A retreat for women dealing with cancer

My cousin, Mary, is an amazing lady and a cancer survivor.  You can read her story here.  We both enjoy talking about nutrition and spending several evenings every month cooking fresh beautiful meals together.  We are fully convinced of the critical role food plays in our quality of life and in avoiding degenerative diseases such as cancer and diabetes. 

Recently, she hosted a wellness retreat here in Charlotte, for ladies who were dealing with cancer.  We played chef and sous chef, and taught the ladies how to increase their gut health by making their own probiotic foods.  We made naturally cultured butter, crème fraiche, kefir, kvass, and sauerkraut.  It was such a fun time preparing and eating all those yummy creations.  These ladies were all amazed at how easy it is to include tasty cultured/fermented foods in your diet! 

Retreat women

The keynote speaker for the retreat was Dr. Nasha Winters with Optimal Terrain Consulting.  She guides her patients to support a healthy body (terrain).  A healthy body increases the effectiveness of conventional cancer treatments and can help patients stay on schedule with their treatment, by treating the awful side effects of chemo.  She investigates the underlying cause of the cancer, and implements a diet and lifestyle that aim to prevent reoccurrence.  While Mary and I were playing chef and sous chef with fermented foods, one of Dr. Winters’ topics was gut health and the importance of keeping your “microbiome” healthy.

I was honored to be a part of this group of courageous and super cool ladies.  Although I do not have cancer, I felt a strong comradery with these women, because we are all in a fight for our health, with good nutrition at the center of it.  Shouldn’t we all be?

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Eat your veggies! And add some fermented ones. 
Robin

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Charlotte’s First Vegan Farm Dinner

We were really excited to host Chef Julia Simon and her team from Nourish, at the farm this past Friday night, for Charlotte’s first Vegan Farm to Table Dinner.  You can go to their blog post and see more of their pictures here.  Don’t let this “vegan” thing throw you off!  Jay and I are not vegan, and I can honestly say that every single course was delicious and would have pleased anyone, vegan or not!  I loved the creative use of spices, as well as super fresh produce.  My body felt great about it!

The evening started with her crew showing up around 4:00 pm to start their preparations.  They proceeded to turn our rose garden into an elegant dining space for an intimate gathering of only 26 people.  It included china, linen table cloths and napkins, wine and water glasses, and place settings for multiple courses.  Flowers from the farm were on each table, as well as little tea lights for just the right ambiance.  They set up another table as the “bar” and another area to stage the food as each course came out.  The cool thing was that the staging area where Julia was working her magic was right where everyone could see the magic happening.  No secrets here!  You could see the fresh beauty come together.

The guests began arriving around 6:30 and had time to sip some wine and stroll around the farm before dinner began at 7:15.  There were people there from all walks of life.  One of the most memorable was Maryanne, who was 93 years old!  We had a nice shady seating area all prepared for her, but she never even stopped there.  She took her cane and toured all around the farm with her glass of wine!  There were friends from the market, as well as people we had never met, but were happy to get to know.  

The farm really was showing off for the event.  The blueberries were just starting to get ripe, so people could pick handfuls as they walked by.  The broccoli was at the perfect stage with little green heads, peeking up from their leaves, watching everyone.  The birds were out in force, singing every song they knew, and the roses and wild flowers were in full bloom.  At first we were concerned that it might be a little too hot and humid, but as the sun set, a cool breeze blew in and it was the perfect evening.  We even had a full moon and a sky full of stars.

By the time dinner was over, all the bellies were full, the bonfire was making a soft glow and everyone was able to sit and chat and enjoy a last glass of wine before the evening ended.  Chef Julia and her team were smiling because they could tell that Charlotte’s first farm to table dinner was truly a success.  We had a great time, along with everyone else, and will welcome this great bunch back to the farm any time. Keep a look out.  You never know, there might be another one this fall!  Here is the website for Nourish where you can find out about upcoming events as well as order some yummy dinners! 

Jake Yount took these beautiful photos:Bonfire main course nourish salad Nourish soup 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eat your veggies,
Robin

 

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Peaches & Cream

SFC_peaches_labeled

Fresh Peach Crisp

Peaches and cream just go together perfectly, and there is no better way to serve it than with a sweet crunchy crisp on top.  Jay and I do not eat wheat flour, so this is made with oats, nuts, and real butter.  You will love it.

