Tag Archives: organic

This is what seasonal looks like

Spinach. Again. Walking onions, green garlic, radishes, and kale. A curly head of lettuce from the greenhouse. Nice to have rhubarb—so early this year.

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Welcome to the season’s first community-supported agricultural shares on Colorado’s Front Range.

When members join a CSA, it doesn’t take long to figure out that eating locally and seasonally isn’t like shopping at a grocery store. Variety and availability is determined by the climate—temperature, day length, precipitation, zone, and weather influence what can be planted and when. After winter’s frigid temperatures, the soil needs time to warm up before most crops can be seeded. Even when spring days are sunny and warm, nights remain cool. The last frost of the winter can hit in March, April, or even May. Until all chance of frost has passed, tender crops can’t be planted. Moisture is another variable: too much and seeds rot in the ground; not enough and they don’t germinate.

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All these factors and more determine what’s ready in the Stonebridge barn each week. From early May until mid-June, the share is limited because fall-planted or perennial plants are still waking up from the winter. At Stonebridge, the season starts a month earlier than most CSAs in our area because our members are ready for early spinach and fresh lettuce. From kale to rhubarb, anything else is a bonus in those first unpredictable weeks.

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In Colorado, we say if you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute. Change will come. The same is true in eating seasonally. When we’re tired of the same early crops, the brassicas—cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage—started in the greenhouse and transplanted to the fields in early spring soon join the line-up, along with baby beets and carrots seeded in May’s still-cool soil. Peas—so much work but such a treat—show up next in the barn; many of them don’t make it home but get eaten on the drive instead. Spring-planted spinach comes on as winter-over spinach begins to bolt. Kale and chard are both raring to go. All those greens take getting used to but, as our doctor says, eating greens “is like eating health.”

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Once the summer squash and cucumbers need picking every other day, the garden’s bounty has arrived. Garlic is harvested and given every week. Beans beg for picking as beets and carrots become Saturday regulars. The show-offs of the fields—tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant—make their many weeks’ seeding, weeding, and tending worth it. Even people who think they don’t like eggplant admit that a fresh one is a whole different matter.

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Come August, farmers are busy harvesting and members are busy cooking, canning, drying, and freezing with help from our weekly recipe list (stonebridgefarmcsa/recipes). This plentitude won’t slow down until the temperatures cool again. When first frost threatens, high summer crops are pulled for the barn; the pepper “pick-down” yields plenty for freezing, too. After frost nips the vines, winter squash and pumpkins are harvested in a hand-to-hand relay from the fields to the hay wagon and the hay wagon to the barn. Onions come in from the fields to cure, leaving autumn’s Asian and other greens, roots like rutabagas, carrots, and turnips, and whatever’s stored in the barn to fill the end-of-season shares.

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Repetitious? Sometimes. Unpredictable? That’s farming. But people who hang out at a CSA learn to treat vegetables like old friends. Ah, how wonderful to see you again! It’s been a year since we last met. You’re looking well. I can hardly wait to make that soup/salad/dip/dessert I only make each spring/summer/fall.

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Seasonal eating has its challenges. In any given year, one crop will shine and another will lack luster. Especially in Colorado, no week can bring the amount or variety of vegetables available at a grocery store. We hope the benefits of supporting local agriculture outweigh that inconvenience. Fresh is a flavor; fresh-picked veggies just taste better. Not to mention the value of keeping local land in organic agricultural production through participation in a community-centered, reciprocal effort. As we say at Stonebridge, when the community feeds itself, the land and the people prosper.

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Eating seasonally brings surprises, satisfactions, and delights. It also brings disappointments and, sometimes, failures. Good thing farming is forgiving. Each season, we get to try again.

If you’re a new CSA member, learning the season’s rhythms takes time. If you give it a chance, one day that shift will occur. From kids learning to eat vegetables to members anticipating the next crop, we’ve seen that magic in the barn as “Spinach again???” becomes “Yippee, spinach again!!!”

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When Life Gives You Hailstones, Make Polentil

Two weeks ago, we planted a beautiful field of heirloom tomatoes grown from seed we’d saved last fall. Later that evening, hail destroyed almost every plant.

We’d never seen a hailstorm like this one: three hours of pea-to-ping-pong-sized hail breaking in waves against the foothills, pummeling first from the east and then circling back even more fiercely from the west. We couldn’t even leave the house to check on the tomatoes, so constant was the hail and lightning that lit the sky like pinball machines in an arcade. Tornadoes destroyed 28 homes just miles east of us as the storm’s “tornadic activity” spun black clouds of hail over our region, leaving a twisted mess of sheered trees, damaged roofs, and cracked windshields behind.

As soon as daylight broke, we walked out to inspect the damage. An empty field greeted us where lush tomatoes had stood the day before. I had to look twice to be sure it was the same field we’d left full of hearty tomatoes. Now, broken stems marked where each beautiful plant had died.

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All the crops were tattered, but the tomatoes fared the worst, a loss not only of plants but of the countless hours spent saving and planting seeds, tending the greenhouse, watering, and transplanting into specially prepared fields. Even in good conditions, tomatoes are a high maintenance vegetable but we love them enough to make all the work worth it. Thinking of the effort wasted on row after row of ruined plants, we were all in a bit of shock at the damage they’d sustained.

Luckily, we had started many more seedlings than we needed in the spring. We were able to “cup up” most of what we lost. They’re two weeks behind and not as robust as our first crop, but we’ll make do. If the season’s a long one (we always hope for a late first frost), we’ll have good tomatoes.

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We cancelled our farm pick-up for members that first Saturday after the storm. With spinach and lettuce torn ragged and the fields muddy from two days of rain, we had nothing to pick. We’ve only cancelled a couple times in 24 years as a CSA, all for weather events, like the flood of September 2013 when our farm was barricaded behind the security barrier to our nearby town and most members were too busy evacuating to pick up vegetables anyway. Still, we know that farming in this region, we’ve been lucky never to cancel for hail before.

Instead of picking vegetables for the members that Saturday after the storm, the barterers came to cultivate the onion and carrot beds compacted from the hail and rain. We broke up the crust starting to form on the topsoil and weeded as best we could in the sodden soil so the finger-sized onions and tiny carrots could grow more easily.

Mid-week, a welcome crew of barterers and volunteers showed up to transplant the rest of the peppers, eggplant, and basil, which fortunately hadn’t been set out yet because of the cool weather. We cultivated many more beds, working down the long rows to ease the soil compaction and finish the weeding delayed by the recent rains.

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Last Saturday’s pick was meager—kale, scallions, arugula, spinach, baby bok choy, and garlic scapes. “Hail kale,” our barn boss wrote on the board, since it didn’t amount to much. Although not all our members are attuned to them yet, scapes were the standout vegetable that day. A scape is the shoot of a hard-necked garlic plant, the part that will flower and form a new seed head. Removing the scapes puts energy into the garlic bulb rather than the flower, forming a larger bulb. We used to compost the scapes until we learned we could cook with them too. Now we chop and use them just like garlic in stir-fry, sauces, or on bruschetta, or preserve them chopped in olive oil in the fridge.

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We also served pancakes, since last Saturday had already been scheduled for our annual pancake breakfast. Despite the skimpy pick, or maybe because of it, we wanted to celebrate the farm and say thanks to our members for supporting us during tough times, as well as during more fruitful seasons. This year, we learned again what tough times could mean. As always, folks brought toppings to share—strawberry butter, homemade salted caramel, fruit preserves, canned applesauce, even home-tapped maple syrup from a son’s tree back east. Nothing like sharing a multi-grain pancake and fresh toppings with friends to lift one’s spirits.*

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Last night, John and I sauteed our garlic scapes, scallions, kale, and spinach as a topping for what we call “polentil”—cooked lentils stirred with soft goat cheese into polenta just before it’s cooked to firmness, served with a glass of our own chai-spiced honey mead. We layered the polentil with tomato sauce from last year’s tomato harvest and topped it with the hail greens and alliums. It may not have been much, but it couldn’t have tasted better or been more filling.

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This week’s pick looks pretty much like normal, a decent size and offering for late June. The broccoli’s coming on, spinach and kale have sized up, and stunned lettuces have grown through their hail-laced moment. More scapes are on their way, and everything else isn’t far behind. Before we know it, we’ll be back in the bounty of the season, the time when a share puts lots of hearty meals on the table. The gardens have their own recovery plan; we just help it along. As with any season, we’ll do our best to follow the land’s lead: we work, we wait, and the earth gives again.

 

*You can find our pancake recipe in A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography

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Protein vs Garlic: The Unsavory Side of Food

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John and I ate at a new Boulder café recently, one with a cute name and homey décor. I liked the selections of fresh vegetables (including peas with a creamy basil sauce), but I was put off by how the menu was meat-laden in disingenuous ways. For most of the dishes, “protein” choices were listed as extra options—except they were all animal meat products. When I asked whether the cafe carried any non-meat proteins like tofu, the server said haughtily, “Oh, we don’t do any SOY products here.” As if SOY were a bad word.

I know soy has problems, particularly of the genetically modified kind. To put U.S. agriculture into perspective, according to the latest USDA census just over 50% of ALL crops grown here are corn and soy. Just those two. And the vast majority of that production is genetically modified and used either for livestock feed or processed for products like high fructose corn syrup, corn sugar, sorbitol, soybean oil, and soy emulsifier, which doesn’t even sound appetizing.

But organic soy for tofu is available and I imagine a Boulder restaurant would have access to that product (especially with the headquarters of White Wave organic tofu located in nearby Broomfield, CO). So in response to the “We don’t carry soy” announcement, I wanted to say, “But you do carry DEAD ANIMAL products.” Whatever. Why not just say MEAT?

I’m not necessarily opposed to eating animals, but I am opposed to the extensive use of resources to raise, process, and market them, as well as to the cruel and disgusting ways they’re raised. (So-called “humane” treatment does not address the first concerns and barely addresses the second.)

Food writer Mark Bittman recently published “The True Cost of a Burger,”  a provocative analysis of the externalized costs of a cheeseburger, meaning the costs that aren’t paid directly by the consumer or the producer. Generally for meat, these are environmental costs like excessive CO2 emissions and health problems like obesity with its related chronic diseases. We all pay these costs both personally and socially through increased insurance premiums and ecological degradation, as well as lowered quality of life. In Bittman’s words, “Industrial food has manipulated cheap prices for excess profit at excess cost to everyone; low prices do not indicate “savings” or true inexpensiveness but deception. And all the products of industrial food consumption have externalities that would be lessened by a system that makes as its primary goal the links among nutrition, fairness and sustainability.”

I understand dietary concerns about gluten and the imaginatively named “paleo” diet’s de-emphasis on grains, especially wheat, since what passes for wheat flour in this society isn’t anything like real food. However, I worry that the emphasis on meat over a variety of whole grains will prove costly to our health, as well as to the planet’s. Certainly, the over-emphasis on protein these days seems suspicious.

It seems that the industrial food lobby is pumping up the idea that people in this country need more protein. Obviously, meat producers benefit from this marketing campaign, but it’s showing up in other areas too, like the new high-protein Cheerios, Special K, and Fiber One cereals that not only contain increased protein (from what source they don’t say) but also increased sugar of several different kinds, including–you guessed it—corn sugar and corn syrup. As food nutritionist Marilyn Nestle writes, “And just a reminder about protein: American consume roughly twice as much as needed.  Protein is not an issue in U.S. diets. This is about marketing, not health. I guess Cheerios SUGARS, Fiber One SUGARS, or Special K SUGARS PLUS ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS wouldn’t go over nearly as well.”

Sadly, food has become a quagmire these days. We feel guilty for eating some things and get sick from eating others. We don’t know the growing and labor conditions of many of the foods we eat—and many of them are unrecognizable as food, anyway.

That’s why I’m happy to grow vegetables, fruit, and herbs that can be used as close as possible to their natural, unprocessed forms. Like garlic. I spent a little time this afternoon choosing this Saturday’s share of garlic from the beautiful bulbs we’ve harvested the last couple weeks. We had some for lunch, in fact, sautéed with greens and sunflower seeds.

