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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

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

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter February 22 2015

Sarah West


If you have a pesky stepson roiling your domestic plans, send him off on a fatal errand. Such as it was with Theseus when his father was convinced to send him off to the fields of fennel where he was to kill the Cretan Bull. On the way to Marathon, the youth stopped by the hut of a devotee of Hecate, the goddess of potions and herbs for sustenance. She simply fed him a big bowl of Sonchus, or sow thistle greens. On this fare alone, he captured the bull that Hercules had thoughtlessly left to terrorize the countryside, and led it back to Athens. Subduing the massive bull required sagacity and serenity, not strength, and that is what the sow thistle provided. In kinder times before crates, it was fed to nursing sows to keep their milk flowing and disposition calm so they wouldn't roll over on the nursing piglets. Tomorrow, we will have a good quantity of this exceptional late winter pot herb, related to lettuce and chicory. It is time-consuming to harvest and clean, which is why few people gather it. We found a good patch in the Chesters that lent itself to the task, so if you all need a moment of sagacity and serenity, we have the green for you.

Tomorrow, when the bell rings at 10:00 AM, we will have a robust selection of late winter greens. Sorrel, chervil, cress, horned mustard, rocket, rape, sow thistle, kale, chard, late Treviso type chicory and Catalogna chicory. The last two weeks have pushed their growth along nicely.

We will also have spuds, sweet potatoes, preserves, frikeh, soft red wheat, beans, popcorn, cornmeal, cayennes and the last of the pumpkin seeds.

This is our last market until the 12th of July, when we return laden with fruit. If you need preserves before then, they 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
Pastaworks, 3735 SE Hawthorne Blvd
Vino, 138 SE 28th Ave.

Hope to see you all tomorrow,

Carol & Anthony
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter February 8 2015 Market

Sarah West

We still have good supplies of preserves, beans, popcorn, cornmeal, cayennes and pumpkin seeds. The onions, sweet potatoes, spuds and horseradish fill out the bulbs and roots section. We will be slicing Sibley and Musqueé squashes. The sublime Late Treviso chicories will grace the table this week.

Before the Olympian deities took over and bureaucratized the Office of Muses, there were just three muses residing on Mount Helicon: Aoide (expression), Mneme (memory) and Melete (occasion). Linda Colwell is our Melete. Whether it is a ramble or some other occasion, Linda steps in and everything flows smoothly. When Lane Sellman of the Culinary Breeding Network asked us on a hopeful afternoon in April if we could host a lunch and tour at Ayers Creek for Organicology in early February, it seemed like an reasonable idea. With our lovely Melete watching over us, what could go wrong? Nothing, as it turns out, even in week marked by torrents of rain, the sun shone and we all had a good time.

Working with Mark Doxtader and Jason Barwikowski of Tastebud, and Sarah Minnick of Lovely's 50/50, Linda showcased the fruits, vegetables and grains of the farm. While we led a tour in the fields, Linda gave a talk about the various ingredients in the lunch. One participant confided to us that he loved Linda's talk so much that he was tempted to sit through it a second time. Here is the quartet's menu:

Amish Butter popcorn with Aci Sivri cayenne
Black Radish soup
Green Posole made with Amish Butter hominy, pumpkin seeds, and sorrel

Late treviso panzanella style salad with roasted Sibley squash and kakai seeds
Roy's Calais Flint polenta with braised Borlotti beans with leeks and chicory
Oven roasted sweet potatoes
Focaccia with late summer dried green grapes

Sprouted barley toast with roasted winter squash and honey and Ayers Creek jam

Winter field greens as available: rocket, chervil, kale

Adzuki bean ice cream between Kakai pumpkin seed cookies
Chester blackberry ice cream between Amish Butter and Almond cookies

The Tastebud oven has welcomed guests to the Ayers Creek since the first ramble. This Christmas, we received greetings from a former Hillsdale regular, now residing in Portugal, recalling that day. Sami's teenage daughter was convinced rather reluctantly to fritter away a Sunday afternoon at that ramble. The walk went well for her but the high point of the day was walking into the shade of the oaks and seeing her favorite feature of the Hillsdale Market, the Tastebud oven. It always heralds a good event when Mark's truck maneuvers into position.

We hope you all have a moment to stop by the Hillsdale Market tomorrow and enjoy what Tastebud and Ayers Creek haul there.

Carol & Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter December 7 2014 Market

Sarah West

Back as a couple, we will return to that quaint hamlet of Hillsdale this Sunday, ready to meet some of your many late autumn needs when the market bell rings at 10:00 AM.

We will have our gift boxes of preserves. This year, the mix is raspberry, loganberry, green gage and Veepie grape, along with a biographical sketch of each fruit.

If the prospect of crating and mailing preserves is daunting, you can pass the job off to the expert hands of Gwen Vilches at Give Portland Gifts or Rebecca and Fred Gerandasy at Cooking up a Story. Links are:

giveportlandgifts.com
cookingupastory.com/store

We will have popcorn, corn & lime for preparing hominy, cornmeal, cayennes, dry beans, frikeh and hulless barley. We will also bring spuds, sweet potatoes, squash, onions, fennel, knob celery, black radish, horseradish and perhaps some other morsels.

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Myrtha Foradori studied in southwestern Germany for two years. During that time she signed up for a weekly produce box that provided, among other vegetables, black radishes. Made aware of our insecurity with respect to cooking black radishes, she mentioned how much she enjoyed a simple soup prepared using the root. Myrtha kindly sent along the recipe.

Potato - Black Radish soup

4-5 medium sized potatoes, chopped in cubes
half of a big black radish, thinly sliced
1 big yellow onion, chopped
some garlic, minced
olive oil
about a glass of white wine
enough vegetable or chicken broth to cover while simmering
optional: sour cream

Heat the olive oil, sauté onions and garlic. Add the potatoes and stir on medium heat. Add white wine and after it evaporated cover the potatoes with a fair amount of broth. Cover with a lid and let cook on medium heat. When the potatoes are almost done, add the black radish and cook for a short time until tender. Purée and season with salt and pepper. Serve with some sour cream.

The farm chef, Linda Colwell, prepared the soup today substituting butter and leeks, reflecting her northern European orientation. We sprinkled grated horseradish over the top. It is a very fine soup and, with specks of black skin from the radish, very attractive as well. Recommended. (printable recipe here (link).)

Tasting our grapes hanging in storage, Myrtha recounted how her mother loved to go into the family's attic where they hung their grapes for winter use and enjoy the intensely flavored, half shriveled fruit. We will have some at market this week, thanks to our patient brother-in-law who took the time to hang the clusters when visiting us in October.

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Escape from Vineland

The late Lon Rombaugh was amiably acquisitive when it came to fruit, especially grapes. Parsing his 2006 catalogue, we noticed he highlighted a new entry called 'Veepie', a quirky name that captured our eye. Veepie was not in his book on grape growing and he had not suggested it when he advised us on our vineyard selections. The entry noted that it is a "tart grape especially for pies." All this and a quirky name, too. We purchased 15 cuttings and rooted them. At the lower end of the vineyard, they grew with little attention for a few years.

Table grapes have an elven quality; we savor them at the moment, tarrying in the vineyard on a late afternoon enjoying the range of flavors that breeders have teased forth. Wine grapes are tasty with subtle differences, but their character develops after living underground in a dwarfish fashion, deprived of the sun for a long spate. Missing in the modern mix of commercially available varieties is the hafling, or hobbit, of grapes, a culinary fruit domestic in character, whose flavor opens up with the heat and knife of the kitchen. At one time, these grapes were an essential part of the kitchen garden. For example, John Evelyn notes that a special grape was used for verjus. Recipes from the Middle East, Persia and the Caucasus specify sour grapes as a matter of course. Yes, unripe table or wine grapes are sour, but they lack the flavor gained in the ripening process. Veepie is one of the few grapes, at least on this side of the Atlantic, that is a true culinary grape, tartly ripe and conveniently seedless.

There is a parallel here with apples. Cox's Orange Pippin or Spitzenburg are great dessert apples overwhelmed in a pie, whereas no one could ever relish the bitter, tannic cider apples such as Kingston Black or Yarlington Mill outside of the barrel. On the other hand, Rhode Island Greening, Northern Spy and Reinette Gris are excellent culinary apples for pies, tarts and sauces, yet on the tart side for enjoying out of the hand. Notably, people do not select an unripe apple for a pie, and thus it should be with grapes.

Veepie is officially 52131, a numbered seedling originating from a cross pollination made in 1952 by Oliver A. Bradt at the Vineland Experiment Station in Ontario, Canada. The mother plant was Seibel 8357, also known as Colobel. It is a teiturier, a type of grape with intense pigmentation used in small quantities to strengthen the color of wine. Albert Seibel was a French grape breeder who developed a large number high quality hybrids between American and the European wine grapes, seeking resistance to a pest called Phylloxera that had devastated the vineyards of Europe. The pollen-bearing parent was Bronx Seedless, a highly regarded but temperamental table grape prone to splitting, that is still cultivated in California. Bronx is also a hybrid with a seed parent of American lineage and Thompson seedless, a raisin grape dating back to the Ottoman Empire, also known as Sultanina.

