May 19, 2009

CSA News for the Week of May 18th

This Week’s Vegetable Harvest:

  • Red and Green Head Lettuce
  • Rainbow Swiss Chard
  • Rhubarb*
  • Asparagus
  • Popping Corn
  • Chives with Blossoms
  • Baby Japanese Turnips
  • Crimini Mushrooms*

Farm Journal

Last week marked a real turning point for the farm. Going into the week, we feared the potential negative impact of several more inches of predicted rainfall. By Friday afternoon, however, it was clear that we'd dodged a major bullet. The rains had bypassed the farm, and we'd completed all the farm work that our still-wet soils would allow. We'd planted spinach, radishes, arugula, beans, peas and sweet corn in some of our more well-drained fields, and we were keeping our fingers crossed that the rest of our fields would be ready to plant the following Monday.

And so we found ourselves strangely unbusy on a sunny Saturday morning in May. I toyed briefly with, and then quickly rejected, the idea of mowing our grass for the third time that week. Instead, we piled into the truck and made the two-hour trip out to Dixon to visit Matt’s cousin, Renee Sheaffer, who raises beef cattle and goats on her family’s farm. Boy, do I love a good spring road trip, especially one that takes us through farm country. As we drove along past the fields surrounding Crystal Lake, Marengo and Garden Prairie, Matt and I discussed the prospects for this year's corn crop, made note of how few of the surrounding fields had been planted so far, and pointed out to each other the farms we thought would make good vegetable operations. By the time we arrived at Renee's place, we'd left the distractions of our own farm behind us and were ready to soak in springtime on its own terms. We started with a visit to the barn to meet the new calves and kids (baby goats, that is) before taking a stroll through the pasture down by the creek. The air was redolent of lilacs and soil and cow manure as we headed back up to the house. We ended our visit with a leisurely lunch, the highlights of which were Renee's famous rhubarb bread and her mom's warm buttered asparagus.

On the drive back home, I was mostly quiet as I sat thinking about the differences between our farm and Renee's farm. I thought about how I envied the peace and quiet of her farm's rural setting and the sweeping vistas afforded by the vast expanses of pastureland and crop fields surrounding her. There is so much that is beautiful about our farm too, but there is no denying that its character is decidedly influenced by the suburban landscape that surrounds it. As we got closer to home that afternoon, I reminded myself that what makes farming in Lake County so interesting is precisely our proximity to the people we feed on a weekly basis. My job as a farmer would be so much less rewarding without the daily opportunities to engage with, to educate and to learn from the folks who live on our farm's periphery.

I was still mulling over some of these thoughts the next day as we prepared to participate in the Liberty Prairie Conservancy’s annual fundraiser, called Prairie Pedal. Our Sunday bike ride took us (and hundreds of other riders) through the heart of the landscape that LPC is working hard to protect from development. The money raised by the Prairie Pedal supports LPC's mission of preserving Lake County's natural areas and protecting its farmland. My 12-mile ride on Sunday morning served as a powerful reminder of the startling beauty that still surrounds us here in Lake County and the importance of protecting it for future generations. I count myself lucky not only to live and to farm in such a lovely place, but also to live and to farm among a group of people who care so deeply about the land that sustains them.

Have a great week! --Peg

Above: Renee with her cows. Below: Matt in the pasture.


The University of Illinois Extension Food Preservation Classes Offered in June

June 9: Jams and Jellies
June 23: Water Bath Canning – Pickles & Salsa
June 30: Freezing and Dehydrating

Time: 1:00 to 3:00 PM
Location: University of Illinois Extension, 100 S. Highway 45, Grayslake, IL
Fee: $20 per person (each class)
Pre-registration is required. Registration deadline is one week before each class date.
Register online at: For registration questions, call 847-223-8627.

Liberty Prairie Conservancy Hosts Farm Tour on June 27th, 4 - 8:30 p.m.
Tony Titus, past president of the Lake County Farm Bureau, hosts this private tour of Tempel Farms in Wadsworth and Sandhill Organics in Grayslake. Travel is by air-conditioned bus. Finish with a wonderful home-cooked dinner prepared from locally grown food. Register early; space is limited. Adults only. $69 ($49 for LPC members) includes dinner. For information and registration, visit

Notes from the Farm Kitchen

Like many other members of the allium family, chive plants form purple flowers as they mature. Chive blossoms are not only pretty, they are also very tasty. Try breaking the mild-tasting blossoms up and sprinkling them over salads, omelets and more. They can also be fried and used as a crispy garnish.

This week’s rhubarb comes from our friend Mick Klug who farms near St. Joseph, MI. Rhubarb rivals asparagus as the quintessential spring food. Rhubarb is believed to have originated in China over 4000 years ago, where it was widely used as medicine, but was not eaten in Europe until relatively recently. Rhubarb’s slow takeoff as a popular food may be due to the fact that only the stalks of the rhubarb plant are edible; the leaves are highly toxic due to their significant oxalic acid content. Even the stalks are extremely acidic and sour, and are usually sweetened during preparation to mitigate and complement the tart flavor. Nutritionally, rhubarb brings great rejuvenating gifts to the end of the seasonal winter diet. It’s high in vitamins A and C and a variety of minerals, particularly calcium. Rhubarb may be refrigerated in a plastic bag for up to 2 weeks. For long-term storage, wash rhubarb, chop it, then put in freezer bag and freeze it. It will be soft when thawed, but will still work beautifully in most recipes.

This Japanese turnip variety, called Hakurei, is mild and sweet and is easily mistaken for a radish. It is delicious eaten raw, and we’ve found that kids really enjoy it (especially with a little dip)! These little turnips are also tasty sautéed in a little butter and sprinkled with salt. Like bok choy, turnips are a good source of Vitamin C, and rich in the minerals potassium and calcium. And then there are the greens! Turnip greens top the charts as an excellent source of Vitamins A, C and B complex.

We've known Eric Rose, the grower of these wonderful crimini mushrooms, ever since we started farming in East Troy in 2000. His farm, River Valley Ranch, is a short drive from our old farm. For over twenty years he has been growing mushrooms without the aid of aerosols, fungicides, or chemical fertilizers, practices that are common among conventional mushroom growers.

Although Swiss chard it is native to the Mediterranean, this leafy relative of the beet got its name because it was first described in the scientific literature by a Swiss botanist in the 16th century. Chard is flavorful yet mild, and can be substituted for spinach in many dishes including quiches, omelets, lasagna, pasta sauce, etc. Chard is high in vitamins A, E and C and the minerals calcium and iron. You can use the entire leaf as well as the tender stem. Here are a couple of other ideas:

-Sauté chard with onions and herbs and stuff in a pita pocket with a bit of cheese.
-Slice leaves into ribbons and lightly steam. Toss with sesame oil, rice vinegar and soy sauce and serve with rice.

This Week's Recipes:

Swiss Chard and Mushroom Lasagna

Crimini Mushroom Risotto

Sweet Mary's Rhubarb Muffins

Salad Greens with Turnips, Asparagus and Chives

Be-Bop-A-Re-Bop Rhubarb Pie

Next Week’s Harvest (our best guess)... asparagus, green garlic, yukon gold potatoes, radishes, fennel, head lettuce, green onions, dandelion greens and more!