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Middle Way Farm - Spring Share - Week 2 - 2016 
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Spring Share Newsletter 
Week 2
May 15, 2016
Spring share pick-up will be at the farm (3633 Hwy 146) on Wednesday, May 18 from 3 - 6 pm. See pick-up details below.
Share pick-up will be "buffet-style", so bring your own bag to take your produce with you. Extra bags will be available should you forget yours. 
Next Farm Plant Sale
10 am - 1 pm, Saturday, May 21


Warm season vegetables and herbs for sale
Gardening supplies
Cider tasting
11 am farm tour
Extra produce for sale

What's in the Share
Baby Spinach - 6 oz. bag
Green Onions - 1 bunch
Mesclun Mix (lettuce, arugula, baby kale) - 6 oz. bag
Nettles (wild foraged) - 1 large bunch
Radishes - 1 bunch


Possibilities for Next Week:
Due to the cold weather slowing down production, I wasn't able to obtain any asparagus for this week's share. I hope to get some next week! Parsnips and green garlic will be in the final spring share, as well as more greens and onions. 

CSA Share Pick-up

3 - 6 pm, WEDNESDAY
May 11
3633 Hwy 146, Grinnell


 2/3 mile north of Grinnell on the right side of Hwy 146. Look for the big blue barn, 2nd farmstead on the right after leaving town. Pull in the driveway with the "Grin City Collective" sign. Follow the driveway straight until it forks. Take the left fork. You will see a "Middle Way Farm" sign just ahead by the corner of the blue barn. You can park in the driveway past this sign, in front of the dumpster, propane tanks, and greenhouse. To your left as you pull in to park will be a large red metal building with a garage door. Share pick-up will be here. 

If you are unable to make pick-up on WEDNESDAY, please try to send a friend or family member in your place. If that's not possible, call or text Jordan at (641) 821 0753 to make an alternative arrangement. Shares that are not claimed will be placed in the walk-in cooler. After one attempt to contact the shareholder is made, shares will be kept in the cooler until Friday morning. If the shareholder does not claim it by then, the share will be donated to the MICA food pantry midday Friday.
Farmer Reflection
 
This week plants on the farm really began to "pop". Each spring I can recall a week in May such as this, when it felt like plant growth went into a higher gear. The salad greens and radishes, planted at the end of March, are finally ready after over 45 days. Later in the season, these crops will take 1-2 weeks less than that to go from seed to harvest. That's why when you read a radish seed packet and it says "28 days to harvest," you have to realize that this number is dependent on a) when the seed germinates (which can take anywhere from 4 - 14 days based on soil temp) and b) ideal growing conditions, which often don't exist at the beginning and the end of the growing season. The reality of weather often doesn't match up with what you have planned on paper! 

The cold and windy weather yesterday (in addition to confirming the Three Kings legend I referenced in last week's newsletter!) was a reminder that while we shouldn't get too attached to days to maturity or dates on the calendar, its still important to respect historical trends and averages when it comes to planting. I'm glad I did not have any warm season crops planted outside the last two nights. That said, by using season extension techniques such as plastic covered high tunnels and protective row covers, its possible to push plants beyond their typical planting and harvest dates. As a grower, I'm interested in doing more in future years to push the seasons of certain crops and not always being dependent on fickle growing conditions in the early spring.  

Another timely observation this week was the increase in volume and diversity of bird song. It's migratory songbird season! In addition to species that nest and breed in Iowa, this time of year there are many migratory birds that are in transit from the South to the Arctic, passing through our state briefly on their way. My friend Jim Kessler has told me that a pair of chickadees must collect 6000 to 9000 insect caterpillars to raise one clutch of young. Insect caterpillars feed mainly on native trees, so the success of songbirds raising their young is highly dependent on the quality of habitat available, particularly the density of native trees and shrubs. Songbird population has been declining 1% per year for the last 50 years. Such a slow but dramatic decline has left us with a significantly smaller songbird population today but without the awareness of it that might have come with a faster, more precipitous decline, such as what happened with monarch butterflies over the last 5 years. Since planting a perennial hay field around the vegetable gardens in 2014, I've observed a noticeable increase in bird population around the farm, particularly this time of year. Ground nesting birds need undisturbed habitat such as hay fields and pasture in order to raise their young. As more and more farmland has been converted from pasture, hay ground, woodland, and field edges into row crops, especially during the boom in corn prices over the last 5 years, all wildlife has suffered. Whenever you are considering planting trees or shrubs, make sure they are native to our area. You will be rewarded with more songbirds in your yard. 

