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.

Advertisements

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.

Nature: Friend and Adversary

Today is a pleasant rainy Sunday, which allows for time to slow down, read, reflect and catch up on built up chores. These calm showers provide just the sort of moisture to saturate annual row crops and helps ease the burden of irrigation for our regions farmers. However, while the weather is gentle today, there were some rather torrential periods yesterday. The thermometer is still bouncing between hot and cool, providing rather inconsistent range of air and soil temperatures; this also makes for variable forms of precipitation. Mixed in with Saturday’s precipitation were heavy bouts of hail, which as you can imagine, spells danger for vulnerable crops out in the field. During one such spell Story Hill Farm suffered a tragic loss of spring crops. Farmer Jack Bridges, and 20 others on a chicken coop tour, watched as cold chunks of hail pelted his lush vegetables. Lettuce, radishes, kale, onions, and anything else growing outside was at the whim of nature. Situations like these leave farmers feeling helpless to intervene. When the climate is cruel, there in only so much that can be done to fight it. While the damage may be done, plants often demonstrate their unabashed resilience in the wake of such an event. I have seen rows of corn and kale plowed down by heavy winds and rain, only to bounce back and continue with life when the sun reemerges from behind the clouds. Let us hope that Jack enjoys similar fortune in the wake of this storm; but, in any case this is a scary moment for any farmer and is a moment that all have endured.

Weather is the pivot around with all life hinges; it both provides life and takes it away. When climatic conditions are favorable, plants grow strong, water tables are full and human nutritional needs are met economically. When conditions shift unfavorably, plants suffer, wells are drained, yields diminish and we pay the price at the store. Rarely does a season pass without any sort of drought, flood or pest outbreak, so building resilience to these  events is constitutional to any farm economy. And we simply cannot accurately predict when those shocks will happen, nor can we anticipate how pests will adapt to conventional control. Since weather is fluid, adapting to climate patterns is an iterative process; never perfect, and always improving. Our developing passion for decentralized food markets is a part of this learning.

In the years since the Green Revolution of the 1950’s, large scale agrarian specialization has proven vulnerable to adapting to such shocks. Food systems catering to economies of scale often grow one crop variety over wide acreage. This allows for streamlined planting, cultivation and harvesting, from which consumers enjoy lower prices. But that price we enjoy is just a stagnant number at the store, and does not recognize the quieter costs we are paying. One such cost is vulnerability. While the price might be low in up front economic terms, it balances on a dangerous precipice of one storm cycle or pest outbreak from wiping out the majority of something like carrots in one region of the U.S. The price of all carrots then shifts, forcing us to then pay a scarcity price for what remains after the shock.

If you are of a business mind, think of our food system like your investment portfolio. If you just buy into  a high number of valuable shares, consolidated to one or two firms, then that investment stands vulnerable to much bigger losses when the firms suffer. Conversely, a diversified stock portfolio holds a balanced volume shares, spread horizontally across firms and vertically between businesses in the same industry. Much like diversified business investment, farmers invest in diversity to bolster security from variable weather conditions. But these are not stock and bond markets, these are farms. Farms produce food, and food is the second most basic component to fuel human life. Much hinges in how we invest in the sustainable security of our food system.

It is always sad to hear of losses in the fields. Thankfully our food portfolio is diversified here in Central Oregon, so we can continue eating spring radishes and lettuce without freighting it in from distant farms.

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.

 

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:

Smoothies!

Here’s a smoothie recipe from Betsy P., an Ag Connect member. “My son calls it my green dinosaur drink,” she says. I’ve tried it, and it’s delicious. Tons of flavor and packed with vitamins and nutrients.

Here it is:

1 cup frozen blueberries

1/4 of an avocado

1/2 a banana

1-2 cups raw kale

Walnuts
 
Sunflower seeds
 
Pumpkins seeds, and/or flax seeds OR almond butter/peanut butter

1/2-1 cup water

Savory Spice Shop Spices: Use as much as you like of ground turmeric, ground peppercorns (to help your body absorb the benefits found in turmeric), ground cloves, ground cacao, Saigon cinnamon, ground cardamom, and Himalayan Sea Salt.

Betsy’s tip: “People can create the smoothie to their taste and/or their health needs. That is what I have done the last four months. It is fun to experiment.”

Ingredients that came from Ag Connect: Frozen blueberries, kale, flax seeds

Fennel Ideas

While I don’t have any eye-popping pictures or ready-to-go recipes for you this week, I have what I hope will be some ideas that sound so good that they just might inspire you.

 

Fennel is something I didn’t learn to love until recently. But when I did, I went head-over-heels for it. It’s crunchy, and light, and its taste is so unique. Fennel adds a flavor that nothing else can.

 

When I lived in Southwest Portland, I went to a restaurant once that boasted a delicious home-made hummus with grilled veggies. The hummus was good. It was everything a hummus should be: Creamy, garlicky, lemony, and thick enough that it would scoop easily using any food vessel. What stood out for me most, though, was the grilled fennel that was part of the assorted veggies. It was still crunchy, but the grill had given it an extra depth of flavor. It was delicate and aromatic, and it accompanied the hummus perfectly. They even drizzled a bit of extra virgin olive oil over the veggies, which I loved.

 

Beyond that eye-opening fennel experience, I’ve also learned to cook with it myself. Sometimes I go simple and slice it thinly to toss with a salad. Other times, I add it into sauteed veggies to put in a baked pasta dish. The flavor of fennel goes fantastically with cauliflower. Also, surprisingly (at least to me), it goes with sweeter flavors like dried fruits.

 

Don’t let the “licorice” stigma of the fennel flavor keep you away from it as long as I did. Embrace its one-of-a-kind flavor and let fennel inspire you.

-Laura Moss