Winter Share Contents 10/24

It’s a fantastic fall harvest, certainly welcome after a summer full of what seemed to us more than the usual challenges! We’re especially pleased with the onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, fall greens and leeks – all very nice. Enjoy the harvest!

Here’s a list of what is in your share from Picadilly Farm:
Celery, a bunch. We picked it last week, as it would have died in the 25 degree nights, even with double row cover. It is tasty, though will not store for too much longer. Our celery tends to be less watery, more fibrous, and stronger flavored than supermarket celery. Best for cooking, less ideal for juicing.

Kohlrabi, a piece. What?! I joined a CSA and now they are giving me kohlrabi?! This is the softball-like item in your box, unsuspectingly full of vitamins A & C, calcium and potassium… If you’ve haven’t tried it yet, prepare for a mild flavor, much like the stem of broccoli with a little turnip tossed in. Peel off the outer layer, use it all at once or just a bit at a time – it will keep well partial or whole in your fridge. My favorite use so far has marinating and grilling slices – takes a little longer than most veggies, takes on the flavor of your marinade, and retains a nice crunch. Recipe: Shredded Root Salad.

Leeks, a bunch. Not just for potato leek soup, though delicious if you go there. Leeks can be easily frozen – just wash, dice and put in sealed bag in the freezer.

Potatoes, 6 pounds of “Sangre” reds.  Good yields this season, with more blemishes on the red potatoes than usual. We usually don’t wash potatoes, since they store better unwashed. We washed these for better sorting, and included six pounds instead of five, to account for any “bad spots” that we didn’t/couldn’t see. Store them in a cool and dark place, out of the plastic bag, and they’ll be best used within the month.

Onions, 2 pounds of reds and 2 pounds of yellows. A bumper crop of nice onions this season, our best ever. The rain in June and July was great for sizing them up.Then the warm and hot for those three short weeks in August was just right for harvest and curing time. Store onions in a cool, dry-ish place, and they will keep for months.

Beets, 2 pounds. A smaller harvest than usual, with sweet flavor following a few hard frosts. Store in the fridge.

Winter squash, 2 delicatas and two acorns. Enjoy these more perishable winter squash in the next month or so. They are best stored at about 50-55 degrees, not much colder – a cool place in your kitchen can work well. Watch for small bruises or rot spots – the squash will deteriorate quickly once they appear. Any winter squash seeds are great for roasting: rinse them well, and let them dry. Oil the pan slightly, and roast in a thin layer. Roast at a low temperature, 300-325, as the seeds can go from brown to burnt quickly. Stir occasionally. Try seasoning halfway through roasting with sugar and cinnamon – yum!

Pie pumpkin, a good sized “New England pie”. If you plan to cook with it (which I hope you do!), then don’t let it freeze while it adorns your porch for Halloween. To cook: cut off the top, quarter, and roast just until tender. Remove the skin, puree and use as you like. Pumpkin puree can be frozen – put 1 cup portions into small plastic bags or containers.

Savoy cabbage, one. A versatile, tasty cabbage, this will store in your fridge for a month or so.

Salad turnips, a bunch. A radish-like turnip, which can be used raw or cooked. Cooked, it is more watery and milder flavored than a big fall turnip – try it stir-fried rather than roasted or souped.

Parsley, a bunch. One of the most cold-hardy fresh herbs. Store it with the stems in a glass of water, in or out of the fridge; or wash and dry the leaves and store in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

Sweet potatoes, 4 1/2 pounds. A beautiful crop of sweet potatoes this year, great flavor and texture in all shapes and sizes! Who knew that a tropical crop could thrive in New England with virtual no summer… The plants did well in our sandiest field, and the tubers are sweetening up in storage. Keep them in a cool place in your kitchen – they’ll last for months if you have a 50-55 degree spot, with good ventilation. Recipe: Sweet Potato Oven Fries.

Daikon, a bunch. This mild Japanese radish is the most common vegetable grown in Japan, and has many uses there. It will store in a plastic bag your hydrator drawer for a long time (I used my last one from last November’s harvest in April!). So, plenty of time to figure out your favorite ways to use it. Try pickling it, grating in to salad (or as a salad with carrots and beets), or in a stir fry. Recipe: Japanese Radish Salad

Fennel, a bulb or two. A versatile seasoning. Use raw with dips, add to soups or to Italian-inspired dishes. Store in a plastic bag in your fridge for up to 2 weeks. 

Sweet peppers, a handful. We picked out the peppers before the hard freeze (along with the celery). They store well, and it’s nice to have a “summer” food in October. Three “italias”, which are pointy and red, or partially red – these partially red ones may ripen more if you leave them in your fruit bowl for a day or two before eating. And four green bell peppers. Peppers freeze easily and well, for cooking later – chop and put them in a container.

Hot peppers, take what you’d like. We are not including them in the boxes, but you can take a handful if you are a fan. Mostly hungarian hot wax, green serranos and jalapenos.

From Riverland Farm:

Lettuce, two heads of Summer Crisp variety “Magenta”. The foundation of a nice salad or two …. add carrots, hakurei turnips, a red pepper and a little parsley.

Kale, a bunch of winterbor, a green curly kale that’s been sweetened up by the frost. This would make great kale and sausage soup, or if you’re not in the mood for soup try kale sauteed with garlic and olive oil, with some of Baer’s Best beans thrown in.

Carrots, 4 pounds. This variety of fall carrot, Bolero, has a loyal following among shareholders and farmers. Excellent for eating raw, makes a great carrot soup, or mix up a batch of carrot muffins. This will store well in your fridge.

Broccoli and/or Cauliflower, 2 heads.

You’ll also find a pound of Baer’s Best Beans in your share (Jacob’s Cattle, Otebo or Calypso). Ten pounds of apples from Cider Hill Farm are also included this month. Apples varieties include Empire, Mutsu, Melrouge, Carosel, Braeburn, Gala and Jonagold.

What’s in the share?

I wrote this for this week’s Brookwood Community Farm newsletter. Thought I’d get a little extra mileage out of it by posting it here. It certainly applies to winter share contents. It feels like there are fewer surprises with fall and winter CSA shares, though perhaps the surprises are just of a different nature: walk-in coolers that go on the fitz, rodents who discover the sweet potatoes, frozen ground that makes securing row cover impossible.

“What’s in our CSA share next week?” This is a common question from shareholders excited about local vegetables, folks putting together a shopping list for the week’s menus or lining up new recipes to try out. We, your growers, ask this question, too. There is considerable anxiety behind this question for most growers. Spring and summer are the seasons when I worry the most about having grown enough vegetables and enough variety, to satisfy eaters who have a taste for really good food. The innocent question, “what’s in the share?” sets my teeth on edge early in the growing season. I have been unpleasantly surprised by the appetites of woodchuck, stunned by the quick devastation caused by plant pests, and this season, dumbstruck by late blight on our tomatoes. So, I’ve learned to not make predictions about what’s in the CSA share next week. But now, in October, with just three CSA distributions left, I’m feeling a little more confident that there’s both the quantity and variety of veggies to satisfy our discerning eaters. So I thought it time to explain how certain types and quantities of veggies come to be in the CSA share.

It all starts in October. Almost eight months before the first CSA share is distributed, the planning process begins as we evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the current season’s crops and markets. Following this assessment, a Crop Production Plan is created. This provides a “big picture” of which crops and how much of each crop we want to grow in the coming season, and how much space each particular crop will need. This plan is dependent on how many CSA shares are offered, what other markets will be served (e.g., farmers’ markets, hunger relief), the vegetable preferences of customers, what grows well on the land, the length of the growing season, the presence of soil-born diseases. The last variable I’ll mention, but certainly not least important in designing a Production Plan, is economic value.

A word about economic value. When we sell you a $375 CSA share, we want to make darn sure you get at least $375 worth of fantastic-tasting, nutritious vegetables. When we create the Production Plan, it includes way more than $375/CSA share of veggies. We know we’re going to be feeding some rabbits and woodchucks, and that a bug or a fungal disease or some other as-yet unimagined interlopers will claim their share of the harvest. So we plan for crop losses and challenges by planting more than we’ve sold. I like to choose varieties that are productive and resist diseases that are present on the farm. We limit the field space devoted to low value, low yield and/or harder-to-grow crops. We build enough wiggle room into the Production Plan that, even in a bad year, we can realistically hope to provide you with 10% more value than you paid for.

