Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reflection on 2011

2011 was a long and eventful year, marked by protests, movements and revolutions around the world.

Here at Longhaul Farm we are also participating in protests, movements and revolutions, organized by our manifesto, played out in our farming and living techniques and recorded on this cyberspace. We have worked hard to carry the simplicity, beauty and sustainability of our life in rural Argentina back to upstate New York, where we promised to consume and pollute less, contribute more to our community and local economy, and do what we could to maintain ecological balance in our environment.

It's a long haul and the road continues: we have started to create a diverse, naturally-cultivated farm, but haven’t yet completed the ecological cycle with livestock or rain harvesting; we have limited our consumption and shopping to only the essentials, but we continue to rely on gas to get us everywhere; we conserve energy and resources, but have not yet installed renewable solar energy sources on our stable roof; we have made our farm a gathering point for different "waste" streams (collecting household compost, coffee grounds, egg shells, leaves, wood chips and manure from local sources), but we still have many more people to connect with and organic materials to compost; we hope we are demonstrating by our actions what each of us can do to help restore balance to this world, but we have not yet launched our think/act space where we can teach, facilitate, inspire and connect with others walking similar roads. We have found some answers, but large questions remain. So our mini-protest against over-consumption and waste, mini-movement toward a local, sustainable economy and ecology, and mini-revolution for simplicity, equity and justice continue on.

We are content with 2011, happy with the life we are building, and hope that 2012 is even more satisfying and inspiring.

Wishing good health and happy days to everyone who has been and will be a part of the Longhaul.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The direct farmer-to-eater economy

When we sow, transplant, water, weed, feed and harvest, we think about who is going to enjoy the fresh produce and what they might do with it. Sometimes that means we think of ourselves. And most of the time that means we think of our family, friends and neighbors: I know my sister is going to love these Brussels sprouts... I wonder if the kids down the road actually like receiving this much broccoli... everyone's going to want more of these heirloom tomatoes. That's a nice connection we have as small-scale farmers who use the CSA model to share produce with the community: we actually know our customer base. There are a lot of small farms here in the Hudson Valley and around the U.S. who have the same experience selling directly to people.

The direct farmer-to-eater relationship is an important one in farming. To me, it provides a feeling of simplicity and community.

However, the economy that has been dominant in farming (and in all other industries, for that matter), which relies on middlemen to package, process or distribute goods, has changed our relationship with food and each other. The loss in knowledge and interest in how food gets into our kitchens and onto our plates seems to have created a culture of thinking that packaged goods with non-food ingredients or additives are normal. We have become alienated from the nourishment we feed our bodies. Similarly, we don't think of the farmers or farm-workers who are actually producing basic food ingredients.** The average farmer now makes 10-19 cents per dollar on the food they produce - and the remainder goes to middlemen. And the majority of the time, the money we spend on our food is being distributed across the country rather than going back into our local community.

Changing the way we, as a society, purchase our food is no easy task. But I can't think of anything more important that we buy than the food we feed ourselves and our families. So starting by encouraging the direct farmer-to-eater economy might help us better appreciate the health of our bodies and our community.

** This alienation from the raw ingredients/materials and producers/manufacturers goes beyond food products, obviously. It is rare to consider this when we buy our gas, our clothes, our pens and pencils, our tools, or anything else.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Pig pen

Looking south.
Come spring, we hope to get several piglets to live on our farm. Pigs do amazing work at digging through and fertilizing the earth, perfect precursors to a field that a farmer hopes to eventually turn into cultivated land. And so, we will release our piglets into their mobile pig pen, protected with solar-powered electric fencing -- our future fruit orchard site -- to do their work.

Looking north.
As a result of five days of good, hard work in the final days of autumn, we cleared another field for livestock... removed dead and fallen branches, cut down diseased trees, clipped brambles and pricker bushes, piled the brush and ex-marked (i.e., lawn-mowed over) anything that remained. What once seemed like a daunting task, and a field that could never possibly be put to use, has been transformed into a beautiful, neat space, where piglets will be happy to root around and blueberry bushes and fruit trees will be happy to grow. 
[Sorry, I don't have a good "before" picture, but the "after" photos here reveal open space... imagine brambles, brush, fallen trees, broken branches EVERYwhere before Nick went up there to do the clearing.]

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Preserving: Horseradish

We have harvested our horseradish roots and are storing some to re-plant in the spring and preserving some to eat over the winter.

To store horseradish for spring planting: Cover root in sand and store at 32-40 degrees or keep in the back of your refrigerator (but be sure it doesn't get  wet).

To preserve horseradish for eating: Grate the washed root finely. Process in a food processor with vinegar and salt (1 Tbsp:1 tsp). The food processing stage really brings out the roots heat (just grating it won't get you there). Store in a sterilized jar in the refrigerator.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Our holiday tree

Since we established the tradition of a holiday tree in Argentina (see pics below), we now have a freshly dug cut** white pine, potted, adorned with holiday lights, cheering up our living room.

** The grove of white pines was so crowded that we decided to thin it out, rather than disturb the roots of neighboring trees. 
Holiday tree 2011, fireside
Dad and son with their 2011 trees
Xmas 2009 in Buenos Aires
Sourcing our 2010 tree in Patagonia
"Stealing" our 2010 tree
Siting our 2010 tree

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Preserving: Daikon radish

Harvested daikon; ready to dry.

My all-time favorite pickle is the Japanese takuan. It's the yellow pickle that comes with onigiri or some bentoo boxes. It's made out of daikon radish, of which we had plenty. So I searched online for an "authentic" recipe for making it. I used the recipe on this site - it was very similar to most other sites and gave clear directions.

The first step was to dry out the daikon: after harvesting, wash the roots, leave the greens on, and let them dry in the sun for about 2 weeks until the radishes are very flexible and can be bent easily. Once dry and flexible, cut off the leaves (save for later step)
1st layer of daikon, bent and packed in.
and roll on a hard surface to soften any hard spots. Make the pickling mixture: rice bran (the healthy part of rice that is processed off when turning brown rice into white rice; this is not easily available, even in health food stores so I had to actually order it online), salt, sugar, chili pepper, konbu and persimmon peel (this is for coloring). In a clean heavy vessel, layer the pickling mixture, daikon and leaves (in this order), being sure to leave as little air between the daikon as possible, packing the leaves down. Put a weight on the soon-to-be pickles and cover with a cloth to keep clean. Leave in a cool, dry place for about 4 weeks.
Full jar of soon-to-be takuan.

I had harvested 11-lbs. of daikon; their dry weight was only 5-lbs. And this fit perfectly into the only heavy vessel I could find easily (since it's glass, I'll cover it with a cloth to keep out the light). Sushi party in January!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

This season's final digs

The temperature has fallen, the sun has lowered its path, the days are at their shortest... but that doesn't stop us from digging.

We are racing against the threat of frozen ground to dig 10 post holes for our rain harvest roof. We've acquired some fine straight logs of black birch from the property and Jason has been digging 3-foot-deep holes so we can sink these logs before snow sets in. Over the winter we plan to put the 600+-sq-ft roof on with a gutter system so that we can capture the spring thaw in large rain barrels.

We learned how to build this structure while on the farm in Argentina. Working with Fabio, the farmer husband, Jason learned techniques for lining up the posts, sinking the posts, leveling the height on uneven ground, notching the posts for roof beams and building the roof. Looking forward to putting these skills to the test.
Jason y Fabio in Patagonia
Notched post w/ roof beams
Tubing with water for leveling post tops

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Amazing greens

Although I have admittedly had my fair share of mustard greens these past few weeks, I have to pay homage to those amazing, hearty greens that are still in the ground, providing us with freshness. We covered with greenhouse plastic 5 vegetable beds of greens, most of which were transplanted in September, and they are healthy and alive: spinach, mustards, kale, chard, baby bok choy, collards, Chinese cabbage, tatsoi cabbage, red cabbage and lettuce. Yup, lettuce - it seems delicate, but it loves cool temperatures. There are also leeks, leeks and more leeks and fresh parsley.

Soon I will be cursing these vegetables for making me go out to harvest them in the freezing temperatures.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

To diversify or monocrop-ify

Consider this: you live in a space where everything around you looks like you, behaves like you and ends up like you. You are segregated from ever experiencing the benefits of diversity. You are isolated, culturally stunted and never going to have the chance to think there's necessarily anything wrong with that. You get sick unless you are given unnatural medicines because you and everything around you are all susceptible to the same diseases. The space that supports you never gets a break, never rests, never has time to rebuild and rejuvenate itself.
* * *
Almost hand-in-hand with the ridiculously large scale of a farm comes monocropping, the practice of devoting land to single crops and year-to-year production of the same crop species on the same land. Several factors have led to the increased practice of monocrop agriculture, including a growing global population, urbanization, advancing machinery and technologies, dominance of the seed/pesticide/herbicide market by a small handful of multi-national companies and a shifting political/cultural climate that encouraged farmers to farm "from fencerow to fencerow." Before they were told to "get big or get out" in the 1970s, many farms practiced sustainable farming and cultivated diversified crops. This, however, is no longer the norm.

Monocropping ignores ecological principles. It does not operate on natural methods for weed, disease and pest suppression and re-supplying nutrients to the soil, but instead relies on inorganic (mostly, or organic in some cases) herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers. The ancient natural practices of rotating and diversifying crops was essentially eliminated because rotation requires some land to lay fallow and diversification requires "too many" inputs and can't achieve economies-of-scale production.

Monocropping also contributes to the metabolic rift: cycles of wastes and nutrients have become open and unidirectional, rather than closed as in a natural ecosystem. At one time, the majority of farmers raised crops and livestock on the same farm, a practice that provided a diversity of agricultural products and by-products that could be reused and recycled on the farm (reducing off-farm purchases, a whole other topic...). For example, manure could be used as fertilizer, while crops and crop by-products could be fed to animals. Now animals are increasingly grown in concentrated livestock operations which generate their own set of sanitary and ethical problems. Similarly, many farmers have abandoned animals altogether and now grow only one or two crops. Both of these methods take from the ecosystem in order to meet demands and in the meantime they are producing sicker and sicker products.

Diversity is a good thing, when it comes to farming and when it comes to people. Heaps of evidence demonstrate the negative effects of segregation. Building a healthier ecosystem requires moving away from segregated, monocropped practices and coming back to the integrated, diversified farm and community.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Recipe with delicata squash

Delicata squash pudding (or pie)

Delicatas after baking; blend them skin and all
Ingredients: delicata squash, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, milk, heavy cream or sour cream, eggs

Preparing: Wash squash, cut in half, scrape out seeds, and bake in oven until soft, about 30 minutes. Combine squash (skins and all), 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg and 1/2 tsp. salt in a blender or food processor. Blend well. Add 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup heavy cream or sour cream and 2-3 eggs. Blend again. Pour into custard cups and bake 35-40 minutes at 350, or until set.

Eating: Top with whipped cream or sweetened sour cream.

Dish history: We received some delicatas from a neighbor and she gave us this recipe. You can also pour the custard into a pie shell and bake just like a pumpkin pie.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Can less be more?

How do you measure your own sense of progress in life?

If you are a business owner, it might be in the number of new customers you attract.  Would it change how you did business if instead you measured progress by the amount of returning customers you served?

If you are a farmer, it might be in the amount of land you have under production.  Would it change how you farmed if instead you measured progress by the amount of vegetables you could produce on the least amount of land?

If you are a country, it might be in the amount of stuff (products and services) you are able to produce.  Would it change the type of society you created if instead you measured progress by the quality of life your people obtained?

And what if you consider yourself - given the culture we have all grown up in, it might be that you measure your own sense of progress against the career heights you have climbed to or the salary you have earned to live a certain type of life-style unencumbered by wants.  Would it change the life you lead if you measured progress by whether you are happy doing what you are doing or not?

Part of the problem is that the standard measures of progress are standard because they are easy to count – it is easier to quantify the amount of dollars in your bank account or the number of microwaves you produce than the experience of the people you serve or the level of happiness you feel.  Another part of the problem is that we live in a world society (currently) dominated by a fixation that equates greater scale with success; the bigger you become -- whether in business, in your career, in growing vegetables, or in the world economy -- the better off you are.

We strive to get bigger in the name of progress in order to secure a life unencumbered by wants, yet living a kind of life paradoxically driven by them.  It is worthwhile to pause and ask ourselves if this road is working out for us.

As Wendell Berry, one of the American philosophers whose thinking has most affected our farm-model, has written: “in this world limits are not only inescapable but indispensable.”  Berry argues that our society looks down on limitations, yet it is only in setting certain limitations that true freedom and creativity can have the space to grow.  To say I have enough – land to farm, income, stuff, professional status (and the hours of work it comes with) – is also to say I have the time and room to see what I can make of what I have.  To say enough is to free yourself to work on quality instead of quantity.

There is a growing tide of people and organizations thinking about these things and new paths forward and attempting to put them into practice.  On the farming and philosophical side, all the essays of Wendell Berry are worth reading.  On the sustainable business side, I’m currently reading Ari Weinzweig’s “A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business” (recommended by our farmer friend Pablo Elliot).  On the world economy side, there are folks thinking about how to measure Gross National Happiness and build a no-growth Steady State Economy. In the coming weeks I will share some more thoughts on this subject from my essay “The End is the Story”.

Maybe in the end, old wisdom will become new wisdom again: less is more.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The small-scale farm

I think size is really one of the most important dimensions of a farm (or of any enterprise, for that matter). I subscribe to Schumacher's philosophy that "small is beautiful" and have put it into practice in my work as a farmer and in most other aspects of my life. This is not easy to do - I was brought up in a culture that prizes thinking big, eating big, consuming big, expanding, taking over, up-scaling, super-sizing, conglomerating, growing beyond our means.

I don't think big-ness is inherently bad. For example, I don't think all of our friends and family who have thought of truly brilliant ways for our farm to expand are profit-driven capitalists, or looking to squash the little guys, or are disappointed with the small-scaleness of our operation. I just think they can't help it. It's automatic in today's world to come up with smart business ideas driven by efficiency and economies of scale, as opposed to smart business ideas driven by sustainability, ecology and human-scaleness.

Consider farming, where the dramatic expansion of industrial agriculture and the skyrocketing value of land for residential development has made it increasingly difficult for small farms to stay in business. Where farms in the first half of the 20th century employed over 14 million workers, they now employ just over 2 million. This is largely a result of the mechanization of agricultural work, which has enabled and required farms to expand their production in order to meet national and global food demands and to be able to stay afloat. Now the majority of farmers operate large-scale farms, often mono-cropping, feeding hundreds of people each (the average is 134 people per farm, up from 19 in 1940).

Our collective alienation from our food sources is associated with the big-ness of farms. We no longer get our eggs from our local chicken farmer, milk from our local dairy farmer, or greens from our local vegetable farmer (nor, for the most part, from our own backyards). While the "local food" movement is growing, most of us still buy our food from super markets that stock produce and groceries from large-scale farms from all over the world. This is not to say that local equals better - local just gives us as consumers a more direct connection to our food and an easier way to assess their practices and make decisions as conscious consumers.

The American Farm Bureau Federation has a typology for understanding size and scale of farms:

I. Small Family Farms (sales less than $250,000) - 90% of total farms in the U.S. which produce 27% of U.S. agricultural output. These farms include (a) retirement farms - small farms whose operators report they are retired; (b) residential/lifestyle farms - small farms whose operators report a major occupation other than farming (excludes limited resource farms) - 40% of total farms; (c) limited-resource farms - any small farm with: gross sales less than $100,000, total farm assets less than $150,000, and total operator household income less than $20,000; (d) farming occupation/lower-sales farms - small farms with sales less than $100,000 whose operators report farming as their major occupation (excludes limited-resource farms whose operators report farming as their major occupation); and (e) farming occupation/higher-sales farms - small farms with sales between $100,000 and $249,000 whose operators report farming as their major occupation.
II. Other Farms - 10% of farms in the U.S. which account for 73% of agricultural output. These farms include: (a) large family farms – farms with sales between $250,000 and $499,999; (b) very large family farms – farms with sales of $500,000 or more; and (c)  non-family farms – farms organized as non-family corporations or cooperatives, as well as farms operated by hired managers. 

I don't think this typology necessarily makes it easier to understand the difference between small-scale and large-scale farms in the U.S. But it does point out that the large majority of farms in this country are statistically considered "small-scale." And what measures do they use to assess this? Economic ones.

So 10% of our nation's farms are so big that they account for nearly three-quarters of all agricultural outputs, supported by government subsidies, locked into national or global trade agreements and dominating our collective consciousness of farming and agriculture. The remaining 90% can't go unnoticed... heck, we are living through the "99% movement." Small farms play an important role in saving our food system and American heritage. And if these small farms also practice sustainable, ecologically-conscious methods, we can go a long way in improving our national health and putting people back to work.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fruit tree ground preparation

Mulched fruit trees for the winter.
We have been nursery-ing 9 fruit trees since the spring: 3 apple, 2 pear, 2 cherry, 2 peach. They have been living in our fruit + herb garden, fenced in from predators. A few weeks ago, I cut their roots (by sticking a long, straight shovel in the ground) at about a 1 foot radius, which will make it easier to transplant them next spring.

Four future tree sites.
We've selected strategic spots for fruit trees - on slopes, north-facing, full sun, good drainage - and have finally prepped the land: we removed the sod of a 5 foot diameter circle, sprinkled on lime and a "fall fruit tree mix" which contains lots of essential minerals and nutrients, added 5 cu-ft of compost and topped with another 5 cu-ft of wood chips. Over the winter these organic materials will decompose and stimulate micro-organism activity. Come spring, we will transplant out our soon-to-be 3-year-old fruit trees... the start of our orchard and another step to a fully ecological farm.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The family farm

I think there are a few important dimensions for determining what constitutes a farm in this country: ownership, size/scale, practice+products, customer base and mission. I'll first take on ownership...

* * * * * * * * * * 

The USDA defines a family farm as "any farm organized as a sole proprietorship, partnership, or family corporation." Over 90% of farms in this country are owned and operated by individuals or families. About 7% are owned by partnerships and only about 2% are run as corporations (but 90% of these are family owned). This came as a surprise to me, as I have heard more and more about the corporatization of agriculture and loss of farming as an institution in recent years.

So I think my misconceptions must arise from size of these operations, because "family farm" does not always mean small and "corporate farm" does not necessarily refer to a large-scale operation. In fact, many of the country's largest farms are family owned. Another misconception stems from the output of farms: while non-family farms account for only 2% of farms, they account for about 14% of agricultural sales.

The family farm, therefore, refers to a heterogeneous group: the idyllic rural homestead, the capitalist farmer who manages hundreds of acres of commodity mono-crops, the struggling farmer who takes annual losses and is in serious debt, the nth generation farmer who is keeping ancestral heritage alive, the farmer who manages a team of hired workers and sees a comfortable profit from sales without having to rely on off-farm income, and others.

But this heterogeneous group has declined drastically over the past half century: today there are approximately 2.2 million farms in the U.S., down from 7 million in 1950. A recent report claims that every week over 300 farmers leave their land. The combination of centralization of farms (i.e., existing in-debt farms being bought by bigger farms, keeping the operation and acreage in business, but centralizing the operational power into fewer hands) and loss in acreage dedicated to farmland (i.e., a loss of about 1 million acres of farmland annually in the past several decades) has contributed to this overall decline.

There must be some good news, some way to preserve this American tradition. I suppose the movement in food culture (toward organic, local, health-consciousness) and the refreshing interest in the "young" (meaning new) farmer movement can help revitalize a shrinking occupation, lifestyle, pastime, ancestral heritage, whichever you decide to call it.

But given these statistics, there is more to consider than ownership if we want to save our food system. More on these other dimensions to come...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Recipe with Chinese cabbage

Quick kimchi

Ingredients: Chinese cabbage, salt (about 2 Tbsp salt per head of cabbage), ginger, garlic, sugar, Korean pepper paste (use red pepper flakes if you don't have this paste), soy sauce, scallions

Preparing: Wash and dry Chinese cabbage leaves (we leave them uncut). In a large pot or bucket lay one layer of leaves down, sprinkle with salt, and continue to alter leaves/salt layers. Leave in cool place overnight. The next day, rinse cabbage leaves several times in water to remove salt. Make dressing: In a blender or food processor add peeled ginger, garlic cloves, sugar, pepper paste, soy sauce (in 2:4:3:2:4 Tbsp. ratio) and blend/chop. Roughly chop scallions by hand. Combine cabbage, dressing and scallions. Divide into sterilized jars and keep in refrigerator (will keep for 3 months).

Note: 12 heads of Chinese cabbage with 2 cups of salt made 5 quarts of kimchi.

Eating: Great side dish to any Asian-influenced meal, a super snack, and a good friend even puts it on his morning oatmeal.

Dish history: We planted a lot of Chinese cabbage this season in order to make kimchi. Next year I hope we make the real version, buried in the ground for months to ferment. But this quick version is tasty and easy.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thankful harvest

Thanksgiving harvest

'Tis the season to be thankful, and we certainly are. Thanks to all of our family, friends and neighbors who have helped us get this farm off the ground. Thanks to the land for letting us work with it and for helping us achieve our harvests. Thanks to all that have inspired us, humbled us, taught us and supported us. Thanks for the time to live the life we want to lead.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Secret Farm Bill

One positive thing that has come out of the inept super committee negotiations is the inability for the so-called "Secret Farm Bill" to pass.

The four senators who were drafting this secret legislation were aiming at $23 billion in cuts, with around $14 billion coming from commodity subsidies, $6 billion from conservation programs, and $3 billion from nutrition programs like food stamps. To put this in perspective, about $60 billion is spent annually on Farm Bill expenditures: 67% of that is spent on food and nutrition programs (i.e., Food Stamps, WIC, national school lunch and breakfast programs, food bank programs, farmers market programs, among others), 15% is spent on commodity subsidies, 8% is spent on conservation programs and the remaining 10% is spent on various other programs, like research, forestry, energy, commodities futures, etc. This spending breakdown is a fact I think few people are aware of - that the nation's Farm Bill really operates like a Food and Nutrition Bill.

Normally, the Farm Bill is up for negotiation and renewal every 5 years, and the problem with the possible passing of the secret version was that all of the hard work advocacy groups have put into drafting innovative, progressive programs to implement in the 2012 version (e.g., the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program, and numerous land conservation programs) would be put on hold for another 5 years without even being heard by our fully-elected legislature.

So, a small victory at the expense of an embarrassing display of partisan politics.

Final bed prep

We have put the finishing touches on our new plot. We dug rows to create raised beds, limed them, and have topped them with lots of chopped leaves and some of the hay/sheep manure mix. Wood chips are down in the paths to try to prevent too much erosion during the spring thaw. This new patch of tilled land has almost doubled our growing space - we've added 30 beds at 100 sq-ft each. Thanks to all who helped. Looking forward to planting next season.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

How farming can prevent Alzheimer's

There is no methodological merit to this claim, just a hunch from a public health specialist and farmer.

First, some science... Our brains develop through various activities and as a result of various factors, such as nutrition. A large part of brain development happens in utero and during early childhood, but it doesn't stop as we age. What we do as older children, teenagers and adults continues to play a role in the development of our brain. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia, a condition of the adult brain marked by damaged brain cells or damaged connections between brain cells. Recent statistics indicate that 1 in 8 adults over the age of 65 have Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's is now the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S. and there are currently no cures or methods of prevention advocated by the medical community, nor consensus on what causes this deterioration in cells and brain functioning.

But this medical community is working hard to understand exactly what is going on inside our heads. Some neuroscientists have turned to physical activity as a potential mechanism to slow damage to the brain, improve memory and executive functioning, and stimulate nerve growth. While most studies to date have been performed on mice and among older adults without Alzheimer's, some scientists are logically extending their findings to hypothesize that participating in aerobic physical activity might delay functional decline and improve brain functioning, even among people with Alzheimer's.

Now, my layperson hypothesis... This nation has seen a decline in farming, manufacturing and other physically-active occupations - slowly, since the days of the Industrial Revolution, and more rapidly over the last 30 years with the rise in information technology and the service sector of the economy. These more recent changes have also been coupled with more sedentary approaches to life and leisure - such as driving, TV-watching, internet-surfing or video game-playing - with less time for said leisure as more households rely on two or more income-earners. And more and more of the world population is living longer, which means we're using our brains longer and are reaching ages where brain-related conditions will surface among a growing proportion of the aging population (simply because the aging population continues to grow).

What if the rise in Alzheimer's and other brain functioning conditions is related to our societal shift to less physically active lives? If so, then increasing physical activity might improve brain development and prevent these debilitating and fatal conditions.

So adding a healthy dose of activity to our working (and leisure) lives might do more than strengthen our heart and prevent overweight/obesity. Why not farm (or garden) as work or leisure? Not only will it keep that brain developing, it will supply us with nutritious foods to feed brains in even earlier stages of development.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Chicken run

Our chicken run in the red pine field is nearly complete. After a group of friends and family helped clear the brush during our October-fiesta weekend, and Nick took over the rest of the tough work of clean-up and mowing, it looks fantastic. There are plenty of little trees to hide under and lots of grassy spots to forage through.

Next up: a chicken coop, our top priority winter project.
... and after.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Holy leaves

Piles of leaves... and more to come.
 Boy, do we have an amazing connection. Our friend works at a local landscaping company and he has hooked us up with truckloads of chopped leaves. This organic matter that would have otherwise been driven to a municipal waste site in Westchester County is now decomposing in our fields, on our vegetable beds, and in huge compost piles.

Dumping truck

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The metabolic rift

I was introduced to the concept of the metabolic rift in a public health class titled "Urban Space + Health," where we read a piece by Jason Moore titled "Environmental crises and the metabolic rift in world-historical perspective."  Since then, Jason and I have used the concept to describe what motivates a lot of what we are trying to accomplish with our Longhaul project.

The metabolic rift is explicitly referring to ecological disruption as a result of capitalism, drawn from Karl Marx's theories on the relationship between humans and nature. In agricultural terms, it refers to soil degradation and the loss of soil fertility that has resulted from years of capitalist agricultural practices which take plant and animal products and resources from land (typically from "the country") without replacing it, instead exporting it to other land (typically "the city") for human consumption. The imbalance in the nutrient and ecological cycle caused by this rift is contributing to the crisis in sustainability we face today.

I think making the connection between tree, natural fuels, plant and animal resources being taken away from their sources to be used and never returned by the urbanizing, globalizing human population is not hard to do. We also think of the metabolic rift in terms of family and community: how our young and old are increasingly being taken care of by sourced-out entities, rather than by inter-generational extended families or community members. We also think about it when we collect organic matter from our neighbors and local businesses, turning their nutritious waste into locally-made compost that will feed the soil, rather than letting it end up in landfills.

So with our Longhaul project, which includes the ecologically sustainable farm, community connections, living closer to family, and in the coming years, a multi-generational educational space, we are attempting to heal the rift.

Recipe with broccoli rabe

Broccoli rabe and pea spread

Ingredients: broccoli rabe, fresh peas, garlic, olive oil, s+p, bread or crackers

Preparing: Par-boil some broccoli rabe and fresh peas until just tender. Puree these vegetables with a clove of garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. It should be a spreadable consistency - more like a hummus than like a pesto.

Eating: Spread this bright green spread on your favorite bruschetta bread. You could garnish with a small sliver of roasted red pepper.

Dish history: Had this recently at a friend's cocktail party.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Food pricing + health

I recently participated on a panel at Hunter College's School of Public Health to discuss food pricing and obesity. I was up there as a farmer, but also brought my public health experience to the table. Others on the panel included the UN Food Rapporteur; someone from the NYC Mayor's Office on food programs; advocates from NYC's Food Bank, an environmental justice group and an organization that brings farmer's markets to low-income communities; and a financial analyst specializing in commodities futures. We had a very interesting discussion that touched on injustices in food access, rising food prices and the connection with revolution and citizen unrest, the federal Farm Bill, conventional vs organic food production, and links between food pricing and health.

I received comments afterward saying they were so happy to have a producer on the panel who sees the links between injustice, food pricing and health, because so often the producers are pegged as the bad guys - stirring up an image of a wealthy farmer on a tractor, sitting on hundreds of acres of land, producing corn, soybean, wheat or cotton only to receive subsidies from the federal government. The reality is, only a small fraction of farms are responsible for the majority of our food production. Overall, 91 percent of farms in the U.S. are considered "small family farms" (with sales - not profits - of less than $250k per year), and those farms produce just 27 percent of U.S. agricultural output. The remaining 9 percent or so are huge operations which dominate the production and distribution of food and commodities in this society, operating on U.S.-beloved principles of economies of scale and deregulation.

But I think small-scale producers like us are on the rise. The growing new farmers movement is committed to natural or organic practices and is politically active in re-negotiating the federal Farm Bill (up for renewal in 2012), raising awareness on commodity pricing and the use of commodities to produce fuel and food products, advocating for local policies to conserve farmland and link farmers to affordable land, and changing how people eat by offering fresh and local produce at farmer's markets and other food stores across the nation. And most local farmers I know believe that everyone should have access to affordable, healthy food, and institute programs, such as a sliding-scale CSA shares or accepting Food Stamps at farmer's markets, in order to ensure equitable access.

While food pricing is still beholden to the market, and, yes, organic still tends to cost more than non-organic (due to many reasons related to labor, land use and farming practices), the price differentials are closing. As our culture of food shifts away from food products (e.g., anything produced with high fructose corn syrup, comes wrapped up in a package, has ingredients listed that you can't pronounce) and begins to recognize the health benefits of fresh, pesticide-free whole or natural foods, our food purchasing practices will shift the market. And our unrealistic expectations for cheap food may begin to come out of the clouds and back down to soil-level.

We're all part of the movement, whether as conscious consumers or conscious producers.

Recipe with celery

Lemony creamed celery and Brussels sprouts (Gourmet 1990)

Ingredients: celery, Brussels sprouts, butter, celery or fennel seeds (optional), milk, flour, lemon zest, lemon juice, s+p

Preparing: Cut celery ribs into 1/2-inch pieces. Blanch B. sprouts until just tender. Cook celery in butter for a few minutes, then add some celery or fennel seeds and 2-3 Tbsp. of flour. Stir well with whisk, then slowly pour in about 1 cup of milk, whisking constantly until sauce thickens like a roux to your desired consistency. Add zest and juice from 1 lemon (or more, to taste), s+p and the B. sprouts. Cook until just heated through. [Note: Could substitute leeks for B. sprouts. Just saute chopped leeks with the celery.]

Eating: Good side dish with roasted chicken... or even Thanksgiving turkey.

Dish history: Made this for the first time many years ago in Brooklyn, and now that we've had a frost (or really, a foot of snow) to sweeten our celery and there's a few B. sprouts sprouting, we couldn't resist.

Preserving: Refrigerator pickles

Not everyone has time to process jars of pickles, so you can cheat a bit so long as there's space in your refrigerator.

Fill a mason jar with some extra veggies - green beans, radish, red onion (sliced), cauliflower, carrot sticks - and spices - bay leaf, coriander seeds, peppercorns, red hot pepper flakes, cloves. We add 1 fresh shiso leaf to the jar (our secret ingredient), and you could also add fresh dill or thyme.

Boil vinegar and water (1:1 ratio) with a handful of salt and a few tablespoons of sugar. Pour the boiled pickle mixture into the jars and seal them. Once cool, stick them in the fridge. They'll keep for months and are a perfect treat with cocktails.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Winter weather

 This has been a tough year for farmers. With the soaking spring and stormy summer, we should have expected this early winter.

Longhaul received 10 inches of snow, along with several fallen trees and several days without power (still without it, in fact). But the day before the storm we protected our growing greens with hoops and plastic and took in anything that could have been damaged by or died in the snow. The most discouraging thing is that we still have tons of work to do! We have to continue to make those beds in the newly plowed block and prep all of our already dug beds for the winter, but the blanket of snow didn't seem to budge today despite strong sun.
Please let there be a few days of fall left in this fall.

Making our beds

With the boulders cleared, we have set to work making beds in our newly plowed block. This involves measuring out the 100 sq-ft beds, shoveling out the paths onto the beds and, of course, continuing to remove rocks. I can't believe they keep on coming...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bed dressing

We've got a neighbor who keeps sheep. He has about 8 and they like to huddle together in his stables, making the mucking out of them an important bi-annual task. So we made a swap with our neighbor-friend: we'd muck out his stable and he'd give us the muck. Everyone wins.

This mucking out is no easy task... the sheep have been compacting this hay-manure mixture for 6 months now. The floor of the stable was actually 2 feet below the hay line, and the further down we got, the more compacted it was. So it took a lot of pick-axing and forking to get it out of the stable and into the trailer. The compacted hay turned into 3 huge trailer-loads.

We plan on putting this organic material on our vegetable beds in the next few weeks so it can decompose over the winter. Then we'll turn it into the soil come springtime before we plant.

[Note: The purpose of the mask was two-fold: to prevent breathing in dirt and hay flecks and because, dang, the air was full of ammonia.]

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The rock is out!

Just an update! We finally managed to pull that HUGE boulder that a bunch of people were working on during our October-fiesta weekend. It took 5 tries with the large tractor, one broken chain, and about 30 feet of strong canvas straps to haul it out. We even got an offer from a neighbor for it - he's got a client who wants a diving rock for his pool...
Ladies working on that rock

Finally out

Recipe with leeks

Braised leeks

Ingredients: leeks, butter, veggie or chicken broth (or water), lemon juice, s+p

Preparing: Cut leeks in half lengthwise. Keep the greens on - after a good braise they are tender and yummy! Place in a shallow sauce pan with butter and just enough 1/2-inch of broth (or water). Add salt if your broth doesn't have any. Simmer over low heat for about 15-20 minutes, until leeks are tender. For last 5 minutes of braise add juice from 1-2 lemons.

Eating: Garnish with some lemon zest and fresh pepper.

Dish history: We made this all the time in Argentina during the rainy winter months when there was nothing but leeks and kale in the ground. It's such a good way to use the whole leek, rather than having to save the greens for stock or compost.

Recipe with carrots

Lentil soup

Ingredients: carrots, celery, onion, tomato paste, lentils, bay leaf, hot peppers (optional), dijon, cider vinegar, s+p

Preparing: Dice the carrots, celery and onion (the more carrots you use, the tastier the soup). Saute in butter or olive oil. Add a few tablespoons of tomato paste and stir into veggies. Add lentils, bay leaf and chopped hot pepper (optional) and water (2:1 ratio of water:lentils, generally). Simmer for at least 30 minutes. Just before serving, add a few tablespoons of dijon mustard and cider vinegar to the soup and heat through.

Eating: A really hearty lunch that also tastes great with sausage.

Dish history: This is a Deborah Madison recipe from my vegetarian college days. The dijon and vinegar make the soup.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Garlic planted: 1st crop of the season

This week the biodynamic calendar and the fall weather told us it was the perfect garlic-planting time. So we popped our seven varieties of garlic ("popping" means separating the cloves from the head), saved the smallest cloves for cooking, and got the large cloves into the ground. We used a dibber (a wooden hand tool with a pointed end used to make holes in the ground for planting seeds or bulbs) to make holes about 5 inches apart and dropped the cloves in root end down. We topped with a thick layer of grass, leaves and wood chip mulch to protect them for the winter. 

Our 3 beds of sowed garlic cloves will hopefully provide us with 1,000 heads of garlic next summer.

Recipe with roots

Roasted root vegetables

Ingredients: root vegetables (carrots, parsnips, turnips, radish, daikon, celeriac, rutabaga, beets, kohlrabi), garlic (cloves with skin on), olive oil, fresh rosemary or thyme

Preparing: Cut root vegetables: cut the ones that take longer to roast (e.g., beets, turnips, daikon, celeriac) in smaller pieces than the ones that take less time to roast. Throw in whole cloves of garlic still in their skin. Drizzle with plenty of olive oil, (could add a bit of broth to the roasting pan for a moister roast), some fresh rosemary or thyme sprigs, s+p, and roast in 400 degree oven for about 1 hour. Test various veggies for doneness before pulling out of the oven.

Eating: As is.

Dish history: Made this for our October-fiesta supper as well. Easy and a great way to showcase all those roots.

Recipe with squash

Veggie chili

Ingredients: kidney beans, onions or leeks, carrots, garlic, chili powder, garam masala (the secret ingredient), chopped squash (crookneck, butternut, acorn, zucchini, any type), beer (optional), tomatoes, s+p

Preparing: Soak your beans overnight. Cook in unsalted boiling water until tender. In a separate pot, saute onions or leeks, garlic and carrots. After a few minutes add 2 tablespoons of chili powder (or up to what you can handle) and 1 tablespoon of garam masala (optional, but the secret ingredient). Add chopped squash of any variety (winter or summer) and your choice of beer. After this boils, add diced tomatoes (fresh or canned), be sure there is enough liquid in the chili, and simmer for hours.

Eating: Always top your chili with fresh accoutrements: grated cheese, sour cream, diced scallions or chives, chopped fresh tomato, matchstick radish, hot sauce.

Dish history: Made this dish for vegetarian, blood type B friends. Also gluten-free, we made cornbread by subbing rice flour for wheat flour.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Harvesting chickens

This morning I harvested chickens. The birds were three-months plump and ready. Farmer friends at a local non-profit farm invited us to help out, and since we plan on getting spring chickens, this was a perfect chance to test my skills and stomach.

The steps to harvesting a chicken are quite simple: catch the chicken, kill the chicken, de-feather the chicken, eviscerate the chicken, rinse and store the chicken. The little tips I learned from the farmers were worth it, e.g., catch the chickens at night when they are more docile, don't feed them grain the day before a harvest so they are cleared out, hold both legs and rest the breast on your leg to calm them, don't cut the head off because you want the brain to keep telling the heart to pump the blood so it drains, and more...

The facilities in this processing room are bigger than we'd ever get: they had a six-cone holder for the jugular cuts, a rotating hot water bath for loosening the feathers, and a large spinner to extract the feathers in 10 seconds. I suppose what we'll be doing next year is plucking those feathers out by hand... but there's still plenty of time to conceive of and build a contraption.

The evisceration comes easier with each bird. There are parts you save (e.g., the liver, heart, neck, gizzard and feet) and parts you toss (e.g., the gall bladder, the lungs, the windpipe). And the clean chicken, standing upright on a small post to drain and dry in the cooler, looks ready to roast (but another tip they told me was to leave it one night in the fridge to tenderize the muscles a bit).

These clinical pointers aside, we can't ignore the fundamental issue of killing a living being for our own consumption. The range of feelings behind this are widespread and often politically- and spiritually-heated. I personally believe that my ability to consume an animal as a human should be tied to my willingness to harvest that animal. And that the harvesting of that animal should be conducted with respect and as humanely as possible. And furthermore, that the full life of that animal should also be respected, which in the case of chickens means protecting them with shelter, providing them with nutritious food, and allowing them to forage in the fields as they would naturally. This is what distinguishes a family or small farm's operation from a modern commercial operation. 

Harvesting chickens? No problem. We'll see when it comes to pigs and sheep.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tilling with a tractor, but just this once

Our generous neighbor, who loves big machines, took some time out of his busy schedule to chisel plow a new block of land for us. To the south of our 40 double-dug vegetable beds - which took an entire spring and summer, 3 men, many helpers, and several pick axes and man-bars to complete - we now have a 4,000 sq-ft growing space, freshly chisel-plowed. And it took our neighbor a matter of hours. Amazing what big machines can do! I swore those 3-foot metal blades would be no match for our tough sod, clay soil and field of boulders. But, much to our good luck, the machine won.

We spent a large portion of our October-fiesta work weekend clearing boulders, rocks, weeds and roots out of the field with the help of dozens of friends and have continued to clear rocks every time we walk through it. The earth looks amazingly rich, darker than what we tilled up in our double-dug beds. Once we're satisfied with our de-rocking process, we'll form beds, load on manure and leaves, sow some winter rye, top it with mulch and let it sit for the winter. We have high hopes. And we'll never bring a machine on there again.

Many thanks to PD for his love and skillful use of big machines.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Recipe with mushrooms

Sauteed mushrooms in parmesan cheese cup

Ingredients: butter, mushrooms (we used our shiitake that sprouted from our shocked logs), scallions, parmesan cheese

Parm cup w/ mushrooms (with a bite taken out)
Preparing: Make your parmesan cups: Grate parmesan cheese (with the big holes of the cheese grater - works better than smaller gratings) into a small saucepan so it forms one layer. Heat the cheese so it melts together, browning a bit if you'd like. Turn off the heat, and once it's cooled enough to pick it up in one disc, move it to a small bowl, shaping it into the shape of the bowl and let it cool completely there. You now have an edible parmesan cup.
Make your mushrooms: Melt some butter and saute sliced shiitake and diced scallions until tender. I added some white wine at the end and let it boil off.

Eating: Fill the parmesan cups with the sauteed mushrooms.

Dish history: I've always wanted to try the edible parmesan cup. If you use small enough bowls to form the cups, this makes a nice appetizer.

Recipe with turnips

Smashed turnips

Ingredients: turnips, potatoes, butter, cream or milk, salt and pepper

Preparing: Clean and cut turnips and potatoes (I use ratio of 2:1, turnips:potatoes). Boil in salted water until mashable. Drain water, smash with masher, while adding butter, milk or cream, salt and pepper.

Eating: You could add roasted garlic, scallions or wasabi to the smash, depending on taste.

Dish history: We tried this out with a picky eater and didn't tell him there were turnips in there... Mikey liked it!

Recipe with greens

Creamed greens

Ingredients: any greens (spinach, tatsoi, bok choy, mustards, chard), onion, garlic, butter, flour (butter:flour ratio is 2:1), cream/milk, nutmeg

Preparing: Boil greens until tender. Drain and coarsely chop or puree in food processor. Meanwhile, heat a few tablespoons of butter and cook the diced onion and minced garlic. Whisk in flour (e.g., if you use 4 Tbsp. of butter, add 2 Tbsp. of flour - you don't want this to get too thick). Grate fresh nutmeg into the roux and add salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in 1.5-2 cups cream/milk mixture (any ratio is fine; and if warmed it will whisk in better), getting rid of all lumps. Heat through, but don't boil. Add pureed greens to cream mixture and warm through.

Eating: Some might top with chopped hard-boiled egg.

Dish history: Made this for our October-fiesta meal. It is another great way to enjoy a mixture of those abundant fall greens. The nutmeg is a must.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

October-fiesta 2011

Thank you to all of our family, friends and neighbors who came out for Longhaul's 1st October-fiesta. The weather cooperated and together in one day we accomplished things it would have taken weeks for the two of us to do.

The red pine field is nearly cleared of brush and fallen trees, ready for our spring chickens. Three vegetable beds are now prepped with wood ash, egg shells, compost, manure and mulch, ready for garlic planting in a few weeks. The apple trees have been picked and shaken, leaving only a few out-of-reach fruit for the squirrels. Gallons of cider were pressed - and consumed after the hard day's work. Our newly chisel-plowed block was pick-axed and picked-through, and we hauled 10,000 pounds of boulders and hundreds of horrible weeds out of our brand-new planting space.

The energy of the crowd was so positive and fun. I saw people laughing as they dug around huge boulders, smiling as they shoveled manure. After the work, we enjoyed a home-cooked meal, desserts and all, and topped the night off with drinks and songs by the bonfire.

Many thanks to all who participated. Looking forward to our next spring 2012 Work-ation weekend...