The resulting grape has the intense pigmentation from its teiturier ancestor combined with the seedless trait and propensity for splitting, albeit much attenuated, from its pollen parent. It produces unfilled seeds which confer an additional pleasant component to its texture. As you look at the preserves, you will notice the little brown seedlets. The berry's tartness is it defining characteristic. Sugars and other soluble solids are measured using a refractometer, yielding a number given in degrees Brix (°Brix). When we harvested the grape for preserves this year, it measured 11° fully ripe. The Canadice grapes harvested at the same time for fresh eating were at 26°. As a reference, a lemon is around 8°. In its flavor, the European ancestry is evident. Bradt, as well as Seibel, selected against the "foxiness" that marked grapes with pure American lineage.

Vineland formally released numerous varieties resulting from Bradt's work. Public breeding programs used to have their own naming protocols, a custom that has faded recently. In the case of Vineland, their releases usually started with a V, such as Veeport, Vivant, Vanessa, and Vincent, with Festivee as a consistent variation on the theme. Selection 52131 survived the culling process, yet was never officially released. The vine somehow hung around long enough to catch the attention of the station's biochemist, Tibor Fukei Tibor Fuleki. He saw the grape's culinary potential for pies and preserves.

The late D. C. Paschke, a grape and chrysanthemum farmer from North East, Pennsylvania, was an insatiable collector of grapes and mum varieties. He tracked the breeding programs at Geneva (Cornell) and Vineland, and acquired a large collection of varieties. The farm was also known far and wide for his wife's grape pies, and it is likely Fukeli tipped him off to the exceptional qualities of 52131, over a slice of pie we hope, and it slipped into the vineyard at North East. With two champions in its court, the grape informally acquired the name Veepie, consistent with the naming style of the station. Rombaugh and Paschke knew each other from their shared interest in grapes, and at some point 52131 ended up in Oregon as Veepie. Instead of being released, Veepie managed to slip away from Vineland in the nick of time disguised as a release, escaping the flaming pyre reserved for seedlings deemed unworthy for release. Apparently no living trace of it remains at the station today. The numbered seedling that escapes is unusual, but SIUS 68-6-17 accomplished the same feat. That unnamed blackberry evaded the bulldozers that leveled the fields of Carbondale in 1973 by hitching a ride and hiding out in the Zych family's backyard until 1985. That is the year when it was finally released as our most beloved "Chester Thornless."

With its two primary champions dead, this hafling grape, perched between a number and a name, has attached itself to our farm. Like Fukeli, Paschke and Rombaugh, we think it is a singular grape that belongs in any well-rounded vineyard. Personally, we wish there were a greater diversity of culinary grapes, but 52131 is a good start. It certainly deserves a formal release someday.

Dr. K. Helen Fisher, Bradt's successor at Vineland, helped us sort out this story. We appreciate her willingness to provide the history of the grape, allowing us to acknowledge Bradt's role in developing it, and Fukeli as its advocate at the station. Thank you Helen. That said, any errors or flights of fancy in the above account are ours alone. We hope you all enjoy the Veepie Grape preserves.

Until Sunday,
Carol and Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

The original post misspelled Tibor Fuleki's last name. That error has been corrected. 

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter September 28 2014 Market

Sarah West

Verification I:

On the 18th of April our organic certifier visited the Ayers Creek for our annual inspection. Arriving at 9:30, he inspected our farm and our records without pause, finishing his closing interview at 2:15. Even though we have been through the process 15 times since 1999, it remains an intense experience. The application, submitted in March, articulated our organic farm management plan. After it was reviewed, an inspection was scheduled. The week before inspection, we make sure all of the records, seed packages, certifications and invoices are pulled together. All of the buildings, machines and fields must be open to inspection. The inspection fee is paid on the clock, so we try to make it as efficient as possible. No chit chat or lost keys, and niceties kept to the barest minimum. It is a serious matter because a cavalier decision or mistaken use of a substance will mean loss of certification of the crop or even the land for three years. By the time 2:15 rolled around, we were hungry and tired with a sense of evisceration. To our daughter who goes through the process at their Italy Hill Farm, we can say confidently that it never gets easier or smoother. We never talked to you about Santa either, did we?

Passing the review, inspection and audit allows us to carry the term "certified organic" on our labels and signs. Our second very important review and inspection comes when you all visit the farm on the ramble. We take it as seriously, and fret over details the week before. We are cognizant of the fact that if you are not satisfied with the way we farm, we could lose you as a customer. However, this inspection is much more comfortable because we can digress from the topic at hand and digest Linda Colwell's excellent food. This year's ramble will take place on the 12th of October, from 3:00 to 6:00 pm. Bring friends and family, along with sturdy shoes and a bee sting kit if you are allergic.  

As a reminder, in our irrational New England Blue Law rectitude, we have kept the ramble strictly noncommercial. We won't be selling anything. Please don't try to lead us astray, just enjoy the stay.

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This Sunday marks our last market at Hillsdale until the 16th of November. By design, our fresh produce kind of peters out by the end of September and we need to spend the next month planting grains and garlics, subsoiling the berry fields and orchard as time permits, moving the irrigation pumps up from the floodplain, and pulling in the corn, sweet potatoes and squash. When the bell rings at 10:00 AM, here is what we will have.

More legumes: Borlotto Gaston, zolfino, purgatorio, Dutch bullet, tarbesque, chickpeas and favas.

Grains: frikeh, hulless barley, popcorn and cornmeal.

Some greens, tomatillos and onions again. With rain, tomatoes are iffy, but we will do our best.

A nice haul of table grapes, and maybe some prunes.

Preserves. Finishing up the 2013 run. (When we return on November 16th, we will have close to a full complement, with some gift boxes as well.)

 

 

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Verification II:

This year, we will take a little over a ton of fruit, mix it with some sugar and fresh lemon, cook it up and put it into thousands of jars. Both Federal and Oregon laws mandate that we put a label on each individual jar. The law dictates what we put on the label and, as certified organic producers, we meet an additional set of label requirements under the National Organic Program. Labeling of processed food is neither optional nor voluntary. As really dinky players in the processing market, our labels cost more than the food giants, about 20 cents each, or around 3% of the jar's retail price. And it doesn't matter what we print on the label, the price per label mandated by law is the same. A simple fact.

This November, we will be voting for Measure 92 which adds the requirement that processors who use genetically modified ingredients must include that information on the already mandatory label. Same old label, just a bit more information. If it passes, processors like us will have a year to use up our old labels and print new ones that comply with the law. If, like us, they don't use genetically modified ingredients, nothing changes and we can use the old labels. Either way, adding a bit of text will not change the price of the label, nor the price of the food. 

The state's shrinking tabloid of record managed to get into a lather over Measure 92. Shamelessly cribbing from the industry's talking points, and without a shred of critical thinking, the editorial board repeats the notion that this is a mandatory label. No, it is an additional bit of information on an already mandatory label. They also repeat the industry's claim that it will confuse consumers and increase food prices. Obviously, if an ingredient is from a genetically modified crop and the label says so, it is hard to see how the consumer is confused. The hysteria in the larger food industry has nothing to do with consumer confusion; it is the fact that they fear consumers will use that label information to select products made with non-genetically modified ingredients, and that it will force down the price of products labelled as genetically modified. Certainly, as we noted above, adding that language to the label will not add to its cost in and of itself.

Proponents of genetic engineering hold out the promise of crops that will grow nutritious food with little or no water, or fertilizer, offering up a seductive cornucopia of environmental and nutritional benefits. If that were reality, the food companies would be tripping over themselves with extravagant green claims on their labels, touting their genetic prowess in solving the world's problems. The promises have failed to materialize, as the most recent effort shows. Last week, the USDA approved the use of crops that are genetically engineered to survive the application of one of the first commercially available herbicides, 2,4-D, released in the 1940s. Why? Because farmers have sloshed so much glyphosate (Round-Up) across the nation's farmland that weeds have become resistant to the herbicide, so they are bringing back an old herbicide in hopes of stemming the tide. This is dirty old chemistry, and that is why the companies are horrified at the thought of a label underscoring this sad reality. They will slosh a cocktail of the chemicals over the farmland and then come back asking for approval of another herbicide resistance factor.

So you are narrowing your eyes and getting ready to dismiss us as working in our self-interest as organic farmers. Quite to the contrary, the status quo benefits us directly because we have the USDA seal of approval for our GMO-free status. When you see the NOP sticker or "Certified Organic" on a label, that means our seeds are not genetically modified, and that claim is backed-up with inspections and audits through the chain of custody. On the face of it, our support of Measure 92 runs against our self-interest. However if people want to know if their food is grown from genetically modified plants and animals, why not tell them so? 

We will see you all Sunday, or for the Ramble on the 12th.

Carol & Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter September 21 2014 Market

Sarah West


The hillside wineries were aglow Monday evening as we made our way back from Elmira. They were scrambling to bring in and de-stem their grapes. We were bitten by the frenzy as well. Our freezers were full with no room for the autumn fruits such as prune, damson and grape, so we had to shift some fruit to Sweet Creek's big freezer. Unsure as to how much rain we would see, we harvested a large amount Wednesday, and Thursday we filling the freezers with plums and grapes. It took six of us about six hours to pit and de-stem the fruit. This year, the fruit is coming on very fast, and there is no room for a leisurely process. The Veepie grapes and Damsons were at their very best and we are looking forward to tasting the preserves. We have only a few cases of preserves left, so it good to fill the freezers for our kitchen time in late October.

Likewise, with the dry beans, almost half have been harvested and cleaned. We will have Borlotti Gaston and Purgatorios at market this week, along with chickpeas. Next week, we will have zolfinos and Dutch bullets. Although they mature and dry in the field, we always leave them on screen for a few days until they click brightly when we run our fingers through the tray. At that point, we feel secure bagging them.

We will bring favas, popcorn, cornmeal, frikeh and hulless barley. We also have a luxuriant patch of dill. Tomatoes and tomatillos.

We are also picking prunes for the market, including Pozegaca which is a famous Balkan prune used for slatko and slivovitz. The flavor is sharp and clean. The last of the mirabelles are coming in as well. Edward Bunyard's description of Coe's Golden Drop in The Anatomy of Dessert (1929) is unmatched: "At its best, it is a dull yellow green with strong frecklings of crimson, and at its ripest it is drunk rather than eaten; the skin is rather tough but between this and the stone floats an ineffable nectar." We will have just a few, another small bonus granted to us with an early harvest.

Friday, we pulled the onions and they are curing in the sun for winter storage. Soon the corn will be dry as well.

The partnership of Jackie Cain and the late Roy Kral remains an inspiration to us. They approached their craft with confidence and creativity, and on their own terms. Their music was of a kind, built on character rather than formula. Cain died Monday. If you get a chance, take a moment reach out into a cloud and listen to her. Maybe Sondheim's "The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me Blues," summing up what one of us was suffering last week.

The Boutards - both of them
Ayers Creek Farm
Gaston, Oregon

 

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter September 14 2014

Sarah West

The bean harvest is now in full gear, and it will be the year of bean. Chicories and other winter greens are growing at a good pace. We will take a few hours off to stand about at Hillsdale Farmers Market. Hope you all come and keep us company.

No beans until next week, they still need cleaning and another few days to dry completely, but we will have good food otherwise.

Here is what we will have:
Tomatoes: Astianas for sauce and Striped German for slicers. With this warm weather, we will again have a good supply of the Astianas. Our fashionable new lugs arrived which will make it easier to haul your tomatoes from the market. Oh yes, Striped Germans will be on this week's menu.
Tomatillos - purple
Grains: Frikeh, barley and Amish Butter popcorn.
Fenugreek
Plums: German and Croatian prunes, mirabelle and golden gages.
Grapes: a mixture of celibate and fecund sorts. We will have Price, A Grape with No Name, Interlaken. The latter make very good raisins.
Preserves and, as usual, some other odds and ends.

Michael Abelman and his son Aaron stopped by Ayers Creek for a few days in late July 2004 as part of his Fields of Plenty project. Rereading the profile a decade later, it is striking how much things have changed, though fundamentally we are the same farm. The profile celebrated the summer here, but we already had one winter market season under our belt. That spring we learned that the combination of spring break, Easter and Passover can kill a market. Lowest gross we have ever had; when vendors leave their cash box unattended there is not much to say for the day. Also learned that we should grow horseradish. Somehow, black radish does not have the same allure as a bitter herb for the seder, much as we tried laud its many virtues. Our first planting of Roy's Calais flint corn was in the ground, and we were planning our orchard and vineyard.

After leaving Gaston, Michael visited Jennifer Greene's Windborne Farm in Scott Valley. There he fell in love with her old Allis Chalmers All Crop. It is a small combine pulled by a farm tractor. A combine gets its name because it combines the formerly separate tasks of cutting, threshing, and winnowing seed crops, including legumes and grains.

A couple months later he located a pair for sale in Canby, one apparently almost running and a decrepit example for parts. We went to see them with him, and it was clear the rose's bloom was withering as he paced around the two dusty, rusty hunks of machinery with their frayed belts, broken reel bats and rotting tires. We shared his reservations, even as he clung to the memory of Jennifer's machine and all it could do. The challenge of transporting the machines to Foxglove Farm on Salt Spring Island and repairing them dislodged the yearning.

Apparently, the pathos of the bedraggled machines and their potential gnawed at us. Not sure what exactly happened to dislodge us from our rational frame of mind, but we purchased them. The machine is boxy with most of its drives on the outside. Like Han Solo's Millennium Falcon, it is meant to be repaired on the fly with materials at hand. Not sleek or elegant, just enough of it to carry out the task well. Perhaps the idea opening up the list of crops we grow had some influence.

Other farmers with big machines speak admiringly of the All Crop, with its mixture of flexibility, simplicity and economy. Encouraging the endeavor, not emulating it, mind you. They take their old combines to the Banks demolition derby, not the shop. They are quite comfortable in their modern air-conditioned cabs with stereo and computer controls. In less than an hour, they can harvest more grain than the All Crop can in a day. However, their machines take a full day to clean between crops, and the All Crop is clean and greased in less than an hour.

Drawn to the machine, we forgot the first rule of purchasing equipment; turn over the engine to make sure it is operable. Apparently, someone tried to start the engine by using a lot of starter fluid (ether) which cleaned all the oil off the cylinder walls and the engine corroded solid. Neither Marvel Mystery Oil nor grease pumped into the cylinder would dislodge the corroded pistons. Perhaps we would have purchased it anyway, but it threw a disappointing money wrench into the works. The All Crop took a backseat to other projects until our daughter married Jonathan Hunt. In March 2008, he visited and helped strip down the machine. Later he found us an old driveshaft to replace the engine. Relentlessly, he peeled away the excuses for delaying and pushed us to get it running.

Restoring farm equipment as a show piece is very different from a functional restoration. We want the machine to operate for thousands of more hours reliably, so pulleys, shafts and bearings need cleaning and, if necessary, replaced. Rubber and wood parts likewise. Tom Yasnowski specializes in locating or replicating obsolete Allis Chalmers parts, supplying us with the belts and rubber parts that had disintegrated over the decades. The cylinder and concave chamber where the threshing of the seeds takes place needed a complete overhaul. Yasnowski supplied replacement rubber-faced bars for the cylinder and Dave Naumann at Ernst Hardware in St. Paul helped us locate a shop where the cylinder was balanced. It spins at high speed and balanced with modern equipment it runs as smooth as silk. Being an old piece of machinery, we deemed it acceptable to keep the bullet holes that appear when machines are unattended for a while in rural America.

We replaced upwards of 100 corroded bolts holding together the 10-foot long straw rack, and saturated the dry wood with linseed oil. The adjustable cleaning shoe is where the seed is separated from the chaff, the winnowing task. It had corroded in place making adjustments impossible, requiring several days of careful cleaning and lubrication, and a layer of linseed oil on the wooden parts.

A couple of weeks ago, Jon took his place on the bagger's platform where the seeds drop into sacks. We put in a couple of hours figuring out the fine points of combining chickpeas. As we tried to communicate over the roar of the tractor, the rattling of grain conveying chains, and the thrashing cylinder, I might have well have been communicating with a wookiee. It was great to see the patina of a working machine return, that fragrant, short-lived gloss from the resins of the plants. Some of you may have picked up on the fragrance in the barley, and it will be present in the chickpeas as well. There was a Queen Ann's Lace growing in the field, giving the grain a hint of wild carrot aroma. Thanks, Jon.

Carol

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter September 7 2014

Sarah West


Looks like fair weather for Sunday's Hillsdale farmers' Market. The bell rings at 10:00 AM.

Here is what we will have:

Tomatoes: Astianas for sauce and Striped German for slicers. With this warm weather, we will have a good supply of the Astianas.

Tomatillos - purple

Grains: Frikeh, barley and Amish Butter popcorn. If you want to make hominy from the Amish Butter for a pozole verde, we will have pickling lime available.

Fenugreek: this fragrant green (methi) is used for aloo methi and Persian green stews.

Plums: mirabelle and golden gages.

Grapes: a mixture of celibate and fecund sorts. We will have Price, A Grape with No Name, Interlaken and Jupiter. An incredible range of flavors.

Preserves, and probably some other odds and ends.
___________________________________________________________

"Ecce Edwardus Ursus scalis nunc tump-tump-tump occipite gradus pulsante post Christophorum Robinum descendens."

And so begins the story of Winnie-the-Pooh in the tongue of Virgil and Ovid, as translated by Alexander Lenard (E.P. Dutton 1960). As hard as it is to imagine anything but a living, vital language telling the tale of a stuffed bear, the faithful were challenged when Vatican II recommended delivering the Mass in the vernacular instead of Latin just five years after publication of Winnie Ille Pu. With Latin on the verge of dying, solace was found in the fact that new plant species were still described in Latin. That final bastion of life for the ancient language is now under siege, with some taxonomists proposing the use of English for botanical descriptions.

The language of the Mass must deal with love and hate, suffering and bliss, betrayal and redemption. Consequently its Latin is heavily salted with words derived from Greek, a language that handles those subjects well. Latin is the language of laws and strategy. In that respect, it is a fine language for the sciences. Botanical Latin is descriptive and of the present tense. Little need to worry about verbs anyway as the specimen is dry and taped to a herbarium sheet. Nonetheless, the naming of organisms can get a bit litigious. In a form of scientific primogeniture, the person who first publishes an account correctly describing and naming a plant prevails, no matter how wonderful, familiar, pertinent or worthy subsequent names are. So there is a breed of scientists who make it life's work to shake up the existing order.

