Follow Your Food: Juniper Jungle Farm

 

Human society is a complex biological system. Our higher knowledge as a species has evolved to create a pool of social structures that don’t naturally occur, essentially establishing the human brain as a biological anomaly. We naturally throw objective sciences like mathematics, economics and engineering into this pool. These fields of study are rooted in the human study  and manipulation of the world’s natural resources. Our ability to observe and develop the natural world has allowed for  an unprecedented population boom of a keystone species.

What is less often considered is the role that agriculture plays as a human machination. Since the roots of farming are in a field, not an office, it is easy to overlook the fact that agriculture is the original objective science. It wasn’t until we learned how to cultivate the land and grow a stable surplus, that all of the other philosophical “isms” and rational “ics” had the time to flourish. At the beginning, the two dominant human structures were: agriculture, to exercise our mastery of the land, and spirituality to celebrate our futility to nature. This was a natural evolution that considered our fundamental dependance on the natural world. Further evolution had deviated away from the spiritual structure of farming. Instead, human history has preferred to develop food systems to meet objective needs based on a rapidly growing and professionally specialized population.

In the early 20th Century an Austrian philosopher named Rudolph Steiner recognized this breakdown, and in 1924 led the first series of 8 lectures on a western idea of organic agriculture. These talks focused on the breakdown of species diversity on farms, corresponding loss of crop and livestock quality, and deteriorating soil quality due to chemical inputs. While only 800 farmers attended these lectures, the ideas indirectly proliferated into the Organic Revolution, which swept western culture in the 1970’s as people sought to reconnect with spirit of the land. The conferences also led directly to the creation of Biodynamic Farming, developed by Steiner himself.

Biodynamics evaluates agriculture from a wider, socio-ecological perspective, where humans and food production are dependent pieces of a harmonious ecosystem. The role of the farmer in this perspective is to, in the words of agronomist Donald Lotter, “restore, maintain, and enhance ecological harmony.” A element to consider in this role is the temporal role of land management, and ensuring productive fertility for future generations. One other idea that Steiner planted, was that farms should take the same principals of building ecological harmony to bring people closer together.

Many of you have likely heard of Juniper Jungle Farm, eaten their produce, or seen their farm stand at Farmer’s Markets here in Bend. For those who haven’t, Juniper Jungle Farm was started by Chris Casad five years ago, and is a 10+ acre operation just on the outskits of town. Chris started his operation from an understanding that farming should strive to meet wider societal needs other than simply food production. His farm philosophy is rooted in similar thinking to Rudolf Steiner; food is the center of community. Also, akin to the beliefs of Steiner, Chris believes that farming should  represent a two-way exchange with nature; farmers give the land the means to fertility, and the land repays with food. If approached mindfully and with due diligence, this philosophy generates cyclical sustainability. Chris and his team focus in on fostering a resilient farmscape that enhances the land around it. Constructive farming like this is a balancing act of biodiversity; holding the balance means allowing a biologically dynamic, or “biodynamic” environment to grow. Instead of a catalogued input/output of select mineral nutrients, a dynamic farm derives fertility from the endemic plant diversity contributing a less selective range of nutrients. By deriving nutrition from a variety of sources, farmers mitigate the risk of losing balance and over saturating their soil with any one mineral.

A further example of this dynamism is how Juniper Jungle plants their crops. Chris, and some other likeminded Biodynamic thinkers, seed and transplant their crops according to an Astrological calendar. This calendar was researched and developed by Maria Thun in the 1950’s, and provides a planting guideline based on the proximal location of the moon to the earth, and its relative location to astrological signs. When I went out to the farm, it was right in the middle of a biodynamic planting window for leafy greens; and the window was to close soon. So, upon my arrival, it was all hands on deck to get the greens in the ground before the moon passed through the water signs and the sun rose high in the sky. As the cool morning began to heat up, and the afternoon sun beamed fields with warm rays, the moon began to pass through fire signs in the cosmos. This was the queue to Chris and his team that it was time to get fruit crops in the ground. As soon as the last of the planting trays from the morning were stowed away, out came hundreds of tomato and squash seedlings ready for life in the soil.

