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Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter September 20 2015 Market

Sarah West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We hope to see you all tomorrow,

The Boutards
Ayers Creek Farm
Gaston, Oregon

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter September 13 2015 Market

Sarah West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until Sunday,

Carol and Anthony
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter September 6 2015 Market

Sarah West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our regards,

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

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter August 30 2015 Market

Sarah West


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Boutards
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter August 23 2015 Market

Sarah West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carol and Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

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A personal note:

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

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

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

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

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

Anthony

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.

______________________

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 August 9 2015 Market

Sarah West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carol and Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter August 2 2015 Market

Sarah West

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

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

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

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

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

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

We will see you all tomorrow,

The Boutards
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter July 26 2015 Market

Sarah West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthony & Carol Boutard Ayers Creek Farm

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

Hardy Vegetables – Plant Them Now!

Sarah West

by Anne Berblinger, Gales Meadow Farm

A few of the starts you'll find this Sunday

Many vegetables, the “hardy” varieties, do well in early spring. They can even stand a frost. This year, they should do better than usual, since the soil has already warmed up some and it looks like our extra warm weather will continue.

Gales Meadow Farm will have many hardy vegetable varieties at the market this weekend: kale, lettuce, collards, broccoli, peas, onions, beets, and more. And of course, we have many varieties of most of these and some pots of mixed varieties. Any of them can be planted right now or as soon as your garden is ready.

These veggies need good soil and a spot that gets sun for at least 6-8 hours a day. Most of them will do well in pots on a sunny deck or parking strip. so you can have fresh homegrown vegetables even if you don’t have a sunny garden. For hardy spring veggies, a light dressing of complete organic fertilizer mixed into the top 2-3 inches of the bed should be good for the whole season. If the soil is clay or sandy, a generous dose of compost applied before planting and mixed into the soil will help.

It's good to do your transplanting in the evening or on a cloudy day. Water the pots before you remove the vegetables, and as soon as you have finished planting, water the newly transplanted vegetables well to settle them into the ground and establish good contact between the soil and the roots.

Our pots of veggie starts have more plants than garden store six-packs. The pots may look crowded, but the plants don’t mind. You need to be gentle as you separate them, but they are not terribly delicate. Gently take the whole block of potting soil out of the pot. Plant each one as you peel it from the soil; don’t let the roots have a chance to get dry.

Make sure your garden or pot does not dry out. (We usually don’t have to worry about this in the spring, but this year is different.)

You can start picking lettuce, collards, chard, and kale leaves and beet greens in a few weeks; the peas will be ready before long; the onions can be harvested young or left to mature in August.

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 January 25 2015 Market

Sarah West

The ringing cowbell announcing the opening of the Hillsdale Farmers Market at 10:00 AM tomorrow also heralds another installment of last summer's sunshine carefully stored by nature in the first instance, and by us in the second.

Loganberries and raspberries harvested following the summer solstice still glow in the jars of preserves, and on your toast next week. Likewise the frikeh was harvested and roasted on the longest days. The currants and gages finalized their flavor in the midsummer sun, when people still take the season's heat for granted, waving it aside. The corn, cayennes, squash, beans and pumpkin seeds entered their maturity as the yellow of school buses reminds us to linger a bit longer before the warmth is truly precious. When we bring in the fiori d'inverno, the flowers of winter, this week, the roots that create those beautiful chicories fattened up around the autumnal equinox. Likewise the sweet potatoes and spuds, and the leaves that form the onions. The quinces and grapes captured their summer moment a bit tardy, ripening in the last rays of sun after the equinox.

The diversity of organs that store the sun's energy is also striking. There are seeds, fruits, leaves and stems all in the mix, all accomplishing the same storage function. With time, they are continuing to mature and their flavors are changing. This week, we encourage you all to try a slice of the hard-skinned Sibley squash and the purple sweet potatoes, both of which reach their prime in terms of sweetness and flavor in late January. For those on quest for ever more anthocyanins in their diet, the purple sweet potatoes have intense concentrations of these desirable pigments.

Finally, a nod to that great perennial root, the horseradish, which accumulates several years of summer light before it is ready for harvest.

With that, we hope to see you all anon,

Carol & Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter January 11 2015 Market

Sarah West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We will see you all Sunday,
The Boutards of Gaston

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter December 21 2014 Market

Sarah West

The Sunday after the brumal awakening is traditionally Calendar Sunday at Ayers Creek. The 2015 edition is quiet, no color and few words. Out of character? Not really. It happens occasionally, often in July and August when the season runs past us. We will bring roughly half tomorrow and the balance for the first market of 2015, so don't fret if you can't make it tomorrow.