Such is the case of the tomatillo. The great French scientist, Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamark published a description of the plant, naming it Physalis pennsylvanica. His Portuguese contemporary, Félix de Avelar Brotero gave it the name Physalis ixocarpa at approximately the same time. Both names have been used over time, but Brotero was a nose too late in the opinion of the modern publications department. So this lovely fruit, essential to Central American cooking and largely ignored in the Northeastern United States, is named after a state where it has no substantive connection. With such a fancy name, your would think the Chevalier would have been a bit more creative. An essential part of Mexican cooking is stuck with the name of the cheesesteak's home.

Brotero's epithet, ixocarpa, on the other hand, is an intriguing fusion of Greek and Latin. Most cookbook authors and gardeners dully repeat that it means "sticky fruit" without further inquiry. In Latin, carpa means fruit, that's true. The ixo is a bit more of a puzzle. In neither Latin nor Greek, does it correspond to the word "sticky." In fact, the letter x is not a Roman letter per se; it is a number. In our alphabet, it can represent one of two Greek letters, xi or chi. Brotero's x works both ways.

Using the Greek character xi, it is the prefix to a complex of words referring to birdlime. This sticky substance was rendered from the bark of holly or the berries of mistletoe, and smeared on the branch of trees where birds roosted. They were then captured by the likes of Mozart's bird catcher, Papageno, and sold for food or ornament. The name comes obliquely to sticky, but arrives well.

If we treat it as the character chi instead, the word is a prefix to a complex of words referring to fish, notably dried fish skin, or a basket for carrying fish or trapping fish. The husk is certainly reminiscent of dried fish skin, and when the soft tissue of the husk and fruit rot away, leaving just the vascular tissue, it forms a basket containing the seeds that look just like so many fish in a carrying basket or fish tap. The wind blows these little baskets around the farm and, as they roll about, the seeds drop out bit by bit.

The husk develops from the base of the sepals. When the flower is pollinated, the yellow petals fall off and a special growth tissue, or meristem, at the base of the sepals starts to grow. It keeps pace with the developing fruit inside until just before ripening. The ripe fruit tears through the husk, at which point it is ripe. Zenón refers to it as taking its shirt off, and that is when they are best harvested. If they fall to the ground, they are deemed ripe as well. As he puts it, the fruit is essentially sharp-flavored, but it should have a distinct sweetness along side the acidity.

Having tried the Brand X tomatillos and being fundamentally New Englanders, we were leery of the fruit initially. With staff's expert guidance, we now feel comfortable with tomatillos. For sauces, we use tomatillos both raw and cooked. They are a basic ingredient in a pozole verde, and we roast them with other vegetables. Staff have a strong preference for the purple types which are more flavorful. That's helped assuage our leeriness as well. They also taught us to keep the fruits in a dry place, where they will last in good shape until March. In fact, purple fruits that last until March are the two primary selection criteria for seed production.

Both born in 1744, Lamarck and Brotero contributed a great deal to science. Lamarck is worth a special note because he was one of the earliest scientists to question the immutability of species, and suggest that organisms could change over time, a process later called evolution. His proposed mechanism was mocked and ultimately dismissed in favor of Darwin's theory of natural selection. As we understand the evolutionary process better, Lamarck's ideas have gained greater respect. Nonetheless he will still have the albatross of naming a great Mexican fruit after the America's cheesesteak capitol hanging around his neck.

We will see you all Sunday,

Carol and Anthony Boutard


Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter 3 August 2014

Sarah West

Who would miss the first Hillsdale Farmers' Market following the Lammas? We will be there, ready at 10:00 AM.

This week we will have Chester and Triple Crown blackberries, long red onions and a mixture of cucumbers, frikeh, popcorn, Amish Butter cornmeal and dry favas. The focus will be on the blackberries. We have even purchased smaller scales so we can fit more Chesters in the van, how's that for dedication.

Several years ago, we prepared a pot of favas for a visit by friends. Cooked slowly with a bit of rosemary, garlic and olive oil, and still in their skins. Prior to dinner, we sat down with a drink. They are well-traveled and full of stories. They recounted how they visited a farm in Sicily or maybe the south of France or Spain, little matter. In the midst of all of the beautiful fruits and vegetables growing on the farm, their hosts chose to serve a simple bowl of favas, still in their skins, cooked with bit of rosemary, garlic and olive oil. They thought it peculiar and offhanded. In the midst of all of the beautiful fruits and vegetables growing at Ayers Creek, the two of us exchanged a quick glance and dinner evolved.

For the farmer, favas are a crop that expresses the very elements of the land. They are the most feline of the legumes, scarcely giving a damn how the farmer tends them. Strong-willed, they grow without supplements or irrigation. Lentils and chickpeas are of a similar nature. They are deep rooted and the land rather than the farmer gives them their character. This is perhaps why farmers distant from one another would act similarly as hosts. It is our nod the soil as the ultimate influence on what we produce.

We have a used copy of John Thorne's collection of essays, Outlaw Cook. It is spotless with the exception of the neatly pencilled word "reread" at the beginning of the essay on ful medames. We have obeyed the previous owner's direction, and commend it. The fava, known as ful and variations thereof through the Middle East, is a fragrant and very nourishing legume. We prefer to soak the favas for a couple of days and then cook them. Cook them slowly and gently until the interior is creamy. At this point you can season them in the manner of ful medames, or add a variety of summer vegetables. They are also wonderful roasted or fried so the skin becomes a crunchy contrast to the soft interior. In the winter we roast them with the root vegetables. There is a fascination in the United States with disrobing the poor dear, discarding the skin and keeping just its soft interior. This is the same place that decided that the skin of chicken is somehow unsavory, so they are sold skinless as well. Suit yourself, the flavor of the skin is essential to our enjoyment of the fava and the chicken so, like most other civilized people around the globe, we enjoy both in their fullness.

Incidentally, these favas are a variety that are traditionally dried. They have a beautiful celandine blush, a sweet flavor and a wonderful fragrance. The favas most commonly grown for their fresh pods are awful dry. Even so, not everyone loves favas. It is a defining rather than an acquired taste.

We will see you all Sunday,

Carol and Anthony

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter 27 July 2014

Sarah West

This Sunday morning we will take a break from delivering Chester Thornless Blackberries to Pastaworks, Food Front and New Seasons to, well, to get up much earlier than normal and bring more Chesters to the Hillsdale Farmers' Market where we will lord our own produce section from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM.

Does that sound like a rut, or what. Nonetheless, the fragrance of some many fresh blackberries never wears on us, and even with the last deliveries, we will grab a few off the top as we load and unload them. If you want Chesters from the store, when they bear our yellow sticker they are the genuine fruit.

In addition to Chesters and Triple Crown blackberries, we will bring some cucumbers, long red onions, purslane and amaranth greens, plums, frikeh, Amish Butter cornmeal and popcorn. Probably some other stuff, too, if time permits.

We do not bring in preserves during fresh fruit season; you will need to seek them out at the following stores who are kind enough to carry them:

City Market, 735 NW 21st Ave.
Food Front, both Hillsdale & NW Thurman
Foster & Dobbs, 2518 NE 15th Ave
Gaston Market, Gaston, OR
Pastaworks, 3735 SE Hawthorne Blvd
Peoples Cooperative, 3029 SE 21st Ave.
Vino, 138 SE 28th Ave.

Sparrow Hawks

Ayers Creek Farm is 144 acres, almost a half-mile square, actually more a trapezoidal-rhomboidal hybrid than a simple square. At the northern end of the property we have about 22 acres of oak savannah and the farm buildings. It is a raptor rich area, supporting a nesting pair each of great horned owls and red tailed hawks, two pairs of barn owls, as well as two to three pairs of kestrels.

Kestrels – those of us over 50 most likely grew up calling them "sparrow hawks" and we like that name better – are the smallest of the falcons and in nest in holes. They have narrow, swept back wings and a long tail, and the head markings often adopted in the ancient helmets of warriors. These traits are shared with their larger brethren, including the merlins and peregrines that linger during migration. These birds of the savannah and grasslands are permanent residents in the Willamette Valley, and you often see them hunting from utility wires. We build 20-foot tall perches to make their wintertime perch-and-pounce hunting method easier across the property. On the lighter summer and autumn air, kestrels will hover above the field. The slighter males have slate blue wings which distinguishes them from their mates that have brown wings.

At Ayers Creek, the kestrels have utilized both natural cavities in trees as well as boxes we build. However wholesome "natural" may sound, as with us, a fine stickbuilt with an ample floor plan is preferred by the birds over a dank cave built by a woodpecker in a rotten tree. The boxes have a 10" x 10" floor, and are approximately 12" deep, with a 3" entry hole. In the British Isles, they use a box that acts more like a ledge than a cavity. Our boxes are used by flickers and starlings, as well as kestrels. All three are welcome birds, even the much maligned starling who may eat a few cherries and grapes, but is first and foremost an insectivore that eats many thousands of grubs.

