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.

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: Spring Latkes

Memorial Day is the unofficial marker of our transition from Spring into Summer. Now the sun rises early and sets late, giving plants longer hours of solar radiation for photosynthesis and metabolism. The increased photon energy provided by longer days allows for greater glucose sugar production. Naturally, as the plant makes more sugar, it must be allocated for storage. So, to keep up with energy production, the roots of certain species develop to accommodate the glut of glucose and store it as a carbohydrate. Over time this storage unit becomes a viable food crop, which we all enjoy in the form of a carrot or a beet. This trait to store increased energy is not ubiquitous among all species. Normally, it is either something represented in perennial plants, who must survive for a number of years or has been cultivated in annual plants from years of farming. Most plants would prefer to allocate available resources directly towards reproduction and setting a flower head. Eventually the fertilized flower develops into a fruiting body to provide life to a new generation, or to a hungry table. This requires an immense amount of energy, and if the plant has not met a critical mass of photosynthetic capacity, reproduction can stress a plant. So, it is critical that the season is right and the days are long to plant a fruiting crop. As Spring is to green, summer is to color; that color is derived by new growth in root and fruit crops. This week we saw an example the shape and color of early summer food with fresh Zucchini and Carrots.

Fortunately, for most, the introduction to summer is met with an extended weekend. I know how I will spend these long days ahead; sharing food and late afternoon memories with friends to grow our roots deeper.

This is an amended recipe to one I found online for some vegetable latkes (or fritters, whatever you prefer). I must say, this is an easy and delicious way to use seasonal produce, and nothing but seasonal produce. If you go online, there are a lot of iterations of this meal. I went with what worked best for the materials I had on hand. Find what works best for you. But here is a little kick to get you on your way…

Ingredients to serve 4 Latkes:

  • 2 small Zucchini, shredded (Groundwork Organics)
  • 3-4 medium Carrots, peeled and shredded (Organic Redneck)
  • 1 medium Potato, boiled and mashed (Rainshadow Organics)
  • 2 cloves of Garlic, minced (Groundwork Organics)
  • 1 Green Onion, chopped (Cinco Estrellas)
  • 1/4 tsp thyme (Sagestruck Herbary)
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour (Rainshadow Organics)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp paprika, or 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or both!)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp Half & Half

Cooking instructions:

  1. Begin by prepping your zucchini and carrots by shredding with a large-holed cheese grader. If you are like me and lack this piece of equipment, this can be done with some dextrous knife work. Transfer veggies to a collander, add the salt and mix. Allow to sit for 15 minutes or so.
  2. Add the potato to water and boil until soft all of the way through. This can be accomplished more quickly if the potato is quartered beforehand. Remove potato to a bowl, add the half & half and mash.
  3. Add the Flour and Baking powder to a separate bowl and mix.
  4. Squeeze the veggies dry, using either just your hands or a cheesecloth, and transfer to a bowl. Add the Garlic, Paprika, Cayenne and Thyme. Mix together. Now add the mashed up potato, mix. Lastly, add the flour/baking powder and mix.
  5. Once mixed, grab a medium sized handful and pack into a ball, repeat 3 times. Place the uncooked latkes on a baking sheet and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes so that they hold form better while cooking.
  6. Heat up 2 Tbsp of oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When oil is shimmering, add the packed latkes. Cook for 3-5 minutes and turn. They should be slightly charred and crisp when flipped. Cook for another 3-5 minutes. Fin!

I did not have the ingredients at my disposal to make an adequate sauce for serving, but these would be amazing served with a yogurt based side. Perhaps yogurt, cucumber and lemon.

This was so easy, so good, and almost 100% local, that it may just become a staple in my diet.

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.

 

Follow Your Food: Asparagus

 

I have already written a few time about the effect of spring in our fields. Spring also offers us special ingredients to use for our meal. As this is the season of first life and growth, many of the crops farmers harvest are at their most tender stage in the plant life cycle. This past week’s produce box hosted the true taste of tender spring with Springbank Farm’s Asparagus.

Asparagus, or Asparagus officionalis, is the perfect spring crop. Due to the value of this crop and the short season in which it grown, agrarian European communities have long viewed asparagus season as the highlight of the foodie calendar. Right now the flavor of its young shoots are tender and delicate as the plant accumulates water. Despite being 93% water, the juvenile shoots are packed with concentrated  nutrient densities of Iron, Vitamin K, and B Vitamins (Folate, Riboflavin and Thiamine).  There is rich with the amino acid asparagine, from which the plant derives its name. As an amino acid, asparagine facilitates the synthesis of proteins in our body. Although non-essential, asparagine’s contribution to protein biosynthesis is shown to be valuable in quite a number of ways. Its most prominent role play out in our nervous system by contributing to neuron growth and signal transmission across nerve endings. This amino acid may also prove important for the avid outdoorsman by smoothing liver function, which, in turn, leads to improved athletic stamina and builds resistance to nagging fatigue. Finally, asparagine is a fine complement to a vegetarian diet to increase the bioavailability of plant based proteins. I would say that this is a power packed vegetable for the lifestyle many of us choose to pursue here in Central Oregon!

Unfortunately,  its only a short time. Since asparagus is an herbaceous perennial, its structure becomes more robust as the season progresses. In the later weeks of springtime, the apical buds begin to open up, or “fern out”. At this point, the once tender stalks begin to lignify as more resources are directed to photosynthetic and reproductive tissues. So, make the most out of this spring, and every spring by sharing this wonderful crop in meals while it is still around. So to help, we have a recipe that won over our stomach’s. This week we want to tackle breakfast. Since it is the first meal of the day, a hearty breakfast is critical to fueling an action packed day at work, in the mountains, on the river or a high grade climb. Often times the tight schedule that comes with such a lifestyle prevents us from really being able to invest time into creating a real morning meal. Well the weekend is a perfect time to get it going and create something special to share!

Last time I shared some good ol’ Red Beans and Rice. This time I pulled a recipe from Lucinda Quinn’s second cookbook, Mad Hungry Cravings, and found an Asparagus and Spinach Frittata. I will let the rest speak for itself:

Ingredients:

Frittata, serves 6:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound of asparagus with the ends trimmed

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

1/2 lemon

1 small yellow onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 pound of fresh spinach, chopped

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

10 large eggs

1 1/2 cups whole milk

Sauce:

1 tablespoon capers

1/4 cup chopped parsley

2 scallions, finely chopped (I used shallots)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1/4 teaspoon coarse salt

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375, with the rack in the middle position. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium- high hea. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil. When it shimmers, add the asparagus and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and cook, tossing occasionally, until the asparagus is lightly browned in spots. Transfer to a plate, squeeze the lemon juice over it, and let cool
  2. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the onions and cook until translucent. Add garlic, spinach, pepper and remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and cook for just about a minute.
  3. Whisk the eggs and milk in a medium bowl until thoroughly combined. Pour into the skillet and cook, stirring constantly, until the eggs begin to scramble but are still very wet. Remove from heat.
  4. Distribute a layer of the asparagus over the eggs, pressing them gently into the mixture. Transfer to the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the frittata is set.
  5. Meanwhile, for the sauce, combine the salt, pepper, capers, scallions, parsley, oil and vinegar into a small bowl
  6. Slice frittata into wedges and serve with sauce.