Meet your farmer
Simon here with your weekly Rainshadow newsletter. Originally from Tucson, AZ, I’m one of the three Rogue Farm Corps interns at Rainshadow this season. For the last few years I have been working seasonally and traveling to a new place around the west each season. I worked in the canyons of the Colorado plateau removing invasive species. I taught skiing in California and Arizona. Last summer I did my first hands on experiment farming, as a volunteer on a farm in the Skagit River valley of northern Washington.
There are two things I can think of that convey why I want to be a farmer. First, my biggest goal in life is to attempt to live close to the land in a way that is not destructive. To me the best way to achieve that ideal is to be a farmer. Second, my mother always says that she likes to cook for people to show them that she cares, she wants to feed them. I suppose farming for me is an extension of that, to care for the earth and its people by feeding them. That’s where you lovely people come in!
Photo credit: Javan Ward @29nrth
The seasons they are a changin’
As most of you have probably noticed, the weather has cooled off a bit. Which to us means, can you believe it, fall is in sight. That means a big transition at the farm. We’ve got begun to harvest our storage crops for the winter: onions, beets, and among other things, potatoes!
That’s right, we harvested the first row of potatoes and our first round of onions this week! It’s hard to believe that just a couple blinks ago in May, my first week, we were putting the seed potato out in the field. Now they are cured, weeded, and all ready to go. (This week we pulled row 1 of 12.) There was a guess thrown around that there will be 2400 lbs of potatoes per row. We think yesterday’s row yielded 1500-1700 lbs. Not quite a ton, but close! Holy dang, that’s exciting! Gonna be a lot of hauling potatoes from one place to another. I think we’re up for it.
We harvest our potatoes using a tractor and then load them into crates, and wash them in the potato washer. Last week we also started harvesting our storage onions! Winter storage harvests are in full swing. (Sign up for your winter CSA to make sure you don’t miss out!) (photo credit: Simon Yoklic, Kiely Houston.)
This past week we also harvested our grain crops, wheat and the black barely this year. We use a combine to harvest the grain. This year the combine crew came out and gave us a huge compliment. Apparently, with the droughts around the region, a lot of wheat and other grains have not set well. In contrast, according to the combine guy, our grain was looking nice and plump!
The combine came and harvested all our wheat and Tibetan Black Barley. We ended up with 8 super-sacks full of grain! (Photo credit: Sarahlee Lawrence, Natalie Leder.)
When I heard that the first thing that occurred to me was “soil organic matter.” What is that? This includes compost, manure from our grazing dairy cows, the stalks and roots from the grain crop left in the soil after combining, the tops of the cover crop after mowing, and much more. We incorporate a lot of soil organic matter into our soil and it all adds up to a healthier, more complex soil with a diverse ecosystem of microorganisms.
Additionally, did you know that a 1% increase in soil organic matter can hold 20,000 gallons of water per acre? That’s wild and really makes us feel good about all the things we do here to get that organic matter into our soil. Sarahlee and I were chatting and she suggested hunting down one of the old soil tests from over a decade ago and then getting a new soil test this season to compare. Maybe we can find out how much more organic matter is really out there.
While we don’t know how close we are to the 1% mark, anecdotally our wheat seems to be doing better than others. Maybe that has something to do with this practice. Or perhaps it is the combination of soil, organic matter, Organic and regenerative practices, and luck. Regardless, to our delight, everyone gets to dance around and continue baking delicious pies with our wheat!
After combining, we leave the remaining wheat and barley stalks on the fields. That and grazing our dairy cows on the cover crop help us grow our soil organic matter. (Photo Credit: Kiely Houston.)
I was beyond excited when I heard from Sarahlee that the foundational veggies for this week included potatoes and leeks. I immediately called my mom and had her send over a copy of my absolute favorite potato leek soup recipe from when I was a kid. It was a family favorite during the winter and turned into what I requested for my birthday every year. She sent me a scanned copy of the page from her recipe book which I think tells that story well.
**The soup has a seasoning that I haven’t ever seen in use anywhere else, but is absolutely necessary to the success of the dish. Even though beau monde seasoning is basically celery salt and some other things, it is 100% worth picking it up special for the soup.
We often ate this soup with warmed French bread from the oven, but when we really wanted to treat ourselves, we would make lemon zest muffins. I have included that recipe below. The muffins were one of the ways my sister and I learned how to cook. We would come home after school and make them as an after school snack. (It was helpful having a Meyers lemon tree in your backyard, thank you California!)
Simon’s Favorite Chili
1 tablespoon cooking oil
2 – 3 cups onion, diced
1 cup shredded carrots
1 – 2 jalapeño peppers, stemmed, seeded, and minced **Can sub with 1 bulgarian carrot hot pepper, or 2 buena mulatta we should have these at the market and store for at least the next few weeks.
3 – 8 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup bulgur, rinsed **See below for how to make bulgur from Rainshadow wheatberries
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin ** I double both the chili powder and the cumin, then I add 1tbsp paprika, 1tsp cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, and turmeric to taste. I usually add this mix and then smell it, then I keep adding more till it smells just right.
2 cups diced fresh tomatoes (about 2 medium or 6 plum tomatoes)
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce **extra sauce can be added in place of fresh tomatoes
1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed **Doesn’t really matter what types you use, whatever’s in the pantry will work; dry beans can be used ~1/2cup dry beans = 1 can. Make sure your beans are fully cooked before adding.
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
Chopped fresh cilantro
- Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrots, and jalapeño and sauté, stirring often, until the onion is soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the bulgur, chili powder, and cumin and stir until well combined.
