very skillful drivers.  I appreciate their excellent communication and the care they take in transporting our vegetables.  Since my vegetables are like my children, I appreciate knowing that they are in good hands as they leave our dock and travel out into the big world.
 

Mary Beth                        Carl & Mary Pat
While we spend a lot of time taking care of machines, equipment, vegetables, banking, insurance, etc., we can’t forget about our own health and maintenance!  We've developed relationships with several providers in our community who help us maneuver our own healthcare needs.  Mary Beth, RN & Julie, PA-C work at the Hirsch health clinic in Viroqua.  They are both bilingual and help us triage minor health questions or concerns we or our crew members might have.  They even came to the farm last spring to train us about Lyme’s disease and what to do if you get a tick bite.   Mary Pat & Carl are CSA members who pick up at our farm, but are also chiropractors.  They help keep Kelly, our bookkeeper, in alignment and have helped us find a supplement for Captain Jack to help him treat his achy joints, a result of his own battle with Lyme’s disease.

 
Grace

We should also mention Grace, the gal who comes every week to keep our offices neat and tidy.  Grace doesn’t have an easy job.  There is a lot of traffic in and out of our office space and you have to remember….we work with a lot of dirt.  Grace tackles the job each week and attends to all the small details which leaves us with a clean space. She’s a very talented individual and has helped us with other missions over the years.  She has even repaired my work boots!
 




Dane, Andrea & Sonny                     Greg (aka Eggit)
I’d like to mention our friends, Sonny, John and Greg (aka Eggit) who keep our propane tanks filled and help us troubleshoot problems with furnaces.  Two of our three greenhouses are heated by propane furnaces, so during transplant season we watch them pretty closely.  If one of the furnaces goes down on a cold night, we could lose our precious little seedlings.  These guys understand how important their services can be to our success and are quick to respond when we have an issue.  They've gone above and beyond several times to make sure that our equipment is fixed quickly so we can get back up and running. While they take their jobs seriously and know what they are talking about, they can also joke around and are enjoyable to work with.
 
Once again, I’m out of room.  There are many other individuals who help us out in a variety of ways. While we may not have mentioned them by name, we do appreciate their skills, expertise and contributions to our farm.  We've never done anything like this before, but I’m glad we did.  It was really meaningful for us to take pause and reflect on the many relationships we’ve built over the years.  We really do have quite a network of friends in the business who are important to our farm.  If you haven’t been following us on Facebook, I’d encourage you to take a look.  For the past two weeks we've featured some of these folks in our posts so you can see yourself who they are! www.facebook.com/HarmonyValleyFarm.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Featured Vegetable: Shallots

By Sarah Janes Ugoretz



Our feature this week is the shallot—specifically the French red shallot. These beauts, with their reddish-pink exterior and pale purple-pink flesh, belong to the Allium genus, along with garlic, chives, scallions, leeks and—many a market-goer’s perennial favorite—ramps. Shallots are often regarded as just a fancy type of onion and while they both belong to the same family, shallots differ widely from your typical onion. For starters, they grow in cloves, more similar to garlic than to onions. Some varieties of shallots can contain up to six cloves per head (though I find that I typically uncover two or three), each protected beneath a thin, papery skin. This feature designates shallots as multiplier onions.

Now let’s consider flavor. Shallots, in general, are recognized as having a rather delicate taste. When used raw they bring a subtle pungency to a dish and, as such, are a natural addition to salads, sautés, gratins and vinaigrettes. When soaked in vinegar (if you’re making a vinaigrette, for instance), their flavor will become even more mild. On the other hand, gently cooked shallots become, much like fennel, a very rich and sweet treat. In general, know that you can typically use shallots in place of onions. Be warned though, that despite their delicacy, I often find the tears flowing just as often when cutting and preparing shallots as when working with red or yellow onions. Look to our earlier vegetable feature on onions (from August 29, 2014) for suggestions on how to avoid this.

The name shallot comes from Ashkelon, an ancient Philistine city where the shallot is believed to have originated. From there, merchants transported the shallot to India and the eastern Mediterranean, and by 800, it had been widely popularized throughout France by Emperor Charlemagne. Shallots are frequently used in traditional French sauces for fish and meat. Shallots are also an important feature in Chinese, Burmese and other Asian cuisines. In fact, if you’re looking to expand your culinary horizons, I would suggest you check out Burma: Rivers of Flavor by Naomi Duguid—it’s one of my most valued cookbooks and many of the recipes also prominently feature shallots.

Nutritionally, shallots are an excellent source of iron and dietary fiber, aiding in optimal red blood cell function and digestion, and working to lower blood cholesterol levels. Shallots are also high in potassium, which plays an important role in nerve and muscle cell function and in supporting your body’s metabolism. Shallots should be stored in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place. If stored in the appropriate conditions, they will keep for several months.

Potted Cheddar with Bacon and Shallots
This recipe is borrowed from www.nourishedkitchen.com.
The combination of bacon, heritage organic, grass-fed cheddar and caramelized shallots blends together beautifully for a satisfying potted cheese spread. It assembles in about a half hour. I spread it against homemade crackers or toasted sourdough bread, or take it along to potlucks and holiday parties.

Yield: about 1 pint

2 Tablespoons ghee or clarified butter (I buy grass-fed organic ghee here.)
8 ounces bacon
2 medium shallots, sliced paper thin
12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese (I used and recommend Kingdom Cheddar in this recipe.), shredded
1 cup heavy cream
2 Tablespoons dry sherry


  1. Melt ghee in a pan and fry bacon over medium-high heat until cooked through and crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan, and set the strips on a pan to cool slightly. Drain the bacon fat, and reserve two tablespoons in the pan.
  2. Decrease the heat to medium-low. Toss the shallots into the hot fat, and saute them until deeply fragrant and browned, about 15 minutes.
  3. Combine bacon and cheddar in a food processor and pulse until well-blended. Add the cream, shallots, and sherry to the bacon and cheddar, and continue to process them together until they form a smooth, spreadable paste.
  4. Spoon the cheese spread into a jar or into ramekins, and either serve right away or store, carefully covered, in the fridge for up to a month. Remember to bring the potted cheddar to room temperature before serving, and spread over crackers or bread as an appetizer or starter.


Sherried Mushroom Soup
Recipe from Cooking Light, Annual Recipes 2003.

Yield: 12 servings

Broth:
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1 pound shallots, coarsely chopped
6 (14 ounce) cans fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
Remaining Ingredients:
2 cups thinly sliced shiitake mushroom caps (about 4 ounces mushrooms)
¼ cup dry sherry
3 Tbsp chopped fresh chives
 
  1. To prepare broth, melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add thyme and shallots; cook 10 minutes or until shallots are golden brown. Stir in broth and porcini mushrooms; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered for 1 hour. Strain broth mixture through a sieve into a bowl. Discard solids. 
  2. Return broth to pan. Stir in shiitake mushrooms and sherry; cook 10 minutes over low heat. Stir in chives. Serve immediately. 


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Who Else Makes This All Possible? Meet Our Support Team!

By Farmer Andrea

There are many facets of expertise required to run a vegetable farm, and we certainly aren’t experts in all of these different areas. In the course of our work, we turn to many other very talented individuals who help us keep things running smoothly. It’s important to like the people you work with, and as we reflect on all the people who contribute to our farm we have quickly realized that we are blessed to work with many excellent individuals. We also feel that it’s important to support local businesses and as a result we’ve developed many longstanding relationships with many local businesses in our community. We value these relationships as they come to know what we need and understand that sometimes we have important, time-sensitive needs. They are often able to make suggestions that help us improve our farm and benefit us in the long run. We really appreciate being able to work with so many good people and want to take time this month to say thank you to as many of these people as we can and share a little glimpse of just who all these people are!

Mark and Al keep things "rolling"with tires for the farm!
Lets start with Mark & Al, two guys who have been with our farm for a long time. Mark & Al are our go-to tire experts. We have a lot of tires, specifically large tractor tires, rolling around our farm and it is inevitable that sometimes you’ll get a flat. Mark has been selling and repairing tires for us since Richard first started farming here in 1984. While he now works at our local Cenex station, Richard did business with him for about 10 years when Mark worked with a different company. About 20 years ago Mark decided to start working for Cenex. When Mark moved, we moved with him. We have committed to buying all of our tires through him. He also sources all of our batteries and makes hydraulic hoses for us. He knows more about tires, rims, tubes, stems, hoses, connectors and a whole host of things that, at the end of the day, allows him to source the best products & parts for our needs...and in a very timely manner. And then there is Al, the repair guy who actually comes to the farm to repair the tires. Al is a “get the job done” kind of guy. He never knows what situation he may be walking into, but he is easy to work with and always seems to get the job done. This past fall we were racing against time to try to get as many root crops harvested with our mechanical harvester (ASA Lift) before rain storms moved in. In the fall, it’s crucial to take advantage of every dry day possible to harvest or you risk falling behind. On this particular day, the crew called and said they had a flat tractor tire….at about 4 pm in the afternoon. Al likes to start early and call it a day around 4:30 pm, so I was afraid I might not be able to get him out to the farm until the next day. But the next day would be too late…it would be raining. To add another complication to the picture, the flat tire was in a very hard to access place and the ASA Lift had to be unhooked. However, since the tire was flat the ASA lift was not setting level and if they unhooked it they risked damaging the machine. As I looked at the situation, I wondered how they were ever going to accomplish this repair without causing damage. It seemed highly unlikely that we’d be harvesting anything else that day. Around 4:30, Al pulled onto the scene. I exclaimed “Al, if I weren’t so busy right now I’d give you a kiss!” Al responded with “I’ll pass on the kiss, but I would take some rutabagas and celeriac.” Ok, fair enough. I went to get the vegetables and Al got to work. Al became part of the ASA lift crew that day along with Juan Pablo & Rafael. In less than an hour these three guys had figured out how to get enough air into the tire to level the machine, unhook and pull the tractor forward enough so Al could fix the tire. Next thing I knew, Rafael was calling the rest of the crew back to the field to continue harvesting and Al was already half way home before I could say “Thank you!”

There are a lot of other people who help us keep our machines and equipment up-to-date and running well. When we need bearings, pulleys or shafts repaired or sourced we turn to Roger Tollefson, whom we’ve worked with for about 15 years. He’s isn’t afraid to work on some of our unusual requests for parts specific to our vegetable equipment. Dwight is our friend at Tractor Central. He works closely with Juan to help us source parts for our John Deere tractors and sometimes does deliveries to the farm. If we can get the right parts, we can usually do the repairs here and save an expensive repair bill and lost time spent transporting the tractor to town and back. Norm is our friendly Auto Value delivery driver, and also happens to be a CSA member! We have a lot of field vehicles to maintain and we appreciate Norm bringing the parts to us so we don’t have to spend time running to town to pick things up. When we call for parts, Norm is the friendly face bringing us what we need.

While we’re talking about repairing machines, we have to mention our friend Bill, the forklift repair guy. Bill has been working with us for well over 10 years. He’s helped us make purchasing decisions when we needed a new forklift and visits the farm for regular maintenance checks. He is also very quick to respond when I call him with a specific problem. He does his best to fix the problem and get us back in the game. And then there’s Marty, our electrician. Marty has answered many of my frantic electrical emergency phone calls. “Marty, the motor on the salad washer isn’t working and we have 1,000# of spinach to wash in the next 24 hours!!” “Marty, the motor on the bin dumper keeps tripping the breaker. We have over 200 cases of root vegetables to wash tomorrow!! That’s over 5,000# of vegetables. No way we can lift all that into the barrel washer by hand! Can you help us?” Marty does his best to fix any equipment breakdowns as fast as he can. Since his work usually involves disconnecting the electricity, he often works late after hours and comes in early to get the job done before the crew is ready to work so as to not disturb the work day. I really appreciate that he understands the importance of some of these pieces of equipment and does his best to repair things quickly to minimize downtime.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention Brad…The Phone Guy! Brad is the mastermind behind our phone system as well as maintaining our connection to the world via the internet. He is always very responsive whenever we have a problem and need to call in his expertise. If he isn’t able to troubleshoot the issue remotely, he doesn’t hesitate to just jump in his truck and come to check things out himself. He’s very good at problem solving and has helped us set up a system that is tailored to our needs. He is definitely an integral part of our team and we appreciate everything he does to keep our connection to the world running smoothly! If you ever have problems calling us, just wait a few minutes…Brad is probably working on it.


Whew, that’s a lot of people and I haven’t even mentioned Larry the refrigeration guy or Randy the copy machine repairman, Mary Beth, Troy, Robert, Peter, Mary Pat & Carl, John, Sonny, Eggit, Greg, Charlie, Aaron, Adam, Pandora, Clint...Stay tuned for the next newsletter and we’ll pick up where we left off with more stories about these wonderful people!