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Fresh garlic is hotter and juicier than aged garlic but its garlicky taste is milder, too. We love it as the preamble to all stir-fries and pasta toppings at Stonebridge. Garlic may not be high in protein, but each bulb has wonderful health benefits, is inexpensive, delicious, and easy to store. I’m willing to bet its carbon footprint is relatively low. Not to mention, garlic is simply beautiful! You just can’t get all that in a box or on a styrofoam tray.

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Reader’s Note: For a terrific new review of my book, A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography, that looks at farming today, see “Weather or Not, We All Eat.”

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Jam for All: A Review of Jam Today Too by Tod Davies

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As lunchtime approaches for the Saturday crew picking CSA shares at Stonebridge Farm, our field talk turns to food. What to do with the lovely broccoli we’re harvesting; our favorite way to fix kale; our favorite meal from Stonebridge vegetables. For people who love food, chatting about what we like and how we’ll prepare it is almost as much fun as cooking and eating it.

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Reading Jam Today Too by Tod Davies (Exterminating Angel Press) is like sharing food stories with a friend across a big bowl of shelling peas. One recipe leads to another until, all of sudden, the bowl is full and so are we. Because food is connected to the people and places we love, talking about food feeds us, too.

A sequel to her earlier Jam Today, JTT includes recipes for disasters, grief, home, friends, feasts, and even eating alone. Each chapter serves up new ideas for how to make the most of ingredients on hand.

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But Jam Today Too is not just a cookbook in the compilation-of-recipes sense. As the title of chapter eight makes clear, JTT also offers Food for Thought. In Davies’ words, she writes “to join together sides of life that get artificially separated: as if what you eat every day doesn’t have to do with who you are and where you fit in your world.”

In the grab-and-go cuisine of the US today, food doesn’t seem to count for much. But a counter-movement (or would that be an anti-counter movement, in the case of fast food restaurants where meals are transacted at the counter?) that places food at the center of our lives reminds us to pay attention not only to what we eat, but to how. How do the food choices we make connect us to the health and well-being of our bodies and to the environment upon which we depend?

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Over and over, Davies’ stories exemplify the relationships forged through the meals we eat each day. To Davies, meals taste better when you know where the ingredients come from. In “Best Spring Dinner for Two,” for example, she tells us not only what ingredients she used, but from whom they came: “Take out four eggs. These should be eggs from someone like Dawn the Egg Lady, who coddles her chickens in a warm shed built against her house, and feeds them table scraps.” And so on, until not only Dawn, but her husband Doug and their three dogs become characters in a story that concludes, “For some reason those eggs taste best. Don’t ask me why.”

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By reading Jam Today Too, we know why. The overarching message of this book is that food matters. As Davies admits, “I love anything that makes something big out of something apparently small.” This is exactly what Jam Today Too teaches us. Food is much bigger than it appears. Food takes us from birth to death, with good times and bad in between, and Davies is there with us for all of it. Food for disasters? Think basics. Food for grieving? Think comfort. Reading about Aunt Celia’s beloved candied pecans and “green mold” prods us to ponder what recipes we’ll leave to loved ones at our own deaths. It’s no surprise that the biggest chapter in JTT is “Food for Home” because “Love and food go together—and they both mean home.”

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The subtitle of Jam Today Too is “The Revolution Will Not Be Catered.” By this Davies means that no one should expect to be served by others but rather that we all should pay attention to the ways we can help each other be well. As a farmer, I agree. Safe, nutritious and delicious food should not be the privilege of the affluent in some hyper-individualist ethos, but rather the right of all through community cooperation. And what need is more commonplace than the growing, preparing, and eating of food? Jam Today Too is an antidote to the industrial food lobby’s portrayal of food as inconvenient, irrelevant, and even harmful. Davies’ book reminds us that real food–the kind that nourishes both body and soul—is found in the simplest meals made with love.

