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Vendor Spotlight: Caldwell Family Farm

Sarah West

Farmers’ markets are a collection of businesses, a temporal grocery store where each shelf comes with a smiling face and a wealth of knowledge about the products they create. We’re giving our vendors the spotlight to share more about their role in the Hillsdale market community.
 
By Sarah West

 

Brett Caldwell in his winter brassica field.

Like many first-generation farmers, Brett Caldwell was drawn to farming after years of practicing in the garden. Though he grew up in Ohio, where commercial farms were a part of his childhood landscape, he knew nothing about how to run one. Just four years ago Brett was still working for Comcast, while he and his wife, Judy, tended a large edible garden that progressively took over the yard of their south Florida home. As the garden outgrew their family’s needs, he shared the bounty with friends and neighbors.
 
“I found that I really enjoyed feeding people just as much as I enjoyed growing food,” Brett explained about this first inkling that he might like to try his hand at farming.

Kids contest winner 1
A January King cabbage plant catching the morning sun.
 
Their pipe dream started to gel when the Caldwells visited Portland in 2011, falling in love with the region's beauty, strolling farmers markets, and catching drift of the active small farm scene.  A year later, a Comcast position opened up in Portland and Brett applied for it with the idea that it could help them relocate and get established while they acquired land and slowly built a farm business. He didn’t ultimately get the job, but he and Judy decided that the application process had proven to them that they wanted to go anyway.
 
“Most people,” Brett told me, “would have waited for the next opening and tried again. We, on the other hand, weren't so patient. I quit my career of 18 years, we sold everything in our house, packed up our clothes, and headed to Oregon.” 
 
Kids contest winner 2
Some of the day's fresh eggs waiting to be washed.

At a visit to the Oregon City Farmers Market, Brett learned about Clackamas Community College’s horticulture program, where both he and Judy eventually completed degrees in horticulture and urban agriculture. That education and the local connections that came from it led to the breakthrough they were waiting for, including a tip about a rental property with small acreage. By the spring of 2013 they were prepping the soil and planting their first farm vegetables.
 
Farmers markets were integral to the Caldwell’s startup, from inspiration to education to the community support that was essential to their growth.
 
“We knew we wanted to be vendors after our first visit to the Oregon City Farmers Market,” Brett recalled. “I loved seeing the farmers at the booths making connections with the people they were feeding. It was the same feeling I enjoyed when I shared food from my garden in Florida. As a vendor, I've learned so much from the people that shop with us. They've taught me various ways to use vegetables that I had previously not experienced. It's been the personal feedback from our customers that help me learn everything I need to grow delicious, healthy food.”

Kids contest winner 3
Arugula in one of the winter vegetable high tunnels.

Since 2013, the Caldwell’s have moved to a bigger farm site just south of Oregon City and now have a 17-acre spread with high tunnels (unheated greenhouses), a large covered house and yard for their poultry flock, and room for a small orchard. Caldwell Family Farm also maintains Certified Naturally Grown status, a peer-reviewed certification whose standards are based on those of the National Organic Program.
 
Caldwell Family Farm will be at Hillsdale through the winter season, selling a variety of salad and cooking greens, root vegetables, chicken eggs, duck eggs (when available), and their farm-direct preserves. Follow their Facebook page to learn more about the farm and keep track of what they’ll be bringing to market!

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter September 20 2015 Market

Sarah West

We conclude our summer market season this Sunday, and return on the 15th of November for our last quartet. Looking at the fields and orchards, it is going to be a fine set of holiday markets. Beautiful rows of chicories, escaroles and field greens will join the pantry crops. We will continue to deliver table grapes to both Food Front stores, so if you all buy them Josh has to call us up and order more, and everyone is happy.

Our preserves, albeit in a more limited selection until we get down to Sweet Creek Foods in late October, are carried by the following stores:

City Market, 735 NW 21st Ave.
Food Front, both Hillsdale & NW Thurman
Foster & Dobbs, 2518 NE 15th Ave
Our Table, 13390 SW Morgan Road, Sherwood
People's Coop, 3029 SE 21st Ave
Pastaworks, 3735 SE Hawthorne Blvd
Vino, 138 SE 28th Ave.

The grapes this week are a touch of 'Autumn in New York' – sparing you all a Billy Joel ear worm, eh? Interlaken, Canadice, Steuben, Sheridan and New York Muscat are the progeny of the New York Fruit Agricultural Experiment Station at Geneva, New York, part of Cornell University. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Geneva fruit breeding program was at its peak and as you taste these four varieties, we hope you will be impressed with the sheer breadth of their flavors. Even the apple, a paragon of diversity, doesn't come close to the grape. Interlaken, Canadice, nameless and Jupiter are chaste, lacking the biochemical events associated with seed development and maturation, so the flavors resulting from seed ripening, especially the bold spicy and floral notes, are missing. That is not entirely a deficit because other flavors are apparent, no longer masked. Be sure to compare the chaste varieties with the fecund varieties, New York Muscat, Steuben, Sheridan and Price. You can see how the seed creates a consistently larger and more complex flavor.

There is only a teaspoon of farms nationwide who offer such a broad array of such distinctive grape varieties. Due to the early season, this is the first time we have had eight varieties to enjoy as you watch the full eclipse of the "super moon." It is about two hours, so buy enough grapes to savor the convergence of an exceptional season for table grapes and a rare lunar spectacle. And put aside that pointless fussiness about grape seeds, just as you decided that kale is pretty delicious a couple of years ago after shunning it for decades; the seeds are an absolutely delicious dimension to the berry, as is the skin. A few years from now, some researcher will anoint the fecund grape the new superfood and you will feel a whole lot healthier knowing you we ahead of the science.

Interlaken, Canadice, Steuben, Sheridan, and numerous other grapes from that period, are named after towns in the Finger Lakes region of New York. It is a wonderful tradition that has fallen by the wayside as the station's public breeding program has stumbled into the morass of "club varieties" and the attendant cheesy commercial names. Club varieties are patented by the breeding program and released to a limited number of growers in order to keep prices high, avoid market saturation and, putatively, to maintain high quality, i.e. uniformity.

There is a tendency to pronounce Interlaken as though it is named after a city in the Bernese Oberland of Switzerland. No, the Interlaken of the grape is, as noted, a New York Finger Lake town located nowhere near the Alps and the second syllable is pronounced with a hard "a" as in "lake." Goodness sakes, we don't say Loch Oswego, do we? Well, perhaps on the 25th of January after consuming a few too many wee drams in tribute to the great poet, and forgivably, but other times never. And Canadice is pronounced with a hard "i" as in dice. Don't Eurozone them.

The harvest of beans has started and Angelica, who is in charge of their release, has handed over black turtle, Tarbesque and purgatorio for us to package for this week's market. We have given Borlotti Gaston baby eyes, but she is adamant that they need more time. It is very important to defer to staff on these matters.

We produce our own seed for most of the crops we grow, and in the process we have also worked to improve the quality of those crops, and adapt them to our soils and climate. It is a long process, but the results reinforce our efforts. In first few years of growing Amish Butter, Linda Colwell helped us as we carved rotten kernels off the misshapen ears with the sharp end of a church key in order to salvage enough to sell. That tedium is now history, and this year's ears are magnificent is every respect, the result of repeated selection over a decade. Last year, we were frustrated by problems with the black radish and have started the process of selecting roots that have better frost resistance, and working with Ave Gene's staff we are bringing back the hard-skinned storage melons we used to grow about seven years ago. These are true melons, not winter melons of Asian cuisine.

This year we will feature those melons and the mixed barley at the 2nd Variety Showcase put on by Lane Selman and the Culinary Breeding Network. As amateur breeders, we need a bit more adult supervision, so Lane has assigned two restaurants to keep us in line. Sarah Minnick of Lovely's 50/50 is developing recipes to showcase the qualities of the barley mixture. We tried her 'Triple Barley Cookies' yesterday. Made from flaked barley, barley flour and sprouted barley, they are wonderful. Sarah has a roasted barley ice cream in the works to accompany them. Joshua McFadden of Ave Genes will highlight the melon project called 'Ave Bruma' or behold the winter solstice, from the restaurant's first flavor selection. Later, around the solstice, we will bring in another pile of melons for his staff to taste and put aside again the seed from the best flavored.

At market, we will also have a smaller tomatoes (Astiana and Striped German), tomatillos, preserves, chickpeas, lettuce, beets, onions and other alliums. We will also have bunches of thyme.

We hope to see you all tomorrow,

The Boutards
Ayers Creek Farm
Gaston, Oregon

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter September 13 2015 Market

Sarah West

Back in the days of John Cage and Frank Zappa, and Stephen Sondheim finding his voice, there were families who had an uncle or neighbor who owned this weird car called a Citroën DS, maybe they owned one themselves. Viewed with either love or distain, the car grabs the eye and mind. The philosopher Roland Barthes in Mythologies (1957) discerned something profound about the car: "It is obvious that the new Citroën has fallen from the sky inasmuch as it appears at first sight as a superlative object." The 1964 Car and Driver review for the car had it parked under a billboard for Carl Reiner's Enter Laughing. Ultimately, Barthes could not fully accept the Déesse's divinity whereas automotive critic was converted. The two of us both come from families who had an uncle with a Citroën, and count ourselves among the faithful. Our courtship 39 years ago started with the purchase of 1972 Citroën DS21 Pallas. So what the devil does this obsession have to do with farming?

The connection starts in 1936, when Pierre Boulanger, the chief of Citroën, started a project coded TPV for toute petite voiture, or a completely small vehicle. It was conceived as a car for farmers. The design team included Citroen's Italian sculptor, Flaminio Bertoni, and André Lefèbvre who arrived at the company with a background in engineering airplanes. The team was under the stern direction of Boulanger.

The so-called War to End All Wars had decimated the male population, a whole generation of French farmers were buried, so the efforts of women and their children were important for feeding the nation. Boulanger's design brief called for a car that could be "drivable by a woman or by a learner driver." The brief also called for vehicle that could haul four people and a 110 LB sack of potatoes at 36 mph, and travel 78 miles on a gallon. The sculptor was told that appearance didn't matter, merely an umbrella with wheels would suffice. Most importantly and famously, the suspension had to be gentle enough that the farmer could carry market basket containing a gross of eggs (144) to market without breaking a single one, even after passing over the roughest farm roads and cobble stone streets. A fabric top could be rolled back to accommodate bulky items such as a ewe or calf. Early brochures featured livestock in the car, as well as eggs and baskets of vegetables.

The design was driven by a economy, practicality and simplicity. The original was minimalist in every respect. The prototype started out with a two-cylinder BMW motorcycle engine. After several other sorts were tried, the air-cooled engine based on the BMW design was adopted, giving the car its characteristic whine. Every part was repeatedly weighed and pared to make sure it was as light as possible.

The gearbox reflects Boulanger's fixation on farmers. He was insistent on a three speed gearbox, but his design team developed a four speed box. He was indignant, what does a farmer need with so many speeds? Stymied for a while and on the verge of loosing the argument, the team came up with a farmer's story. After market, the load is light but a farmer needs to get back to feed the chickens and milk the livestock; night is hastening and she needs a supplemental speed to reach to her farm by the last shred of light. The chief relented and the early models were marked 1, 2, 3, S, retaining a modicum of deference to his plan. The lawn mower style starter cord was dropped in favor of a starter, preferred by the team, when the women testers complained. Bertoni created a spacious car with an abundance of constant radius curves friendly and gentle in spirit, not an inkling of aggression. In various languages it quickly became known as the snail or duck.

Development was interrupted by the war, and the first 2CV (Deux Cheveaux) was finally introduced in 1948. The models in the 1950s had a 14-horsepower engine. The French authorities taxed cars by the engine's fiscal horsepower – equivalent to seven horsepower in the US and elsewhere – so at two fiscal horsepower it was very cheap to license. Despite the design emphasis on the farmer, the car was universally accepted and produced continuously until July 1990. That final car was still effectively an umbrella with wheels, with hammock seats and an underpowered, whining two-cylinder engine. Along with that artfully tuned suspension that would never hurt an egg. The car was still easy to service and repair.

There was a collective groan from 2CV owners when Richard Dreyfus in American Graffiti could not start his 2CV. All he had to do was open the trunk and pull out the hand-crank that Boulanger insisted should be included, and was until the very last car rolled off the line. When James Bond ignores the switchbacks and careens straight down a slope in a 2CV, escaping his would-be assassins in their fancy, high-powered cars, we chuckle approvingly. Indeed, Citroën produced a limited edition 007 model, and ignored the Dreyfus faux pas. A 2CV, a farmer's car, without a hand-crank, never.

Although Citroëns are singular cars, ownership is not always so. In our case, a 2CV edged its way into our lives 25 years ago, and is still used by us at the farm. Chances are, the tomatoes, onions or other vegetables you all bought at market were hauled out of the field in that 'tin snail', keeping Boulanger's vision alive in Gaston of all places. On occasion we make delivery runs to Portland in the car. Even though we use a piece of history to bring your tomatoes from the field, you still get them at the same great price. Imagine that.

Times have changed, though. The first decade we had the car, veterans would come up to us and recount a similar warm memory. They and a buddy borrowed or rented a 2CV, packed some sausage, bread and wine and took a trip into the European countryside with a couple of . . . the memory trails off into a wistful smile when it no longer relates to the car, nor did it ever. Shades of the Gary Gentry classic The one I Loved Back Then " . . . the old man scratched his head, and then he looked at me and grinned, he said son you just don't understand, it ain't the car I want, it's the brunette in your Vette . . . "

__________________________________

Again, you can pre-order the 20# lugs of Astianas ($35), as supply permits. Yep, the price hasn't changed even with the touch of the classic. Weather has been kind so we have a good number. Please try to place your order before 3:00 PM Saturday. We will not confirm, but we will tell you if we cannot fill your order. That seems to work all around.

We will also have grapes, tomatillos, hulless barley, chickpeas, onions, beets, a few plums. We will have preserves as well, we promise.

Until Sunday,

Carol and Anthony
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter September 6 2015 Market

Sarah West

For well over a decade, we were stymied by the genus Vigna, our efforts figuring as one of the farm's major nonprofit endeavors. The best we could achieve was parity, a ratio of one pound sown to one pound harvested, and we were almost celebratory about that pathetic achievement, seeing it as a hopeful sign. Most efforts failed even this slight measure of hope.

Indigenous to tropical Africa and Asia, this genus of legumes has a complex of vernacular names, including field peas, cow peas, chickpeas, southern peas, mung, dal, gram and adzuki. They have a distinct gamy flavor relative to the garden beans. They were also one of the original "beans," along with the fava, of southern Europe – the subject of Annibale Carracci's classic 'Mangiafagioli' (~1585) was tucking into a bowl of black-eyed peas, not the American garden beans we associate with Italians today.

Many plants have highly sensitive biochemical chronometers which trigger various functions such as growth, dormancy and flowering according to the dark period of the day. Plant with this requirement are called photoperiodic, and field peas possess that characteristic. In some crops agricultural cultivars have been selected for a very tight photoperiod. For example, onions and cabbage are not useful if they go to flower, or bolt, willy nilly. In Oregon, crops adapted to southern latitudes do not set flower until the nights lengthen in August or September, and there is not enough time to set and ripen their fruits. This is why okra, limas and field peas are not successful at this latitude, and as yet have no commercial cultivars suitable for Oregon. We have wasted a great deal of time and treasure on all three; hope springs eternal.

Experimenting with other crops gave us an appreciation of the challenges farming at the 45th parallel. One of the fascinating entries in the Tokyo Foundation is about Longfellow flint corn originating in New England that is grown on the island of Hokkaido. The northern part of the island lies on the 45th, which is why that variety grew well. We realized we needed to understand the crops of the island better, and that led to our Hokkaido Project. Both soy and adzukis are grown on Hokkaido, so we started trying varieties from the prefecture. Adzukis are the one Vigna, or field pea, that has commercial potential here in Oregon. We are also working on two traditional soy varieties, more on that later.

Initially, adzukis didn't sell well. We had licked the biology only to confront a marketing challenge. Despite the hesitant reaction, four customers gave us the spine to plant more. Mio Asaka (Mio's Delectables) and Naoko Tamura (Chef Naoko) used them in a traditional Japanese way as red bean paste. Last winter, David Sapp of Park Kitchen asked us if we could suggest one of our beans as a substitute for black-eye peas in Hoppin' John. A light bulb lit up and we suggested using the adzukis. We warned him they are different, but of a kind, whereas the other beans we grow are definitely not of that kind. He was happy with the result, and encouraged us to plant more. Sarah Minnick was the other person who brought them into her kitchen with a variation on their traditional use in sweets; at Lovely's 50/50 they ended up ice cream.

A couple of weeks ago we got the idea that perhaps adzukis would be tasty as fresh shelled beans. We asked people who might know and poked about a bit on-line, but no one seems to share our idea. Then again, no one had ever suggested grinding popcorn and cooking it for polenta, or steeping it in slack lime for hominy, so there is no harm in trying an unshared notion. Bear in mind there are a host of ideas that have been discretely buried and forgotten in the Ayers Creek compost pile as well. As it turns out, fresh shelled adzukis make a tasty dish, just like one of the southern peas. Not quite the perfection of a Lady pea, but up there with next tier field peas. We will have some at market this week, a one-time event, and then you all will have to wait for the dried adzukis.

We will also have grapes, tomatillos, hulless barley, chickpeas, onions, beets, maybe some plums but not sure of ilk, and tomatoes. Space permitting, we will try to include preserves as well.

We will reprise the pre-order offer for the 20# lugs of Astianas ($35) this week as supply permits. Please try to place your order before 3:00 PM Saturday. We will not confirm, but we will tell you if we cannot fill your order. That seems to work all around.

Our regards,

Carol and Anthony
Ayers Creek Farm, just a tad north of the 45th

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter August 30 2015 Market

Sarah West


Anticipating the weather shift, we have harvested a van load of grapes, prunes, mirabelles, tomatillos, onions and Astianas for tomorrow's market.

We had several questions about making tomato sauce last week. Here are our thoughts. Despite what food writers stress, fully ripe or over-ripe fruit should be avoided for canning purposes, use these in a fresh sauce. (Another calumny of the present crop of food writers is that tomatoes instantly stop ripening when they are picked from the vine. This is absolute nonsense, foolish fussiness from people who are paid to know better but never seem to actually work with fruits, just write about them.) We find the brightest and most flavorful sauce comes from fruit on the near side of ripeness, a diversity of stages produces a more interesting sauce. Avoid the fixation on color; flavor is what counts come January. A high level of acidity assures a bright and flavorful sauce.

We resist the Macbeth "boil and bubble, toil and trouble" approach to sauce making. Nothing is gained from the drama of watching and stirring the cauldron, and it leads to time wasted and an over-cooked sauce. (Akin to putting berries one-by-one, never touch, on a cookie sheet prior to putting them in the freezer when it is much easier to put the whole flat in instead.) Cooking does not concentrate the sauce, heat facilitated evaporation does. Only at the canning stage is a higher heat briefly necessary.

We wipe off the whole tomatoes if needed, pierce them a few times with a knife and place them in a big oven pan. Mound them up as they will settle down as they cook, and sprinkle some salt over the top if desired, which helps preserve the color. Put the pan in a slow oven, around 200°F. You can leave them there for hours, or overnight. Periodically, we decant off the "nectar," the amber liquid that drains from the tomatoes. We put this into 1-quart canning jars as a stock for stews and soups. After the tomatoes have fully collapsed, we run them through a food mill. We also can some whole tomatoes.

At this point, the sauce is medium thick, and can be be canned. We also further concentrate some sauce by returning it to the low oven for a day or so. Slowly and gently, it will evaporate and thicken. We find this gentle heat produces a far better sauce than rushing the process over the stovetop flame. Commercial sauces are often made with a vacuum cooker which concentrates the sauce quickly at a relatively low temperature in the range of 180°. Once again, a gentle process but as of yet there are no home kitchen vacuum cookers. The oven method works very well.

We pressure can because, well, we have one, and it is fast and easy. You can also process in a hot bath per standard instructions because these traditional tomatoes are acidic enough. Many people freeze the sauce instead of using a canner. Although we put up over 100 pints of tomato sauce at varying degrees of thickness, we never add anything but salt. We prefer to add seasonings later. Caution applies especially to ingredients that lower the acidity (increase the pH) like peppers. The acidic nature of tomatoes makes them safe and easy to can. Best not to mess with that comfortable margin of safety.

Because Astiana is our own variety and not a precious heirloom or such, we can sell them at $35/20 pounds without shame, and you get the stylish Ayers Creek Farm lug in the bargain. We will have some tomatoes prepackaged and, with a measure of trepidation, accept requests to hold 20# lugs as supply permits. Please email us before 4:00, and we will try to fill requests for 20# lugs only. And don't fret if this isn't the week for you, we will have them for the next few weeks.

We will have lose tomatoes as well for those who want just a few pounds.

The Boutards
Ayers Creek Farm

Fat of The Land - Like Pepper for Pepper

Sarah West

Most people who went to grade school in the United States know that in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. As I remember it, he was hired by the king of Spain to sail farther west than anyone before him had (anyone, that is, on 15th Century Europe’s radar) and to settle, once and for all, the age-old argument over whether the earth was round or flat. In third grade, that logic was good enough for me. And, becoming something of a Columbus Day protestor in my teenage years (after my brother read a book called, Lies My Teacher Told Me, that detailed all the atrocities Columbus unleashed upon the New World), I put the whole story on the back shelf.

Years later, I picked up a library book on the spice trade (Spice: The History of a Temptation, by Jack Turner), where I promptly learned that Columbus headed west not to solve some existential puzzle, but for the very practical reason of securing a more direct trade route to import black pepper from India. He did it for two reasons that sound jarringly familiar to our contemporary minds: money and ego.

Pepper, that uber-ordinary seasoning we take completely for granted, was as precious as gold in Columbus’ day—a sign of wealth, a highly valued commodity in very short supply, a craze. Men lost their lives fetching pepper, and everyone thought it was worth it. With the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Silk Road became too dangerous for commerce, so the Portuguese (who monopolized the spice trade at the time) took to the sea, rounding the horn of Africa in order to reach the pepper-producing coast of southern India. Spain was looking to outdo their northern rival by finding a shortcut.

When Columbus landed in the Bahamas, he thought it was (or close enough to) the East Indies. And when, in keeping with his plan, he looked for black pepper, he came upon chiles. Of those arresting fruits he and his fellow explorers found in such profusion, one crewmember wrote: “In those islands there are also bushes like rose bushes, which make fruit as long as cinnamon, full of small grains as biting as [Asian] pepper; those Caribs and the Indians eat that fruit like we eat apples.”

Our modern palates separate the two peppers by a wide margin—black pepper is floral, pleasantly bitter, stinging the tongue with a quick zing only when eaten in excess; chile peppers are fruity, acidic, sour, often sweet, with a sensation we call heat that ranges from a mild tingle to something akin to the mind-altering hammer of a white-hot brand. Europeans had trouble with chiles (and still do), though hot peppers found a home at the margins—Eastern Europe’s paprika, Southern Europe’s spicy sauces and cured meats.

Where it’s hard to imagine that chile peppers were only introduced a mere 500 years ago is nearly everyplace else: Korea, India, Thailand, Ethiopia, China, and Senegal, to name a few famously spicy Diasporas. These cultures quickly adopted the chile pepper as their own, exploring its wealth of genetic traits and producing a mind-boggling collection of new varieties (one that continues to grow today). At a recent count, there were 79 distinct varieties passing under the umbrella of “Thai pepper,” a barometer that helps to translate the enormity of chile pepper diversity.

Then, of course, there is Mexico—the chile’s homeland and where its role in the cuisine is still, arguably, the most refined. Believed to be one of the first domesticated plants, chiles, along with corn and squash, constituted a mainstay of the Central American diet. From my own quasi-European perspective (averse, I hesitate to admit, to all but modest chili pepper heat), I’ve never thought of chiles as more than a seasoning. Like the black pepper they are named for, chiles unquestionably add dimension to a dish, but not substance, not weight. I did try to make myself more tolerant of them once, devoting an entire summer to cooking progressively spicier dishes until the persistent heartburn and other unpleasant side effects forced me to admit defeat. But even then, they were an addition, an adornment, a very small percentage of a dish’s overall volume; not at all, as that Spanish sailor reported, like apples.

But he (and the sophisticated cuisine he observed) was right. The first time I fully appreciated chiles in their own rite was when I watched friends make red mole from scratch. The pile of dried chiles and their seeds—toasted separately and ground together with water, warming spices, and nuts; thickened by hours of stirring and simmering; and at the very end, finished with dark chocolate—was, to my eyes, overwhelming. While process was beautiful and ritualistic, I wasn’t entirely sure I would be able to eat the results. But the sauce, only mildly spicy, exuded a graceful, effortless richness that compelled me to keep spooning it into my mouth, that fed both my simple, daily hunger and the one that no apple has ever quite quenched: the hunger for enchantment, for transformation, for food that drops an anchor and lingers, warmly, long after the meal is finished.

Sarah West is a gardener, eater and admirer of the agricultural arts. She gladly spends her Sundays as assistant manager of the Hillsdale Farmers’ Market, basking in the richness of its producers’ bounty and its community’s energy. Find archives and more at http://thefatofthelandblog.wordpress.com.

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter August 23 2015 Market

Sarah West

Goodbye Chester, Hello AstianaWhen the leaves display their autumn color, the bright yellows, oranges and reds appear because the green chlorophyll has been disassembled by the tree, and the other pigments in the leaf that have been there all along become apparent to the eye. This week there is a distinct shift in the flavor of the berries as the pectins and various flavor components in the fruit drop, and some of the more subtle flavors that were lost among the stronger elements are now out in front, the Chester's version of 'So Long, Farewell', or Hayden's "Farewell" Symphony, if you prefer the image of the performance ending on muted notes of the violin. Among the berries, this shifting flavor is unique to the Chester because of its long season, about five weeks in all. You can pick up the last of the season's now muted notes this weekend. We have posted our "Farewell Chester" letter to our buyers; strangely early and without the rain's coupe de grace that so often closes the harvest. This is the first time we have stopped before the school buses start.

An oft repeated excuse for being "almost organic but not actually certified" rests on the unspecified cost of certification and the burden it creates for small farmers. Here is our actual out-of-pocket cost of certification for our dinky farm in 2015:

Application fee: $100.00
Inspection fee: 925.75
USDA Cost-Share: (750.00)
Total cost: $275.75

Since the adoption of the National Organic Program in 2002, the USDA has provided a cost-share program for farms going through the certification process. Among its strongest champions are our own Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Peter Defazio. We have been certified organic since 1999, back when it was fine to call a farm "organic" without any meaningful standards or inspections. Certification is never a cakewalk, and demands careful record-keeping and documentation of the farm's management. At times the details can be frustrating but never formidable; certification has made us better farmers. And, we will add as growers who bridged the two eras, the adoption of the national program has improved the quality of certification.

In our case, the cost difference between "almost certified" and certified is $275.75. The actual cost will vary from farm to farm, but it is a modest expense relative to other farm costs, not a crippling burden of thousands or tens of thousands as some farmers intimate. Gives Anthony an excuse to keep his flip phone and 56K modem so we have enough brass to cover that fearsome certification bill.

Another favorite excuse is that "you can't grow this or that crop organically." Is that so? Then Ayers Creek must be an ongoing failure as a farm because there are few crops we haven't grown over the years, all organically. We shun or drop crops because they don't work out with our current staffing, they don't make money, or in rare cases we find them simply boring, blueberries fit that category, not because they can't be grown organically. The first is the most common reason because, as Zenón and Abel will tell you, we are way over-extended and it is only due to their superhuman efforts that Ayers Creek doesn't collapse into a pile of rotten produce due to our vernal exuberance.

The 'Astianas' started ripening a couple of weeks ago. You missed them at the market because they never arrived. We ate all of them, savoring every single one; farmer's privilege. It is such a lovely fruit, an everyday workhorse of a culinary tomato, and we never weary of it. We will have a few crates full this week. Enjoy these first fruits fresh, in the grasshopper's moment, sliced and fried for breakfast, or in a fresh sauce with basil, fresh onion and garlic over some sort of pasta. As in the past, next week we will have the 20# bulk boxes for sale, and then you can kick in that Aesop's ant side of the brain and put them in jars. They will come in over the next three to four weeks.

We will also bring in the field run tomatillos. "Field run" is a trade term and means they are not graded according to size, color, &c. Pretty much everything we sell is field run. For the tomatillos, we selected out a diverse group of fruits for seed production, so it a good mix of types. Both tomatoes and tomatillos should be stored on the kitchen counter where there is good airflow. The tomatoes continue to ripen off the plant and, especially in Oregon, a few days on the counter finishes the flavor nicely. Our nights are a tad cool for tomatoes, especially in rural areas where the radiational cooling is stronger, and there is no concrete to store the day's warmth. We have had tomatillos last until March sitting in a colander. Peppers are better left on the counter as well.

We will have chickpeas and barley, and a few straggling packages of frikeh. We will bring in preserves again. Onions, garlics, tarragon. The beginning of the grapes.

Carol and Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

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A personal note:

I grew up in a country where I was an untarnished citizen, even though my parents were immigrants. Courtesy of the 14th Amendment, the fact that I was conceived in another country and neither of my parents were citizens didn't matter a wit. I registered to vote and attended town meetings, and have never shrunk from participating in the messy business of government. Over the years, I have missed just one special election, even voting when the election involves just a handful of unopposed individuals and might be dismissed as unimportant. To the people who bother to get on the ballot the vote is always important.

Today, I am what the nativists call an "anchor baby,", a child born to immigrants but still entitled to citizenship. Or as some put it charmingly, a "child who was dropped in America." In fact, under the immigration rules in force back in the 1950s, my mother had to hide her pregnancy during the immigration interview or they would have been denied entry. Mother succeeded and I was born three months later, the first United States citizen in the Boutard tribe.

For the last 17 years, I have had the pleasure of working with a variety of immigrants whose children were born here, and are citizens in the fullest meaning of the word. Like me, their children had no choice regarding the location of their conception or birth. Unlike me, they are having their citizenship called into question at a critical time in their lives. Fifteen years ago, I was brought up short by a 16-year old woman who, when I asked for her resident alien card, snapped back that she was a citizen and provided her passport. I apologized for my assumption and smiled explaining that my parents also carried resident alien cards, easing the tension. Since then, my assumption has changed. The truth is that both of us knew that no one ever assumed I wasn't a citizen. I have registered to vote in four different states and no one has ever asked for proof of citizenship, even though as a child of immigrants I bear a touch of accent. And when I was a youngster, no one ever told me I wasn't welcome in this country because my parents were aliens.

Children of immigrants from non-English speaking countries encounter a special challenge. They often have to serve as translators and intermediaries for their parents. This is true whether their parents come from the Ukraine, Poland, Japan, Vietnam, Sierra Leone, Iran or Mexico. They are a fragile bridge between their parents and everyday life, between two spheres of authority. They translate contracts, fill in forms and roll with the patronizing English-speaking adults. They should earn our praise and support, a kind word not our petty slurs.

One of Francois Truffaut's later films, Small Change (link), deals with the travails of children in society. He deftly and humorously examines the callous way we treat children and the affronts they suffer at the hands of adults. The fact that our political discourse has dipped back into the wallow of "anchor babies" is very dispiriting, and underscores Truffaut's point that we crap on children all too often and all too easily.

Anthony

2015 Tomato Mania! Guide

Sarah West

by Sarah West

Each year at the height of tomato season, the market hosts one of our most popular events: Tomato Mania! Volunteers gather the day’s tomato selection from market vendors, slice them up, and spread them out with labels that state the variety name and the vendor that supplied it—comparison shopping at it’s finest! Take a moment out of your market day to explore the range of tomato flavor, savoring old favorites and discovering new ones. Below is a preview of some of the varieties we expect to be sampling this Sunday.

Cherry Tomatoes: Sweet, bite-sized, and available in a rainbow of colors, the cherry tomato category also broadly includes pear tomatoes (shaped like their namesake fruit), grape tomatoes (larger than a typical cherry tomato), and currant tomatoes (smaller than a typical cherry tomato). Bright yellow-orange ‘Sungolds’ are one of the market’s most popular varieties—possibly the sweetest, most addictive cherry tomatoes you’ll ever taste! Cherry tomatoes are best eaten fresh: out of hand, topping salads, or folded into pasta just before serving.

Purple Calabash: Green shouldered, pleated fruits with a distinctive flatness. Their flesh is nearly true purple and offers full flavor and well-balanced acidity some liken to a fruity cabernet. Delicious fresh or cooked.

Striped Roman: One of the flashier tomatoes out there, this one has it all: sweet, rich flavor and fantastic color make ‘Striped Roman’ a marvelous fresh tomato for the salad plate. Like its cousin the red Roma, its meaty flesh cooks down easily into sauce—some say this variety makes the sweetest.

Aunt Ruby’s German Green: Green tomatoes are always a hard sell since our eyes are conditioned to seek out shades of red when it comes to tomato selection. This particular green tomato will wow you with the intensity of its flavor—rich, tart, and deeply sweet it can stand up to the best of the reds. A favorite slicer among tomato connosuers, it also makes a delicious salsa verde. Listed on Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, a collection of heirloom seeds of exceptional quality, this is one beloved tomato. Look for those that are blushing a faint pink on the bottom—your cue that Aunt Ruby’s is ready for eating.