Ingredients:
4 big peaches washed and sliced
1/2 cup of honey (will be used as ¼ and ¼)
½ tsp of vanilla extract
1 cup of oats
½ cup of chopped nuts (I like pecans)
½ cup of real butter (softened)
½ tsp of cinnamon
¼ tsp of salt
1 pint of real cream 
½ tsp of lemon zest

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 375.  Place the sliced peaches in a buttered baking dish.  Drizzle with ¼ cup of honey and vanilla extract.  In a separate bowl, mix up the other ¼ cup of honey, oats, softened butter, nuts, cinnamon, and salt until crumbly.  Use a fork for this.  Crumble this mixture on top of the peaches, and bake for 45 minutes, or until brown on top and bubbly. 

While it is baking, whip the cream using a mixer, until it forms soft peaks.  Gently fold in the lemon zest.  Serve the peach crisp in a bowl, with this cream on top.  You gotta love summer!

Fresh Peach Crisp
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Ingredients
  1. 4 big peaches washed and sliced
  2. 1/2 cup of honey (will be used as ¼ and ¼)
  3. ½ tsp of vanilla extract
  4. 1 cup of oats
  5. ½ cup of chopped nuts (I like pecans)
  6. ½ cup of real butter (softened)
  7. ½ tsp of cinnamon
  8. ¼ tsp of salt
  9. 1 pint of real cream
  10. ½ tsp of lemon zest
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375. Place the sliced peaches in a buttered baking dish. Drizzle with ¼ cup of honey and vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, mix up the other ¼ cup of honey, oats, softened butter, nuts, cinnamon, and salt until crumbly. Use a fork for this. Crumble this mixture on top of the peaches, and bake for 45 minutes, or until brown on top and bubbly.
  2. While it is baking, whip the cream using a mixer, until it forms soft peaks. Gently fold in the lemon zest. Serve the peach crisp in a bowl, with this cream on top. You gotta love summer!
Bell's Best Berries http://bellsbestberries.com/
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Farm to Table Dinner

Every spring we host a “Farm to Table Dinner” for our CSA members.  The reasons for doing this are many, but it’s mostly because CSA members want to know where their food comes from.  Our CSA members want to see and experience where their food is grown, and make that “farm to table” connection. The farm dinner is the perfect opportunity for us to mow the grass, set up some tables, and host a wonderful meal for our friends. 

Farm Dinner Roots4

 The evening always starts with plenty of time to walk around the farm and see the fields and flower gardens.  The fields look a little better for the farm dinner than they normally do.  We make a special effort to spruce things up, hoe every weed, and even put away all the tools, boxes, and bins.  I sort of like it!  In the toil of farming, I can forget how pretty the farm really is.  It is especially nice at sundown, in the spring, during our farm dinner!

Farm Dinner Desert

Dinner is served about a half hour after everyone arrives, and normally consists of a beautiful salad, a main dish that includes lots of veggies, and finished with a desert that highlights the fresh fruit of spring.  This year it was strawberries.  Last year, the dinner was a little later and it was blueberries.  Chef Craig Barbour with Roots-Good.Local.Food always does this dinner for us and never fails to impress.  Normally Dana Ramsey, at Organiceater helps us with photography.  She has a true talent for capturing the beauty of food.  She wasn’t able to join us this year, so I gave it a try, and will be happy to have her resume her post next year.  Good photography is important and that obviously is not my talent.  

Farm Dinner Fire2

The evening is finished with time around a big bonfire.  This gives time to sit and chat, and get to know everyone.  It is one of my favorite times.  I know everyone is busy, but I really cherish this one time when we stop the farm and are able to share a meal with those who mean so much to us.  Thanks to all of you who are a part of our farm and who were able to join us for our Farm to Table dinner.  We plan to do it again next year!

Eat your veggies! 
Robin

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Miss Minimalist

I have a reputation in my family as an almost crazy minimalist.  At holidays, when people normally get gifts, the people who love me know I really don’t like stuff.  It stresses me out.  So they almost always give me things that I can easily eat or use up.  Things like nice olive oil, unusual spices, gift cards for e-books, beautiful soaps and lotions, or they take me out to eat at one of the many great restaurants in Charlotte.  I like it that way!  

