Middle Way Farm CSA - Week 4
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Rain & Resiliency

I've got a complicated relationship to rain. After the storms of late May 2013, I always get anxious when I see thunderstorms coming towards Grinnell on the radar or hear severe weather alerts. At the same time, I know when it gets dry and rain is needed for plant growth. I just hope its enough and not too much. As some farmers I know are fond of saying, Mother Nature is definitely in charge. As my partner Emily and I drove back from Decorah this afternoon, we witnessed a squall line of thunderstorms that inspired both awe and dread. In the face of nature that is so definitely and utterly in charge, I cannot help but think about the vulnerability of my plants facing such massive forces. Farming will always include a certain amount of risk and exposure, just as being a human doing anything does. But for the long term success of my operation and for my own peace of mind, I am always thinking of ways to make my farm more able to withstand and thrive in the midst of natural chaos. 

We are so lucky to live in a temperate climate where we can generally grow food with minimal irrigation. The droughts of 2011-2013, coming behind the floods of 2008 and 2010, woke everyone up to the fact that we may not always be able to depend on a consistent rainfall in Iowa, whether that means too much or too little rain. Major vegetable producing areas of the United States like California and Texas are experiencing unprecedented droughts that are straining the limited water resources that have allowed agriculture to flourish in hot, dry climates in the first place.

These extremes at home and across the country are reminders that we need to build more resiliency into our agricultural system, which means building resiliency into individual farms . Resiliency is a great word to describe a system that is tough but flexible (like a tree in a wind storm) when faced with challenges and it goes hand in hand with another word, sustainability, that describes a system's ability to sustain itself over time without outside inputs. A sustainable farm is a resilient one. There are several resilient practices that can help farms faces both drought and heavy rain and still produce a good crop. Building organic matter into soil by adding manure, compost, leaves, straw and other organic materials allows soil to retain water longer during droughts and absorb more water without eroding during torrential rains. Another resilient practice is running planting beds or rows on contour with the hillside or using swales (trenches with berms) that run parallel to the slope. These measures can both retain water on drier sloped areas during drought periods but also slow water down and keep it from building up too much erosive force and causing extreme run-off during heavy rain. Keeping the top of the soil covered, whether with cover crops, permanent perennial cover, or mulches, retains moisture during droughts and also helps soil absorb and shed water during rain without causing erosion. 

Nature is our overarching model of resiliency. Farming is a subtle blending of human and natural systems, finding a middle ground between human intervention and the natural course of things. If one tends too much in one direction or the other, focusing too much on yield and production or too much on maintaining a strict "natural" system, the farming system becomes more rigid and less functional. Mimicing nature doesn't necessarily mean abandoning human intervention, but rather finding out how a human system can retain more of the flexibility that is inherent in a natural ecosystem. There are many lifetimes of work to do in developing these resilient farms and everyone plays a part, from producers to eaters. 

Line of thunderstorms running north to south as we approached Grinnell on Route 6, heading west around 2 pm today.

Weekly Notices:

  • Thanks to everyone for returning boxes. Make sure to leave your box at your delivery location or to bring it with you to the farm when you pick-up. I am happy if the individual labels stay on but also I'm prepared with more if they happen to fall off. 
  • Spinach is officially done for the spring! There will be more spinach in the fall.
  • I've gotten some comments about the huge lettuce heads in the boxes. Its true, I should have given some warning! This will likely be the last week of head lettuce, but, yes, there may be some quite large heads in your box. I always taste test lettuce before picking to make sure it has not turned too bitter.  
Wednesday morning CSA harvest in progress. The early part of harvest morning from 7 - 10 am is spent harvesting produce, starting with the most heat sensitive crops like lettuce and spinach, followed by the crops that can withstand the heat of the day better, like kohlrabi and Chinese cabbage. 10 am till lunch is spent washing and then packing the produce. Washing in tanks of cold water not only removes dirt, insects, and residues but also hyrdo-cools the vegetables, removing the field heat, and improving their storage time and quality. CSA shares are packed in the afternoon, shortly before delivery/pick-up.

Notes on This Week's Share

I'm pleased to have beets already this year. This planting went in the ground April 24 and has been looking good all along. The second planting of beets also looks good, while the third will have to recover from being pounded by today's thunderstorms. Most people who have told me they don't like beets have only had them pickled. Roasted beets are something else entirely - deeply sweet and satisfying without the added sugar. To roast them, begin by preheating the oven to 425 degrees. Cut up larger roots into 1" pieces or smaller. I do not bother removing the skin. Larger pieces will take longer to roast. Toss in oil and place in a baking tray. Roast for 45 minutes and check with fork to see if the pieces are easy to pierce. Continue to roast until pieces can be easily pierced with a fork. Another simple and excellent preparation for beets is to shred them (a food processor is your friend) and saute in butter for 5-10 minutes, stirring periodically, until tender. Beets greens are also an excellent cooking green similar to Swiss chard.

After several weeks of small harvest, the broccoli exploded this weekend with the biggest harvest yet and I'm sure with the rain there will be even more for the next one. All the broccoli comes from the side shoots of plants that have already had their 'main' head cut, but many of these side shoots are as large as main heads of broccoli. While most are familiar with steamed or boiled broccoli, I think roasted broccoli is best of all. The next planting of broccoli is just beginning to form heads so it looks like that will be available next week as some very nice heads. 

Collard greens make their first appearance this week. I do not grow very many plants. Collards are much more familiar and popular in the South. They have many of the same properties as their more famous and well known cousin kale. My favorite thing to do with them is enjoy them as sauted greens with eggs on a Sunday morning, a habit I developed when I used to take leftover collard greens from Grinnell Heritage Farm's Iowa City Farmers Market stand. 

The Rainbow swiss chard has finally come along enough to be ready to harvest. The plants are quite delicate, easily damaged by weather and insects and sensitive to heat, so I try to take advantage by harvesting when the leaves look in relatively good condition in early summer. There are few if any vegetables as beautiful as rainbow chard, with its red, white, orange, yellow and many other shades of stems. The stems are somewhat like celery and can be used right along with the greens. Swiss chard can be used in cooking in many of the same ways as spinach, going well in quiches or with pasta. A simple saute with oil, vinegar & soy sauce/salt is also great. 

Purslane is a wild edible plant that is widely recognized as a vegetable in other parts of the world, from Germany to Greece to India. There are indeed cultivated varieties of purslane that one can grow. I've never seen the need, because it is a vigorous weed that quickly takes over the garden this time of year! Purslane is a low growing plant that has many waxy, succulent like leaves on thick red stems, both of which are edible. The leaves are juicy and have a lemony flavor, which can be enjoyed raw or in cooked dishes. Purslane is amazingly adaptable, able to take advantage of both wet and dry weather. It is also highly nutritious, containing the most Omega 3 fatty acids of any land plant. This website can give you any number of ideas of what to do with purslane. 

The fruit share will once again include strawberries from Keller Berry Farm (transitioning to organic) and possibly some early sour cherries from a few trees on the farm.

A surprising Saturday morning harvest of broccoli. Broccoli is typically considered to be a "one and done" crop, where the main head is harvested and that's it. On a garden or small farm scale, however, many broccoli varieties will continue to produce very nice side shoots below where the main head came out that are well worth harvesting, meaning that broccoli production from a single planting can extend for many weeks. Last year I harvested one planting of broccoli from mid-June through the entire month of August! The main factor determining whether broccoli harvest can be extended is heat. Consistently hot  temperatures will cause broccoli heads to separate and bolt (go to flower) too quickly to be worth harvesting. That's why broccoli is typically grown as a spring and fall crop. 
CSA Availability For Delivery on Wed, June 25

Orders should be placed at by Tuesday at 6 am. Go to the website and click Member Log-in. If you have any trouble logging in, use the E-mail Verification tool to receive a link to access the store. You can change your password to whatever you want and use your e-mail and password to log in for future orders.Please e-mail me at if you have any problems with access or ordering. 

Standard shares will receive one unit of everything listed under "Standard" automatically. No need to order. If you would like additional standard items (not all standard items will be available for extra ordering), extra items, or plant starts, you will need to order them separately. Whatever you order on the website will be delivered IN ADDITION to your standard share. 

Custom shares need to place an order each week in order to receive delivery ($10/week minimum, no upper threshold). If orders are not received by early Tuesday morning you may not Note the limits for individual items (for example, only 1 bunch of radishes per person, but as many heads of lettuce as you want). 

Fruit shares are pre-determined each week and are only available to those who signed up for the fruit share. They are not available for weekly ordering. 

Storage Tips: Everything in this week's share should be kept in sealed plastic bags in the refrigerator for best quality and storage life. Beet greens should be used quickly or discarded. Beet roots, however, will store for several months or more if kept in a sealed plastic bag. Same goes for turnips and kohlrabi. Garlic scapes will store quite well in the fridge for several weeks if kept in a sealed plastic bag. 

  1. Beets - 1 bunch (up to 3 bunches) ($2.50/bunch or 3 for $6) 
  2. Broccoli - ~ 1 pound bag (final amount determined by harvest) ($4/bag) 
  3. Chinese Cabbage -  1 head (up to 3 heads) ($2.50/head or 3 for $6)
  4. Garlic Scapes - 1 bunch (no order limit) ($1.50/bunch or 3 for $3)
  5. Green Onion - 1 bunch (no order limit) ($2/bunch)
  6. Kohlrabi - 2 bulbs without tops, green & purple (no order limit) ($1/bulb or 3 for $2.50)
  7. Lettuce, Head - 1 head (no order limit) ($2/head or 3 for $5)
  8. Lettuce, Mix - 6 oz. bag (no order limit) ($3.25/bag or 2 for $6)
  9. Peas, Snow & Snap - ~ 1 lb total (final amount determined by harvest) ($4/lb) 
  10. Turnips, Spring - 1 pound, no tops (no order limit) ($2/lb or 3 lb for $5)

  1. Collard Greens - 1 bunch (one only) ($2/bunch) 
  2. Kale - 1 bunch (no order limit) ($2/bunch or 3 for $5)
    • Choose Winterbor (green, curly), Redbor (red, curly), Lacinato (heirloom Italian flat leaf), or Red Russian (heirloom red flat leaf)
  3. Rainbow Swiss Chard - 1 bunch (one only)
  4. Purslane (wild edible) - 1 bag

Coming Up
Green & Red Cabbage
New Potatoes

Fruit Share
Strawberries - ~1 quart (Keller Berry Farm in Toledo)
POSSIBLE ADDITION: Sour Cherries - ~1/2 pint (final amount determined by harvest) 
Bunches of scarlet turnips being washed for farmers market. I don't think they were identified once on sight as turnips. Most people thought they were either radishes or beets. 
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