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I can remember back to a time that I just didn’t get the appeal of fennel. This course, stringy, strongly scented vegetable didn’t seem worth the trouble to cook. But now I can honestly say that it is among my very favorite vegetables. I fully realize that there are many of our CSA members who still don’t “get” fennel, and if you are among these, you simply must try Jeanne’s recipe for roast fennel and onions.

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kale-lacinato

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Kale is a type of cabbage that does not form a head from the central leaves.We grow three varieties of kale, green curly leaf or Scotch kale, Lacinato or Dinosaur kale, and Red Russian kale.  Kale is high in beta carotene, vitamin K and vitamin C and calcium.

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kohlrabiKohlrabi is an odd vegetable that I think is often bought more for appearance than for the desire to eat it. Looking like something from a science-fiction movie, they come in lovely deep purple or jade green, and the leaves come up from all over what seems to be the root.

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Lettuce Rows

Lettuce Rows

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Lettuces grow exceptionally well here at our home farm near the coast. They love the cool foggy summer weather. We grow Red Leaf, Green Leaf, Butter Lettuces, Little Gem, and Romaine varieties and offer a mix of baby salad greens in our early spring boxes.

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Think of how often a dish starts with a sauté of onions, carrots, and celery. In Italy this combination is called soffritto. In France it is cooked with butter and called mirepoix, but for general purposes I like it cooked with a light flavored olive oil or even grapeseed oil, which is neutrally flavored, so I call it by the Italian name. I like to make this in larger batches, removing some when it is still pale, or blond, then cooking the remaining amount until it is a darker shade of amber, giving it a caramelized flavor. I sometimes even let some go until it is quite dark, like tobacco, for a very deep flavor. I then freeze it in batches. I use large zip bags and flatten out the soffritto in the bags, making it easier to stack and easier to simply break off the amount I wish to use. Some people freeze it in ice trays as you might pesto. However you store it, having this in the freezer is like having a time machine. It can make having good tasting food on the table much quicker, or if you have several pans going at once it is quite helpful as well as it is easy to burn smaller amounts of onions.

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Vinaigrettes are usually thought of as oil and vinegar dressing. In actuality, vinaigrettes can be used as a sauce, especially for fish and poultry, on sandwiches, as a marinade, or even as a pasta sauce. Vinaigrettes are great poured over roasted vegetables such as potatoes, parsnips, and beets, while still warm so the flavors are absorbed. This makes an excellent salad, and is, in fact, how German potato salad is made.

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INGREDIENTS:

1 bunch of beets
1 teaspoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons of water
1-2 tablespoons vinegar such as white balsamic or sherry

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During a “normal” rainy season, if there is such a thing, the water in our neighboring Harkins Slough can, in places, turn the color of a cup of coffee with half & half mixed in. After a series of strong storms, this turbidity typically lasts for a few weeks before the silt and clay particles settle out and the water returns to its normal grayish-green clarity. This year, however, from one end to the other, the slough has been a cloudy brownish color for months. The culprit, as it is every year, is erosion from the fields that surround the slough on all sides. Five straight years of below normal rainfall have meant that growers have become lax in their management practices. Examples of poor stewardship abound–raised beds aligned straight down steep hillsides; cover crops planted much too late or not at all; ditches, drainage structures and settlement basins poorly maintained and failing.

Directly to the west of us on the other side of the slough is a property that we know well. We still refer to it as the Bloom-Rite parcel because long ago, a company by that name, managed by a friend of my uncle, used to grow flowers on it. When we made the decision to expand our operation, before purchasing the Lewis Road property that we now own, we tried to buy it together with my cousin Josh. As part of an effort to educate ourselves as much as possible before bidding on it (it was sold at auction) we walked the property with Rich Casales, the Natural Resources Conservation Service agent who had designed an elaborate drainage system for the property during one of his first assignments. The system, which was largely still intact when we toured the property, consisted of a drainage pipe, four feet in diameter, that was designed to carry runoff from the upstream neighbor, as well as water collected from several drains on the parcel itself, safely down to the slough. Needless to say, when the auction day came around we were outbid and the property was purchased by someone who owns several other nearby large parcels. The following year, an herb operation set up several acres of greenhouses on the flat central portion, and the rest of the property was leased into strawberry and vegetable production.

