Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Letter from a Farmer

The leaf peeping season has come to a close this week. The rain on Saturday removed the last of the brilliant colors of the woods. When the colors appear, the tree is telling us it is preparing for winter. As if the tree follows the calendar, it stops producing food by halting photosynthesis and starts pulling the remaining sugars out of its leaves. Actually the tree already prepared for this in the spring as at the base of the leaf a special layer of cells (the abscission layer) is formed that allows the leaf to later separate and fall off. And it is a good thing they do; how many of you remember the October storm of 1987? We lost many trees due to an early snow storm. The wet snow stuck to the leaves breaking off many branches. We remember it well as we were out of power for more than a week as the broken branches fell on the power-lines.

Chlorophyll gives leaves their bright green color and is very dominant. Once the green fades, the other colors in the leaf become visible to us. With oak trees all we get is a plain brown, while the sugar maples can turn a magnificent red which is due from the sugars that get trapped behind the abscission layer. The glucose turns red from the presence of anthocyanin, an anti-oxidant that we find in all red and purple fruits and vegetables like berries, tomatoes, beets, apples and grapes. The orange in the leaves comes from carotenes and the yellow from xanthophyll, which we find plentiful in carrots, squash, and sweet potatoes. Apparently the cool nights and abundant sunshine we experienced during October of this year made for a better than average fall color show.

Fall is a time of transformation and a very similar process takes place with our annual, biannual, or perennial crops. The annuals include salad greens, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, and also the many garden weeds. Annuals survive the winter by completing the cycle of reproduction in one year with the production of an abundant seed supply. Pigweed, a common garden-weed, produces hundreds of thousands of seeds per plant. Every weed left in the field represents another generation of future weeds. Seeds can be tough and many survive the stomachs of our farm animals, wet soil conditions, and freezing temperatures. We use many annuals in the garden and their flexibility and vigor is an important trait as each year we can improve their qualities as new varieties become available.

The biennials have a different way to survive the winter. Some of the biennials are frost hardy greens like kale and collards. They have their own way to survive the cold temperatures. Due to the frost, their leaves turn sweet and lose some of their bitterness and the increased
glucose acts like antifreeze. Whenever someone tells me they don’t like Brussels sprouts I wonder if it is because they have never tasted a good one. Most of the cole crops available in the store come from the balmy West Coast. Cole crops and other greens harvested in October or November in the Northeast not only have superior taste and flavor, they are an important source of vitamin K, anti-oxidants, folate, magnesium, and even omega 3 fatty acids. So, eat those vegetables if you plan to be around for a while as these are compounds that keep us young!

With other biennials the leaves die back, allowing the underground parts and/or thick stems to remain alive. Carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips, potatoes, beets, rutabaga, onions, and even cabbage and broccoli are all biennials that create an abundance of food to survive the winter and store it in their tubers, roots or stems. Instead of leaving them in the field we bring them inside our barn, and store them under optimum conditions.

There is another way we store the summer into the winter; the grasses and clovers of the pasture became beef and lamb. Even the butcher hogs and turkeys consumed high amounts of green plants and other culled vegetables from the packing barn. Animals raised on green plants, ripe fruits, and other colored vegetables are superior in health to animals raised on a grain only diet. If vegetables are good for us, we shouldn’t deprive the animals from it. What would your health be like if you would live on a diet of rice and beans only? Studies have shown that meat from pastured animals contains more anti-oxidants than meat from grain fed animals and a diet of grass prevents lipid oxidation (a major cause of deterioration of meat affecting flavor, color, texture, and nutritive value). But, besides that, to us it is simply intuitive that there is something fundamentally wrong with putting an animal in a barn deprived of sunlight, green plants, and colorful fruits. So we don’t keep as many animals over the winter as in the summer which is the reason we only provide you with meat in the fall.

So while it is getting colder, summer is not really over. Summer lives on in the crops that have been brought in to the barn like potatoes, winter-squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, onions, and beets. The summer lives on in the many hay bales stored in the barn that will slowly be fed to the animals. Summer lives on in the field in the frost-hardy greens and lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and in the root crops like the celeriac and rutabaga that will soon be harvested. And summer lives on in the meat from our animals.

With the exception of cool weather loving crops like spinach, cauliflower and broccoli, most crops have stopped growing. These days the fields are like a giant walk in cooler. In the morning we put on an extra layer, wear neoprene gloves to keep our hands from freezing and harvest what is left. Let the warmth of the summer’s sun, preserved in our food, shine in our bellies.

