Follow Your Food: Fields Farm

 

Organic agriculture goes back millennia, with roots as deep as any human tradition. Our connection with how to select, cultivate and prepare foods has evolved over generations of farmers and meals from the family hearth. That natural evolution eventually led to a point where the goal of food production rose above the level of subsistence, where technology allowed farming to become a smaller piece of our larger anthropology. Inevitably consolidating agriculture led to a smaller number of farmers growing over larger acreage. Farming then became less a natural development and more a field of study. Of course this has allowed the concentrated field of agricultural science to make profound discoveries in areas like crop genetics and advanced breeding techniques which matriculated  into large yields and global food distribution. However, in the creation of any industrial system there are unforeseen externalities; details that were either overlooked or not accounted for. For years now people have been talking about the ills of the “conventional” food system, and how it is a broken model. Stacks of articles have been written about how modern agriculture has contributed to land degradation, pollution, biodiversity loss, obesity, diabetes, inequality… the list goes on. One source of these problems, a factor that is easily overlooked, again, is that the greatest externality is a loss of knowledge. Yes, of course there is more research going into food than ever, but the kind of knowledge we are missing does not come from a classroom; the form of knowledge that faded comes from the land, and from each other.

That is how organic farming emerged as a movement. In the midst of consolidation, there were those among rural and urban populations who realized that they felt disconnected. What they were disconnected from was, and is a cultural heritage between people, the land, and food grown in it. This movement emerged then, and continues to this day, as a populous voice seeking to rewrite the modern definition of agriculture to include those details that were overlooked as seeds started to be bought through growing corporations, instead of shared between a community of growers. In a sense, the farmers that emerged during the organic revolution were pioneers on quest to journey back into human history and reconnect with the heritage of traditional farming.

Fields Farm has long been a curator of mindful agriculture here in Bend, beginning a quest for creating sustainable land. Jim and Debbie Fields began their journey into farming 27 years ago when they purchased their 10 acre plot, nestled right outside the heart of Bend. It began as a small gardening experiment, their initial goal was simply to connect with their roots and build a lifestyle around living off the land. Over time Jim an Debbie began to grow their hobby into a business by implementing a small CSA. They only started with 8 members, but Jim’s philosophy is to ‘start small, grow slowly and observe a lot’, much like natural adaptation in plants. By 2006 they had grown their CSA to 68 members, engaged in two farmers markets, and finding their way to sell some produce wholesale.

Over the years their growth as a business has meant that their knowledge of farming has grown along with it. What began as a backyard homestead has evolved into a goal to feed the Bend community without a carbon footprint. Jim reached this goal by holding to his same curiosity that drove he and Debbie closer to the land in the first place. Over years of observing the services plants provide to the ecosystem, they became more attuned to what the land needed to give back to complete the nutrient cycle. This led them to building their own foundation of soil health through composting non-commercial plant organic matter; however, further inspection of the wider community revealed that this process did not have to end with the 10 acre boundaries of Fields Farm. So, Jim approached Deschutes Brewery and gave them a way to recycle their wasted hops and spend grains back into the soil to foster new life. Instead of contributing to methane pollution in landfills, Deschutes contributes their organic wastes towards growing food for the community. Now, those gasses are taken out of the atmosphere and added to a soil amendment strategy that reduces more than just the farm’s carbon footprint. This example right here is how Jim and Debbie Fields are writing organic farming into the modern context of community, taking us closer to the old days when agriculture was the beating heart of human culture.

27 years of farming has imbedded a lot knowledge at Field’s Farm, extending from carbon neutrality to season extension, to crop rotations. Jim and Debbie have realized that this information contributes diminished service if it stays locked in their own brains; because, as mentioned earlier, the cultural heritage of farming is shared around the community. Without the help of caring, and insightful neighbors, there is no way that a beginning farmer can know what experience doesIf you talk to most any young farmer around Bend, they will go on about how much their operation has learned from the wised counsel of Jim and Debbie Fields. Currently Jim offers consultation services to aspiring growers in the area, a way of helping them learn from what years of experience have taught him. Knowledge not only enrichens the lives of producers, but for consumers as well. This is why Fields Farm hosts tours on site for school groups, so that the next generation of consumers grow up knowing where there food comes from, how it was grown, and why that is important.

Our world is so concerned with the pitfalls of humanity, that we forget that the objective world exists in our collective ability to care. Fields Farm cares, and through their individual work, the community is brought closer around the identity of healthy land and good food. Food is the foundation of knowledge and, no matter how far we stray away, will always be origin of culture. So, I guess my piece in this is to call to you to explore your origins by caring about your food as Jim and Debbie do.

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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.

 

 

Follow Your Food: Radicle Roots

Last Thursday I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon at Radicle Roots. As I had written in my recipe for Chicken Larb, Radicle Roots is a small, but very productive, sustainable market garden just outside of Sisters, OR. Radicle Roots is run by James Bernston, a first generation farmer from Snohomish, Washington. Farming is time and labor intensive work, even with a work force, and James does it all on his own, with help from his girlfriend Sydney when she is free from her Masters studies in Counseling. Due to the responsibilities of plant care, he operates at a small scale. As a market garden, James does his part to cultivate a variety of select crops for the Central Oregon Food system. Conscious of the capacity of his operation, James focuses on growing superb quality and cultivar diversity in his field beds. This care is reflected in the crops he brings to market; every head of lettuce and every bunch of radishes is a work of living art, full of color, crisp and fresh. He has to be selective about where he sells his food, so that his fields are not over harvested, and run dry. As such, he most often sells directly to his markets of choice, and has built relationships with restaurants and wholesalers around town. We are one of the proud partners of Radicle Roots, but you can also find his produce at the Bend Farmers Market over the summer, in Central Oregon Locavore’s store or on the menus of Drake, Jackson’s Corner and a number of other restaurants downtown.

 

Small Farms are a cornerstone of building economic diversity in our community, and a critical component of fostering a resilient food system. In any agronomy, at any scale, the key to sustainability is balance. Though small, Radicle Roots is an important piece in the balance of Central Oregon’s agricultural landscape. James’s operation is a testament to the productivity of a small, intensively attended plot of land. Since everything is hand cultivated, James is able to plant densely and maximize the marginal food yield from the land at his disposal. As the human population  grows, our demand for food grows with it; as that population builds its aggregate wealth over time, demand expands exponentially.

In the world of expanding humanity, the agronomy can grow in 2 ways. One is what has been come to known as the “conventional” model; large, specialized farms that focus specifically on producing for economies of scale. While these farms can provide food at an affordable price and over a broad range, is requires large inputs of water fertilizer and land to make these operation function. As we have begun to see, through the years, this leads to some inherent externalities as management is stretched over large acreage; to state it simply, we don’t have that land available. The second model offers a bit more systemic sustainability. This model I speak of is the smaller, diversified farm that has come to define the local food movement in America. These farms do not individually produce food at the scale capable in their larger counterparts, but when working together, they create a diverse network that contributes to the dietary needs of their direct community. Since their operations cater to a diminished scale, they require less infrastructure and as a result tend to be more flexible to the whims of nature. This flexibility also extends into the land they occupy. Since market gardens like Radicle Roots focus on intensive hand cultivation, they are capable of producing high marginal food yields in small places.

While we drive forward into a more crowded world, available farmland is dwindling, and food production has to find a way to adapt to the space that remains. James is a quiet member of the farmers adapting to such a world. His operation ingratiates itself into the neighborhood around him, providing more than just sustenance to his neighbors. In addition to his veggies, James offers his neighbors an opportunity to build their community by hosting greenhouse space for people to start gardens of their own. His presence there is that of balance; holding food production on one shoulder, land care on the other, and community development on his head.

What we hope to do at Agricultural Connections is help this sort of society to thrive by offering a central market to sell their food  so that it can always find a hungry plate. Our hope is that this sort of farming can become part of the larger hegemony in Central Oregon and create a community that is more engaged with the personalities of those who grow for them. This week we will be at Jackson’s Corner on the west side to celebrate the food that James and many other’s bring to our community on a weekly basis. Come out and learn more about these champions of the land.

 

Checking Out Chard

Written by Jenni Hepburn for Agricultural Connections

Rainbow Chard

There are lots of great reasons to eat locally—the food is fresher and tastes better, and buying locally-produced food helps support area farmers and stimulates your regional economy. When you buy local food produced in-season, you’re also getting fresh produce that packs a much more powerful nutritional punch. Fresh rainbow chard is a gorgeous riot of color with crisp leaves and crunchy stems—full of nutrients and a great flavor that pairs well with a wide range of foods and seasonings.

Nutritional Profile and Health Benefits

Chard is one of the most nutrient-rich vegetables in the world, with high levels of many different vitamins and minerals. Just one cup of cooked chard provides between 10% and 60% of the daily requirement of nearly a dozen different nutrients.

Vitamin K: Needed for healthy bones, and may protect against heart disease.

Vitamin A: An antioxidant that helps protect against certain eye diseases.

Vitamin C: Antioxidant that boosts the immune system and is necessary for collagen production. Also enhances iron absorption.

Magnesium: Important in bone health and regulation of metabolism.

Copper: Enhances antioxidant activity, required for collagen production, and helps protect against anemia.

Manganese: Needed for healthy bones and skin, and plays a role in regulating blood sugar.

Potassium: This mineral is an electrolyte, and is essential to heart and nervous system function. It’s also important for regulating blood pressure and may help protect against the development of kidney stones.

Vitamin E: An antioxidant that helps protect against heart disease.

Iron: As a component of red blood cells this mineral is used to transport oxygen around the body.

Choline: Essential for healthy nervous system function.

Vitamin B2: Important for energy production, and helps protect against anemia.

Calcium: Essential for bone health.

As a leafy green vegetable with stalks in vibrant rainbow hues, rainbow chard is also full of plant-specific compounds called phytonutrients that have additional benefits. Phytonutrients in rainbow chard include syringic acid, beta-carotene, and lutein.

While the exact way in which some phytonutrients benefit health are not yet firmly established, it is thought that many of these compounds help repair DNA damage, reduce inflammation, improve cellular metabolism, enhance the immune response, and have antioxidant activity. Many studies indicate, for example, that carotenoids like beta-carotene help protect against heart disease, and that even a single daily serving of leafy greens can reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Other studies show that eating foods that are high in lutein helps prevent age-related macular degeneration, an eye disease that leads to vision deterioration and can cause blindness. Finally, syringic acid helps regulate blood sugar by slowing down the conversion of complex carbohydrates into simple sugars.

Ideas for Cooking with Rainbow Chard

Chard varieties are highly versatile. Just like spinach and kale, they can be used in a wide variety of ways, and in countless different dishes. Most varieties taste fairly similar, regardless of stalk color—a little sweet and very slightly bitter, similar to spinach but with a milder flavor. Flavors that go well with chard of all kinds include garlic, shallots and onions, vinaigrettes, cream-based sauces, and lemon. In general, anything you can do with spinach, you can also do with chard, but the cooking time for chard is slightly longer.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to cooking with chard. One says that the leaves should be treated in the same way as spinach, and the stalks in the same way as asparagus. The second doesn’t differentiate between stalks and leaves; instead, just chop the greens together, and chop the stalks more finely than the leaves to even out the cooking time. Choosing a method depends on personal preference and the dish you’re preparing—for some you may prefer to omit stalks, as they are somewhat tougher than leaves.

Some quick-and-easy ideas for cooking with rainbow chard include:

  • Chopped raw chard can be added to salads, and pairs well with lemon-based vinaigrette.
  • Use chard instead of spinach in vegetarian lasagna.
  • Add chopped leaves and stalks to egg-based dishes like frittata and quiche.
  • Sauté with garlic and olive oil, add toasted pine nuts, plate, and then dress with lemon juice. Alternatively, add grated parmesan and red pepper flakes in place of the pine nuts. Both options are perfect as a side dish or tossed with cooked pasta.
  • Add finely-sliced stalks and leaves to chicken, pasta, or white bean soups, and simmer for a few minutes just before serving.
  • Top pizza with a mixture of sautéed chopped chard, onions, and pancetta or bacon.
  • Use the leaves (minus stalks) as wraps for spring rolls or as a substitute for vine leaves for stuffed vine leaf recipes.
  • Try raw chard leaves in place of lettuce in lettuce leaf wraps.

 

Sources

101 Cookbooks. “Chard Recipes.”  Accessed April 4, 2014. Healthy chard recipes using all-natural ingredients.

JM Hirsch, for The Food Network. “Off the Beaten Aisle: Rainbow Chard.” Accessed April 4, 2014. Cooking with chard.

Kwikmed. “Complete Video Guide to Heart Disease.” Accessed April 4, 2014. Dietary guidelines for cardio health.

Rita Klavinski, for MichiganStateUniversity. “7 Benefits of Eating Local Foods.” Accessed April 4, 2014. Why it’s better to eat local.

The World’s Healthiest Foods. “Swiss Chard.” Accessed April 4, 2014. Nutritional information for chard varieties.

United States Department of Agriculture. “Phytonutrient FAQ.” Accessed April 4, 2014. Information about plant-specific nutrients.

True Star Health. “Swiss Chard.” Accessed April 4 2014. Chard: Preparation, uses and tips.

Not Your Mother’s Hummus

Well, actually, this is my mother’s hummus. She made some for me today and it’s bright, acidic, and garlicky. It’s a variation on Lime Cilantro Hummus, and it’s really kind of a mix between a Latin-style bean dip and Mediterranean hummus. What makes it a bean dip? The garbanzo beans. What makes it a hummus? Again, the garbanzo beans. There’s no Tahini, which makes it lighter than most hummus and a rather guilt-free.

In today’s version, my mom made her own tweaks and additions.  She subbed Jalapeno chili flakes for the cayenne, used regular salt instead of garlic salt, and added the bottom four inches of a leek. She also used already-cooked dried garbanzo beans.

Even as I write this, I’m waiting to be done so I can go have a few more corn chips with this delectable dip. So, go make some for yourself! It’s easy, delicious, and could be a great addition to many meals.

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Ingredients from Ag Connect: Cilantro, garlic, leeks

Going Garlic

Mincing garlic is simultaneously one of my favorite and least favorite parts of dinner prep. It smells delicious, it doesn’t take long, and the results are always satisfying; it also makes the chopping board smell, the garlic can become sticky, and the odor hangs onto my fingers for hours. However, I don’t want to spend a lot of money on a tiny jar of bland garlic. I dislike the buildup of empty jars, it costs way more than its equivalent of fresh garlic, and I don’t know where it comes from.

Last year I learned a trick to combine the best of both worlds. When I had a surplus of garlic, I peeled all of the cloves, tossed them in the food processor with a small amount of vegetable oil, then let the electric blades do all the work. I found in my stash of mason jars the perfect little jar to hold the garlicky goodness, filled it to the brim, and tucked it away in the fridge.

Some nights, I still choose to mince my garlic by hand. But you can bet that many other nights I reach into the fridge, grab my little mason jar, and simply spoon my garlic out of it and into whatever dish I’m cooking. All the wonderful garlic aroma, non of the sticky garlic mess.

Ingredients from Ag Connect: