Greens Gratin

Greens Gratin

Greens, greens, greens!  I once had a CSA member tell me he was starting to feel like a cow, because he was eating so many greens.  I smiled and reminded him of how healthy he was.  In all honesty, sometimes in the winter, I start to run out of steam on the piles of greens as well.  By the middle of winter, I have been eating piles of chopped greens with balsamic and olive oil for months, and I really want something different.  This recipe is a great change, and even the diehard greens-haters love it.

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Ingredients:

Two cups of your favorite greens, chopped.  Try spinach, kale, collards, or cabbage.  You might even mix it all up depending on what you have in your fridge.

Half cup of shredded carrots, winter squash, or sweet potatoes (whatever is in your CSA bag or fridge)

Half a cup of chopped sweet onions, green onions, or leeks (whatever is in your CSA bag)

Butter or bacon fat

Half a cup of real cream (preferably from grass fed cows)

1 farm egg

Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Sauté the onions in butter or bacon fat until fragrant and translucent

Add the shredded vegetables and chopped greens and cook until just wilted

Spread the greens in a small baking dish

Combine the cream, egg, and about ¼ cup of parm and pour it over the greens

Add a little more parmesan on the top and bake for about 30 minutes or until bubbly.

This is an excellent side dish to almost anything.  Jay and I would probably even eat it for breakfast with a side of bacon! 

Eat your veggies,

Robin

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Winter Greens Soup

Our bodies need fresh greens.  We are blessed that in the south there are several types of greens available all winter long.  Here is a recipe for a healing and healthful soup that incorporates nourishing bone broth along with any fresh greens that can be found.   Possibly our ancestors foraged for greens.  Now that it is January, I feel like a forager in our gardens because so many things are damaged by cold.  Some things are picked clean.  Some spring greens are already starting, and quite a few herbs are just enough to season a soup.  Whatever I can find works just fine.  Cook this up and serve it with a beautiful salad.

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photo courtesy of organiceater.com

Ingredients:

  • Half a pound of your favorite chemical free sausage from grass fed hogs
  • One cup of sweet onions, green onions, leeks, wild garlic greens, or chives
  • Four cups of bone broth
  • One cup of diced potatoes or turnips
  • One cup of real cream from grass fed cows
  • 3 cups of any chopped greens you can find in the winter.  Try spinach, kale, collard greens, sorrel, or even forage some chickweed or nettle
  • Salt and pepper
  • One big handful of chopped parsley
  • Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  • Brown the sausage in a big dutch oven or your favorite soup pot.  When it is done, remove it to a bowl and save the fat.
  • Sautee the onions (or whatever allium you found) in the sausage fat until soft and fragrant.
  • Return the sausage to the pot.
  • Add the bone broth and potatoes (or turnips).
  • Simmer about 15 minutes, until the potatoes are done.
  • Add the cream, greens, half of the parsley, and salt and pepper.
  • Simmer another few minutes, just until the greens are wilted, but not mush.
  • Adjust the seasonings and serve with grated parmesan and sprinkled with the rest of the parsley.
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photo courtesy of organiceater.com

This soup is really versatile.  It is great with snipped dill.  It is wonderful with finely slivered sorrel garnished on top.  You can really use any type of meat you want. Try leftover turkey or ham, or maybe add a little bacon.  Try pouring the boiling hot soup in bowls and crack a fresh farm egg into the soup and let it cook without stirring.  Use your imagination and whatever you find in your CSA bag!