~ Jean-Paul

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower”. ~Albert Camus

Photos from the Farm

This week we are bunching kale and broccoli rabe. We are also harvesting a bumper crop of caulilfower.

Notes for Members and Recipes

Capital District: Oct. 28, Nov. 4 & 18, Dec. 2
Westchester: Oct. 29, Nov. 5 & 19, Dec. 3
NYC: Oct. 30, Nov. 6 & 20, Dec. 4
Columbia County: Oct. 31, Nov. 7, 14, & 21, Dec. 5

There will be the optional storage box delivery on your regular pickup day the week of Dec. 15th.

Look for your 2009 enrollment form at your pickup site this week. YOU HAVE UNTIL JANUARY 6 TO RESERVE YOUR MEMBERSHIP. We have a long waiting list so please send your form in on time so that your share is reserved for the 2009 season. Please post-date your deposit check for January 1, 2009.

We will have more pork available in a couple of weeks. The lamb will be available in two weeks. We still have some beef cuts available: chuck roast (boneless), rib steak, porterhouse steak, t-bone steak, short ribs, and soup bones.


1 – 1-1/2 pounds fresh greens, washed, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon garlic
Salt & pepper
1/2 cup sour cream
Steam the greens about 5-10 minutes or until nearly cooked but still bright-colored. Meanwhile, melt butter in large skillet on MEDIUM HIGH. Add onion and garlic, sauté until soft, stirring occasionally. Stir in the greens. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the sour cream, let warm briefly. Serve immediately.

2 tablespoons butter
4 medium beets, peeled, grated (about 4 cups)
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 small red cabbage, shredded (about 3 cups)
2 carrots, peeled, grated (about 1 cup)
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon sugar
8 cups meat or vegetable broth
1/4 pound spicy sausage (such as andouille), optional
4 tablespoons sour cream, optional

Heat butter in four-quart kettle. Add beets. Cook until soft and almost brown. Add salt, flour and vinegar. Add cabbage, carrots, bay leaf, garlic, sugar and broth. Simmer at least 2 hours. Add water if too much liquid evaporates. Close to serving time, cook sausage in boiling water until fully cooked. Drain and slice. Place soup in bowls and top with sausage and sour cream.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Week 21 Letter from a Farmer

Last week we began a harvest of another kind, our animal crop for the season. Barbara Kingsolver describes, in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, the slaughter of their chickens and turkeys as a harvest. At first I thought of this as a euphemism until I read a bit further and contemplated what she wrote. She says, “A harvest implies planning, respect, and effort.” Our animal operation requires just as much planning and care as our vegetable crops. The turning of grass into meat is just as miraculous as the turning of a tiny seed into a cabbage or ears of sweet corn.

In thinking about what type of livestock would fit well on the farm we took a careful look at what type of environment the animal would require. In other words, what makes a pig a pig and what makes a sheep a sheep. Wild boars live in the woods where they can root with their thick snouts for insects, grubs, and roots and where they can stay out of the sun. Our pigs live in two separate wooded pastures with plenty of space so that they don’t damage the woodland. We feed them thousands of pounds of culled vegetables from the fields and a grain mix milled by a local farmer. The grain is a mix of corn and soybeans. They also eat the spent barley from a local brewery. Pigs are omnivores and require the protein found in the grain in order to be healthy and plump animals.

Our sheep and Black Angus steers are raised solely on grass. Our pastures are a mix of grasses, native plants, and clovers. These animals aren’t physiologically meant to eat grain. Their multiple stomachs turn grass and clover into bone and muscle. It is quite amazing to watch them grow over the summer months as they graze over the farm. In some people’s experience, grass-fed meat products are tough and unpleasant to eat. Traditionally grain-fed cattle and sheep have marbled and tender meat. Unfortunately, these animals are also almost always sick from eating too much grain. Our steaks are tender and marbled because we carefully manage our pastures to include a rich mix of clover. The clover is high in protein in a form the animals can digest.

This year we also raised a few turkeys on pasture. We feed them organic grain from a feed company in Vermont. They also enjoy clover and pecking through the pasture for insects. They have equated humans with food and are quite tame. The whole flock follows us around the pasture when we refill their feeders. We have two breeds, the standard Large White, which is – you won't believe it – large and white, and the Broad-Breasted Bronze, which is a brown turkey with iridescent feathers and a huge breast. Broad Breasted Bronze toms (male turkeys) puff out their feathers and show off their tails just like the classic Thanksgiving motif. We only have 50 birds, so we can’t supply too many of you for your holiday meals. We are going to harvest them soon. If you are interested in a turkey we will ask you to pick it up at the farm on the day of the harvest and freeze it on your own. We don’t have enough freezer space for 50 birds at this point.

We enjoy raising animals and they are an important part of the farm. Their manure returns nutrients to the soil, their grazing improves the pasture and hay fields, and they inhabit parts of the farm that otherwise become overgrown with sumac and rose bushes. They add life to the farm in ways vegetables just aren’t able to. They also give us the opportunity to provide you with meat products that are raised sustainably and with respect. It isn’t easy to harvest our animals, but I don’t think it should be. Not all of you eat meat – in fact I don’t myself. But it is important to me that we provide an alternative to the meat products found in the grocery store. By making the choice to eat meat raised on a small farm where a pig can be a pig, you say “no” to the confinement operations and large meat-packing plants where the quality of life for the animals and workers is not considered. This choice returns the raising and harvesting of meat into the hands of farmers and butchers who are careful and considerate in their work.


Friendly Pig in the Woods Pasture

Red and Green Cabbage
photos by Luke Deikis


Look for pork and beef order forms at your pickup site and on our website The meat will be delivered frozen. Lamb order forms will be at your site and online next week.

TURKEYS: We will be harvesting the 45 to 50 turkeys on November 3rd. If you are interested in a turkey you will need to pick it up at the farm on Tuesday, November 4th. You can pay for the turkey when you pick it up. They will be $4.50/lb and weigh between 12.5 to 30 lbs. The turkeys will be fresh and you will have to freeze them. Email the farm at if you are interested. We will call you to let you know at what time to pick up your turkey.

Capital District: Oct. 21 & 28, Nov. 4 & 18, Dec. 2
Westchester: Oct. 22 & 29, Nov. 5 & 19, Dec. 3
NYC: Oct. 23 & 30, Nov. 6 & 20, Dec.4
Columbia County: Oct. 24 & 31, Nov. 7, 14, & 21, Dec. 5

There will be the optional storage box delivery on your regular pick-up day the week of Dec. 15th.

2 medium sweet potatoes
8 oz. chopped broccoli1
1/2 cup cottage cheese
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 cup shredded cheddar or jack cheese

Bake sweet potatoes in 350 oven until done. Scoop out the potato halves, leaving a 1/4-inch thick border so you don't pierce the skin. In a bowl, mash the potatoes. Combine potatoes with broccoli, and cottage cheese. Scoop the potato mixture into the shells. Top each shell with 1/4 cup shredded cheese. Bake for 15 minutes or broil for 5 minutes, or until the cheese melts and browns on top. Top with chopped parsley and serve. (Serves 2 as an entrée.)
From Chief Family Officer at:

2 medium sweet potatoes
1/2 onion
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp oregano
1 tbsp basil
1 tsp cumin
chile powder to taste
olive oil for sauté

Cut sweet potatoes into chunks, cook in steamer basket or microwave until soft, then mash. Chop and sauté garlic and onion in a large skillet. Add spices and sweet potato, mix well, adding a little water if it’s too sticky. Turn burner very low to keep warm without burning.
4 flour tortillas
4 oz. Brie or other medium soft cheese
2-3 leaves Kale (or other greens)
Preheat oven to 400. Oil a large baking sheet, spread tortillas on it to lightly oil one side, then spread filling on half of each. Top with slices of Brie and shredded chard, then fold tortillas to close (oiled side out). Bake until browned and crisp (about 15 min.), cut into wedges for serving.
From Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver at

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Photos from the Farm

On Saturday the members joined us for day of splitting and planting garlic. Thank you for your help and company.

Week 20 Letter from a Farmer


Last Monday night we experienced our first frost. The peppers and eggplant that you received a week ago were the last of this season. Unfortunately, the tomatoes are gone as well for the year. Before the first frost we usually harvest three to four 20-bushel bins of green tomatoes that we ripen in the greenhouse. We can usually deliver tomatoes into November. This year the last planting of tomatoes was so diseased that there weren’t any green tomatoes to harvest. In total, you received 11 weeks of tomatoes, nine weeks of eggplant, and 10 weeks of peppers this season.

We finished harvesting the sweet potatoes on Friday. In the past we used to wait until the first frost to harvest the sweet potatoes because the frost killed the thick sweet potato vines. The vines clog up our potato digger and cause many breakdowns of the equipment. We noticed that over the last few years that the sweet potatoes weren’t storing very well. Jean-Paul had a long discussion with our sweet potato plant farmer this winter about how to increase the storage length of the sweet potatoes. The farmer instructed us to harvest the sweet potatoes earlier, before the soil temperature fell below 55° F. He said most farmers mow the vines so that they don’t clog up the root digger. We were able to harvest the first half of the sweet potatoes when the soil temperature was above 55° F. Then, it rained and rained and the soil temperature fell. We covered the last half of the crop with floating row cover in an attempt to keep the soil warmer. The weather provided us with an experiment: We can now compare sweet potatoes harvested when the soil was warm with sweet potatoes harvested after the soil temperature fell.