I decided to put stinging nettles in the share this week after much deliberation and an informal poll on the Middle Way Farm CSA Facebook page. These plants are foraged from wild stands in a woodland close to Grinnell. I find dense stands of plants around the edges of clearings, choose the best looking plants, cut off the tops, and put handfuls of stems directly into the plastic bags that you receive them in. They are not washed. They may have some bug holes in the leaves and the occasional blemished leaf, but nothing you wouldn't expect from an organically grown green leafy vegetable. I think their flavor and nutrition is well worth the minor hassle of handling them carefully with gloves to avoid a sting. I will provide disposable gloves with each share and there are instructions below for preparing the nettles. If all else fails and you're clearing out your fridge next week wondering "what the heck am I going to do with these nettles?", just toss them stem and all right out of the bag into a pot of boiling water for a few minutes, pour them out into a colander to drain, transfer to a cutting board to chop up, and eat them with a generous amount of salt and pepper (maybe some vinegar and soy sauce...) as a side dish green. 

While it may be unusual to include a wild edible in the share, I think of it as part of the adventure of being in a CSA and also something unique about my CSA that you may not find with other farms. I'm willing to experiment a bit with what I put in the share, without straying too far from the standard vegetables that I think everyone expects. Of course, I'm always open to feedback and want to make sure that the share does reflect what my members want to eat!

Your farmer, 

Jordan 
What to Do with Your Share

Baby Spinach- Spinach is a wonderful early season green that can germinate in cold soils and thrives in the mild temperatures of spring. Spinach will be in its glory over the next month, but usually it gets too hot to grow it starting in mid-June. These leaves are true baby size, so should be excellent for eating raw in salads.

Preparation & Cooking:  This mix has been double washed, so it is basically ready to eat without any further rinsing. You may need to pick out a bad leaf or piece of chaff before serving.  Be aware that if you wash it again, you will significantly shorten its storage life. Always spin dry or towel dry greens that have been rinsed before serving and before storing.

Storage: Keep in a sealed plastic bag in the crisper drawer set on high humidity. Should keep well for a week or more. 

Mesclun Mix - This mesclun mix will include baby lettuce as well as a smaller portion of arugula and baby kale. Mesclun literally means "mixture" in French. The term originated with the markets of the Provence region of southwestern France. It refers to any combination of young leafy salad greens, which typically includes lettuce and a combination of other, typically stronger flavored greens such as arugula, beet greens, spinach, Swiss chard, mustard, and radicchio 

Preparation & Cooking: This mix has been double washed, so it is basically ready to eat without any further rinsing. You may need to pick out a bad leaf or piece of chaff before serving.  Be aware that if you wash it again, you will significantly shorten its storage life. Always spin dry or towel dry greens that have been rinsed before serving and before storing. 

Storage: Keep in a sealed plastic bag in the crisper drawer set on high humidity. Should keep in good condition for a week. 

Nettles - Before you get scared away by the name "stinging nettles," consider this: nettles are rich in vitamins A and C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium and have an unusually high protein content for a leafy green. They have also been used for food and medicine by cultures across the planet for thousands of years. Here is something else to consider: the stinging compound in nettles is easily destroyed by a quick blanch in boiling water. See the instructions in the Recipe of the Week for more information. They have a rich, green flavor that resembles but, in my opinion, surpasses that of cooked spinach. 
 
Preparation & Cooking: To avoid an irritating but temporary sting, do not touch the nettles with bare hands. Use the gloves provided or some other form of protection. Strip the leaves from the stems before use, although plants may be boiled whole, stem and leaf together. Stem may have some stringiness to it, however. See the Recipe of the Week for detailed instructions on blanching and preparing nettles for use. In addition to nettle pesto, nettles are also excellent in nettle soup. Here is a recipe I have used, but there are many more good ones to be found with a quick internet search. 

Storage: Keep in a sealed plastic bag in the crisper drawer set on high humidity. Should keep for a week or more.