When offered a selection, the kestrels change nest boxes annually. Just as in organic farming, the rotation interrupts the buildup of pests and diseases. We have come to the conclusion that it is important to offer at least three boxes per nesting pair. The kestrel, starling and flicker belong to three different bird orders, just as humans, dogs and cats belong to different mammal orders, and the three different birds move nest to new locations each year. Last year, as soon as one of our kestrel families left their nest, a pair of flickers moved in and raised their family over the remaining days of the summer. We have three nesting pairs of kestrels close to one another and we suspect this is due to a high density of suitable nest sites.

Their diet in the winter consists of mice and voles. These they carefully eviscerate, abandoning the guts but eating the rest of the animal. We find the entrails left on top of the smaller nesting boxes where the kestrels perch to enjoy their prey. Occasionally they will eat a bird; this spring I watched one grab and consume a junco. They also eat insects, especially grasshoppers, as well as worms and small snakes. The preference is for mice and voles, but in the summer grasshoppers probably assure their survival.

The southern half of the farm provides no natural nesting cavities, nor are there any in the vicinity. There is a grove of trees, but it consists of Oregon ash and hawthorns, neither of which provide a good source of cavities. The ash falls apart before cavities appear and the hawthorn is too small of a tree. As a result, kestrels are rarely seen on that part of the farm during breeding season. This year we added four nesting boxes to the area; a pair settled in and the young are now out of the nest and hanging out in the shelter of the ash and hawthorn grove. One of the considerations in locating the boxes is having cover for the young who cannot fly when they plunge out of the box and are quite helpless for the first few days. Even when they do get aloft, their attempts to land are more akin to a crash onto a limb, and perhaps not the one intended.

Rich Van Buskirk, Associate Professor and Chair of the Environmental Studies Department at Pacific University, has been studying kestrels in the valley, including the four pairs nesting at Ayers Creek. The adults have been trapped and banded, and the chicks are banded as well. The female nesting at the southern end of the farm was from one of the clutches Van Buskirk and his students banded here last year. His work will give us a finer grain picture of the kestrels on the farm over time, and their relationships to one another. He has also been studying the success of birds raised in natural cavities compared to nesting boxes. We enjoy seeing the Professor and his students at the farm on their regular visits. We are, after all, just naturalists who happen to grow some food on the side, and happy when people notice.

See you all Sunday,

Chesters Growers Nonpareil
Carol & Anthony of Gaston

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter July 20 2014

Sarah West

When we open the stall at Hillsdale Farmers' Market this Sunday, Carol will be with me for the 10:00 bell.

The introduction of my longtime friend Jeff Graham was reciprocated in Wednesday's USA Today, with his reflections after his visit.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2014/07/15/voices-ditching-tech-on-the-farm/12657569/

We will see what happens with the great chickpea challenge. It was fun having Jeff and Ruth help at the market and the farm, and I hope I will never have to do a tweet.

Opening the A&E section of the Oregonian on Friday was a less pleasant experience. This once distinguished daily broadsheet has devolved into a flimsy, irregular tabloid. But, for crying out loud, you would think they could get the facts straight on blackberries, a fruit for which the backyard of Oregon is known. Under the title "State's lesser berries win time to shine," the entry for Chesterberry states:

"Developed in 2007, the chesterberry is a close cousin to the blackberry, but the fruit is roughly three times as large. In the marionberry family, chesters come with small seeds and a bitter taste."

Chester BlackberriesThe name of the berry is 'Chester Thornless Blackberry' not chesterberry, though we use the less formal Chester. It is capitalized because it is named after a person. Chester came out of the breeding program at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, in 1968, not 2007 as asserted by the author. Sakes alive, we have been selling them at Hillsdale since the market opened in 2002. It is a blackberry, pure and simple, not a cousin. The Chester, a thornless, semi-erect, plant is from a very different breeding line than the Marion, a thorny trailing type plant. There is no familiar similarity between the two and their different ancestries are reflected in the flavor of the berries. Finally, what is this nonsense about the fruit being bitter?

For some strange reason, the primary blackberry researchers at Oregon State University hold the Chester in very low regard, and this shapes the opinions of people who have not actually tasted the berry. I have had numerous discussions with Chad Finn and Bernadine Strik about Chesters, pointing out that it is a magnificent fruit for the smaller, organic grower and perfect for out-of-hand eating, but they are unshakable in their distain for the fruit. Fair enough, we harbor a similar distain for the Marion which is great for industrial, machine harvest farms but not a fruit where the farmer plans to park the ATV and eat berries for a while and think of shoes and ships and sealing wax. I guess that is why we don't grow it. This year, we have plant more blackberry rows, Chesters of course.

Several years ago Kathleen Bauer posted a good essay about the Chester blackberry, nicely illustrated, for those who want the full and interesting history of the berry:

http://www.goodstuffnw.com/2010/08/farm-bulletin-pt-2-taxonomy-of-chester.html

So this is leading up to the acknowledgement that we will have some of the first Chesters of the season tomorrow at Hillsdale. Not many, just a harbinger, first come, first served.

We will probably have some Imperial Epineuse plums as well. Very hot weather slows down the ripening of fruit, so the last couple of cooler days should help. I won't know until I finish writing this and put on my picking harness. It is going to be a good year for the plums and grapes.

We will have plenty of frikeh, some fine purslane and amaranth greens, as well as some fine examples from Frank and Karen Morton's lettuce collection. Amish Butter cornmeal and popcorn. Next week, the Chester season starts in earnest, so this is the week to pickup preserves. Real estate in the van is limited and we do not cede space to preserves when we can bring fresh fruits and vegetables.

We will see you all tomorrow,

Carol and Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm
Proud Cultivators of the Chester Thornless Blackberry since 1998

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter August 25 2013

Sarah West


For years, we have strongly suspected that Tito was once a dog model who finally chucked the fast life and, after a streak of hard luck, wound up in the Newberg pound where we met him. The chief bit evidence of his former life was a spread on urban picnics in the New York Times fashion supplement. The dog in the Open Bar picnic is sitting on a $495 Luxembourg bench with an open bag of chips next to him, and looks just like our lovable cur, except he lacks Tito's black toenails. There were also some chips left uneaten, very un-Tito. But you can never trust digital photos completely, maybe they added the chips later or he was more disciplined in his modeling days.

Regardless of his past, Tito's modeling chops can be seen in this month's issue of Cucina Italiana ( http://lacucinaitalianamagazine.com/article/this-thing-of-ours ), where he appears with the Cameron Winery's Jackson. The article is about a special tradition we have enjoyed since Cathy Whims and David West opened Nostrana, the farmers' dinner. Every October, Cathy and David invite a group of us for dinner and we meander our way through their menu and wine list. They, along with the staff at the restaurant, make it a fun and relaxed evening for the gang that spends most of it time at the back door. Nostrana is comfortable place for a farmer at either door, and that is due to the respect Cathy and David have for our ilk.

We deliver to a variety of restaurants. Each place has its own culture and expression of generosity. A container of tart cherry ice cream from Lovely's, a bit of cured pork from Greg Higgins, a jar of miso from Chef Naoko, or a pastry with our plums from Giana at Roman Candle, these gestures all make the effort a little bit easier and fun. Good restaurants also make us better farmers by drawing us into the process. For example, the incomparable Borlotto Lamon is one of Cathy's contributions.

Shopping list for Hillsdale Farmers' Market:

1 bag of frikeh
1 bag of the newly harvested chickpeas
1/2 flat of Chesters
1/2 flat of Mirabelle plums
1# ea. Seneca & Doneckaya Konservnaya prunes
1# tomatillos
2# of those really tasty cucumbers
2 heads garlic and a handful of shallots
Couple of Astianas, if I get there when the market opens at 10:00
2# of the Grape with no Name

When we settled into the trailer at Ayers Creek, we decided we would be there for a long, long time so, heeding Malvina Reynolds' advice, we planted an apple tree and a couple of grape vines. One was Interlaken and the other was sold as 'Sweet Seduction'. We hated the silly name. In grapes as in other fruits, the character of the grape is defined by the blend of acids in the fruit as opposed to simple sugars. We felt if cute was needed, then 'Acid Assignation' would be a more apt name.

When we decided to scale up our table grape production, we retained the late Lon Rombaugh to give us advice on varieties to plant. We mentioned Sweet Seduction as one variety we would plant. Almost two years ago, we enjoyed a early autumn dinner in the Hungry Gardener's yard and had some time to visit with Lon. That evening, he told us the grape we were growing had been mislabeled, was not Sweet Seduction, and he would get back in touch with us with the correct name. We were glad to be rid of a name better suited to chocolates or lingerie than fruit. Winter descended and Lon died too young. You can call it what ever you want, but for us it is now a grape with no name, a bittersweet remembrance of an inquisitive and kind fruit grower who we were lucky to have known as an advisor and friend.

We will see you all Sunday,

Carol & Anthony

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter July 28 2013

Sarah West

High summer is the season of dust – the wind, the combines, the plows and traffic all keep the air well endowed. Even walking across the field sends up clouds. It penetrates the clothing and clogs the nasal passages. Every year, as the main berry season approaches, we order in three or four truckloads of crushed rock to dress the road from the field to the farm buildings. This fresh band of rock helps reduce the dust when we bring the berries to the packing room.