Earlier in the season, the farm was bursting with crops in all of our many small vegetable fields. Now, as the growing season comes to a close, we are harvesting most of the items in the shares from one field. This is the first year we grew vegetables in this field. Three years ago it was a hay field. We worked up the field in July 2006 and applied chicken manure and gypsum to bring the soil chemistry into line with what we need to grow healthy vegetables. We harrowed the field for a few weeks to help control the weeds. Then we seeded rye and vetch. In 2007, we harvested the rye and vetch for straw mulch for our summer crops. Then we seeded buckwheat. Buckwheat is one of the few cover crops that will grow in the heat of the summer. It also grows very thickly and smothers any weeds that come up. The buckwheat was killed by the first frost and the thick layer of dead plant matter protected the field over the winter. This spring we planted oats and bell beans. The bell beans fix high levels of nitrogen so that we can grow healthy fall broccoli, cauliflower, and other greens. In June, we plowed under the bell beans and oats, and finally began planting vegetables. Whenever we look at any of our fields, we are imagining what it will be in two or three years and reflecting on what was planted in it during the last three or four seasons.

We will have parsnips this season. We know that you have been disappointed during the last few years when the parsnips failed to germinate. They are among the first crops we seed in the spring and they are slow to germinate. By the time we can see if the parsnips are coming up well or not, it is too late to seed another crop. This year we paid close attention to the careful preparation of the beds for the parsnips. We cultivated the beds three times to destroy the weeds that would crowd out the slow-growing parsnips. We also irrigated the field before we seeded the parsnips, so that the seeds would have moisture from the moment the soil closed in around them. We irrigated again a few days after we seeded the crop. Then we crossed our fingers and watched the rows every day for evidence of parsnip germination. It was a success! Now we'll wait for a few more nights of frost that will make the parsnips sweet and delicious before we begin to harvest them.

As the weather continues to turn colder, the vegetables in the share reflect our desire for warm, hearty dishes. The shares from now until December will include: sweet potatoes, potatoes, beets, carrots, parsnips, celeriac, rutabaga, salad mix (we hope), braising greens, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and winter squash. ~Jody

Notes for Members

Look for pork orders at your pick-up site this week or you can download the form from our website at Beef order forms will be available at your pick-up site and on the website next week. Lamb and turkey order forms will follow in the coming weeks.

THANK YOU! Thank you to the members who joined us for a wonderful day of garlic splitting, garlic planting, and moving sheep to new pasture. We enjoyed your company and are grateful for your help. NYC: Rick, Gloria & Russel Mills-Williams and Judith & William Norman CAPITAL DISTRICT: Dick & Eileen Shirey, Laura Sommers, and Richard Verruto COLUMBIA COUNTY: Chris Grimes, Heather Grimes, Paul Poux, Dianne Klinger, and Susan & Faruk Ortabas

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Week 19 Letter from a Farmer

I received an e-mail this week with a link to an interview Charlie Rose had with Warren Buffet. I was struck by the following comments: “In my adult lifetime I don't think I've ever seen people as fearful, economically, as they are now; the economy is going to be getting worse for a while. … The credit freeze is sucking blood from the U.S. economy,” which later in the interview was followed by: “You want to be greedy when others are fearful. You want to be fearful when others are greedy. It's that simple.”

Without any value judgment of his statements, I already see some evidence of this on a small scale around us. While I know of one commodity farmer who can’t pay his monthly bills anymore, others are lining up to pick up his real estate – they know that this is a buyer's market. Land prices have fallen to levels of about six years ago; they have adjusted, as we all knew that these prices could not hold up. At one point, the farmer was offered over $3 million for his property. We will be happy for him if he gets half of that today, which would be enough to pay off his mortgage.

I talked with other farmers who have direct relationships with their customers. I don’t see any fear. I see optimism that finally our products will be met with more appreciation. The days of lavish dinners at fancy restaurants might be over, and eaters think that the local, high-quality vegetables, milk, and meat we produce are the next best thing to offer a better quality of life.

