Farm, Hendrick House, Journal

Farm Season 2015 In Conclusion….

That’s all folks!! The farm season of 2015 has officially come to a close. I step back into the kitchen tomorrow. I’ve been thinking of the best way to sum up all that happened this year. “It was the best of times, It was the worst of times” – too serious! “Party on dudes” – not serious enough. “It was the time of my life” – cheesy. “Closing time, every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end” – perfect. Instead of writing on and on about what happened this year (you should already know if you have been reading the blog like you’re supposed to) I wanted to close with a slideshow of my favorite moments from 2015. Enjoy! MAKE SURE YOU CLICK PLAY TO START THE SONG FOR THE SLIDESHOW (If you are reading this at work on the sly TURN THE VOLUME DOWN so you don’t get busted.)

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I have had a lot of help over the years and this year was no different. To all my “farm hero’s” ……… I would like to give a special thank you to the Hendrick family and Sue Dawson who not only support me financially but in vision and goals as well. Thank you to the talented chefs who take all the produce grown. Big thanks to Sarah for all of your support and hard work this year. Thank you Terrin, my one steady volunteer. Thank you to my U of I family Rick Weinzierl, Mary Hosier, Jeff Kindhart, Kenny Ehler, Bryan Warsaw, Matt Turino and Chris. You changed my life with knowledge and friendship. Finally a big thank you to my dear friends Jeremy, Michael, Billy and the Kinkelaar family. It’s always a long six months until we are reunited. The laughs are contagious and it’s rare that you wake up every day looking forward to work but that is how I felt seeing you guys every day. From the bottom of my heart thank you for everything!

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“Like drilling through an asteroid”

Chiseled off a chunk of ground

Chiseled off a chunk of ground

I tried pulling plastic last week. And when I say “tried” I mean I felt like I was trying to drill a hole through an asteroid with Bruce Willis. We are 3″ below the average rainfall for the month of October. Ordinarily I would use the electric tractor from the student farm to lift the edges of the plastic, which saves a lot of labor on your back. Once the edges are exposed then you simply pull the plastic and drip down the length of the bed. Being that the ground was a concrete block, the tiny motor on the electric tractor burned out trying dig through the ground. OK, shovel time!!! I was at the north end of the bed ready to throw my entire body weight on the top of the shovel to get it in the ground and just as I leapt from the ground, smashing into the 1″ diameter of the head of the shovel, it ricocheted of the top of the ground and soon I was laying flat on my back. Yes, digging was not going to be an option. I regrouped, looking around to make sure no one saw me then tried again. The shovel didn’t even make it one inch into the ground. I ended up asking a farmer to come help me with a shovel implement. This was the hardest time I have ever had during clean up. I am hoping when the farmers go to chisel the field there isn’t a bunch of garbage buried beneath the earth’s crust!

Parsnips

Parsnips

IMG_1495The only thing left in the field after harvesting the last bed of parsnips, broccoli and kale. After waiting what seemed like FOR-EV-R for the parsnips to be ready, I finally dug them out yesterday. I was disappointed with how they turned out. I had high hopes for these because they are one of my favorite vegetables. Unfortunately, they turned out similar to the carrots in that they were quite spindly. This could not have been caused by weeds because the bed was completely weed free. By the time they were in the ground everything slowed down including weed growth (one of my favorite times of the year) :). I’ve thought about this and I’m pretty sure that because they were grown in cells their root systems became twisted before they could be planted in the field. That plus slow to non existent germination I am not sure that I will try this crop again.

Tractors!!!

Tractors!!!

I mowed down the broccoli patch yesterday after harvesting almost 40 lbs of beautifully sour smelling florets. (Sour in a good cabbagey way). Every time I am on a tractor with a bucket I can’t help but sing “I need a hero. I’m holding out for a hero til’ the end of the night. He’s gotta be strong and he’s gotta be fast and he’s gotta be fresh from the fight”. Anyway, luckily there are no other tractors in sight so I don’t also have to fight the urge to play chicken. I got off on a Footloose tangent…… back to broccoli… I mowed down the beds which made it easier to pull up the landscape fabric. The date has been set to go back into the kitchen and next week will be my final farm blog post. I might try to hijack the blog back to show you the other side of the the spectrum. What happens when the food is harvested and goes into the kitchen?

Beautiful Broccoli

Beautiful Broccoli

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Farm, Hendrick House, Journal

The First Frost of the Year!

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This pretty much sums up the weather the last week. It has been freeeeeeeezing in the mornings and warming up in the afternoons to the mid 70s. By the time the day is finished there is a pile of clothes laying in the passenger seat of my car from all the layers I had to strip off.

