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.

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