Eat your veggies

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New Cooking Skills

New Cooking Skills are My Goal for the New Year

I am an avid cook.  I suppose it’s because I believe that without some basic cooking skills, it is difficult to be healthy in this world of processed and colored foods, overabundance of corn and soybeans, and difficult-to-understand labeling.  Jay and I both work from home, so it isn’t uncommon for us to be preparing two or three meals at home most days.  Now, that is some washing, slicing, dicing, and cleaning.  Our meals are loaded with the vegetables we grow, eggs, meats and dairy from grass-fed animals, and plenty of butter, coconut oil, and olive oil.  I even recently found a source for lard from pasture raised hogs.  Where I think I am lacking is in the world of fermented foods, homemade dairy products, and homemade sauces to make our meals even yummier.  These are the real-food kitchen skills I want to improve on this year.  Here is the plan:

I want to include some fermented foods in our meals.  After reading the book “Nutrition and Degenerative Diseases” by Weston Price, I am convinced this is an important part of good nutrition.  I have been to several classes on the topic, including a whole afternoon workshop at the Organic Grower’s School in Asheville, NC.  The problem is that I may have taken one too many microbiology classes.  Last year, I made some homemade sauerkraut.  It had a little bit of off-color on the top of the crock, that I just removed.  Sadly, I couldn’t eat it due to some type of primal visceral response.  So, I risked my family’s life and fed it to my husband and son, who loved it!  I really have to get past this mental block.  I plan to try again with sauerkraut.  I learned how my grandparents made it, and have some on the counter now.  So far, so good.

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I also want to make some kvass which is a fermented beet drink.  It is made by roughly chopping up beets and putting them in a Mason jar with a little salt and filling it up with water and a bit of whey.  Then you put the top on and let it ferment for 2-3 days.  The result should be a sweet, sour, fizzy and refreshing drink.  I made my first batch last week and it was not bad.  It wasn’t very fizzy but it was sweet and sour.  I put a shot in with my morning green juice and it was pretty good!  My “guinea pig”, good sport of a husband, also liked it.

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The next thing I want to focus on is making some of my own milk products, such as kefir, yogurt, and farm cheeses.  I am planning my first effort this week.  I ordered some kefir starter granules from Amazon, as well as a plastic strainer.  I am planning a drive to South Carolina tomorrow, to get some fresh milk from the dairy for the project.  This is really all you need for kefir!  I think I can do it.  If it works, I’ll update the recipe page.  I also bought a book on making cheeses called “Home Cheese Making”.  It doesn’t look too hard to make a basic farm cheese, which is normally soft and fresh.  The recipe I am looking at simply takes homemade kefir at room temperature and strains it through muslin.  Then add cheese salt and your favorite herbs.  The result is a fresh tasting spreadable soft cheese.  Sounds easy and tasty to me!  These milk products are also naturally fermented, so they also fit in with my goal of including more fermented foods in my cooking.

The third new thing I want to work on in the kitchen is some new and interesting sauces.  My cooking skills are pretty limited, so we often end up eating roasted or grilled meats with fresh vegetables.  I know this sounds ok, but after years of this, we need a little refresher.  My plan is to master a couple of sauces.  The two I have in mind are a port wine reduction for beef, and a Dijon cream sauce for chicken.  I’m planning on trying out the port wine idea tonight, while my brother is in town for a visit.  The basic idea is to sauté some shallots in butter, then add a whole bottle of port wine and reduce it down to a nice sauce.  Then add a touch of real butter and seasoning (thyme, salt, pepper).  I might also add some mushrooms to this.  Sounds easy enough to me.  My idea for the Dijon sauce also sounds pretty easy.  I am going to take the pan drippings from a roasted chicken and add some really good Dijon, butter, salt, maybe a touch of white wine, and some real cream.  Simmer and stir until it makes a nice sauce.  This sounds like a fancy version of how my grandma made gravy, only I plan to simmer it until it thickens, instead of adding flour.  It might never be as thick as her sauce, but I don’t think it has to be.

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I am often trying new cooking ideas, and this year will be no exception.  I do not want my family to get bored with our basic meat and veggie eating.  Boredom may lead to a slip-back into some of the unhealthy eating habits we had in the past.  It is worth it to keep working on new and creative ways to cook healthy.

Eat your veggies (maybe fermented or with a sauce!),

Robin

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Grain Free Winter Veggie Quiche 

We eat eggs almost every day for breakfast, so I am always trying to dream up new ways to cook them that will incorporate lots of vegetables and no flour (we don’t eat grains or sugar).  I made this one over the Christmas holidays.  I wanted a quiche, but wanted to do something different for the crust that did not include flour.  This was easy and even more yummy than I expected.  I used all the veggies from one of our Winter CSA bags.