Thursday we set up the 50 horsepower pump in case we need to increase the humidity the field so as to prevent damage by ultra-violet radiation when the field temperature passes 90°F (32°C). It ran for a few minutes and then we got the dreaded ALARM 14 EARTH FAULT on the variable frequency drive, the pump's brain. The drives were programmed in Denmark so they use the British term for the ground. We battled this problem last year, but it was erratic and the resetting the computer worked. This time the gremlin settled in and resetting did not work. Spent a couple of hours troubleshooting the problem with the electrician on the phone, connecting and disconnecting leads on the 430 volt system. It was not a temperamental drive or a bad cord, the motor was simply toast. Once again, Ernst Irrigation pulled through and we have new motor on the pump in less than 24 hours after diagnosing the problem. Credit also to our staff who know how to scramble when we need their help, making it easier for the technicians to carry out the swap.  

Nicely groomed and ready to yield us her fruits, the field looks beautiful. It is a farmer-ish thing to have one eye on the current harvest and the other on the primocanes that will produce fruit next year. They are strong and growing vigorously. Last year, a frost in mid May killed the first flush of primocanes and we will have a lighter crop as a result. In the swirl of dust and pump drama, we sowed the the chicories, escaroles and other cool season greens.  

We will have a good load of Chesters this Sunday at Hillsdale. The market runs from 10 AM to 2 PM at the lot near Wilson High School. Several years ago Kathleen Bauer posted an essay about the Chester blackberry for those unfamiliar with the berry:

http://www.goodstuffnw.com/2010/08/farm-bulletin-pt-2-taxonomy-of-chester.html

In addition to Robert Skirvin's fine berries, we will have new potatoes, Imperial Epineuse prunes, frikeh, amaranth greens, purslane, popcorn and a bit of cornmeal.

The storage of fruit is worth considering. In our industrial age, the tendency is to jam it in a refrigerator set at temperature best suited to storing meat and dairy products, under 40°F (4°C). This temperature damages the fruit. The better temperature is around 55°F (13°C), the night-time temperature in the field. The primary spoilage factor in fruit is moisture, not heat. You can dry fruit to preserve it, but if it rains for an extended time, the fruit is soon a moldy mess. True, refrigeration cans slow the progress of spoilage organisms, but at the expense of flavor and aroma. If you want to store berries for a week, it is better to put the fruit into a freezer immediately.

Fruits are best kept in a cool, dry room with good air circulation. Put it in a wire mesh colander, not a bowl or plate. Unlike meat and dairy products, fruits are living tissues and they are respiring. If you put your cherries in a bowl, the moisture generated by respiration collects at the bottom of the bowl and the fruit starts rotting from the bottom up. In a colander, the heavier, moisture-laden air can drain away. We store tomatillos harvested in September until March stored in this manner. Peppers, tomatoes, plums, melons, squash all store better at a moderate temperatures provided they have never been refrigerated. Peppers will last several weeks on the counter.

Our fruit is brought from the field to a cool, dehydrated room with a fan running to keep the air moving. Overnight, the dehydrators draw from the air between two and five gallons of water, depending upon how much fruit we harvest. As long as there is no free moisture on the fruit, and no existing mold, they will not mold. This gentle treatment maintains high fruit quality. Because the fruit is not chilled, when we bring it to the market, no condensation is formed on its surface when it meets the warm, humid air.

This early season fruit is the sturdiest and most intense. It has the highest levels of pectin and acidity, and is well constructed. If you are making preserves, this is the fruit to use. As the season progresses, the pectin and acidity levels drop. Because pectins can mask some of the components of flavor, later season fruit has a different character. For some, the reduced acidity makes the late fruit sweeter on the palate even though it has lower sugar levels. Many of you have heard our warning as the harvest of a fruit winds down: it is more delicate now and won't store well. For the Chester that warning will come about five weeks from now, or following a rainy period.

See you all Sunday,

The Boutards
Ayers Creek Farm
Gaston, Oregon

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter July 21 2013

Sarah West

 

We will rise as the July's waxing gibbous moon sets over the Coast Range. With luck we will arrive at the parking lot at Wilson High School with a bit Ayers Creek to sell. The market bell rings at 10:00 AM.

This is our dreaded berry hole, when the early fruit have gone and the Chesters are offering only a few tantalizing specks of ripening. We will have some red currants and gooseberries. We are beginning to catch up after that wet spell in early June. The fenugreek went to flower in the high heat, but a new planting went in last Saturday and is sprouting nicely. Next week, we plant our chicories so we are thinking of winter as much as summer these days. Here is what we will have tomorrow:

Grains & Pulses: Frikeh, cornmeal, popcorn, black turtle and Dutch bullet beans.

Greens: Purslane, and a mixture of orache and amaranth.

Tart Cherries - Once again, we failed at cherry geography. Apparently cherries are not grown on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. They are further south in the area around Traverse City, an area we have dubbed "Transpeninsula." They claim the mantle of "Cherry Capitol of the World." Lucky this is the last week for cherries as we have yet to fully explore our ignorance of cherry geography.  

We made our deliveries Friday and walked into a restaurant with the wrong invoice. When the staff saw it was for Lovely's 50/50, they regaled us with how delicious Sarah's tart cherry ice cream is and how she uses the cherry pits to flavor it, giving it hint of bitter almond essence. The next stop was at Lovely's and Sarah's mother greeted us with a tub of the ice cream. The ice cream is made from the Balatons. The next batch will use the Montmorency cherries. If you are in Mississippi area, more specifically 4039 N Mississippi Avenue, stop in and try the Balaton cherry ice cream. It is worth a trek across town. Then return to try the Montmorency flavor when that's ready. We have this geography right because we actually travel that area a bit.

Prunes - The stone fruits have three separate layers surrounding the seed and are what botanists call a drupe. The layers are the skin (exocarp), the pulpy flesh (mesocarp) and the hard layer surrounding the seed (endocarp) that the laity call the stone or pit. These three layers are derived from the mother plant's tissues, whereas the seed inside is the result of the sexual union of the sperm produced by the pollen and the mother plant's egg. The various stone fruit have characteristically shaped endocarps. Cherries have round ones, peaches have a large pitted version, almonds have a softer corky endocarp, and the plums have a very hard asymmetric pit. The seeds have a characteristic bitter almond flavor, and some are toxic when eaten in large quantities. The Boutards have long eaten the seeds of stone fruit without apparent ill effects. In many parts of Europe, it is customary to include some pits to flavor preserves and eau de vies made from stone fruit, just as Sarah does with her ice cream.

The plums are the most diverse of the stone fruits in terms of types and flavor. This week, we start with a prune bearing the regal name of Imperial Epineuse. The prunes are a class of related plums with a very high solid content of sugars and fiber, which allows them to dry well. They are prunes no matter whether they are fresh or dried. The commerce in dried prunes originated in Hungary in 16th century and spread westwards into France and Germany. The original seedling of Imperial Epineuse was found in an old monastery near Clairac, France. It was introduced to Oregon in the waning days of the 19th century as a dessert prune under the name of Clairac Mammoth, but never gained a following here. Not sure why, as it is easy to grow and more reliable than any of our other stone fruit. A steady cropper as the Brits would say. The texture is very fine, and pomologists have suggested that it may have a bit of damson in its background. The skin provides a pleasing and contrasting acidic note.

If you have an over-productive prune in your backyard, you can pick the very young fruit in the spring, before the pit has hardened, and cure them just as you would olives. The whole fruit is edible, no need to pit them, and you them in the dishes as you would olives. We crack the fruits with a mallet and put them in a jar with water, changing it daily until they turn olive green. Last year, we cured them in lye. The cured plums look no different than cured olives; the lye cured plums are dark just like lye cured olives. Publication 8267 from UC Davis give good directions (http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/8267.pdf). We got the idea for curing plums from a visiting Chicago Chef, Paul Kahan, who served up a dish with green peaches cured in the same manner. Greg Higgins and his staff cured gage plums and seasoned them with a Tunisian accent. That is the great part of having visitors to the farm, they always leave a new idea or two as they leave.

We look forward to seeing you all tomorrow.

Anthony & Carol Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter June 14 2013

Sarah West

We are back again at Hillsdale Farmers' Market this Sunday. The market is located near Wilson High School. Opens at 10:00 AM sharp.

Sour Cherries: Among these cherries, there are varieties with dark juice, generally classified as Morellos, Montmorency Cherriesand varieties with clear juice, classified as Amarelles. This week, we have the Amarelle called Montmorency. Equally satisfying, but a distinct flavor from the dark-juiced Hungarians of last week. In our preserves, we also include about 15% English Morello with its pleasing bitterness, along with Montmorency and the Hungarians.

The Amarelle cherries are particularly popular in France and England, as well as the United States. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Oregon's Willamette Valley are the two important American tart cherry regions. It is commonly asserted that Montmorency cherries are too sour to eat out hand. That is largely a matter of growers picking them when they are still on the acidic side of ripening. Though they have a tannic edge, the cherries this week are running over 16° BRIX, which higher than any of the cane fruit.  

One of the benefits of growing sour cherries is the fact that birds have a tough time pulling them off the tree. Moreover, the limbs are so willowy they cannot peck away at the fruit as they do with Prunus avium, bird (sweet) cherries. Robins, starlings and orioles like them but only as an occasional treat; they soon tire of the task and go back to eating insects. So they are an avian dessert, rather than a main course.

