May 26, 2009

CSA News for the Week of May 25th

This Week's Vegetable Harvest:
  • Easter Egg Radishes
  • Fennel Bulbs
  • Green Onions
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Fresh Oregano
  • Yukon Gold Potatoes*
  • Asparagus
  • Head Lettuce
    *= not grown on our farm. See Notes from the Farm Kitchen for more info.

Farm Journal

The nature of farm life, with its many obligations related to the tending of plants and animals, doesn't allow for frequent leisurely weekend getaways. At least not during the growing season, anyway. This past weekend, however, we managed to sneak away for a couple of days of fun at our cabin. With the Oak Park Farmers' Market starting next week, we figured we ought to take full advantage of our last free weekend, so we packed our bags and headed for one of the most beautiful spots on Earth--the unglaciated hills of southwestern Wisconsin.

In that part of the world it seems to me that no season is any more beautiful or magical than any other season. Each has its own particular charm. In the late spring, we enjoy tramping through the woods searching for morel mushrooms and wild onions. These spring goodies are reported to be prolific in many parts of the western Wisconsin countryside, and we have seen evidence at several local markets to prove that this is so. Alas, every year morels and ramps turn out to be regrettably elusive on our property, and so we content ourselves with scouting for bluebirds and native wild flowers. These we usually find in abundance, and it makes us happy.

A good part of our time this weekend was spent visiting with two neighboring farm families who both happen to milk cows for a living. John and Jackie farm the land directly across the road. (See photo below.) Matt's folks met them nearly 35 years ago when they first bought the property. Over the years of their friendship, some things have changed (like bigger tractors and improved cow genetics), while other things have stayed the same. One thing that hasn't changed much compared to the late 1970s is the size of the milk check that most farmers receive right now. For every gallon of milk that farmers like John and Jackie produce today, they are paid the same amount per gallon as they were paid more than 30 years ago. Now, that kind of math doesn't really add up, and it's a wonder they still get up and milk those cows every morning.

John and Jackie will tell you that it's because there's no better place to raise a family than a small Wisconsin dairy farm. I might be inclined to believe that, but the question remains--How do you make ends meet on a 1970s paycheck? It seems inevitable that the face of agriculture will continue to evolve rapidly and dramatically. Yet things do not seem to be changing entirely for the worse; for some farm families the future looks bright.

Kallan and KayDee Maxwell farm just down the road from John and Jackie. Kallan and KayDee got their start in dairy farming a few years back with the help of John, Jackie and other folks in the community. They've worked hard to gain organic certification for their farm and to expand their product offerings beyond milk to include cheese, beef, chickens and eggs for sales at farmers markets. It was great to talk with Kallan and KayDee this weekend, and to exchange stories about our struggles and successes as we all navigate the world of direct marketing. I was reminded of how much we have in common and how lucky we are; producing healthy food for our local communities is the best job on Earth!

Have a good week. --Peg

Notes from the Farm Kitchen

No, we didn’t pick these dandelion greens in the backyard! This bitter green is not a true dandelion at all. Rather, it is an Italian chicory. The chicory family includes frisee, belgian endive, escarole, radicchio, and Italian dandelion. Bitter greens have been prized for centuries in many European cuisines where their bitter flavor is appreciated for its ability to pair well with strong cheeses and meats. Dandelion greens are best eaten cooked or semi-cooked. Try sautéing them, adding them to a quiche, or using them in a wilted salad with a hot vinegar-based dressing. They pair well with strong, rich flavors such as brie or feta cheese, bacon, and nuts. If you are looking for inspiration, try typing bitter greens into a search engine. You will find hundreds of recipes!

Try substituting fennel for celery in most any recipe, including chicken salad, tuna salad and potato salad. Use the feathery leaves as a seasoning. You can also try using it in place of dill. Fennel is excellent on baked or broiled fish with butter and lemon. Add to vegetable and chicken soups. One of my favorite ways to use fennel is to sauté sliced fennel with onion and some Italian sausage. Then I add it to hot pasta, mix in wilted beet greens or chard, drizzle some olive oil on top and sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan cheese. Life doesn't get any better than that!

Our asparagus crop is really starting to crank out those spears! You can expect at least 1 to 2 bunches in your share for the next 2 or 3 weeks. If you end up with more than you can use right away, consider freezing it for use later in the season. Blanch it quickly in boiling water, allow it to cool and place in a freezer bag. You'll be glad you did!

The Yukon Gold potatoes are from Brian Igl and family near Antigo, WI. These are the last of his winter-stored potatoes. Our own crop will be ready for harvest in mid-summer.

This Week's Recipes

Dandelions & Potatoes with Warm Vinegar Dressing This recipe is so good I have to put it in the newsletter every year. It is a variation on a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch recipe. You may omit the bacon and the result is almost as yummy! You can even leave out the potatoes and make the recipe as a simple salad.

Dandelions Greens with Hot Olive Oil Dressing

Pork Chops with Braised Fennel and Green Onions

Herb-Roasted Yukon Gold Potatoes

Potato-Radish Salad

Midnight Asparagus with Creamy Eggs

Next Week's Harvest (our best guess)... baby beets, baby carrots, napa cabbage, green garlic, asparagus, head lettuce, corn meal and maybe spinach.