Ingredients:

  • 1 sweet potato (I didn’t peel mine)
  • A few tablespoons of herbed olive oil or any other type of oil/fat you want to use
  • Parmesan cheese (app 3 Tbs)
  • One chopped fresh sweet onion (or a couple of leeks)
  • One big handful of chopped fresh greens (I used spinach and Lacinado kale)
  • One head of broccoli chopped into small florets
  • About a quarter of a pound of bacon (or as much as you care to add)
  • 5 eggs beaten (with a little cream or whole milk)
  • Swiss cheese (enough to cover top of the quiche)
  • Salt and pepper

Directions:

  • Heat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Grate the sweet potato and let it pile into the bottom of a pie pan.
making the crust

making the crust

 

  • Add a generous amount (about 3 tablespoons) of your favorite oil to the sweet potato pile (I used some herbed olive oil that my sweet daughter in law gave me for Christmas).
  • Mix the oil and sweet potatoes and press into the bottom of the pie plate to make a crust.
  • Sprinkle a few tablespoons of parmesan cheese on top of the pressed out sweet potato crust and bake, until getting crispy and slightly browned.  This takes about 15 minutes.
  • While the crust is baking, fry the bacon until crispy, then remove it from the pan and roughly chop it.
fry the bacon

fry the bacon

 

  • Remove the crust from the oven when it’s ready.
  • Sautee the onions or leeks in the bacon fat, until just beginning to brown, then remove from the pan and put in a small bowl.
Chop the broccoli and onions

Chop the broccoli and onions

 

  • Sautee the broccoli florets in the same pan, just until they start to get soft.
  • Place the chopped greens on top of the baked crust.
  • Add the onions on top of the greens.
  • Add the broccoli on top of the onions. You could also add some of your CSA herbs too.
pile on the broccoli

pile on the broccoli

 

  • Pour the beaten eggs over the top (Don’t stir).
  • Cover the top with Swiss cheese.
  • Add the chopped bacon.
Add the bacon, and cheese and bake it up!

Add the bacon, and cheese and bake it up!

 

  • Bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until the eggs are set.
  • Enjoy with some beautiful sautéed breakfast greens such as kale, spinach, or pac choy as a side dish.

Note:  You could probably just sauté the onions, broccoli, (and greens if you like) all together and throw them into the crust, then pour the eggs over it, followed by the cheese and bacon.  I was being extra careful, since it was Christmas, and did it in layers.  Believe me, normally I am a big fan of just throwing it all together!

Eat your veggies,

Robin

Grain Free Veggie Quiche
Serves 6
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Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
50 min
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
50 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 sweet potato (I didn’t peel mine)
  2. A few tablespoons of herbed olive oil or any other type of oil/fat you want to use
  3. Parmesan cheese (app 3 Tbs)
  4. One chopped fresh sweet onion (or a couple of leeks)
  5. One big handful of chopped fresh greens (I used spinach and Lacinado kale)
  6. One head of broccoli chopped into small florets
  7. About a quarter of a pound of bacon (or as much as you care to add)
  8. 5 eggs beaten (with a little cream or whole milk)
  9. Swiss cheese (enough to cover top of the quiche)
  10. Salt and pepper
Making the Crust
  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Grate the sweet potato and let it pile into the bottom of a pie pan.
  3. Add a generous amount (about 3 tablespoons) of your favorite oil to the sweet potato pile (I used some herbed olive oil that my sweet daughter in law gave me for Christmas).
  4. Mix the oil and sweet potatoes and press into the bottom of the pie plate to make a crust.
  5. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of parmesan cheese on top of the pressed out sweet potato crust and bake, until getting crispy and slightly browned. This takes about 15 minutes.
The Good Part
  1. While the crust is baking, fry the bacon until crispy, then remove it from the pan and roughly chop it.
  2. Remove the crust from the oven when it’s ready.
  3. Sautee the onions or leeks in the bacon fat, until just beginning to brown, then remove from the pan and put in a small bowl.
  4. Chop the broccoli and onions
  5. Sautee the broccoli florets in the same pan, just until they start to get soft.
  6. Place the chopped greens on top of the baked crust.
  7. Add the onions on top of the greens.
  8. Add the broccoli on top of the onions. You could also add some of your CSA herbs too.
  9. Pour the beaten eggs over the top (Don’t stir).
  10. Cover the top with Swiss cheese.
  11. Add the bacon, and cheese and bake it up!
  12. Add the bacon, and cheese and bake it up!
  13. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until the eggs are set.
Notes
  1. Enjoy with some beautiful sautéed breakfast greens such as kale, spinach, or pac choy as a side dish.
  2. Note: You could probably just sauté the onions, broccoli, (and greens if you like) all together and throw them into the crust, then pour the eggs over it, followed by the cheese and bacon. I was being extra careful, since it was Christmas, and did it in layers. Believe me, normally I am a big fan of just throwing it all together!
Bell's Best Berries http://bellsbestberries.com/
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Sweet Potato Hummus

If you want to be a true seasonal locavore you will need to expand your repertoire of sweet potato recipes.   Sweet potato hummus is a great idea.  You can serve it in collard green wraps, dip pita chips, dip veggies, or just as a side dish.  Here is the basic recipe.

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Ingredients:

  1. 2-3 baked sweet potatoes
  2. 1 can of chick peas drained
  3. Juice of 1 lemon
  4. ¼ cup tahini
  5. 2-3 tablespoons of good olive oil
  6. Your favorite spices.  Choose any of these that you like
    1. Garlic
    2. Curry powder
    3. Cumin
    4. Ginger
    5. Turmeric
    6. Cinnamon
    7. Nutmeg
    8. Cayenne powder
  7. Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

Throw it all in a food processor until smooth.  You can thin it to the consistency you like with water or coconut milk.

Enjoy!

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Success at the Market

Farmers Market

We love working the farmers’ market on Saturday morning. Although the market is not the most profitable part of our business, it is one of the most fun, as well as having other less tangible benefits. The best part of the market is that we get to chat with so many CSA members, chefs, and customers all in one morning. We wouldn’t miss it!

The market is so much fun, that it is tempting to spend hours and hours packing everything we have on the farm, as well as everything our farming friends have, and haul it to the market. We have done that plenty of times. Sadly, if we do that, there is a high probability we will be bringing quite a bit of it home and feeding it to the chickens. That doesn’t work. We can’t afford to do that. We need to be more strategic.

One of the problems at the market is there are multiple farmers all selling the same thing. Right now in December, that means kale and lettuce. With so many farmers all selling the same thing, the price for the product is often low, and even at a low price, there is more available than there are customers. A big key to success is to figure out new and different crops that the other farmers are not selling. That is much harder than you would think. There are only so many things that grow in our area each season. You have to be pretty brave about trying new varieties and ideas. Then things are further complicated by the fact that the other farmers all watch each other, and if one person has something new and interesting the customers want, you can bet the other farmers will be growing it next year. There are no secrets in this little world of farming. We just accept this fact and constantly strive to improve.

farmers market small

Growing something new and cool isn’t the only option to getting people to your booth. It is also a great idea to have impeccable knowledge about your crops. Many people want to know everything about what they are buying. They want to know how you grew it, what the variety is, and even interesting things about that variety. The market presents a great opportunity to talk to customers about your farm and growing practices. People want this connection with their food and where it comes from. Don’t miss the opportunity to include this piece of discussion. It helps your customers be connected to you and come back next time.

Not only is the market a great opportunity to talk to customers about your farm, customers almost always ask about how to use the produce they are buying, especially if it is something unusual. All too often I hear customers ask other farmers how to use the produce they are buying, and the farmer has no clue. It is important to take the time to cook and eat the produce you are selling. You can’t sell what you don’t know. We try hard to be sure we know multiple ways to prepare anything we sell. Check out the recipe page on our website for tons of simple seasonal recipes. Remember, many people want to eat healthy but are just getting started buying local and actually cooking. If we want people to be successful with good food, we need to be ready to help them.

