NOFA Conference – Beyond Borders

This weekend we were busy with the NOFA-VT (Northeast Organic Farmers Association) Annual Winter Conference in Burlington. We were among dozens of exhibitors at the exhibitor fair, and John presented two talks, one on solitary nesting bees with UVM researcher Leif Richardson. The other was entitled Butterflies without Borders; Monarchs, Milkweed, and Mexico.

I was excited to hear that John received the Jack Cook award this year. This NOFA-VT award is given out annually to the member who best embodies the theme of the conference. This year’s theme was “Beyond Borders: Our Role in the Global Food Movement.”

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John with a women’s organic farming group in northern India (2001).

I thought this award particularly apt for John. He’s worked in agriculture in the U.S. and abroad for over 35 years and as an organic farmer for 25 years. He’s worked on farmer-to-farmer programs in Myanmar, India, Guinea, Senegal, Jamaica, and Haiti. He’s led student groups dealing with agriculture and community gardening in Cuba, Mexico and the Dominican Republic (DR). Through our nonprofit Seeds of Self Reliance he’s worked in Haiti and the DR. And last year through University of Vermont agroecology research, he again worked in Haiti. Recently, his off farm work has led him to taking up the task of fighting for the pollinators that are so important for the global ecosystem as well as our food crops. He worked on the Vermont Pollinator Task Force this past year, and traveled to Mexico to meet with farmers working with stingless bees. He also took a pilgrimage to the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuaries in Mexico.

I was quite proud of his award, but felt that maybe they should have included a “Jane Cook Award” for the spouse who stays home and takes care of the farm while the other person gets to gallivant around the world doing good work. Maybe I’ll sneak his award gift when he’s not looking.

Early Agritourism at The Farm Between

I was rummaging around some of my old stuff and came across our agritourism flyers from 1995 (give or take a year – I can’t quite remember). I think we only did it for one summer which is why I still have a boatload of these cards left. John and I designed the flyer and had it printed at a local printers. Twenty-some years later, I think it still came out great. I especially like Nolan with the ear of corn and giant strawberry and tomato. Those were the days when cut and paste really meant cutting and pasting. John and I have been at this for 25 years. It certainly has been an agricultural adventure. And it’s not over yet!cardfrom 1995

cardfrom 1995 other side

This Time of Year

img_3499There’s something about this time of year. When I look at our back fields, I just want to wrap myself in the colors; the fading greens, tans, and earthy browns against the slate-blue mountains and the gray skies. Especially early in the morning when the sun is just coming up over the hills.

When I was younger, I thought November was a letdown after the the bright reds, oranges and yellows of October. November with its bare trees and long-gone birds and insects was just the dreary month before winter.

img_3501-2But something’s changed as I’ve aged. This has become my time. A time to slow down, reflect on the past growing season and plan for the next. A time for writing and making art and appreciating nature’s beautiful transience. My own impermanence too.

Today after taking the dogs for their walk and feeding the horses, I felt compelled to go back out and take some pictures.

I just wanted to hold on to this beautiful season a little while longer.

First Snow of the Season

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Blueberry bushes and elm tree.

I woke up later than usual to snow on the ground. I hadn’t sleep well; I kept incorporating the rain and snow tapping against the windows into my dreams. Even before making my tea, I made a fire in the wood stove, something to ward off the psychological cold of this first snow. Then with my cup of tea in hand, I settled into my emails and facebook and waited for it to get light.

The dogs reminded me that it was time to go. They started bumping my arm, hovering and prancing. I dug out a warm coat, boots, hat and gloves, and we headed out for our morning walk around the pollinator sanctuary. I remembered the horses as we passed the barn so I stopped in to give them some hay. Last night was the first time they’d been in at night since last spring. In the summer, we have them in the barn during the day to give them a break from the flies and out at night. In the cold weather we do the opposite. They were happy to see me or at least, happy to see the hay.

The snow made a rhythmic cha cha sound as I walked the path. The neighbor’s rooster crowed, and the dogs and I stopped to listen for a moment. Scout went back to hunting voles. Honey trudged behind me.  As we rounded the back of the pollinator sanctuary, a flock of blackbirds flew out of the woods toward the river. I stopped to watch the black patterns against the gray sky then continued on. The leaves still hanging onto the trees and bushes stood out in the white landscape. I felt a quiet reflection descend, and  I thought about an article I’d read that morning. A young man was thanking all the nurses and doctors who helped his wife (and him) when she was dying. It was sad and beautiful at the same time.

Like the passing of another year.

– Nancy Hayden, October 23, 2016

 

Ahh, Rhubarb!

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Picking rhubarb and enjoying the subtle sweet smell of the American Plum behind me.

That succulent harbinger of spring. It’s a great time to plant some if you don’t already have it, and we still have plenty of plants for sale at our nursery. At this time of year, our fruit nursery is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 9 to 5. After Father’s Day weekend, we’ll cut back to Sundays only. It’s been exciting to talk with so many people interested in growing their own fruit. Growing our own food is a great way to heal ourselves and the earth.

Rhubarb is easy to grow. You need a well-drained soil with full sun. It likes good fertility and no weeds, so add some nice compost once a year and keep the grass away. You can use cardboard with woodchips on top to help keep the weeds down, but invariably you’ll probably need some down-on-your-knees-type weeding too. The leaves are poisonous so don’t eat them. Stories abound on the internet that relate how during WWI the British government told civilians to eat rhubarb leaves because there was a shortage of leafy greens for people to eat. Many people died as a result. I’m not sure if this is actually true because the leaves are quite sour and bitter, and you need to eat a fair amount, but for malnourished and hungry people, it might not take that many leaves. Anyway, the point is don’t eat the leaves. And don’t listen to the government when it comes to eating healthy!

We just harvested 150 pounds for the Intervale Food Hub. The broken pieces that didn’t quite make quality control ended up as a rhubarb sauce that we enjoyed over our waffles. Delicious! Rhubarb sauce was also one of my mom’s favorites. It goes great on vanilla ice cream. (What doesn’t?) To make the sauce, wash and cut up the rhubarb. Put it in a saucepan with a little bit of water at the bottom to prevent sticking. Simmer until mushy and then add sugar, honey, or maple syrup to taste. Enjoy it warm or cold.

Freezing Rhubarb is really easy. I wash and drain it well, and then cut the rhubarb into pieces. Freeze in a freezer bag or plastic freezer containers. You can place it all on a cookie sheet first and then into the bags, but I find the cookie sheet method an extra step that I really don’t have time for. Use the frozen rhubarb in the winter just like you would use fresh rhubarb except allow a little more time in your baking and cooking to account for thawing.

Some of our rhubarb favorites are rhubarb pie, muffins and  bars. You can also mix in other fruit like strawberries, blueberries or raspberries to change up the flavor. Raspberry-rhubarb mixture is called Ambrosia by the Scandinavians. I’ve included some recipes below. I don’t cook with wheat flour anymore. I use mostly organic buckwheat flour which is hardy, nutritious and gluten free. All of the following recipes work well with buckwheat. The tart rhubarb flavor with the added sugar nicely compliments the sweet nutty buckwheat flavor. The only drawback is that buckwheat doesn’t roll out as well for pies, but it’s doable.

Rhubarb Bars  (Serves 8)

  • Cream 6 Tbs. Butter with ¼ C sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Add 1 C flour and mix to make a dough.
  • Pat dough into bottom of greased 8×8 pan.
  • Bake 350oF for 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile mix ¾ C rhubarb sauce (~2 C chopped rhubarb cooked down to mush = ¾ C rhubarb sauce), ½ teas. lemon juice, 2 Tbs. tapioca flour and ½ C sugar, ¼ teas baking powder, 2eggs.
  • Pour rhubarb over baked dough layer.
  • Bake in over 350oF for 25-30 min. Be careful not to burn crust.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie (Serves 8 except in our house where it serves 2)

  • Make two pie crusts (2/3 C solid fat at room temperature (Shortening, butter, coconut oil, lard or some combination), 2 C flour, mix with pastry cutter until all dry flour is mixed in. Add 5 Tbs cold water and mix gently with a fork. Form two balls for rolling out on floured board, one for bottom, one for the top.)
  • Filling (Mix about 3 C chopped washed rhubarb into 1” pieces, 2 C strawberries, 1 C sugar, ½ C flour, 1 Tbs quick-cooking tapioca, 2 Tbs orange juice or water.)
  • Turn filling into pie shell. Cover with top pastry.
  • Bake 450 oF for 15 minutes; reduce oven to 350 oF and bake for 25-30 min more. Let cool and serve plain or with whipped cream.
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Rhubarb muffins with 2 C buckwheat flour and 1/4 C coconut flour. Delicious.

Rhubarb Muffins

  • Grease 2 muffin tins and preheat oven to 350 oF
  • In large bowl, put 1 C Brown sugar and 1/4 C white sugar and 2/3 C liquid oil or butter.
  • Cream sugar until smooth. Add one egg and one cup milk and mix well.
  • Add 1 teas baking soda, 1 teas vanilla. Mix.
  • Add 2 and ½ C flour (or flour blend – depending on the flour type you may have to slightly reduce amount so muffins are not too dry), 2 C  rhubarb chopped fine (½  C raisin or ½ cup nuts or 2 Tbsp chia seeds).
  • Fill to about 2/3 in the muffin tins. Bake 350oF for about 20 min.

Enjoy the taste of spring!

 

The End of Apple Season

DS4A0222 (2)Or is it?

Back in October when the temperatures dipped into the low 20s for a few nights, I wrote that apple season was now over. It was a great season! I didn’t have much to add so I never posted my entry. At that time, we still had a couple more cider pressings from apples that we harvested before the frosts, so apple season didn’t seem quite over. I figured I’d resurrect my blog entry and post it after we pressed the cider which we froze to later sell as hot cider at the Burlington Winter Market.

IMG_2472But then I still had some apple butter to make. I’d never made it before so I figured I’d wait to post until after that. That way I could talk about the delicious apple butter I made and show a great picture of the final product. Well, the apple butter didn’t come out that good so I never did take a picture. By that time, the beginning of November, we began planting twenty more apple trees in our orchard in the pollinator sanctuary.  I figured once we put the fencing on the trees to keep the deer from nibbling them that would be the end of the season and a good time to post.

But then last week John and I went to the orchard in South Burlington. John’s been helping manage the orchard so we cut down some of the dead apple trees.  Now it truly is the end of apple season.

Only we still need to put away the potted apple trees from the nursery and order more root stock and scion wood to graft new apple trees this winter. And before we know it, it will be February and John will be pruning apple trees again. In April we’ll be potting up apple trees we planted a couple years ago for the nursery and in May the apple orchards will be in bloom and…

So maybe it’s not the end of the season after all, just one stop in the apple cycle.

 

 

Fall Raspberries

IMG_2124One of my favorite times on the farm begins around mid-August. That’s when our fall raspberries start ripening up. First, it’s just a few here or there, and I have to look really hard. Then I can find a handful or two, and pretty soon I’m picking quarts for freezing or dozens of half pints for market.

Not only are raspberries delicious, but new studies are showing just how good they are for us. Raspberry phytonutrients are proving to have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and even anti-obesity properties. Unfortunately, the raspberries in the supermarkets are often treated with fungicides to prevent mold. That on top of a variety of pesticide sprays they use while they’re growing, so it’s definitely best to buy organic or grow your own. They’re easy to grow and quite prolific if they have a sunny spot with well-drained soil.

We grow fall-bearing (also called ever-bearing) raspberries in unheated greenhouses. These bring on the berries a little earlier, keep the rain off which reduces mold , and allow us to close the sides to protect from early frost. They heat up quickly especially in the weather we’ve been having the past few weeks, so I start picking early in the morning, take a mid day break, and finish late afternoon.

raspberryand bumblebee

Bumblebee at work.

Unlike John’s beautiful straight rows of cherry tomatoes, also grown in the greenhouses, the raspberries are a jumbled mass of canes. With cut-down milk containers tied to my waist for holding the berries, I walk slowly down the rows gently lifting the canes, careful not to break them, and look for berries. I go slowly so I don’t miss any. Our picking strategy is to pick the bushes clean of all ripe berries. This helps prevent buildup of mold and insect pests.

I also move slowly because the greenhouse is often filled with bumblebees and honeybees that are pollinating the raspberry flowers. I don’t want to disturb their good work. There might also be a few wasps coming in for a drink of nectar. A couple of years ago, I made a quick grab for a berry only to catch a wasp unaware. It didn’t like my finger so it gave me a quick sting. It felt just like what is was – a long thin needle going through the tip of my finger. Ouch! No more surprises for the insects or me, so I move slowly, I pick mindfully and enjoy the quiet solitude (and occasional berry) of picking raspberries.

 

Goldenrod

goldenrod 001Everyday for the past few weeks, I’ve been marveling at the goldenrod as more and more comes into bloom in the bluevervainpollinator sanctuary. The bright yellow against the blue summer sky is such a beautiful sight. Or the purplish blue vervain against the goldenrod with a blurry dragonfly in the background. You can’t beat that.

Except maybe close up as I watch dozens of honeybees, bumblebees, other native bees, beetles and flies work the flowers. What a super bee plant!

goldenrodhoneybeeI remember meeting a Maryland beekeeper at the American Beekeeping Federation Conference that was in Vermont a few years ago. What he wouldn’t do for a field of goldenrod back home, he’d said. Vermont beekeepers appreciate their goldenrod and so should anyone who likes Vermont honey.

I know there are some people who look at a goldenrod-filled meadow and say that’s a pasture gone bad. And if you’re grazing animals, that may be true. But for those who aren’t grazing animals and still mow just to keep green grass, they are creating ecological deserts. It’s a shame really. We need these flower-filled meadows not just for the honeybees but for the 300 species of native bees that depend on flowers for nectar and pollen throughout the growing season.

dying 002Yesterday during my morning dog walk, I had other things on my mind. I was foraging goldenrod flower heads for dying wool. I filled a pot of boiling water with the flowers and simmered them for about an hour. woolcroppedI strained off the flowers and plopped in some alum-mordanted wool. It soaked up the bright yellow dye quickly. The picture doesn’t do the color justice – it’s a clear bright yellow. The purple wool in the photo is dyed with spent black currants after John made a batch of black currant syrup. I was pretty pleased with the lavender color. It’s reminiscent of the blue vervain against the yellow goldenrod.

Summer of the Dragonfly

dragonflyThis summer I’ve been noticing different dragonflies darting around in the pollinator sanctuary and nearby meadows and woods. I’m not sure if there really are more or if I’m just paying more attention this year because John bought a Princeton Field Guide – Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East by Dennis Paulson and designated me the dragonfly lady. Or did he mean dragon lady?

Ever since sixth grade when I learned that the adult dragonflies eat mosquitoes as one of their main food sources, I’ve looked fondly upon these fast flyers. I’ve imagined having pet dragonflies on strings that fly around my head gobbling up all those pesky mosquitoes. Wouldn’t that be awesome? It’s been a good summer for mosquitoes too. Perhaps that’s another reason I’m seeing more dragonflies.

summer2013 006Today we hiked up a nearby hill that overlooks the Lamoille Valley. Hot and steamy even at 8 in the morning. We came across a small red dragonfly near the top and tried to get some markings from it while it waited on a rock – nothing on the wings and all red on the abdomen. I looked it up later. I think it was a male Autumn Meadowhawk. What a great name for a dragonfly – Meadowhawk.

Photo by Terry Thomlin

Photo credit: Terry Thormin

Further down the trail we came upon a dragonfly with a white abdomen. When it rested on the tall grass we were able to see the marking on its wings. I had been looking up a related species the day before so I was pretty sure it was a male Common Whitetail. The female doesn’t have the white abdomen and has different wing markings.

Photo credit: azdragonfly.org

Photo credit: azdragonfly.org

 

Adult dragonflies are agile and fast fliers – good for catching insects on the wing. But as fast as they are, they get eaten too, by birds like swifts, merlins, kestrels, and other birds. Dragonflies spend their immature stages underwater where they prey on insects and even fish. Loss of wetlands worldwide and rainforest in the tropics have resulted in declining populations of these amazing insects. I’m so lucky to live in Vermont where we still have woods and wetlands and whitetails.

Black Currants and More

currants 004This week it’s been a crazy mad dash to get the black currants picked. We’ve had some pickers from the UVM Farmer Trainee Program, kids and counselors from Laraway School and the DREAM summer camp, 4-H kids, Sterling College students and Sam, our hired hand, as well as a local farmer. Plus, John and I have been picking every day too. Last year we harvested about 650 pounds, and we’re hoping for more this year. Most of it goes for our own use in our organic black currant syrup and to Boyden Valley Winery for their Cassis, a black currant dessert wine. The rest goes to a variety of smaller wholesale accounts and retail at the Burlington Farmers Market.

farm 007My favorite part of picking is popping a big ripe juicy berry into my mouth and savoring its sweet tangy taste. And then finding another and doing the same. I know I’m getting healthy doses of vitamin C, vitamin A, some of the B vitamins, and essential minerals as well as anti-oxidants like beta-carotene, zea-xanthin and cryptoxanthin and anti-cancer anti-aging compounds like anthocyanins with every berry. Food really is the medicine. I hope more people start growing these berries so they can enjoy these super healthy treats. By the way, we still have plenty of plants for sale in our fruit nursery which is now open Sundays, 9-5.

currants 003This year it seems like all the berries are coming on at the same time, so the harvesting has been condensed into less than two weeks. We’ll have fresh black and red currants and gooseberries to sell this Saturday at the Farmers Market but by the beginning of next week they should be all picked and packed in our freezer or sold. I’ll miss eating these  summer fruits fresh from the bush, but I’ll finally be able to close my eyes at night and not see black currants.