There are several reasons I don’t like stuff.  I think it all started when we moved into this very small farm house that was built back in the 1800’s, before people really had a lot of stuff.  This house doesn’t have much space for extras.  The closets are extremely small and there are no storage rooms at all.  As a result, if we don’t live pretty simply, we end up with piles of things around the house and no place to put them.  The piles of clutter were probably the beginning of my dislike for stuff.  I think it goes deeper though.  Almost all possessions cost money, need to be cleaned, need to be maintained, need my time, need space, and ultimately do not bring true happiness.  

What does bring happiness for me involves people.  For that reason, I try not to spend my money on things I need to find a place for in my home.  Instead, I want to spend it on food that nourishes my family, as well as time and experiences with my friends and family.  If you could see my food bill you would probably choke, and that is WITH growing almost all our own produce.  I’m convinced that the food we eat is directly connected to the health and wellbeing of my family, and well worth the dollars spent.  So, I do spend the money on local grass fed meats and dairy, as well as healthy butter, cheeses, and oils.  I’m not a minimalist in the food department because I know the importance of food on our health and quality of life.

Farmhouse

Jay and I also will spend money on time together, time with friends, and time with family.  There is nothing more important in our lives.  Our kids might think we are a little crazy because we live so simply. Yet, we will blast out money for a beautiful dinner out or a weekend together somewhere amazing, and even treat them to come along.  Those moments together are priceless.  One day when I am an old lady and look back at my life, I know those connections will end up being what really mattered in my life.  I wonder if this is one of the reasons people farm.  No one farms because it is so lucrative.  I think it has to do with the connection with the outdoors, a desire for independence and peace, as well as an understanding that happiness is more associated with the people you hug, than the things you hang in the closet.

Eat your veggies,

Robin

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Is Your CSA Too Expensive?

It is interesting the reaction I get when I tell people the monthly cost of our CSA.  A few seem unpleasantly surprised. Since most people do not purchase their produce separately from the rest of their groceries, they do not know how much they spend each week/month on this part of their food budget, so they have no comparison to base the cost of a weekly CSA purchase.  So, this winter, when the farm was all but out of vegetables, I decided to put it to the test.  I went to Harris Teeter to purchase my weekly supply of veggies, and paid for it separately from the rest of my groceries, just to see how it would sort out.  

I noticed several things.  First of all, vegetables from the grocery store were not as fresh and beautiful as veggies fresh from the farm.  Overall selection was scarce, and of course the heirloom varieties were non-existent.  Not only that, the serving sizes were smaller.  The bundle of kale had only about 4 or 5 leaves of kale in it!  Lastly, as hard as I tried, I had trouble sticking with only seasonal produce.  I ended up with a few out of season items that probably came from another country that may not regulate their crops nearly as well as we do in the USA.  Lastly, it was not cheap.  At the end of the day, to purchase about 10 different produce items, it cost about $40.00.  In trying to compare weekly costs, this was more than the cost of our CSA weekly share of about 10 local beautiful items. 

Early April CSa

Cost at the register is never the only thing to consider though.  Some of the reasons I hate those couple of months in the winter, when I purchase my produce at the grocery store, are that I really prefer to support my friends, neighbors, and community with my business.  I wanted a “face” to go with that grocery store produce.  I wanted to know who grew my food. I wanted to know what kind of soil it grew in and what were the conditions of the farm it was grown on. What were the conditions of the workers who harvested this produce? I also am pretty picky about freshness because the fresher the produce, the more nutrients it likely contains.  We had to eat our purchase really fast, in order to go through it, before it started looking sad.  That indicated it was not too fresh when I bought it, which can mean less nutrition.  Lastly, I do not like buying produce from other countries. One reason is that same loss of nutrients. Produce from South America does not get here the next day, maybe not the next week.   Educating yourself on your own seasonal produce  (in the Carolinas) is a great way not to be looking for peaches in the winter, since those peaches probably came from Chile.  I’ll take a fresh local summer peach, and pass on the one that came all the way from another hemisphere, shipped thousands of miles, grown by people I don’t know, and grown in a way that I don’t know anything about the process. In the end, only you can decide if any CSA is “too expensive”, but do not base that expense only on the dollars you spend. There is so much more to account for than that.   Keep it local please!

Eat your local veggies,

Robin

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Yummy Kale Salad

Kale is a staple on the farm and in our kitchen.  I love all the interesting types of kale, and we eat it almost every day, sometimes several meals a day.  Making a salad is one of the easiest ways to use it.  Here are the basics that will help you create something delicious and unique to your own kitchen.