 

If you love talking–and writing–about food, join us September 18-19 at Stonebridge Farm for a food preservation snapshot story retreat sponsored by the Center for Digital Storytelling. For more info, see http://storycenter.org/savory-story-series/

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42nd Earth Day and Still Counting

On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day, I was a student in Mr. Osborn’s fifth grade class at Sherwood Elementary. Earth Day was organized by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson to bring national attention to the alarming state of the environment through grassroots actions. On Earth Day, people were asked to demonstrate care for an earth whose gifts of clean air, water, and soil could no longer be taken for granted.

My fifth grade class (I'm in the lower left hand corner with knee socks)

Our fifth grade class decided to celebrate the first Earth Day by turning the hard dirt outside our classroom into a beautiful garden of grass and flowers.  All it would take, we thought, were some shovels and a few seeds. We showed up with tools—the girls in pants, which weren’t normally allowed—and worked like crazy all day to get that small square of soil ready for the plants we imagined would grow there. Mr. Osborn even let me run a block home for my wagon to haul away rocks and trash. With rakes and hoes in our young hands, we scratched tiny furrows in the soil to plant our hopeful seeds.  A little water, and we’d have our first Earth Day garden.  At the end of the day we were dirty and tired, but proud to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

 

Around the world, 20 million participants representing thousands of schools and communities organized events like ours from planting trees to picking up trash along highways in what Senator Nelson called a “spontaneous response at the grassroots level.” Earth Day proved that many people did care about the environment, becoming a symbol for the new ecological movement that at that point held so much promise.

Today Earth Day and its message of stewardship is still part of many school curriculums. Children learn about the value of recycling, saving energy, and protecting endangered species.  Since the first Earth Day, stricter standards have been passed for air and water pollution, cars have become more fuel efficient, and many contaminated areas have been recovered.  But 42 years after the first Earth Day, we are living that fearful future of vanishing species, toxic food, oil spills, nuclear disasters, and climate change-amplified weather crises.

To celebrate Earth Day’s 40th anniversary two years ago, we planted an Opalescent Apple tree at Stonebridge Farm in memory of Mr. Osborn, my fifth grade teacher who had died just a few months earlier.  Many years will pass before Mr O’s tree bears fruit in the old orchard beyond the barn, just as many years have passed since planting my first Earth Day garden. When I tend that tree, I remember how Mr. O inspired us to care about the natural world by getting our hands in the soil. He taught us the Earth Day lesson of working together to care for our environment by visualizing the world in which we wanted to live. Even though the grass and flowers didn’t survive long in the high traffic area outside our schoolroom, it didn’t matter because the real seeds had been planted in us.

Ecology stickers I've saved from fifth grade

This Earth Day we’ll celebrate by learning to forage wild plants on our farm. Foraging lends a new perspective on so-called weeds by showing us that plants we overlook or eradicate can have value. Similarly, Earth Day teaches us that we need to look more closely at the earth’s interconnected ecosystems if we are to be good stewards of this planet.

We’ll plant an apple tree too, one John grafted from the branch of a blush apple tree in our farm’s old orchard. That tree probably came from a seed planted by a bird or squirrel or apple fallen from another tree. Since apple trees grown from seeds don’t come true to the parent tree, until we grafted it, our tree may have been the only apple like it in the world. Now this second Stonebridge apple will bear more wine-fleshed fruit born of this place and bringing the past into a future we hope promises harvests for generations to come. 

In fifth grade, I believed that solutions to the world’s environmental problems would be achieved in my lifetime. How naïve I was to underestimate the economic forces that value profit over preservation and the lack of political will to challenge them. The view that the earth is only ours for the harvesting has led us to disregard its limitations. We should all participate in “green” efforts to plant school gardens, recycle our cans and bottles, or eat locally grown organic vegetables as ways to honor the earth as our home, yet actions like these alone will not save the planet. The changes needed to stop further ecological degradation are monumental and our individual efforts so small, it’s hard to see how the tiny seeds of stewardship planted 42 years ago can still grow.

