Farm, Journal, Update

“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, Journal, Update

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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Farm, Journal, Update

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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Farm, Journal, Update

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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Short but Sweet (Lunchbox pepper sweet)

Lunchbox Pepper, Cherry tomato, Carmen pepper and Corn Salsa with Cilantro and Lime

Lunchbox Pepper, Cherry tomato, Carmen pepper and Corn Salsa with Cilantro and Lime

I am back in the kitchen full time as of last week in order to prepare for a series of alumni events this past weekend. Unfortunately, that meant I did not get to spend very much time out in the field. I did, however, make a big harvest at the beginning of last week so that I would get to play with some of my produce. I pretty much put lunchbox peppers in every single sauce I made…. aioli, chili, yogurt/ honey sauce, tzatziki, relish, salsa etc. It is such a versatile vegetable and goes well with almost everything. It was a great producer this year and I will be growing them again next year.

Processing farm veg

Processing farm veg

Pickled banana peppers

Pickled banana peppers

I have started processing some things now that I have a place to do so. I have pickled some banana peppers, dilly beans and made homemade hot sauce from the golden greeks. It was finally ready

Dilly beans

Dilly beans

today and was sooooo delicious.

 

 

Homemade Hot Sauce from Golden Greeks

Homemade Hot Sauce from Golden Greeks

Double duty has started for the fall now that I am in the kitchen full time, so its is early mornings and weekend harvests. It is wonderful to say “I just picked those this morning” :). I still have green beans, spinach, chard, sorrel and nasturtiums that are ready and waiting.

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Farm, Journal, Update

It’s the final countdown

Final Harvest

Final Harvest

It’s the final countdown, ba da da daaaaah, ba da dat da dah….. I have given my date to be back in the kitchen and it is quickly approaching. Although it is slightly warmer this week I just can’t wait any longer for the tomatoes to turn. I made my final harvest of the season today, picking all red and green tomatoes. The peppers are starting to slow down as well and because of  the cold temperatures at night, I am not sure if the green beans will take off or not. I did see some flowers on them today but they may be shocked/ stunted due to the cool nighttime temperatures. I am going to leave the peppers and green beans in the ground for a couple more weeks, mainly because I would like to be able to use some of the produce when I get back in the kitchen.

Kevin's hot sauce for Phi Delta Theta

Kevin’s hot sauce for Phi Delta Theta

Coq au vin for Phi Delta Theta

Coq au vin for Phi Delta Theta

Kevin, who is back at Phi Delta Theta cooking, has been taking a lot of the weekly produce and turning it in to some amazing things. I have seen first hand if you plant the seed, nurturer it, harvest it and then prepare the food then you take extra care of the ingredients when cooking them because you know how much work went into growing it. Kevin has his house invested in the farm because he is able to describe to them exactly what they are eating and has the back story on how that vegetable came to be on their plates, from start to finish. It is really

Pickled Golden Greeks for Phi Delta Theta

Pickled Golden Greeks for Phi Delta Theta

fun receiving pictures of what he has made. He has processed the Golden Greeks into pepperoncinis and also made homemade hot sauce out of the Red Flames. I gave him most of the “trial” Yukon Golds and he paired it with a wonderful coq au vin. So much fun to see the transition from farm to kitchen. It makes me excited to get back into my kitchen soon.

Antonio's fried green tomatoes with fire roasted carmen pepper aioli and head romaine quick salad for PIKEs

Antonio’s fried green tomatoes with fire roasted carmen pepper aioli and head romaine quick salad for PIKEs

Antonio, the chef at PIKE, has also done some amazing things. He, like Bonnie at Hendrick House, takes all of my seconds so that he can process them down into sauces, soups, etc. That was the idea for their use and he has really taken it upon himself to spend the extra time doing this until a processing kitchen is established. Antonio sent me a picture of a mouth watering dish he made using not only green tomatoes but also Carmens and head Romaine. Having lived in the south for so long, I have a soft spot in my heart for fried green tomatoes :).

Definitely over worked for a volunteer! Jon Adler

Definitely over worked for a volunteer! Jon Adler

I had a volunteer today named Jon Adler. I spoke about him once before but every time he is in town he comes and spends a full day at the farm with me. Jon is an alumni and former president of the fraternity Alpha Kappa Lambda, which is where I cook during the winter and spring. He helped me harvest and package all of the produce to be delivered tomorrow morning and then he helped me rip out all of the remaining tomato plants. It is sad seeing the tomato plants go but it was really fun having a friend to hang out with all day. I forget how much I miss Kevin keeping me company and making fun of my singing.

Bye Bye Tomatoes

Bye Bye Tomatoes

Now that the tomatoes are gone I will be spending the rest of the week dismantling as many physically demanding things as I can before going back into the kitchen which means the trellising, plastic and drip tape.

TJ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

TJ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

TJ even came out in his new ride and hung out for the final harvest. It was a really fun day.

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Farm, Journal, Update

Fall is here?

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The sweet smell of summer and sunshine has been replaced with grey skies and crisp earthy smells of fall. Fall used to be my favorite time of year with changing colors of the leaves, dusty harvests, visits to the pumpkin patch, fresh cider and bon fires. This year I am sad seeing the tomatoes and peppers coming to an end. This was an incredibly short summer and it makes me nervous not having a set spot for the coming year, especially now that the first two “practice” years are almost over.

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IMG_1852The name of the game this past weekend was Head Romaine. Kevin and I harvested nearly 150 lbs yesterday and it was sold and delivered this morning. I am anxiously waiting to hear feedback from the chefs. The Romaine plus the peppers and small order of chard (thanks Casey 🙂 ) was one of the largest deliveries of the season. It was amazing to empty a full walk in this morning, distributing each product to its new home.

The chefs have been creating some beautiful dishes:

AOPI

AOPI

Nick from AOPI did a Chicken Nicoise dish with an Anchovy-herbed compound butter buerre blanc, using the farm’s yukon gold potatoes and red ribbon sorrel

Hendrick House

Hendrick House

Bonnie (chef of Hendrick House) did a Paprikash catfish with sautéed carmen peppers (from the farm) and onions with cheesy grits and corn on the cob

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PIKE

Antonio from PIKE did a beef and cheese stuffed carmen pepper with the last of my ripe tomatoes, which he turned into a coulis

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Hot, Hotter, Hottest Golden Greek

Hot, Hotter, Hottest
Golden Greek

Despite this cold weather, I am still getting beautiful harvests of peppers though it is slowing down. This past weekend was the first Sunday that we did not harvest tomatoes. There are a lot of tomatoes hanging on the plants but it is just too cool for them to ripen. We are predicted to have 80 degree temperatures this weekend so I am hoping that is just enough heat to push them to have one more nice harvest. I have been prepping the chefs to get ready for a large green tomato harvest. Many of them, with Bonnie’s lead, have been changing their menus and coming up with a lot of great ideas to help me move them. I hope the students like green tomatoes. 🙂

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Stupid Spot

Stupid Spot

Bacterial Spot is back again. Nothing new.

 

 

 

 

I am starting to disassemble the farm slowly. The drip tape will be pulled up in the next couple days (as soon as I can kick this inconvenient cold/flu) and the south 1/2 of the land will be ready to disc. I am also preparing to take down pepper and tomato trellising as soon as the green tomatoes are harvested next week.

 

 

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