Friday, April 17, 2015

Reaping the Harvest of Community Support

Some of you might have noticed products from Wintergreen Foods available for sale this past fall and early winter.

Like these ready to eat carrots.

Or these vending machine snacks.
If you missed them, no worries. You'll see plenty more products from Wintergreen Foods on the store shelves this coming season. Last fall was just the beginning.

We started with a soft launch of a few products, most notably Crinkle Cut Carrots, Coleslaw Mix, and Fruit and Flax Leathers, to figure out the logistics of this new aspect of our business and determine the smartest way to proceed. This year we'll increase production of the three products we began selling last year (Expect to see Fruit and Flax Leathers available year round starting this September!) and launch a few new ones, including Baby Greens, the first round of which is already growing in the hoophouse.

The baby arugula looks like this right now.
It has been just over a year and a half since we (made what some have described as a crazy decision and..) purchased an old restaurant and began the process of turning it into a produce processing facility. We're thrilled to be over the initial logistics hump and ready to expand our product availability, but we still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do before we achieve the objectives that led us to take on this (crazy?) project.

As produce farmers, we do not wish for the fruits of our labors to become luxury items. We grow good food that everyone should eat more of. At the same time, we do wish for ourselves and our food growing colleagues to earn a living wage for our hard work. At first glance these two objectives, affordable healthy food and better pay for farmers, might seem to be in opposition, but we don't think they are.

We think that businesses such as Wintergreen Foods, businesses which aim to pool the fruits of regional agricultural production and provide an avenue for growers to share resources when it comes to marketing products, are the key to making a greater variety of affordable healthy foods available to everyone and get consistently higher pay for farmers.

And we are by no means the only folks who think so. It seems that even John Cougar Mellancamp agrees with us. 

But what does all of this produce processing and wholesaling mean for Wintergreen Farm? Will anything change for our market customers and, most importantly, our CSA members--who have supported us from the beginning and are a major factor in the success we have enjoyed thus far as farmers in the Upper Peninsula?

The answer is mostly no.

But before I get to the small things that have and will change on the direct sale side of our business, I'd like to make something clear. We are eternally indebted to the core group of CSA members that has grown with us as we have built Wintergreen Farm. We could not be farmers without you and we never could have undertaken the somewhat lofty project that is Wintergreen Foods without your support.

The major changes that Wintergreen Foods will bring to our CSA program have already taken place. Last year we added a winter share option, something that was only possible because of the cold storage space at Wintergreen Foods, and this year we've seriously streamlined our CSA pick-up locations so that all of our CSA distribution will take place on one day each week. As Wintergreen Foods product distribution expands in the next few years, Wintergreen Farm CSA members are likely to see more changes similar to the changes that have already occurred: more CSA season options (we're toying with the idea of an early spring share) and more streamlining of CSA distributions.

With those small changes, in the forseeable future we will continue serving our CSA members as we have since 2008, and we humbly hope that our members will continue to appreciate and support our efforts as farmers so that we can bring healthy food to not only them, but the region as a whole.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Week 8: Forgotten Alliums

Check out all this garlic we left to dry in a dark corner of our bar/barn last September! We completely forgot it was there. Now members get to eat it.

My camera can take spooky night vision pictures.
The winter radishes that showed up in the last share were intentionally held back to add some variety to the later winter shares, but holding back the garlic (and a few onions!) that will be included in the eighth and final share this week was entirely unintentional. Our allium harvest was more than a little disappointing this year, but we harvested what we could when the time came and set it all out to cure. Like the good optimists that we are, we then proceeded to harvest our more successful crops (like winter squash, carrots, rutabaga, cabbage...) and tried to put our failures out of our minds. Apparently we succeeded.

Along with the garlic and onions members will receive the following this week: Cabbage, Rutabaga, Onions, Carrots, Dry Beans, Fresh Rosemary, and Winter Squash.

The winter squash will be nutty delica and/or eastern rise. Both are kobocha or Japanese Pumpkin type squash with dense, sweet, relatively dry flesh. Both are good simply baked and eaten with a bit of butter, but they also lend themselves to more interesting preparations. Like Kabocha no Nimono or Kabocha Salad.

The majority of the dry beans that go out this week will be a type called Hutterite Soup Beans. These beans have a lovely smooth, almost waxy texture and a not-too-strong beany flavor. I like them in a very simple soup. Combine the soaked beans (I like to quick soak beans), some water or stock, dried greens (if you haven't used all of the dried greens you got in the 7th share, use 'em now), onion and a bit of chopped rutabaga or cabbage and simmer everything together until the beans are tender. Add salt at the end because cooking beans in salted water tends to make them tough. A bit of rosemary would be a lovely addition here.

I am sure that more than a few of you have a back log of rutabaga eyeing you in your fridge. I confess that, at times, I too am daunted by the baga. However, Scott has found a simple solution. About a week ago he picked up a rutabaga, washed and trimmed it, then slow roasted it whole in the oven. The result was a rutabaga with the texture of a baked sweet potato and a lot of delicious flavor. A few folks have asked me about recipes that hide the rutabaga flavor, this isn't one, but it does transform the flavor into something seriously yummy.

Slow Roasted Rutabaga with Maple Syrup

This recipe, with its maple syrupy goodness, is sweet and appealing. However, this is not the only way to use slow roasted rutabaga. Get creative!
  • One whole rutabaga, washed and trimmed but not peeled
  • Two Tablespoons butter
  • One Tablespoon maple syrup
  • A pinch ground nutmeg
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

Place your whole, trimmed rutabaga directly on your oven rack and roast until tender, about two hours.

When done, the skin will be crisp and pulled away from the flesh,
which will have turned somewhat golden.
Let the rutabaga cool off a bit. In the meantime, melt the butter and maple syrup in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir in salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste.

Once it is cool enough to handle, pull the peel away from the flesh of the rutabaga and cut the flesh into thick slices.

Arrange the slices on a large plate and drizzle the maple butter over them.

Like this.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Roasted Cabbage and Michael Phillips

Scott got to meet one of his farmer-heros yesterday, at the Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference. His name is Michael Phillips. He is an apple grower and he really is an inspiration.

We've had his book "The Apple Grower" for several years now. It's dense with information and real life farm experience. Scott purchased his more recent book "The Holistic Orchard" at the conference and got him to sign it.

Before I geek out farmer style too much, I'll throw up a link to his website (also the website of his wife, Nancy Phillips, a super awesome lady in her own right) and move on to the share description.

Here is the link to learn more about Michael and Nancy Phillips.

As for the share, it will include the following: Carrots, Rutabaga, Cabbage, Uncle Dave's Dakota Squash, Honey Bear Squash, Winter Radishes, and Dried Greens.

I thought very seriously about skipping the cabbage this week, especially because week six was rescheduled and I know that more than a few members are feeling buried in cabbage. I decided not to for a couple reasons. First, there is only one leafy green vegetable (at least only one that I know of--let me know if I've missed something) that can be boxed up in November, put in cold storage, and pulled out two and a half months later just as crisp and delicious as it was when it was packed up. That rocks. It needs to be embraced. It deserves to show up every week in the winter share. Also, I became part of a "What should we do with all this cabbage?" conversation with a couple members last week in which one of them mentioned that he likes to roast his cabbage much the way I roast Brussels sprouts. Why didn't I think of that? I had to run with it. (I did, you'll see the results below.)

Other, less leafy, things are gracious keepers as well. The winter radishes that will show up in the shares this week are mostly purple daikon. Our winter radish harvest was a little smaller than we'd hoped this fall. They mostly drowned in all the late summer rains. Those that didn't drown were devoured by deer. Who knew? At least that was our only major deer loss this year. Anyway, we knew they would keep well so we hung on to a box of them to provide a little variety for the later winter shares. They are still sweet and hot. If you aren't sure what to do with them, check out this apple radish slaw recipe from 2013. If you don't like the heat they're also great cooked, which mellows them. Roasted, sauteed or braised with other root vegetables are good ways to go.

And, of course, a good way to keep green leafy things usable in the winter months is to dry them (did you see how I tied that all together there?). Members will receive a small package of dried mixed greens (mostly kale and chard) this week. They're not seasoned in any way, so they can be used in all sorts of recipes. I like to toss dried greens into scrambled eggs, spaghetti sauce, cheesy grits, or soup.

Which leaves me back at cabbage. Last week I suggested stuffed cabbage, which I hope you agree was a pretty yummy idea. It is also pretty time consuming. Roasting cabbage is definitely not time consuming.

