Category: Local Food (page 1 of 4)

All about local food finding in the Twin Cities

Garden Dreams ⇒ Garden Goals

I know you’ve felt it too, even though its still cold- the days are longer, the sun is stronger and the birds have started singing again! Time to dig in and start turning our garden dreams into garden goals. Now is the time to ensure those mouth watering harvests!

There are as many goals for a garden as there are gardeners. There are also as many ways to plan a garden as there are gardeners.

Think about what you want from a garden and go from there.

Peppers, Tomatoes, Beans and Pak Choi

  • Fresh herbs- most herbs do well in containers
  • Salsa garden- that will take some space and extra happy soil
  • Root crops-  to grow and store through the winter a cold frame might be worthwhile
  • Child’s Learning Garden- a raised bed will help in keeping little feet off seeds
  • Space to Relax– Seating and scents, gain privacy with vertical gardening structures

And those of us that like to spend a majority of our Summer’s free time in the garden; honestly assessing what worked and didn’t work from last year’s efforts will go a long way to make this season even better.

Goals for my garden this year include:
Learning how to play more with Mother Nature ~ Grow first successful celery and cauliflower crops ~  Harvest + Preserve healthy food.

Plan to Enjoy

I grew more food than I knew what to do with that year, with this simple plan.

Garden Plans can be as simple as you want them to be.  Back in 2014  I  filled a 30′ x 80′ garden plot with so much food we ate mostly homegrown that year! And as you can see, it wasn’t much of a technical plan. Disclaimer *This was a newly tilled space on great soil.

Whatever the garden, turning your ideas into reality starts with a plan. Be honest about how much you want to put into your garden. While there are tons of shortcuts and time-saving tips, but in general the bigger the garden, the more time it requires to be productive.

One of my goals with Forks in the Dirt is to inspire people to make small changes that add up over time. On that note, dreaming big and starting small is smart if gardening is new to you. I pinky swear to keep you up to date with all the best Farmers Markets and CSA’s if you’d rather support our local growers than grow your own!

Here are a few Ground Rules and terms that get tossed around the garden:

Crop Rotation

Crop Rotation is the most important habit to get into for organic gardeners. This practice of moving plants to different locations each year will help keep bugs and soil born issues at bay. There are two main ways of rotating; by family or by nutrient demands. This can get very involved; for more information here’s a great Old Farmer’s Almanac article and video. I use Niki Jabbour’s rotation by nutrient demand which is roughly roots (carrots, beets) -> beans/peas -> Fruiting (tomatoes, squash) and potatoes -> leafy greens and the brassica family.

Companion Planting

“Jewel” Nasturtium

This practice uses the fact that every plant has its own growing habits, and finds ways to use those differences to grow more and better crops. This could mean planting deep root plants next to shallow roots, or a plant that repels pests or attracts beneficial insects next to a vulnerable neighbor. This is about creating one big happy neighborhood. Rodale’s Organic covers it in depth HERE. I started by adding nasturtium and calendula flowers to entice more pollinators and beneficial bugs.

Succession Planting

My Garden boy helping plant greens after the midsummer harvests

This mean getting rid of the plants that are done producing so you can plant new crops to keep producing. Certain crops mature more quickly than others; the fast-growing ones (radishes, greens, peas are typical) can be removed after harvest and then that same space can be replanted with a variety of fall loving vegetables (kale, root crops, greens). Our own University of MN does a bang up job as usual giving practical info on their WEBSITE.  The plants that did best for me in last season’s second planting (early July) were Pak Choi, Arugula, Kale and Broccoli.

Nothing like bright green turnip tops in the Fall garden

Basic Garden Planning Steps

  1. Make a list of all the plants you want to grow in your vegetable garden.
  2. Draw an outline of your garden on a piece of paper, include fences + fixed garden beds.
  3. Draw  where you want to plant crops and where the paths will be.
  4. Revise! Once on paper you’ll be able to better ‘see’ the garden in August.
  5. Keep in mind crop rotation practices.
  6. Add in companion planting ideas.
  7. Add in succession planting ideas.

I used some form of this process through many years of garden planning and it served me well. My plants may not have all been in the perfect spot, but they had all the compost they could dream of. Or if I forgot to follow best practices for crop rotation, I had grown select flowers to entice in enough beneficial bugs to balance it all out. Gardens are our wonderfully imperfect attempts at working with Mother Nature, and remember- Mother Nature WANTS to grow!

“Anyone who thinks gardening begins in the Spring and ends in the Fall is missing the best part of the year… for gardening begins in January, with the DREAM.
― 
Josephine Nuese

This year we are going to attempt more in our yard’s gardens than ever before, and I can hardly wait!

Last Fall after the new beds were layered with compost, leaves and soil.

There’s nothing like the clean slate of a new garden bed, and I have FOUR new 4’x8′ raised beds! Last Fall we more than doubled our vegetable growing space.  And yes, I went overboard with my seed order despite my best efforts. But there is something magical about this time of year, with dreaming in full swing and the whole growing season ahead of us!

But, I felt a little overwhelmed trying to figure out my much larger garden plans using the same techniques that have served me well in the past.

An earlier version of most of my back veggie patch.

Because of my doubled space and previous years of growing in the same beds this Winter I’m diving into something that I *think* will help me keep my sanity and increase harvests; I subscribed to an online graphic garden planner. There are a few versions out there. Please don’t waste your time with any of the free versions, better to draw your own than get frustrated with those. After looking around, I chose the GrowVeg.com version, it has A LOT of really specific settings that overwhelmed me until I remembered: that I didn’t have to use them all, along with that “Mother Nature Want to Grow” quote from above. It does not have an app that works on my android phone, iPhones are OK.

With the GrowVeg online planner, you start by adding your exact location, and you can switch from ‘Square Foot Gardening’ to ‘row planting’, put in dates for succession planting – and, this was what made it worth the annual fee for me: Crop Rotation assistance! It does this by keeping track of what you planted where so when you plan next year’s garden it alerts you so you can avoid planting a vegetable in a place where the soil needs amending before it can best grow that plant. It also shows a list of best companion plants. It even generates a master plant list for purchasing. Genius!

It’s pretty intuitive, and totally worth checking out- PLUS they give you a FREE one-week trial, and you can print your plan to plant off without paying anything. Click on the Garden Planner link in the top navigation bar HERE.

Planting nectar + pollen sources makes everything happier!

SO Fun, and SO addicting! And, no, I’m not getting anything in return for mentioning them- I just wanted to share! Let me know what you think if you find time to play with the online planner! 

The best part of planning your garden early is being able to start your own seeds; we’ll cover starting seeds indoors with the next blog post.

I’d love to hear your tricks to help plan great gardens, or what you still have questions about for future blog post ideas 🙂

Looking forward to digging in the DIRT!

Michelle

 

 

The Good Acre: Full Circle Food Hub

The Good Acre (TGA) provides Full Circle Local Food System Support. From soil to your table, TGA is there implementing the organization’s mission:

“We connect and strengthen farmers, food makers, and communities through good food.”

This is the place you can learn how to make kimchi, pick up a farm share with locally made add-ons, attend a beginning farmers conference, volunteer in a hoop house or find your child’s school lunch staff kicking up their culinary skills. Full circle!

There is also a contagious positivity running through those artfully slanted walls that makes it all gel.

I stumbled upon this powerhouse operation online while looking up local CSA’s. Turns out Community Supported Agriculture is the perfect term for part of what happens here, but The Good Acre goes way beyond the traditional CSA.

What is a Food Hub Anyway?

Farm Share Packing Day

food hub, as defined by the USDA, is “a centrally located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products.”

The thing that the USDA missed in its definition is the community that takes root around an initiative like this. There are farmers who would not be making it if it weren’t for TGA. In 2016 around 65,000 pounds of food moved through the facility. That’s 65,000 pounds of food that traveled significantly less than the average 1,500 miles. Hello lowered carbon footprint.

Food Hubs like TGA aren’t prolific, and that may be in part because for now, they rarely turn a profit. They are often funded in part by donations, grants and in the case of TGA- significant support from the Pohlad Family Foundation.

There’s so much shaking at TGA on any given day, that’s it’s easy to overlook one of the ways they bring good food to the community. So, let’s break down how they put the mission into action.

Cala Farms

Farmers:
The Good Acre has a dedicated staff member to do farm visits and help with things from building soil fertility to crop planning for the items TGA has contracted to buy.  Staying up to date on the latest farm safety protocol and working with wholesalers on behalf of the farmers they partner with is another piece of the pie. Another thing that shows TGA’s support to making lasting change in the local food system is:

Grower Support Specialist, David VanEeckhout
“He’s been an organic farmer for over 20 years and helps our farmers implement sustainable and organic practices on their farm that will help them with pest management, soil fertility, and more.”

Photo credit: The Good Acre

They also tend three hoop houses of varying sizes and strengths as testing grounds for farmers interested in growing some seasonally-extended crops. They are used for instructional purposes, and supply berries, ginger, peppers and tomatoes to local food makers such as Chow Girls and You Betcha Kimchi.

Galen and crew brewing Kimchi

Storage:
They have both dry storage, cooler and freezer storage spaces available for rent. This type of space is hard to come by,  which Galen Kanazawa, of Fierce Ferments,can attest to that, “The Good acre offered us affordable and convenient storage space. Being able to make as much as we need to with no space limitations enabled us to scale up to a warehouse distribution level of business. Additionally, they helped us gain a higher profile by getting our name out there in front of some bigger accounts that we otherwise likely wouldn’t have noticed us.”

Photo credit: The Good Acre

Farm Share:
The new TGA CSA, Power in numbers. Simply pooling farmers produce and offering it up in a carefully curated box each week is another way TGA connects local community with the local good food. Because they work with a variety of ‘often’ organic farms you can expect to see up to 70 varieties of produce over the course of the season this year! Because of their close relationships with many local makers (like produce from their farmers, then made in their kitchens) they are able to offer some great “add-ons” to their farm share as well- like fresh eggs, bread, kombucha, kimchi and the like. More info HERE.

Sound like the perfect option for you? Sign up for their 18 week Farm Share HERE!

Wholesale:
TGA works with wholesale accounts in hopes the good food coming through their doors is spread wide and far. They work with a handful of local wholesalers, and increasingly, schools and hospitals, YAY! *we still have a long way to go on bringing this into the mainstream*

White Bear Lake Schools kitchen staff perfecting their roasting skills. Photo credit: The Good Acre

This hit close to home when I realized TGA had directly effected my kid’s lunchroom. Turns out TGA worked with our local White Bear Lake school district’s kitchen staff on how to cook with the local produce they are procuring through their wholesale program. “The Good Acre currently works with over a dozen area school districts, all of which have the opportunity to bring their Nutrition Service staff members in for training on scratch cooking techniques and development of healthy recipes scaled up for the lunch line and suited to kids tastes”, offers Nikki Warner, TGA marketing manager. A food hub that can offer locally grown produce and training on how to prepare it really is a win/win for our schools and our kids. This awesome service is funded by the USDA Farm to School Grant TGA was awarded in 2017. Keep it coming!