- Stir in the tomatoes, tomato sauce, and beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender, about 1 hour. Season with salt to taste. Serve with a sprinkling of cilantro, if desired.
There is some magic here where the carrots, bulgar, and beans cook down with the spices and you can’t even tell there’s no meat in it. Which is part of the point, duh. I’ve definitely fooled some devout meat eaters into thinking there had to be some kind of meat in here, or at least the chili was good enough that they liked it anyway.
You can follow the recipe in its original form or you can use my notes to make it extra hecking tasty. See comments with ** for my additions. If you follow the original instructions the chili tends to be a mild to medium heat depending on the peppers you use and how well you de-seed them. My preference is to make this chili very spicy.
I find this recipe tends to be quite dry, so I usually add a couple cups of water when I add the sauce and the beans and then more throughout. You can also cook this down for as long as you want. I like it to be nice and thick when serving. Always better the next day, funny how that works. I also like to double the recipe and then eat chili all week, but that’s just me.
One of the best things about this recipe is that it is a very strong base, you can modify it pretty heavily and end up with some dang good chili. For instance when the winter squash comes around, throw some of that in here just to boost it up a notch; butternut, delicata, tetra, pumpkin, acorn, all would work, peel if necessary, cube it, boom.
(from the Cooking Classy blog)
I used this recipe as a stepping off point for dinner last night substituting recipe ingredients with what I had: 4 jimmy nardello peppers for the 1 sweet pepper, garlic salt for the garlic cloves, 3 of those yellow and green tomatoes for the cherry tomatoes, and fresh chopped basil for the Italian seasoning, white wine for the pasta water. It was simple, quick, and delicious. Great side dish, but if you added Italian sausage or ground pork or some sort of marinated chickpeas, it could easily be a main.
10 oz. dry Barilla Penne Pasta
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 medium red onion, sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced into matchsticks
2 cups broccoli florets, cut into matchsticks
1 medium sweet pepper, sliced into matchsticks
1 medium yellow squash, sliced into quarter portions
1 medium zucchini, sliced into quarter portions
3 – 4 cloves garlic cloves, minced
1 cup (heaping) cherry tomatoes, halved through the length
2 tsp dried Italian seasoning (or chopped fresh basil)
1/2 cup pasta water
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup shredded parmesan, divided
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook penne pasta in salted water according to package directions, reserve 1/2 cup pasta water before draining.
- Heat olive oil in a 12-inch (and deep) skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add red onion and carrot and sauté 2 minutes.
- Add broccoli and bell pepper then sauté 2 minutes.
- Add squash and zucchini then sauté 2 – 3 minutes or until veggies have nearly softened.
- Add garlic, tomatoes, and Italian seasoning/basil and sauté 2 minutes longer.
- Pour veggies into now empty pasta pot or a serving bowl, add drained pasta, drizzle in lemon juice, season with a little more salt as needed and toss while adding in pasta water to loosen as desired.
- Toss in 1/4 cup parmesan and parsley then serve with remaining parmesan on top.
We began harvesting Purple Viking Potatoes this week and it makes it’s first appearance on Wednesday as a foundational veggie.
To store: Keep potatoes in a cool, dark, dry place, such as a loosely closed paper bag in a cupboard. They will keep for two weeks at room temperature. Light turns them green, and proximity to onions causes them to sprout. Don’t put them in the refrigerator, as low temperatures convert the starch to sugars.
To prep: Scrub well and cut off any sprouts or green skin. Peeling is a matter of preference. In soups, the skins may separate from the flesh and float in the broth, but when baked, pan- fried or roasted, the skins acquire a crisp, crunchy texture.
To cook: Use potatoes in soups, hash browns, and salads. Roast sliced or whole small potatoes with fresh herbs, salt, and olive oil at 400 F until tender, about 20 minutes. Boil potatoes in water for 20-30 minutes until tender and mash them.
To freeze: Cool cooked or mashed potatoes and freeze them in a Ziplock bag.
Leeks are a mild onion great for soup bases and sautés.
To store: Cut off the green tops (save those greens and put them in your veggie freezer bag to make veggie stock). Loosely wrap unwashed leek bottoms
(with roots attached) in a plastic bag and store them in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator where they will keep for 2 weeks.
To prep: Cut the leek about 1 inch above the white part, where the leaves begin
changing from dark to light green. Save the unused greens; they’ll give great flavor to your next vegetable stock. Slit the leek lengthwise and soak it in lukewarm water for 15 minutes. Fan the leaves under running water to dislodge dirt, then pat dry. Chop the white part of the allium finely.
To use: Use leeks in salads, casseroles and soups or wherever you’d use onions. They can be braised, boiled grilled, or steamed.
To freeze: Cut the white parts of the leek into slices and flash freeze in Ziplock bags. Or sauté in butter or oil and freeze already sautéed.
More to come on those soil tests and soil organic matter. And that’s the thing about farming, and definitely Rainshadow, there is always more to come–tomorrow, next week, next season, next decade. There’s the next project to begin, problem to solve, or tidbit to learn.
Farming is stimulating, demanding, sometimes overwhelming, but it all pumps you up. Makes you want to do more and be better as a farmer and as a person. It’s hard to capture how the promise of tomorrow can be the beauty of today… Or do I mean that the other way around. However it goes, tending the land is both a gift and a promise, and I like that.
Seed ya later,
Please email us let us know if you can’t make Wednesday or if someone else is picking up for you. We can’t wait to see you on Wednesday!