Planning for Change

 

One of the many things I learned as an apprentice is that change is constant in farming.  While planning is important, things may not always go as planned and sometimes the only constant is change.  There are weather systems, pest issues, machinery repairs, fading daylight hours, varying soil conditions, and that’s just a regular day on a farm.  It’s part of farming to plan for change, and then adjust as needed when the situation arises, but always keep moving forward.

Like many farmers, I have a job off of the farm and balancing the two became a challenge this past year.  Running our farm, and now a construction company, I soon took on more responsibility than originally planned; and while managing the company has been beneficial for business, it has pushed my full time plans for the farm back a little.

I will admit, I felt discouraged and defeated at times.  Spending more days in the office or on a job site meant being away from the farm.

But, there were those glorious days in which I was able to put my hands in the earth.  Every day on the farm is a breath of fresh air as I come up to the surface.”

Despite the change in schedule, I still had a great season with many firsts, learning opportunities, and continued growth at our farm.  After all, every step forward is still a step forward as I live my farmDREAM!

A few of my farming firsts and successes this season…

  • Growing tomatillos, lavender, and rainbow carrots
  • Attended the Illinois State Grange session and brought home ribbons for our produce!
  • Made grape juice with Grandma Bossler’s recipe, Yummy!
  • Found and purchased two very needed tractor implements
  • Moved the chicken coop
  • Cooked with rhubarb, who knew? I LOVE RHUBARB!

And yes, I started planning for the upcoming season after one week of being off for winter break.

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Cooking with Chef Natalie – Bacon Wrapped Asparagus and Creamy Baked Asparagus

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Meals are an experience at our household, whether you’re hands on in the kitchen while the festivities begin, enjoying a glass of wine while we stir up some fun, or awed by the serenade of cuisine set at the dinner table.  Tastes, smells, and sites to be seen as your senses dance with excitement.

I enjoy cooking and nothing makes me happier than seeing the fresh produce I’ve grown on my farm turned into delicious recipes for everyone to enjoy!  Early spring asparagus is so exquisite I normally take a simplistic approach to recipes not to overshadow the fresh flavor.  I invited Chef Natalie to my kitchen to prepare two asparagus recipe’s to accompany our dinner.

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You should always use the best ingredients that are made available to you and that fits your budget.  It’s a simple tip but one that makes a huge difference.  We used fresh thick cut bacon from our neighbors farm to flavor and accompany our home-grown asparagus.

Bacon Wrapped Asparagus

  • 1 1/2 lbs. Fresh asparagus spears
  • 5 – 8 Pieces of fresh-cut bacon
  • 2 T Olive oil
  • * Black pepper to taste

Clean the asparagus and break off the end pieces.  The stem will naturally break at the tender spots and you can discard the end pieces for compost or use to flavor soups.  Lightly brush the asparagus with olive oil and pepper to taste.  Spiral wrap 2 – 3 pieces of asparagus with bacon.  You can secure the pieces with a tooth pick before grilling if needed.  Place the asparagus on the grill and cook until bacon is crisp and spears are tender.

grilled asparagus IMG_3187 FullSizeRender[2] Creamy baked asparagus

Creamy Baked Asparagus

  • 1 lb.  Fresh asparagus spears
  • 1/4 Cup  Peppercorn Ranch Dressing
  • 1/2 Cup Grated Smoked Gouda Cheese
  • 12 Ritz Crackers, coarsely crushed (about 1/2 cup)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Clean asparagus spears, remove ends, and blanch in water for 2 -3 minutes.  The asparagus should be bright green and still crisp.  Drain and place in a baking dish.  Add dressing and toss to coat, then sprinkle crushed crackers and top with smoked gouda cheese.  You can substitute the gouda for parmesan or cheddar cheese if you have that on hand, but trust me the gouda is good.  Bake in the oven for 10 – 12 minutes until  the top is lightly golden and crisped.  This recipe was modified from the original on KraftFoods.com.

» If you’d like to grow your own, check out my recent “How To” post on Planting Asparagus!

Planting Asparagus

Asparagus spears peeking through the earth are one of the first signs that spring is here! A farm favorite, and an early perennial, it is the gift that keeps on giving.

When we purchased the farm in early spring of 2013 we were lucky to have a few surprise plants, still left by the garden, to get us by until our new plants were established and well on their way. Once planted, and if cared for, asparagus plants will produce for 15-20 years.

planting asparagus

Selection
It is important to choose asparagus crowns that are from a reputable distributor or trusted local producer. Invest in healthy plants and you’ll be rewarded for years to come. Asparagus plants take 2-3 seasons before full production but 2-3 year old crowns are available to purchase if you are eager to get a head start. I have had success with planting both younger crowns and 2-3 year old crowns.

I purchased my crowns through Nourse Farms. The varieties we chose were Jersey Night, Mary Washington, and Purple Passion. When selecting your asparagus choose varieties that are well suited for your area. Online information is plentiful depending on which zone you live in or you can check with your local extension office.

