Life and thoughts from a small-scale organic farm . . . and its farmers

This is a blog that explores ideas around the growing of food and community at Glen Valley Organic Farm.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Chocolate Beet and Zucchini Cake Recipes

You might normally love beets and zucchinis, but by this point in the season it might be time to try and switch up your cooking routine to keep things fresh and exciting. Here are two or our favorite indulgences to keep your sweet tooth satisfied. Note: both are excellent with ice cream, of course!

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Pre-heat oven to 325F. Grease bundt or tube pan.

1.5 cups Flour
0.5 cup Cocoa
1.5 tsp baking powder
1.5 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt

Sift the dry ingredients together ingredients together.

0.75 cup Butter
2 cups Sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp lemon juice
0.5 cups milk
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chopped walnuts

Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs and stir. Add vanilla and lemon juice. Stir in zucchini. Add flour mix and milk, alternating half of each at a time.

Filling (optional, but why not?)
0.5 cup Butter
1 8oz. package cream cheese (we also use chevre or quark)
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup chocolate chips

Cream the first 4 ingredients of the filling. Then add the chocolate chips. Pour half of the cake mixture into the prepared pan. Spread the filling over the first layer and then cover with remaining chocolate cake mix. Bake for 1 hour or longer, until a toothpick comes out clean.

Deep Dark Chocolate Beet Cake

About 2 cups cooked, peeled, pureed smooth and cooled Beets
3 ounces Unsweetened Chocolate
1.5 cups Sugar
3 Eggs
1 cup Vegetable Oil
1.75 cups flour
0.5 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
pinch salt

Optional Glaze:
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
5 ounces semi-sweet dark chocolate

Preheat over to 350F. Lightly grease a 13”X9”X2” baking pan.

Melt chocolate in a small double boiler and set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, oil and eggs. Stir in beets and melted chocolate. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Fold dry ingredients into beet mixture.

Scrape into pan and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Set aside to cool.

To glaze, melt chocolate in whipping cream in a small double boiler and drizzle over cake.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Two world views: Scarcity and Abundance

I have to admit that I have started every week this season with a level of stress that I haven't experienced in previous years of farming. The flooding of late-June and early-July created a new set of challenges we haven't had to deal with before.

Each week I wonder what we'll have to put in the CSA boxes and what we'll have to send to markets. I wonder if we'll have to send smaller boxes or cancel our participation at a farmers market. I look at the crop areas that were impacted by the floods and then the crops that weren't touched and are thriving. And each week I am surprised by the amount of produce on hand to complete orders.

What this season has taught me is that there are two worldviews: scarcity and abundance. Within a scarcity perspective, we live in fear -- fear that there won't be enough and that we must hoard when something is available. From the perspective of abundance, there is always enough -- enough to get us through in lean times, especially when we pull together and co-operate and collaborate. Sometimes we can be surprised by abundance, because it seems so unlikely, but we need only look a bit harder to find it.

By this time in the season, I had wanted to be sending CSA members bags of tomatoes, lots of zucchinis and a diversity of lettuce, potatoes and carrots. That isn't happening. But the zucchinis, most of which spent a good week underwater, pulled through and are providing us with enough to put some in the boxes. Our planting of carrots is providing a share to everyone, although not enough to feed an entire family. And the cucumbers and sweet onions are going crazy.

Then, on Tuesday, I walked into an area of the field that has driven me crazy this year. It's a clay soil that is hard. There are a lot of crops we can't plant there because the soil is too rough. Slugs hiding under the lumps of clay finished off early plantings of cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower during the rains of the spring.

But I watch each year as alliums (onions and shallots) thrive in this area. Squash also do well in the area. This year, an experimental crop of artichokes that we were sure would be dead after transplanting is producing a good 60 artichokes a week. And yesterday when I looked in on a section of cabbages I've been coaxing along -- not in their usual abundance, but some are growing nonetheless -- I found a bunch of Napa Cabbages. Not just a few, but 37 that were ready for harvest -- exactly enough for the CSA full shares this week. Enough.

I know after the events of the past few years that things are changing. Weather is not predictable and extremes are causing havoc. We received word this week that feed prices for chicken and goat feed have gone up by 20% overnight, the result of market speculation amidst the worst drought across the United States and Eastern Canada in 50 years.

Amidst uncertainty and changing times, we can choose our perspective. A perspective of abundance isn't always easy, but in my experience it opens up more opportunities through collaboration and sharing than by bunkering down and cutting ourselves off from the rest of the world.

Last week I sent garlic in the CSA boxes. The garlic variety was passed along to me by the Ukrainian neighbours I grew up with. Despite this precious gift, there is a gap in my farming history. My grandparents made their own decision to leave farming. My Ukrainian grandfather sold the farm in Saskatchewan on a day when everyone else was away -- some security to make sure no one would try to stop him from signing the papers. When his family returned, it was a done deal. He told his children that he wanted to make sure none of his family would ever farm again.