Green Onions - The green onion harvest has now moved into the onion sets that were planted this spring from last year's overwintered onions. I always seem to have a few pounds of onions that are just too small to market and too small to mess with in my own kitchen. I've taken to storing these over the winter and planting them alongside the onion transplants. They mature very quickly into nice, thick green onions, growing right out of the old onion skin. 

Preparation & Cooking: When preparing, trim off the root and the top third or so of leaves that are yellowed or tougher. Rinse under running water, especially under the layers of leaves, which may harbor soil or other debris. Slice thinly, using both the white and green parts of the plant. Fun fact: not only will the mature onions regrow if planted, you can regrow scallions from their roots. 

Storage: Keep in a sealed plastic bag in the crisper drawer on high humidity. Use within a week  or so.

Radishes - Radishes are a vegetable that people tend to really like or feel ambivalent about. I would say I fall in the later camp, although since I have started farming I have learned to enjoy their early season appearance more and more. Fresh local radishes are of course far superior in flavor and storage ability to store bought radishes, so they tend to be sought after at farmers market. These early season radishes are on the small side and have a nice spice but not overpowering. Later in the season, as the air temperature increases, the size and the spice of the radishes tends to increase as well. 

Preparation & Cooking:  Trim off the top and the root end. Eat whole as a snack with a dip such as humous or soft cheese. Slice them thinly and put raw on your salad. Grate onto a sandwich. The tops can be used as a cooking green. Toss them in with your nettles when your boiling them or with the spinach if you're cooking that. Radish tops are quite hardy and nutritious. They are prickly so not great raw, and they tend to spoil quite quickly, so use them immediately if you are not composting them. 

Storage: Keep in a sealed plastic bag in the crisper drawer on high humidity. Separate green tops from roots and use tops immediately or within a few days. Use roots within a week or two. 

Recipe of the Week
From honest-food.net, with modifications

Nettle Pesto

How to blanch nettles:

Even if you’ve never worked with nettles before, you probably know that they, well, sting. To remove that sting, you must first blanch your nettles. This is how:

  • Use gloves to strip the leaves from the stems. Rinse nettle leaves in water.
  • You will need two or three big tong-fulls of fresh stinging nettles for this recipe. Get a big pot of water boiling and add a handful of salt.
  • Grab the washed nettle leaves with tongs and put them into the boiling water. Stir around and boil for about 90 seconds.
  • Fish them out with a skimmer or the tongs and immediately dump them into a big bowl with ice water in it or rinse them under cold water to stop the cooking process. Once they are cool, put them in a colander to strain.
  • Get a cloth towel, like a tea towel, and put the nettles in it. Wrap one end of the towel one way, then the other end of the towel the other and squeeze out as much moisture as you can. You can also squeeze them out well by hand. Roughly chop them before adding to food processor to make the pesto. If using mortar and pestle, chop them more finely. 

Makes about a cup.
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes, to blanch the nettles

3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 heaping tablespoons toasted pine nuts or walnuts
2 tablespoons grated cheese (any hard cheese will do)
1/2 to 2/3 cup blanched, chopped nettles
Salt
Olive oil (use the good stuff)

______________

  1. Pesto can be made with a mortar and pestle, thus the name, which means “pound.” You can make them in a food processor. First add the toasted nuts and crush lightly — as they are roundish, they will jump out of your mortar if you get too vigorous. If you are using a processor, pulse a couple times.
  2. Add the garlic to the mortar, then pound it all enough so that the pieces don’t fly around. Add the salt, cheese and the nettles and commence pounding. Mash everything together, stirring with the pestle and mashing well so it is all fairly uniform. With a food processor, run the machine so everything combines, but isn’t a smooth paste. You want it with some texture.
  3. Start adding olive oil. How much? Depends on how you are using your pesto. If you are making a spread, maybe 2 tablespoons. If a pasta sauce, double that or more. Either way, you add 1 tablespoon at a time, pounding and stirring to incorporate it. If you are using the processor, drizzle it in a little at a time. Serve as a spread on bread, as an additive to a minestrone, as a pasta sauce or as a dollop on fish or poultry.
Photo of the Week
Thanks to shareholder Jenn Latham, I was able to donate several hundred plants this past week to the Giving Garden at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Pictured here are Daisy Scouts planting broccoli on Tuesday.  The harvest will be donated to the MICA food pantry, along with produce from other Giving Gardens around Grinnell. 
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