Learning great ways to cook fresh produce isn’t the only thing people want to talk about at the market. There is a whole group of people who love to talk about nutrition in general, and how it affects them in their life. They are passionate about what they feed their children, how food impacts their health, how it impacts their athletic performance, and even their fight against disease. These are some of my favorite market conversations. I love the mommies who bring their kids and involve them in the shopping decisions. I love the families dealing with cancer and their courage to address nutrition. I love the talks about athletics and the next race people are planning.

The farmers’ market is the best place for meeting people, picking up CSA bags, talking about food and nutrition, and changing the world. It is where the action is. I love being there.

Eat your market veggies,
Robin

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November Brought Record Low Temperatures

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This fall we planted a huge array of beautiful vegetables for our CSA, markets and chefs. Then, wow! Fall arrived mid-November with record low temperatures. It started with a cold Saturday morning around 27 degrees and progresses to a whole week of temperatures in the 20’s, and one night all the way down to 17! We fought the good fight and still had huge losses, but not everything was lost.

To begin with, we sprayed the entire crop with seaweed extract. Applications of the brown seaweed Ascophyllum nodosum have been demonstrated to improve plants’ ability to tolerate cold stress by researchers at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College. This actually helped quite a lot with the early temperatures between 27 and 32 degrees. We had no crop damage at all, even on some of our most sensitive varieties. I was singing the praises of the seaweed and turning cartwheels in the kale.

Then we got the 17 degree night. We tried to cover all we could with all we had. Some things were covered with Agribon row covers, and others with sheets of plastic. That night separated the strong from the weak. We had intentionally planted some very cold tolerant lettuce varieties: Speckled Trout, Winter Density, and Adriana. These varieties all came through the coldest night with no damage, with just a simple Agribon cover.

Other varieties that did amazingly well were our Churchill Brussel sprouts, the Fordhook Giant Swiss chard, and Marathon broccoli. I continue to be impressed with the importance of carefully choosing cold tolerant varieties for winter production. It is well worth the extra research. Examples of varieties that did poorly were Rainbow Chard, all cauliflower, all kale except Curly kale and all our mustards. The frisee and the escarole looked like a blowtorch hit it!

The root crops suffered much damage on the leaves, however, I don’t think the roots froze, so unless the weather remains extremely cold, the leaves will likely regrow and we will have root crops to dig later. The fields that receive sunshine early in the morning did the best, because they warmed up the fastest. The one field that gets shade all morning fared the worst because it stayed frozen for hours. Many winter crops can survive an hour or two of extreme chill, but the longer the chill is prolonged, the worse the damage is going to be. If I am smart, I will remember these fields that got early sunshine and warmed up fast, so I can put the most fragile crops there next year.

We are still planning on putting lettuce and broccoli in our CSA bags in December and hope to have Brussels sprouts for Christmas. If they don’t make it in time for Christmas, then we will simply cover them up for the year and welcome them in the spring! Winter farming is challenging, but I love it!

Eat your local winter veggies!
Robin

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November on the Farm

baby red russian kale

The beginning of November is one of the most beautiful on our farm. The winter leafy crops are all in full and glorious production, and the broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts are all growing lushly and getting ready to harvest. I love it. Unfortunately, this November brought record cold. The second week of November had temperatures in the high 20’s, and the third week of November had temperatures in the teens. That’s enough to shut the farm down for the year. Not being prone to give up easily, we did all we could to save our crops. We sprayed them with seaweed extract, and we covered all that we could with Agribon. The result was some dead, some alive. That is better than I expected, though.