The Crop Production Plan is a vision of the perfect combination of crops. This lovely vision first meets the constraints of reality when we try to fit it onto a map of the farm fields. I have observed that farmers never, never, never have enough room to grow everything we want to grow, in the manner we want to grow it. Never. The creation of a Field Map is a complex juggling act: part intuition, part experience and part common sense, but always fueled by large amounts of caffeine. It involves making compromises and much debate: “Maybe we don’t really need carrots, beets, alliums and lettuce every single week, do we? Perhaps we could cut back on these crops and add a little more variety by planting a bed of edamame, fava beans, radicchio, kohlrabi, fennel.” “No one likes radicchio, no one knows what edamame is and fava beans are a low-value crop that gives some folks indigestion.” “Most folks didn’t really like the celery last year, let’s just cut that out.” “Celery! This land was meant to grow celery! It’s perfectly suited for it, plus celery is a heritage crop … something all the old farmers used to grow. We must have celery!” And on and on it goes until, early in January. By then the decisions have been made, fields mapped and seed and supply orders sent in. Why so early? Suppliers often offer discounts for early purchase of seeds and supplies. Plus, there’s still so much work to be done to prepare for the coming season, including a little time off for the farmer.

Greenhouse and field planting schedules are generated from the Field Map. After all that careful planning, we are now in possession of tidy spreadsheets that help to frame and guide the season’s work. The first planting of peas, carrots, cilantro and dill go into the ground the first week in April. Alliums and celeriac are the first seeds sown in the greenhouse, usually in late February.

Back to the question, “What’s in the CSA share?” The day before a harvest we walk the fields and check on the stored crops (garlic, onions, winter squash). We make a list of what’s ready for harvest. We sometimes narrow the list by asking what recipes we, and our shareholders, might enjoy cooking this week. We try to include something new in the week’s share, along with some of the standard veggies we know shareholders want to see each week. At Brookwood, we aim for an average weekly share value of $20.00.

Then we head to the field for the harvest. If we did a thorough job assessing crops ready for harvest, it’s straightforward from this point. We just follow the plan. But occasionally we’re surprised to find that the lettuce, which from a distance looked great, up close has rotted or bolted; or the carrots or turnips have been the site of a wire worm reunion and feast; or the winter squash which looked lovely sitting on a bench in the hoop house, dissolves into an unpleasant mush when we touch it. You get the picture. We don’t really know what’s going to be in the CSA share until we’ve finished the harvest.

That said, here’s what we’re hoping will be in your Brookwood CSA shares this coming week: lettuce or salad mix, escarole, spinach, winter squash, broccoli (or purple top turnips if the broccoli hasn’t headed up), onions or leeks, and a choice of one bunch of chard, kale, collards or bok choi.

Enjoy the harvest!

Sweet Potatoes

Bruce and Jenny at Picadilly Farm report a bumper crop of sweet potatoes this year. Mmmm … sweet potato fries, sweet potato puree, potato & sweet potato gratin, sweet potatoes, apples and braising greens, and just plain old sweet potatoes with a bit of butter, cinnamon and maple syrup.

We’re planning to have 4 pounds of sweeties in each Winter share. I think I’ll be able to arrange for extra sweet potatoes (~16 pound boxes of them) to be available for purchase during the second CSA distributions.

Did I mention that I like sweet potatoes?

What’s planned for the ’09 Winter CSA?

While I have a pretty good idea about what will be in the winter share, until it’s grown, harvested and on it’s way to Busa Farm, I can’t be 100% sure of the mix of veggies in the share. That said, the distributions are likely to be quite similar to the those in ’08. So, I thought you might like to see what was in the ’08 Winter CSA, as well as what previous year shareholders had to say about the share.

Here are some nice photos and written summaries of each ’08 distribution:
October 2008
November 2008
December 2008

Here is feedback about the winter share that you might find helpful if you’re wondering how many mouths will one share feed or how in the world you’ll store the veggies.

This year, dried beans and garlic, two frequently requested items, will be new items in the share. We’ve planned for fewer carrots, more leeks and leafy greens. I hope to offer additional items that shareholders can pre-order and pick up during the CSA distribution including eggs, Fiore de Nonno mozzarella and bulk quantities of dried beans.

Will there be potatoes?