The spotted-winged drosophila or vinegar fly thrives on Montmorency cherries so we have to be careful harvesting the fruit. We have been working with staff on harvesting so we avoid the cherries with larvae. If you all run into a larva, and it is likely, the only thing we can say is that it is natural verification of our gentle approach towards other creatures on the farm. For the most part, the spiders in the orchard, along with the dragon flies, keep the vinegar fly populations at bay. And our restraint keeps the native bee populations and other interesting insect populations robust because we don't use the neonicotinoids and the rest of the arsenal of insecticides recommended for control of the fruit fly. The neonicotinoids are particularly nasty because they are generally applied to the soil and are absorbed into the plant tissues. The fruit is never sprayed, allowing for a plausible "no spray" claim. Many of our native bees are ground nesters, so they get it coming and going. An occasional fruit fly larva among the cherries means there is a bumble bee larva also developing safely underneath the tree.

Correction: Last week, a sharp-eyed reader alerted us to the fact that Lake Balaton is not part of the Danube drainage. More mortifying, Balaton in in the region known as Transdanubia, the woody hinterlands beyond the Danube Valleys. The comeuppance is not total because in the mix of Hungarian cherries last week was another variety called Danube, also introduced by Amy Iezzoni of Michigan State. So there was a bit of the Danube among the Balatons, even if it is not geographically accurate. Interestingly, a third Iezzoni introduction, Jubilleum, bore no fruit this year. It flowered during a brief frosty period which killed the bloom. When we purchased the trees from Cummins Nursery, we paid a royalty which is returned to the Hungarians for further agricultural research.

Soft Fruit: We are in that paradox of high diversity distinguished by general scarcity: a lot of little and mostly unpredictable. We harvest during the day Saturday for Sunday's market, so all of the fruit is in top shape. This is the advantage of buying from a farm that sells at a single market. We are not putting out fruit that didn't sell at Saturday's market. But it also means we are clueless as to the exact nature of the harvest until Saturday evening, long after you have received this.

Unfortunately, the black currants were so badly scorched by the hot spell, we won't have any more this summer. It is not simply aesthetic. The sunburn turns them bitter. There is a lilting song by Sondheim that sums up the bitterness of beauty burned by the summer sun. We will have some purple raspberries, the baby crop from last year's planting. Next year, they will be abundant. They also suffer from the touch of sun, but excel when exposed to a bit heat on the stove, which brings out the complex flavor. Purples are a hybrid between the red and black raspberries.

Greens: Our summer greens program is always an afterthought because our emphasis is on fruit, pulses and grains. Consequently, our greens production is a bit ad hoc. We grow what we crave and can't find from Gathering Together Farm, our primary outside source of greens. This week we will have some purslane, and a mixture of amaranth and orach.

Purslane can be chopped and added raw to yoghurt for a refreshing salad. Mostly we saute it quickly in pan drippings or olive oil. It is more accessible when cooked or pickled, losing its sharp edge. It doesn't sell well, so we eat and pickle what is left over when we return from the market. We pickle the tops with a bit of salt, garlic cloves, peppercorns and diluted vinegar (40 - 50% vinegar). Around the globe purslane is a treasured pot green, but in the United States here is little interest in this nourishing plant, so it is more often treated with herbicides than respect.  Enough grousing. By next week, the weevils will render the planting unsaleable.

Grains & Pulses: Frikeh, cornmeal, popcorn, chickpeas, black turtle and Dutch bullet beans.

We will see you all tomorrow,

Carol and Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter July 7 2013

Sarah West

For Immediate Release
Gaston, Oregon, USA
6 July 2013

The Oregon Chapter of the Frikeh Producers' Council (FPC) announced today that mild, dry weather, and improved efficiency, assured a record frikeh harvest of the highest quality.

Most of us are familiar with grains in their mature, dry state, which allows them to be stored for many years. However, in many places in the world, grains are also enjoyed in their immature (green) state as a seasonal delicacy. Throughout the middle east, from Egypt to Turkey, immature wheat is harvested, burned and threshed to produce frikeh (frik, firik, freekeh). Erroneously called an "ancient grain," frikeh is actually a way of processing wheat, not a different grain at all. Claims of its ancient status are dubious; what is certain is its delicious flavor.

The parching of emmer in caldrons was documented in Roman times by Cato the Censor around 200 BC, and in parts of southern Germany, unripe spelt is still treated this way to make grünkern. Frikeh is very different in that it is exposed to an open flame. There is scant documentation of this method of preparing wheat, and most of it from the 50 years. Some authors have speculated that it was originally produced using barley straw, but that makes no sense as the straw's flame is not hot enough. Anyway the straw was very valuable as bedding and packing material, and would not be wasted burning wheat. Possibly small branches from orchard and olive groves were used. Like our fellow frikeh makers in the Middle East today, we use propane torches, which are easier and safer to use.

The harvest of frikeh is done during the brief interval between the “milk stage” when endosperm is still liquid and the “soft dough” stage when the endosperm is solidifying. Too early and the grains shrivel; too late and the grains are no longer dark green and develop a starch quality. Frikeh of the best character is produced during a three day window in the ripening process. The wheat is cut and the sheaves are stacked on corrugated metal and the heads are lightly roasted. In addition to imparting a smoky flavor to the grain, the heating also stops the maturation of the endosperm. The sweet fragrance of the roasting wheat wafts through the valley. The charred heads are then fed into a thresher to separate out the grain. The grain is cleaned and then dried on shallow trays.

The finished frikeh is rinsed a couple of times and cooked for approximately an hour. Any remaining chaff and stems should be skimmed off during the rinsing or cooking. Frikeh may be used in any recipe that uses rice or bulgar wheat. It is traditionally served with lamb or chicken. The smoky, nutty quality of the grain adds a unique and new dimension to vegetarian dishes. The simplest is as a tabbouleh styled salad, perfumed with lemon and mint.

FPC spokesperson, Carol Boutard, notes that frikeh has different nutritional qualities than mature wheat. It is higher in minerals, especially potassium, calcium, iron and zinc, higher in dietary fiber, and low in phytic acid. Frikeh will be available at the Hillsdale Farmers Market this Sunday, 7 July. The market starts at 10:00 am.

We will also bring the following:

Tart Hungarian Cherries: Balaton, named for the large lake on the Danube.

Dry legumes: chickpeas and beans

Fenugreek and Purslane

Soft berries: In very limited quantities, been horrendous weather for these fruits.

Ribes: gooseberries and black currants

Preserves

We look forward to seeing you all at Hillsdale tomorrow,

Carol & Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter August 19 2011 Market

Sarah West

This spell of hot weather should be a mere memory by the time we finish hauling the flats of berries out of the van at Hillsdale. It has tested our mettle. You will hear the tintinnabulation of the bovine necklace around 10:00 AM.

From time to time, we have written about the robust and internationally recognized specialty seed industry in the Willamette Valley. This year, on the north border of our farm is 20 acres of open-pollinated Bull's Blood beet, the subject of a once and future essay. On our western boundary there is approximately 40 acres of hybrid spinach. The beets and spinach are grown for the Danish seed company, Vikima. Down the road aways, there is another large field with radish for cover crop seed. This radish is used by midwestern farmers to open up compacted soil, improving the soil and saving fuel when they prepare for planting. The crimson clover seed on our southern boundary was harvested last month, and will be planted by farmers to provide organic nitrogen for next crop. The production of synthetic nitrogen requires a huge amounts of natural gas, and is even damaging to the environment when it is applied to the fields.

In an effort to maintain the integrity of the valley's seed production, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) has a quarantine on rapeseed/canola production in the valley. Earlier this month, the ODA announced that it is altering the quarantine on the first of September and issued "temporary rules" developed without public input or hearing. In fact, it was announced during the busiest time of the year for the affected farmers, a really ugly single digit gesture from an agency with "agriculture" in its name. As it would affect our on-farm seed production, we have joined with others in asking Director Coba to suspend the rule. Fortunately, Friends of Family Farmers has gained a temporary stay on the temporary rule from the Court of Appeals. There is a lot of interesting information about the canola issue at the Friends of Family Farmers website: http://www.friendsoffamilyfarmers.org/?p=1622

We have supported the Friends of Family Farmers for several years, and we are deeply appreciative for their willingness to pursue ODA on this terrible and destructive proposal. Deep in its culture, the ODA is brittle agency that prefers to work behind closed doors with no public input. The agency is riddled with apparatchiks more comfortable in the back room with industry lobbyists than in a public meeting with famers and consumers. Written without the input of the affected farmers, this temporary rule is a complete mess, imposing on small farms like ours all sorts of unnecessary rules governing our own seed production. They even assert the authority to destroy our seed crop if we fail to comply with all their rules. We need Friends of Family Farmers help and, we are happy to say, they are there for us.

In the state fair exhibition of advocates for better farm policies, Friends of Family Farmers would win the treasured tricolor, Best in Show, hands down. They have emerged as a national model for this sort of organization, and when friends ask if you have heard of their director Michele Knaus, you can nonchalantly say you see her shopping at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market, even on the snowy days of winter. No empty rhetoric there. Any support you can give them, moral or money, will be greatly appreciated by us and other family farms.

Here is what we will have:

Chesters & Triple Crowns: We are considering hauling in an additional 24 half flats berries this week, reducing space for other odds and ends. It is hard to predict is when people decide to take a summer vacation. We watch the automated out-of-office replies to get an idea of how many people will be missing from the market.

Beets, Cucumbers and Potatoes: The potato vines are beginning to die back. We stopped the water a couple of weeks ago. At this point, the tubers stop growing in size and the starches change. The tuber prepares for the winter by developing its corky skin. You will notice the difference in flavor and texture.

Pole Beans: Preacher and Fortex

Garlics, Shallots & Onions Frikeh: Went fast this year, so we are at tail end of the supply. ___________________________________________________

Bolero Memories

The death of Chavela Vargas earlier this month stirred up memories of our first year working this bench of land above Ayers Creek. We arrived at the farm as capable gardeners with no commercial berry experience. This gap was factored into the purchase agreement. The owners had estimated the value of the annual production of blackberries so we allowed them to sell the crop that year and remain on the farm during the harvest rent-free. The crop value was deducted from the purchase. In exchange, we observed the details of the harvest. It soon became apparent that we would be working with 100 - 200 people, most of whom did not speak English. Nor could we speak a stitch of Spanish.

Adopting a variant of Professor Harold Hill's "Think System," we decided we could learn the language listening to Spanish music, assisted by a bit of tutoring. In the manner of young Ron Howard learning the Minuet in G, we would pick up Spanish just thinking about it. We stumbled onto the music of Chavela Vargas first. Her strong, elegant voice tinged with longing brought us the beautiful boleros of Agustín Lara, Alvaro Carrillo and others, filling the car on our way from Portland to the farm every morning. Soon we added Germaine Montero singing the rhythmic and insistent folksongs of Spain and, of course, Mexico's Singing Cricket, Cri Cri. Montero performed in the company of the Spanish poet Garcia Lorca, and many of the songs were transcribed by him. She also recorded Lorca's poems including "Lament on the Death of a Bullfighter." Born and raised in France, her native tongue softened her Castilian Spanish. Francisco Gabilondo Soler was an accomplished singer and composer who is remembered fondly as the children's troubadour Cri Cri. Several months into the think system, a major advance was marked when we realized the refrain of Cri Cri's El Ratón Vaquero was actually sung in English.

The following summer it was up to Zenon and the two of us to develop the future character of the field. People working in the field referred to him as both the row boss and the majordomo. Titles are far more important than names in the field, so we asked him what he preferred, and thence forward he was the majordomo. It was in this role that he told us that Anthony, el patrón, needed to go through the field and show them what was expected. The majordomo followed explaining how to pick the perfect berry, seeking the slight dullness and ease of detachment that betrays the fully ripe one. In a nod to the singing cricket, each year that first week became known as "la escuela de la mora" – blackberry school.

Just as Cri Cri's English was a bit difficult for us to discern at first, so was Anthony's Spanish to the people in the field. Blank stares demanded a more theatrical effort. Generally, people picked good fruit. If someone was picking poorly, el patrón closed his eyes and reached into bucket where he had spotted the most horrible looking berry. Into the mouth it went, followed by a shudder, an anguished wince and a rapid swallow. "No, no, no, the blackberry is food," he would opine in a sad voice and broken Spanish, "and that one was not yet food. Next week, maybe." Then lapsing into idiom of love learned from the boleros, he would explain that every berry that goes into the bucket should break your heart because you know how delicious it would be in your mouth, yet you must part with it. A giant anglo in white shirt is somehow less imposing when he is relaying the pleasures of eating fruit using the words and cadence of love and longing, with a touch of Cri Cri's humor. For the coda, a perfect fruit was picked, savored for a moment, and in a languid manner el patrón declares "la boca conoce la alma de la mora," – the mouth knows the spirit of the blackberry – followed by a smile of contentment. By the 30th or 40th sour berry, the patrón's shudder and wince were very convincing, yet quickly assuaged by the sweet one that followed.

Prior to Ayers Creek, our experience with blackberries was limited to picking them along the field borders on Sauvie Island. Some sweet, some bitter, some sour, some just plain insipid, and all were seedy. We were listening to Vargas singing boleros when we began our affair with the sublime Chester, and like other songs associated with fond memories, it is hard to separate the two. A bolero will never come to mind when contemplating the seedy Himalayan blackberry. Fourteen years later, the field is very different. We stopped selling to Cascadian Farm after 2007, shifting over to fresh market only. Just ten people work for us today, and they carry out a range of tasks on the now diversified farm in addition to the harvest. No more blackberry school. But the character of the field which the majordomo helped us establish that second year hasn't changed, and the desire for a berry that brings a song to mind remains. Upon reflection, it is a good thing that we didn't use conventional language tapes for travelers, or we would have ended up describing the berries in terms of luggage and menu items, or that berry on the right is good, the one on the left is not good. How dull it would have been. Te amamos, Chester. Gracias Chavela.

We look forward to seeing you all this Sunday,

Carol & Anthony Boutard
Out there in Gaston

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter August 12 2012 Market

Sarah West

Eamon Molloy and his hardy band of volunteers will transform the parking lot at Hillsdale into bustling farmers' market by 10:00 AM on Sunday.

Here is what we will have:

Chesters, Chesters, Chesters, and, oh yes, we will have good quantity of Triple Crowns as well, about 35 half flats Zenón tells me.

We have told the story about the Chester Blackberry many times. Kathleen Bauer posted the most recent one on her site, even illustrating it with photos of Robert Skirvin, John Hull and Senator Dirksen. Her nickname around here is the "Bauer Bird" because she does such wonderful job of collecting and arranging material for her site. Here is the link:

http://www.goodstuffnw.com/2010/08/farm-bulletin-pt-2-taxonomy-of-chester.html

The berries are also at Pastaworks, both Food Fronts and all 12 New Seasons stores if you run short during the week. Fine establishments all.

Beets, Cucumbers and New Potatoes

Pole Beans: Preacher and Fortex

Garlics, Shallots & Onions

Some Preserves

Frikeh

Wither the Turnips? One of our farm aphorisms is "you are only as good as your next turnip." We collected and cleaned two crates of beautiful turnips, grabbing a handful for dinner. Even Tito, the amazing turnip eating bandy-legged dictator backed away from them. If we had sold those, you could have called us tough, woody folk with a bitter edge. As it happened, our appetite spared our reputation. A week earlier they were delicious, but the heat was their ruination, and they almost took us down with them. New aphorism: Never trust a pretty turnip.

__________________________________________

La Cajita Blanca

Two weeks ago, the little white box returned after a year's absence. For many years, we have used half-flats made from unbleached container board. Four years ago, we were caught short at the end of the season and bought a bundle of 100 with a white liner board. They were soon gone, and by last year there was just one still in circulation. It stood out in the stack and we commented on how many times it must have returned to the farm. At least five times by the initials, though it might have been more because staff typically initial flats later in the season when mold has set up in the field. That way, if someone is inattentive, we can address the situation quickly. The flat also had a small oval sticker, indicating that at least once it was filled with Triple Crowns. Those yellow stickers were left over from the days when we grew melons, and we used the extras to mark the non-Chester boxes. Maybe it also went out filled with mirabelles, green gages or festooned with Joe's Long Cayenne peppers, looking just like a jester's hat. Still in good shape after its many journeys, the box was filled with fresh hallocks, Chesters and sent out into world again last week.

We typically reuse paper flats until they look shabby or their ears get mangled — what we call the tabs that lock the boxes together when the are stacked. We never reuse the green paper-maché hallocks however. There are three good reasons why. First, and most importantly, it is a matter of food safety. We do not know where the hallock was stored and it comes in direct contact with the fruit that is eaten raw, unlike the flat. From a food safety perspective, it is reckless to reuse the hallock without knowing where and how it was stored. Second is food quality. If there is a speck of mold in the used hallock, that mold will infect fruit put in it later. Mold and berries are a match made in heaven if you are into rapid decay. Third, as a matter of federal law, organic growers can only reuse packaging that previously held certified organic produce. Consequently, the used hallocks go to recycling.

Packaging is always a fraught subject, especially for organic growers who want to extend the ecological ethic beyond the field. There are many factors that need balancing in selecting how to present the food. For example, on a hot summers day the delicate greens wilt rapidly, their quality suffers, and we waste a lot if they are sold out of an open crate. In the winter, the kale, collars and chicories fare well in the open air. They remain beautiful through the day and sell well. We try to make sure it is always a judgement call rather than a reflexive need to bag.

In the valley, farmers are fortunate to have a superb plastics recycling service. Located on Waconda Road in Brooks, Agri-Plas, Inc. recycles a wide spectrum of plastic waste generated by farms. Pots, old irrigation tape, barrels, plastic bags, old twine and grain sacks are all sorted and sold to domestic users. When we have to pick up some supplies in St. Paul, we will carry down our recycling and stop by Ernst on the way home. Very efficient.

In the meantime, we will be waiting to see if our little white box returns some Sunday in the future. It is hoped with her ears intact so we can send her forth once more.

Cheers, and see you all Sunday,

Carol & Anthony Boutard
The Costermongers of Fair Gaston