Monthly Archives: September 2015

Fifth/First Generation Farming and a Brief History of the Move to Lettuce

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Nowadays, a ‘generation’ can refer to more than a group of people born between two approximate dates; this is especially true if the object in question is fifty times more likely to be referred to ‘4th gen’ than ‘fourth generation’ (though the phrase ‘next gen’ is also a great signifier). In these cases, the generation gap can be as short as the two months where one tries to figure out how to use the new device or the way it’s different than the last one or, in my case, as long as the two years until a game with the next batch of 150ish Pokémon comes out. While the concept of a next generation or Xth generation may be straight forward, can someone or something be both fifth and first generation? In regards to Jedd Koehn of Coastal Plains Produce, I say yes.

Jedd Koehn grew up on a western Kansas farm that grew organic produce including corn, beans, and sunflowers. His grandfather had worked the farm since the 1940’s, making the move to organic in the 80’s. After going organic, he formed a co-op with other local farmers that became Heartland Mill . Though over 1,000 miles away, Jedd Cohen was able to see things come full circle as he ate bread with his family in a Raleigh bakery. Bread made of grain from the mill his grandfather helped start.

Though he grew up on a farm that had been in his family for generations, Jedd was not always involved in farming. As many of us do (or are still doing), he did other things for a while. But eventually, he decided to return to farming. I asked him about his motivation for returning to farming as a way of life. He wanted to be around his wife and little boy more. He wanted to work alongside his son as he grew up. In the transition from organics in Kansas to hydroponics here in North Carolina, he started on a family farm and ended up starting a farm for his family.

Not only did he start a new farm in a new place with new crops, Jedd is also the first in his family to use hydroponics. Hydroponics and other elements of controlled environment agriculture, well, control the agricultural environment, enabling one to grow produce year round; however, this can’t completely rob the seasons of their influence. Spring and fall are ideal growing seasons for lettuce in a controlled environment, due to balance of light and temperature. This works well since they also happen to be the prime seasons for sales. In spring this is primarily due to spring fitness, while in the fall it’s mostly due to fall holidays. Winter holds the most difficulties for growing lettuce, as if the plants themselves know it’s not the time to grow. Despite providing heat and light and the astronomical cost this entails, the plants still take around eight weeks to grow as opposed to six in summer. The fast growing speeds of the summer come with their own difficulties. The plants quickly bolt, sprouting up from the center and going to seed, causing the plants to become bitter, deformed, and unsalable.

Seasonal difficulties and year round production makes for year round labor. Lots of labor. Koehn says it’s not a bad way to make a living if you don’t mind lots of work; and for Jedd Koehn, it’s work he gets to do with his son. With his young age, Tanner’s work helping Dad probably consists of quality time, learning, and a lot of ‘wanting to help.’ And with that comes the experience of nurturing something to fruition and a sense of pride in a job well done. Whether Tanner decides to farm, do something else, or do something else and then return to his hydroponic roots, he’ll still learn lessons as a sixth/second gen farmer that he can carry through his life and pass on to the next generation.

Local Edamame in Season!

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We have delicious Edamame from Down2Earth Farms on the order page this week! Edamame are fun to eat and so easy to prepare! They are salty, a little crunchy, and perfect for snacking. They make an excellent appetizer or side dish. All you need to prepare edamame is boiling water, salt, and 10 minutes. Just plop the whole pods into lightly salted boiling water for five minutes. Drain and toss with a little coarse salt like kosher salt or sea salt. To eat them, cool the cooked pods slightly, then just pop the edamame beans out of their shells and eat them straight from the pod. If you want to try something a little more exotic, follow the steps above and then stir-fry the pods for 1-2 minutes in a little oil with garlic, crushed red pepper, or grated ginger. These little touches give edamame a whole new twist on flavor!