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch of kale with the leaves ripped off the mid-rib, washed, and spun dry
  • Sea salt
  • Olive oil (or other unprocessed oil, like avocado oil)
  • Vinegar or lemon
  • Fruit (dried or fresh chopped)
  • Options:  Goat cheese, parmesan, nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, rice, 

Directions:
Be sure you have removed the leaves from the midrib and that the kale is dry.  Tear the kale into bite sized pieces.  Add about 3 tablespoons of your favorite olive oil.  Add about 1 tablespoon of your favorite vinegar or citrus juice (think oil and vinegar “dressing” here).  Add a few grinds of sea salt.   Massage the leaves well with your hands.  If you are using a more mature kale with tougher leaves, you will need to massage longer than if you have a tender fresh baby kale.  Add chopped fruit, raisins, dried cranberry, or other favorite fruit.  Add chopped nuts or seeds.  Add your favorite cheese.  If you want to make it a more hardy dish, add quinoa or rice.  Serve it up!  

kale2

Everyone likes their salad a little different.  The key components of this salad are the kale, oil, acid and salt.  Be sure to start with those ingredients.  Then make it your own by adding any of the other ingredients that you like.  My favorites are seeds and goat cheese.  What’s yours?

Eat your veggies,

Robin

kale2

Yummy Kale Salad
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Ingredients
  1. 1 bunch of kale with the leaves ripped off the mid-rib, washed, and spun dry
  2. Sea salt
  3. Olive oil (or other unprocessed oil, like avocado oil)
  4. Vinegar or lemon
  5. Fruit (dried or fresh chopped)
  6. Options: Goat cheese, parmesan, nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, rice,
Instructions
  1. Be sure you have removed the leaves from the midrib and that the kale is dry. Tear the kale into bite sized pieces. Add about 3 tablespoons of your favorite olive oil. Add about 1 tablespoon of your favorite vinegar or citrus juice (think oil and vinegar “dressing” here). Add a few grinds of sea salt. Massage the leaves well with your hands. If you are using a more mature kale with tougher leaves, you will need to massage longer than if you have a tender fresh baby kale. Add chopped fruit, raisins, dried cranberry, or other favorite fruit. Add chopped nuts or seeds. Add your favorite cheese. If you want to make it a more hardy dish, add quinoa or rice. Serve it up!
Bell's Best Berries http://bellsbestberries.com/
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Fresh Strawberries with Chocolate Mint

I know strawberries are so yummy that they really don’t need any supplementation.  They are delicious any way they come!  Even so, I thought I would let you know my favorite way to serve them when we don’t just munch them straight out of the bucket.  This one is absolutely amazing.  We will have both the mint and the berries in our CSA bags in May.

strawberries

Ingredients:
Fresh strawberries
Fresh mint
Fresh heavy cream
Dark chocolate

Directions:
Slice the fresh strawberries. Slice the fresh mint. Roughly grate a chunk of dark chocolate (the darker, the better for you). Beat the fresh cream into whipped cream with soft peaks. Put a serving of strawberries in individual bowls. Add a dollop of fresh whipped cream. Top with mint and grated dark chocolate. This dish is so delicious that you will cry when the berries go out of season!

Fresh Strawberries and Chocolate Mint
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Ingredients
  1. Fresh strawberries
  2. Fresh mint
  3. Fresh heavy cream
  4. Dark chocolate
Instructions
  1. Slice the fresh strawberries. Slice the fresh mint. Roughly grate a chunk of dark chocolate (the darker, the better for you). Beat the fresh cream into whipped cream with soft peaks. Put a serving of strawberries in individual bowls. Add a dollop of fresh whipped cream. Top with mint and grated dark chocolate. This dish is so delicious that you will cry when the berries go out of season!
Bell's Best Berries http://bellsbestberries.com/
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Mixing up the Bugs

People often ask me how we manage insect pests on our farm, if we don’t use chemicals.  The answer is pretty simple:  we intercrop.  We bolster the plant’s natural defenses.  We encourage diverse populations of beneficial insects, and if all else fails, we simply do not grow the crop.

