Tag Archives: agroecology

On Onions

This morning we finished seeding onions and leeks in our greenhouse, the first starts of our spring planting in preparation for the farm season to come. John already planted and covered Walla Walla Sweets in field beds last fall for spring onions, but this time of year we plant other less winter tolerant varieties in the greenhouse instead. Many farmers start onions as seeds or bulbs outdoors but we’ve found that seeding in flats in the greenhouse and transplanting in spring when the plants are about the size of a blade of grass works best for us. Seeding onions is cheaper than bulbs and easier than cultivating newly emerged alliums amongst exuberant spring weeds.

One of the varieties, Cortland, will provide the yellow storage onions that we’ll give to our CSA members in the fall because that variety keeps better than others. Here we are in January and we’ve still got Cortlands in our root cellar to take us through the next few months until we harvest Egyptian/walking onions (so-called because the flower heads lean over and plant themselves) and green onions in the early spring.

This week I got hungry for onion quiche, a recipe I’ve been making for 25 years that’s a kind of cross between French onion soup and quiche lorraine using onions instead of ham. The crust includes sesame seeds, which makes it extra hearty for a winter meal. We sliced and caramelized onions, grated cheese (we use Naked Goat from our local cheese shop), cracked eggs from our chickens just starting to lay again, and added some milk.

Even though I’ve made this quiche many times, this time the quiche came out even sweeter than ever. The Cortlands in winter storage had sweetened; the taste was something like onion marmalade on crust. We probably could have eaten the whole thing between the two of us but saved half for lunch the next day, when it was just as sweet, if not more so.

If you’ve got a few onions in storage, or even if you have to buy a few (preferably at a winter farmer’s market), try this hearty quiche for a warm and filling winter meal.

And what to serve with it? This time of year on our Front Range farm, “salad” is hard to come by, at least in the traditional lettuce sense. Because we’re rebuilding our season-extending “bluehouse” (named as such because it’s not the “greenhouse”), we don’t have our usual winter bed of kale and spinach. But we’ve got some small spikes of last year’s chard and fall-planted spinach out in the field under row cover that will do for now. I like those tiny leaves of spinach with grated carrot and tart green apple with a lime juice and lime-infused olive oil dressing.

Eating last fall’s onions for a winter dinner and starting next summer’s onions in the greenhouse in January bring the cycles of the seasons together. As one year’s harvest turns to the next year’s planting, we’re reminded that farming requires both looking back and looking forward, learning and planning and growing again with one eye to the weather and another to each other.

Stonebridge Onion Quiche
Ingredients:
Filling: 2 large or 4 small yellow onions, peeled and sliced in thin half-crescents
3 Tbl butter
2 cups grated Swiss cheese or a hard goat cheese like Naked Goat
3 large eggs
1 cup half and half or milk
1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp nutmeg
Crust: 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or unbleached)
1/3 cup sesame seeds
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut in pieces
1/4 cup cold water

Preheat oven to 450.
Melt 3 Tbl butter in a large pan over medium-high heat and add onions. Stir to brown evenly, about 15 minutes, until just beginning to caramelize.
Shred the cheese in the food processor and set aside.
While the onions are cooking, make the crust in the food processor. Mix flour, seeds, salt and baking powder until blended. Pulse in butter until pea-sized. Drizzle water through top of feed tube until dough forms a ball. It should be moist but not soggy. Roll out dough on pastry cloth and place in standard pie plate (8” diameter across bottom; 10” across top).
Place shredded cheese on top of the crust and top with cooked onions to cover the top evenly.
In food processor, mix eggs, half and half, salt, and nutmeg. Pour over onions.
Bake at 450 for 15 minutes; reduce heat to 350 and bake another 45 minutes. Let quiche sit 10 minutes before serving. Makes 4 2-piece servings.

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Filed under ecobiography, sustainable agriculture

Feel Good Spring

I’ve been cleaning up the perennial flowers on this spring equinox day, trying, as I do every year, to dig the grass out of the beds. Town gardeners always wonder why this is such a chore here on the farm because they’re imagining the type of grass that’s grown in yards, grass with relatively short root systems that trowels up without much effort.

But out here, we’ve got prairie rhizome grass running through the soil with roots to 10 feet deep. Of all the plants that live at Stonebridge, prairie grass is the one that most defines Stonebridge for me. Whenever we cultivate flowers, herbs, vegetables, or fruits, we uncover a vast web of fibrous grass roots as deep as we can dig.

One species in particular, Bromus Inernis, commonly called Smooth Brome Grass, is a tall prairie grass that likes to invade my perennial beds, its slender stalk arching from the weight of seed heads bronzed in the July heat. Smooth Brome was introduced from Eurasia in the 1880s and I can’t help but respect the endurance of this grass in inhabiting our arid region.

Growing perennials is somewhat foolhardy in this situation because there’s no getting the grass out permanently. In fact, “permanent” is a word that describes the grass, not our ability to control it. From rhizome grass I have learned that the true meaning of “grassroots” is found below the surface in the tenacious weaving of many into one, as well as in its indomitable persistence. We may manage to clear out grass on the surface of the garden, but that interwoven root structure will survive, sending up new blades one day when we’ve got our backs turned. Still, each spring our efforts pay off for a short while and we’ve learned to live with the inevitability of the grass’s return.

As I was weeding, I was thinking about a talk John and I joined on local food last night with a group interested in building their local food shed in a small town northeast of us. The night was hosted by some good friends who run a successful energy efficiency business and have turned their own yard into a veritable farmyard with chickens, compost bins, and gardens. Their town has a small farmer’s market and a locally owned grocery store whose owner is interested in doing more with local food, but both could use more support. Our friends are planning gardens outside their business office with dreams of a CSA down the road. I was excited to hear all the great ideas from the participants and I’m hopeful that small towns and neighborhoods like this can bring together their constituents in creating new kinds of food systems.

I said to our friend that local food is a “feel good” issue but I didn’t mean that in a derogatory way, as if food were a superficial issue or that people are drawn to it for their own benefit only. Instead, I think feeling good is where we need to start because what’s coming—peak oil, increased environmental degradation, and even struggles within agriculture itself over chemicals, GMOs, and ownership of production—is going to be weighty. So why not start with something that can be controlled to some extent at the local level and that does make us actually feel good—that is, eating food? We can also feel good when we grow it, prepare it, preserve it, and share it. Maybe this work will strengthen us for the other less feel good battles ahead.

The United Nations just released a report called Agro-Ecology and the Right to Food. The article I read cites Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food and author of the report, in a press release detailing the solutions to our current agriculture problems: “We won’t solve hunger and stop climate change with industrial farming on large plantations. The solution lies in supporting small-scale farmers’ knowledge and experimentation, and in raising incomes of smallholders so as to contribute to rural development.”

I like the term “agro-ecology” because it acknowledges that food is best grown in individual ecosystems, not in homogenous industrialized fields that use chemical inputs like gasoline and pesticides in an attempt to outdo nature. I also think the term acknowledges that the people who eat the food are part of a food system’s ecology. That doesn’t mean farmers in one area can’t share information and even seeds with farmers in another, but rather that the control of our agricultural resources must belong to everyone who eats, not just corporations or the governments carrying out their interests.

Our farm’s slogan is “When the community feeds itself, the land and the people prosper” and a major part of the work we do is advocating for local control of food and preservation of local agricultural land. By returning to the interwoven grassroots that connect us through our human right to safe, healthy, and affordable food, together we can figure out how to feel good about what we’re eating.



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