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Portland OR 97219
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Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter January 11 2015 Market

Sarah West

When the bell opens the Hillsdale Farmers' Market this Sunday morning at 10:00, it will herald a kinder market. The board has decreed that henceforth, or at least through April when the climate softens, the market shall close at 1:00 PM sharp.

We hope the market will establish 1:00 PM as a permanent closing time, a sentiment that is gathering steam among the dusty-footed vendors, the piepoudres. After 12 years (245 market days to date), both summer and winter, on the pavement at Hillsdale, we know that 70% of our sales consistently take place in the first two hours of the market, and the last hour accounts for less than 5% of our sales. If the day is rainy, cold or hot, the market is dead as a smelt by noon. No wonder, produce quality is best in the first two to three hours, especially in the summer heat, as most of you know. A 1:00 PM closing time year-round is sensible.

The board should consider other changes over the next year. When market moved across the highway to its current location, it grew substantially and went from a summer fling to a year-round relationship. The ease of access to arterial streets and good parking have been critical assets in attracting farmers and customers. Unfortunately, the addition of bike lanes on Vermont Avenue had a negative influence on traffic at the market by eliminating a long stretch of parking spaces. Rather than grousing about the clumsy transportation planning by the city, as easy as that is to do, it is much more productive to rethink how the market uses the site.

Currently, the market stalls occupy more than 70 parking spaces. It is possible to free up these parking spots by creating a space for the vendors on the flat area to the west of the lot – between the lot and the slope leading down to the soccer fields. This would make shopping at the market much easier. There are minor challenges reconfiguring the area, but none insurmountable. The parking lot is unlovely and in need of repair, so it is a good time address improved utilization of the site. Hillsdale is one of the few markets in the region, if any, that is so well poised for improvement.

As the market has developed into a year-round enterprise and is no longer an experiment, safer shelter is warranted as well. A simple 45' by 180' freestanding structure covered in rip-stop polyethylene costs $30,000, with some bells and whistles available for an additional pittance. (Here is a link to an example: Structure ) Simply put, the neighborhood can have a safe and comfortable covered market for roughly the same price as a plain vanilla family car.

Farmers use these durable and utilitarian structures for a wide variety of uses, including as shelters for farmers' markets, so we recognize them as our preferred habitat. Not particularly posh or elegant, true, but they are engineered to survive heavy snow loads and wind. The sunshine passes through while providing shade and shelter for the fruits and vegetables below. As you will note from the link, these structures are manufactured in 14 days, the cover is warrantied for 20 years, and the frame for 50 years. They are assembled in a matter of days as well. From a farmer's perspective it is a very good value. Aside from leveling and preparing the site, there is no foundation or excavation required, a massive cost savings relative to any other cover option. When the market isn't using the shelter, it can be available for school functions or neighborhood events. In other words, it will be a general community asset rather than a dedicated market space.

Hillsdale has an experienced cadre of farmers, some of whom, like us, have been part of the market since it started in 2002. Having adequate parking and a sturdy covering for the market will make it a preferred destination for both farmers and customers for years to come. With some vision and cooperation on the part of the Hillsdale Farmers' Market board and the neighborhood, the rag tag assembly of tents set up on Sundays can evolve into a defining neighborhood fixture. We hope you all encourage Eamon and the board to think creatively about the future of the market. You voice, encouragement and participation is important.