Celebrate Earth Day on April 22 this year by planting a tree—and then join others in the insistence that the environment must not only be protected for ourselves, but for generations as far as we can count. Together we must create a new vision that inspires fresh seeds of environmental activism, one that looks not only at individual actions but at collective intervention in the mounting crisis of our only earth.

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End of Season

At Stonebridge Farm, the season starts with spinach and ends with . . . donuts. On-a-string, that is. The mini powdered sugar kind that provides little nutritional value; the kind I’m embarrassed to buy at the convenience store the week before Halloween. They’re not organic. They’re not whole grain. They’re full of processed sugar, but they’re the essential ingredient to our end-of-season party on the last Saturday of October every year.

This year, a snowstorm preceded our last pick, dropping 12” of heavy wet snow and broken branches everywhere. Stonebridge always has at least one mucky fall pick; this year’s waited until the very end but made the most of its procrastination. Much of the foot-high snow had melted by Saturday morning but the ground was too muddy to harvest the rootiest vegetables like carrots and beets, so we settled for pulling up leeks and turnips to give for the final share.

Luckily, John had the foresight to harvest chard before the storm and protect it in the barn in trugs of water. Weeks ago, we had harvested plentiful garlic, onions, and squashes; on that last Saturday, they round out the share. Not a bad last pick and one that will extend a few weeks in storage. We park the bikes and trailers for the last time by the barn, another harvest morning and another successful season finished together.

A shorter harvest meant less delay in donut-on-a-string. Our young farm friend built us a “donut dangler” as a school project a few years ago; it hangs in the center of the greenhouse, a long board with five clips from which threaded donuts can be dangled just above a child’s nose (and an adult’s hairline).

The kids (and later, the even more competitive adults) line up, hands behind their backs, until John gives each donut a sly swing and yells “Go!” Jumping and standing on tippy toes with tongues out and smiles flashing, the children’s determination brings laughter from parents and farm members familiar with the limits of children’s concentration.

The kids play until each one has bitten the donut off the string, sometimes with a little re-adjustment downward from John. Donut won, they carve pumpkins and wander the party with powdered sugar faces, a little Halloween “trick” from the farmers.

Now the snow’s melted, the air is softly breezy, and a second storm is on the way. Our 20th season is over, except for a final pick-up of Thanksgiving shares in two weeks. I’m still drying apples and a few tomatoes picked green and ripened in the house. I’ll make our favorite tomato tart (see recipe below) this week with some of those house-ripened fruits, our last taste of fresh tomatoes until next summer.

One season is ending; another is beginning. Stopping and starting overlap again. We’ll miss our friends’ stalwart company in the gardens, but we’ll meet again after resting—and sleeping late a few Saturday mornings.

For John, winter will bring trees to prune and wood to chop and an ending to a magnificent teaching career, leaving more time for new adventures. For me, winter will mean waiting for news of projects finished and the initiation of others. And while we work and rest in the winter cold, we’ll plan next year’s gardens and re-arrange our lives in anticipation of the 21st season to come.  

Stonebridge Tomato Tart

I make this with tomatoes picked green and ripened indoors. They’re a little less juicy so make a nice, firm tart. This tart is really rich, so will serve 4 alongside a fall salad.

Preheat Oven to 375.

Ingredients:
3/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese
6 oz Chevre or feta or any soft, crumbly cheese
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
6 Tablespoons cold (or frozen) butter, cut in pieces.
1/2 cup very cold water
2 large or 4 medium firm, shelf-ripened tomatoes (Using gold and red tomatoes is prettier)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried tarragon (or rosemary or thyme)

Grate 3/4 cup of Gruyere cheese in cuisinart. Remove and save for filling.

Make crust:
In Cuisinart, place 1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Pulse. Place 6 Tablespoons cold (or frozen) butter, cut in pieces, into flour mix. Pulse until pea-sized. With machine running, slowly pour 1/2 cup very cold water through feed tube until the dough forms a ball. Shut off machine (you may not use the full 1/2 cup). Form into disk and chill in freezer until filling is prepared.

Slice 2 large or 4 medium firm tomatoes into 1/4 inch slices.

In small bowl, combine 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon of dried basil, and 1 teaspoon of dried tarragon (or whatever herbs you have).

In a 10” diameter ungreased tart or quiche pan, pat dough out by hand to cover bottom and form a short (1/2 inch) crust up the side. Crimp.

Place grated Gruyere on top of crust.

Arrange tomato slices (alternating colors) in concentric circles on top of Gruyere.

Drizzle olive oil mix over top.

Cover entire tart with 6 oz crumbled Chevre or feta cheese.

Bake for 35 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes before slicing into 8 pieces. 

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Gluten Free? Try GMO Free

[I wrote this letter for our local papers but want to share it with my readers first because many of you are interested in this topic and I’d love comments.]

My daughter needs a gluten-free diet so I’m used to checking labels and asking at restaurants about gluten-free options. But as an organic farmer in Boulder County, I’m also concerned about the future of our food safety now that GMOs are entering our diets. A recent study in Canada found the Bt gene in the bodies of pregnant women and their unborn babies. Since the women ate conventional diets, the Bt most likely came from corn genetically modified to contain the Bt pesticide. But because GMO foods aren’t even labeled, we’re not allowed to know whether these potential allergens are in the foods we eat, even if we try to avoid them.

In 2003, the Boulder County commissioners held a public meeting about allowing GM corn on leased county open space agricultural land. Speaking in favor of GMO crops, the State Secretary of Agriculture asked the commissioners not to “take away our tools.” When then-commissioner Paul Danish remarked to anti-GMO advocates that GM seeds were already in use so “we can’t be virgins,” organic farmer John Martin brought down the house with “We may not be virgins but we don’t have to be prostitutes.” Despite community concerns, the commissioners decided to allow GM corn on publicly owned land.

Now the county is trying to craft protocol about open space agricultural usage and the biggest debate surrounds more genetically modified crops—sugar beets most immediately—and the value of growing them in our county. On the pro-GMO side are some farmers and chemical agricultural interests like CSU and farm consultants who claim that GMOs increase yields, decrease pesticide use, and are the wave of the future for feeding an increasing world population.

On the anti-GMO side are environmentalists, organic farmers and businesses, and citizens concerned about public health. They argue that GM crops should not be allowed on publicly owned land because GMOS threaten organic agriculture, are predicated on evermore dangerous pesticides as weed resistance increases, and pose devastating risks to health through the introduction of potential allergens. Opponents also point to the terrible track records of chemical companies like Monsanto, the lack of peer-reviewed studies regarding problems to ecosystems and human health, and the inadequate governmental process for determining safety of these new types of organisms.

At a recent panel discussion of these issues, an agricultural consultant echoed the State Secretary of Agriculture by lamenting that government is “taking away our tools.” Yet the reason those tools were taken away is their toxicity. Take DDT: Scientists started raising questions about its horrible impact on natural systems in the 1940s, yet it wasn’t banned until 1972, ten years after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring alerted the public to its dangers. Clearly, that “tool” wasn’t a good one to keep in the toolbox.

As an organic farmer, I believe that GMOs “tools” are already proving dangerous and certainly don’t belong on publicly owned land. Farms like ours face potential destruction if GM drift contaminates our crops and we as farmers face lawsuits from biotech companies if GM plants are found on our land. Looking to the future, our farm would never consider selling our land to open space if GM crops might be allowed here some day. Even if the county required GM farmers to carry huge liability policies, I cannot see the possibility of GM and organic co-existing in any long-term relationship because the county cannot protect organic crops from contamination. But beyond particular organic farms like ours, the county is responsible for protecting the health of its open space land and the citizens that live here.

It’s time for Boulder County to take steps away from risky agricultural practices and start down the road to environmentally sustainable policies–which in the long run will prove economically sustainable as well–by banning GM crops, leasing smaller acreages to encourage farming for local consumption, connecting local growers with local organic businesses, and supporting transitions away from chemical dependency through organic practices that increase yields and improve soil for better human and planetary health.

If, like me, you read labels and are concerned about how the food you eat is grown, urge Boulder County to be governmental leaders toward new agricultural practices by emailing them at croplandpolicy@bouldercounty.org.

 

 

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