When we got back from Thanksgiving, we had the job of crop triage. We investigated every crop and decided if it still had harvest potential. Then, we had our crew trim the damaged leaves off of everything that had the most potential to survive and come to harvest. Things that did well included the cold tolerant lettuce varieties (Speckled trout, Adriana, Winter Density), the cold tolerant broccoli (Marathon), and the cold tolerant Brussels sprouts (Churchill). The Siberian and winterbor kale also did pretty well. Sadly, everything else was pretty much a loss. The chard was burned to the ground, but hopefully will grow back. The lacinado and red Russian kale was all a loss. The mesclun mix, mustards, and mizuna were all lost.

Most of the root vegetables had damage to the leaves, but the roots did not freeze, and now the tops are growing back. I learned something new. The extreme cold seemed to elicit growth of the roots. Turnips that were the size of a marble magically became baseball sized! All our radishes, turnips, and beets came through the freeze with flying colors, and are now doing better than ever. I was walking around the farm with Vaden (farm crew) discussing what to maintain or remove, and we decided that things all in all looked remarkably well for such an extreme cold. You really have to love the south!

Winter Farming Small File

Things slow down nicely in November. There is nothing to plant, the weeds hardly matter, and we don’t need to worry about our spring planting and CSA until at least the new year. This leaves time for attending conferences, business analysis, and some time off. We went to the Sustainable Ag Conference this November. It was an educational conference, and we attended several classes that were well worth the trouble. I went to classes on weed management, farm equipment, record keeping and analysis, as well as wild food to forage. It was refreshing to learn. Learning is one of my core values, and it bothers me when we are so busy just “maintaining”, and not taking time to seriously consider what we are doing and why. November helps.

Part of our learning this November was to put together an income and expense statement for our CSA, restaurant business, and market business. The goal was to see what is profitable and worth our time, and what is taking our time, but not making money. I know it is hard to believe we have been doing this for five years and do not know those answers. I have no excuse other than saying that I grow good crops. That is my core strength. Accounting and business analysis might not be my strength, so it was easy to not do it. This year is the first year Jay has worked the farm full time, so having him and his business background also helped push us in that direction.

We learned that all of the aspects of the business are at least slightly profitable. None are in the red. We also saw that our CSA and restaurant business do fairly well, but selling at the market is a lot of work for not so much money. It is complicated though. The market is where we have a CSA drop off. The market is where we meet lots of chefs. The market is also where we chat with people interested in food and health, who eventually become CSA members. Things are not so black and white.

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Here are a few more key learnings. The most profitable items at the market are the ones nobody else grows. We can grow the most beautiful kale in the world, but if six other growers are growing the same thing, it is harder to sell and not very profitable. This winter we plan to work on our cropping strategy, and get more brave about stepping out of the box with what we grow for restaurants and the market. We will still grow the basic things CSA members love. Another key learning is that we are putting in an enormous amount of time. We only have so many daylight hours, and we need to be sure we are putting our time and energy into systems that work. We can’t do it all, so we must prioritize, as well as make better use of the skills of those who help us.

Our last key learning for November is not underestimating the value of planned time off. This is the first year we have built in time off into our CSA and other aspects of the farm. It is key to preventing burn out. Not only do we have to take the time off, we have to go away. If we stay here, we just keep working because there is always something to do. This Thanksgiving we went to Pawley’s Island for a week. I honestly spent the first three days just reading and napping. It was raining all three days and I loved it! Even better, we spent time with people we love, another core value I can’t forget to honor.

Relax and eat your veggies!
Robin

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Basic Skillet Pac Choy

Ingredients:

  1. 3 small pac choy

  2. 1 small chopped onion

  3. 1T or more Coconut oil

  4. Low sodium soy sauce

  5. Chili garlic sauce

  6. Salt

  7. Your favorite chopped nuts

Directions:

Cut the bottom off the pac choy so that all the stalks fall off

Remove the leaves from the stalk

Chop up the stalks and put in bowl

Chop up the leaves and put in bowl (keep separate from stalks)

Heat the coconut oil in a heavy skillet

Add the chopped onion and chopped choy stalks

Cook until tender, about 5-7 minutes

Add the chopped leaves and turn off heat.

Allow the leaves to barely wilt and add a splash of soy sauce, a small spoon of chili garlic sauce, and salt to taste.

Stir it all around until well mixed and add the nuts.

Enjoy!

Don’t fear the choy!

Robin

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How to Create a CSA Box Members Enjoy

Early April CSA

This is the 5th year of our CSA and boy have I ever learned a lot. There is an art to making CSA boxes/bags/baskets that please the customer. Some general things to keep in mind are: everyone loves fruit, many people have families and don’t have time to spend hours in the kitchen, people want to eat seasonally, but don’t want the same thing every night, and most important, everything has to look fresh and pretty.

April CSA Bag

  1. Fruit is important. More than anything else we put in our CSA bags, people love to get fruit. Maybe it’s because many members have children, and kids love fruit, or maybe it’s because fruit is just yummy! Because of this, we not only give members berries from our farm, we also work with other local Carolina growers to include fruit in the bags all season. In the summer, when melons, berries and peaches are in season, we are sure to include them. Even if it is the dead of winter, local apples are still available and people want them.

  2. Customers are busy and don’t have time to spend hours in the kitchen cooking. The first year of our CSA I was so excited to fill the CSA bags with all kinds of vegetables I knew they would never find in the grocery store. I thought this added value to our CSA and that the customers would love it. Then a dear sweet member, Jamie Allen, gave me some very valuable truth. She said she is a busy mom and it’s stressful to have to Google every item in her CSA bag to figure out what to do with each one. This was some great advice that completely changed how I view packing for our CSA members. Now I understand that busy families just want to get a healthy meal on the table. It is best to have most of the items in the CSA bag be recognizable and likely be something they can easily include in their meals, without much thought or trouble. Members do like to get unusual items, but not very often and not very many at once. Maybe one thing each week, and be sure to include some basic cooking ideas. The people who subscribe to the small bag often are even more limited in their veggie cooking comfort, making it even more important to include mostly basics in the small bags. These members are often just getting their veggie “sea legs”.

  3. Tinas CSA Bag

  4. Most of our CSA members love the idea of eating seasonally, but they don’t love the idea of having turnips for dinner every night. We are lucky in North Carolina, because we can grow a decent range of vegetables nearly all year long. It pays to spend some time thinking about what is growing in the field and what is planned for the bags. Although most customers enjoy getting things like tomatoes, lettuce, and kale regularly, most of the other veggies are things they would probably be happier to see only every few weeks. We plan our planting and harvesting accordingly.

  5. Lastly and most importantly, everything needs to be pretty and fresh. You would think if we picked it today and packed the bags for tomorrow, that of course it will be fresh. It isn’t that easy. The leafy greens have to be picked only in the morning, when it is cool, and quickly packed and put in the cold room, or they will be wilted and unattractive. To complicate matters more, if it is frosty, nobody can go in the fields at all. Harvest has to wait until things thaw out. The simple act of getting pretty greens in a bag and keeping them pretty can be very challenging. There is also the issue of cooling. We have a very rustic cold room, with a cooling unit called a “Coolbot.” This is a very affordable, but basic system ($500 vs $10,000). The downside is that it will only take temperatures down to about 48 degrees, and much warmer than that if it is 100 degrees outside. I’m constantly asking the farm workers to “close the cold room door!” or “stay out of the cold room!”. Quite often, one of our farm helpers packs the CSA bags. Unfortunately, two of our workers are high school kids, and the other doesn’t cook. This means they don’t have an eye for amounts to put in the bag, or what fresh produce should look like. This takes training. We are constantly improving systems on how to keep produce at the best possible temperature for only a very short time, so that when the bags get to the customer they are as perfect as they can be.

csa-boxes

Packing veggie bags and boxes that will please everyone is really important to me. We absolutely want all of our CSA members to view opening their veggie bag like Christmas, fully expecting beautiful things. If you have advice, I would love to hear it! Input from sweet members like Jamie help us make things better every year.

Eat your veggies!
Robin

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