The time has finally come to start the Spring CSA, and we couldn't be more excited! The warmer weather, and increased day length has perked the crops right up, and they are exploding with growth. It shouldn't be much longer until the bounty is too much to keep up with, and that is something that I will happily deal with :-)
In years past we have used a plastic mulch to control weeds, and boost plant growth. The plastic also keeps the crops cleaner, which reduces foliar diseases. These benefits are pertinent on the organic farm, as we can't rely on fungicides to control disease. However, we HATE working with the plastic. The worst is that the plastic can be an absolute back-breaker to remove at the end of the season. Couple that with the crushing guilt we feel when we have to take it to the landfill, and you wind up with a catalyst for change. After all, why would we spend so much time and effort to source biodegradable bags for our produce just to lay plastic in our fields (we are working on phasing out the plastic pint containers as well)? We are happy to say that this year there will be absolutely NO plastic laid in our fields. I know what you are thinking, "But Robert, what is that in the photo?". It's a biodegradable plastic alternative made from plant resins, and it can be tilled in at the end of the year to become fertilizer for next years crops...a win-win.
Earlier, in my email to our members, I said that I would explain what we have been doing to better control future episodes of poor weather. This winter I spent about a month applying for fellowship from the Farmer Veterans Coalition, an organization whose mission is to ensure the success of veteran farmers. One of the biggest benefits of fellowship is grant money. We received news last week that I was granted fellowship, and that we won a $3,000 grant to purchase two caterpillar tunnels. A caterpillar tunnel is somewhat of an unheated greenhouse. Though unlike a greenhouse, it will give us the ability to quickly disassemble it for safekeeping in the event of violent weather, such as hail, or extreme winds. Another added benefit is that we can move it around the farm so that we can continue to practice crop rotation, a very important aspect of organic agriculture disease control. Since, we wont receive them for a few more weeks, I've included the photo below from instagram
Not only are they great for season extension, but they also help to prevent disease by keeping the plants dry. We'll start them out with tomatoes during the summer, and then fill them to the brim with a plethora of delicious veggies for our winter csa members. After all of those crops have been harvested, they will be replanted for next years Spring CSA members, so that even if we have a cold, miserable spring, we can still start on time.
Now, on to the good stuff: This weeks CSA basket!
I want to take a brief moment to share a story with you about some of the items in your basket this week. One of the side effects of being a farmer is that you develop a love for really good food. A few years ago we decided to satiate our desire for good food by heading to New York to eat at the famed Blue Hill at Stone Barns. It was our first visit to a Michelin Star restaurant, and about 5 courses in, the chef sat the following salad down on our table:
Customarily, the chef began to describe the dish: "A mix of wild foraged greens". I could clearly identify dandelion and lambs quarter, weeds that I regularly curse for growing amidst my crops. But our curiosity was piqued, and we dived in. It was delicious, and it forever changed the way I view these plants. Side Note: If you have been with us in past years, you have enjoyed the member favorite, Habanada. We initially enjoyed the habanada at this dinner as well, and began growing it the very next year. For the past couple of years I have been identifying edible plants that grow wild on our farm and sampling them for culinary use. Some, like dandelion greens, I despise...way too bitter, I'd rather just have a head of refined French chicory. However, I've found some that I consistently enjoy, and have decided to integrate them into the CSA. This week I'll offer the first of these foraged foods to our members: Wild Garlic & Starwort.
Starwort is an early spring green that has succulent stems, and a very mild green. It tastes great added to salads, and provides a TON of essential vitamins and nutrients: it is high is chlorophyll, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, iron, phosphorus, and potassium, Vit A, C, and several B vitamins. It is just what our bodies need after a long winter. The succulent crunch of the stems are almost addictive, and overall it has a mild spinach flavor. You all are sure to love this foraged green. Roughly chop the entire plant (stems and leaves) before adding to salads, sandwiches, wraps, and soups. You may want to use these up within a couple of days, as they they start to lose their crunch after about 4 days. Though they would still be fantastic in soups, they probably wont have that romaine like crunch for your salads.
Wild Garlic is probably one of my absolute favorites. It reminds me a lot of garlic scapes, though much milder. I've been using them exactly how I would green onion, to garnish stir fry, breakfast hash, and throwing several chopped stems into all of my salads. They add just the right amount of oniony/garlic flavor...they would even be perfect for introducing those picky eaters to the flavor of onion, as it is so mild. I've found the best way to store them is to place them in a jar with about an inch of water, and then cover the tops with the bag they will come in. A rubber band around the jar to keep the bag tight will ensure they last well over a week.
I have a few other foraged items that I hope to introduce you all to as the season progresses, and I am sure you will love them too. For CSA shares this week:
French Breakfast Radishes
Our earliest to ripen strawberry is Earliglow. It provides a medium sized berry that has excellent flavor, and is well suited for fresh eating or freezing for winter use.
Honeoye begins to ripen just as Earliglow starts to wane down, and produces for a longer harvest window than most varieties. It fills the entire mid-season slot with abundant harvests of large, dark red berries. These are a member favorite, especially amongst the children!
AC Valley Sunset
AC Valley Sunset brings up the rear by extending our season a few additional weeks. It is a large berry with good flavor, and firm flesh, making them great for holding up in recipes or for covering in chocolate.
The very first time we purchased strawberries, I ordered 250 Honeoye, and 25 Sparkle. Fortunately for us, the company made a mistake and sent 250 of both. It was a mistake I was happy to accommodate, as Sparkle quickly became my favorite strawberry. The berries start to ripen after Honeoye, filling a short time slot, so enjoy these while we have them. They are a medium sized berry with the best flavor of all.