Here is what we are bringing Sunday:
We still have good supplies of preserves, beans, popcorn, cornmeal, cayennes and pumpkin seeds. The onions, sweet potatoes, spuds, horseradish and black radish fill out the bulbs and roots section. We will be slicing Sibley and Musqueé squashes. This week we will have more chicories. At the moment they are the speckled Lusia types. We have had trouble with the quality of the seed, so there is a lot variation in the field, and we are only able to harvest about 10% of what we planted, which is way below the 90% harvested in the past. We are not happy with the state of seed, to put it mildly. In February, we will have longer meditation about the genetics of chicories, and what we are doing to address the problem.
As with Bette Davis and the lyrics of Sondheim, the bitterness in chicories is always a matter of interpretation and taste, some revel in it, others recoil. Varieties and individual plants vary as well. The bitter compounds are in the white latex of the sap and are water soluble, so the problem is easily addressed. Tearing the leaves lengthwise and immediately soaking them in iced water draws out the latex and eliminates almost all of the bitterness. Soaking for 20 minutes or so is generally enough. If you are planning to braise the chicories, quarter them lengthwise and immediately soak in ice water. As with latex paint, if the plant's latex starts to set up and dry, it is no longer water soluble, so have soaking water ready before you tear or cut the heads is important. The ice is critical to the process because the cold shrinks the vascular tissue, forcing the latex out of the leaf. Luke warm or cool water is useless for the task, so don't skimp on the ice.
For a salad, a lemon-based dressing adds a bit sweetness. Cutting vinegar with a bit of orange juice also works. An anchovy fillet squeezed through a garlic press and mixed into the dressing is another fine addition. As a forage crop for livestock, chicories have higher protein content than even legumes such as alfalfa, as well as a hefty dose of minerals. As a result, in recent years seed companies have been offering a greater range of forage chicories, apparently with better seed quality than we see in the varieties grown for human consumption. Regardless, you can't go wrong eating these fine winter greens, right Elsie.

We will see you all Sunday,
The Boutards of Gaston

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter February 17 2013 Market

Sarah West

Our amorous flickers will be up and drumming on the side of our house as we pour our coffee and tea and prepare to depart for Sunday's Hillsdale Farmers' Market. If we could only train some flickers to drum upon the market bell at 10:00 AM.

Our great horned owl laid her first egg early in this morning, fittingly on Valentine’s Day, and she will spend the next few weeks brooding. Last year, her first egg was laid on the 15th, so she has this thing timed carefully. The second egg will follow in a few days, and that chick will be the smaller of the two. We also getting a bit broody and need to attend to things about the farm, so this is our last market of the winter season.

A few administrative details.

We will return to the market on the 7th of July. If all goes well, we hope to have Field Day at the farm the week before, on the 30th of June. We will send out an email providing details and confirming the event.

No market farmer wants to experience the sting of a disappointed borlotto or popcorn eater. Yet it is hard to predict how many beans, corn or preserves we should bring. For this market, if you want to stock up on corn, popcorn and beans, we will hold six packages/jars or more of your choice. Send an email before noon on Saturday with your request and we will have it set aside.

Here is our annual disclaimer regarding these emails: If you tire of hearing rustic prattle, send an email requesting that we cease and desist, and we will drop you ever so gracefully from the recipients' list.

If you run short of summer's essence in a jar and Brand X disappoints, remember our Ayers Creek Farm preserves are carried at these fine establishments that do not require a UPC code:

Cheese Bar, 8031 SE Belmont St.
City Market, 735 NW 21st Ave.
Foster & Dobbs, 2518 NE 15th Ave
Foxfire Teas, 2505 SE 11th Ave., #105
Gaston Market, Gaston, OR
Pastaworks, 3735 SE Hawthorne Blvd
Peoples Cooperative, 3029 SE 21st Ave.
Vino, 138 SE 28th Ave.
Give Portland (www.giveportlandgifts.com), puts together stylish gift baskets with our preserves and other foods prepared in Portland.

Here is what we will bring, more or less:

Greens: Chic late Treviso-type chicories and any other gratifying greens the field will yield for this last market. The first of March is Saint David's Day which is celebrated by wearing a leek about the neck. We will provide suitable raiment.

The late Treviso-type chicories are considered the very finest of the tribe. With their elegant arching leaves, white ribs and dark red leaf blades, and a distinct flavor with a hint of nuttiness, they are in a class of their own. Split in half, they grill or sauté well. For a finger salad, we quarter them lengthwise and dress them simply with oil and vinegar, maybe a bit of anchovy or lemon. Or you can break apart the heads, dress and add a little bit of chopped hard boiled egg. Keep the dressing subdued, sotto voce.

