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.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Project Corndog: An Extremely Local Dinner Theatre Event

Project Corndog:
An Extremely Local Dinner Theatre Event

in Aldergrove, BC

August 18, 19, 20 & 21

How close can you get to your food? Come and spend a summer evening on a local organic farm diving into a delicious piece of site sound and taste specific theatre. Follow puppets, musicians and circus acts through planted fields and fruit orchards, past streams and into a forest grove as Georgia, an organic farmer, and her scientist daughter Freidi struggle to save their family farm from an over the fence GMO attack and find love in unexpected places. The evening finishes with guests, farmers and actors sitting down to an open air organic meal grown on the very land they've just explored.

The dinner will be prepared by Seasonal 56, and served alongside wine pairings from Lotusland Vineyards.

Ensemble includes; Sandy Buck (Puppet Creator), Jan Derbyshire (Director), Chloe Doucet-Winkelman, Jeff Gladstone (Musical Director), Thomas Jones, Sarah May Redmond and Tallulah Winkelman (Playwright).

Tickets, $65, limited seating
Earlybird rate before August 2nd, $50

Monday, July 25, 2011

Late nights on the farm: Making Sauerkraut

Last week I posted some information on cooking with cabbage. The past two evenings I was at work making sauerkraut. We're getting close to cabbage inundation at the moment, so I decided that it's time to start getting some sauerkraut ready for the year ahead. It's an amazing source of vitamin C over the winter and a great addition to a variety of meals and dishes.

For the first time, I did both green and purple cabbage. I love the contrasting colours right after putting them into jars. I'm also going to try sauerkraut made from cabbage, carrots, onions and beets, plus an assortment of herbs for new flavours.

You can see the difference in colour after aging. The jar on the left was made last fall by our neighbours, John and Donna at the Glen Valley Artichoke Farm. On the right is my sauerkraut immediately after putting it in the jar (i.e. before fermentation).

Fermenting is an amazing way to preserve food for the year in a way that maintains nutrients. If you're interested in making sauerkraut, here's a recipe that provides you with the basics. If you want to learn more about fermentation, check out the Wild Fermentation website maintained by Sandor Ellix Katz. His book, Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods, is an amazing resource for getting into fermentation.

Tractor time on the farm

While we do much of our field work by hand, there is a major task for our tractors: preparing the beds. We have three tractors that do the heaviest work for us. This includes disking the fields in the spring, subsoiling (dragging two long claws through the beds to break deep into the soil), applying compost and then cultivating a shaping the beds.

Above, is a pile of 30 tons of compost ready for spreading on beds prior to planting.

We load the compost into our compost spreader. This is a long job because we have to go back and forth between the farmyard (where we store the compost) and our fields.

While spreading the compost there is a lot of time to watch the crops and contemplate the world. This is my self-portrait while on the tractor last week.

Finally, the compost is cultivated in and the beds are shaped. Our beds are approximately 500 feet long. ideally, we get the beds ready a number of days ahead of seeding or transplanting to allow the weeds to germinate. Then we can plant into a clean bed. That's the ideal -- it doesn't always work out that way.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A raspberry treat

Owly Images

Here's what Ethical Bean did for a special event in Vancouver this week. The raspberries (including the ingredients in the glaze) are from our farm. Quite a treat!

Recipe: The Yummy Kale Dish


2 tbs of cooking oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs dijon mustard
2 tsp. sugar
1 tbs. apple cider vinegar
1.5 cups of veggie/chicken broth
4 cups of stemmed & shredded kale
1/4 cup dried cranberries
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup sliced almonds

Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Stir in onion and garlic. Cook and stir until onion softens and becomes translucent. Stir in mustard, sugar, vinegar and stock and bring to boil over high heat. Stir in kale, cover, and cook 5 minutes until wilted.

Stir in dried cranberries and continue boiling, uncovered, until liquid has reduced by half and the cranberries have softened, about 15 minutes.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with sliced almonds before serving.

Serves 4 people as a side dish. Enjoy.

Recipes: Cabbage, Peasant Food

Cabbage is now in full season, but it isn’t often recognized as a romantic vegetable. Rather, in many societies cabbage has long been a staple peasant food. This is still reflected in its price; cabbage is one of the best market bargains.

Cabbage actually comes from the same family as broccoli, cauliflower, turnip, kale, canola, brussels sprouts and arugula. These hearty greens are prized for their health benefits and cabbage is no exception, particularly when eaten raw or fermented. Cabbage is a nice green to work with because it has more texture and crunch than other greens and a stronger taste that compliments meats, particularly bacon, pancetta and anchovies.

If cabbage is a peasant food, this is testament to its versatility and hardiness. Different varieties were adapted for use in varying climates. We grow approximately five main season green cabbage varieties, two red varieties and three winter varieties. Cabbages can store for up to five months. The plant’s nutritional value provides a source of vitamin C in the form of sauerkraut through many harsh winters. It is the basic ingredient for coleslaw in summer and winter alike.

There are a number of recipes that feature cabbage that go beyond sauerkraut and coleslaw. Below are some favorites.

Preparing Cabbage
If you are a cabbage affectionado, there is no substitute for a good mandoline for slicing cabbage. Very thin cabbage slices make for the best texture in coleslaw, soups, stews and sauerkraut.

We purchased ours, pictured here, at the Home Hardware on Commercial Drive in Vancouver. It's Slovenian-made, but also pricey as far as kitchen tools go (and awkward to store). A sharp knife, of course, is a good substitute.

Cabbage Gratin


Butter and freshly grated Parmesan for the dish
1 1/2 lbs green cabbage, diced in 2-inch squares
1/3 cup flour
1 cup milk
1/4 cup cream
2 tbsp tomato paste
3 eggs
3 tbsp chopped parsley or dill
Salt and white pepper

Preheat oven to 375F. Butter gratin dish and coat sides with cheese. Boil cabbage, uncovered, in salted water for 5 min. Drain, rinse, press out as much water as possible. Whisk remaining ingredients until smooth, add cabbage, pour into dish. Bake until firm and lightly browned, about 50 minutes. Serve with sour cream flavoured with mustard, curry sauce or creamy tomato sauce.

Braised Cabbage with Bacon and Thyme
From Jamie Oliver's Cook with Jamie

1 pint Chicken or Vegetable stock
6 slices Bacon
1/2 a handful of fresh thyme leaves (or 2 tbsp dried)
1 white/green cabbage, halved and very finely sliced
2 tbsp Butter
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

Place stock, bacon and thyme in a pan, bring to a boil and then sprinkle in the sliced cabbage. Mix, put lid on pot and boil for 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook until the cabbage is a consistency you prefer. Top up with additional stock if you think it's reducing too much. Add the butter, some olive oil and season. Serve immediately.

Variation: We make a variation of this recipe, adding sliced carrots and onions.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Our CSA boxes this week

In case you're wondering what goes into our Community Supported Agriculture boxes, here's the list for this week:

1 Fennel Bulb (Large in full shares, small in half shares)
1 Crown Broccoli (Full shares only)
1 bunch Dill
1 bunch Beets
1 large Cabbage
1 Long English Cucumber
1 bunch Green Onions
2 lbs Sieglinde Potatoes
1 bunch Spinach
1 bunch Kale
1 bunch Rainbow Chard
2 heads lettuce (1 red butter, 1 green butter)

Here are some notes about the box contents this week:

In case fennel is new to you, you can find some tips on cutting fennel bulbs on this blog post. What to do with Fennel? There are a couple of ideas at the end of the blog post, but I would also suggest chopping it and adding the chevrons to coleslaw (with the cabbage this week, for example). I like it roasted as well (with the potatoes, for example). There are other recipe ideas on here.

The Greens
In case you missed it, I added a blog post about cooking with greens on the blog last week. In addition to that post, I can offer a summer salad recipe for using a variety of veggies each week. The butter lettuces are great in sandwiches and in salads.

OK, this is a vegetable that brings out the Ukrainian roots in me. Not only does fresh cabbage make awesome coleslaw, it can be made into Sauerkraut for future use. In case you're interested in making Sauerkraut, here's a good recipe. I must point out that making fermented sauerkraut and then storing it in your fridge is the best way to eat it, providing an amazing flavour and a variety of health benefits (it's a great source of vitamin C, for example). Whatever you do, I recommend that you don't process the finished kraut (provided, of course, that you have sufficient fridge space to store the unprocessed product). Processing sauerkraut will destroy much of the nutrient value.

And for a few more ideas, check out these recipes from and these from Smitten Kitchen. And I haven't even touched on Borscht or Cabbage Rolls . . . there will be a cabbage post later this week -- keep your eyes on the blog.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Farm Fashion: Dressing for Mosquitos

Fashion isn't something we pay much attention to on the farm. I realize that I don't pay much attention to this until I go into the city. My dress code seems to have paused the moment I moved onto the farm. I don't fit in on the streets of Vancouver.

This is, for the most part, a good thing. We shop at thrift stores and can purchase an entire season's wardrobe for under $50. Moreover, once mosquito season arrives we have few qualms about dressing for the pests, not for style.

We don't use chemical mosquito sprays (not to mention sunscreen) on the farm. Imagine exposing yourself to the chemicals in these products every day. Plus, they help dirt stick to your skin and clog pores, making sweating difficult. Plus, they're expensive if you're reapplying them every couple of hours.

Jeremy, above, demonstrates sensible mosquito attire. Mosquitos are less attracted to light colours. Long sleeves and collared shirts help keep the mosquitos off our limbs and necks. And extra shirt around the head keeps the pests off our ears, heads and faces, depending on how they're wrapped.

Also of note, Jeremy's outfit is also great sun protection. Light, long-sleeve shirts are cool and keep skin covered. The head gear can be replaced by a hat when the bugs aren't as bad.

Barb, on the other hand, sports a sensible bug shirt. These are practical shirts made of netting that makes it difficult for mosquitos to bite. They can be awkward on the face when doing certain tasks, and they don't offer sun protection, but are useful overall. I use a similar shirt for milking and other farm tasks at various points during the day when the sun isn't shining.

New apprentices on the farm often learn about the mosquitos through trial and error. Kate and Sean, above, posed for this photo last week. They noted that the mosquitos weren't too bad. Sean's bandana functioned more for style than protection.

By later in the week, Sean had switched to a bug shirt. He also made a trip into town to purchase white t-shirts (previously, he only owned black).

I found Kate in the fields on Friday, harvesting salad in rain gear (notice that it's sunny out). The mosquitos were causing her grief. The long sleeves provided some protection from the blood-suckers. Today she also has a series of bandanas wrapped around her face.

Sheila makes use of a kerchief in the field along with light-coloured, long-sleeved, collared shirts.

Finally, keeping mosquitos off of children without the use of deet is a challenge. Paige managed to put together a set of t-shirt hoods for the children that keeps the bugs out of ears, hair and necks.

The mosquitos in the Fraser Valley are plentiful this year. With the high river levels, all of the ditches are backed up and the standing water across pastures and dugouts provided ideal habitat for mosquito larvae. It has been wet and the mosquitos have benefited tremendously.

If you have any tips on keeping the mosquitos at bay, we'd love to hear.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

First week of July on the farm

The sun and heat finally arrived this week and we have left June-uary behind. the fields are looking much better as green begins to take over the colour scheme. Here are some images of the farm from the past few days. Above, row cover over carrots and parsnips keeps the rust fly out. It also keeps heat and moisture in, helping to accelerate growth. The carrots and parsnips have been weeded this past week. Squash are on the left of the cover, onions on the right.

The shallots are looking very nice at the moment (although this bed is close to needing a weeding). Shallots and onions respond to the change in daylight hours after solstice and begin bulbing up.

There's something about the symmetry of some crops growing that looks stunning. Here's an arial shot of our Romaine and Red Oak Leaf lettuces hard at work.

The same can be said for the cabbage. We had our first cabbage harvest this past week. The variety above will be ready in a couple of week. We've tried to plant varieties that will come on consecutively through the season (rather than all at once). I'm still waiting for one of the farmers markets to hold a Cabbage Festival -- enough of the berry fetish! It's krauting time!

The salmonberries are just finishing up. Following them are the thimbleberries and, of course, the actual food crops we grow in our fields.

Above, thimbleberries. Below, flowering blackberries (a feast for the bees).

And the strawberries finally perked up. Nirmal shows off some of the beautiful (although small) harvest.

The redwing blackbirds nest on our farm, offering a great song and fantastic bug-control functions. I love the redwing blackbird, partly because it's one of the familiar birds from growing up on the prairies.

The raspberries have formed fruit and will be ready in a couple of weeks.

Here's an early planting of beans. I'll expect to be harvesting them by the end of the month.

The Fraser River has been very full for a long period this year. Above is a dyke on 88th, just of 264th in Langley (near our farm). Notice on the farm left that the field is flooded -- the dyke is over capacity and a lot of land on the area along the river here is flooded.

Our pasture areas are flooded and there are low areas of our vegetable fields we haven't been able to cultivate this season. This is the water level on my boots walking down to the fields through the pasture. All of the water means that it's a brutal year for mosquitos.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cooking with Greens

At this point in the season, our CSA subscribers and market customers may feel overwhelmed by greens. If you don't cook with Kale, Collards and/or Chard on a regular basis, finding a bunch of at least one of these in your box each week can be intimidating.

Last year we posted a list of ways to use greens. It still has the basics, but here are some more ideas.

The fastest way to prep greens is to chop them into ribbons and steam or saute them. They can be sauteed with onions or garlic (scapes anyone?). Both steamed and sauteed can be served with balsamic vinegar and oil. Lydia, a CSA subscriber suggested this recipe (click on the link) for Collards or Kale with Tahini. Lydia serves this on quinoa for a complete meal.

A classic in our kitchen for using a multitude of veggies in season (and whatever greens we have around) is this salad:

2 cups cooked Quinoa, Millet or Rice
1/2 cup cooked beans or chickpeas
4-6 oz Feta Cheese, cubed
2 tbsp Dulce Flakes or crumbled Kale Chips (see earlier recipe on blog)
2 handfuls steamed Fava Beans (taken out of the pods)
1/2 bunch chopped Parsley
1/2 chopped Cucumber
2 green onions, chopped
1 handful steamed broccoli florettes
1/4 fennel bulb, sliced horizontally into chevrons. See how to slice a fennel bulb here.
Any other veggies you have around: Tomatoes, peppers, etc.

Mix together and serve over a bed of greens (e.g. lettuce, Chopped
chard and kale, etc.) with olive oil and vinegar. It's a light,
filling meal.

We also love this recipe for Green Rice

(from The Rebar Cookbook)
1 bunch spinach, stemmed
1 bunch cilantro,
1/2 bunch Italian parsley
2 jalapeno peppers, one seeded
1 t salt
2 1/4 vegetable stock
2 T olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 c long grain rice

1. Carefully wash spinach, cilantro,parsley and jalapenos. Place in a blender with salt and 1 cup of stock. Blend to liquify and set aside.

2. Heat a rice pot at medium-high and add the oil. Heat and add onion with a pinch of salt; saute until translucent. Add the garlic and rice and saute for a few minutes, stirring often, until the rice turns lightly golden. Add the contents of the blender and the remaining stock to the rice; stir well to combine. Turn up th eheat and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to very low and cook for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and let the rice stand covered for 10 minutes. Gently fluff the rice with a fork and serve immediately.

There are many ideas for using chard at Smitten Kitchen

Please share any additional ideas you might have.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Guest Post: CSA Member Perspective

Below is a guest blog post from Karen, one of our CSA members. When we began planning our Community Supported Agriculture program three years ago, Karen approached us at a farmers market and said "I hear you're starting a CSA." We responded that we were. "Yeah, I've already signed up," she stated. We were working (and continue to work) with the NOW BC Co-op to plan the delivery our CSA boxes. As a NOW BC member, Karen had already caught wind of what was coming down the pipe. She signed up before we even had a chance to reconsider doing the CSA!

I asked Karen to share her thoughts on why she joined our CSA and why she likes the CSA concept. Here is what she said:

I love my CSA, and the overall concept of community support agriculture. The idea that I can come between the banking system and a small family farmer appeals to me immensely, if only because the year-on-year unpredictability of a vocation like farming has caused a ruinous financial cycle for so many.

Let me be frank. I am never going to take up farming; I can barely seed my own garden on a regular basis. But as a consumer of food I believe it is up to me to put my money toward supporting growers who are making choices I can live with.

CSAs are a simple and direct way to source fresh local produce for my family. In short, I pay an agreed upon sum upfront in the spring for a summer/fall harvest, and receive a bin of fresh produce weekly -- whatever the farmers have grown that season. With the Glen Valley Organic Farm CSA, Chris is extremely communicative -- I blame it on his advanced Communications degrees -- and consultative about what he and Jeremy plan each year. I rarely give much in the way of suggestions or advice, though, because I love cooking whatever comes my way, and enjoying the challenges that some of the less common ingredients bring into my kitchen.

It is critical to me to feed my family affordable foods that have been taken from the earth with much care. I want the foods to be as chemical free as possible. I want the land to be fruitful for myself, my family and my community for generations to come. I want the people who plant, grow and harvest my foods to earn a living wage. These are my core values.

Do I have irrefutable proof that we must be careful stewards of the land? Actually, I don't. But it makes logical sense to me and even without scientific studies to quote I can say I have read enough to know that issues exist with careless or greedy farming. There always have been.

I truly like the idea of keeping the farmers away from the banks. When I pay upfront for a season of produce, I commit to supporting the farmers regardless of the crop yields. On average, the price of my CSA does not save me money when compared to what I would pay for it at the Farmer's Market. It is about the same. I can't lie. If the farm has a bumper year, I would expect to enjoy a bit more of the produce than during a regular year. But in the same spirit, I would gladly take a hit with my farmers if crops failed.

We are now entering into our third year with Glen Valley, and I can tell you that if my farmers need our support, financial or otherwise, I will do what I can to ensure they can continue to farm without incurring endless and compounding debts, year on year. That's how important I believe this connection is to my family, and that is how much I believe in the integrity of the farmers I have chosen.

I am deeply concerned about how much of our Canadian agricultural land is being swallowed up by urban development, and how much of the remaining is being purchased by other countries and national and multinational "farming" corporations. In the future, could Canada's farmland be turned into fiefdoms, if they haven't already? Will people work land owned by huge and extremely wealthy corporations rather than themselves? If they do, will they plant what they are told, fertilise and chemicalize to maximise profits and minimize inconvenience? If the serfs (I mean paid farmers) are lucky, they will have benevolent masters who listen to their expertise, and pay them a living wage. If not? ...

Of course, I don't know what these trends mean to us as citizens of Canada, and to our food system. So what keeps me working and agitating toward collective food security? I do not want to learn that our lands are irreversibly damaged, and our wildlife poisoned, because we allowed it to happen through careless consumer choices and a lack of political will.

I am aware that to some Canadians with different philosophies, this stand makes me look over-reactive. But that's okay. After all, I would rather to look foolish now, rather than be poor and hungry in the future. This is a cycle I believe we can avoid.

My kids love to see the blog, to visit the farm children and those of other CSA members. They are fascinated by the chickens and goats, and thrilled to pick berries and run in the fields. And of course, we all love to eat the fresh foods you put on our table. The connection, the conversation, the opportunity to be involved, makes eating the foods that arrive each week nutritious not only to our bodies, but to our hearts and souls as well.