Insect pests love it when they can find a big expanse of their favorite food. They get right in there and start munching away, having babies, and calling in all their buddies!  Just a few caterpillars or mites can quickly turn into a zillion.  One of our strategies for managing this is to confuse the pests by mixing up the crops.  For example.  Caterpillars especially love crops in the brassica family, such as kale, broccoli, and cabbage.  If you plant them all together in one big field, you will be supplying an all-you-can-eat buffet!  To solve this problem, we spread these crops all around the farm.  We also try to “hide” them among other crops the pests might not like.  For example, our young broccoli transplants are safely tucked in next to the leeks that have been growing all winter and are much bigger.  Caterpillars don’t like leeks and onions, so I hope the mama moths will just fly right on over and pass by the baby broccoli.  So far, so good.  Not a single hole on the baby broccoli plants.   

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Additionally, we try to harness the crops’ natural ability to deter pests.  When plants perceive the presence of a pest, they spring into action, producing compounds that may taste bad to insects, inhibit their reproduction, or possibly make them sick.  These are often phenolic compounds and antioxidants that may even have a positive impact on human health.   Plants also can produce volatile methyl jasmonate, which acts as an attractant to beneficial insects, further helping to manage the bad guys.  It has been proven by a graduate student at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College that treating your crop with seaweed extract elicits one of the same pathways within the plant that is responsible for this natural resistance1.  Our crops get a good weekly dose of seaweed extract.  It helps them grow better, resist pests better and ultimately yield better! 

There are other natural products that can also deter insects.  Neem oil has been proven to deter many insects, as well as, in some cases, disrupt their life cycle.  We often use a bit of that in our seaweed applications.  Another great strategy is to ensure there are plenty of beneficial insects around, by planting rows of herbs and flowers where the beneficials like to live and reproduce.  We intentionally leave rows of older crops to “go to flower”, as well as plant new types of flowering crops for this purpose.  

 Lastly, if a crop truly has so many enemies that it cannot be grown without applications of chemicals, then we simply choose not to grow it.  It probably means the varieties available are not well suited to our environment, and that maybe growing something else is a better idea.  Last year I tried to grow Amaranth.  This is a specialty green that grows well in our summer heat. However, it is so prone to flea beetles that there was no way to grow it without being full of holes that ruined the appearance.  I probably will not grow that one again.  I have found that many types of squash are also in the same category.  This last strategy is probably the best advice of all:  choose crops that grow well in your area and are mostly care free.  Don’t even engage in the war!

Eat your veggies,

Robin

1Extracts of the marine brown macroalga, Ascophyllum nodosum, induce jasmonic acid dependent systemic resistance in Arabidopsis thaliana against Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato DC3000 and Sclerotinia sclerotiorum.  Subramanian et. al. European Journal of Plant Pathology, April 2011.

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This is How it Should Work

We had a disaster happen on Saturday.  Our cold room went out.  No cooling at all.  For people who deal in produce, this is one of the worst things that could happen.  We quickly realized we needed two essential parts to fix the cold room, but they couldn’t be put in place until Tuesday.  This was a huge problem, because we would need the cold room on Monday, to hold the produce we put together for a big CSA delivery, as well as deliveries to lots of restaurants on Tuesday.  For a moment, we considered simply canceling everything.  With no cooling, there can be no fresh produce.

Then Jay had an idea!  One of the local growers we get produce from, Norman Baucom, has a state of the art cold room.  He grows blackberries, and they are not in season right now.  Jay texted him and asked if he could please do a neighbor a favor, and within an hour the problem was solved.  Norman quickly offered to fire up his cold room and let us use it as long as we needed.  This is how the world should work.

Although we only have a business relationship with Norman, we get blackberries from him for our CSA members and restaurants, he graciously offered whatever we needed to solve this big problem.  This reminds me of how things worked in days gone by.  He didn’t ask for money.  He didn’t even hesitate.  He didn’t ask for anything.  He simply said “Sure. You can use it for as long as you need”.  Wow.

Farmhouse

We live in the town of Unionville.  We still have some vestiges of this type of neighborly kindness.  There is another grower in the community who raises chickens, who needed our tractor because his wouldn’t do the job.  We didn’t hesitate to give it to him.  Soon, a load of manure (compost gold) showed up at our house.  I just love how this type of community caring happens.  

I love this place.  Praise God for North Carolina!

Eat your fresh and refrigerated veggies!
Robin

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