Roasted Cabbage
  • 1 medium head cabbage, cored and cut into wedges
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar (this is optional)
  • sea salt
  • pepper
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees

You probably noticed that I didn't include any quantities in the ingredient list. This is more of a drizzle and sprinkle kind of recipe. Exact quantities are not that important here.

Spread your cabbage chunks on a baking sheet and drizzle on olive oil and balsamic vinegar (if you want to use the vinegar) you need just enough olive oil to coat the cabbage. Sprinkle on some salt and pepper, then stir to make sure that everything is more or less evenly coating the cabbage.

Mine looked like this right before I put it in the oven.
Roast for 15 minutes, stirring the cabbage about halfway through. 

If you follow my directions you will have cabbage that is still crisp, cooked just enough to bring out it's sweetness and give it a roasty flavor.

It will look like this when it's done.
If you would like a more thoroughly cooked roasted cabbage, reduce the oven temperature to 350 and roast for 25 to 30 minutes.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Week 6: Problems Solved--Thanks to Patience from our Members

Thank you thank you, gracious members, for allowing us a week to solve our winter storm problems.

When we checked in on things (by things, I mean the building where we store all the winter share produce and do all of the processing work for Wintergreen Foods) last Saturday we found a flooded basement and power outages.

The burst pipe was easy to find. Scott found it right away and redid some of the plumbing so that it will never be an issue again. He rocks. But the electrical issue was harder to track down. It seemed logical that the well pump and sump pump overloaded a breaker, but there were no tripped breakers. Flooded wires would have resulted in a tripped breaker too. It was perplexing.

It took a bit of sleuthing but Scott finally found the problem. The wind took out one of our power lines. It was kind of a duh moment when he figured it out because a downed line is an obvious thing to look for when the power is out, but we just weren't looking for two separate problems.

In the end, it was the best thing that could have happened. The power must have gone out pretty close to the time that the pipe burst, stopping the well pump and limiting the amount of water in the basement. We also got by with reasonably cheap repairs, since the lines are the power company's responsibility.

Thanks again to the members for giving us the time to work all that out. 

Now that you know what we've been up to this week, I'll get on with the share description.

For week 6 members will receive: Carrots, Potatoes, Rutabaga, Cabbage, Dried Onion OR Dried Tomatoes, and a Choice of Squash.

Members have probably become pretty familiar with these items. The winter gets a little routine. Some may be excited to know that we have pretty much gotten through all of the giant cabbage, most of the cabbage we distribute this week will be under 4 lbs. Also, this is the last week for potatoes. 

The squash are going to vary this week. The plan was to give everyone a long pie pumpkin in week six.

They make good pie and good ears.
They grew really well for us, and, once pureed, they bake into fabulous pies. However, they did not keep well for us. This is the first year we've grown them and our storage conditions have been colder than ideal for squash. We will give them another chance in 2015, but this year only about 12 made it into January. So, 12 members will get a long pie pumpkin. The rest of the members will have a choice of some "odds and ends" squash that have kept well for us including some sweet dumplings, hooligans, and delicata.

I know that some of you are getting tired with the delightful winter staple that is cabbage. Have you stuffed any yet? It makes the cabbage much more exciting.

You can make this recipe vegetarian by substituting cooked lentils for the beef. 

Wintergreen Style Stuffed Cabbage
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin
  • 1 head cabbage, cored but otherwise whole
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 ounce dried tomato, broken/chopped into small pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • red pepper flakes to taste
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 16 ounce can crushed tomatoes
Prepare one cup brown rice according to the package instructions. Add the salt and whole cumin at the beginning of the cooking time.

Like this.
Bring a large (large enough to contain your cabbage) pot of well salted water to boil. Once the water is boiling, cook the cabbage head for about 3 minutes, or until the cabbage is slightly tender. Set the cabbage aside to cool.

Heat 1/2 tablespoon butter in a small saute pan. Saute the garlic, onion, dried tomato, cinnamon, and red pepper flakes in the butter until the onion is just beginning to turn translucent.

It will look like this.
When the cabbage is cool, peel about twelve leaves off and remove the thick midribs of each leaf. Chop remaining cabbage and place in into the bottom of a large baking dish with a lid, like a dutch oven or a deep casserole dish.

The inner leaves get tricky, but broken leaves taste just as
good as whole leaves.
Once the rice is cooked and cool enough to touch, combine the still raw ground beef, cooked onion mixture, and cooked rice. Place about a half a cup of the beef and rice mixture into each cabbage leaf.