Chef’s Choice: An orange beefsteak-type, Chef’s Choice is a new hybrid tomato, an improvement on the popular heirloom, Amana Orange, which offers the same rich flavor with a quicker ripening period. A relatively new introduction, this variety was chosen as an All American Selection in 2013-2015 for its flavor and garden performance.

Cherokee Purple: This true heirloom (meaning it is not a recently developed cross of tomato characteristics but a strain whose seeds have been passed through generations of gardeners) plays up the savory side of tomato flavor: deep, rich, and earthy. Its purple skin fades to a saturated red in the tomato’s center. Curious about those green shoulders? Turns out they are a sign of superior flavor. The same genes that cause green shoulders in tomatoes are responsible for developing complexity and sweetness. The green parts may ripen much later than the rest of the tomato—don’t expect full ripening and peak flavor to coincide. Cut off the green and slice this heirloom favorite up for dinner!

Black Brandywine: The original pink ‘Brandywine’ tomato was once the poster child of heirloom tomatoes; these days it has a lot more company, but it’s still delicious! ‘Black Brandywine’ is a selection from the original strain: similar rich flavor with skin blushed purplish-brown. Great for fresh eating or cooking.

Yellow Brandywine: A yellow selection of the ‘Brandywine’ heirloom, revered for its surprisingly rich flavor and balance of sweetness and acidity. Best fresh, ‘Yellow Brandywine’ adds a lighter touch to sauces or salsas.

Rutgers: A New Jersey heirloom introduced in the 1930’s truck farming boom, Rutgers was bred as an improved field tomato: with more uniform ripening, richly flavored juice, small seed cavities, and good yields. Though it fell away from commercial popularity when firmness for shipping became the priority, Rutgers remains popular among home gardeners, who use it for fresh eating and preserving.

Orange Oxheart: Oxheart tomatoes have a reputation for offering the best of both worlds: firm, meaty flesh ideal for making salsa or sauce, along with the fragrant, acidic juiciness so coveted in a slicing tomato. This orange variety is the perfect slicer for sandwiches, fresh sauces, or pizza topping.

Pineapple: This carnival-striped tomato is what summer is all about—full-bodied tomato flavor, rich colors, and enough acidity to keep things interesting. Slice this giant to serve with anything that comes off the grill, or just eat wedges of it with nothing more than a sprinkle of salt and the juice dripping down your fingers.

Roma: A type of plum tomato, ‘Roma’ and similar varieties are the quintessential sauce tomato. Their drier flesh and smaller seed cavities concentrate into perfect sauce and are ideal for halving and slow roasting in a low-temperature oven. Synonymous with Italy, these are the home-preserver’s tomato of choice for canning whole and as sauces, ketchup, or pastes.

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter August 16 2015 Market

Sarah West

One of Rachel Carson's early articles for the American Naturalist Society was "How About Citizenship Papers for the Starling?" Loud, joyful and brash, these handsome birds are always looking for a party. Competent and improvisational songsters, but most of all they are engaging mimics. If a siren goes off at the firehouse, they will spend the next hour or two refining their siren call until, that is, a rooster crows, and then they are on that project. A tom quail calls, and an echo erupts from every idle starling. Around noontime, they descend on the bird bath in a group, splashing about until barely a drop remains, leaving a few flower petals and leaves afloat in the puddle. For some reason, they feel compelled to decorate their bath, as well as their nest, with pretty bits and fragrant herbs. Of course, when they bathe the noisy creatures squawk just like children enjoying a summer pool, then fly off as a group for some other diversion or entertainment.

Back in 1939, Carson was urging us to drop our animus for the bird and appreciate its pluck and value. Nothing has changed, starlings still bear the double burden of being an immigrant, and flying while black. In farming areas, the starling and the crow can be shot at will, any time of the year. Going back a half century, the starling was accused of spreading a lung disease, histoplasmosis, threatening an as yet unrealized public health crisis. Shortly after the E. coli and spinach episode in 2006, scientists at Ohio State Extension raised the public health banner against the starling once more, along with a cool million, to see if the bird causes food safety problems by spreading the diseases from feedlots. Apparently, they convinced enough people of the problem, and received another $2.3-million. For what its worth, starlings are attracted to feedlots because they are primarily insectivores, and insects are provided there in abundance. Our filthy food production habit is their treasure.

Interestingly, the one case we recall where a flock of birds were implicated in an E. coli outbreak happened in English pea field in Alaska, and migrating Sand Hill Cranes were named as the culprit. But they are not reviled like the starling, so no snarling about a public health crisis due to cranes. The real problem was that the peas were machine harvested and no one checked the field beforehand. Machines do not not share our visceral reaction to animal feces, they plod along happily consuming the crop. Our displacement of humans with machines in the harvest of fruits and vegetables warrants more attention.

In an odd way starlings and other wild creatures received good news this week. Following the 2006 spinach problem, and other similar incidents, including strawberries and hazelnuts from Oregon, food safety wonks advised farmers that they should create lifeless zones around their farms to eliminate the possibility of wildlife bringing in E.coli, Salmonella and other food pathogens as a field contaminant. Remove trees and brush so birds can't roost or nest nearby, and animals can't hide. The mantra was that more scorched earth around the fields, the better, for nature is devious enemy that never sleeps. In brief, the research found no corresponding decrease in disease causing strains of Salmonella and E. coli associated with these measures. In fact, in some cases, an increase was detected. Diverse landscapes provide many advantages, and food safety may be one of them, but never overstated.

There are many birds that eat farmers' fruits, but it is the epicurean delight starlings take in finding a good patch of cherries or berries that farmers find particularly galling. The merry cacophony rubs their nerves the wrong way. But farmers are always stingy with credit. When we cultivate the soil, an army of starlings waddles behind the tractor gleaning every wireworm and cutworm available, sometimes carrying eight or ten grubs in their long yellow bills. They fly back to their nest, and return seemingly just moments later. It we are not exposing grubs for them, they are working the berry fields and orchard, again carrying back a full bills of food. Watch their nest holes, and you will see them flying back and forth from sunup to dusk. Although they eat some fruit, insects and larvae are the staple of their diet.

The starlings are cavity nesters, and another one of the dire predictions made 50 years ago, repeated with the alacrity of a starling's mimicry, is the usurpation of other cavity nesters by these aliens. In our observations, flickers, starlings and kestrels share similar sized cavities, and they alternate sites from year to year. Swallows, chickadees, bluebirds and nuthatches use much smaller cavities than the starling. All of these cavity nesters have healthy population in spite of this dastardly usurper. In fact, the alternation of nest sites may provide a valuable health function for the three larger birds. They belong to three different avian orders, and consequently host different parasites, mites and insects. The birds are probably following a similar practice to farmers who rotate crops from different plant families to reduce disease and insect problems.

Finally, one more endearing trait of the starling. Remember the petals and leaves in the birdbath? It is part of their courtship ritual. The male starling finds a suitable cavity and builds a nest of fine grass decorated with petals and fragrant leaves. Very much like the bower bird, his female suitors visit and decide whether he is of the salt. When a female accepts the proposition, they finish the nest together, do some other stuff and she lays her eggs.

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We will haul in more Chesters, they are holding up well. As one produce manager noted this week, they have a more floral quality. Much thinner skinned as well.

We will set aside room for preserves this week. We will have chickpeas, frikeh and hulless barley. Tomatillos, onions, garlics, shallots and tarragon as well.

The intense delivery schedule has prevented us from checking the crops, but some other stuff should show up.

Best,

Carol and Anthony

Fat Of The Land - Who Is Jimmy Nardello?

Sarah West

And Other Travels Through The Sweet Pepper Patch

Say the word pepper and one of two things likely comes to mind: the table shaker filled with black and gray dust, and the flamingly red and famously spicy crop we either crave or avoid, depending on our culinary disposition. Thirdly, some of our minds may drift to that molar of a fruit, glossy and green as spring grass: the bell pepper. In a typical North American produce aisle, it (and its yellow, orange, red, and purple siblings) is the sole pepper not relegated to the ‘ethnic’ produce section and the only one I tasted until a shamefully late age. ≈I grew up in the Germanic and Scandinavian influenced cuisine of the upper Midwest, but that is not an entirely sufficient explanation. Peppers, imported to Europe from the Caribbean and Central America by Columbus and his successors, spread widely through the well-established trade routes of the time, each culinary tradition choosing what they liked from the pepper’s plentiful genetic archive. Though northern Europeans are certainly not known for their peppers, they ate them, more often as dried powders (paprika) or as immature (green or yellow) fruits.

I blame my pepper ignorance on my own singular obsession with the green bell—something of an anomaly in the pepper world, their mild, watery flavor and crisp texture yields easily to nearby flavors. I used them often as a budding young cook in the few recipes I’d successfully mastered. It took a lot of practice to build the confidence needed to branch out, and until then I had no reference point for the nuance and diversity of pepper flavor, no clue at all as to what I was missing.

The first pepper that really stumped me was the Jimmy Nardello. It turned everything I thought I knew about peppers inside out, hung it to dry under an unfamiliar and illuminating sun. These skinny things, bright and lustrous red, looked like a sleeve of capsicum fire. “They’re not hot,” I was told, but my eyes, after years of dedicated chili pepper avoidance, refused to believe it. I cooked a few up, alone in the frying pan as I was instructed. Their thin walls softened quickly, their delicate skin blistered into oil-crisped bubbles, their sizzle unleashed soft, cherry-scented steam.

They were not hot. What spice they had was the citrusy kind, pinching their expansive flavor with compassionate sharpness. The rest was full-throated, candy sweetness and a quality of fruit deeper and darker than the best tomato. That enlightened moment led to many other fried Jimmies, to pickled Jimmies (my favorite), to roasted and grilled Jimmies. My freezer always has a bag of sliced raw Jimmies to add to off-season sauces and stews.

Jimmy Nardello himself would also dry his family’s now famous pepper, strung and hung in the shed for winter the way his mother, Angela Nardiello, likely taught him. Inheritor of her family’s slender red frying pepper, she brought its seeds with her when she immigrated from the southern Italian town of Ruoti to the United States in 1887. Jimmy was her fourth son and the one, if legend holds true, that was most interested in gardening. He kept the family pepper alive until he died in 1983.

Lucky for us, Jimmy shared his beloved peppers with the newly founded Seed Savers Exchange not long before his death. In the subsequent thirty-two years, they’ve become something of a cult sensation—seducing gardeners, small-scale growers, and in-the-know home cooks and chefs with their alluring set of traits. As easy and productive in the garden as they are quick and straightforward to prepare, I was not the first to be swayed by a single bite.

I have made other discoveries since then. Red bell peppers, with their diluted sweetness and juicy flesh, have nothing on the pimiento. A pepper type usually associated with Spain, these plump, round fruits (also called cherry peppers) have unusually thick walls for their size, their flavor a mix of Jimmy Nardello richness and caramelized sugar. Though they are traditionally dried and ground into sweet (or smoked) paprika, they are one of my favorite peppers to eat raw.

Then there are the roasting peppers, Italian in origin (going by the name Marconi), perfected most recently by Oregon’s Wild Garden Seed, with variety names like ‘Stocky Red Rooster,’ or ‘Gatherer’s Gold.’ Bred for oven and fire roasting, they peel with relative ease, leaving behind meaty strips of tender, delicious flesh. Northern gardeners appreciate their ability to ripen in quantity despite a climate that is not always accommodating to this tropical native.

My favorite pepper color is now red, though the realm of the sweet pepper is host to many flavorful greens. Shishito, small frying peppers with undulating walls are best sautéed whole with oil and salt, and make a delicious drinking snack. Yellow wax peppers (also called banana peppers)—looking like a pale yellow, bulked up Jimmy Nardello—are tangy and bright, good raw or cooked, though if you’re expecting something mild, don’t confuse them with their spicier look-alikes, Hungarian Wax or Pepperoncini.

I was a toddler when Jimmy Nardello died, but I get to smell his kitchen each time I fry up a batch of the slender, transcendent peppers that bear his name. I still cook green bells when a favorite recipe calls for them, though I find myself delighted more often by the more particular pepper personalities, the ones that shine like a badge of someone else’s devotion and perseverance. Through flavors we can travel, and in this endeavor, the pepper—hot or sweet—is a vehicle so precise it can deliver us to one family’s garden, terraced more than a hundred years ago at the ankle of Italy’s boot.

Sarah West is a gardener, eater and admirer of the agricultural arts. She gladly spends her Sundays as assistant manager of the Hillsdale Farmers’ Market, basking in the richness of its producers’ bounty and its community’s energy. Find archives and more at http://thefatofthelandblog.wordpress.com.

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter August 9 2015 Market

Sarah West

The human brain has a deep affinity for names. Soon we will start harvesting the nameless grape which we call a 'grape with no name', what a surprise. A nod to both Neil Young and a restaurant from decades past located on Commonwealth Pier in Boston. Run and staffed by descendants and family of Portuguese fishermen, the restaurant had no name, no sign and no menu. Enter the only blue doorway on the pier, and when it is your turn in the line, look for an opening among the long tables covered with checked oil cloth. Two choices for lunch, the day's seafood chowder and the day's fried seafood. It was the toughest choice ever put before us.

Our nameless grapes so named elicit opposite reactions. At Higgins, Greg and Patrick gamely put it on the menu as a 'grape with no name' whereas Josh and his staff at Food Front display them as 'Boutard grapes'. Despite our entreaties that food should be defined by how it falls on the palate, Josh told us a nameless grape is just too much for people to swallow. Heidi's son, Jack, calls them Anthony grapes. We will leave them nameless, but we appreciate the dedications.

Human brains have a similar affinity for measurements. One such measurement that draws the attention of farmers is soil pH. It is a number that comes with a decimal point. Attach a decimal point to any number and it immediately takes on a hypnotically greater significance than one without. It is also a logarithm, but that never grabs people to the same degree as a decimal. The other alluring quality of soil pH is that it can be changed simply and reliably if deemed not optimal, typically raised at little cost by the application of agricultural lime. Synthetic fertilizers tend to acidify the soil, reducing nutrient availability, and lime acts as an antacid of sorts, as well as providing the element calcium. Plop, plop, fizz, fizz . . .

Under certified organic agriculture, synthetic nutrient sources with their acidifying behavior, as well as synthetic disease and pest controls, are prohibited. Indigestion solved? Not if you consider pH alone. On occasion we have had our soil tested, and the test results always included the pH as a perfunctory service. The results are all over the map, from 4.9 to about 7.1. It is a labile character of the soil, shifting with the seasons and crops, and its measurement is generally not particularly informative. In an organically managed soil, the bacteria, fungi, microfauna and the crops themselves all influence pH. So our soil might be acidic enough to warrant adjusting in a synthetic regime, but not under organic management.

But what about the calcium? Don't we need to add lime anyway, and the pH will tell us how much is safe to add because excess lime can damage the soil and inhibit plant growth? There are six elements plants need in substantial quantities: nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, calcium and sulphur. We have to amend our soils to maintain sufficient levels of these elements; this is especially important on a commercial farm where we are hauling into market substantial quantities of these elements in the form of food.

On an organic farm, calcium and sulphur are especially important because they are the building blocks for the plant's defenses against diseases and insects. Calcium is a key element for cell wall strength – most of the plant's calcium actually resides in its cell walls – and sulphur is a building block for the crop's internal chemical defenses. On a farm where the crops have external chemical defenses against disease and insects, that is synthetic fungicides and insecticides applied by the farmer, the cultivator need only provide just enough calcium and sulphur for basic biological functions. Organic farms have spiders, dragonflies and a host of other predaceous arthropods helping to control the insect populations, as well as beneficial bacteria, yeast and fungi that ward off disease, but we need strong plants as well. Consequently, crops grown under organic management need more calcium and sulphur available in the soil, in fact nearing an excess under conventional nutrient interpretations.

As mentioned above, agricultural lime, calcium carbonate (CaCO3) is problematic as a calcium source. It can damage the soil's structure and chemistry. Although it is cheap, a 50# bag of lime costs about $4.15, it is not the best deal. Another good source is gypsum, but it does cost about 50% more, at $6.05 for a 50# bag. Even though it is nominally more expensive, we use gypsum exclusively, and never use lime. Generous applications of gypsum do not harm the soil, in fact the mineral improves the soil's texture, nor does it change the pH significantly. This is important because many fungi and bacteria thrive in certain pH levels, and changing the pH suddenly and significantly without a very good reason can alter the microbial ecology of the soil unproductively.

Gypsum is calcium sulphate (CaSO4). The best reason for using gypsum from the perspective of an organic grower is that you get both important elements, calcium and sulfur, and pay just 50% more. A very good a deal, especially when you factor in the costs of transportation and spreading the amendment. The other problem with lime is that the carbonate anion is at best valueless, possibly harmful, absent terrestrial indigestion; plants fix their own carbon from the air through photosynthesis so it is completely non-nutritive. We use gypsum for all our crops, annual and perennial, and buy more of it than any other amendment.

A cautionary note on gypsum sources. It is best to avoid recycled gypsum because some older wallboard contained trace amounts of mercury as an anti-fungal agent, or fungicides. The Organic Materials Research Institute (OMRI) tests and certifies materials used in organic agriculture. On bags of gypsum and other amendments, it is best to look for the statement "OMRI Approved" or "OMRI Listed." We also use a small bucketful of gypsum to mark yellow jacket nests so no one walks into them. We toss it over the hole and they dig their way out unharmed. They are valuable predators and scavengers, worth keeping so long as we know where they are.

Too often, organic agriculture is characterized in the negative, especially the absence of synthetic pesticides. Once you settle in as an organic farmer, success comes with managing the soil ecology so that you build strong crops that coexist with the benefits and the challenges that nature delivers. Book 18 of Pliny's Natural History is his discussion of farming. The book opens with a rambling plea regarding stewardship of the earth – he was no Homer or Sappho – but as you read it the fundamental spirit of organic agriculture is apparent. He laments the tendency of farmers to treat their fields like a battle field, deploying poisons and other measures against nature. He urges us to farm in a manner that thanks nature for bringing us into world, and treats her as our benefactor in a shared enterprise with the full measure her creation. It is apt advice 2,000 years later.

Following that rambling introduction, here is what should be in the van Sunday:

Lots of Chesters. We are entering the tail of the season. We have just finished the seventh delivery to our retail accounts. Typically we make 11 deliveries, so we are well past the halfway mark. If you want to make preserves from these berries, you will need to add pectin. – Mixed hull-less barley and chickpeas. Tarragon, onions, garlics and shallots. – Lots of maybes and some bobs. – Our harvest schedule still a little off kilter with this season.

And, of course, we will bring our cheerful countenance which remains in good kilter,

Carol and Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

Vendor Profile: Olympia Provisions

Sarah West

By Sarah West

Olympia Provisions (formerly, Olympic Provisions) needs no introduction. Their cured salamis rose to national acclaim—by the likes of Saveur, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, and Oprah magazines—just a few brisk years after chef Elias Cairo began producing them in November of 2009. Opening a restaurant of the same name in southeast Portland with a team of chef-restaurateur partners, Elias was not alone in creating Olympia Provisions’ success, but he was the man behind the plan for the restaurant’s ambitious meat-curing facility, the first of its kind in Oregon to be USDA-certified.

Influenced by a five-year chef apprenticeship in Switzerland, Cairo experienced firsthand the meticulous process behind some of Europe’s famous cured meats. Raised by a first-generation Greek father who butchered his own animals and brought salami along on every family outing, Cairo was predisposed to appreciate good cured meat. And when the opportunity to partner on a new restaurant project came his way, he was game for trying to recreate some of the nuanced flavors he experienced abroad.

From the beginning, Cairo has insisted that virtuous salami can only be made by hands, not machines, and must be cold-fermented under a bloom of white mold that not only preserves the meat, but lends it an inimitable umami-tang. When he and his restaurant partners designed the original curing facility, they could not have foreseen the two major expansions that would follow in the next four years, scaling up their meat processing facility from 800 square feet to 40,000. While these expansions forced Olympia Provisions to move away from the small-batch artisanal production (done exclusively by Cairo himself) they had originally envisioned, they have maintained a strong focus on hand-production.

Machines now mix the 4,500 pounds of pork they process each day in 150-pound “small” batches which are blended with spices and hand-peeled garlic to order then stuffed into a natural hog casing and tied by a team of four dexterous salumieris. In addition to their charcuterie line of 12 salami flavors, capicola, and mortadella, a given week finds them smoking some combination of their famed frankfurters, kielbasa, chorizo, sweetheart ham, and bacon, as well as mixing and stuffing their fresh chorizo, bratwurst, Italian sausage, rillete, pate, and mousse. Ever the innovators, this summer the OP team is launching a new product. Invited by Martha Stewart and Triscuit to collaborate on a classic summer sausage, their take on the iconic American picnic sausage includes a mellow blend of garlic, chili powder, and mustard seeds. They’ve also launched a line of pickled vegetables based on combinations they’ve been serving for years at their two Portland restaurants.

While the inspiration for their line of Old World influenced American charcuterie was always rooted in their restaurants, farmers markets played a key role in promoting the salamis to a wider audience. Their 2009 booth at the Portland OHSU market allowed them to learn what flavors people most responded to and gave them an opportunity to educate potential customers about their continually expanding product line via samples and conversation.

“We really value market culture,” says Olympia Provisions’ market manager, Kendra Nelson, “because it gives us a chance to meet our customers face-to-face, and we get to see their reaction when they taste that perfect piece of salami.”

Over the years, OP has expanded to include fifteen Portland-area farmers markets at last count, joining Hillsdale in 2010.

Olympia Provisions sells at Hillsdale Farmers Market year-round, offering a selection of their cured salamis, sausages, and smoked meats. Nelson suggests that market shoppers get to her booth before noon, as, “All the best things (including our summer sausage and kielbasa) sell out early!”

As for what to do with that perfect piece of salami, the possibilities are endless, but Nelson highly recommends this Hillsdale-Market-inspired combination:
“One of my favorite market snacks is an open-face sandwich with Fraga Farm chevre, thin slices of our finocchiona (our Italian salami with fennel), thick slabs of the prettiest and most colorful tomatoes I can find, olive oil, and Jacobsen sea salt.” How about putting that on a slice of wood-fired ciabatta from Tastebud for bonus points?

Learn more about the Olympia Provisions line of artisanal meats, visit their shop (and send a piece of Portland food culture to distant friends and family), and peruse their restaurants’ menus at olympiaprovisions.com.

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter August 2 2015 Market

Sarah West

As the Blue Moon sets, the new day marks an old Anglican celebration, the Lammastide. On this day, the British celebrated mass at the start of the wheat harvest with loaf of bread made from the new crop. The word, in typical British fashion, is likely a corruption of "Loaf Mass," though ponderous sorts have tried to document less plausible derivations. Rooted in the rural parishes, Lammas faded from the liturgical calendar with the industrialization of the 19th century.

We can only wish that Vaughn Williams had composed a piece to celebrate the Lammas. Digging about, we found but one hymn that had a peculiar martial bent to it. Not even worth quoting. For those of us born under the sign of Aries, it is easy to conceive of the harvest a sensuous, fertile moment, not a forced march into the fields. Indeed, in the Northeastern states, the community corn harvest brought the town's families together and was called a "frolic" where rewards were tendered with a buss, not script.

Today, the word lammas is used more often by arborists, foresters and plant physiologists than the clergy. Lammas growth is the second spurt of growth following fruiting, typically around the beginning of August. This growth is tender and runs the risk of damage if it fails to harden off before the frost falls. Our kestrels and barn owls are raising what might be termed a lammas brood. A bit exasperating as both are noisy species; the kestrels all day and the owls take the night watch.

This week, we harvested the chickpeas. Despite our best efforts, the harvest is about a third of what we expected. A real consequence of the dry spring and early summer. Chickpeas are a spring-planted dryland crop and a few May rains are essential for good yields. Our wheat was also on the shy side, but less so because most of its growth takes place during the winter rains. Barley, which also grows through the winter but is easily knocked down and damaged by the May rains, produced an excellent crop without that challenge. A diversity of crops means the disappointments are mingled with the successes. Keeps you humble even as the occasion may call for celebration.

For farmers, the hardest decision is to walk away from a crop. Thursday, Zenón and Anthony took a look at the currants and gooseberries with a thought to the autumn tasks. Zenón exposed a few branches with beautiful black currants dangling from them. Smiling, he said Abel advised him not to show Antonio the fruit, lest he get an idea that it should be harvested. Irresistable. In bold red letters on the day's picking list was 20 flats of black currants, much to the momentary horror of staff. Actually, we will walk away from the fruit, it is not worth the time or distraction. Though is never with pleasure, coming to such a decision is cause for relief. The time we might have spent messing with the currants will be better invested on managing the grapes and beans. Three years ago, as some of you may recall, we had to walk away from the grapes because of severe mildew. Rather than lament what is lost, we best revel in what providence has delivered, and this year it will be the grapes and barley, as well as corn, beans and blackberries.

To assuage any pent-up demand for Chesters after last week's disappointing weather moment, we will bring the belly of the van full of blackberries. We will add braces and stack as many crates as we dare on the upper level. Topside, we will have this year's harvest of mixed hull-less barley, chickpeas, garlics & shallots and other odds and ends.

We will see you all tomorrow,

The Boutards
Ayers Creek Farm

The Fat of The Land - Melon

Sarah West

ii

If summer could be concentrated into one single dish, it would be a wedge of dripping red watermelon. The flavor equivalent of jumping into a lake—cool, refreshing, slightly vegetal—watermelon is an antidote for hot days. Blue whale of the fruit world, it takes a village to eat a full-size watermelon, so we gather around them at picnics, potlucks, and parties. I, for one, never tire of the show: the huge green fruit, the big knife, the rocking, the crack as it splits, the smell of cucumbers and sugar, the firecracker red.

Most of the year, I avoid melon—those ubiquitous fruit salads that adorn lunch and brunch plates year-round—because the fruits must be picked under-ripe in order to survive the journey from Central America and California. Melons get their sugar on the vine; while some of their flavor components continue to develop after they’ve been harvested, they don’t get any sweeter. Melons picked with shipping and storage in mind are soulless things—watery, rigid, and bland.

Member of the cucurbit family, melons are cousins to squash, zucchini, and cucumbers. Although the exact location varies by species, melons are generally believed to have originated in Africa, where they were one of the first domesticated plant foods (they have been in cultivation for an estimated 7,000 years). From there, they spread by human dispersal to India, the Mediterranean rim, the Middle East, and Persia, and, slightly later, to China, Southeast Asia, Japan, and Eastern Europe.

Ancient people dined on melons for some of the same reasons we still do today. Seventy- to ninety-percent water by weight, melons are like botanical pop cans, and those ancestral species had a knack for drawing water up from underground springs, imbuing it with flavor and (a few) calories, and storing it safely within an orb of thick waxy skin. Their presence signaled an invisible oasis, and their tart flesh offered desert people a much-needed source of hydration.

The first melons were not sweet, and thus were treated more like vegetables in the various culinary traditions that adopted them, cooked in stews or sliced and served raw as a salad, dressed with spices and vinegar. Over time, sweet-fleshed mutations appeared and growers began selecting for this appealing trait.

With sweetness also came fragrance. Italian orange-fleshed melons grown in the papal summer residence of Cantalupo were favored by generations of popes and their gardeners, a popularity that traveled to other outposts of the Catholic heirarchy. These cantaloupes, as they were called, reached their pinnacle in the Provencal village of Cavaillon, which became famous for melons that exuded fragrance as thick and floral as jasmine. These unique melons still stir feverish mania among Cavaillon locals and visitors alike. Known as Charentais melons, a name that clings to them from a stint in the slightly more northerly region of Charente where this particular melon strain was purportedly first developed, their soul still belongs to Cavaillon.

In our country, cantaloupes are a far cry from their European brethren. The variety we know as cantaloupe is not even in the same botanical group. An orange-fleshed muskmelon, American cantaloupes can also be sweet and fragrant, but they often aren’t so for reasons of distribution and storage. That makes the farmers market the best place to buy top quality melons—the sort that made generations of pharaohs, emperors and kings want more, and captivated the tastebuds of three continents long before the Old World bumped into the New.

Though most of us have gorged on countless melons without hesitation or thought, knowing how to shop for one is not usually so intuitive. Cantaloupe-types are easier: since they “slip” from the vine once their sugars are fully developed, they should not have a stem (if so, they were picked to early). The stem end should be fragrant when sniffed, the skin below their bumpy reliefs a pale tan, not green. Watermelons and honeydew offer fewer clues, as they do not slip from the vine or exude fragrance outside their rind. Look first for the ground spot, the discolored area where the melon was in contact with the soil—it should be pale yellow, not green or white. Then, give the fruit a sturdy knock. If the sound seems to travel back from inside the fruit (implying hollowness) the flesh is ready; if the thud stays right where you’ve knocked it, put the melon back.

All melons benefit from a day or two’s rest on the kitchen counter. Although they will not get any sweeter, other components of the melon’s flavor (and nutritional value) continue to develop at room temperature. Don’t store them in the refrigerator, which is too cold to allow flavor components to synthesize, until you’ve sliced them open, at which point they’re ready to chill a bit before eating or store for a few days, if they last that long.

Sarah West is a gardener, eater and admirer of the agricultural arts. She gladly spends her Sundays as assistant manager of the Hillsdale Farmers’ Market, basking in the richness of its producers’ bounty and its community’s energy. Find archives and more at http://thefatofthelandblog.wordpress.com.

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter July 26 2015 Market

Sarah West

"As I sit here and watch the rain stream down the windows I feel that it's good to remind you that although the weather outside is frightful, the Canandaigua farmers market pavillion will be so delightful. We'll be there today and hope to see you there as well. We'll have the first of our new potatoes, fresh garlic, fresh grape juice, beautiful basil for pesto and a few other bits and bobs."

Thus began last week's market letter from Italy Hill Farm. With her impish goad, Caroline was reminding her parents that they would be stuck out on the hot pavement as the mercury topped 100°. With a chuckle, Sweetness was expecting the indignant call from her father.

Canandaigua is small town with a population of 10,500 in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. It is a conservative and frugal town, with no swagger about its being a "food town," yet the town leadership saw fit to build a comfortable and secure place to buy local food directly from farmers such as our daughter. All across the country, small and large communities have built similar structures to anchor local foods at their heart. Oddly enough, Portland stands out as a city that has failed to provide this level of permanence to it farmers' markets. Sometimes being simply weird for its own sake is not good enough.

A couple of days before the Italy Hill letter arrived, OPB's "Think Out Loud" presented a program on the updates to Portland's Comprehensive Plan. Under Oregon's Land Use Laws, every city and county in the state has adopted a Comprehensive Plan. Under Washington County's plan, we are zoned Exclusive Farm Use (EFU-80), meaning our land is preserved for farm use and other uses are either forbidden or highly regulated. On our farm, we are faithfully implementing the state's agricultural policy by providing a range fresh food for its citizens.

All jurisdictions must review and update their plans from time to time, a process called Periodic Review. Portland is currently in periodic review. Listening to the show piqued our curiosity about Portland's plan and we looked for the language that deals directly with farmers' markets. As farmers, we regard the city as an important market and wanted to see how the city links our food production with its residents' quality of life. From the "Economic Development" section, here it is:

"Policy 6.69 Temporary and informal markets and structures. Acknowledge and support the role that temporary markets (farmers markets, craft markets, flea markets, etc.) and other temporary or mobile vending structures play in enabling startup business activity. Also acknowledge that temporary uses may ultimately be replaced by more permanent development and uses."

Under this policy, farmers' markets currently operating in the city are lumped in with flea markets and crafts markets as well as the all encompassing "etc." as okay for now but certainly not worth keeping if it means impeding the march of progress. From our perspective, having been Portland residents and now farmers who bring food to the city, farmers markets should be considered as vital contributors to its livability, not temporary place holders for future apartment buildings and other permanent development. The policy also assumes that farmers' market vendors are startups, inexperienced in business, while nothing could be further from the truth. Most vendors are highly accomplished farmers who chose to go to the markets to broaden their crop choices and customer base. It is business choice, not a vocational education opportunity, though we have learned a great deal from our customers.

That was pretty awful, but there is more. Under the "Healthy Food" section this fine aspiration is voiced:

"Access to healthy food is important for many reasons. A nourishing diet is critical to maintaining good health and avoiding chronic disease later in life. This leads to better long-term public health outcomes and lower healthcare costs. Food behaviors are shaped at an early age; children who are exposed to healthy foods are more likely to develop healthful food behaviors than those who are not.

In spite of these benefits, many Portlanders do not have good access to healthy food. These policies promote a range of approaches for improving access to healthy food through buying and growing. The policies help meet the Portland Plan goal for 90 percent of Portlanders to live within a half-mile of a store or market that sells healthy food."

Oh good, maybe Portland has praise for local farmers who bring such fresh and healthy food to its center. No such luck. The policies under this section are:

"Policy 4.79 Grocery stores in centers. Facilitate the retention and development of grocery stores and neighborhood-based markets offering fresh produce in centers.
Policy 4.80 Neighborhood food access. Encourage small, neighborhood-based retail food opportunities, such as corner markets, food co-ops, food buying clubs, and community-supported agriculture pickup/drop off sites, to fill in service gaps in food access across the city.
Policy 4.81 Growing food. Increase opportunities to grow food for personal consumption, donation, sales, and educational purposes.
Policy 4.82 Access to community gardens. Ensure that community gardens are allowed in areas close to or accessible via transit to people living in areas zoned for mixed use or multi-dwelling development, where residents have few opportunities to grow food in yards."

Nowhere in this jumble are farmers' markets mentioned as a source of healthy food, nary a word, let alone policy nod worthy of a number. So in the economic development section, farmers' markets are a temporary and amateurish activity that will yield to permanent development, and they are not even considered a source of healthy food or "healthful food behaviors."

Policies are just words you are thinking, it is what happens on the ground that counts. A few months ago a fellow farmer stopped by to pick up some sweet potato starts. We stared chatting about the changes in our farm operations. He had reason to go to the South Waterfront area and he was astounded by the fact that the city managed to approve a modern food desert. Yes, we agreed, but not just any food desert, it is the Qatar or Doha of food deserts.

Maybe that will change, but without policies that firmly anchor local food choices in Portland's neighborhoods, a key ingredient in its livability may slip away. The farmers' markets in Portland are fragile and unprotected, impermanent uses. Over the last two decades, the city has devoted significant money and a lot land to promoting the use of bicycles in response to the strong advocacy from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. People who want to have in town access to food grown in the Willamette and Tualatin Valleys need to show the same sophistication, or slowly, as the city increases its density, farmers' markets will fade away. That is the clear direction of the current policy. Periodic Review is the time for you all to weigh in and tell the city how it should look in the future.

Across the country, communities are strengthening their ties to local food with permanent markets that provide comfort and safety for both vendors and customers. Yet not single example exists in Portland, a city that could easily support a neighborhood network of permanent, improved farmers' markets. But it needs to change its policies. If it can happen in Canandaigua . . .

With that, we will have a lot of Chesters, some Triple Crown if staff wants of harvest them, frikeh, plums and some other "bits and bobs."

Anthony & Carol Boutard Ayers Creek Farm

Vendor Spotlight: Meadow Harvest

Sarah West

Farmers’ markets are a collection of businesses, a temporal grocery store where each shelf comes with a smiling face and a wealth of knowledge about the products they create. We’re giving our vendors the spotlight to share more about their role in the Hillsdale market community.

By Sarah West

They say that stress, and the chemical manifestations it unleashes throughout the body, can ruin a good piece of meat. Several contemporary studies (and generations of small-scale herding traditions around the world) offer compelling evidence supporting this simple and palatable equation: animals raised in an environment that allows them to live calm and comfortable lives, and who are slaughtered in a way that minimizes fear and anxiety, will taste better.

“Trust reduces adrenalin for us all,” reads a paragraph on the Meadow Harvest website, wherein they explain that a key component of their animal handling practices is simply to spend time together, familiarizing the animals with their voices, their presence among the herd, and expressing—there’s no other word for it—their love.

Walking around the farm with Sage and Brian, the proprietors, proud parents, and caretakers of Meadow Harvest’s cows and sheep, their fondness for the animals, and for their work as small-scale ranchers, is obvious.

“Hi cows. Hi weirdos. Hey you.” Brian affectionately coos to the cows as we walk toward where the herd has gathered in the cool shade of their large barn.

Until 2006, the couple used their 60-acre parcel, just inland from the coastal town of Nehalem, to manage a dairy herd. Selling their milk exclusively to Tillamook (whose drivers would collect the daily milkings), along with the demanding schedule of a dairy, kept them busy and somewhat secluded on their tranquil farm, with cows, sheep, farm dogs, and the sea breeze to keep them company. When the couple decided to retire from dairy farming, they couldn’t imagine their land without ruminants; so instead of quitting the farm altogether, they downsized into pastured meat production.

As Brian walks to the barn’s feeding area to entice the cows toward us with some hay, he trips on a concrete block and takes a controlled tumble onto the barn floor. I ask if he’s okay and instinctively move to help him, but before I can get close he bounces back up and says with a laugh, “It’s part of the job!”

Brian, a lifelong dairy farmer, is also legally blind. His blindness isn’t complete—as a youth he could see well enough to play basketball, a sport about which he remains passionate—though his condition, a genetic disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa, has progressed over time, whittling his vision down to very little. He moves around the farm—with the occasional assist from Sage—without difficulty, and is the primary caretaker of their herd. Sage, he notes, is now in semi-retirement.

And he didn’t learn to be a blind farmer as a fully blind man, which, along with years of experience, explains his ease and familiarity with what may seem to an outsider as dangerous work for a person with vision impairment.

“I could see well enough when I started [dairy farming],” Brian explains, “that I think I just adjusted slowly to the increments of vision loss. And we had the tamest cows in Tillamook County. That helped!”

Sitting on a gentle slope, the farm’s pasture eases toward the lush, tree-lined banks of the North Fork Nehalem River, the other side of which is forestland and undulating Coast Range hills. You can’t see or hear the ocean, pulsing only a few miles west as the crow flies, and their narrow valley is somewhat buffered from the Pacific’s cooling influence, but even on a hot day the shade is pleasant and the occasional gust carries a hint of brine.

Brian began working as a dairyman on the Oregon coast at the age of 22, taking over a project his father had started on a whim, and learning through trial and error a set of skills that were completely new to him. Raised in L.A. and schooled on the east coast, Brian was not from diary farming lineage, though as a child his family had vacationed on the Oregon coast and he was familiar with the Nehalem area.

“I just jumped right in,” Brian recalls. “And you learn fast because if you don’t do all the work that needs to get done, no one else is going to.”

Brian also picked up bits and piece from neighbors and his long-time veterinarian, Pete Miller, who was always willing to talk cows and taught Brian much about their temperament, nutritional needs, and general care.

Sage came to sheep farming as a fiber artist completing an MFA at Montana State University in Bozeman. A spinner interested in raising her own wool stock, Sage, with the help of her sister, began farming sheep in Washington State not long before she reconnected with Brian.

The two met by chance as young children, when their families hit it off on a camping trip in the Trinity Alps. When they met again as adults, they formed what has proven to be a lasting partnership. Brian’s dairy farm has hosted roaming sheep ever since, and Sage’s sheep herd hasn’t missed a shearing without the curious gaze of cows. With the transition to meat production, the couple found that farmers markets were the most accessible venue for selling their product, and instantly enjoyed their social atmosphere.

When I ask if selling at the market has changed anything about their experience as farmers, Sage offers,  “At the market, you can connect with the people who benefit from your hard work, as opposed to working with Tillamook, where your milk is taken away in a steel tank and never heard from again.”

Brian eagerly chimes in that, yes, “The camaraderie at the market is wonderful.”

Not surprisingly, the inventory of Meadow Harvest’s market offerings reflects Sage and Brian’s parallel interests. Dairy cows have been replaced with Murray Grey beef cattle, an Australian breed known for its gentle demeanor and fine flavor. Sage’s original sheep herd—mostly consisting of a breed called Targhee (of Idaho provenance and known for high quality wool)—has expanded to include, and interbreed with, Texel, a sheep that hails from the northwestern coast of Europe and is prized for quick-growing lambs and delicious meat.

Choosing breeds that fit the character of their farm, and raising them with integrity, helps Brian and Sage produce the best possible product. They keep the herds small and rotate them among thirteen sweet clover and grass pastures, providing as much of their nutrition from fresh forage as possible. They breed and raise their own calves and lambs, selecting for desirable traits. They have even begun to dabble in some of the latest research tracking genetic traits associated with marbling and tenderness, and have confirmed through testing that their bull, Ulysses, carries all of the known predictors for tenderness. And along with everything else, their animals get lots of ear scratches and hellos and love. You can taste that, too.

Find out more about Meadow Harvests practices, breeds, and products at www.meadowharvest.com.

Meadow Harvest is now offering farm stays! Play at the beach and sleep on the farm. See their listing here.

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter July 19 2015 Market

Sarah West

We will return to Hillsdale with a full cargo of Chesters, along with Triple crowns. If you all run out of fruit midweek, Food Front and most New Seasons Stores carry our berries. We harvest about 900 full 12-pint flats of berries a week during the peak of our blackberry season. Of those we sell only 100 at market, the balance finds it way to these grocery stores. We have a very good relationship with the buyers, Josh Alsberg at Food Front and Jeff Fairchild at New Seasons, and their staff. It meant a lot to us that both Josh and Jeff took the time attend our Ramble last year.

About ten years ago, a national chain opened a store in Portland and contacted us about supplying berries. They bought a lot and were happy with our quality. The problem is that they rotated staff all over the country, making it impossible to establish a longterm working relationship with a produce manager. When each new harvest started, we found ourselves at the courtship stage again. The new person was from Palo Alto, Austin or Miami and knew nothing about the local produce. It didn't seem to matter that the chain sent a fancy photographer from Los Angeles to photograph us. For all we know, the fancy photographer photo still hangs in the store. The final straw was when they went extremely bureaucratic with respect to ordering and receiving. A very officious letter with lots of attachments explained all of the ways they didn't have to pay us if we strayed from the rules. Threatening farmers with nonpayment puts a deep and irreversible crimp in the relationship.

The pleasure of working with Josh and Jeff is that we have known their staff for years. And when New Seasons opens a new store, it is always a seasoned staff member who takes the lead. We are not actually dealing with a new store, just a familiar face in a new setting. We know staff by name and it is always one of us who makes the delivery. This detailed approach means the store can eliminate wasted berries. If they feel they are a bit long on berries, they can email or call us and we adjust the orders. A fair measure of our time is spent convincing stores that running out of Chesters is okay.

This week we will have lots of berries, some purslane and amaranth, frikeh, herbs, shallots and garlics. We will leave the preserves at the farm in order to fit all the berries in the van. If you want to make your own preserves, this early season fruit is the best choice. All of our preserves are made from the first harvest, which means we never need to add pectin. There is enough in the fruit to get a good set. Adding pectin diminishes the flavor.

Our best,

Carol & Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter July 12 2015 Market

Sarah West


Tito, I don't think we are in Oregon anymore. From a meteorological perspective, Gaston has fallen squarely into Kansas, it seems. A bit disorienting for the farmer and the cur.

Hot and humid, it is ideal corn, bean and small grain weather. The corn was nearly shoulder high and tasseling by the 4th, the beans are topping their poles, and the barley is already harvested nearly a month before the Lammas. We even have a beautiful crop of soy growing, and the All Crop is ready to thresh the chickpeas in early August. Alas, the flat plains of country's middle, its Corn Belt, are not known for their cherries and berries. The cherry crop was a complete bust, the plums will be on the shy side, and we are already into Chester season. This more than two weeks earlier than normal, hardly an auspicious sign. But the expected cooling this week should help.

Hewing to the more hopeful side of the Kansas reference, the tomatoes are growing apace, along with the melons, squash and tomatoes. Grapes look promising as well, and we should have crab apple jelly this autumn. And no twisters yet.

Summertime and the money is fleeing,
the beans are climbing and the corn is high,
your soils are fertilized and the crops good looking,
so hush patient farmer it will be okay.

One of these mornings, you are going to rise for market,
And your cash box will fill with coin, everyone will be happy,
But until that morning, there so much to do,
As you are working your fields.

To rectify the predictable and inevitable slimming of the farm's bank account, we will pack the van this Sunday and roll into the Hillsdale Farmers Market. The opening bell chimes, or rather clangs, around 10:00 AM.

The belly of the van will be filled with a generous quantity of Chester Thornless Blackberries, frikeh, some beans from last year's harvest, preserves, garlics, shallots, amaranth reds & greens and purslane. We will also scrape the barrel for any other odds and ends, as we try to regain our market pace.

We look forward to seeing you all come Sunday,

Carol & Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

Vendor Spotlight: DeNoble's Farm Fresh Produce

Sarah West

Farmers’ markets are a collection of businesses, a temporal grocery store where each shelf comes with a smiling face and a wealth of knowledge about the products they create. We’re giving our vendors the spotlight to share more about their role in the Hillsdale market community.

by Sarah West

Tom and Patreece DeNoble probably didn’t foresee their future as one of Portland’s leading vegetable farms when they started growing calla lilies in the backyard of their Tillamook, Oregon home in the early 90’s. “It was a hobby,” Tom explained on a recent tour of their 40-acre farm located just outside of Tillamook, “that became our livelihood.”

Tom grew up on his family’s dairy not far south from where his vegetable farm now sits. A dairy farm childhood is a hard-won lesson in responsibility; Tom and his siblings helped with morning and afternoon milkings, among the farm’s other chores, putting in four- to eight-hour days in addition to their schoolwork.

“I wanted out,” Tom recalled, and he found work in construction and then at the Tillamook cheese factory, the job he left when he and Patreece expanded their calla lily operation from their backyard onto a 23-acre parcel of leased land, just down the road from their present-day farm.

  

“We ended up growing artichokes because a guy I knew wanted a job from me,” Tom recalled. “I asked him what he could do, and he said he knew how to grow artichokes.”

Tom took a chance on a crop that was new to him, quickly learning that artichokes are well-suited to Tillamook’s coastal climate, with moderate summer highs and fog-bank-regulated sunlight. The artichokes were an instant success; superior in quality and flavor to those shipped in from California, they fetched a good price from local wholesale markets. Tom (and a few other area artichoke growers) delivered to a number of coastal and inland groceries until the California suppliers caught wind of the competition.

“One day when I was out on my deliveries, I got a call from [a commercial grocer’s] produce manager saying I needed to come and get the artichokes I’d just dropped off,” Tom recalled. “ I asked him what was wrong with them and he said, ‘Nothing. But yours are a dollar each and California just sent us a shipment for a quarter each.’ All but one store called to have me come pick up the artichokes I’d just delivered. So that was the end of that.”

  

Around this time (the late 90’s), the DeNobles had begun selling at the Milwaukie Farmers Market, and, in 2002, were a founding vendor of the Hillsdale Farmers Market. When their wholesale outlets stopped calling, they transitioned to direct marketing through farmers markets in order to get the price they knew their high-quality product deserved, and which would keep their farm in business. Direct marketing works because it allows the farmer to (literally) stand behind their product.

“If you don’t get to tell your story,” Tom acknowledged, “your stuff isn’t going to sell because no one can tell the difference [between your product and one that was conventionally grown].”

The DeNobles use sustainable growing practices—composted manure, organic amendments, crop rotation, and the occasional organic-approved spray for pest control—but are not currently certified organic. It’s a conundrum that many farmers-market-scale growers face: certification creates an extra (often significant) cost, one that the farmer must pass on to their customers (some of whom may no longer be able to afford their product); but without certification, it is difficult to expand into the wholesale market—certification provides the proof of quality a farmer needs to get a fair price for their product.

  

Besides artichokes, the DeNobles now grow (in lieu of calla lilies, which they moved away from in the mid-2000’s) an ever-expanding assortment of vegetables. Their rich, nearly rock-free soil nurtures large and tender root crops, and the cool Tillamook climate keeps them well-stocked in brassicas (kales, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) and artichokes throughout the summer months, when Willamette Valley farms struggle to keep up production of these heat-sensitive crops.

The trade-off is that tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants can be a bit of a stretch for their coastal farm, which is why the DeNobles have installed twenty-two unheated greenhouses, each one-hundred feet long, for a total of two-acres of temperature-moderated growing space.

Even so, Tom admitted, “Tomatoes are one thing we may start growing less of. They just take too long out here.”

“You can’t grow everything everywhere,” He explained about their ongoing variety trials, “You have to figure out what works where you farm and let go of the things that don’t.”

  

This tireless search for balance between production efficiencies and quality control is part of what makes DeNoble’s vegetables stand out in Portland’s increasingly competitive local food market. In addition to selling at four Portland-area farmers markets, they deliver to 37 restaurants, and stock a popular farmstand on their property in Tillamook. They are considering organic certification for next year, a step they must take in order to profitably re-enter the wholesale market.

Despite its many expansions in the past twenty years, their farm remains a mostly family-run business. Tom and Patreece’s two children, Chandler and Lexi, both work full-time on the farm, and the four of them do almost all of the harvesting, as well as much of the planting and crop management, with the help of three other farmhands.

“We are very picky about our vegetables,” Tom emphasized, from variety selection and cultivation practices to harvesting, packing, and storing—they aim for the highest quality vegetables they are capable of producing.

He and Patreece are the only farmers allowed to harvest the artichokes (though they are slowly training Chandler), a daunting task considering they have 13-acres of this signature crop, but one they attribute to their product’s success.

“If I wouldn’t eat it, I won’t sell it,” seconded Patreece.

But the proof, as they say, is in the artichoke-flavored pudding. If you haven’t yet tried a DeNoble artichoke (or any of their flavorful vegetables), it’s time you did. If you have, than you know what Tom and Patreece are talking about: Tillamook (and the DeNoble Family Farm) grows good artichokes.

You can find them at Hillsdale through the summer season, or swing by their farmstand on your way to the coast. Learn more at: www.denoblefarms.com or Facebook link.

Vendor Spotlight: Baird Family Orchards

Sarah West

Farmers’ markets are a collection of businesses, a temporal grocery store where each shelf comes with a smiling face and a wealth of knowledge about the products they create. We’re giving our vendors the spotlight to share more about their role in the Hillsdale market community.

By Sarah West

When it comes down to it, Trevor Baird is, unsurprisingly, a fruit geek. Traipsing around his family’s Dayton area orchard on a hot early June afternoon, his enthusiasm is palpable as he introduces us to his trees. Among the popular sellers like Honeycrisp apples and Suncrest peaches are many varieties you and I have probably never heard of.

“I’m an experimenter,” Trevor declares, a statement that encompasses both his business strategy as the successor, along with his sister, Jennifer, of his parents’ orchard, and his personal fascination with the fruit growing profession.

He stops in front of an apple tree called Firecracker with dark red fruits hung along its drooping branches like, well, firecrackers. When mature, the petite apples have pure crimson flesh and a tart bite that Trevor sells to chefs looking for something striking to put on their plates. There’s Goldrush, a yellow-skinned apple with remarkable disease resistance and dense, tangy flesh that ages well in storage. There’s Harken, a peach whose fruits are still fuzzy green marbles, that’s Trevor’s favorite for its quintessentially peachy flavor. And then there are the pluots, a super-tasty hybrid of plums and apricots whose trees are known for taking a long time to settle in and which have yet, in Trevor Baird’s orchard at least, to produce more than a handful of fruits.

Farming is tricky business, requiring the financial deftness necessary to navigate market fluctuations and evolving consumer tastes, all while taming the wild horse that is your chosen field: its weeds and weather, its abundance and shortages, its relentless demands on your energy and time. Nowhere is this more apparent than in an orchard, where the terms are dictated by a tree’s timeline, not a human’s.

Freshly planted fruit trees must be irrigated, fertilized, protected from pests and pathogens, and weeded for 3-5 years before they begin to produce a significant yield. And yields, even on healthy, mature trees, will vary from year to year due to fluctuations in pollination rates and simply how the spring weather played out. If it gets too warm too early, a tree may bloom prematurely, only to have its tender flowers blasted by frost a few days later.

“This year,” Trevor explained, “the mild winter didn’t provide enough chill hours for the Honeycrisp to set much fruit.”

All fruit trees, notably apples, wait to initiate their spring bloom until they’ve registered a prescribed number of hours (the exact number varies by variety) at around 45-degrees Fahrenheit. But what’s bad for one crop is good for another, which is why diversity is the name of the game at Baird Family Orchards. To survive poor yields and shifting consumer tastes, you need to have made decisions three years ago that meet today’s needs. The best way to do that is to give yourself a lot of options.

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Purchased in 1984 by Trevor’s parents, Don and Kathy, the 40-acre parcel that now hosts dozens of stone and pome fruit varieties came planted in standard cherries—enormous trees whose upper branches were too difficult to harvest. The Bairds soon removed them, putting apples and a few Suncrest and Flamecrest peaches in their place. As was the case for many small apple orchards of the time, the Alar (a chemical growth regulator and suspected carcinogen) scare of the late 1980’s drove wholesale apple prices so low it no longer made sense to harvest their trees, challenging the Bairds to reconsider their plantings yet again.

It was around this time that Don Baird and his son Trevor had begun selling fruit directly to consumers at some of the area’s first farmers markets in Gresham and Beaverton. The peaches they’d planted on a whim turned out to be a big hit with market customers, inspiring the Bairds to transition their orchard to include more stone fruits—peaches, cherries, apricots, and plums—while keeping some of their best apple varieties.

As we move through the orchard, Trevor noting when he expects this or that to show up at market, it becomes clear that each variety has a specific, and often short, harvest window. Because they sell at so many markets in the Portland area (around fifteen at last count), and since most varieties are planted in modest quantities, not all varieties make it to every market. As Trevor admits with a chuckle, this level of diversification would be madness on a wholesale farm, but it lends much needed flexibility to their farmers-market-oriented harvest schedule, and appealing novelty to their offerings. No two weeks at Baird’s stand taste the same.

If diversity is Baird’s survival strategy, flavor is their most compelling selling point. Their fruits are known for impressive sweetness and the way they all seem to taste like the best version of themselves. This is not an accident. Don, Trevor, and a dedicated team of farmhands, take great care to cultivate optimum flavor through variety selection, smart horticultural management, and by allowing their fruit to ripen on the tree.

The same standard of quality applies to Baird’s leased orchard, operated by Dan and Ron Gunkel, who continue to farm land their father established in Goldendale, Washington in 1936. Don Baird struck up a partnership with the Gunkels twenty years ago that resulted in a block of the Gunkel orchard dedicated to growing fruit just for the Bairds.

The Gunkel block allows the Bairds room to expand the supply of some of their more popular varieties. When something from the Dayton orchard—where Trevor and Don have the freedom to trial new varieties for performance, flavor, and customer popularity—does particularly well, they plant it on the Gunkel’s property in numbers large enough to keep the market booth stocked for more than a couple of weeks. Like the Bairds, the Gunkels harvest all of their trees by hand, selecting only the ripest fruit, and packing it with care to preserve its delicate texture.

“It’s a perfect partnership,” Trevor tells me. “We all work really well together, which is why the fruit tastes so good.”

The last thing Trevor shows us a row of top-grafts put in this spring. Top-grafting is a shortcut of sorts, where part of a mature tree is lopped off and branches (called scions) from a different variety are wedged into the host tree’s cambium. The host tree has more energy reserves than does a newly planted tree, resulting in larger harvests after a shorter wait period. They strike me as a fitting metaphor for Trevor and Jennifer Baird: the next generation growing from the challenges and momentum of its predecessor with the enthusiasm of a fresh start.