Soil Location and Preparation
Select a location that has good drainage and plenty of sunlight. Asparagus prefers a pH range of 6.5 -7.5. You can amend the soil by applying lime if too acidic or sulfur if the soil is too alkaline. Prepare the soil by removing any weeds, as asparagus does not do well when competing. I suggest mulching to keep the weeds at bay.

Planting
When you receive your crowns make sure to keep asparagus roots dry and do not soak them. The sooner you can plant them the better, but remember it is springtime and Mother Nature does not always cooperate. Store the crowns in a cool dark place like a basement, root cellar, or garage until you are able to plant.

planting asparagus placing asparagus in trench asparagus crowns in trench

When you are ready to plant furrow 8” – 10” and spread compost in the bottom of the trench. Separate the asparagus roots like a mustache, spacing 10” – 12” apart, with the crown facing upwards. Make sure the roots have plenty of room to spread out and flourish. Cover the crown with 2” – 4” of soil. As the asparagus plant grows you will continue to add earth to the trench until it is filled, allowing the fern to stay above the soil. The ferns will dry and wither as fall approaches and after winter you will cut back and discard. If all goes well you will be able to harvest that spring and the following season you can enjoy the full abundance of your asparagus.

Next week I will be cooking with Chef Natalie to share a delicious recipe with asparagus, fresh from the farm and straight to your inbox!

farmDREAM – Winter Hibernation Update

fallwinter14It was only a week after completion of my first season as a farm apprentice that I needed to get back in the dirt. Worn and tired, we were all looking forward to a short reprieve, but a girl can only organize so many closets.

Winter has been long and my hibernation is drawing to a close. Each hint of warmth from an abnormally high temp mid February awakens the soul and I am ready for planting.

Farm magazines are sprawled out and circling me as I sit in my office picking and choosing my spring line-up of seeds.  There are many varieties that I am excited about and some new ones I am looking forward to trying.  I order seeds and products from two locations; Johnny’s and Hummert International.

We added a “new” tractor to our fleet.  New for me, but gently used, and it will help me accomplish everything I need to on the farm.  I think Uncle Glenn would be proud, as our tractor shed is filled with mostly red (Massey Ferguson).  I also have a new tiller attachment and looking for a furrower as we speak.  I will need this to plant more asparagus crowns, rhubarb and potatoes this spring.

I am very excited about our greenhouse and hope to have it put up within a month.  We spent a long weekend at a local winery labeling with care and taking it apart.  Special thanks to my fellow apprentices from Riverbend Roots Farm and my parents for coming to the rescue and helping us.  Our next step is to prep and level the ground so we can start to assemble the gothic style greenhouse.

A large compost pile has been constructed near the greenhouse site.  Compost minimizes household food waste and green debris throughout the farm. Compost is being incorporated into the soil as the conventional farm ground is readied for growing produce.

There is still a lot of planning and work going into this next season.  I will continue to work as a farmer-in-training and earn my official status as a farmer.  I am also designing our farmstand, which will be located at the edge of our property.  We’ve been making way on restoration plans for the house and slowly but surely we will get there.  At the end of each day there is a smile on my face and my partner through life right by my side! #followingthefarmdream

 

STOP the Bullying and Show Some LOVE

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“Words can hurt. They hurt me. Things were said to me that I still haven’t forgotten.” -Demi Lovato

Sticks and Stones may break my bones but words will never harm me. Unfortunately the old adage is incorrect and the scars of abuse from childhood bullies still remain. The effects lingered into all aspects of life and relationships with friends, coworkers, and love. It is something I have dealt with my entire life and it has taken me 30+ years to come to terms.

This isn’t your typical pumpkin pie post. October is National Bullying Prevention Month and I am taking this opportunity to open up and utilize my voice and blog as a platform to get a message across.

The topic of bullying has been around for a long time and I have shied away from addressing it, probably, because it opens up too much of my life and who I am. As a professional in the marketing world I usually keep my personal image and business image separate, as do many people in all industries, but why should I hide from something that wasn’t my fault?

When I was in grade school I was bullied. Yes, I had braces and the usual pre-teen angst but it went beyond that. The boys, (bullies) were relentless. Not only would they taunt me with words but at times it was physical. Even though these children were very different they all had the same issue. They needed LOVE. Their home life may have been broken, filled with divorce, lack of attention, and low self-esteem.

So, they chose to project their insecurities onto me and I carried the load for all of us.

I think because this type of abuse doesn’t leave bruises we don’t treat it the same as physical violence, but it does in fact leave bruises that the victims can’t get rid of. These bruises not only stay with us but they change who we are and who we may become. It is the responsibility of educators to identify these issues and work with parents on both sides to correct the issue. Telling the child that is bullied to get a thicker skin and not address the children doing the bullying is WRONG. And parents, it starts at home; show your children LOVE.

From childhood bullies to adulthood I faced an abusive relationship of seven years. People that are closest to me know my battle and for some this will be a surprise and a shock. My point in discussing all of this and exposing abuse is to let people know childhood bullying extends beyond the schoolyard and it can become severe.

You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.
Maya Angelou, Letter to My Daughter    

I started the dialogue, now I want you to continue and STOP THE BULLYING. I urge you to find a friend, coworker or child and talk to someone about bullying. Share your story or mine and share your thoughts, and a little LOVE.

If you need help with starting the conversation or to learn more about preventing bullying, resources for help, and how to fight back you can click here:

stomp out bullying                       bully project logo

A Taste of Summer Throughout the Winter: Canning Salsa with Recipe

salsa finished

Of Course I Can, and you can too! This is only my second summer of canning and with each recipe I learn how to be more efficient and comfortable with preserving our farm bounty. There are many helpful tutorials online and I use the Ball Blue Book – Guide to Preserving as my go-to kitchen reference for all things canning. The most important step to remember is following the sanitary and processing guidelines. Safety first!

It has been a busy summer and I have learned so much from my apprenticeship at Riverbend Roots Farm. The team I work with are more like family then coworkers and I hate the idea of leaving them.  My bosses Kris and Stacy are amazing farmers who share a passion for bringing naturally grown farm fresh produce to customers, as well as, sharing their knowledge with aspiring farmers-in-training. I am so lucky I have had this opportunity to learn from the best.

I’ve been applying what I learn to our farm and have had a successful harvest this season. I’m eager to move forward on a larger scale next year as I follow my farmDREAM. I love the fresh goodies provided during the farm season, but what about when the weather turns cold? Well, canning and preserving will give me a taste of summer harvest throughout the winter.

This year I decided it was long overdue to can salsa. This recipe is my first attempt and I’ve been receiving positive feedback thus far. I use what’s available at the farm and have noted the measurements that appeal to us, but if you prefer more or less of something make the adjustments and you will have great salsa every time! The best thing about any recipe is that you can make it your own.

Homemade Salsa Recipe

  • 10 Cups tomatoes; peeled, cored, chopped, which takes about 8 lbs of fresh tomatoes
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 1/3 Cup seeded, chopped jalapeno peppers (about 5 small jalapenos)
  • 5 Cups chopped onions (1 large red and 4 small yellow)
  • 4 cloves garlic or 2 tsp minced garlic*
  • 1 Cup lime juice*
  • 1 bunch of fresh cilantro (about 1-2 Cups)*
  • 1 ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper

*½ tsp minced garlic = 1 clove of fresh garlic

*Acidity is needed for canning. You can also use lemon juice or cider vinegar but I find lime juice has the best taste for salsa.

*based on your taste you can add 1-2 Cups of fresh cilantro. I use 2 cups when cooking my recipe because we love cilantro! In addition I chop ½ cup fresh cilantro and mix into salsa before serving.

tomato bath

1.  Place whole tomatoes in a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds and then immediately remove and place them into an ice water bath. Remove from the water and easily peel skins.

2.  Dice tomatoes and remove seeds.  After measuring 10 Cups of tomatoes I pour into a strainer to remove excess water.

3.  Remove seeds and veins from jalapeno peppers. If you like your salsa hot you can leave some of the seeds and veins intact. Chop peppers, onions, garlic and cilantro.

4.  Add all ingredients into a large stock pot. Add seasoning; lime juice, ground cumin, salt and pepper to taste. Bring all ingredients to a simmer and allow to cook for 18 minutes.
cooking salsa in stockpotSanitize glass jars, rims, and lids in hot water bath for use. Once your salsa has been cooked pour the hot batch into sanitized jars and twist lids tightly.

Process jars in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes. Once jars have cooled check center of lid and make sure the safety seal does not pop. If there are any jars that did not properly seal you can place in the fridge and use right away. You can also freeze the salsa.

I use what’s available at the farm and have noted the measurements that appeal to us, but if you prefer more or less of something make the adjustments and you will have great salsa every time!

Add a little art to your garden with this easy project – Plant Markers

“Stop to smell the roses”, or in my case take some time to enjoy the farmDREAM and find a healthy balance between work and play.  I make a point after a hard day of work at the farm to end the day with a little reflection on what has been accomplished.  There are always chores to be done, but as I have gotten older I am working on taking breaks to “stop and smell the roses”.

I had successfully weeded the entire garden and it was bursting with emerging plants, but it needed something more.  I decided to create some easy plant markers to add a little pop of color and try a beginners art project for the not-so-artsy.  I purchased some outdoor paint from Michaels and utilized some rocks that were in a pile on the farm.  You could also use bricks, garden pavers, or wood.  Make sure to allow the paint to dry on the painted surface for 12 – 24 hours.  This project was so fun and simple, and I think it will be a fun project for my nieces the next time they are at the farm!

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