Basic Steamed Edamame Recipe
http://www.kevinandamanda.com
basic edamame

Chile Garlic Edamame
http://www.foodnetwork.com
chile garlic edamame

Stir-Fried Edamame w/Garlic, Chili, & Ginger
http://everydayhealthyeverydaydelicious.com
edamame with garlic ginger

So, How’s the Weather? Or Why a Dry Summer isn’t Always a Bad Thing

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It’s happened to all of us. One minute you’re in the middle of a fascinating conversation or safely in the elevator alone (depending on the kind of day you’re having), and it happens. You’re stuck in the same old conversation about the weather. For many of us, it starts with observations on conditions or seasonal changes, moves on to preferences, and then there’s a bit on how it affects one’s plans, hobbies, or journey to and from the car. If the conversation gets really in depth, there may be some talk of how outdoor conditions affect the indoor climate.

There’s something to be said for how universal the weather conversation is. Everyone can relate to the weather, and we’re all affected by it in some way. But as I recently discovered, conversing about the weather isn’t always so mundane. For the agricultural community, the stakes go beyond whether you should bring an umbrella or sunscreen. The weather can affect your whole season and even your year. Plus there’s much more to learn than a weather app will tell you. With the upcoming season change, we decided to speak to Ken Chappell of Chappell’s Peaches and Apples and Cecilia Redding of Down2Earth Farms on how the weather this past summer has affected them and the produce in your boxes.

They both agreed that the summer has been pretty dry, but what I didn’t expect, was that with proper irrigation, this can be a good thing. Not only are rain and humidity are actually the biggest causes of disease in plant growth, but peaches actually like somewhat dry weather. Melons and peppers benefit from dry weather as well. While more water may mean plumper produce, the water can actually dilute the flavor of melons, and peppers are spicy in dry weather. Less water leads to higher alkaloid production in peppers, not least of these being capsaicin, the little guy responsible for binding to heat receptors in your mouth. Drier weather also lessens problems with mildew and can make harvesting easier, so the dry weather actually heaps benefits on many farmers. However, there are some difficulties to dry weather. While the difficulty may be apparent if one lacks an irrigation system, even with proper irrigation, an issue presents itself: namely, leaks. More irrigation equals more time fixing leaks, and while time consuming and possibly troublesome, the farmers I spoke to still gave the dry weather a thumbs up.

As we moved on to fall, we discussed expectations for the season and differences from previous years. While the dryness of the summer didn’t seem to have a lot of impact on the fall, some of the spring weather did. Chappell Peaches and Apples will be closing for the fall in two to three weeks instead of around Halloween, and the reason traces all the way back to March. On the 29th of March, a spring freeze dropped the weather to an icy 23°, causing gaps throughout the summer and leading to an early closing for fall.

While the dry summer makes for an easier harvest, the biggest fall change for Down2Earth Farms will be the introduction of two new high tunnels. Also called hoophouses, high tunnels serve to extend the growing season, and work much like unheated greenhouses, though they only allow for the growing of seasonal produce. At Down2Earth Farms, they also provide the added benefit of protection from windy weather in the area.

Though their opinions of the summer were similar, Chappell and Redding’s focus for their hopes for the fall differed. Chappell is hoping for rain this fall to provide groundwater for the winter. Redding’s focus was on temperature as she hopes for a smoother transition in temperature, with the real lows coming later on instead of the jumps of previous years.

The way people process and store information varies, and to process what I learned from the interviews, I decided to compare how I’d survive in produce growing weather.
1) Dryness – Depends how you look at it. I like rain, but for the most part, that’s on days I don’t go outside. On the other hand, I need lots of water. If I never had an alcoholic beverage in my life but went 30 minutes without a drink of water, I’d still start getting a hangover. On the other hand, proper hydration could be considered,um, drip irrigation, I guess, so let’s say I scored a maybe.
2)Temperature – Mostly fail. I’m good with a smooth transition into cool weather, but I’d also like that transition to start at the beginning of August. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not wishing for global disaster in terms of crop production since an early onset of winter can wreak havoc on produce; I’m speaking in terms of purely hypothetical personal comfort.
3) Acceptance of the weather and one’s outlook on it – Pretty good, though it’s something I still work on every day. This is more in regards to the farmer’s I spoke with rather than the plant’s opinion, but the positive outlook and their ability to adapt can serve as a reminder to all of us. If there’s a lot of rain, deal with the difficulties and be thankful for the groundwater. If the weather is dry, fix the leaks and be thankful for the flavor. Our best option is to do the best with what we’re given, and if the temperature is wrong, remember that the seasons change and the weather may be better next year.

