The Impact of Organic Farming

One of the greatest aspects of working at the CSA is the opportunity to meet so many interesting people who feel the need to support the production of locally sourced food. In my mind, one of the main incentives for being a part of a CSA  is the benefits that truly “organically run” agriculture provides to the environment and to public health. I have been reading a lot about soil science lately and the numerous effects that quality soil (or not so quality) can have on not just the nutritional value of our veggies, but also on the ecology of the entire surrounding environment.

There are numerous elements and compounds that good soil must be composed of in order for a variety of micro-organisms to survive. When certain organisms such as the all-important earthworm are either over-populated, or under-populated in soil, this can severely affect the bio-diversity of soil and a plant’s immune system. Plants usually contain certain “anti-microbial substances” that are produced when they receive any sign that they are under attack by a pest. This phenomenon is called “induced resistance,” in which the plant will create hormones and proteins that help defend itself and enhance its immune system. These hormones have also shown to be stimulated when exposed to a variety of both harmful and harmless entities that are more abundant in soils high in organic matter. Thus the more natural and diversified the makeup of your compost is, the stronger your’s plants entire system will be, and the better it will taste!

In terms of what our farm crew has been witnessing in the fields, we have seen certain beneficial insects preying on the Colorado potato beetle pest in our eggplant. These insects can also be “signaled” by a crop releasing certain chemicals into the air which alert them that it’s prey is here. The corn rootworm is another common pest (which some of you may have seen already at pickup), that can be controlled when the roots of certain varieties of corn release a chemical that attracts nematodes, which can infect and kill rootworm larvae. Unfortunately, during the process of breeding certain varieties of corn over the past century in the U.S, this ability to signal the beneficial nematode has been all but lost.

Here are the eggs of the Colorado Potato Beetle pest on our eggplant. Grrrrrr

A look at the remains of colorado potato beetle eggs after being decimated by possibly the stink bug or lady beetle – 2 common predators that feed on these eggs.

Optimal soil health not only contributes to stronger, and much more nutritious vegetables, but it can be much more cost-effective in the long run when a plant’s resistance abilities act as a form of pest management. Various pesticides may eliminate the immediate threat of a pest, but they can consequently affect the health of a variety of other organisms within the soil, which can drastically change soil structure and plant health in a negative way. A reactionary “quick-fix” approach to growing food may help increase production, yet in the long-run in can actually be much more expensive due to the heavy reliance on pesticides and fertilizers.

When running an organic operation, the survival of our crops, and thus the entire CSA, truly depend on the ecological conditions to function well. If there isn’t a sufficient amount of organic matter integrated into the soil, then chances of extreme weather such as heavy rain or long droughts weakening and eroding the soil are much higher. Last year for example, we still managed to produce high amounts of produce during a drought which caused numerous farms in Massachusetts to suffer tremendously. This is truly a testament to the strength of our soil and quality, nutrient layden compost tha Wards Berry farm is producing. Moreover, one of the most striking differences between soil that has higher amounts of organic matter versus soil that doesn’t, is the amount of carbon that can be stored in it. Not often mentioned in relation to the carbon cycle, is the fact that there is as much carbon in six inches of topsoil with 1% organic matter as there is in the atmosphere above a field. If organic matter decreases by 1%, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could double. In fact, carbon stored in all the worlds soils is over three times the amount in the atmosphere. The way in which we deforest our land or farm the soil, has had and will continue to have drastic impacts on climate change and the quality of the air that we breathe. While we may not always think about some of these issues when going food shopping, the impacts that our buying-decisions have are consequential and real!

 

Reference:

Building Soils For Better Crops, 2009, 3rd edition

Drying Chili Peppers

Drying chili peppers is a great way to store them for the long-term. You don’t want to waste any of those chili peppers picked from that huge harvest this year. Here are a few ways to dry them so they don’t go to waste.

The Basic Method for Drying Chili Peppers

Wash your chili peppers thoroughly after picking to remove any dirt, then dry.

Place on a plate or a wire rack in a dry, well ventilated room. You can also string the chilies up on string or thread and hang to dry. Within several weeks, you will have dried chili peppers and you can grind them up or use them as ornaments as desired.

Oven Drying Instructions

Wash your chili peppers thoroughly after picking to remove any dirt.
Cut them in half, lengthwise to expose the pepper innards.
Arrange the chili peppers over a baking sheet.
Bake at low heat, about 100 to 135 degrees.
There is no set time to bake the chili peppers for drying. Keep an eye on them, turning every few minutes or so. You can leave the oven door cracked for some air flow. It will take several hours with this method. Keep in the oven until the moisture has been baked out of them. Use as desired!

Drying Chili Peppers Without an Oven – Air Drying

  1. In this case, dry your chili peppers whole. Do not slice.
  2. String them together on some strong thread with a few inches between each jalapeno peppers.
  3. Hang the chili peppers in direct sunlight. Be sure it is dry and warm.

It can take several weeks for the jalapeno to completely dry with this method, but it’ll be worth it!

Last but not least, you can also consider a food dehydrator, which is a more fool-proof method of drying chili peppers.

Drying Chili Peppers with a Dehydrator

A dehydrator is probably the easiest method for drying chili peppers. A dehydrator encloses the chili peppers and dries them overnight in soft heat. Slice them up before dehydrating for faster dehydration. You can find dehydrators in stores or online.

What can you do with your dried chili peppers?

Grind them up to make your own chili powder, which is like cayenne powder, or keep them whole and use them as you might use a sun-dried tomato. They can be rehydrated with hot water and go great with many recipes!

Sources 

Ultimate Guide to Drying Hot Chili Peppers

Storing Chili Peppers – How To Dry Hot Peppers

Drying Chili Peppers

CSA Pickup: Week 4

As we enter into Week 4 of CSA distribution, we are still enjoying a steady harvest of strawberries, as well as a bountiful crop of peas for Pick-Your-Own (PYO).

For this week’s pickup, look forward to…

  • Strawberries
  • Kale
  • Swiss Chard
  • Radishes
  • Lettuce
  • Spring Onions
  • Garlic Scapes
  • Peas (PYO)

Remember that Monday is fish pickup for those of you with fish.

We are now selling pasture raised beef from the Trustees of the Reservation in addition to honey, maple syrup, and spices.

Farm Lunch: June 18th

In a previous occupation, I was employed at a fairly prestigious donut shop based out of Somerville. One of the shop’s signature donuts is a raised donut covered in a brown butter glaze, which is then tossed in toasted hazelnuts. The result being one of the most edifying eating experiences available to mortals. With that said, I feel responsible for carrying on the brown butter tradition wherever I go. On this occasion, the tradition manifested itself in Strawberry Brown Butter Bars.

Now before one dismisses brown butter as overly complicated hipster necromancy, checkout this link that nicely demonstrates the process of browning butter. It is fairly straightforward; as long as you keep an eye on the butter so it doesn’t burn, keep in mind that it is brown butter, not blackened butter. The end result can add deep toffee and nutty qualities to baked goods and other dishes.

For the most part, I did not alter the original recipe very much. Instead of cherries, I used our amazing strawberries and for the crust, I threw in some sage from our raised beds while I was browning the butter. Overall, I was pleased with how the recipe turned out. I expected the strawberries to be on the juicy side, but I could not resist using them. Albeit, the end result wasn’t the prettiest, it sure was tasty.

The finished product hot from the oven.

Pouring the brown butter batter over the berries.

Farm Lunch: June 14th

Being a farm apprentice has numerous perks, one such perk is having daily access to fresh organic vegetables.  On this occasion, I capitalized on my proximity to produce and made some arugula pesto.

As far as recipes go, pesto is fairly straightforward and flexible in terms of interchanging ingredients. While the traditional pesto calls for basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, salt, and Parmesan cheese, you can substitute many of the ingredients in favor of ones you find more palatable. For instance, I used arugula, raw almonds, some spring garlic, and some garlic powder from Organic Green Kitchen in place of the basil, pine nuts, and regular garlic. However, pesto can be made with any leafy green that packs a punch, like kale, mustard greens, and even radish greens. As for the cheese and nut options, try using any number of hard cheese or nut variety.

I used the recipe provided here as a guide for creating my pesto. Being without a food processor, I made do with a blender to turn the raw almond slivers into a course meal, but the same result can be achieved by using a rolling pin and a large sandwich bag to crush the nuts. As for the garlic amount specified in the recipe, I found it truly wanting and ended up using three or four medium sized bulbs and stalks. Obviously, tweak your own recipe to taste and to the amount you are making.

In the end, I combined my pesto with tri-colored radiatori, the fins of which hold the pesto nicely, and topped it all with some rough cut radish for an added crunch.