I don't know what my grandfather would make of my current occupation -- whether he would approve or shake his head in disbelief at the short memory of new generations. And I wonder what he would make of the CSA model, of people paying for their food ahead of the season and sticking it out with the farmers. I can't really even imagine his reaction because I never met him.

But I do know that despite their own discouragement with farming, my grandparents always had enough. The seeds they brought from Ukraine, probably seemed as unlikely a form of insurance as their dreams were to take root in a land of uncertainty. Every year they replanted and every year they harvested something. I know how unlikely it seems that we will get a harvest from the tiny seeds we plant every year. Yet if we didn't trust in them, in their potential abundance, it would be impossible to keep trying.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Special garlic

The garlic we included in our CSA boxes this week isn’t the type that catches the eye at a farmers market. The heads are small and the cloves are numerous and tiny. In fact, if the garlic disappointed anyone who received it, I would fully understand.

Most of the garlic grown for market in BC falls into the category of “hardneck”. These varieties put out a tall, hard flower stalk in the centre of the plant – remember the garlic scapes earlier? The heads tend to be large and the cloves are fewer in number, but large and easy to peel. They are heavier, fetch a higher price per head and sell quickly.

The variety we sent out this week is a softneck variety. These plants don’t put out a flower stalk. The cloves are numerous, but small. The yield per plant is lower. And so, you might wonder, why grow this type of garlic?

The reason softneck garlic is very useful is that it stores well. Hardneck varieties generally don’t store past Christmas time; fully cured softneck varieties can store through to the following spring without going soft or starting to sprout.

And thus the origin of the garlic sent out this week: the original garlic I planted six years ago came from our Ukrainian neighbours in the neighbourhood where I grew up in Saskatoon. This garlic was grown out over a number of generations and was valued for lasting the long, cold winters. Its soft necks make it easy to braid, and thus easy to store, doubling as an ornament in the kitchen prior to use.

Growing this garlic is one of the only physical links I have to my family’s farming heritage. When my parents left their farms, no one thought of preserving the seed varieties their parents had grown out in gardens. Some of those seeds came from Ukraine in previous generations, sewn into the hems of clothing to survive the voyage. In one generation those treasures were lost – except for the garlic.

As a side note, my gradnmother’s phone had to be replaced regularly because the plastic receiver would absorb the scent of garlic from her breath. The cloves might be small, but they pack a punch (and she did eat it raw)!

A quick lesson in crop planning

We are often asked why we grow so much lettuce, chard and kale, but not more mizuna, arugula, broccoli or cauliflower. Why not more carrots and onions? To answer this question requires a general overview of crop planning and rotations in organic agriculture.

When we grow a crop in a particular bed, organic standards (and best practices) require that we don’t grow another related crop in the same area for three years. By rotating our growing spaces in this way, we are able to break or disrupt disease and pest cycles without the use of chemical pesticides.

It also supports a better nutrient management plan. In the first year of a rotation, we might grow a heavy-feeder that requires a lot of compost. This could be squash, onions, leafy greens, corn or broccoli. The second year, we will grow carrots, which don’t need as much fertility, thus eliminating the need to compost again. The third year we can grow potatoes, which need very little nitrogen, thus no compost again – perhaps only a bit of potassium and calcium, which can be added separately. In the fourth year we can grow beans, which have a symbiotic relationship with microbes that fix nitrogen for the plants – no compost again!

In an ideal rotation, we include cover crops (like oats, rye, barley, clover and vetch) over the winter to add organic matter and, in some cases, fix nitrogen. Some grain crops scavenge nutrients in the soil and hold them until they are tilled in (rather than the soil leaching nutrients during the winter rains); as they break down, the nutrients are available to the next crop and also feed soil organisms.

So, back to the crop families. When we grow a bed of kale (of the brassica family in plant talk), we can harvest from the same plants repeatedly throughout the season. We get our first harvest within 1-2 months after transplanting. A small space yields a tremendous amount of food over the subsequent 8-12 months.

Broccoli and cauliflower, on the other hand, yield one harvest. The plants grow for 2-3 months before producing one crown.

One bed of kale in our fields can yield $5,000 over the course of the season; one bed of broccoli yields about $850. After the harvest, neither bed can be used for anything in that family for three years. Kale is abundant; that’s why we take lots to market and include it in CSA boxes regularly. It's hard to make money off of Broccoli and it has to fight for space with everything else in the same family.

In another example, lettuce is not related to much else that we grow. It takes 45 days to mature from transplanting. We can often get one or two subsequent crops into a lettuce bed after harvest. Even though a bed of lettuce may yield only $1500 in revenue, the bed space yields higher returns because it can be triple-cropped in a season.

So, finally, in case you are curious about which crops are related, here’s a quick cheat-sheet:
Brassicaceae: Kale, collards, broccoli, cauliflower, mizuna, arugula, turnips, rutabaga, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, gai land, bok choi, kohlrabi
Cucurbitaceae: Squash, melons, cucumbers
Solanaceae: Potatoes, Tomatoes, Eggplants, Peppers
Chenopodiaceae: Chard, Beets, Spinach, Quinoa
Apiaceae: Carrots, Parsley, Fennel, Dill, Cilantro, Parsnips, Celery
Asteraceae: Sunchokes, endives, chicory, radicchio
Alliaceae: Onions, shallots, garlic, green onions, chives, leeks
Fabaceae: Beans, peas

This is what we juggle when planning our crops!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Screening: Queen of the Sun, 1 April 2012

Close to Home Organics of Glen Valley Organic Farm is presenting a community screening of Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? Join us to watch a screening of the film and to learn about local initiatives to improve the health of honey bees and native bee populations.
When: Sunday, 1 April 2012; 2:00 p.m.
Where: Windsong Co-Housing, 20543 96th Avenue, Langley, BC V1M 3W3
How Much: Tickets are $6.50 and $10.00
More info and tickets available at
QUEEN OF THE SUN: What Are the Bees Telling Us? is a profound, alternative look at the global bee crisis from Taggart Siegel, director of THE REAL DIRT ON FARMER JOHN. Taking us on a journey through the catastrophic disappearance of bees and the mysterious world of the beehive, this engaging and ultimately uplifting film weaves an unusual and dramatic story of the heartfelt struggles of beekeepers, scientists and philosophers from around the world including Michael Pollan, Gunther Hauk and Vandana Shiva. Together they reveal both the problems and the solutions in renewing a culture in balance with nature.
In 1923, Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian scientist, philosopher & social innovator, predicted that in 80 to 100 years honeybees would collapse. Now, beekeepers around the United States and around the world are reporting an incredible loss of honeybees, a phenomenon deemed “Colony Collapse Disorder.” This “pandemic” is indicated by bees disappearing in mass numbers from their hives with no clear single explanation. The queen is there, honey is there, but the bees are gone.
For the first time, in an alarming inquiry into the insights behind Steiner’s prediction QUEEN OF THE SUN: What Are the Bees Telling Us? investigates the long-term causes behind the dire global bee crisis through the eyes of biodynamic beekeepers, commercial beekeepers, scientists and philosophers. QUEEN OF THE SUN features world renowned biodynamic beekeeper Gunther Hauk, New York Times bestselling-author Michael Pollan, Indian Activist Vandana Shiva, and a compelling cast of characters from around the world. Together they take us on a journey through the catastrophic disappearance of bees and into the mysterious world of the beehive. The film unveils 10,000 years of beekeeping, illuminating the deep link between humans and bees and how that historic and sacred relationship has been lost due to highly mechanized industrial practices. Beekeeper Gunther Hauk calls the crisis, “More important even than global warming. We could call it Colony Collapse of the human being too.”
Bees are the engines that keep the earth in bloom. QUEEN OF THE SUN presents the bee crisis as a global wake-up call and illuminates a growing movement of beekeepers, community activists and scientists who are committed to renewing a culture in balance with nature.

Monday, November 28, 2011

New: Goat Meat

We now have a limited supply of goat meat available for sale.

The animals were all raised on our farm from birth this past spring. Our goats receive a diet of hay, organic grain and foraging. The cuts are similar to what you would expect for lamb in terms of size. Goat meat is very lean and is exceptional in curries.

Cuts available:

Loin Chops
$17.50/lb Average 0.75-1.0 lbs
Leg Roast
$10.50/lb Average 1.2-1.5 lbs
Shoulder Roast
$9.75/lb Average 1.5-1.8 lbs
Stew Meat
$9.00/lb Average 0.5-0.9 lbs
$6.50/lb Average 1.0-1.4 lbs
Neck Slices           
$4.50/lb Average 0.3-0.4 lbs
$8.00/lb Average 1.3 lbs
Shoulder Steaks
$11.50/lb Average 1.4-1.6 lbs

To order goat meat for pick-up from the farm or at a farmers market, please e-mail glenvalleychris (at) gmail (dot) com or call 604-626-0067.

Please note: our goat herd is not part of our certified organic program; although we strictly follow organic standards for care, we cannot always source certified organic hay.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

2011 Variety Reviews: Part II

Aside from reviewing some of the new varieties we grew this year, I also put out a call to the organic community for variety reviews. The echos of silence were deafening . . . well, almost. Adam from Sundog Vegetables in Delta (who also worked for us last year) provided notes from his experience this year.