Celebrating the Flavors of Mexico this September 16th!

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This Wednesday, September 16th marks the 205th anniversary of Mexican Independence. On this day in 1810, Miguel Hidalgo, a Catholic priest in Dolores, Mexico cried upon his people to revolt against the Spanish Colonial Government. This cry or “Grito”, became known as the “Grito de Dolores” and marks the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence.

This September 16th, people around Mexico will celebrate their independence, and of course those celebrations will include plates and plates of delicious Mexican food! In the US, we commonly recognize Mexican food as tacos, burritos, and enchiladas, the sort of Tex-Mex influence that has become ubiquitous around the US. Authentic Mexican cuisine, however, is far more diverse and much more regionalized than the Tex-Mex version would suggest.

A fun way to scratch the surface into regional Mexican cuisine is through the diversity of the salsas. In Mexico, salsa (which means “sauce”) is meant to add flavor and life to the food that it accompanies. Salsa can be used as a dip, on meats, in tacos, on top of vegetables, and even in salads. Regional salsas typically reflect the produce that is grown there, and range from a simple 3-4 ingredient pico de gallo to a complex chocolate mole with 26 or more ingredients.

This September 16th, we encourage you to explore the diversity of food from our neighbor to the south with a few regional salsas that you may not have been exposed to before. We will have a simple recipe kit for each available in next week’s deliveries!

Chiltomate (Tomato Habanero Salsa):
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This simple, sweet and spicy salsa may be the first salsa in the world to use cooked tomatoes. It originates with the Mayans in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. It has a spicy and fruity flavor that goes nicely over enchiladas, eggs or huevos rancheros, or a traditional Mayan dish like poc chuc!

Salsa de Cacahuate (Peanut Sauce):
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A smooth peanut sauce from the southern region of Mexico (Puebla, Oaxaca, Chiapas). This region of Mexico is very diverse agriculturally, and has many unique dishes not found in the rest of the country. The peanuts combine with the spicy chilis for a nutty, flavor-packed, picante topping to chicken or shrimp. A perfect dipping sauce for chicken or shrimp kebabs on the grill.

Guacamole Taquero (Taco Shop Guacamole):
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The avocado is available throughout Mexico. Even dishes we thought we knew, like guacamole, come in many different regional forms. This guacamole combines with a traditional salsa verde (tomatillo salsa) common in northern Mexico, where tomatillos predominate in the arid climate. Its smooth, creamy texture balanced with the acidity from the tomatillo make it the perfect taco guacamole!

Fresh Ham Steaks

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We have deal on Cubed Ham/Pork steaks from Shane Lee Farms on the order page this week! Cubed Ham/Pork steaks are really a cut of fresh (raw) pork from the “ham” section of the pig. The steaks are tenderized by a special machine that breaks up the meat fibers, thus tenderizing the meat and increasing juiciness. The process allows the pork to absorb seasonings easily and makes its texture softer. The process imprints tiny cubes on the meat, which is the origin of the name “cube steak.”

If you have never prepared Cubed Ham/Pork steaks, the following recipe is easy and delicious.

Ham Steak with Dijon Herb Sauce:

Cubed Ham Steaks are very much like a pork chop without the bone. They can be prepared any way you would prepare a pork steak or chop, but here is one easy recipe:

Ingredients:
1 T butter
2 Cubed ham steaks
Salt
Pepper
3 T chopped onions/shallots
3/4 c chicken stock
1 T dijon mustard
2 T chopped herbs like chives, thyme, etc.

1. Heat butter in frying pan or skillet over low heat.
2. Season pork with salt and pepper (or your favorite seasoning mix).
3. Raise the heat to medium and add the pork to the pan. Saute for 2-3 minutes.
4. Turn the pork and cook for 2-3 minutes longer. Do not overcook! Pork should still be slightly pink inside when done.
5. Remove pork and keep warm.
6.Add onions to pan and saute for 2 minutes or until soft.
7. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Boil until stock reduces to about 1/2 cup.
8. Stir in the mustard and herbs.
9. Put pork on platter and pour sauce over meat.

Only Sort of Controlling the Weather

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A little piece of Disney World is coming to the Triangle – sort of. And no, I don’t mean the Disney store in Crabtree Mall has opened back up. Maybe it has (who hasn’t been waiting to get their Lilo and Stitch on), but that’s not the point. I’m thinking more along the lines of EPCOT and Living with the Land. The ride referenced is an exploration of horticultural technologies and sustainable agriculture, and though I doubt there will be any mouse-ears involved, LL Urban Farms is instituting even more controlled environment agriculture in their production process.

While LL Urban Farms has been using greenhouses to grow their lettuce since the beginning, they’ve been growing heirloom tomatoes outside for the last three years. This is all about to change. LL Urban Farms is moving their tomatoes indoors with the introduction of two new green houses. I spoke to Glen Lang (one of the “L’s” of LL Urban) about the change, and he provided me with both a timeline and some very compelling reasons for the switch.

For the timeline, the greenhouses are being built now. The tomatoes will be moved in and growing in the second week of October, and the tomatoes will be ready in January after a period of sixty to seventy days. I say moved in instead of planted, because the plants will be grafted onto disease resistant root systems, fighting disease and staying consistent with their method for the quality heirloom tomatoes they’ve produced. During the summer months when the availability of local tomatoes is highest, the old plants will be taken out and replaced with fresh plants. After a year’s growth, stems can reach a length of 40 feet and become unwieldy and cause difficulties in growing sustainable produce.

When I asked Mr. Lang about the reasons behind the switch, he first told me about the lack of local tomatoes during the winter months in our area. With the plant change during the peak season, fresh, local tomatoes will be available to people virtually year round. The second reason was to move their tomatoes into the realm of controlled environment agriculture.

Cool? Yes. But to convince you of the benefits of controlled environment agriculture, I should probably explain a bit of what it is. Controlled environment agriculture is the production of plants and produce in greenhouses or other similar structures. CEA can increase both the quality and productivity of crops by controlling environmental factors involved in the growth of plants. Rain and humidity are the two biggest factors of disease in plants, and CEA reduces, if not eliminates, both major risk factors. Healthier plants mean better produce and higher quality food. Temperature also plays a roll, and being able to keep tomatoes in their comfortable range of roughly 84° during the day and 62-65° at night helps fight problems like frostbite, wilting, and dehydration.

While some may suggest CEA sounds a bit newfangled, the concept has been around since the days of the Roman emperors . Around 14-17 AD, a doctor ordered Tiberius Caesar to eat a cucumber a day for health. I had always heard it was an apple a day, but I suppose either one was better than a Big Mac at keeping the doctor away. So ole’ Tiberius had movable plant beds that could be placed indoors or outdoors depending on the weather, and during sunny winter days, they were placed outside covered by a frame glazed with transparent mica. Greenhouses similar to what we use today were in use in 1670, and greenhouses were even used by George Washington at Mount Vernon around 1780. These were heated by decomposing manure, but thankfully technology has progressed since then.

Groovy. But how does CEA affect us today? Locally speaking, it means we’ll have high quality tomatoes in abundance year round. While field growing tomatoes may result in around 20 lbs. of tomatoes per plant per year with many having to be turned into tomato paste, CEA can raise that number to around 60 lbs. with 95% of them being at maximum, not-for-paste quality. Add on the fact that this produce will be local and free of pesticides and herbicides, and you’ve got a pretty sweet deal. From an environmental perspective, CEA growth environments can be closed, meaning there’s no liquid discharge into surface or ground water. Add on the fact that CEA facilities can be located in urban areas so open and agricultural land doesn’t need to be converted to greenhouses, and the prospect becomes even sweeter.

In summary, controlled environment agriculture is good for the environment and the increased production is good for sustaining produce for a world whose population keeps increasing. On top of that, one gets to eat fresh produce in the style of presidents and emperors, but with that option available to everyone near a farm that employs the techniques of CEA. Sometimes parts of us want things the traditional way, while other bits want to embrace the future. Controlled environment agriculture and greenhouses could be the best of both worlds.

Sweet Piquanté Peppers Now Available Fresh in NC

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Sweet piquanté peppers were discovered in South Africa in 1993, and were introduced to international markets later that decade. In 2002 they made a their way into US markets, and did so with a splash; they have been a huge hit and a new “it” ingredient in the culinary world. Sweet piquanté peppers are sought after by the best chefs in the country, and most agree they have an awesome flavor that we didn’t know existed until now!

Sweet piquanté peppers are typically available pickled in the US. The pickled peppers can be found in many grocery stores, often under the brand “Peppadew”. However, it is rare to find them fresh in the US, so we are delighted to have them available to us fresh next week from Cloverfield Farm in Timberlake, NC.

The peppers are small and shaped like cherry tomatoes. Their unique flavor is sweet and fruity, with a kick of heat. As fresh peppers, they take very well to grilling or roasting, and are commonly stuffed with cream cheese or goat cheese. They also make a great topping on pizza, sandwiches, or in pasta dishes. Alternatively, you can pickle them yourself, and store them in your refrigerator for weeks. Friends and guests will be highly impressed that you have sweet piquanté peppers just sitting around the kitchen!

This simple dish from The Kitchn Food Blog can be made with roasted, grilled, or pickled sweet piquante peppers. It makes a fantastic appetizer or just delicious snack!

Stuffed Peppadews with Parmesan & Salami

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Ingredients:
Sweet piquanté peppers
Parmesan cheese
Salami slices

Click here for the full recipe

Click here to order Sweet Piquanté Peppers for delivery next week!

Stick Boy Bread Gears up for a Delicious Fall Season!

Fall is just around the corner, which makes it the perfect time to enjoy Spiced Apple Almond Bread from Stick Boy Bread Company. Spiced Apple Almond bread is a delicious sweet bread made with shredded, tart Granny Smith apples and tons of wholesome sliced almonds. It’s mixed with butter, sugar, flour and a delicious blend of spices for an amazing taste. Baked to perfection, Spiced Apple Almond Bread is great for breakfast or as a snack!

katie diesphoto of Katie & Josh Dies

About the Stick Boy Bread Company:
Katie Dies and her husband, Josh, are the owners of Stick Boy Bread Company in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina where everything is made the old-fashioned way, from scratch in small batches! Katie never planned to open a bakery, but while a student at Appalachian State University, she worked part-time at the original Stick Boy Bread Company in Boone. Katie formed a deep and lasting friendship with the owners, Carson and Mindy Coatney. After graduation, Katie married Josh Dies, a fellow graduate of App State in 2003. When Josh’s drafting job required a move to Fuquay Varina, Katie and Josh knew that they would miss the bakery and their friends!

Once they settled in Fuquay Varina, Josh loved his new drafting job, but they both began to dream of something bigger, something they could do from scratch and share together. They decided that Fuquay Varina needed a bakery– a place where people could gather, share conversation, and have something yummy to eat!

January 2007, Katie and Josh sat down with Carson and Mindy and timidly asked them if they would help open a bakery in Fuquay-Varina. To their surprise (and excitement) Carson and Mindy agreed! Katie and Josh spent the next year training, baking test batches in their home oven, and transforming an old Western Auto into a bakery.