Then fold the leaf around the filling.

Like this.
The cook books all have fancy methods to use for folding the cabbage leaves around the filling, but I don't think it really matters. It will all cook up just fine.

Place each cabbage roll in the baking dish that already contains chopped cabbage. I ended up with two layers of cabbage rolls over a giant mound of chopped cabbage, but I used one of the mammoth cabbages. Once you have made all the cabbage rolls pour crushed tomatoes over the top of them.

Like this :)
 Bake, covered,  in a 350 degree oven for one hour. I had to bake mine uncovered for the first 15 minutes because the dish was too full for the lid to fit on (the cabbage on the bottom softened after 15 minutes and I could get the lid on).

Even the lumpiest rolls were delicious.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Deer Rammers Pie (I promise that isn't as weird as it sounds)

Another slow news week on the farming front. Though we do have an excellent reason.

CHRISTMAS, of course :)

This year's tree, pre cutting.
As you can see, we're big Charlie Brown fans.
This year's Christmas highlights included:

A ukelele,
a hatchet,
and this masterpiece. 
Also this delicious use for leftover mashed potatoes.
 It featured many of the goodies that are included
in this week's share.
The share will include carrots, potatoes, kohlrabi, sweet mama winter squash, cabbage, rutabaga, and dry beans.

The kohlrabi has (like everything in the share) been in storage since November. The outside looks a bit shriveled, but the inside is still good enough to enjoy raw with a sprinkle of salt and lime juice.

Sweet mama squash is the first of the real keeper squash to show up in the shares this winter. This one doesn't reach its most delicious until it has been in storage for a few months. Which means now. Sweet mama is dense and sweet, a good squash to cube and cook in a soup, stew, or casserole. 

The dry beans are finally making an appearance this week! Most members will receive marfax, which are a baking bean. You don't need to bake them, but the beans have the familiar flavor of baking type beans. I like to cook them on the stove (after soaking) with a maple syrup and chopped carrots. They have the sweetness of baked beans without the fuss. If you have a bit of bacon to brown in the pan before you cook them (and then crumble on top when the beans are done) so much the better.

Now it's time to explain the title of the post. You know shepherds pie, made with lamb? The recipe for this week is basically a shepherds pie, except that it is made with venison. Normally that would be called a hunters pie or simply a shepherds pie by people who don't feel the need to rename a recipe just because they changed the type of meat in it (those people are crazy). However, our freezer is full of venison that we accidentally hunted, with our van, which is a Dodge Ram. So this pie is a deer rammers pie. And now you know.

Of course, you can use whatever meat you'd like to in this recipe. Just be sure to rename it accordingly. 

Deer Rammers Pie

  • About 3 cups leftover mashed potatoes (we always put cream cheese in our mashed potatoes--you should try it)
  • olive oil
  • 1 pound ground venison or other meat of your choosing
  • 1 onion, diced
  • Two cups root vegetables such as carrots, rutabaga, or kohlrabi, chopped into bite size pieces
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat a little bit of olive oil in a cast iron skillet (or other over proof skillet) over low/medium heat.

Add the onion, ground meat, and root vegetables. Cook, stirring frequently, until the meat is just browned. 
Don't eat it yet. It gets better.
Add salt, pepper and flour and stir well. Stir in the milk and cook, stirring constantly, until the milk and flour have taken on a creamy consistancy. You won't see a lot of liquid in the pan, but it should look deliciously oozy throughout. If it doesn't, stir in another tablespoon or so of milk.

Remove the skillet from the heat and spread the still cold mashed potatoes over the top of the meat, like you're frosting a layer cake.

Bake at 350 degrees for thirty minutes. Broil for an additional five minutes (or so--always watch closely when you are broiling to avoid burning) for a golden brown crust.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Merry Christmas Brownies...with Beets

Hey Look, it's May!
Just kidding, I know it's December. It's usually way snowier than this in May.

We do have some baby spring greens going into the shares this week though, so I think I can be forgiven for my confusion over the season :)

The greens are microgreens. They are similar to sprouts, but more mature. Also, they're grown on a substrate (like soil, in this case we used a fiber grow mat and fertilized them with liquid kelp) and harvested. They do not include the roots like sprouts do. You may have noticed some photos of them scroll by you on our Facebook page earlier this week.

Here they are again.