Sunday, you will notice a fair amount variation in the heads of this chicory. The people producing the seeds for this variety are doing a poor job of selecting their breeding population, or grex. They are just banging out the seed. As we harvest these chicories, we are carefully selecting our own grex with more tightly drawn characteristics. These we have marked with flags and we will retain them for seed production. We will save around 100 plants for the purpose. Because chicories cross-pollinate, we will root out any other varieties and off-types. On field day, you will see this work in progress.

Sweet Underground: horseradish, spuds, white Swedes, sweet potatoes.

Cornmeal: Amish Butter and Roy's Calais Flint

We put the cornmeal in a glass mason jar, and it is fine in the freezer for a few months. The glass protects it from picking up the flavor of other foods in the freezer.

Popcorn: Amish Butter.

Pulses: Chick peas and the following beans: Zolfino, Tarbais, Borlotto Lamon, Purgatorio, Dutch Bullet, Cranberry

Winter Squash

Preserves: Pozegaca Prune, Italian Prune, Damson, Green Gage, Tart Cherry, Purple Raspberry, Red Raspberry, Loganberry, Gooseberry, Red Currant, Black Currant 

The Measure of a Farm

Farm income and deductions are declared on the Schedule F of the personal income tax form. Every five years, the USDA conducts a census of people who file a Schedule F or a corporate return indicating farming as a business activity. Last year, 2012, was a reporting year for the Census of Agriculture, and we submitted our report on the 4th of February, right at the deadline. A response is required by law, and we are now spared a visit by a determined census enumerator.

The author of the first book on agriculture (De Agri Cultura) from around 200 BC was Cato the Censor. It is a good book on farming. As his title indicates, he also served a term as censor, the person responsible for maintaining a census of citizens. The censor was also responsible for public morals, hence the modern definition. Although modern census enumerators have no role in determining public morals, they are also not so well versed in agriculture as Marcus Porcius Cato was, so it made sense to send our answers in on time. Old Marcus was also a pecuniary and heartless s.o.b., as well as a nativist concerned about the encroachment of all things Greek, so we might have sent in the census even in his day to avoid hearing his extreme political views. Even today, the libertarian Cato Institute, its name and character derived from the Roman's family, still has its shorts twisted up about Greece. La plus ça change . .

Aside from avoiding pesky enumerators, we willingly submit our farm data because the Census is used by government agencies and advocacy organizations to shape agricultural policy. If small market farms such as ours under-report, we lose visibility and a place at the table in policy debates. It takes a few hours to assemble the information and fill out the form. For highly diversified farms such as ours, it is a daunting task easy to put off until the very last minute.

Filling out the 24-page form is also frustrating because the structure of the questions reflects commodity farming where the production is sold as just so many widgets grown and harvested in standard units. Everything is reported in acres, whereas we measure our plantings in row feet or trees planted. For example, we planted 20,000 row feet of corn, and have no idea how many acres that is. Grains are reported in bushels, and legumes in hundred-weights harvested. The list of crops mirrors a suburban Safeway, not a vibrant urban market. With 72 different crops, tracking their individual yields is an utter waste of time; what is important is the picture that emerges from the mosaic, and the bank balance on the 31st of December. In many cases, we can back-out the numbers, others are wild guesses, and how on earth do you report frikeh?

There are signs of progress. For example, the national census now includes questions about organic certification, community supported agriculture (CSA) and farmers' markets. Nonetheless, the data garnered from those questions will give only a rough idea of how farming is changing. The balance of questions are grounded in the past, and will not provide a good sense of how agriculture is changing.

The USDA also manages field offices at the state level. As a matter of principle, we refuse to participate in those surveys that do not include the question of whether or not the crop is certified organic. Before the National Organic Program (NOP) was implemented, we were sampled in a detailed survey assessing chemical use on fruit crops. Press releases accompanying the survey's results lauded a drop in chemical usage on fruits as though farmers were using fewer chemicals across the board. Knowing that our organic farm was part of a small sample that drove that conclusion stuck in our craw. When we complained, we were told there was no generally accepted definition of organic so they couldn't collect that information.