They worked hard, and plan to continue working hard, so that they can offer the best products and the best customer service in the area. Stick Boy is gearing up for the Fall season and will be introducing their famous Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Scones, Pumpkin Walnut Bread and Pumpkin Cheesecake in late September. Katie says they love feedback and enjoy hearing from Papa Spud’s customers!

Click here to order a Spiced Apple Almond Loaf for delivery next week!

Bringing in the Jewish New Year with Babka!

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Rosh Hashanah, which begins at sundown on Sunday, September 13, is a two-day celebration that marks a ten-day period of prayer, self-examination and repentance. For those that celebrate, it is a time replete with customs, such as the sounding of the shofar (aka a ram’s horn) at synagogue and the eating of certain foods with family, such as apples dipped in honey. The latter symbolizes the wish for a sweet new year – and for Sheryl Blackwell and Susan Friedburg, owners of Small Batch Baking Company, it also evokes memories of their respective childhoods and their shared love for the sweet leavened bread, known as babka, which often appeared on their holiday tables.

Babka is a traditional Jewish sweet loaf, made with yeast dough and rolled with spiraling layer of cinnamon or chocolate and crumbly streusel. It originates with the Jewish populations of Eastern Europe, but has become very popular in American cities with large Jewish communities. The rest of us probably know it best from Seinfeld!

Sheryl baked Susan a loaf of babka a few months after they met, and as they enjoyed it, they both felt instantly nostalgic for their respective childhoods. They wanted to share that feeling with others, and also introduce it to those folks who only know it from popular culture (i.e. that episode from Seinfeld). The problem was that babka as a full-sized loaf is limiting. Sheryl points out, “It was a loaf, which meant you probably didn’t buy one unless you were dining with plenty of other people. And once the loaf was cut, you had to eat all of it pretty quickly because it is a bread after all.” Their solution was to reinterpret the traditional babka loaf, both in size and variety. Just as importantly, they wanted their product to appeal to modern day palates and to on-the-go lifestyles – something to be enjoyed not just at holiday times and special occasions, but daily as well.

The result: a bite-sized version of babka, which they currently offer in Traditional Chocolate, Chocolate Cappuccino, Chocolate Raspberry and Blueberry Cinnamon flavors. In effect, just a bite or two of Small Batch Baking Company’s babka invokes a bit of nostalgia for the childhood years, respect for centuries of tradition, while looking forward in the spirit of a “sweet” new year.

Click here to order Bite-Sized Babka for delivery next week!

Grilled Watermelon with Feta & Mint

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Grilled fruit isn’t just for dessert, it is also a great addition to salads! This delicious summer salad pairs slightly charred, sweet, juicy watermelon with salty, creamy feta & pungent onions for a winning combination. You can introduce a little heat by serving it right after grilling the melon, but this isn’t a must. It is just as good when served cold!

Ingredients:
• 1/2 cup red onion, sliced
• 1 tsp. red wine vinegar or cider vinegar
• 1 mini watermelon
• 1 Tbsp. olive oil
• 2 Tbsp. mint, chopped (about 8 leaves)
• 2 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

Dressing:
• 2 Tbsp. olive oil
• 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar or cider vinegar
• Salt & pepper

1. Place sliced onion in a small bowl and cover with cold water and 1 tsp of vinegar. Soak 5 minutes, then drain and rinse. Drain on paper towels.

2. Slice watermelon into 1 inch thick slices. Keep the rind on for now, we will grill whole slices, then trim them down after grilling.

3. Prepare a medium-hot grill. Use 1 Tbsp of olive oil to brush the watermelon slices lightly. Grill for about 3 minutes per side, or until charred. Remove from heat. Cut watermelon flesh away from the rind. Slice into 1-inch chunks. Transfer to a large salad bowl.

4. Add onions, chopped mint, and feta cheese to watermelon. Let sit while you prepare dressing.

5. In a separate bowl, mix together 2 Tbsp olive oil and 1 Tbsp vinegar. Pour dressing over salad. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then serve!