Microgreens are new for us, we've been experimenting with them this year and, though we definitely have some greens to give to our members, we still have several questions to answer. For example, we aren't sure at all how much greens we'll end up with when we harvest them tomorrow, which is why some members will be taking home fresh rosemary with their share on Tuesday instead of microgreens.

In addition to the microgreens or rosemary, members will receive the following: Rutabaga, Onions, Carrots, Potatoes, Butternut Squash, Cabbage, Leeks and Beets.

And, I'm re-sharing one of our favorite Christmas cookie recipes. I originally posted this way back in 2010, but Scott said it's too good not to re-post for winter share members. Hope you like it!

Beet Brownies

The baking time will vary for these brownies. It seems to depend on the moisture content of the beets. The most important thing is not to over bake them. They go from perfect to burnt in a flash. So start checking at 25 minutes and check every five minutes or so until they are done.

Preheat the oven to 350 F

Butter and flour a 9x13 inch pan
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 - 3 medium beets
  • 1 cup walnut halves (optional)
  • 1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips (optional)

This is how your diced beets should look.
  1. Dice the beets very small. They should be about the size of chocolate chips. I don't peel mine, but you can if you prefer. Do it by hand because a food processor makes the beets too juicy and changes the texture of the brownies. 
  2. Combine the butter, honey, cocoa powder, and cinnamon in a saucepan large enough to contain all of the ingredients. Place it over low heat.
  3. Stir occasionally until the butter has melted and it looks like chocolate sauce.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sugar and salt.
  5. Incorporate the eggs, one at a time.
  6. Add the flour. Stir just until the ingredients are combined.
  7. Fold in the diced beets, and the walnuts and chocolate if using
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared dish and bake at 350 F for 25 (or more - see header) minutes.
  9. The brownies are done when the surface is golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out with crumbs stuck to it, rather than wet with batter.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Winter CSA Flies By

So far, from the farmer perspective, we are finding the Winter CSA to be pretty low key. The vegetables are doing nicely in storage. Just hanging out and waiting for us to pack them up and bring them to the members. The stress of wondering what the weather will do to us is over for the season and now we get to sit back and share the fruits of our labors.

Hopefully the members are enjoying things as much as we are :)

This week's fruits include the following: Brussels Sprouts, Onions, 5 lbs Carrots, 4 lbs Potatoes, Spaghetti Squash, 2 Honey Bear Acorn Squash and Dried Tomatoes.

This will be the last of the spaghetti squash and Brussels sprouts until next fall, so you should probably savor them. To help you with that task I have come up with a spaghetti squash twist on one of my old standby recipes. (Sesame Noodles is the twisted recipe, if you are wondering)

Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I think it may be the best spaghetti squash recipe in the entire world.

I have a little spaghetti squash aside to get out of the way before I get to the recipe. I've been trying to determine whether I like roasting spaghetti squash whole or halved better. For this particular recipe, I went with whole. I made that choice for two reasons. 1. The internet would have me believe that roasting whole leads to longer, more noodle like squash strands and this recipe is one of those rare occasions in which I'm using spaghetti squash as a noodle stand in. 2. This recipe is meant to be made with cold spaghetti squash, and it seemed easier to stick a whole baked squash in the fridge than two halves.

I very carefully considered these two potential advantages when cooking this squash dish today, because I wanted to answer this question once and for all. (And because I don't have much stuff to carefully consider during the winter.)

I came to the conclusion that I prefer to halve the squash. The whole squash was much wetter than halved squash tends to be and I'm not really sure that the strands were of a noticeably different length. It was probably easier to stick into the fridge after cooking than two halves would have been, but it was a bother to separate the seeds from the good stuff which kind of balanced that out.

It's interesting to peel a whole baked spaghetti squash and it starts out promisingly tidy.
But once you start taking the innards out it turns into a smush of seeds and strands and messy fingers.
I don't care for messy fingers.

Now that that's settled. Here's the recipe.

Sesame Spaghetti Squash
  • 1 spaghetti squash, baked until soft and cooled
  • 2 carrots, peeled into long noodle like strips or shredded
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons peanut oil
  • 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon rice wine vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar, or other sweetener of your choosing
Combine the spaghetti squash strands and carrot in a serving bowl and set aside.

Stir together the remaining ingredients with a fork until well combined. Pour the resulting sauce over the squash and carrots and stir to coat.

Then devour it. We ate all of ours up while we waited for the steelhead to
finish baking in the oven. It was really really good.