Knowing that late blight also affects potatoes, several winter shareholders have asked if there will be spuds in the share this year. As far as we can tell, it looks like it.

Bruce and Jenny Wooster, Picadilly Farm, are growing potatoes for the Winter CSA. Jenny reports that, so far, the crop is looking good. Here’s what she wrote at the beginning of August about their potato saving efforts.

Potatoes, we are thanking our lucky stars that we already have a reasonable crop underground – blight notwithstanding, it’s been a great potato growing season. However, the Late Blight spores can quickly travel through the vines and rot the potatoes underground. We’ve decided to kill the potato vines, and enjoy the harvest that is already sized up. Up and down our valley, farmers are doing the same. Conventional farmers use an herbicide for vine kill, and it is certainly disconcerting to see dead potato fields all over in early August. As organic growers, we have a harder road to hoe, as we attempt to mechanically kill all of the vines without damaging the potato hills underneath. First, we’ve been mowing the field. Later today we’ll go through with weedwackers (yes, that’s 8 miles of weedwacking!). When that’s all done, we’ll sweep through with the crew and loppers, knocking back the last remaining living stubs. We’re learning that there’s no such thing as “overkill” when it come to late blight. We’ll see a smaller yield, as some spuds would have continued to size up over the rest of the summer. And we’re uncertain if we’ll lose some storability with such early vine kill – the potatoes have to store underground for at least two weeks after the vines are dead, to set the skins for storage. We’ll see. But plenty of mashed potatoes remain in our future this season!

The Picadilly Farm crew has begun to harvest and distribute potatoes in their summer shares. It seems that late blight didn’t reach the tubers! Over the next month or so we’ll know more about how the potatoes store. Keep your fingers crossed!

Riverland Farm in the news!

One of our Winter CSA partners, Riverland Farm, is in the news today! Here’s the link to the story: Farming showing a rebirth all across Massachusetts.

Here’s another article about Riverland Farm and their involvement in community food security efforts. Seniors come to the farm “In its third year, about 50 participants in the Senior Farm Share Program had a chance to tour Riverland Organic Farm, where much of their produce is grown. The program, which is sponsored by Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, provides free shares of vegetables for 10 to 12 weeks to seniors at 17 sites in Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties.”

The Senior Farm Share Program is a terrific program that makes healthy, locally-grown food accessible to low-income seniors and provides local growers with an enthusiastic market. It is run by Community Involved in Sustainable Agriculture (CISA). I wish CISA served the eastern Massachusetts farming (and eating!) community, but they have their hands full serving the folks in western and central Massachusetts.

Last of my winter veggies

This is the last of them. The last of my local veggie supply. Roasted and canned tomatoes, sauerkraut, carrots, winter squashes and onions from the Belmont CSA; an abundance of garlic that I bought for seed, but didn’t plant; sweet potatoes, rosemary and one purple top turnip from Riverland Farm; three ears of Vanguarden CSA popcorn; two mostly empty jars of Carlisle honey. I have a lot of pickles, too. It seems I like to put up pickles more than I like to eat them. (I found ten forgotten pints of pickles in the pantry after took this photo.)

The last of my '08 local produce

The onions are sprouting, so I think it’s time for an onion pie. The carrots have been cooked up into carrot ginger soup. The sauerkraut ….. well, it’s been slowly fermenting in my fridge since November. I kind of forgot about it. Wonder if it’s any good? I think I will take it to the farmer potluck I going to this evening and get some expert opinions on it.

Winter Work

What do farmers do in the winter? I don’t know about the other guys, but I’ve been busy … here’s a pic of me and hubby, hard at work. I bought a new computer (a necessary piece of farming equipment in the 21st century) and, as we were getting acquainted with it, discovered it has a camera in it. This photo was taken moments after I said, “I wonder what happens when I press this key?” Hubby, suspecting what was about to happen, exclaimed, “Quick, smile! smile! smile!”

In addition to the hard work of smiling for the camera, I started attending a beekeeping class at Codman Farm. The class is taught by Rick Reault, a member of the Middlesex Beekeepers Association and owner of New England Beekeeping Supplies. The first class was an introduction to the different types of honey bees – queen, workers and drones – and their life cycle. I learned that there are different species of honey bees (Italian, Cordovans, Buckfast, Russian, and others). Who knew? I’ve been bit by the beekeeping bug and can hardly wait for the next class!

I’ve just about finished making plans for the ’09 multi-farm Winter CSA – newly christened the Shared Harvest Winter CSA. Shareholders have provided wonderful feedback about the share and many of their ideas and preferences have shaped the ’09 CSA. A new farm, Riverland Farm, will join us this season. Rob and Meghan recently bought their own farm. Visit their website, click on “The Farm” to learn about the farm. I believe they will also be selling their produce at the Winter Fare in Greenfield this weekend. Picadilly Farm will continue to provide their tasty winter produce. (I encourage you to visit the Picadilly web site and take a look at their 2008 annual report. You will see that where you spend your food dollars really does make a difference to family farmers!) Apples from Cider Hill Farm and dried beans from Charlie Baer in Beverly will be included in the share this coming winter. The Winter Shares will be distributed from Busa Farm, which is on the border of Arlington and Lexington. We’re hoping to coordinate with Dennis Busa to make additional winter greens and other local products available during the share pick ups. I’ll put the finishing touches on the ’09 multi-farm winter share in the next week. I’ll send Shared Harvest Winter CSA information to ’08 sharers soon; the shares will be available to the public by March 1.

The other big winter project I’ve been working on is finding farmland. Unfortunately, I’ll not be returning to farm in Belmont this year; the landowners and I were unable to work out a lease agreement. I’m hoping to find 3 to 10 acres of land where I can grow vegetables organically and invest in infrastructure that will support a farm operation that is both financially and physically sustainable. The folks at New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, as well as many friends in the farming community, have been helping me search for land. If you’ve got a few acres in your backyard that are in need of a farmer, let me know!

2008 Multi-Farm Winter Share Summary

In addition to catching up on my reading, cooking and eating lots of winter veggies and generally being lazy, I’ve been counting, summarizing, and tallying winter shareholder survey responses. It’s the first step in planning for the ’09 winter share. I thought some of you might be interested in the data, so here they are.

I’ve taken the data from a number of places: distribution records, shareholder subscription forms and surveys, distribution sign-in lists. Changes and improvements in the share will be partly based on the data and guesses about what the data mean. I’d love to include the tables I’ve made that show how satisfied shareholders were with various aspects of the CSA, as well as the content of the share. Unfortunately, I can’t for the life of me figure out how to transfer that info (now residing in a Word document) to the blog. So, either give me some (easy to follow) tips about posting a table, or send me your email address and I’ll send you the Word doc.

Numbers of shareholders from each town (300 shareholders total)
Arlington (30), Belmont (69), Cambridge (47), Jamaica Plain (13), Newton (17), Somerville (21),Watertown (20)

Allston (4), Bedford (1), Beverly (3), Billerica (1), Boston, (8), Braintree (1), Brighton (2), Brookline (3), Burlington (1), Charlestown (2), Chelsea (1), Concord (2), Dorchester (3), Framingham (5), Harwich (1), Hingham (1), Hyde Park (1), Lexington (5), Lincoln (1), Lynn (1), Malden (1), Marlborough (1), Maynard (1), Medford (7), Melrose (1), Needham (1), Chelmsford (1), Quincy (2), Shrewsbury (1), Stoneham (2), Truro (1), Waltham (8), Wellesley (1), Weston (4), Winchester (3), Winthrop (1)

Involvement in Ride Share program

Sixty-three percent (190/300) shareholders walked, biked, car-pooled, formed driving cooperatives or had their share delivered by a bike delivery service.

First time in a CSA vs. previous CSA experience

35% of 186 survey responders were first time CSA shareholders
65% of survey responders had previous CSA experience

Share splitting

65% of survey responders did not split their share.
35% split their share with at least one other household

Source of information about the share
Percent of the 186 survey responders who learned about the winter CSA from:

25% –, or another internet site

38% – A local farm. Referring farms included, Belmont, Caretaker, Drumlin, Food Project, Gaining Ground, Lands’ Sake, Lindentree, Newton, Picadilly, Revision, Stearns, and Waltham.

15% – friend, colleague, neighbor

Other sources of information about the winter share included community e-mail lists (new moms list, home schooling list, neighborhood and town lists), the Belmont and Winchester, MA Farmers Markets, CSA brochures at Kitchen on Common and Formaggio Kitchen.

Reasons for purchasing a Winter CSA share
Survey respondents identified these factors as “most important” and “important”, when asked their reasons for buying a winter share.

Food dollars supporting family farmers, 97%
Healthy, nutritious food, 96%
Environmental, e.g., minimizing the impact of long-distant food, 93%
Great taste of local produce, 91%
Cost, high quality produce at a fair price, 64%

What would you like MORE of in the winter share? (The most frequently named items are listed.)
Beets (9), carrots (2), celeriac (1), leeks (7), onions (9), parsnips (3), potatoes (12), turnips (5)

Over 50% of shareholders would be pleased with more leafy green vegetables. “The more greens, the better” seems to be the sentiment of most folks. There were also frequent acknowledgments about the difficulty of growing greens in the winter.

The absence of broccoli, Brussels’ sprouts, cauliflower and garlic was noted by a number of shareholders. (The first three crops failed due to disease. Garlic wasn’t planned for this share since no local garlic grower could be identified.)

What would you like LESS of in the winter share? (Again, frequently named items are listed.)
Beets (12), carrots (18), celeriac (22), leeks (2), onions (12), parsnips (9), potatoes (10), turnips (26)

What other local products would you like to see in the share?
The top choices were apples (97%), dried beans (77%) and local honey (69%). Some people expressed concern that adding eggs, cheese, maple syrup would increase the cost of the share.

Comments from shareholders (There were many comments, I’ve selected just a few that are representative.)

Getting the apples in the first share was a very welcome surprise. Although I was initially concerned about how to use all the carrots, we found some great recipes for muffins that turned into a breakfast staple for our family. I had a very tough time with all the beets (and turnips). We’re doing our best to use them, but they’re not especially versatile (although I have found some new ways to sneak the turnips into other dishes, esp. potato-based ones; beets, however, aren’t easy to hide!). Overall, I found this to be such a positive experience, and I look forward to future CSA participation! I was especially impressed with how convenient the ride-share turned out to be (I only had to do one pick-up, as we teamed up with 2 other families and took turns), as well as how quick and efficient the actual pick up at the farm was (like a well-oiled machine!). Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this, I’m left wishing there was a 4th disbursement!

This was my first farm share and overall we were extremely satisfied with it. The variety is understandably limited by New England weather. It would, however, be nice to have a larger variety of winter squashes (more acorn, hubbard, buttercup, etc). We did get a couple different kinds… but squash is one of the great vegetables that store really well. With the large influx of veggies at pick-up, it is nice to have a few you know you can just put aside for a while.

Because the winter share is once per month, foods such as cheese & eggs do not make sense. I get raw milk, pastured eggs, and local raw milk cheddar on a weekly basis via a Jamaica Plain group from a farm in Foxboro, MA. I think the Winter CSA was awesome. I pickled and canned things so that they would not go bad. I washed & packed the greens the first day I got them, wrapping them in damp paper towels in plastic bags – they would last the whole month! I might like to get certain staples that could theoretically last the winter in larger quantities (onions, potatoes, squash) But since I still have a drawer full of potatoes, and 3 or 4 squash in the basement, I’m not really sure if I would need more. Onions & garlic, definitely. Thanks again – it’s been fantastic!

We loved the encouragement to ride share & bike. That is really important to us. We liked all of the food & understand more greens may have been impossible due to the time of year. I just listed cabbage & fennel because they were least popular with our group. My son adored the notion of farm-grown popcorn instead of buying kernels in a bag at the store. I say no for the apples because after apple picking, we have so many every season. It would be great to try some local dairy and honey – it is hard to find out where to buy the local kinds. We could have managed without the banana boxes; just brought our own bags. This was our first winter share, but we had a great time doing the Drumlin Farm share over the summer. We’re all looking forward to next year, best of luck to you all! Thank you for everything, we loved the winter share!!!

Thank you again for growing and organizing. We love our winter CSA and tell everyone about it! And if they are lucky, we feed them from it.

Next Steps
The farmers involved in the winter share have all received full copies of this report, along with even more information (shareholder comments, for example) and my initial recommendations for the ’09 share. In the next few weeks we will work together to figure out what we want the ’09 share to look like. Stay tuned.