This mindful approach to planting extends to all aspect of farming at Juniper Jungle, acting as a guide for cultivating and harvesting field rows. All of this is done in pursuit of maintaining healthy symbiosis amongst biological elements of the surrounding farm matrix. It isn’t only plant and animal life that benefit, but us people as well.  Juniper Jungle is a canvas for building the human social experience through education and, shared work and meals together. The farm works with Central Oregon Locavore to get students out from their standard classroom, and bring the curriculum outside and learn from the land directly. While we moved up and down the plowed fields planting new life, kids and teachers listened, watched, and played in the fields. In a human world that has become less aware, this form of education is the foundation of a new generation that is more aware of the impact of a modern lifestyle.

What is beautiful about Juniper Jungle is the dialogue it brings out in those who visit. Being outside, with your feet in the dirt, inspires us to think deeper about our purpose in the world. We are after all just another animal species; just one with the capacity for higher thought. Without perspective on how we meet our needs to survive, this intelligence spells consumption of the natural world. Given our intelligence, and a mindful commitment to balance, our survival can work with the biodynamic cycle that guides Juniper Jungle farm. So I urge you to get out there see it for yourself, and contribute to the dialogue of living.

 

 

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Follow Your Food: Garlic Scapes

One major short fall in the American food economy is waste.  Farmers and agronomists have spent many years trying to boost yields as a means to wean national and international hunger. This goal has been met with general success as farms are more productive now than ever. Since the 1950’s the average American farm has doubled in size, and domestic food supply has followed suit. Currently there are 20% more calories coming from national farm operations than the at beginning of the Atomic Age. Many of these calories are now cheaper than they ever have been. However, under these numbers there are quite a few hidden costs that have bubbled to the surface, called externalities. These costs are not reflected in the direct price of food, but present problems elsewhere in a wider cultural perspective. One such externality of rising food production is an unprecedented amount of wasted calories. Food waste can occur at a few different levels: In the fields, during harvest, on farm storage, unsold food during retail, and consumer waste. Allow us, for the sake of brevity to focus on one small component of food waste: during harvest.

Crop harvesting is a business decision for many farmers; selecting what crops to picked is often determined by market demand and prices. Demand usually centers around a specified range of crops, and good prices are often earned through quality. To ensure that they cover their costs, farmers selectively harvest those crops that look best, and pick those parts of the plant that are best suited to match established consumer preferences. The ensuing loss from what is left behind amounts to about 7% of national yields, or 6 billion pounds of food per year; and remember, this is only one stage in the process of food loss. The total volume that is grown and uneaten adds up to somewhere around 40% of food produced per year, or roughly 20 pounds per person every month. So, it would seem that it is not necessarily a problem of yield that causes hunger, but one of use inefficiency.

In recent years there has been a marked increase in the number of farmer’s markets around the country, places where people can interact directly with the growers to gain deeper insight as to how to use a wider diversity of crops. One such crop that has benefitted from this relationship is the Garlic Scape. Garlic scapes are the flowering shoots that emerge from primarily hardneck Garlic varieties (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon). It is a natural process of farming to harvest these shoots early on so that the plant can direct more energy towards developing a larger bulb. IMG_5504Traditionally the scapes have been discarded post harvest due to nonexistent demand. However, as the dialogue between farmer and shopper got more face time, people began to learn more about this part of the plant and its culinary value. Now armed with more information, consumers have come to value this hyper seasonal crop. The subsequent demand for garlic scapes has spread beyond farmers market, and now proliferates in the produce aisle of larger grocery stores. It is a development that benefits both farmers and households alike: farmers can make money from what was once considered waste, and chefs can have a new flavor to add to their meals. A market development, such as the newfound demand for garlic scapes, allows farmers to get more out of their fields by using more than one part of a crop. It is very important that we strive for efficient use of farm resources since this is an industry that demands 80% of fresh water consumption and accounts for 50% of land use

 

Garlic scapes are truely a fantastic crop. There is no waste, as the entire scape can be used, which makes for easy prep and cleanup. The flavor can be best described as milder and sweeter than pungent garlic bulbs, which pairs well with light early summer meals on a hot day. It is rather versatile and can be prepared in a number of ways, and added to most any dish that requires garlic. Scapes can be eaten raw, stir fried, steamed or sauteed in with produce like zucchini, summer suqash, spinach or chard. And, of course, it is great with bacon!

Below are a few recipes that demonstrate ways to incorporate garlic scapes into your cooking. They aren’t anything complicated; I think I spend 30 minutes maximum to prepare all three dishes. The first is a simple vinagarette dressing; and the second, a basic squash and scape stir-fry. The third recipe  does not include scapes, but is a deliciously fresh fennel and organge salad from Lucinda Quinn’s Mad Hungry cookbook.

 

Garlic Scape Vinagarette

Ingredients

  • 10 chopped garlic scapes (Organic Redneck)
  • 10 basil leaves (from the Garden)
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender until fully mixed. Use with salads, or as an oil dip for fresh bread

Sauteed Garlic Scapes and Summer Squash

Ingredients

  • 1 zucchini (Groundwork Organics)
  • 1 yellow summer squash (Groundwork Organics)
  • 1-2 garlic scapes (Organic Redneck)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt & coarse ground pepper to taste

Cooking Instructions

1. Wash and thinly slice squash into medallions. I sliced my about 1/8 inch thick. Whatever thickness you cut them, make sure it is uniform so they cook at the same speed.

2. Heat a good drizzle of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-low heat.

3. Once the oil is warmed, add in the squash and cook for 2-3 minutes while flipping every so often.

4. While the squash is cooking prepare your scapes. Make a cut just under the base of the flower and discard. Cut the scapes into 1-2 inch long sections. Toss the scapes in with the squash, give the pan a good shake to mix in the scapes well. Add a splash more olive oil if necessary. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook for another 5-7 minutes. The squash should be tender [browning a bit] and the scapes should turn bright green. Sauteing scapes is similar to cooking asparagus. You don’t want to overcook it, or it’ll become stringy.

Crunchy Fennel Orange Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 Orange, peeled and supremed, with about 1/4 cup juice
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Pinch of Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 Fennel Bulb, thinly sliced crosswise (Groundwork Organics)
  • 4 Celery stalks, peeled and thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1 bunch of Radished, thinly sliced (Radicle Roots)

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Whisk together the orange juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt, sugar and cayenne in a salad bowl. Toss in the sliced fennel, celery, radished and orange segments to combine. Serve fresh!

 

Follow Your Food: Kohlrabi

Part of the joy to engaging in your local food community is eating seasonally. Part of the joy of eating seasonally is being open to catering your diet to incorporate some less common vegetable varieties. This requires flexibility, and is not always easy; but but a little creativity and passion, eating seasonally can open your world to meals that you would otherwise seek out only in restaurants. This week’s seasonal feature is Kohlrabi, as it is coming into season in the valley. I am really excited to include Kohlrabi in our produce boxes, as it is one of my favorite vegetables, and is not something that you can really find throughout the year, and because it is a cool weather crop, its spring growing season is short. So, we better enjoy it while we can right now.

Kohlrabi, like broccoli, kale and cabbage is another Brassica, meaning it is from the Mustard Family; more specifically, it is a cultivar of wild cabbage, brassica oleracea. It was first developed by German farmers who selected for cabbage plants displaying more lateral stem growth. Years of selection left growers with a bulbous, meaty, stem that earned its name cabbage (kohl) turnip (rabi). As a member of the Brassicaceae, it hosts many of the same nutritional benefits of its culinary cousins. Like kale and broccoli, Kohlrabi is high in iron, vitamin B, is very high in vitamin C and is well regarded for its antioxidant properties. Since “antioxidant” can be an ambiguous term, I will be more specific. Kohlrabi stems have high concentrations of lutein and zeaxanthin, which are carotenoids (organic pigments) found in many green veggies. These two pigments are known to help scavenge free radicals that contribute to nerve oxidation in your retinas. By reducing oxidative stress, lutein and zeaxanthin have demonstrated value in longitudinal eye health, and reducing cataract development. I can’t imagine many German farmers needed glasses during their later years working in the fields.

Photo Credit: Alaina Dodds; Green Bean Delivery

This Sputnik look-a-like tastes similar to a broccoli stem. Since the plant has been selected for greater lateral growth, more starchy glucose is stored in the stem, giving it more tender and sweeter flavor than other brassicas. From a culinary perspective, Kohlrabi can be served in a variety of ways from raw slaws to baked pies. To prepare it, you must first remove the tough outer skin, exposing the tender inner flesh. My best description on the inner stem would liken it to the crisp consistency of a salad turnip, but some would say it is as crisp and juicy as an apple. From here you can shred it into a slaw with carrots and cabbage, bake it to make home fries, or serve raw kohlrabi spears with something sweet and tangy.

This was my first taste of Kohlrabi of the season, so I went ahead and made two dishes out of it. The first is a Greek inspired Kohlrabi Pie that I found on New York Times, written by Martha Rose Shulman, and is perfect for serving on a cool early summer evening with a side of mutton or lamb. The second dish calls for kohlrabi home fries. I guess these could be considered a healthy alternative to potato fries since kohlrabi is less starchy and lower in carbohydrates than potatoes. Anyways, these are delicious and are best served with a tangy yogurt and honey mustard sauce. Don’t let this limit you, let your imagination explore the litany of options for the german “cabbage turnip”

Greek-Style Kohlrabi Pie:

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Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds kohlrabi, with greens if possible (Organic Redneck)
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium or large onion, finely chopped (Cinco Estrellas)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced (Groundwork Organics)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • ⅓ cup chopped fresh dill
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 5 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (Cada Dia Cheese)
  • 12 sheets phyllo dough (1/2 pound)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted (optional)

Cooking Instructions:

  1. If the kohlrabi still has greens attached, stem and wash the greens and blanch in a pot of salted boiling water for 1 minute, or steam. Refresh with cold water, squeeze out excess water and chop coarsely. Set aside. Peel the kohlrabi, making sure to remove the fibrous layer right under the skin, and grate using a food processor fitted with the grater attachment.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat and add the onion. Cook, stirring often, until it is tender, about 5 minutes. Add a generous pinch of salt, stir together, and stir in the garlic. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds, and stir in the kohlrabi. Add another tablespoon of olive oil if necessary. Cook, stirring often, until the mixture is very tender and beginning to color, about 10 minutes. If there is a lot of liquid in the pan from the kohlrabi, turn up the heat and cook, stirring, until it boils off. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the kohlrabi greens, dill and parsley, and set aside.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush a 10-inch tart pan or cake pan with olive oil. Beat the eggs in a large bowl, and beat in the crumbled feta. Stir in the kohlrabi mixture and combine well.
  4. Line the pan with 7 pieces of phyllo, brushing each piece with olive oil, or a combination of olive oil and melted butter, and turning the dish after each addition so that the edges of the phyllo drape evenly over the pan. Fill with the kohlrabi mixture. Fold the draped edges in over the filling, then layer the remaining 5 pieces on top, brushing each piece with olive oil. Tuck the edges into the sides of the pan. Make a few slashes in the top crust so that steam can escape as the pie bakes. Note: If making a gratin, use a 2-quart baking dish, brush with olive oil and fill with the kohlrabi mixture.
  5. Bake the pie for 50 minutes (40 for the gratin), until the crust is crisp and dark golden brown. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Kohlrabi Home Fries. This one is super easy; doesn’t require many ingredients, nor does it take very long to cook. It is perfect for a Sunday Morning Breakfast. This Recipe is also from the New York Times, written again by Martha Rose Shulman.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ to 2 pounds kohlrabi
  • 1 tablespoon rice flour, chickpea flour or semolina (more as needed)
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons canola oil or grapeseed oil, as needed
  • Chili powder, ground cumin, curry powder or paprika to taste

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Peel the kohlrabi and cut into thick sticks, about 1/3 to 1/2 inch wide and about 2 inches long.
  2. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a heavy skillet (cast iron is good). Meanwhile, place the flour in a large bowl, season with salt if desired and quickly toss the kohlrabi sticks in the flour so that they are lightly coated.
  3. When the oil is rippling, carefully add the kohlrabi to the pan in batches so that the pan isn’t crowded. Cook on one side until browned, about 2 to 3 minutes. Then, using tongs, turn the pieces over to brown on the other side for another 2 to 3 minutes. The procedure should take only about 5 minutes if there is enough oil in the pan. Drain on paper towels, then sprinkle right away with the seasoning of your choice. Serve hot.

Recipe Pictures from New York Times website.