In 2006, four years after NOP adoption, we were again included in the sample of the chemical use survey. Even though there were now legally binding national standards of what constitutes organic farming, the survey still did not collect that information, so we sent a letter explaining our refusal to answer. The director wrote back stating that it wasn't important to the survey on chemical usage to separate out farms that "have non-traditional production practices." The letter chided us for not participating and noted that "we will use computer models to estimate your information." A textbook case of bureaucratic insouciance. With a well-practiced script, we still carefully explain the enumerators who visit or call why we refuse to participate. Amazingly, a survey of Oregon farms issued in December 2012, a decade after the NOP adoption, still collects no information about the organic certification of the state's crops. It sits, untouched, on the desk.

Agricultural statistics are mired in the late 20th century industrial model of agriculture. The practices and marketing the USDA quaintly considers "non-traditional" are as old as agriculture itself. Heck, we still heed Cato's advice on a wide range of farm practices, even though his politics were obnoxious. With time, fresh ideas will creep into the census, but it is a slow process that needs some obdurate farmers to nudge it along.

See you all Sunday,

Anthony & Carol Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter February 19 2012

Sarah West

We conclude our winter season at Hillsdale Farmers' Market this Sunday. The market runs from 10:00 to 2:00. As Carol is out of town, Linda Colwell and Kathleen Bauer will help me prepare, and Linda will cover the second till on Sunday. Thanks Kathleen and Linda.

First a few administrative details.

1.    We will return to the market on the 1st of July. If all goes well, we hope to have Field Day at the farm on 24th of June. We will send out an email confirming the event.

2.     Here is our annual disclaimer: if you tire of hearing prattle about life in Gaston, send an email and we will drop you ever so gently from the recipients' list.    

3.    If you run short of our preserves and Brand X disappoints, our preserves are available at City Market, 735 NW 21st Ave, Pastaworks, 3735 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Foster & Dobbs, 2518 NE 15th Ave, Cheese Bar, 8031 SE Belmont, People's Cooperative, 3029 SE 21st Ave, Woodsman Tavern, 4537 SE Division, and R. Stuart Tasting Room in McMinnville. In addition, Gwen Vilches at Give Portland (www.giveportlandgifts.com), puts together lovely gift baskets that include our preserves and a broad range of other things made in Portland.

Our market pantry is getting low, but we will have enough to justify pausing at our stall. Here is what we will have:

Grains: Frumento (soft red wheat), Jet Barley (naked), Roy's Calais Flint and Amish Butter cornmeal and whole kernels for hominy. We will have pickling lime and instructions on hand if you need them.

Popcorn: Amish Butter

Legumes: Chickpeas and beans.

Roots & Tubers: Potatoes and rutabagas, and a bit of horseradish as well.

Winter Squash: Sibley and Musquee, whole or by the slice.

Greens: Chic chicories, luscious leeks, marvelous mustards and other gratifying greens.

Preserves: Full selection.
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Who's Minding the Frogs?

Fourteen years ago this month, we made an offer on the 144 acres that has become Ayers Creek Farm. We followed the excellent advice of Cato the Censor regarding the most important considerations in purchasing a farm: water, roads and neighbors (aquam, viam, vicinum). Although Cato was thinking of the other farms as the neighbors, for us the Y-shaped draw that cuts through the farm is now an important part of our neighborhood. Flanked by ancient Garry oaks, Douglas firs, a couple of madrones, big-leaf maples, hawthorns and service berries, this is the marrow of the farm. In using "marrow," both senses of the word apply, the life sustaining core of the farm's bones and, in old English vernacular, a partner or spouse.

When we arrived at the farm, the draw was choked with blackberries and used for decades as a dump. Water heaters by the dozens, engine blocks, stoves, refrigerators and other appliances, along with great coils of barbed wire, had been been pushed into the thorny mess. Over a two year period, we cleaned it up, hauling out the blackberries and appliances. It took longer for draw's function to return, but over time native plants reestablished themselves. Each year, we see improvements as we patrol, shovel in hand, for surviving blackberries.

This marrow of the farm now supports a pair of red-tailed hawks, three or four kestrel families, and a pair of great horned owls. The owl laid the first of her eggs last Wednesday, and is brooding. The second egg will be under her soon. The kestrels and red tails are amorous and will join the broody owl in their nesting tasks. Over the summer, flickers, wrens, brown creepers, orioles, acorn woodpeckers, nuthatches, tanagers, various warblers and juncos will all raise clutches in the draw and on its flanks. The engine that supports this diversity is the complex mixture of grasses and broadleaf plants that grow on the ground once choked off by blackberries and appliances. The grubs and caterpillars that eat the leaves in turn feed the growing chicks. And some of those growing chicks will fatten the young owls, hawks and falcons.

In the wet soil at the base of the draw, a healthy population of red legged and tree frogs developed. They migrated out into the oak savannah and the cropped fields during the summer and early autumn. Dozens made their home around the house, seeking shelter in the shiplap siding during the day. They were constantly underfoot. Many came inside with the house plants, and we enjoyed their calls during the winter. The large, phlegmatic salamanders (Pacific ambystomas) also started appearing in the fields. The increasing populations of these amphibians validated our management efforts. We have come to terms with the fact that farming is necessarily disruptive of natural communities, but having the reinvigorated marrow of the farm offsetting our activities is a balm.

Late last April, following the release of radiation from the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi reactors and its detection over the Pacific Northwest, we corresponded with a customer regarding its effect on our food. Our response was that lighter radioactive isotopes carried by the wind have a short half-life and by the time our fruits and vegetables are growing the weather pattern would shift away from the Pacific storm pattern. As I responded I thought to myself that if there was a problem, the frogs would be the first affected. We heard the peepers through the spring.

In July, when we started harvesting greens for market, we noticed the frogs had almost disappeared. Where we would disturb a dozen or more frogs any other year, we were lucky to see just one, and it was invariably small. The fields were silent, none of their rasping calls. In the evening we noticed that even the bull frogs in the wetland had ceased calling. We searched the siding, the smudges where the frogs crawled in and out remained, but there were no green faces staring at us – an erie Mary Celeste moment. We asked Zenón if he noticed anything different with the frogs. He shrugged his shoulders and said he thought there were plenty. Two days later, when he was working in the sweet potatoes, prime tree frog habitat, he called us over and said we were right, they had gone. When I had a moment, I went down the the ditch below the poplars, another reliable frog habitat, and the Leopard and Bull frogs were also missing. We decided to wait and see if things changed; it was a cool spring.

For months we have been watching and listening. Friday afternoon, we heard a single frog calling in the draw, a hopeful sign, but a far cry from previous years. Over the past decade, a chytrid fungus has decimated frog populations around the world, including high altitude populations in the Cascades, maybe it has encroached upon the valley floor. Perhaps frog populations are naturally cyclic and the cold spring was at fault. However, it was hard to shake off the knowledge that as our frogs were drawn by vernal rites to the water, the storms over the Pacific were delivering a radioactive welcome. Salamanders are also missing from their usual haunts. Like the frogs, these are fragile amphibians who must leave their protected lairs and travel, sometimes miles, to the ponds and wetlands where they mate, and the larval stages mature.

Fifty years ago, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring warned us to pay attention to the damage we do to world around us. The book was elegantly written, and carefully research and documented. Sadly, half a century later, Carol and I are waiting anxiously to see if the frog ponds remain silent this spring. We seem to be alone in this vigil, getting blank stares when we raise the matter, and I have hesitated to even broach the subject in a newsletter though it gnawed at me for months. Bees have their beekeepers and birds have their birdwatchers to sound the alarm when all is not right. Someone has to mind the frogs.

Hope to see you all Sunday,

Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm