Feed on
Posts
Comments

We offer you our heartfelt greetings and goodwill for your interest in and support of our small farm.  If we prosper, we prosper because of you.  Through the good food we grow, we hope we can provide for you and for our community so that all may thrive in good health and in the pleasure that good food brings.

In this blog you can read our thoughts about farming, see and read about our progress through the season, and get updates to find out what’s fresh each week at our farmstand at the farm and at our Farmers’ Market booth.  To get instant updates in your email inbox, subscribe to our email list on the Home page of our website.

“We have lived our lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption, that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and learn what is good for it.” –Wendell Berry

Walk a farm with a local farmer, and you’ll hear a story.

You may hear about his or her accomplishments, markets, favorite crops and such.  You may hear about how he or she found the land and what kind of accident of luck brought it about.

But at some point in the conversation, you’ll hear about the place that is the farm and the characteristics of place that make that farm unique.  You’ll know it’s coming when the farmer’s gaze goes distant, maybe to a tree catching the evening light or to a particularly well-tended place on the farm that meets with approval.

We don’t live in the Valley where square farms, chiseled flat and seemingly without natural feature other than sun and soil exist.  We’re hill Spring Planting and heart on a hill 030 Stitch (3) (1024x396)farmers and where we are matters.  We have tree cover, good and bad soil, steep or gentle slopes, south or west exposure, plenty of water or maybe not enough, and we have wild places where we don’t usually sit alone at night.

It’s not just what I farm, it’s where I farm.  Like our farmers, our farms are unique.

I spent most of today driving around town doing errands.  The rain of the past couple of days on top of last week’s rain has made the soil too wet to work, too wet to plant.  But what I wanted more than the sense of accomplishment of getting things done was to be home.  Home in time to feed the dogs, home in time to close the greenhouse, home in time to watch the fading light, home to see the last flight of our resident red-tailed hawk, home in time to hear the evening chorus of tree frogs begin.

Over the years of living at Riverhill Farm I’ve come to think of myself as a custodian. Imagine the satisfaction of a custodian sweeping the halls of a school, wiping down the bannisters, cleaning up the debris of the day.  That last sweep when the day is done, a last glance down the hall, and then closing the door behind.  That’s my job, and my responsibility is a daily one.

I’m also a husband to this farm.  When I’m away from it I miss it, as pure an expression of love as one needs to describe.  Wild wet shivering weather and scorching summer, mud and dust, for better for worse….

Truth is I’ve done better with this landscape than I’ve done in many of my human relationships.  It’s a kind of faithfulness that can’t be breached.  As many human kindnesses as I’ve received, at times I’ve been ungrateful.  Yet, as many tribulations as nature and this farm have inflicted, I’ve been forgiving.  Through this fidelity to place I’ve begun to know it.

What does it take to know a place?  It offers up that which comes of its own, natural force that’s law of nature, seemingly indifferent.  We are hill farmers and instead of undifferentiated, flat soil, we have topography, and that topography has called upon our creativity and endurance against sometimes unpleasant odds.  Each generation of farmers in our community has had to come to terms with the limitations of the land along with its great physical beauty.

It’s not unlike most relationships, if you can imagine it as that, and we come to know it through the constancy of our affection.

We are hill farmers, and our farms tell a story.  It’s the story of those who have worked the land before us.  Our work is a continuation of their work, like an unfinished list of tasks handed down from one generation to the next.  Our capacity for work may be different and our goals may not be exactly the same, but we continue their work because we continue to work the place and the place has demands of its own.  We come to know the place and its history through our familiarity with it and that familiarity is born of daily work.

The land I farm had just three European generations that worked it before me, and I never met any of them. I never heard their voices, never farms that tell stories 102 2knew their disappointments, never heard their stories.   Yet they are here all the same, and you could say that their stories are written on the land.  There’s a stack of stones they left after clearing the fields.  There’s a grapevine trunk thicker than my arm, and it still bears fruit.  There’s a basin in the woods that catches rainwater and fed their livestock.  There’s a piggery made of stone filled in between granite outcroppings.  There’s a foundation wall to the barn that burned down and an ancient oak tree under which they rested on a hot day.  These are some of the stories I know.

DAWN HILLOCK RHF HDR (2)Truth be told, I love these mornings.  I wake slowly to the dim light in the trees, black limbs on grey.  In the vague dawn light, there’s no telling what kind of day it will be, eye squinting blue or soft grey all day.  As often as I check the forecast these days, there’s more pleasure in not knowing.

By the time I have made cups of tea for me and Jo and brought them back to bed to watch the daylight come, the character of the day is nearly known.  Whether or not first light touches the tip of the tallest pine on the ridge high above our house decides what kind of planning sets in as I drink my tea.  Sunny, I’ll be out walking the farm all day, tending to what needs tending to.  Rain, I’ll be working in my office doing paperwork, ordering more seeds, making plans….

It isn’t hard to make new plans when everything seems possible.  If I had to describe this time of year with one phrase, that would be it.  Seed catalogs have the pull of gravity, and it takes all manner of discipline not to order everything.  In Spring, flowers bloom, trees leaf out, and you can almost see the cover crop grow inches in a day.  The birds sing their hearts out and the daytime temperatures are like the Balm of Gilead itself (ever heard Paul Robeson sing it?  You ought to).  When the days stretch out in front of you like a trail in the High Sierra, you can skip and sing all day, and tomorrow is good enough to get it all done.

Or is it?  It’s remarkable to me how little can get done in a Spring day.  As many times as I’ve started the winter off with a list called “WINTER WORK!”, I’m amazed at how many items on the list from 2010 are still on my list in 2013.  Do this and do that, do that and do this, and don’t forget to do this and do that….is kind of how it goes, an Alice in Wonderland white rabbit moment if ever there was one.  If I woke at 5, drank two cups of strong black coffee and started work before it was light enough to see, skipped lunch and worked till I couldn’t see anymore and did it all over again day after day without regard for the day of the week, I’d still never get that damned list done.

There was a time in this country when it was all the rage to offer a critique of the Type-A personality.  It was fashionable to know just how much higher the incidence of high blood pressure and heart attacks among A-types was.  Now, as though we’ve all succumbed to the democratization of the pursuit of A-ccomplishment, even the sadhus seeking spiritual enlightenment have to check their daytimers before making a commitment.  We are busy as bees, we are.

2004-02-06 First Frost 2012 018 (3)But while the bees really are busy this time of year, I’m more cow-like, if you want to know.  The grass that stands 12 inches tall is the most inviting grass, and offers the perfect cushioned vantage point from which to appreciate the color of the sky and the occasional fleece of a cloud drifting by.  On this farm, I know where that grass is.  I’m more likely to lose my train of work in favor of a train of thought, and those thoughts have a remarkably paralytic effect on my compulsion to work.  Religion may have been the opiate of the masses, but green grass is mine.

Where we live, Spring is the longest season of the year.  In a wet year we’re driven inside to escape the rain and the wind, and it’s hard to appreciate that fact.  But, in a year like this, it’s week after week of balmy weather that brings the lizards out to sun on a rock.  It’s warm in front and cool in back, it’s sweaters on but sleeves pushed up, it’s out to sit in the sun at 9 but in at 4 to build a fire.  In that morning sunlight, I watch my dog as his eyes start to droop, then his head, then it’s full over onto his side and onto his back, legs splayed left and right.  The word cozy was made for this, too cute for any other time of year.

As much as we hold ourselves above the rest of the natural world for our bipedalism , I’ve heard that 2004-02-08 Winter 2-2012 006walking on two legs is not the most graceful accomplishment in the natural world.  Instead, it’s a controlled kind of falling that’s arrested only because we can put one foot in front of the other.  And that, I’d say, is the most accurate description of my days.  But for the evolutionary achievements of my ancestors, I’d be doing nothing but grazing.

I’ll get it all done, you can be sure.  I’ll get the seeds ordered and I’ll get them planted on time.  I’ll prune the trees as much as they need it, and I’ll get all the paperwork done.  I’ll build this and I’ll make that and I’ll change this and I’ll finally improve that.  And, if I doubt myself, all I have to do is look around and remind myself of what this farm looked like when it wasn’t a farm.  This year is no different than the others.

Today, however, I’m going to sit and drink my coffee while I watch the birds.  I’ll wait for a sign to suggest what ought to be done today.  I’ll think about how much I will get done tomorrow, and I’ll wait for that moment (when no one is looking) to do something that accomplishes nothing.  Today, the bovine wins over the bee.  Tomorrow, I’ll get it all done.

 

Dear Friends:

Over the years and from time to time, Jo and I have enjoyed moments of great intimacy.  No doubt if we were asked to bring them to mind, Jo and I would recall different moments of intimacy and, even if we shared a common memory, would describe those moments differently.  I mention this because today, when returning from Reno by train, she leaned into me and I wrapped my arms around her.  We were in the observation car, a mostly-windows second level railcar from which we could watch the landscape of the snowy Sierra mountains pass.  The sun was full upon us and we silently shared that warmth, and I loved the way our bodies fit together and the comfort of it all.  Jo didn’t say it, but I know from the familiarity that exists between us that she thought it: “This is what I love.”

I’ve rarely known someone to comment upon a moment with such recognition of the emotions felt.  Early on in our relationship when hearing Jo say this, I was insecure.  I would wonder if there were other moments that I liked that she didn’t particularly enjoy, or whether that meant that she didn’t particularly like our lovemaking, preferring instead that we just hold one another.  No doubt, it’s a perfect example of the Mars/Venus split between men and women.

Yet, things have changed.  I’m no longer threatened or left wondering when Jo says, “This is what I love.”  I appreciate that at that moment, Jo is truly enjoying herself, and that brings me great pleasure, too, even if I’m not feeling the same way.  At the very least I’ve come to recognize that, at that moment, I’m doing something right (or, more likely, I’m not doing something wrong).

Be that as it may be, a greater and deeper change has taken place.  Through this very simple statement of Jo’s, I’ve been taught over the years to recognize moments that I love.  Late this afternoon, I was high up in a ladder pruning our plum trees.  It’s easy work, but it’s tiring and awkward because of the reach for making the right cuts while maintaining balance on a tall orchard ladder.  The sun was getting low and I was starting to get cold.  Just then, Jo came walking down the hill towards where I was working and asked, “Want to take a walk?”  At that moment, as much as I wanted to finish the tree I was in, nothing made me happier than to be asked for companionship (and a good excuse to stop pruning for the day).  This is what I love…

Last Saturday, we worked most of the day cleaning up various piles of rose prunings and leaves from the sycamores we planted around the farmstand many years ago.  I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get it all done and, for some strange reason, I felt anxious that I wouldn’t get it done that day.  I started the day tense and testy, wondering why Jo was taking time to prune the lavender and make bigger piles when I wasn’t sure I would get done what had already been piled up.  As the morning progressed, it was clear that I was just being stupid, and I relaxed into the work.  On the edge of the farm, there’s a tree that I’ve come to think of as “The Singing Tree.”  It’s a tree where, for some reason, finches congregate in extraordinary numbers.  While they are in the tree, they sing, and they can be heard across much of the farm.  Neither of us mentioned the birdsong while we worked, but I know Jo well enough to know that she heard it as though giving it the attention she’d give to the performance of a Bach concerto at Symphony Hall.  Not a note was missed.  This is what I love…

We work a family farm, day in and day out, side by side and back to back.  We see each other at moments like when we can listen to the birds sing.  But, we also see each other at the end of a day when there was too much to do and too little got done, and morning will come much too soon for us to do it all over again.  At moments like that, we worry for each other and our capacity for endless work.  At moments like that, we’re too tired to be together, and we resolve the day as our own energies best allow us to, independent of one another.

Still, I’ve come to know that, for every day on the farm that’s too long, too hot, too tiring, too stressful, just too much, there will be moments of great intimacy. I’ll remember some of them with clarity, and I’ll probably forget many that don’t deserve to be forgotten.  I am flesh and I am blood, and I’m fortunate beyond measure to share my work with my wife.  I am flesh and I am blood, and I am fortunate beyond measure to know…This is what I love.

On my farm, there’s a hammock. The hammock hangs outside the back of the house, near our bedroom.  It’s a perfectly peaceful place on the farm, removed from the cropland and hustle of the working fields.  The hammock’s inviting arc hangs between a plum tree and a persimmon tree.  From a certain distance, it’s easy to imagine it as the Cheshire Cat-like grin of an invisible creature, smiling away at some self-possessed pleasure.

In the Summer you could, if you wanted to, lie in the hammock and reach up to pluck a ripe plum to eat, savoring the sweet, slightly tart juice, not caring if it drips down your chin.  Or, in the Fall after first frost, you could enjoy watching a woodpecker work its beak into a bobbing persimmon.

Truth be told, I’ve never lain in the hammock.  Not once.  It’s a nice idea, and I’m certainly deserving of a good rest and a chance to consider the beauty of this farm I call home from the shade of the fruit trees.  I deserve a chance to read a book, too, or take a nap in the middle of the afternoon when it’s really too hot to work.  I could even see myself on a hot night, when the daytime heat penetrates the shadows and it cools off at night only a little, taking my pillow out to the hammock and enjoying that indescribable sensation of a subtle breeze like cool moonlight across the hair of my forearms, wicking away the heat.

But, like I said, I’ve never done it, not once.  Now, don’t misunderstand me.  Farming has its pleasures, and there are plenty of them.  The well-tended fields of a farm, weeded, cropped in a patchwork of diverse vegetables, brimming over with the sounds of contented humans happily working away, is really a beautiful thing.  It conjures up all that is good, productive and peaceful, the best we humans seem to be able to do for this world and for ourselves.

I imagine, too, that when you read the first sentence of this writing, you were fulfilled in your expectations of what life on a small farm is like.  Hard work, but contentment and peacefulness filling in all the moments of the day.  People singing while they work, the cow in its field and the pigs in their wallow enjoying the fond words of the farmer as he or she moves from task to task.  Sitting down to the noon meal surrounded by dirty faces, calloused hands, plenty of laughter and good appetites—Amen!

In a certain way, you’re not mistaken.  The pleasure of farming is real.  Through heat, cold, wet, dry, crop failure, exhaustion and other pestilence, it’s still possible to regularly touch the reasons why one farms.   I’ve never been shy about saying that the real pleasure in farming is all about a kind of love or, better yet, a fidelity to place that I’ve felt through all the years of working here.  I feel a sense of responsibility to the place that is this farm that I’d be quick to say is not unlike that which, as a parent, I feel towards my children.  And, just as the relationship to a child is an uncommon combination of burden and blessing, so too is my relationship to this place.  In this sense, love is not a very descriptive word for privilege and responsibility, but it’ll have to do.

Still, while the pleasures of farming endure through all the unpredictability of a season like the counterpoint bass notes of a beautiful lyric song, the recognition of that pleasure is likely to be as fleeting as a single treble note.

I think of it this way:  I jump off the tractor mid-field because it’s time to turn off irrigation water in another corner of the farm.  On my way, I notice that a drip line is leaking, probably cut by a gopher, and there’s a large pool of water that threatens to drown a bed and will, in any event, encourage another burst of weeds.  Searching my pockets, I don’t have a coupler to repair the leak, so I change direction and head to the farmstand for a coupler.  Searching through the bins, I realize we are out of couplers, so I walk to the pile of discarded drip tape, where I quickly find a coupler that wasn’t removed when the drip tape was pulled up.  With coupler in hand, I head back to the leaky drip line but I then get called over to the washing station to check the quality of some salad turnips we are harvesting for the co-op.  The roots look fine, but the foliage is showing early signs of flea beetle damage.  Deciding that it’s still marketable, the washing and bunching resumes, but there’s another question from an employee that’s cultivating onions in Field 2.  We spend some time talking about what’s reasonable to accomplish efficiently in the face of too little labor and too many weeds, and then my cell phone rings.  The co-op forgot to include parsley on their order, so I take down their order and walk back to the farmstand, where I write in the new order on today’s pick list.  I then review with the person who is going to pick the parsley how many stems are in each bunch and how to pack them for the co-op.  Since I’m near my office, I decide I’d better check email to make sure that there aren’t any important communications from customers placing special orders for bulk items.  There’s an urgent email message from my ex-wife about our daughter, so I call her back to talk with her.  We end up talking for about 15 minutes, at which point I remember the leaking drip tape, so I quickly get off the phone and head back over to the field where the leak is.  It takes but a few seconds to fix the line, and I resume my trip to turn off the irrigation in another corner of the farm.  While I’m walking over, I hear a familiar sound and, looking up, I’m treated to the sight of a huge flight of migrating sandhill cranes.

I trust it’s clear that I’m not saying there’s no pleasure in farming.  There most certainly is, and in abundance when you look closely enough, but what I’ve described above is about as good as it gets in a day on the farm, repeated more or less to the day for eight months straight.  The particular pleasure is always different, but it can be as short-lived in a day as the moment the light first hits the tops of the trees at sunrise.  And, it’s important to say, you have to look for the pleasure, seize it greedily, and remember it always, or you’ll be buried in no time in fretting and disappointment.

When I set out to farm, I expected I would have time.  Time to farm artfully, time to be creative, time to tend the fields, time to say grace.  I expected I would be fulfilled, contented, and peaceful.  I expected that all the crops would be beautiful and everyone would want to buy them.  I expected that when I needed something, I’d be able to buy it, or make it, or have it through one means or another.  I expected that I could build this farm from scratch, never compromising my aesthetic sense and always progressing from one task to another or one project to another with a kind of logic.  And, I thought I’d never make mistakes with any consequences.

We all know that farming requires physical stamina and some strength, and it certainly requires endurance.  But again, truth be told, it turns out that it requires more mental stamina and endurance than physical strength, and lots more mental resilience and flexibility than is ever commonly appreciated.  I can’t imagine an occupation that requires a person to be more of a Jack or Jill of all trades than farming, including making all the right choices at all the right times.  That’s not a formula for the idyllic vision of farming that we all hold dear.

It’s true that farming is enjoying a renaissance of sorts, with a great deal of enthusiasm being brought to bear on what might fairly be called the finer things in life.  It’s impressive to see how many are called to take up farming on a small scale, and what hopes and aspirations all of us farmers bring to our chosen path.

In fact, many are called, but few are chosen.  It turns out that beginning farming requires a lot of financial resources, along with a lot of courage and fortitude.  Young people can have lots of courage and fortitude, but financial resources tend to be more scarce.  Putting it all together in such a way as to make a farm pay for itself without exhausting the farmer with work and worry is something that is not widely recognized for what it is, even as more young people flock to farm.

After farming for more than ten years on this small piece of heaven on earth, I’m still wondering if I’ll be one of the chosen.  Each year is a new opportunity, and each year presents its own particular challenges.  The line between success and failure is, more often than not, extremely thin, and I often find myself unsure whether a particular year was a success or a failure.  By what criteria, on balance?

In the end, even as I know that this is not enough, I value integrity and the beauty of my fields over financial success.  I value my relationship with my customers more than I value wider recognition of our accomplishments over the past ten years.  I value the interaction I have over the Farmers’ Market table with someone who wants to know how to prepare something we have to sell more than I care about the total number of pounds sold during a season.  And, what’s more, I value the moment I see some inscrutable thing that happens before me as I wander these fields, leaving me to wonder at the depth of pleasure that love can bring.

Winter Planting

It comes as a surprise each year–it’s time to plant.  So much of farming is an act of anticipation.  Long before we’d consider discing in the cover crop, we’re seeding the crops in the greenhouse that will be planted in the fields in April, maybe sooner if the weather continues to be so mild.  10,000 onions, 1,000 parsley, 1,000 kale and chard, broccoli and on and on.  It has been an empty shell of a greenhouse since the last transplants were brought out in June.  Now we’re blending potting soil, filling flats and shaking out seed, covering the empty benches with the promise of an abundant season.  A neglected corner of the farm is again full of life.

They call it contingency planning:  What do you do if…  So, since we’ve had two wet springs the last two years that have delayed planting, we’re not missing any opportunities to make hay while the sun shines, so to speak.  We’ve seeded arugula, salad turnips and beets in the field already.  Next opportunity, we’ll lay down row after row of carrots.  The irony is that we’re planting now because we anticipated a wet spring based on the past two years of wet weather.  Last winter, I was convinced that the weather we had experienced in 2010 couldn’t be repeated.  As we all know, it most certainly was.  This year has been anything but wet.  Still, the preparations we made in the Fall to make sure we could plant have proven to be equally effective in a dry year like the one we’re having.  So, all for the better.

As most of you know by now, we’ve decided not to continue with CSA subscription boxes for the coming season.  I’m happy to say that our plans have been greeted with excitement and anticipation.  As you can imagine, Jo and I have spent a great deal of time since last summer planning for the changes we’re initiating for the coming season.  My hope is that the interest in local food has developed to the point that our farm can be sustained by the community’s enthusiasm and the quality of our produce.  For your understanding and support, we are grateful.

My personal aspiration is to farm more artfully in the coming years.  This farm has always been beautiful, but I expect it can be moreso.  I want to farm to our strengths, produce gorgeous and tasty food, and be assured that all of you are buying what you need when you need it, and that we as a farm can serve our community in many ways.

Over the years I’ve been farming here at Riverhill, I’ve grown to love this place.  My hands are stained the color of this earth, and I’ve made the soil a part of me through the daily eating of food grown here.  When I stand in the middle of our growing fields and close my eyes, I can see, even feel, every contour that surrounds me.  I can tell you where the rocks are, where the best soil is, where we can plant early, where the worst weeds are.

But the pleasure I feel is incomplete without the sound of your voices, best of all the children.  We work hard, but for what?  For you.  The moment when all of this makes sense is the moment when your chattering voices, like the sound of the songbirds, fill the air of the farm with delight and pleasure.

Photo courtesy of Alicia Berardi

We’ll feel the tiredness in our bones at the end of the day, we’ll plant and weed and trellis and plant some more.  We’ll take our cup of coffee in the morning and watch the light fill the trees and slowly work its way into the long shadows across our growing fields, and we’ll anticipate your return.  With some luck and good weather, we’ll have a great season.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Food With a Face

CSA Week of October 31, 2011

What’s In Your Box?

Fresh Box:

  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Salad Turnips
  • Kohlrabi
  • Parsley
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Napa Cabbage
  • Kale

Storage Box

  • Potatoes–many kinds this week!  Store in your refrigerator in plastic or in a cool, dry place.  Check regularly while they last
  • Winter Squash–no need to refrigerate.  Just store in a cool, dry place until use.
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Shallots
  • Recipes Below

Dear Friends:

It’s strange how impersonal the news we receive daily can be.  Yesterday, while having my morning cup of coffee in town after setting up at the Farmers’ Market, I read in the newspaper about a young American soldier who was killed while defusing a bomb in Afghanistan.  I read this news item in much the same way that I’ve come to read news items about wars all around the world, whether Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria, or about the kinds of deaths that occur in more natural ways.  The effect on us of all these deaths is blunted by their frequency and by the difficulty of understanding, and we live on.  Measuring the loss to humanity of the consequences of all the senseless wars and violence is beyond grasp.

The news became more personal this morning.  As it so happens, this young man was a dear and cherished friend to our intern, Toni, and she had recently seen him before he left for Afghanistan.  It saddens me to think that this young man, with all the hopes and aspirations that are innate to we humans, a son to a woman and man, a brother perhaps, a friend to many, could have his life ended in a moment of horrible violence driven by hatred to kill blindly.  In this case, I can recall the enthusiasm that Toni expressed for her friend, heard stories about times in the past when their lives crossed, meaningful moments of friendship that they shared with one another.  Measuring the loss to humanity of the loss of one individual is a difficult measure to take but, in this instance, the loss can be measured in more immediate terms as Toni grieves for the loss of her friend.  We can hold and care for Toni as she finds her way through her own grief.

That’s not the message that I intended to write on this last week of this season’s CSA, but it does relate in a way to the message I will write.  There’s a kind of abstractness in the global food system that causes it to be faceless.  We do not know the conditions under which our food is produced, who works the fields, who grows our food.  We do not know the truckdrivers that transport it, or the produce brokers who look for the best prices or take pride in supplying the best quality.  We may recognize the produce manager where we buy our produce, or know the name of the cashier who rings up our purchase but, in all likelihood, we don’t know much about them and the life they live.

Much of our economy, for all its strengths, depends on this separation between producer and consumer.  We buy the things that we need, but it’s nearly impossible to contemplate the lives of all those who are responsible for getting it to the shelf we take it from.   In the case of the food system, a network of buyers sources food from many farms, taking from one farm one week and another farm another week, ensuring a steady supply on the grocery store shelf.  It’s rare, if ever, that you go to the grocery store and find that there’s no lettuce, or potatoes, or carrots.  The predictability of supply tends to help make it seem machine-like and impersonal, as though these produce items are produced in a factory rather than a field.  And, ever moreso, these days those items may not even come from California.  They may come from Chile, New Zealand or China, having been flown half way around the world to get to the store where you shop.  If it’s difficult to imagine your food starting as a seed in California, planted by tractor, weeded by machine or human labor, harvested, washed, sorted, packed by individuals living in Central Valley or Salinas Valley towns, try picturing a Chinese farm worker growing garlic or apples for export.

Before joining our CSA, many of you had never set foot on a farm before and seen the work and effort involved in bringing food to your table.  That’s understandable and entirely forgivable.  We’re pleased to have been able this past season to put food on your table.  We’re also pleased that we’ve been able to provide you food with a face, so to speak.  We’ve worked hard to accomplish what we have, and you’ve watched the process from beginning to end.  You may have loved the carrots and tomatoes, hated the Jerusalem Artichokes, cherished the sweet peppers and been wary of the spicy ones, but in every instance, you’ve been handed your produce by the hands that have grown it, and you’ve washed the soil from potatoes just as you may have wiped your shoes after a visit to the farm where the potatoes came from.  In this day and age, that’s a unique and intimate experience, and we all hope that you’ve found it to be a meaningful one.

And, what’s more, you’ve heard the birds singing in the fields that grow your food and, if you’ve been lucky, you may also have heard the songs or the laughter of the interns as they’ve struggled against heat, tiredness, boredom, disappointment and a host of other emotions to bring you your food.  They’ve worked hard to grow the food that has packed over 3,000 boxes of produce for the CSA this season, and I hope you’ll take a moment to offer them your thanks for their efforts.  You’ve seen me in passing as I move from one task to another, looking content or looking stressed at the thought of how much remains to be done.  And, you’ve had the pleasure of finding Jo, day after countless day, ready to greet you as you arrive to pick out this week’s produce from the table where we’ve placed it.  When the carrots were small, you welcomed them with acceptance and enjoyed their crunchy sweetness.  When they were large, you pondered the carrot slaw or stew you’d make.  Many of you have probably eaten more eggplant in one season than you have eaten in the rest of your life.  You’ve all become adept at flexibility and creativity.

Mostly, when we think back on the season, we’ll think of the many kindnesses that you’ve shown us.  We appreciate that.   As hard as farm work is, it wouldn’t make any sense without the satisfaction of knowing that you gain some measure of pleasure in your visits to the farm and in the tastes—unusual and familiar—of the produce we grow.

It’s also important to us that you know what your participation means to us.  No matter what you’ve come to understand about the current popularity of local agriculture, be assured that it’s a challenge to make it work economically at this scale.   As much as we value farming and feeding you, we wouldn’t be able to do it again next season if we weren’t able to make a living this season.   By participating in our CSA, you’ve brought this farm one season closer to becoming a lasting part of this community.  For that, we thank you deeply.   We’ve managed to feed a good number of people these past five months with the best we had to offer of the food we’ve grown.   And we hope that it’s not just that we’ve filled your stomachs.  We hope that the food we’ve grown has become the basis for your continuing good health, your pleasure and satisfaction, and more.