We will be presenting you with a new share price soon. We know we will have to go up in price and we will try our best to minimize any share price increases, but we can’t work harder for less money. It will be extremely difficult in a time like this to make any projections on whether our expenses will go up or down. We have heard from many of you that your support of the farm comes from a deeper commitment than solely purchasing produce. But at the same time we feel bad that we need to ask you for more support, especially when some of our produce this year did not meet our standards. While we had some great crops, the lettuce and tomatoes took a hard hit in both quantity and quality from the severe weather we endured. There will be a slight share price increase, but we also assure you that we will cut any unnecessary expenses. The trouble will be to find any, as we pride ourselves on running a pretty lean and efficient enterprise already.

One place where we are going to attempt to save on unnecessary expenses may at first glance seem upside down. We are looking for a new tractor to replace our largest Case tractor that does most of our primary tillage. This year alone we spent over $6,000 on repairs on this tractor alone. A year ago we shopped around for a new tractor and I was surprised by the unwillingness of the dealers to negotiate the asking price. They were telling us that as soon as the tractors were rolling off the assembly line they were shipped directly to a farm. Corn and soybean farmers were rolling in cash due to the ethanol and biodiesel bubble. That bubble has burst too; the expansion of ethanol plants is capped and corn prices are down. Suddenly farmers became fearful and stopped ordering equipment and new tractors. While this winter was not a good time to purchase a new tractor, these days excess inventory has caused prices to tumble and they are accompanied by offers of zero percent financing. I am reminded of Warren Buffet's words: Is it time for us to be greedy and make the move to trade in our 20-year-old Case IH 5140?

When Warren Buffet bought GE stock he said: “I did not spend any money; I invested it.” When we buy equipment, we think similarly; a reliable tractor allows us to get the work done at the right moment and does not unexpectedly impact our budget by presenting us with large repair bills. Equipment acquisitions are not truly part of the share price; we set a portion of the total share price aside for capital improvements that allow the farm to increase efficiency and to better control its long-term future. With the erratic weather pattern, it is becoming more important to have reliable equipment. Some of the down time of the Case tractor this year delayed planting, which resulted in missed succession plantings, causing smaller shares. So, if you do see a brand-new, shiny tractor on the farm next year, remember we will not (as Warren Buffet said) have spent any money; rather, we will have invested in our future. It is one of those demonstrations that we are in this for the long haul. Yeah, maybe it is that simple.

Photos from the farm

This year we planted five 1000-ft beds of storage cabbage. We hope to provide you with 2 to 3 heads each of red and green cabbage this fall. Both are new varieties bred by Bejo, a Dutch seed company. Bejo is breeding new varieties especially for the fresh market, organic grower. We trialed the varieties last season and were very happy with the results. We hope they are as successful this season.

We are in the middle of harvesting the fall root crops. Here is the crew harvesting the beets for this week's share. We had our first frost of the season on Monday night which causes the root crops and leafy greens to be much sweeter in taste than the ones harvested before the frost.

Week 19 Notes for Members and Recipes

The garlic planting workday will be this Saturday, Oct. 11. We hope the weather will cooperate with us this time! Meet us at 10:00 am at the North Farm location at the CSA barn. You can find directions to the North Farm by going on our website and clicking on Directions and then click on To the CSA Barn on the bar on the photo. Bring your water bottle, sunscreen, warm clothes, place settings, and a potluck dish to share.

Here is some advice from Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: “If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week…. Small changes in buying habits can make big differences. Becoming a less energy-dependent nation just may need to start with a good breakfast.”

1 to 1 1/2 pounds beets
1 t. chopped fresh rosemary
1 t. salt
1/4 cup flour
2 T. butter

1. Trim the beets and peel them as your would potatoes; grate them in a food processor or by hand. Begin preheating a medium to large non-stick skillet over medium heat.
2. Toss the grated beets in a bowl with the rosemary and salt, then add about half the flour; toss well, add the rest of the flour, then toss again.
3. Place the butter in the skillet and heat until it begins to turn nut-brown. Scrape the beet mixture into the skillet, shape it into a nice circle, and press it down with a spatula. Turn the heat to medium-high and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the bottom of the beet cake is nicely crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Slide the cake out onto a plate, top with another plate, invert the two plates, and slide the cake back into the pan. Continue to cook, adjusting the heat if necessary, until the second side is browned. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.

1 (8oz.) package uncooked farfalle (bow tie) pasta
1 T. olive oil
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1 medium yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 cup roughly chopped kale
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pinch dried basil
1 pinch ground cayenne pepper
Salt and black pepper to taste
8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes; drain.
2. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in red pepper, yellow pepper, kale and garlic. Season with basil, cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper. Cook until vegetables are tender.
3. In a large bowl, toss cooked pasta with skillet mixture. Sprinkle with feta cheese to serve.