I’m jumping up on my soap box now:
This is such a great way to start that sea change in moving towards making local food systems sustainable. When we ask for healthier, local foods on our children’s lunch menus it has an effect that takes root. A child may be offered that food for a first time, or know the food and get others excited about it. Of course kids are always going to get excited for sweets, but they do get excited for brussel sprouts too- when they taste good. I love that TGA is there for the full circle from working with the farmers, the wholesalers and the kitchen staff to implement real change in the way our kids view food. I’m jumping back down now.

“We believe that the more that we can connect local makers to our network of growers, the more equitable, vibrant and resilient our local food system will be.”  The Good Acre website

Making Mushroom Jerky!

Commercial Kitchen: Rental
With Food safety laws as they stand, if you’re going to sell food in a store you need to make it in a commercial kitchen. Which is good for public health, but bad for start-up companies. Introducing the shared space commercial kitchen. These kind of ‘rentable’ kitchens are popping up in more places all over the country, there’s even a website, Food Corridor, that connects makers with kitchen space. These spaces give small companies, like ProCured Mushroom Jerky  a chance to break into the local wholesale and institutional markets. TGA currently rents this space out to 15 different makers every month. If you’re interested in adding your name to the growing list of renters- find more info HERE.

Commercial Kitchen: Classes

Ready to make my own yogurt thanks to Iman Mefleh of You Bethca Kimchi

I just took my first TGA class, a DIY yogurt class and I have to tell you the instructor made us all feel right at home in that stainless steel kitchen.  I’ve gone to some other cooking classes before and this felt more approachable and laid back- but with so many great tips and tricks thrown in there by Iman Mefleh of You Bethca Kimchi that is was worth every penny. Julia Cohen, the Culinary Support Specialist, is pumped about the wide variety of offerings in their kitchen, “We offer cooking classes truly ‘for the people’, our classes are approachable and our instructors are some of the best around.”

I was really impressed with how much information I walked away with for a very reasonable price. They offer tons of classes, on everything from Pho to kitchen skills ‘boot camp’. The best place to keep up with their class offerings is their TGA Facebook page. I can’t wait to go back and try something else new. If you become addicted to their classes, they have a Cooks Club membership that saves you money on multiple classes and gets you some awesome perks. For now, I’m excited I know what to do with the extra whey in my yogurt!

Maker to Market:
You guys, this program makes me so happy. It’s genius in its simplicity- and beautiful in its heart.  From the website:  “Lakewinds Food Co-op and The Good Acre have partnered under a shared purpose: bring new and diverse slow food products to the world as we strengthen our food community as a whole. We help independent food makers hit the ground running. We source ingredients from small, local, and disadvantaged farmers to cultivate our local food economy. And we give consumers amazing new choices at shelf. It’s a win-win-win.”

From Senoras de Salsa,to Caldo Foods sauces and spices, the results are delicious!

They are currently accepting applications for the 2nd Maker to Market! More info HERE.

mix and match fingerlings

Bringing  Food + Community Full Circle
This is one lean, mean food systems machine. Nestled into the east side of the Twin Cities Metro, and across the street from some U of MN test fields, TGA add such value to the food we eat, the farmers in our midst and the future of food systems.

Implementing the “Frost Mob” was another way I tried to get involved this past year. Interested in helping local farmers quickly gather crops threatened by unexpected frosts? Or maybe you’re interested in volunteering in another way? You can let their spunky marketing manager, Nikki Warner know by emailing her.

In so many ways they are doing the heavy lifting of laying a solid foundation. They’re working to make small farms viable thanks to the Pohlad Family Foundation, some large grants and individual donations. They hope to be self sufficient, and what will help that to happen is for us consumers to vote with our dollars. You’ve heard that before, but we can use our dollars not only to buy from local farmers via Farm Shares and  farmers markets,  but the larger food movers, the wholesale food side– like restaurants, school lunch programs, hospitals and other institutional wholesale opportunities.

Asking where your food comes from is a Good place to start.

I am a huge proponent of the Farmers Market and CSA (or TGA’s Farm Share) but thinking about making small farms secure far into the future we’ll need to do more than buy a few tomatoes from a few of them every week; we need to find a way for local to be necessary – not a luxury.

I can’t wait to Dig In to making my own yogurt. Thank you to The Good Acre for  doing Good Work!

Michelle

Seed Saving Starts Now!

Saving Seeds means Saving Life.

I know that sounds dramatic, but saving seeds is a big part of why humans hunkered down into communities and began our long march towards civilization (we’ve still got on our marching boots though, right!?). Variations of those seeds still sustain us today. 

Until a few generations ago, most people planted what they had saved from the last harvest. With a few additions now and then from neighbors or travelers.

But for me and many home gardeners, saving seeds had fallen off our radars. It is making a bit of a comeback and I am encouraging as many people as I can to jump on this bandwagon with me!

To start saving seeds please remember:
Not all seeds are suited for saving!

There’s a simple trick to buying the right seeds so you can save + grow again.

Grow Heirloom varieties, or open pollinated varieties.  Hybrid seeds will not produce the same vegetable that you took the seed from.

Garden Planning, my Favorite!

I love getting those seeds catalogs and will have larger than anticipated bills at a few seed companies once I finalize my orders, but I am proud to be able to skip over a few seed sections because I’ve saved my own seed stock from what I grew last year.

Saving seed is intuitive- if we stop to see the plants we nurture as part of Mother Nature. Everything has a cycle, and the whole reason tomatoes exists is to grow more tomatoes so they make it easy for us. Or as Michael Pollan suggests in a few books, like The Botany of Desire and TED talks, the plants have us working for them.

Back to the real world application of all of this-

We’re half way through one of the coldest Januaries on record across the northern US, so most of us are looking forward to those lazy days of summer even more than normal. Oh Summertime; being surrounded by lush green growth, the sounds of birds chirping and bees buzzing, smelling flowers, picking strawberries warmed by the sun… (the weeding, mosquitoes, heat and humidity have conveniently faded into the back of our memories.)

And this is the moment the seed catalogs begin storming in, right when they know we’re at our weakest, most desperate state. Well played seed companies, well played.

The colorful pages of these catalogs offer escape from the winter weather and promise sunny days filled with so much growth it overwhelms our senses, often including our common sense.

A sample of saved seeds from my garden. Picked, dried, stored and ready to plant.

As much as I still revel in these catalogs and all they promise I’m able to skip over a few sections now because I’ve been saving seeds of plants grown in last year’s garden.

There is something so empowering about growing your own food AND saving your own seeds so that you can grow more food again next season- without the help of anyone except Mother Nature.

The simple act of bringing in a seed connects you to a 10,000 year-old heritage of saving the best seeds to better the food we eat. It also makes sense to this frugal mama because you save cold hard cash on your next seed. With both reasons, you get to play with Mother Nature and see what happens.

Luckily for us (and our ancestors), the process is pretty intuitive with most seeds. You pick a seed and save it. But like all the things worth doing, seed saving is worth doing well.

And I’ve found just the local lady to help us ALL learn to do it well!

Pam talking with visitors at the WBL Winter Market.

I’d like to introduce Pam Larson Frink .

Pam started the White Bear Lake Seed Library in April of 2016 and has been gaining steam and seed stock ever since. She also holds a Masters in Environmental Education and a Horticultural degree, so she knows her stuff inside and out. For those of you that were able to attend the White Bear Lake Winter Farmers Market, Pam was there representing the seed library.

The Seed Library at the White Bear Lake Library.

She also thinks a lot like me, “I think saving seeds connects you to the food you eat. It’s so easy to buy produce at the grocery store that you don’t understand that it’s more than just food. It’s soil and insects pollinating the plant and clean water and sun to grow the plant. And if you don’t take care of the soil and the water and the insects you soon will not have food.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Easy Peasy

The following are all Pam’s suggestions to starting to save seeds. These produce seed the same season as planted and are mostly self-pollinating, minimizing the need to be mindful of preventing cross-pollination.

4th Generation of my Blue Lake Pole Beans!

Beans and Peas- Both of these are some of the most widely (and easiest) grown garden veggies. You can let them ripen and then dry on the vine. Wait until the pods are yellow or brown and dry to the touch. Then pick them and shell them if you want. I tend to leave my pole beans in their pods for easy sorting. And my kids are more likely to help me plant if they get to pop them out of their pods as we go 🙂

Lettuces- Let the lettuce ‘bolt’ or send up its main flower stalk and wait for the flowers to fall and seeds to form on the heads. Gently knock the seeds into a paper bag. You’ll want to go out a few days in a row to get all the seeds as they ripen but before they fall off.

Sweet/Bell Peppers Harvest when ripe, pull out seeds, careful not to break the seed coating and dry on a paper towel for a few days, store in a paper envelope once dry.

Tomatoes- Harvest when ripe, scoop seeds and pulp into a glass with water, let sit for couple days, seeds that float to the top aren’t viable and you can toss. The seeds that stay at the bottom are the best seeds. Strain, then dry on paper towels. Store in paper envelope once dry.

Pam also teaches classes on seed saving techniques that dive a little deeper than we’re getting into here.

Pam’s Next Local Seed Saving & Starting Events:

Seed Packing & Demo: Mon, January 29th from 4:30-8pm
@ the White Bear Lake library.

Class: Sat, March 3 @ the Maplewood Library, 10:30-11:30am

Class: Sat, March 3 @ the White Bear Lake Library, 1-2pm

 

I’d tried reading the highly regarded book, Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth, but felt overwhelmed by ALL THE INFO! Another book recommended that is on my library wait list is Seed Sowing And Saving by Carole Turner.  But, after talking with Pam, I feel like I’m more than ready to save a few more varieties this fall.

And here’s where the planning comes in!  It is easy to forget when you’re looking at all the glorious varieties in the seed catalogs that…

If you want to start saving seeds, you have to start with save-able seeds.

Look for seeds labeled ‘open pollinated seeds’. This also means NO HYBRIDS, often labeled as F1! These are NOT good options for seed saving. They will not ‘come true’ if the seeds are planted, they will often revert.

Reverting

Johnnys Potomac Custom Mix (F1) Snapdragon Seed, which I still order even though the colors will never stick, now I know why!

Pam had a perfect story from her early days of gardening that explains this “reverting”… She had grown a beautiful rainbow of colored snapdragon flowers. So she decided to save the seed to enjoy the color burst another season. Pam planted the next Spring, getting sturdy snapdragon plants. But every single flower bloomed pale yellow. This is nature saying nice try 😉 The seed of a hybridized plant most often does not “come true” and reverts to one of the gene pools it was hybridized from. In the case of the snapdragon seeds, this meant pale yellow.

Swinging Squash

Things get a bit more complicated with certain groups that cross pollinate; squash are the notorious for cross pollinating with each other. Some open pollinating plants will cross pollinate. Seed growers have tricks like growing inside greenhouses, growing miles apart or bagging seed heads to avoid cross pollination. I might try to bag a favorite zucchini after she’s pollinated this summer!

Before I understood that squash were ‘swingers’  I had already saved and dried a few butternut and acorn squash seeds. So, after talking it over with Pam, I’m going to do my own squash experiment, I might grow something delicious, or something horrible. Either way, I’ll be playing with Mother Nature which is a win for me!

The Seed Stacks

Seed Libraries are places where people can ‘check out’ seeds to grow on their own.  The hope is that you can save some seed and replenish the seed stock the following Fall/Winter. They’re usually housed inside public libraries, but also co-ops and community centers. Checking out the seeds are free, but some ask for  membership info or volunteer commitments.

Our WBL Seed Library asks for membership info, but as Pam quipped, “There are no seed Nazis around”.  Started in April of 2016, the WBL branch is serving the community well, going through over 1,000 seed packets in 2017!  They take both home saved and purchased seed. With a few necessary caveats.

Donating to the seed library? Please keep in mind:
Heirloom or open pollinated varieties only. If they are home saved seeds, a few choice vegetable varieties; Beans, Peas, Lettuce, Sweet Peppers and Tomatoes, and native flowers.

This year the White Bear Lake See Library is especially looking for some native pollinator plants like Milkweed, Liatrus/Blazing Star and Monarda /Bee Balm– but only the native non-hybridized varieties.

To save seeds of native flowering plants, wait until the flower forms a seed head, knock off seeds (or cut seed head) and bag.

I just went and ‘harvested some more bee balm and milk weed today, Jan 17th for the Seed Library once I knew they were low. Quite a few of the seeds had been knocked down by the wind or eaten by birds, but there were enough to make it worth my efforts.

So far, I’ve only ever saved enough seeds to use the following year, and keeping them in paper bags inside paper envelopes has worked well for me. But if you want to save for multiple years you’ll be better off storing in an airtight container- like a mason jar. Just make sure they are completely dry before you seal that jar!

Seeds make tasty treats too!

I want to give a shout out to the people who have worked to secure our right to save and share our own seed, with a Minnesota bill being signed in May of 2015. The business of seeds is BIG business, and without the efforts of many groups working together to protect our rights to save and share seeds, thank you!
Do It Green! 
Gardening Matters
HomeGrown Minneapolis

A few more online resources that Pam suggested include:

  • Seed Savers Exchange– One of the best nationwide sources for heirloom seeds, they have a stunning selection of seeds for sale (but don’t get sucked too far in!)
  • They also have their actual “Exchange” program, outlined HERE
  • The University of Minnesota, as always has gathered simple, accessible practicle information about saving Vegetable seeds grown in MN. 
  • If you’d like another online read about seed saving, The International Seed Saving Institute has some easy to read info as well.
  • White Bear Lake area residents, be sure to check out the WBL Seed Library’s Blog site and sign up for their emails, its a great way to connect with other local gardeners!

There’s literally endless information out there. Like all things gardening, saving seeds is less daunting and way more fun when you get to talk to someone else who either knows what they’re doing, or is making the same mistakes as you are 🙂

I hope you can join one of the White Bear Lake Seed Library packing events, I’ll be there on January 29th at the WBL Library.  It would be a fun and fruitful way to meet more of you in person!

A special thanks to Pam for taking her deep plant knowledge and vision to help the community and creating our local Seed Library- the ONE THOUSAND packets of seeds shared in 2017 is just the beginning!!

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson

Will you try to save any seeds this year? Which ones? I’m determined to save my tomato and peppers this year!

Can’t wait to Dig into the Dirt again with all this talk of seeds!

Michelle

 

 

Simmer through Winter: Soup Suite

It is indeed deep winter here in the Northland. The snow is starting to come down out there as I write this, replenishing all the melted snow from our last 36ºF ‘heatwave’.  I’m also seeing a definite downward trend in temps coming up. Minnesota’s Winter Wonderland…

For our family that means comfort food cravings are in high gear; and that means soup. At least half our dinners are bowls of hearty, steaming soups. Which also means most of my lunches are soups too.  I know, I’m one lucky girl 😉

And the one thing all my soups have in common is a LOT of veggies.

The only other meals that come close to the daring amounts of vegetables in my soups are stir fry or salad. And soups are simply more satisfying when the snow is deep and the nights are long.

Even in Winter  I try to start with as many local ingredients as possible- the surest way to do this is by going to one of the many Winter Farmers Markets popping up- or grow surplus in teh Summer garden to freeze or can for Winter use.

*Kid Tip*
The way I sell even the most vegified soup to my kids?? Pairing it with homemade biscuits/breads/grains + cheese. They will slurp every last drop to get another toasted cheesy anything!

My quitclaim; I am pathetic at sticking to recipes. This is very possibly why I love making soup so much. It’s like I get to play chemist with flavor layers. In my kitchen, a soup is never really ‘done’. I often add a few extra ingredients to a soup while heating it up for leftovers the next day. Ohh, I see you there garbanzos, leftover broccoli or peas.

I wish I’d started my cooking education with soups… they are massively forgiving and as simple or complex as you make them. You can feel in control of the outcome and learn so much about flavors as they mix and mingle in that bog old pot.

In that vein of brewing up something good, I’m going to state loud and clear the following are RECIPE OUTLINES ONLY. Just like my vegetable garden plans (that I am knee deep in right about now) you might veer off course while you’re putting it together, but end up exactly where you were supposed to be when you dig in. Trust your soup gut. (that should be a thing)

Soup Starters…

Bloom your Soup
I’m going to share a little soup starting MAGIC: Sauté the onion/garlic/leek/scallion/scapes in plenty of fat (oil/butter/bacon fat etc.) then add dry herbs + spices to let them ‘bloom’ (I love that term for letting the spices come to their full potential) which deepens their flavors fast. Then add the other veggies, for a quick sizzle and spin with the oil and spices- then add your tomatoes and other liquids.  This is typically an Indian cooking technique (ohh curry, how I love you) that truly adds oomph to any dish you’re making.

But we’re making soup… so onto a common question:
Stock vs Broth
Are they the same thing?
The easy answer; kind of…

Broth has been made with meat, Stock with bones. Also, Broth is usually seasoned, salted etc more. If you’re buying from a store, I’d recommend stock because you can play with seasoning and sodium. But if you make your own you don’t have to play by the rules- just go for the most delicious liquid you can get from simmering whatever meat and veg scraps (like carrot, onion, celery) you have and call it whatever you’d like. Craving more stock/broth info? the Kitchn has all the info and a good ‘how to’ HERE.

Let’s start with the veggy best, a good old fashioned everything but the kitchen sink vegetable soup. This recipe uses so many garden veggies that are lingering in the deep freeze in mass quantities- yes I’m looking at you chopped and/or shredded zucchini. Frozen diced bell peppers, all manner of beans, peas, cauliflower, broccoli, sweet corn, tomatoes and edamame are other usual suspects. Root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and even rutabaga and parsnip (in small amounts) are all fabulous additions.

The trick to an over the top veggie soup is to get a variety of textures and sizes all done at about the same time, so remember that you can add in veggies at different times to keep them from mushing out on you, hence the handy dandy cheat sheet over there. Or you can just think of how long you’d cook each veggie to serve as a side dish and gauge by that instead.

Of course you’ll need a broth to add another layer of flavor, your choice-  broth or stock.

Very Veggie

I had some leftover Chicken that made it into this batch too!

Ingredients:
1-2 onions or leeks (white only for soups) diced
2-3 cloves garlic crushed
herbs- sage, parsley, thyme, oregano, basil, bay leaf (or whatever)
2 ribs celery, chopped
½ -1 bell pepper, chopped
6-8 C veggies (see list above)
1-2 tsp salt (start with 1 and taste)

Directions:
Saute onions and garlic, and then use the “Bloom” method from above with your choice of dried herbs/spices. Sizzle any veggies that won’t get too overdone, add your broth/stock and tomatoes, potatoes and simmer for 20 minutes, then add remaining veggies (green beans broccoli etc) and simmer for 5- 10 minutes.

And, if you want to bulk up this soup even more, add in some barley, quinoa, brown rice or even noodles. Yummy in my tummy. I’ve gotten into making these GF Corn Muffins from Gluten Free on a Shoestring with my veggie soups, probably because they use frozen (or fresh) corn kernels and bake up moist and fluffy (I’ve substituted plain Greek yogurt for the sour cream and they still worked great!)

I don’t go there often, but I do love the Olive Garden for their Zuppa Toscana and salad combo. Back at home, I make mine with WAY more veggies, and WAY less cream- and I’m happy to report that making it healthier does not make it any less fabulous. Also, a great way to use up lots of that frozen kale that’s hiding in the back of your freezer.

I’ve also found my favorite pork sausage to use in this recipe, from Gilbertson’s Farm.  They’re over in Wisconsin- hormone and antibiotic  free. Bam that’s good!

Vegified Toscana

Ingredients:
16 oz pork sausage,
1 onion diced 4-5 cloves garlic, crushed
2-3 medium potatoes sliced thin
½-1 bell pepper chopped
1 C white beans (I had navy) par boiled/cooked
½ -1 zuchini chopped
1-2 C chopped tomatoes
1 big bunch of kale
24 oz stock or broth
1 C milk
Cream to drizzle into bowls
Parmesean to garnish
Salt + white pepper/red pepper flakes

Directions:
In a large pot sauté onion and sausage, adding minced or crushed garlic towards the end.
Remove and set aside onion and sausage draining most of the fat (I totally save this).
Add stock and boil potatoes until tender; 5-10 minutes. Add in remaining veggies and beans (use whatever veggies you have, still fabulous without all of them too) simmer for 5-10 minutes. Add in sausage/onion mix and kale- simmer for 5+ minutes. Add milk/cream as you want
I don’t need to add many spices to this one; a little salt + white pepper or red pepper flakes usually does it, to taste after cooking.

Crusty whole grain loaf and muenster please.

The Christmas Ham that made the soup. All homegrown veggies for our intimate meal.

This next soup is my family’s favorite way to make use of that Christmas ham bone. Simmer that sucker for a day and enjoy the hearty flavors. This can be a salty soup, depending on the saltiness of the ham so be sure to taste before adding any salt. This is a version of my Mother in Law’s family recipe- Hi Claudia! I’ve made this with both brown and red lentils. Did you know the red lentils are really brown lentils that they’ve removed the hull. That’s why red lentils tend to get mushy, they don’t have any skin to hold them together! You can feel free to use other beans and/or peas- just make sure to simmer them long enough to be past al dente.

Ham & Lentil:

Ingredients:
Ham Bone with some ham still on it
1 Diced Onion
3-4 Garlic cloves, sliced
2 Cups Dry Lentils, rinsed (brown or red)
2 Cups shredded zuchinni (frozen or fresh)
½ to 1 diced green pepper (frozen works too)
4-5 celery ribs sliced
1 Tbsp Mustard- (prepared yellow or dry mustard + vinegar- 1 Tbsp each)

Directions:
If there’s any good white fat on the ham, save a bit to sauté the onions and garlic later.

In a large stock pot, cover with water and simmer that ham bone as long as you can; MANY hours, like most of a day. Just give yourself time to let the meat left on it cool off before trying to pull off the bone (ask me how I know). I run the broth through a fine sieve to catch the unappealing bits. With the juice in a bowl and the ham on a plate waiting for me to pick it clean, I get the onions and garlic going.  Then the celery and green peppers for a quick sizzle, then I add in the rinsed lentils (it might just be me but I think frying these guys first adds a bit more depth) then add back in the broth and mustard.

This is killer with a rustic multi grain and swiss cheese!

And, because soups are my life right now, here are links to some of my other favorites:

Kowalski’s Turkey Wild Rice Soup

Oh, Kowalski’s White Bear Lake Market, you are so dangerously close to me that I have foregone making my own soups from time to time… and their Turkey Wild Rice is one of my family’s favorites. But of course I vegify it when I make my own 😉 I add at least quadruple the celery and carrots (and I chop the carrots, b/c shredded always get too mushy for me) and often throw in some frozen shredded zucchini, and use either all whole milk or some 2% milk and some cream or half and half.

Why yes, those are roasted beets next to squash soup- they went surprisingly well with the meal!

Sublime Squash Soup

The folks over at Serious Eats know their way around a soup bowl. Roasting the squash and carrots makes this so much more flavorful (I’ve roasted it in quarters before to avoid all that peeling and it was still amazing) – I’ve also roasted cauliflower along with the squash and carrots and tossed it into the mix (only about ¼ of the amount of squash) which lightened up the color but was pretty undetectable in taste. The spiced cream make it feel so fancy!

Roasted Acorn Perfection!

On my list to make by the weekend, squash and pear puree, and roasted beet and garlic soup.

I hope you try a new soup or two, or maybe try a twist on one of your favorites! If you find a new soup favorite, pass it along… I love trying new soups!

Can’t wait to Dig In (but with spoons not forks) to my next hearty bowl of soup.

Michelle

New Year, New Growth

Happy New Year to you all!

Thanks for being a part of the inaugural year of Forks in the Dirt!
I hope you had as much fun as I did!

Writing from the frozen tundra of Minnesota this first morning of 2018 (a brisk -13° F) I know the temperature means no gardening for even the toughest Midwest gals; for example our chickens have also decided to stay inside today. And yet, I appreciate the way our extreme seasons keep me tethered to the cycles of our planet. My love for this earth grows deeper every year I grow food with its help.

The best way for me to use these frozen months is to dream big for the coming year. Being able to cozy up with seed catalogs, look back through garden pictures from the previous summer, think about what we ate and what we wanted to eat more of… Having time to regroup for the upcoming season is a gift; I remind myself as I look longingly at the snow drifted garden beds.

The best way to get my imagination rolling have always been books, and now and online research too.

There is an overwhelming amount of information out there. I’ve gotten lost for hours ending up on the farthest ‘out there’ branches of my original quest… ( succession planting, rotational gardening, clean food recipes, etc) but those times have let me weed out the useless sites and pick the ripest, juiciest sites truly worth our time.

Here are a few of my favorite Links:

Savvy Gardening: regular contributor Niki Jabbour is queen of season extension and one of my gardening heroes. Real Info for real gardeners

100 Days of Real Food: This was where I first went for recipe inspiration using real, clean food- and still refer to it often.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle:  One of the first books I read about growing more of your own food and the impact eating  local can make. Now a website with info and recipes. Plus, Barbara Kingsolver is a favorite author of mine 🙂

Civil Eats: So much information about food systems and environment, all broken down in bite size pieces. If you’re ready to dig deeper they recently listed their favorite food and farming books of 2017 .

I’ll stop there, but if there’s a foodie, farmer or gardening topic you’re curious about, I probably have a link for that. I do have more info links on my Do Good Page.

My personal goals for 2018 include:
*Planning for and planting our doubled vegetable garden space,
*Preserving more of my own food (dehydrating, freezing, fermenting and canning),
*Finding a local sustainable source for organic oats and chicken meat,
*Becoming a better Chicken + Boy Mom
*Finding more of that elusive “Balance”

My 2018 goals for Forks in the Dirt include:
*Meeting and writing about more local farmers,
*Inspiring awareness in the food choices we make,
*Expanding the White Bear Lake Winter Farmers Market.

What are your gardening and food goals for 2018??
Let me know and we can work on them together!

Wishing you many chances to dig in and grow in new ways in 2018.

Cheers!

Michelle

Holiday Market Meals!

Some of my stash from the Market!

Holy Holiday Market Haul!

In case you missed it, White Bear Lake was host to a winter farmers market last weekend, and it was a huge hit! So much real, whole, local food under one roof. It was a blast to see everyone getting excited about local foods – thanks so much for making it a great success: for the farmers, vendors, White Bear Area Food Shelf, Tamarack Nature Center and BearPower. What a vibrant community to be a part of!

If you’re like some of the over 500 people who shopped local at the recent Winter Farmers Market, you may have an abundance of lovely late season/storage/root crop produce hanging around staring at you… I’ve been cooking up a storm ever since and have narrowed this blog post down to two must try recipes.

One for a quick healthy family friendly dinner; Warm Salad: Roasted Squash & Crisped Kale.

One fancy enough to impress at a Holiday Meal; Winter Veg Lasagna. Continue reading

A Winter Farmers Market is Coming to Town!

White Bear Lake’s first time Winter Farmers Market has turned into something bigger and better than I could have imagined- all because so many people came together and energized this event. White Bear Lake was ready  for this farmers market, and I feel darn lucky I get to help make it happen!

The WBL Winter Farmers Market:  December 9  
10am – 2pm at Tamarack Nature Center

 

So many local people and groups have made this event a success even before the first shopper sips hot cider or scores a squash… Continue reading

Micro Greens + Macro Dreams

I found a farm, with a ‘little’ twist…

Meet Kayla and Eric  Elefson, the young farming couple behind Turtle Hare Farm’s tasty micro green mixes, tomatoes, salad greens and coming next summer- gourmet garlic!

As most really good stories go, they came to farming in a round-about, unintended way. Both take to the stage regularly. Kayla is a dancer with ‘Eclectic Edge Ensemble’, and a choreographer (White Bear Lake High School is performing her steps in their “Footloose” musical as I’m writing this post.) Eric is an actor working with Mad Munchkin Productions and the Math and Science Academy.

After a mild injury Kayla had to step away from the strenuous dance routines, and took a farming class on a whim. Both Kayla and Eric grew up on hobby farms, so it wasn’t a huge stretch. But after some soul searching and learning about “Holistic Management” they came upon micro green farming as a way to jump into farming right away- without jumping deep into debt.

Now, there’s no reason to go back. They love supplying people with organically grown, locally delivered, super fresh produce year round.

With two years under their belts they’ve already fine-tuning and weeding out some of their original practices. Switching their field of tomatoes to garlic will require many less summer hours of labor but give close to the same profit. Their outdoor garden space is only 1,400 square feet and yet it is adequate to supply the markets they serve. Working out of their home in Lakeland Township gives them the best of both worlds.

What’s the BIG deal with micro greens?

Micro greens are plants in between the stages of sprouts and baby greens- and are said to be the ‘sweet spot’ where taste meets nutrition.

Studies have shown that micro greens are loaded with nutrients, such vitamins, C, E, and K, lutein, and beta-carotene. Up to 40 fold compared to the mature leaves of the same plants! This is another well rounded article from Web MD.

Micro Greens contain up to 40 X the nutrients of their full grown plants!

Continue reading

Second Chance for Old Jack

My front stoop this year- laden with pumpkins and squash

I love pumpkins!
Carving pumpkins.
Pumpkin treats.
Pumpkin soup.
Pumpkin seeds.
And I am not alone.

Trick or treating with my neighborhood crew last night reminded me carving pumpkins is a big deal, and it made me wonder…just how many are there?

So I spent the remainder of my Halloween night- after my kids finally fell into their post sugar coma sleep- researching all about pumpkins.
PS- times have changed from my costumed college days 😉 

I found that even NPR’s ‘the salt’ had the same pumpkin conundrum. I felt less freaky after that find.

You guys, bottom line: we really love pumpkins.
By best estimates in a finder.com article:  150,007,000 Americans planned on carving pumpkins in 2017! Whoa, that’s a lot of fruits on front stoops. Yes, pumpkin is technically a fruit! Continue reading

An Apple A Day

One of my favorite things about Fall in Minnesota is the ALL THE APPLES! So many different flavors and crunch levels- so many ways to enjoy your “apple a day.”

Pine Tree Apple Orchard, the  orchard nearest us, has  some of my favorite varieties available right now! Apples in season include Sweet Tango, Honeycrisp, Haralson, Cortland, Red Delicious, Fireside and Regent.

Me, looking a little too excited about all the apples.

Pick a Peck ( or 7)
I got lucky this year! I found a friend (through the magic of a Facebook post) who had three beautiful trees that they weren’t going to be able to thoroughly use, and she let me come and pick my fill. I’m humbled by their generosity.😊

In farming and food rescue terms this is called “gleaning”. Regardless of what you call it, this was a win-win. I bet if you wanted, you too could end up with more apples than you know what to do with… but you’ll never know if you don’t ask!

These apples were organic perfection; a little apple scab here, some worm holes there, even a bird nest up in the branches. When other wild animals want my food, I see that as a really good sign that the food is good for me. No bugs around means they’ve all been killed, or would die from eating the food growing there (some food for thought). Also, it was as idyllic spot and array of trees. The previous owners knew what they were doing and planted complimentary varieties; Cortland, Honeycrisp, and Fireside. I got roughly a five gallon bucket full of each variety. 64 pounds in all (I had posted 54 pounds earlier on- but forgot about the bags I left in the garage to keep cool- oops!) 

So what does one do with all those apples??
I thought you’d never ask …

Apple a la Skin
I’m a big fan of eating apples old school- wash and eat. I even know a few (slightly crazy) people who eat the core, seeds and all. That’s not my cup of cider… but since nature provides us with a BOUNTY of apples all at once, our homesteading ancestors figured out so many amazing ways to make good use of all the parts of all those apples! Continue reading

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