We’ll miss you over these winter months to come.  Just as you’ve grown accustomed to the weekly routine of coming to the farm, we’ve grown accustomed to your particular habits while here at the farm (don’t think we haven’t noticed!), and we’ve looked forward to your weekly visits.  But, in the natural order of things, we need the time to rest, regroup, plan, dream, and prepare ourselves for next season.

From all of us here at Riverhill Farm, we extend our warmest wishes and thanks to each and every one of you, young and old, for your enthusiastic participation in our CSA this year.  We wish you all a lovely holiday season and the best for next year.  Most of all, we wish you peace.

Alan and Jo

This Week’s Recipes:

Harissa Beet Soup with Quick Pickled Cucumbers
This recipe comes from CSA subscriber Jessica Flanigan.  Thank you, Jessica!  You can find her blog, which has many good recipes and is a pleasure to read, at  http://seaweedsnacks.blogspot.com/ Click on the link or copy and paste this web address in your browser line for a new world of extraordinary recipes.

makes 4 small bowls

2 cups roasted beets
1 cup roasted carrots
glug of olive oil
salt for taste
1 cup lemon cucumber seeded and diced (sorry that this recipe comes to you after cucumber season, but you can probably buy one at the store and be forgiven.  A skinned green cucumber is fine too)
2 tsp. champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon dried Harissa powder (mix 1 T. cayenne with 2 T. cumin to make Harissa powder)
zest of lemon
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock

Wash carrots and beets. No need to remove skins. Roughly trim off tops and bottoms. Cut beets into fourths. Add carrots and beets to an oven proof baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil (about a tablespoon) to coat and a sprinkle of salt. Mix with your hands. Cover with tin foil and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour, or until the beets are knife tender. Remove from stove, keep tinfoil on pan and let sit out for 15 minutes.
In a blender, add 2 cups stock, lemon zest, pinch salt, lemon juice and harissa. Add the beets and carrots to blender. Make sure you get the olive oil in the pan too. Don’t bother with removing the beet skins. Blend for a good 5-8 minutes in your blender. Stop and taste for salt.
In a separate bowl, add chopped cucumber, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons champagne vinegar and pinch salt. Let sit for 5 minutes, or up to overnight to pickle.
Dish about a cup of soup into a bowl right from the blender. Add a heaping tablespoon of cucumbers making sure to get a good amount of the olive oil and vinegar along with the cucumbers. Soup should be about room temperature or a little over room temperature. Keeps in fridge for a couple of days too.

Curried Winter Squash Soup

  • 1 medium winter squash, chopped in 1 inch cubes, outer skin discarded.  You can also cut the squash in half, discard seeds and roast cut side down until tender (about 45 min.) then scoop the flesh from the skin and add to broth.
  • 2 medium tart apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (or butter)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 -2 tsp garam masala (alternatively, you could use Curry Powder or Ground Cumin and Ground Coriander)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • red pepper flakes (for desired level of heat)
  • 1½ inch fresh ginger, peeled and  roughly chopped (optional)
  • 4 -5 cups (enough to cover all the squash cubes) your favorite chicken/vegetable stock or water
  • ½ cup light cream or half ‘n’half + some for garnish.  We also substitute coconut milk
  • salt
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • parsley leaves for garnish

Sauté onions in olive oil/ butter in a  heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until transclucent, about 3 to 5 mins. Add apples, garlic, garam masala, red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt.  Continue to cook for another minute.  Stir in the cubed squash along with the stock/water and finally mix in the ginger. Bring it to boil  and continue to simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally for about 30 mins. Purée soup in a blender until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids) and return soup to pot.  Adjust the seasonings to your taste and stir in the cream or coconut milk. Keep soup simmering over low heat until ready to serve. Garnish with some cream and chopped parsley and serve hot.  For a delicious alternative, substitute 2 tablespoons or more Thai Green Curry Paste for the garam masala, and use coconut milk instead of cream.

Food With A Face

Out With The Old

CSA Week of October 24, 2011

What’s In Your Box?

  • Arugula
  • Potatoes
  • Peppers
  • Napa Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Winter Squash–Potimarron, a French heirloom variety said to taste like roasted chestnuts.  Cut in half and bake cut side down until soft, about 45 minutes, at 375 degrees.  Somewhat dry flesh is really good with butter!
  • Tomatoes–cut in half and bake, topped with toasted bread crumbs and parmesan cheese
  • Rosemary–hang any extra to dry
  • Strawberries
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Recipes Below!

Dear Friends,

Although the transformation is far from complete, I’m sure it’s obvious to all of you coming to the farm that, bit by bit, the farm is getting ready for winter.  The lovely, dry Fall weather has allowed me to spend most of my spare time on the tractor, mowing and discing in the crops that are finished and preparing fields for cover crop seeding.  Working back and forth across the farm, I often feel as though I’m working a giant eraser that is taking away all the work that was done over the past seven months, creating a blank slate, as it were, for next season.

There’s still a full month of work to be done before the season is really over, but the nature and tenor of the work changes dramatically over the course of the next four weeks.  Day by day, I’m checking off my list and there are many tasks that we’ve done repetitively all season long that, one by one, we won’t be doing again until next season.  It’s not that the work decreases, necessarily.  In fact, we’ll work hard to clear the fields, and I’ll spend more time on the tractor than I’ve spent since June.

It isn’t often that you hear about the advantages of farming.  Most of the time, we farmers whine about the weather, the pests, the weeds, the crops that don’t live up to our expectations, and more.  Sometimes, I think about putting up a big sign over the entrance to the farm nearest the farmhouse that says, “NO WHINING.”

So, here it is:  One of the great advantages of farming is that there’s an end to the season.  Like a dramatic play in a theatre, the curtain comes down and the play is over.  The lights come on and everybody goes home.

But where the audience sees the play once and goes home, the actors get a chance to ponder their performance before the next night.   Between performances the actors in the play may think about subtle nuances in their acting.  For the next performance, they may  change a gesture, an intonation in their voice, or a facial expression.  Far from being a static performance without variation, the play is dynamic and the actors strive for perfection in their roles.  These changes may not save a bad play from bad reviews, but they may transform a good play into a truly excellent and memorable performance.

Farming is a little like that, if you follow.  Obviously, Jo and I will welcome the chance to change our routine, get some rest and, hopefully, take a little vacation in January.  But, as much as we welcome the end of the season, we won’t be able to save ourselves from thinking about work all the time.  Jo and I will go over the season again and again in our minds and we’ll talk about it until we have to make a rule:  NO MORE TALKING ABOUT WORK!

Still, at its best, we’ll reflect on the successes and failures of this season and we’ll do what we can to plan next season to be better.  In fact, in December, we’ll have our annual Corporate Retreat (attendance: two).  A couple of times in the past, we’ve gone to Wilbur Hot Springs.  It’s the perfect place for a corporate retreat when you can’t talk above a whisper and there are many places where no talking is allowed at all.  We’ll review our crops, our expenses and income, the highs and lows, and put together our task list for that list to end all lists, otherwise known as  Winter Work.

Then, before you know it, the season starts and we get a chance to do everything that one could ever hope to do better all over again.  Enjoy the lovely Fall weather!

Here are this week’s recipes:

Winter Squash Bread

  • 2 cups unbleached white flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 2 ½ cups cooked winter squash
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk (1 cup milk and 1 tsp vinegar, if you are without buttermilk)
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp cloves
  • ½ tsp allspice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cut winter squash in halves ands place into a baking pan with water at the bottom.   Bake for 1 hour or until soft.  Scoop out squash into a medium sized bowl.  Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Mix the wet  ingredients into another bowl.  Add the squash to the wet ingredients.  Combine the wet and the dry.  Spoon the mixture into two 9×9 loaf pans, or muffin tins.

Bake 35-40 minutes

Quick Kimchi With the new found American interest in probiotics, this Korean staple is finding its way to the American plate and palate.

  • 1 head Chinese cabbage, 2 ½ – 3lbs. (also known as Napa cabbage)
  • 1 medium Asian radish
  • ¼ cup coarse sea salt
  • 4 scallions (cut into 1″ pieces)
  • 4 garlic cloves (minced)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger (minced)
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 Teaspoon sesame seeds (optional – a personal preference)

To prepare:

1 – Dissolve salt in 1 cup water/set aside.

2 – Thoroughly wash the cabbage/then cut into 2 inch lengths/peel Asian radish and halve it lengthwise, then halve lengthwise again – then slice thinly into ½” squares.

3 – Place cabbage and radish in a large bowl and pour salt water over them.

4 – Let soak overnight or at least 5 hours.

5 – After soaking drain vegetables BUT RETAIN SALTED WATER.

6 – Add scallions, garlic, ginger, chili powder (and optional sesame seeds).

7 – Mix all vegetables, thoroughly, by hand

(using gloves as chili powder may sting)

Pack all in a large jar (about 2 quart size)/pour the salted water over the mixture. Leave an inch of space at the top of the jar. Cover tightly. Let sit for 2-3 days depending on how fermented you like your kimchi.

Refrigerate after opening.

Roasted Carrot Soup

  • 1 lb. carrots (about 4 or 5), cut into chunks
  • 2 small potatoes, or equivalent, cut into chunks
  • 1 large onion, cut into chunks
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 hefty thyme sprigs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • ½ cup light cream (may omit or replace with coconut milk, if desired)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons sour cream (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons minced parsley

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Toss the veggies with the olive oil and season with ½ teaspoon salt and some pepper.  Put them in a large baking dish with thyme and bay and roast until tender and glazed, about 1 hour, turning them 2-3 times.  Transfer the veggies to a soup pot, add the stock, and bring to a boil.  Simmer until the carrots are soft, about 20 minutes, then puree till smooth.  Return the puree to the pot, taste for salt, and season with pepper.  Stir in the cream, if desired.   Ladle into bowls and swirl a spoonful of sour cream into each.  Add a little chopped parsley and serve.

CSA Week of October 17, 2011

What’s In Your Box?

  • Acorn Squash
  • Red Kuri (Hubbard) Winter Squash
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Jerusalem Artichokes
  • Tomatoes
  • Green Tomatoes (Recipes for Fried Green and Green Tomato Chutney below)
  • Sage Bunch (leave this to hang and dry for use during the winter)
  • Kale
  • Strawberries
  • Onions
  • Garlic

Dear Friends:

October is my favorite month.  The heat, long days and workload of the summer are behind us and we can catch our breath and enjoy the last warm, sunny days before we head into winter.  I’m enjoying a rare afternoon in the kitchen with a pot of tomato sauce simmering on the stove for canning, and NPR on the radio.  Alan is out on the tractor, busily turning the summer crops back into the soil and preparing the soil for covercrop seed before the next set of storms move in.  While there is still plenty to do, most of the heavy lifting is behind us and we can start to make time for other activities.  We are able to look up more often from our tasks and take stock of the changing colors in the trees, the lowering angle of the sun and the beautiful clouds that announce a change in weather patterns.  Last week, we actually took the afternoon off to celebrate our anniversary.  After making our BriarPatch and restaurant deliveries, we drove up the hill to experience a few hours of high-country bliss in the Grouse Ridge area.  Our first time away from the farm together in many weeks.

This morning, Alan was eager to make some headway on the tractor and asked if I would write the blog for a change, allowing him an uninterrupted afternoon of work.  Filling his shoes in this regard is a bit intimidating.  As you have all discovered, Alan has a way with the written word – one of his many talents.  Secretly, I’m excited to have the chance to talk about Alan behind his back.

Most of you have gotten to know me a bit from my post behind the table while you fill your boxes.  Alan, however, is probably more of a mystery to you.  He is almost always busy in the fields doing a million things: irrigating, tilling, weeding, picking and on and on…. basically, making the farm tick. Besides that, he’s a quiet sort and can be pretty shy, sometimes making him more of a challenge to get to know.  His weekly musings may have given you some insight into his thoughtful soul and intelligence.  Yet, there is more you don’t know…….

Though he often seems serious, Alan surprises us on occasion by breaking into song, usually some corny show tune of all things!  At odd moments, I’ll hear strains from South Pacific or Oklahoma echo across the farm in his rich baritone.   He has a quirky sense of humor and has been known to lob a rotten tomato at an unsuspecting intern, volunteer or me.  He was raised in the Third World (first in Laos and then in Ecuador) where his father worked for the State Department doing relief work.  By his own admission, he remains a peasant at heart and is totally out of step with popular culture.   Life with Alan is not always Easy Street, but it is never boring.  I feel lucky to be his partner – in business and in life.

Alan is also one of the most dedicated and hard working people that I have ever known.  Riverhill Farm was his vision and he has worked tirelessly to make it a reality in the face of long odds.   He has set out to create a farm that honors and protects the environment of this place and to feed the community in a meaningful way.  The beauty and bounty that you see when you visit the farm is the physical manifestation of his ideals, principles and integrity.  If you take pleasure in the farm and your food, you have Alan to thank.

Enjoy the first of the Winter Squash this week – a personal favorite of mine.  And watch out for rotten tomatoes on your way up the path!

This week’s recipes:

Pork-and-Green-Chili Stew

Time: About 45 minutes

  • 1 1/2 pounds pork butt or shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into small strips or chunks
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 cups diced tomatoes, with their liquid
  • 2 cups roughly chopped roasted or broiled green chilies
  • Minced Garlic
  • Warm flour tortillas or rice for serving.

1. Put a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot, add the pork and cook, stirring occasionally to keep it from sticking, just until the meat juices evaporate, about 8 minutes (you’re not looking to brown the pork here). Add the onion and garlic and a sprinkle of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until it softens slightly, 4 to 5 minutes.

2. Add the tomatoes and 1 cup water, not quite enough to cover the mixture. Bring to a boil, and let it boil vigorously for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the chilies and a sprinkle of salt. Reduce the heat so the mixture bubbles gently but steadily, and cover partly. Cook until most of the liquid evaporates, 6 to 10 minutes (there should be some juices left in the bottom of the pot, but the mixture shouldn’t be soupy). Taste, add a little more salt if necessary and serve with warm flour tortillas or over rice.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

A note about Jerusalem Artichokes: Jerusalem Artichokes, more aptly called sunchokes, aren’t from Jerusalem and are not artichokes.  These vegetables, native to the U.S., are part of the extensive root system of a tall, perennial sunflower.  Eaten raw, they are crisp and refreshing like water chestnuts.  Cooked, they are moist, sweet and their nutty flavor reminds some people of globe artichokes.  We recommend roasting them as follows:  Wash thoroughly, rub with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.  Spread on a pan and roast in a 400 degree oven for approx. 40 minutes or until tender in center when pierced.

Fried Green Tomatoes

  • 4 to 6 green tomatoes
  • salt and pepper
  • cornmeal
  • vegetable oil

Slice the tomatoes into 1/4 – 1/2-inch slices. Salt and pepper them to taste. Dip in meal and fry in hot grease or oil about 3 minutes or until golden on bottom. Gently turn and fry the other side. Serve as a side dish – delicious with breakfast!

Green Tomato Chutney -This sweet, tangy chutney is a fine topping for burgers, fish tacos, rice and beans, or grilled chicken. Chopping ingredients in the food processor makes prep time go faster.

  • 4  cups  chopped green tomato (about 5)
  • 1/2  cup  sugar
  • 1/2  cup  chopped sweet or bell pepper
  • 1/2  cup  chopped onion
  • 1/4  cup  cider vinegar
  • 2  teaspoons  grated lemon rind
  • 2  tablespoons  fresh lemon juice
  • 1  tablespoon  minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon  ground coriander
  • 1/4  teaspoon  ground cinnamon
  • 1/4  teaspoon  ground allspice
  • 1/4  teaspoon  ground red pepper
  • 2  garlic cloves, minced
  • 1  jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, 45 minutes or until thick, stirring frequently. Cool; pour into airtight containers. Refrigerate Green Tomato Chutney in airtight containers up to two months.

Kale and Garbanzo (Chickpea) Soup  – We often add spicy sausage to this traditional Portuguese Stew

  • 2 onions or shallots, diced small
  • 11/2 t. fresh thyme or 1t. dried
  • 3-4 T. olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ t. pepper flakes
  • 4 large tomatoes, fresh or one small can
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/3 cup sherry or white wine
  • 8 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 bunch kale, stems removed, leaves chopped small
  • 1 ½ cups dry garbanzo beans, cooked, or two cans chickpeas
  • Salt and pepper

If using dry chickpeas, soak overnight.  Cook them in at least four cups of water for three hours until soft.  Be sure not to put salt in until peas are fully cooked.  Cook the onions and thyme in the olive oil over medium until soft.  Increase the heat and add the garlic, pepper flakes, tomatoes, bay leaf, salt and sherry or wine.  Stew for 15 minutes.  Add the cooked chickpeas and the 8 cups of liquid.  Simmer for 20-30 minutes to let the peas absorb the flavors.  Add the kale leaves and cook ten more minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Winter Squash with Sage Butter

  • 2 small or one large winter squash
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Scrub the squash well and cut them in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and attached pulp and reserve for toasting if desired. Cut each half lengthwise again, then slice crosswise into 3/4-inch thick slices.

In a small bowl, mix the melted butter with the honey. Arrange the squash in a single layer on a baking sheet and brush each piece with the butter and honey, reserving half of that mixture. Season the squash lightly with salt and pepper and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Roast for 20-30 minutes.

Add the chopped fresh sage to the remaining butter-honey mixture. Remove the squash from the oven and turn them with tongs. Brush each piece with the butter mixture, season again with salt and pepper, and return to the oven, uncovered for 10 minutes.

Southwestern Stuffed Winter Squash

(Use either Acorn or Red Kuri Squash for this recipe)

  • 1 Acorn or Red Kuri squash
  • 1/2 lb. bulk sausage meat
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/2 medium red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans or pinto beans, rinsed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Several dashes hot red pepper sauce, to taste
  • 1 cup shredded cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly coat a large baking sheet with vegetable oil.
  2. Cut squash in half horizontally. Scoop out and discard seeds. Place the squash cut-side down on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until tender, about 45 minutes to one hour.
  3. Meanwhile, lightly coat a large skillet with vegetable oil; heat over medium heat. Add sausage and cook, stirring and breaking up with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add onion and bell pepper; cook, stirring often, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, chili powder and cumin; cook for 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes, beans, salt and hot sauce, scraping up any browned bits. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until the tomatoes are broken down, 10 to 12 minutes.
  4. When the squash are tender, reduce oven temperature to 325°. Fill the squash halves with the sausage mixture. Top with cheese. Place on the baking sheet and bake until the filling is heated through and the cheese is melted, 8 to 10 minutes.

CSA Week of October 10, 2011

What’s In Your Box?

  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Tomatillos–last chance for chile or chicken verde!
  • Potatoes
  • Italian Chicory–the traditional green in Minestrone Soup! (see recipe below)
  • Kale
  • Summer Squash (slim pickings, finally!)
  • Cucumbers (as supplies last)
  • Strawberries–weather permitting
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Shallots
  • Chives
  • Recipes Below!

Dear Friends,

Jo and I had dinner last night with CSA subscribers Rick and Linda Aeschliman.  They’re fellow farmers, with extraordinary unique heirloom apple trees.  Walking through their peaceful orchards, it was a great pleasure to see the care they’ve bestowed on their trees, covered now with apples.  Even more pleasurable was sampling their apples.  With each bite, I was taken back to similar experiences I’ve had on occasion over the course of my life, sampling apples from under a tree.  The taste of a crisp, sweet and slightly tart apple, standing in the shade of an apple tree in a pine forest, and with that unique Fall coolness seeping into everything as summer leaves…what could be better.

Although you won’t get to stand under their trees to sample their apples, they’ll be setting up a booth this weekend at the Saturday morning Nevada City Farmers’ Market at the bottom of Broad Street, where you’ll be able to purchase apples from them and learn about the varieties they grow at the same time.  Their apples have names that may have been common among folks in different parts of the world but are rarely spoken now:  Golden Russet, Wickson, Winter Banana, Black Twig.  Each has its own unique flavor and characteristics.  You can read more about their farm and their apples at their website, which is http://www.wintercreekapples.com/Home_Page.html

For dessert, Linda baked a really good apple crisp and, to entice you to the market, we’ve put her recipe in with the recipes below.

One of our interns, Debbie Lehman, is the guest writer of this week’s blog.  Debbie has been working here since April.  She’s a pleasure to work with and is always enthusiastic.  On any given day you can hear Debbie exclaim: “That’s the best (potato, tomato, pepper, kohlrabi….fill in the blank) I’ve ever eaten!!!!”  Debbie is working on a plan to return at the conclusion of the season to her hometown in the Bay Area and start a farm of her own.  She’s working on budgets and plans for developing her farm, and is looking for land on the edge of the urban area where the market will be strong.  We wish her all the best!

Here’s Debbie’s post:

Lunch in the Intern Kitchen  (or, In Praise of Simple Food)

The most important part of the day for me here at Riverhill Farm, without any doubt, is lunch. No matter how much I enjoy working in the fields, after six hours of harvesting there is nothing better than taking off my hat, sitting down in the shade, and putting some food in my stomach.

In a shared kitchen, is not always easy to get to this point of relaxed satiety. Every day at noon, the hungry interns take part in what is now a carefully choreographed dance from sink to cutting board to fridge to stove. We duck down to find a pan while somebody reaches over our head to grab the salt. We reach into the left side of the fridge while somebody else looks for the cream cheese on the right. “Don’t close that door!” “Are you using that knife?” “Coming up right behind you.” “Are you almost done with that burner?” We cook the way people drive in other parts of the world: we don’t wait for cross-traffic to get out of the way, we just go around.

We have learned a lot during our season at Riverhill, but there are few things we have mastered as well as the 15-minute meal. Almost every vegetable on this farm — everything from eggplant to green beans to potatoes — has at one point been cooked during our one-hour lunch. We have become so good at flash-cooking that we have time to eat, check our email, lie down for a little bit and do our dishes before reporting back to work.

I often look at the vegetables in our fields and daydream about all of the deliciously complicated dishes I could cook. My love of farming stems from interests in ecology, sustainability and community-building, but it comes most deeply from a love of food. And, to be really specific, a love of vegetables. When I was in fifth grade, my favorite food was not pizza or ice cream, but sugar snap peas, which I devoured by the bag. In my early teens, I dragged my mom to farmers markets and cooked things like radicchio risotto for the family. In college, my friends and I walked three miles each way to the farmers market (in rain or sleet or snow) to buy our produce. There are few things that make me happier than fresh vegetables, and their potential in the pan.

At the beginning of the season, I eyed each of our nascent crops and made grand plans. Tomatoes, parsley and onions, along with rice and pine nuts, would be made into my Turkish grandmother’s stuffed zucchini. Peppers would turn into a gratin with kalamata olives, topped with breadcrumbs, goat cheese, parsley and plenty of olive oil. Tomatoes would end up in a gallette with feta cheese and thyme.

Now, with just one month left of the season, I haven’t made any of these things. There isn’t enough time in a day to prepare a filling, stuff a vegetable and bake it for 40 minutes. And there isn’t enough space in the kitchen.

Instead, I’ve been cooking the simplest of dishes. I sauté sweet peppers in olive oil, adding garlic only if I can bring myself to chop it, and crack two eggs on top. I steam chard with its stems until it is melt-in-your-mouth silky, and top it with lemon and olive oil. Far from being bland or boring, these meals are extraordinary; a true testament to the flavor and quality of the vegetables we grow here. When I go home to the Bay Area on weekends, I dive into more complicated things — caponata and frittata and long-stewed green beans. But inevitably, I crave a return to those simple dishes that keep me going during the week.

And that brings me back to why lunch is the most important part of the day for me. Not the best, not the most relaxing, but the most important. At lunch, I take an hour not just to eat, but to really taste the fruits of my labor, to appreciate the food we’re growing and selling. It really is good food, and that’s what keeps me going.

Recipes:

Sauteed Peppers with Eggs

Cut up any of our sweet peppers into thin strips and sauté in olive oil until soft. Add garlic if you want to, and sprinkle with salt. When the peppers are soft and starting to caramelize, crack an egg or two into the pan. When the whites have solidified, give everything a mix so that you end up with large chunks of scrambled eggs amid the sweet peppers.

Lunchtime Chard

Heat some olive oil in a pan and sauté two or three cloves of garlic. Slice the chard stems thinly and add them to the garlic. When soft, add the greens, chopped into large pieces, and some salt and pepper. Add a splash of water, cover and cook for a few minutes, until the chard is very tender. Drizzle with more olive oil and some lemon juice.

15-minute Tomato Soup

Saute some garlic and some fresh thyme in olive oil. You can also add a chopped hot pepper if you’d like. Add chopped tomatoes and salt, and simmer uncovered until the tomatoes release all their juice. Add some chopped parsley, cook a few minutes more, and enjoy.

Chive Scrambled Eggs

A favorite in the intern kitchen. Saute a handful of chives in olive oil, then add eggs and scramble. Amazingly delicious.

Parsley pesto

In the food processor, briefly pulse a handful of pistachios, two cloves of garlic and a large pinch of salt. Fill the food processor with parsley leaves. Run the food processor, adding olive oil until the mixture reaches a spreadable consistency. Add juice of half a lemon. Spread on bread, toss with pasta, or spoon into tomato soup.

And, as promised, here are the recipes for Minestrone Soup and Linda Aeschliman’s famous Heirloom Apple Crisp:

Heirloom Apple Crisp with Maple Syrup and Walnuts

Apple mixture:

  • 6-7 cups peeled, sliced apples (about 3 pounds – a mixture of varieties is nice)
  • ¼ cup maple syrup (honey works too – or a mixture)
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • A few scrapings of freshly grated nutmeg

Crisp topping:

  • 1/3 cup flour (any type)
  • 1/3 cup rolled oats
  • ½ cup brown sugar, packed
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ cup chopped walnuts (or choose your favorite)

Directions:

Peel and slice apples. Mixing different varieties allows the different textures and flavors to complement one another. Mix apples with maple syrup/honey (note: honey keeps apples from turning brown), cinnamon, and nutmeg. Turn apple mixture into 8 inch square baking pan or 1 ½ quart casserole dish.

Mix together flour, oats, brown sugar, and cinnamon for topping. Work in butter with pastry blender or your hands until crumbly with chunks of butter holding together the dry ingredients. Add walnuts.

Sprinkle topping on apple mixture. Bake at 350 degrees until apples yield easily to a knife and look almost transparent. Crisp topping may brown quickly so keep an eye on it and put a cover on during part of the baking time if needed to prevent scorching. Baking time can vary from 45 minutes to one hour or more depending on your apples.

Minestrone Soup with Italian Chicory

  • 1 lb. ground Italian Sausage (optional)
  • 1 onion
  • 3 carrots
  • 2 squash
  • 3 sweet peppers
  • 1 hot pepper, to taste (optional)
  • 4 medium potatoes
  • 2 cloves  garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon oregano, fresh or dried
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 4 cups beef or vegetable broth
  • 1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup penne pasta
  • 1 bunch Italian Chicory greens, washed and chopped (you may also substitute kale)

Chop all veggies into bite size pieces. Brown sausage in a large stock pot.  Add onions, carrots, peppers and garlic – sauté until soft.   You will need to add a little olive oil if you are using a lean sausage or omitting sausage.  Add broth, tomatoes, beans, bay leaves, oregano, potatoes and carrots.  Simmer until potatoes and carrots are tender (approx. 30 minutes).  Add squash, chicory and pasta.  Cook until pasta is cooked (approx.  10 minutes).  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Garnish with fresh parsley.


Older Posts »