That said, if the forecast holds, it promises to be a dark and soggy four hours, so we will be very happy for any company during the vigil. We will have the usual complement of winter squash, sweet potatoes, knob celery, black radish, horseradish, onions and spuds. We will bring preserves and gift boxes along with the grains, legumes, cayennes and pumpkin seeds. Yesterday, we harvested some of the first chicory heads, along with a bucket of good looking rocket.

We produce our own seed for many of the vegetables, legumes and grains we grow, reselecting each year for better traits and quality. This summer, Brian Campbell and Crystine Goldberg of Uprising Seeds asked if they could include some of our varieties in their 2015 seed catalogue. We agreed and the next thing you know, they need to check our corn seed for genetic contamination. It was with a heavy heart that we posted seed to them knowing that those beautiful kernels would be completely destroyed and then probed for any violation of their purity. The reason we grow food is knowing the pleasure it gives the people who eat it, not to have it suspiciously handled by an uncaring and unloving lab technician. We have recovered, but it took a psychic toll. For what it is worth, the purity Amish Butter and Roy's Calais Flint are unchallenged, free of any corrupting genes. We knew this intuitively from working with the corn so intimately, but the cold, clinical diagnosis provides additional validation of our effort. Ultimately, though, it is not the negative - non-GMO - that we are striving for, it is the lovely, rich flavor those two varieties of corn bring to the table. We are glad that we are of a mind with Brian and Crystine on this substantive point.

Probably the only sunshine we will see tomorrow is the glow from the freshly opened squash. We are often asked for suggestions on how to prepare winter squash. Here is a good variation on the old Turkish treat the sorbet that will keep the glow alive: www.goodstuffnw.com/2014/12/move-over-ice-cream-squash-sorbet.html

Our best for holidays if we don't see you tomorrow,


Carol & Anthony
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 November 23 2014 Market

Sarah West

All of the beans and grains sold at the Hillsdale Farmers’ Market are grown by us on the farm. We do not repackage other farms’ production, or buy bulk beans for resale, and we are certified organic.

A theme running through Ayers Creek’s grains, legumes and vegetables is adaptation to our latitude, the 45th parallel. We look to maritime influenced regions such as the Bordeaux and Dordogne, Galicia in Spain, the Po River Valley, parts of the Danube Valley, and Hokkaido, Japan. We are not bound by such an analysis, but it is a useful vetting mechanism.

Our primary selection criterion is a bean that can be savored on its own, just a bit of salt and olive oil. Over the last 12 years, we have grown a wide diversity of dry beans; the beans below we deem worth growing. Cute stories and pretty color patterns don't carry much water with restaurants or habitual bean eaters; the flavor and texture are everything once it gets to the plate. 

We prefer soaking the beans overnight before cooking. The bean is a dormant, living plant. When you soak it, the plant opens up its toolkit of enzymes and starts to break apart the large protein and carbohydrate molecules that store its nutrients and energy. In our experience, soaking lends the bean a discernible sweetness and a smoother texture than just hamming things apart with heat. We treat soaking as an elegant step in the process rather than an inconvenience. However, with a good bean, it is best to cook it however you want. If the ritual of soaking irritates or crimps your style, relax and follow some other method and hammer away. Regardless, you are not affecting the nutritional value if you soak the beans, and toss out the soaking water.

The next day we drain them, add fresh water, bring to a boil and then simmer until tender. Time varies by variety and age of the bean. You can also add herbs, carrots, onions and celery to season the beans. If the dish calls for meat, we generally cook the beans in water first so they retain their own flavor. Avoid cooking beans in an acid liquid such as tomato sauce because they will not cook properly, remaining tough and grainy. It is fine to add salt whenever you want. We follow the late Judy Rodgers suggestion to salt the cooking water to taste. Refrigerate the beans in their cooking liquid.

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Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter November 16 2014 Market

Sarah West

I will have van loaded for tomorrow's Hillsdale Farmers' Market, set up with winter shoes in case of ice.  The market opens with the bell at 10:00 AM.

Monday, we processed most of the plum preserves, leaving just the green gage after Thanksgiving. The jar were still too hot to handle when Carol left for  Branchport, NY, perched at the tip of the middle finger lake, offering a few weeks of postpartum companionship for our daughter. 

The cold weather has forestalled plans to harvest greens, they are fine but are too delicate to handle. It is a waste of time to even try. Nonetheless, I will have fennel, spuds, sweet potatoes, knob celery, onions and black radish. A couple of other odds and ends as well.

I will also have on hand a splendid assortment of legumes and grains. Cayennes and pumpkin seeds as well. As noted earlier, there is a good selection of preserves ready.

Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm