Thursday, February 28, 2013

Harvesting leeks from the Frozen Ground

Contributed by Stephanie Willette, Assistant Farm Manager

The ground was frozen, but we had promised to donate leeks to the Food Summit’s lunch menu. Leeks are one of the few vegetables that can survive winter outside and even taste good. If you can pry them from the frozen ground, that is. So it was that Nick and I found ourselves armed to the teeth with shovels, gloves, hats, and all manner of sharp tools as we headed out to the leek bed.

It soon became apparent that the ground was not going to relinquish its hold on the leeks, so we decided to take it with us. With our shovels, we chipped around the plants as close as we dared, and dragged them, along with masses of frozen clinging dirt, onto the trailer. Then we drove the whole mess into the garage to thaw.

Another thing about leeks – you’ve never harvested as much as you think you have. In fact, they are one of my least favorite vegetables to clean because the process is so long and you end up with so little. The allium must first be cleaned, then its roots cut off, then peeled, and then rinsed for good measure. Our trailer full became two boxes worth of edible produce as we made our way through the pile.

Since a leek is an allium, it belongs in the same family as garlic and onions and shares similar health benefits. They have high levels of antioxidants and vitamins K and A, and help protect our blood vessel linings from damage. And they’re delicious, too. Ours ended up in a wonderful rice pilaf that was enjoyed by farmers and foodies at the Summit.

The Food Summit, for those who are unfamiliar, is an annual gathering of the Washtenaw County food community to discuss sustainable, local, and healthy food solutions. It’s a chance to exchange ideas and to catch up on what is going on. One exciting development that was discussed at the Summit was MAEP certification and the CSA Coalition. Capella Farm is looking into getting certified and joining the coalition. MAEP is a basic program that helps farmers asses their legal and environmental risks, verifying that we use environmentally friendly practices. The CSA coalition will be the first of its kind in the area.  Its purpose is to link together CSAs so that we may access larger markets such as universities and hospitals, and to define common standards for CSA farms (thus, the MAEP certification). We hope this will strengthen the voices and influence of small, local farms by linking us together.

As for the leeks, there’s still more out there. A second bed awaits harvest. But we are waiting for warmer weather, and for the ground to thaw.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Stephanie's First Day

I am pleased to welcome Stephanie to our team.  She has joined on as our Assistant Farm Manager.  She has agreed to write a monthly article about the farm.  Here's her first entry, from January:

"I had never been to Capella Farm and I must admit that I got lost on the way to my first day of work. After getting myself worked up and nervous – I really wanted to make a good impression and being late was NOT ideal - I decided to pull over and ask for directions. As I walked up to the construction crew working alongside the road, they glanced at me and continued to hammer away until one man finally asked if I needed help. “Capella Farm?” I asked, “Do you know it?” Suddenly he broke into a smile. “Oh yes! Just go down the road until you see the three greenhouses. You can’t miss it!” Luckily for me, Capella Farm is like no other place in the neighborhood.
My new friend wasn’t kidding: the three hoop houses do make an impression. They kind of jump out and surprise you; triplet plastic and metal giants. I was pleased to see them. It meant that I would probably get my hands dirty right away, even though the ground was frozen. Inside the houses, the dirt thaws early in the morning and we can grow, transplant, and harvest all through winter.
As I pulled up, a giant black dog burst out of the house and leapt to greet me. Jennifer came out of the house smiling, holding a pitch fork. I was informed that we were going to harvest parsnips for the CSA pickup. This should be good, I thought, but we didn’t head to the hoop houses as I had expected. Instead we marched into the field where another farmhand, Nick, was already hard at work clearing away the snow. Yes, this did mean that we were about to dig parsnips out of the frozen, snowy ground. Undaunted, Jennifer dug the pitch fork right into the ground and started digging. How, I wondered, are we going to get these out without breaking off the roots? In answer to my question, Jennifer started to pry the parsnips up along the side of the row, pushing them up and out of the dirt rather than pulling them out directly. Another trick she had used to keep the ground from freezing was to cover the bed with hay, which acts like a blanket. Within half an hour, we had enough parsnips for distribution.
We decided to break for lunch. One of the greatest challenges I have found while living on a farm is conjuring a meal out of whatever is growing at the moment. Sometimes, like in the summer, this is fun and easy; so many recipes to choose from. Sometimes, it’s just plain difficult. Nick took some yukina and arugula from the hoop house and tossed the greens in hot olive oil seasoned with garlic and dried chili peppers, preserved from the summer pepper harvest. Not bad for a winter meal.
As I left that afternoon, I watched the hoop houses fade into the distance behind me and decided that, like Capella Farm’s neighbors, I had become a fan of the farm."

- Contributed by Stephanie - Assistant Farm Manager, January, 2013