My one nasturtium flower of the year murdered by the freeze

My one nasturtium flower of the year murdered by the freeze

bye bye peppers :(

bye bye peppers 😦

We had our first frost over the weekend. I was petrified to look at the farm afterwards because I still have lettuce, kale, chard, herbs, broccoli, green onion, green beans and peppers in the ground. As I slowly pulled up to the plot to survey the damage I saw the death and destruction. It totaled the peppers and green beans. The peppers were almost finished but I was really hoping to get another harvest of the beans this week. Mother nature put a kibosh on that. Thankfully the rest of the crops were untouched and I had a great harvest of romaine yesterday. I am hoping to get the rest out of the ground by the end of the week.

I got all the tomatoes unclipped and pulled from the plastic (over 2,000 plants). Yowza, my back hurt! I am really looking forward to the day someone develops biodegradable tomato clips. I am going to remember the tedious removal next year so that I am careful to only put clips on where they are ABSOLUTELY needed. The trellising came down yesterday and it now looks like a sad barren brown spot ready for winter. I will be pulling plastic and drip on the rest of the tomato bed, peppers and green beans, which will be the rest of the plastic on the farm. I have been slowly breaking down the farm as I go so this is pretty huge that this will be one whole 1/2 acre finished. Its all downhill from here!

No more tomatoes :(

No more tomatoes 😦

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Farm, Hendrick House

Farm to Table Dinner

Fall

My friend Dale’s fall Maple

People keep asking me if the farm is over. My answer is NO NO NO NO NO! ….. and then I show them the picture below which was this morning’s delivery. I still have an acre of produce in the ground people! This is the downward slide but definitely not the end!!!

HH farm delivery this morning 10/13/2015

HH farm delivery this morning 10/13/2015

We had our first HH farm to table dinner at Kappa Delta sorority last Wednesday. It accomplished all the goals we anticipated. It was amazing exposure and marketing for the farm, it solidified relationships between the clients and the chef (Andy Mullins) and it showed the range of product that can be offered with Hendrick House food service. On a personal note, I love being able to harvest product that morning and cooking with it in the afternoon. The smells and flavors are completely consuming. There is so much more care that is taken with product when you have a stake in it are the one who picked the variety, planted it, cared for it, fed it, watered it and harvested it. The chefs can say the same thing and take ownership in the fact that they ultimately decide what is grown. If even a portion of that feeling ( the appreciation for food grown less than a mile away with complete control of flavors) can be conveyed to the clients through their chefs then to me this farm project can be deemed successful.

Farm to table Dinner Kappa Delta

Farm to table Dinner Kappa Delta

The air of excitement throughout the house was magnetic, from the kitchen to the dining room. I was even able to get members of AKL fraternity to come and help serve, which created double exposure for all of the positive attributes associated with this event, listed above.

Table Center pieces

Table Center pieces

The tables were dressed in white linens with crisp white linen napkins. The table decorations were all from the farm, cut flowers donated by the U of I Student Sustainable Farm and blue corn with husks donated from the U of I from my good friend Jeremy Shafer. We poured sparkling grape juice in place of champagne and had carafes of ice water placed at each table.

1st course Soup!

Spring Onions before they were turned into soup

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Spring Onion Vicyssoise

The first course was a vichyssoise made from the beautiful spring onions from the farm. It was paired with apples given to me by my friend Rick Weinzierl which were turned into apple cream and apple crisps by Andy. We also used fresh horseradish given to me by my friends Bill and Dale who work with the U of I Aboretum.

Red Beets before they were salt roasted

Red Beets before they were salt roasted

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The second course was a spinach salad made with beautiful big red beets (from the farm) and Prairie Fruits Farm chèvre.

HH farm kale before it was cooked

HH farm kale before it was cooked

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We served pork tenderloin for the entree with HH farm kale and HH green bean braise.

Apple and white cheddar Turnovers

Apple and white cheddar Turnovers

Equipment Mistake

Equipment Mistake

The dessert was apple and white cheddar turnovers and caramel. The apples came from Rick and the cream that went in to the caramel sauce was from Kilgus Farmstead (up near Fairbury, Illinois). I do have to add that it is very important when coming up with a menu to think about the equipment that will be available to you when cooking and executing the dinner. I didn’t realize Andy didn’t have a fryer in his kitchen so it was pretty comical attempting to fry over 100 turnovers in my little fry daddy.

I have to give a special thanks to Andy Mullins for partnering with me for the day and lending me his kitchen helping to market the farm. Thank you also to the girls of Kappa Delta for letting us do this dinner for you and also for taking pictures. Big thanks to the boys at AKL for always supporting me and the farm and showing up to be wonderful, diligent servers. I definitely look forward to doing more of these events in the future!

Success!

Success!

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Summary of 2014

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We managed to get all the peppers pulled last Tuesday thanks to my  amazing assistant, Gauthier, for helping me. Zack, farmer for the Student Farm, lifted my plastic and we pulled it up Friday afternoon thus completing the final tear down for the 2014 growing season. I want to give a shout out to one of the AKL’s, Mario, for volunteering his time and helping me remove the last remnants of plastic and drip tape. With the powers combined (Gaunthier, Zack and Mario) it made for a quick and simple finale and I am so grateful for their help.

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1/2 acre does not seem to many like a lot of land, especially when you are surrounded by 1,000 + acres of conventional farms, but let me tell you that a lot can be done with a little ole 1/2 acre.  As a beginning farmer this is what I accomplished this year:

-Produced over 5,300 #s of produce that was redistributed back to Hendrick House

-Made over $10,000 in sales which also goes back into the company

-Touched nearly 3,000 students with fresh/ local produce grown less than a mile away

-Gained new clients and chefs who took interest in the program (which is the biggest success to me)

-The farm now sells and distributes to 4 large dorms and 10 fraternities and sororities

-I also found ways to distribute processed farm veg during the winter months so the farm continues to make money during the off season

-Doubled our sales from 2013 (we started charging competitive local pricing so I’m not sure this one counts 🙂 BUT I was able to pick up new chef’s although the prices increased from last year which makes it TOTALLY count!)

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Overall, despite the incredibly strange weather we had this year, it was a fairly successful growing season for us (when you look at the big picture). Although we didn’t make money due to labor, I have a better idea on how to cut costs and grow product that cuts down on labor with a high dollar selling price. I am getting better and better each year. After all, I’m still a beginning farmer 🙂

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None of this would be possible without the shared dream, vision and support of my boss Sue Dawson and Hendrick family. I am so grateful to them for allowing me the time to learn and produce for their company. This project is so personal for me and I am excited to be a part of it with the end goal of a sustainable vegetable farm which provides fresh produce helping to change the perceived image of institutionalized food.

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This goal cannot be obtained without the complete support of the chef’s who work for Hendrick House. Bonnie, an amazing chef, was my biggest supporter and also shares the vision of bringing farm to table to campus, taking all excess and changing her menus last minute to accommodate. Antonio PIKE was the person I could count on to take all seconds and process them down himself (which takes time away from an already busy day). Not only would he take them but I would receive a picture hours later of a fabulous dish he created from them. Jason (Armory), Rich (Presby), Casey (AGD), Nick (AoPi), Christie (GPB), David (KKG) and Ryan and Heath (Newman)  your support was greatly appreciated and this project would not work without you!!

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IMG_1666Big thanks to AKL with whom I will forever be indebted. You guys volunteered your time on several occasions and are the “proof in the pudding” so to speak that it is possible for a young group of fraternity boys to like/ love fresh vegetables. Thank you for being gracious and taking chances, trusting me and being my guinea pigs for eating food you may not be familiar with. You boys have set the standard throughout the company that this project can work! Going into my 4th year as being your chef, you don’t realize it but you have gradually raised the bar on quality and freshness of food which was the plan all along!

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I would like to give a special thanks to Kevin at Phi Delta Theta. Vegetable growing is back breaking physically demanding work and it takes special people to want to do it. Not only did you help me again all summer but you did it with a smile on your face the entire time. Thank you for all of your help and being such a great friend. Thank you for taking produce (even when you knew you didn’t want to) because you have a vested interest in the farm. Thank you for taking a chance with me and this project!

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IMG_1720Lastly, I would like to thank all of my U of I and farmer friends. Rick Weinzierl donates so much of his time to this program and it is so fantastic. I consider myself so lucky to have been a part of it and I have learned and continue to learn so much valuable information. Thanks to Mary Hosier for all of her continued support from the farm to the table :). Thank you to Zack Grant and Matt Turino at the Student Sustainable Farm. Zack, thank you for all the work you do preparing and helping the Beginning Farmers. Matt, thank you for all of your advice and forever greeting me with a gracious smile and warm hello. Jeff Kindhart, my messiah of conventional farming…. you always make me laugh and you and Julie have become such great friends. Your knowledge astounds me and I can’t thank you guys enough for all of your support and donated time to help me succeed. Michael Douglas, thank you for being such a great friend and sharing your successes and failures with me. Kenny and Bryan love you guys!! A great big thank you goes out to Jeremy Shafer as well. Jeremy has been an amazing support system and great friend. He has provided me and this project with everything from manual labor to advice to knowledge. I can’t thank you enough. (Thanks Billy for the laughs and for giving me someone to honk at every time I drive by 🙂 )

I couldn’t think of a better way to end this season by saying WE GOT LAND!!!! See you in 2015!! 🙂

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Pedaling the Pepperoncinis

Pepperoncinis!!

Pepperoncinis!!

Kale Yeah!

Kale Yeah!

I had a break from the events at the fraternity so I got to spend a glorious Sunday at our little plot, feeling completely rejuvenated and re inspired. It was a beautiful day and I am always amazed at the small

Rainbow Chard

Rainbow Chard

changes that occur between my weekly appearances. The kale and chard are magnificent and the flowers (nasturtium, calendulas and sorrel) have come back in full swing since the semi heat of the summer and are reproducing beautiful product.

 


Calendula

Calendula


Peppers

Peppers

I spent most of the day harvesting green beans and peppers. I got about 40#s of beans and ripped the plants as I harvested because I did not expect to get much more or a better product as we are quickly approaching the first frost date. The peppers are starting to become less and less but I received a nice harvest getting plenty of Carmens, a couple green bells and lunchbox for the week for AKL. I will be so sad when they end. I am obsessed with stews and soups right now and the lunchbox peppers and chard are primo ingredients making a hearty yet slightly sweet, incredibly tasty dish. I am putting them in EVERYTHING!

Green Beans

Green Beans

Hail to the Golden Greek!! I have to say that I am very impressed with the Golden Greek variety of peppers I grew this year. I admit I did not do all of my research when picking this variety. I really wanted to grow a banana pepper type so that I could pickle them and redistribute them through the company during the winter months. I could not find a banana pepper I wanted to grow and when choosing this variety I thought it would be the next best thing since the company uses a lot of pepperoncinis. What I didn’t know is that the Golden Greek is a hot pepper. Had I been patient in the beginning and let them sit on the plant a little longer I would have found that they turn from a vibrant green to a beautiful deep orange and eventually (in rare cases before they rot) a robust red. I had a lot of complaints that the pepperoncinis were too spicy for the clients so I started waiting until the peppers were orange and then I turned them into hot sauce. This was amazing because hot sauce is in huge demand with the clients. I tested it on AKL first and it was a success. I have now been distributing Hendrick House homemade hot sauce, which was pictured in a previous blog post. Although it ended up working to my favor…. lessoned learned. Know what you are growing. Duh! 🙂

Sorry Pepper! No Packer Fans allowed in this plot!!

Golden Greek. Sorry Pepper! No Packer Fans allowed in this plot!!

Spinach is such a resilient crop and no matter how many times I have mowed over it it seems to be more glorious than ever. I plan to make a big harvest this week.

Spinach

Spinach

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The little peppers that could…

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Roasting Carmens

Flowering Carmens

Flowering Carmens

Amazingly enough I am still getting peppers, despite the cooler temperatures at night. The plants IMG_1999are still producing flowers but the quantity has greatly diminished. I am getting roughly 20# of carmens , 10# of lunchbox and 15# of hot peppers to turn into hot sauce a week.

Roasted Carmen Peppers and Yukon gold potato salad with Spinach and Chard from the farm in a yogurt fresh herb dressing

Roasted Carmen Peppers and Yukon gold potato salad with Spinach and Chard from the farm in a yogurt fresh herb dressing paired with Herb and Havarti stuffed and smoked Pork loin. I LOVE when the vegetable is the feature 🙂

The hot sauce was a hit and is hitting shelves in a couple months. LOL, just kidding. BUT… I did have several requests to purchase pints so the out of house AKL boys could stock their refrigerators.  Another business venture?? Hmmmm 🙂

Hendrick House Hot Sauce

Hendrick House Hot Sauce (ignore the “smoked tobacco label)

I harvested some really pretty chard along with the peppers and approximately 5# of green beans. Some of the green beans were over ripe (from when I had all those weekend special events) and some were very very small. I am hoping to get some quantity (and quality) when I harvest this week.

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Unfortunately, like last year, this season is coming to an end for me. I would love to have the time and resources to do many fall plantings but I am only one person and I can not do it all, especially with all the special events eating up my free time on weekends. I am hoping in the future I can dedicate most of my time to Hendrick House’s farm, while being close enough to the kitchen to help process and develop recipe ideas.  I have started looking at the numbers for this year and although I produced almost double the dollar amount of produce on the same size of land, I still have a lot of work to do towards making this a profitable project, which is one of the goals. As each year passes, I am getting better and better about planning around my tools to save labor and growing varieties that I think will be successful so that they will be appealing to the other chefs at a good price.

Gauthier's first jack o lantern

Gauthier’s first jack o lantern

I was given some beautiful pumpkins last week from my friend Jeremy. My assistant, Gauthier carved his first pumpkin today for the boys at Alpha Kappa Lambda. It turned out beautiful/ scary. 🙂

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