From the vantage point of our home ranch, nearly a half mile away, we could see that problems were developing early this rainy season on the old Bloom-Rite parcel. On half of the steep, sandy, back hill, which had been planted into a cover crop much too late, deep rills and gullies were clearly visible stretching from the base nearly three quarters of the way to the top. When they disced down the other half of the field, which is partially obscured from our view by several large eucalyptus trees, and attempted to plant a cover crop in late December, we knew it could only mean trouble.

On a recent Sunday, I decided to paddle across the slough with my children via canoe and kayak to investigate. Upon bushwhacking our way up the bank 200 feet or so through blackberry and poison oak, the first evidence of the tremendous erosion that had occurred came into view. On the terrace where a railroad track passes mid way up the steep bank beneath the Bloom-Rite parcel, numerous great fans of sand where deposited, some big enough to cover the tracks entirely. When we climbed the top half of the bank the true extent of the damage became clear. The drains had apparently failed entirely because a vast gully had developed, 20 feet deep and over 50 feet wide in places, that had climbed nearly to the top of the field leaving sections of the drainage pipe lying disconnected and useless in its bottom. In the fields on either side deep gullies radiated away up the hillside—some over 8 feet deep. The vast amount of soil removed from the field in these gullies and the central “canyon” was deposited first in the form of sand along the bottom edge of the field and onto the railroad tracks. The finer silts were carried out to form a growing peninsula along the banks of the slough. And the finest clay particles are largely still in suspension, helping to account for the coffee colored water.

 

 

 

It’s been a difficult rainy season for all of us and I hesitate to jump on another growers misfortune, but the mistakes here were numerous and glaring. Cover crops do a great job of stabilizing soil particles and increasing water infiltration but only when they are planted correctly and well established. From the looks of things, the cover crops on most of the parcel weren’t planted until late November—much too late considering the steep slopes and erosive soil type present there. When the portion of the back hill was planted in December the last tillage pass in preparation was performed straight up and down the hill, leaving dips and ridges for the water to follow which eventually turned into many of the rills and gullies present now. And lastly there is the problem of the greenhouses. When you cover several acres with plastic, the water that falls there has to go somewhere. Putting greenhouses atop a steep sandy hillside without a well-maintained, fully functional drainage system in place is irresponsible in the very least.

I can’t pretend to have answers for problems like these. It would be nice if growers would consider their stewardship responsibilities a matter of pride, so that failures such as those on the old Bloom-Rite property would be an embarrassment to be avoided at all cost. But in this version of impersonal, industrialized agriculture that dominates down here, too often that doesn’t seem to be the case. A combination of increased education and enforcement could go a long way to protect water quality and maintain good farmland for future generations.

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New start greenhouse Feb 2017 It is looking like we will soon be back into the wet and windy weather that has characterized this winter so far, but we are grateful for the brief sunny break that we are experiencing now. Combined with the longer days, it feels like we have turned a small corner of sorts in the stretch toward spring. It has allowed us to get caught up on many things—getting mulch down on our front strawberry patch, changing the aging film on our transplant greenhouse (destroyed in the storms, picture at right), and planting.

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The deep earthy flavors of the greens work in harmony with the bright and lightly sweet flavor of the roasted romanesco, which, like most brassicas, develops sweetness in the oven.

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Another riff on the Italian classic. Where gremolata usually uses garlic, this version contains none, and uses shallot instead. It also uses only a little lemon zest, and calls for Meyer lemon rather than Eureka. This iteration came about as a garnish for seared and roasted butternut squash rounds, which are sweet on their own, and have a nutty flavor. This version would go well on other roast or crisp sautéed vegetables such as parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes, or other dense-fleshed winter squash. Try it on turkey cutlets, pan roasted halibut, or charred octopus as well.

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Thick rounds of butternut squash pan seared and roasted are paired with a fresh, herby gremolata variant, then toasted hazelnuts or raw pine nuts are added to light the nutty flavor of the squash a little higher. Use this as a side instead of a starch, or as an entrée on a meatless Monday.

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alysyum in greenhouseJust as people resolve to make major changes in their lives at this time of year, these winter months give us the perspective to step back and think about the changes we want to make as a farm.

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The profile of this dish can easily be changed by altering the spices. Go with thyme, marjoram and fennel seed for a French flare-you could even add some lavender- or use oregano or sage for a more Italian turn. Use some Moroccan spices and go North African/Mid-East. Curry will take you to India, and you can add hot chili for an incendiary approach or use fennel seed with a sweet curry for mild but fragrant. Use this for topping fish, boneless chicken breasts or cubed chicken chunks, or cut cauliflower into large pieces and roast them after oiling and seasoning. You could serve at room temp or cold as part of a mezze or thali lunch. It would also do well with cooked chickpeas or kidney beans heated up in it. This is the iteration for roast cauliflower, or for topping fish or even shrimp.

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Have this for breakfast or dinner. Substance, flavor, and color are all here. Enrich the dish with a poached or fried egg, top with béchamel or a Hollandaise or Maltaise sauce*.

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Here, Butternut squash slices replace potatoes in variation of a typical gratin. Vegetable stock stands in for the usual dairy, and bread crumbs are there to soak up moisture and add some texture and loft. Chard adds a contrast to the sweetness of the squash, and you could mix potato slices into the squash slices if you wish to tone the sweetness down as well.

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vacuum-seederThe first week of the New Year is generally the time that we throw ourselves into preparations for the coming season with increased vigor—making seed orders, starting transplants in the greenhouse, and checking things off our long project list. This coming week is shaping up to be a very wet one. Between the storm that is expected here this afternoon and what the National Weather Service calls a “potent atmospheric river” event predicted for this weekend, we could get between 3 and 6 inches of rain here—a significant portion of the 23 inches that we get in an average year.

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These can be done in stages ahead of time up to the final cooking if you wish, and they are quite flexible in terms of what you use. Instead of lamb and currants, use pork and a fine dice of apples. Skip the meat entirely and add in some cheese, firm or pressed tofu, or chopped nuts.

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Halved florets of romanesco pan-fried and then steamed with a shot of white wine to finish is then garnished with a variation of gremolata, the classic Italian mélange of flat-leaf parsley, lemon zest, and garlic. Be sure to use good oil that has a high flash point, good wine (if it isn’t good just use water) and a heavyweight pan with a tight fitting lid.

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A variation on classic gremolata, tweaked a little to match up with romanesco or cauliflower fried until crisp.

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bald-eagles-flying-croppedWell, I have to eat crow on my eagle post from last time. It has been pointed out to me that the young eagle has the white chest coloring of a 2nd year juvenile. We wanted it to be a new chick from this year, and we hadn’t seen last year’s juveniles in a long time, and it was flying with both adults, so we just assumed it was a new fledgling. But you know what happens when one assumes…

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This recipe makes a very moist, non-crumbly muffin, or a great cake. A cream cheese frosting would be excellent on the cake.

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A dish that uses some of the sweet flavors of the holiday season, but comes off as light and sort of refreshing.

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Another one of those things from the “I love to treat vegetables as something other than a vegetable” files. Here beets get turned into a sweet instead of a sauce, although you would use this where you might use sauce, as an accompaniment to meats or duck.

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Here is a riff on the famous New Mexican “Green Sauce” using end of season green Corno di Toro peppers and leeks, with a little almonds and maybe some honey for a Spanish inflection. Try this on just about anything from turkey and pork to fish and vegetables such as winter squash, or on eggs or potatoes. The original iteration has a little more heat and Southwest seasonings. Check it out on the website.

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bald-eagle-fledgling-closeupA new young eagle has fledged! In my last eagle report I noted that one of the bald eagles that had been nesting here on Harkins Slough since 2014 died, and that the remaining adult appeared to have found a new mate this spring. Until now, we didn’t know if they raised any chicks this summer in their nest in the eucalyptus trees across the slough from our farm. Then our eagle-eyed daughter saw an adult flying with a fledgling just before Thanksgiving. The baby obliged by perching on a tree in our restoration area long enough for us to get a good picture. The young eagle is as big as his or her parents, but won’t develop the white head and tail for a few years. This is now the fourth eagle to be born and survive to adulthood on Harkins Slough.

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The sweet crisp apple is a great foil for soft chard with its shaved tongue feeling engendered by oxalic acid. Also, adding a little vinegar seems to tame that feeling and helps with calcium absorption. The un-toasted pine nuts give a resinous nutty flavor that helps pull things together. Be sure to cook the stems and onions gently so they do not turn bitter or singe.

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This is the sort of thing that can be thrown together with help from the pantry and leftovers, and is just right for a cold evening or lunch time. Or, if like me you are tired of cereal or omelets for breakfast, fire this up and add a couple poached or basted eggs on top and enjoy. You can also skip the eggs and have a piece of toast spread with some soft goat cheese smoked olive oil and you have a complete protein breakfast.

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A cool weather warmer that can be used as an opening course for a fancy dinner, or just enjoyed as is.

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This salad takes a little planning and has a few steps to it, but with a little bit of strategics it is easy enough. And the work that goes into this is rewarded with lots of clean flavor and crunch. Although substantial on its own, if you need more protein, it will take easily to some chicken or bacon.

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A variation on a theme, where carrots get cooked in some water and then a glaze is made of the cooking liquid. Pomegranates are in season right now, and if you see a white pomegranate, the seeds would look lovely in this dish and would add a nice textural and flavor “pop” to the whole.

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Be sure not to overcook the spinach. This recipe yields some nice color on the plate. The pepitas (pumpkin seeds) are there to provide a crunchy contrast, but if you don’t want to take the time to clean the seeds or if they are just too few to be worth the effort, use store bought or substitute toasted pine nuts instead. The ingredients list looks long, but half of it is just options you can choose from. This is a fairly simple recipe that can go in many directions with ease.

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soilHealthy soils not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration, but also provide tangible benefits to farmers’ bottom lines, their communities’ health, and the wildlife around them. So wouldn’t it be great if the farmer you get your share from could get paid to improve their soil’s health? Thanks to new groundbreaking legislation, they can.

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This is another “vegetable as sauce” recipe, and is simpler than the others, both in method and ingredients. This was first made to go on roasted cabbage but is really nice on other things. See notes.

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Another dish with vegetable as sauce. The kids are not too fond of cabbage (except in egg rolls) usually, but seem to eat anything roasted. So this was a logical next step. And they really like carrot sauces, so here you go…

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This came about as a result of eating out and having pork cutlets with fried capers. The capers stole the show for me. One night I was craving the capers and had a different meat dish planned, so this came about. Be sure to dry the capers really well so they open out more and get crisp.

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yuma-myotis-batOctober is Bat Appreciation Month, and with the celebration of Halloween this week I thought I’d take a moment to share with you some of the awesome things I learned about bats while earning my degree at UCSC.

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SIGN UP FOR CSA PROGRAM

When you join our CSA, you sign up with the farm to receive a share of the harvest during our 36 week season from mid-March to mid-November. In return, you get a weekly box of organic vegetables and fruit (and optional flowers) delivered straight from our farm to a pick-up site in your neighborhood.

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View our CSA Members Page

This is where you can go to find out what's coming in your box each week, find recipes, identify your vegetables with pictures, and view or print the current and past newsletters. Check here for the information you need to use your box to the fullest.

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