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: 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.