Feb 27, 2012

Radish Relish with Friends

Last fall, I gave Missy and Eddie Stuckey (of Kellogg Valley Farms) a quart of lacto-fermented radish relish.  Today Missy came over and brought friends and we made about 10 gallons (40 quarts) worth of the yummy stuff.
Above Lori is working the food processor.  Below Missy and Anita prepare the carrots and turnips.  Missy supplied us with about 50 pounds of chemical-free radishes, turnips and carrots from Kellogg Valley Farms.  She did a lot of work before coming harvesting, washing and capping the veggies.

Below, left to right: radishes, carrots, turnips.  We bought onions and garlic.  Another friend (who has a cow) gave us 3 quarts of whey.  We only used 2 quarts...that's a half gallon of whey.  This was a giant batch of radish relish.
Because Kellogg Valley Farms does not use chemicals (they are Certified Naturally Grown), I don't freak out about the bit of dirt left on the veggies - especially since we were doing such huge quantities.  Actually even if I were doing a small batch, I still wouldn't scrub the dirt off or peel the carrots.

Fifty pounds of produce is super sized!! It didn't take long for us to realize that our kitchen bowls were insufficient.  I found a food grade 5-gallon bucket in the garage, and later decided to put a plastic liner in a galvanized bucket.  This was a LOT of relish, people.
I didn't hire a babysitter today, my son is at a homeschool co-op and my little girl sat in the sink and played in water while eating carrots.  By the way, she loves radish relish and will eat it fist over fist.

I failed to take a picture of the end results because we were cleaning up like mad - this stuff got a bit crazy messy.  It was a really fun day.


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Feb 26, 2012

Willow Springs Market Garden

by Robert Lashley
Peg and Robert
Willow Springs Market Garden was founded April 6, 2006.  Peg, myself and son Alex, work the garden, with occasional volunteer helpers. Three dogs provide security from rabbits as well as people.

Our 3 acre garden is on a gentle southern slope just south of Little Rock, a half mile from the city limits. We couldn't find a single rock in the garden soil!  An ancient river used to run through our place, a neighbor told us, leaving a sandy soil for our use.

Inputs to improve the soil include: alfalfa pellets, compost from American Composting on Faulkner Lake Road. (One cubic yard is $12 wholesale.) Worm castings, our own "homegrown" compost and cover crops of legumes, vetch and oats in the cooler weather and buckwheat and Iron and Clay cowpeas in the warmer months. Initially well rotted horse manure was used as a fertilizer, but we have stopped using that in favor of fish emulsion, seaweed extracts and the worm castings mentioned earlier. Our animal manure is now provided by our small flock of ducks, who's mobile pens are moved regularly so they can "weed and feed" the garden.

Because our garden is small we do not have any financial pressure to make a profit, as Peg and I both work as registered nurses in local hospitals. This allows us to experiment freely with various unusual vegetables.

This year we are growing Mars celeriac, and Flower Sprouts, a cross between kale and brussels sprouts. Unusual fruits in the works include Goji berries, honeyberries, jujubes, and paw-paws. Minutina, lambs quarters and radicchio liven up a selection of salad greens. Asparagus is a spring treat coming up in April.

The inspiration for starting the garden came from Eliot Coleman's book The New Organic Grower
which spells out the steps to follow from land selection, to organic inputs to improve the soil, to tips on marketing. The section on which type of equipment to purchase, was very instructive.

We chose a BCS 853 diesel 2-wheel walk behind tractor as our main workhorse.  Five years of almost daily use has proved the durability of this well made Italian machine. Provided with a PTO we run a range of implements with the tractor. We highly recommend Earthtools, the leading retailer of 2-wheel tractors in the U.S.A. We were able to buy the tractor, rotary plough, tiller, brush mower, trailer, dozer blade, for $8,000, a huge savings over the John Deere type conventional tractors. The diesel engine requires little maintenance and we use bio diesel to run it.

I am a founding member on the board of directors of the Certified Arkansas Farmers Market, located April through November at 6th Street and Main in North Little Rock. We are opening quietly April 7th this year, with a Grand Opening the following weekend. You can also find our products online here (Saturday pick up) and here (Wednesday pick up).

Come and visit with us to get to know your farmers by their first names.  

Robert, Peg and Alex.

Willow Springs Market Garden, LLC*
4924 Willow Springs Road
Little Rock AR 72206
* We decided to incorporate as a LLC to take advantage of the legal protections offered by being a corporation.  Today's society is so litigious, and we also obtained a sales tax number. Dealing with the sales tax division is one of the most trying aspect of running a small business in Arkansas.

Come and see us soon: take exit 133 Geyer Springs off I-30 and go straight south 4 miles until the end and make a 90 degree left onto Willow Springs Road. We are one half mile on the left.
Also in this series: Rattle's GardenTammy Sue's Critters and Falling Sky Farm.  If you are a farmer and would like to showcase your farm, email Julie: luvmyhub AT gmail DOT com

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Feb 22, 2012

Falling Sky Farm

by Andrea Todt from Falling Sky Farm
My partner, Cody Hopkins and I (Andrea Todt) started our farm, Falling Sky Farm, in 2007.  It is in Marshall, Arkansas - about 100 miles north of Little Rock.  

Why We Farm
Cody and I met and read Michael Pollen's The Omnivore's Dilemma in 2006. We both love food, and we were looking for a way to stay in the beautiful rural Arkansas Ozark's. Both of us are college educated with degrees in physics and outdoor education, but there just weren't many job opportunities for us here. 

After visiting Joel Salatin's Polyface farm in Virginia (featured in Pollen's book) we decided to give small-scale, grass-based livestock farming a go. That was five years ago. We are committed to raising delicious healthy food in a manner that respects the animals we raise as well as the land we raise them on. We are also passionate about participating in, and supporting, our local economy and community. 

What We Raise
On our farm we raise meat - poultry, pork and beef.  
Cody with happy turkeys
The chickens, ducks, and turkeys for meat are raised in floor-less pens "tractors" which are moved daily to fresh pasture - keeping the animals clean and healthy while at the same time fertilizing our pastures and building organic matter in our soils. We also have a flock of hens who lay beautiful, delicious and nutritious eggs. (We are planning on increasing our flock size this year to make sure we can supply more of you with this high-demand item!)

The hogs reside in our wooded acreage - keeping the understory cleared out while foraging for acorns and other tasty treats. Both our hogs and poultry are supplemented with a GMO-free grain ration. 
foraging hogs

We raise beef cattle that are strictly grass-fed and finished. We manage all our animals intensively, moving them regularly to allow plenty of rest and regrowth time for our pastures and woods, and plenty of high-quality food for our animals. Frequent moves also aid in breaking parasite cycles, allowing us freedom from chemical dewormers and the use of antibiotics to keep our animals healthy.
Beef: it's what's for dinner.
Farm Hands
As for help - we have grown large enough that we now employ, at least part-time, several members from the local community to help us with chores during the busy season (spring and fall is when we raise the majority of our broilers - meat chickens), various projects that are always happening on a farm (fencing, running water-line, and building projects mostly), and then the big one- processing all of the poultry. 

All our chickens, ducks and turkeys are processed on-farm, and on butcher days we'll have up to 7 other people working with the two of us to get the birds from their (we hope) happy life in the pasture to their packages in the freezer. 

By doing all of our own processing for the birds we are able to keep their lives as stress-free as possible and ensure a clean and respectful environment for their journey to your kitchen. Some day we would love to be set up to be able to process all our animals on farm, but for now we do haul our hogs and beef to a certified USDA butcher.
Andrea & baby Sam at the Argenta Farmer's Market in NLR
Joys of Farming
One of the greatest parts of our "job" (more a lifestyle in my mind) is that I really appreciate the connection to the land and the animals that comes from farming.  It is not always as romantic as it might seem (in fact it's often not) but there are certainly those days when it's beautiful outside, and you have a few minutes to sit and enjoy the serenity of the cattle herd grazing enthusiastically in the new paddock you just moved them too, or to take a walk in the woods to check the pigs and sit for awhile on a log and enjoy them rooting or resting contentedly in the leaves. There is always something new happening - never a dull moment!

Challenges of Farming
By far we have found that the most challenging aspect of farming is how many hats it requires you to wear. Not only do you have to be good at (in our case) raising and caring for animals, but you also have to be a marketer, a bookkeeper, good at networking with other growers/farmers and able to fix all those little things that always come up on a small farm, and in a small business. All of this must be accomplished with the lack of infrastructure that exists for small farmers (finding mills that will get us the grain we want, finding butchers for our beef and pork- much of what used to be available in most small communities around the country is now lacking). 

It is certainly very rewarding work, and the appreciation and commitment of our customers is a huge help in getting us through the challenging times. We also have the support of friends and family who help out tremendously. 

The Future for Falling Sky Farm
I am looking forward to experimenting with growing some grains this year- to supplement a small part of the grain we purchase for the animals, but mostly for our own consumption and that of our customers! We shall see how successful I am... if it goes well I anticipate doing more next year and incorporating the use of draft animals (a passion of mine).

We are very much looking forward to living on the farm full-time.  As soon as our land-owners finish their new house we will be moving into their old one. In the past we have lived in an airstream camper from April to Thanksgiving on the farm.  Soon we will be in a real house instead of the airstream (which is great, but will begin to feel a little cramped with a boisterous 17 month old when we move back up for the spring season!)

Where can you find us?
We direct market with all of our products. The majority of our customers and our venues are in Little Rock and Conway. You will find me, and our 15-month-old son Sam, at the North Little Rock Argenta Farmer's market most Saturdays through the market season. We have also attended the Hillcrest market several times. 

For on-line markets, we sell through both the Little Rock Locally Grown and the Conway Locally Grown markets (in fact, we started the CLG market in May of 2008 in an effort to create another outlet for our products, as well as for those of other local farmers). 

Several restaurants in Little Rock have our meat on the menu.  To name a few: Brave New, Ashley's at the Capital Hotel, Heifer Cafe, Hillcrest Artisan Meats, and The Root Cafe. 

We offer a Meat Share Program- a years supply of meat (for most families): 1/4 beef, 1/4 pork, 24 chickens and a turkey delivered to your home in it's own freezer! For customers interested in purchasing in bulk this is certainly the most economical way to buy from us.

If you are interested in hearing more about our farm keep an eye on our Falling Sky Farm facebook page, and check our website periodically.  I'll have information about our spring open-farm posted soon! Thank you for your interest and support of our farm. Happy eating!
Also in this series: Rattle's Garden and Tammy Sue's Critters.  If you are a farmer and would like to showcase your farm, email Julie: luvmyhub AT gmail DOT com

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Feb 20, 2012

REAL Chocolate Syrup

You know you want to make this...
HB here.
I love chocolate. I love milk. I love chocolate milk. I grew up making chocolate milk with Hershey's syrup and later in life moved onto bigger and better things: Nesquik Chocolate Milk Mix. So tasty, chocolately and just loaded with sugar. Somewhere in the midst of all this chocolate milk drinking, I got married and had a baby. Then, I had two babies at once. By the time I needed to feed all three of these tiny, cute people something other than breastmilk or baby food, I began questioning everything we ate, including my precious chocolate milk mix and the Hershey's Syrup drowning my ice cream. :( Sad, sad, sad. I found a chocolate syrup at Whole Foods that did not contain High Fructose Corn Syrup but it was around $5 for one bottle. Ouch. So, I searched the internets and found the below recipe. I've been making it for nearly 2 years, y'all. It's that good. I have never once made it with white sugar. I always use unrefined sugars, such as sucanat or muscavado and the syrup is divine.

Homemade Chocolate Syrup
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup muscavado or sucanat
1/4 teaspoons sea salt
1 cup water
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Whisk cocoa, sugar and salt in a pot till combined. Add water and whisk till well blended. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove syrup from heat, let it cool for a bit and then add the vanilla. I've added the vanilla when it's still quite hot and it's been fine, although I'm sure some foodie somewhere would tell me never to do that. Store in refrigerator. Makes about 1 3/4 cups of syrup and will keep in the refrigerator for a loooooooong time. I use a scant tablespoon per one glass of chocolate milk.  This recipe doubles very well and makes great chocolate shakes or hot chocolate. I've not tried making this with honey or maple syrup. Anytime I've tried to sweeten something containing cocoa with honey instead of sugar, it just doesn't float my boat. So, enjoy it and don't hate yourself for wanting something sweet. :)

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Feb 19, 2012

Tammy Sue's Critters

Tammy & Skip at the market
To help our readers get to know the farmers of central Arkansas, I have asked some of them to share about their farms.      Today's article is by Tammy Pope of Tammy Sue's Critters.

Known as Tammy Sue's Critters, my husband, Skip, and I farm ten acres on the Pulaski-Faulkner county line.  Our critters include dairy goats, angora goats, a llama, and a flock of chickens.

The spring is a busy time on the farm.  Let me show you around.
Our Critters
The herd of French Alpine dairy goats is hovering at eleven heads.  However this spring our farm will experience a bit of a population explosion with kids (baby goats). We also have three angora goats, which are kept for their fleece. From the goats, we get milk and use this to make soap and lotion for our small business. We also make cheese. For personal use, we make yogurt, sour cream, ice cream, and buttermilk.

Currently we are in the process of doing an add on to the goat house. This will enable us to install a three section sink and apply for grade A dairy status. Hopefully this will be completed by spring.

Our flock of chickens flitters at forty for the time being. About mid March we are expecting thirty more chicks. This will really increase our egg production. The girls head out in the morning to forage for the day, then are in by dusk. Later in the spring, we are enlarging the hen house to add additional boxes. We offer our eggs at the Argenta farmer's market and on the Farm 2 Work online market.

Soap and Lotion
Our forty scents of (as well as unscented) soap are made with goat's milk and vegetable products.  The same natural ingredient standard goes for our lotions. We are expanding our line this year to include a shampoo and a shaving bar.

My hope, when we started this, was to create a useful product, reasonably priced. We are proud of our soap and our lotion and are pleased to keep it affordable.

The Veggies
Each spring we grow heirloom vegetable plants in our small greenhouse. We have many varieties of tomatoes, several types of peppers, beans and eggplant. These are available through Farm 2 Work, Little Rock Locally Grown, Conway Locally Grown, and the Argenta farmer's market.

The Future
This is our fourth year in business and we have been on the farm for over six years. Our web site is Tammysuescritters.com. I have a blog which also provides contact and product information on it.  Spy on in and see more pictures of our farm.

Our biggest issue at present is that my husband and I are still working full time with the North Little Rock School District. This makes it difficult for us to keep up with everything. The plan is for both of us to be on the farm full time in three years. When we are in a tight spot our son helps us out. We also have built relationships with some other farmers and they have been there to help if needed.

As a community, we need to support each other and our neighbors. By purchasing locally produced products, we are strengthening our own economy and helping people we know achieve their goals, raise families and become self sufficient.

Each Saturday in the farmer's market season (April - October) you will find us at the Argenta Farmer's Market or say hi on Facebook.  Please stop by and try our soap and lotions.  We are looking forward to meeting you!
Last week we learned about Rattle's Garden.  If you are a farmer and would like to be a part of this series, email Julie: luvmyhub AT gmail DOT com

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Feb 17, 2012

Urban Homesteading Workshop Series

One of my favorite Arkansas blogs is Green AR by the Day, written by Nao Ueda.  She is going to be teaching a workshop on urban homesteading at the Green Corner Store.  Details below.

Curious about urban homesteading? Interested in becoming more self-sufficient?

The Green Corner Store will host a three-part Urban Homesteading Workshop Series, 6-7:30 p.m. beginning March 8 at the store (1423 D South Main) in Little Rock.

Nao Ueda, author of GreenAR by the Day, will share tips on how to grow and preserve food, raise farm animals, keep bees, and still live in the city. The three-part workshop will cover:

March 8 – What is Urban Homesteading: Overview
March 22 – Gardening & Harvest Preservation
April 5 – Keeping Farm Animals in the City
$15 per session. Handouts and light refreshments provided.

Come to one, two, or all three workshops! Each session is limited to 15 participants, so register early!

RSVP by calling (501) 374-1111 or emailing info@thegreencornerstore.com.

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Freezer Cooking Class by HB

Last night HB hosted a Freezer Cooking Class in her kitchen (invitation only).  She gave everyone a packet of super valuable information.  After a brief time of teaching we watched her mad skillz with the fryin' pan.

Of her own admittance, the kitchen is quite small - not quite ten feet square.  The size does not limit her ability to cook nutritious and delicious food for her growing family and she wanted to encourage us all to be content with what we have.

The foundation for many Southern Delicacies is a cream of mushroom soup (HB is the epitome of southern, y'all.)  So, she demonstrated how to make the perfect cream of mushroom soup (recipe here.)

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Feb 14, 2012

Wendy's Real Food Resolutions

This post is written by Wendy.  It is part of a series we started last year on New Year's Real Food Resolutions.  The first part of the post was written in 2011; in the second half Wendy reports on their progress as well as what they are looking forward to in 2012.

With 38 years of eating, 6 years of studying clinical nutrition, and 15 years of feeding a family behind me, I feel like I’m only beginning to get a grasp on a truly healthy view of food.

I’ve long been a healthy eater by most standards, especially those I studied and taught in my former life as a dietitian. Yet much of what I built our family eating patterns upon has been up-ended as I’ve looked more to the specific needs of my children.

My husband Chad and I have four growing girls. They’ve always loved helping me in the kitchen, for which I am very grateful. We’ve made many wonderful memories in our aprons!

I specifically recall a conversation with an acquaintance in Ohio roughly six years ago. My daughters were 7, 4 and newborn at the time, and as I chatted with this mother of teenage daughters, she shared about her girls’ premature “development” and their family’s recent decision to purchase organic milk based on her personal reading about the hormones and antibiotics in conventional milk. I had always walked right past the organic section in our local Kroger, focused solely on keeping my monthly grocery budget in check. However, we decided that with four girls, the extra expense of organic milk would be worth it if the concerns were even remotely legitimate.

Ultimately, that conversation was what moved feeding my family beyond a simple financial decision in the grocery aisles and opened my eyes to the need to (re)educate myself.

Fast-forward to mid-2009, when the frustration of one daughter who has struggled with learning challenges and one who is plagued by constant intestinal issues drove me to tears. I prayed even more earnestly for direction in helping them where medical professionals and medications could not. The One who created them and loves them best is also my Counselor, and so I began to pour out my heart to God more regularly on behalf of my children. I also began to read and ask a lot of questions, slowly coming to terms with the humbling realization that I hadn’t learned much of practical value in graduate school after all.

The new learning curve was and is steep. Reading The Maker’s Diet and watching Food, Inc. have been helpful. Our best decision thus far has been joining a local meat-share program, which has provided a freezer full of grass-fed meats which I get to experiment with each week (a big shout out to Falling Sky Farm). I have to say I pretty much feel like a newlywed again, since only about half of my attempts over the past six months or so have gotten the “thumbs-up!” I am so thankful for the challenge, though, and how it is stretching me.

In 2009, we began by tackling the snacks around here, trying our best to avoid the pre-packaged items, and going instead for apples and peanut butter or cheese or mixed nuts. This was a really big deal at first, since we eat six times a day every day – seriously! That’s 18 meals and 18 snacks per day – all making a mess on the island and counters in my kitchen. We do still grab peanut butter crackers and granola bars from Sam’s occasionally, but the girls turn their noses up at them unless they’re really hungry and we’re truly “on the go.” Even my 5 year-old readily prepares her own snack rather than looking for a boxed item now.

In 2010, I really wanted to make a major kitchen transition – you know, throw out everything you’ve ever purchased and never buy it again. My husband didn’t so much go for that, but in his wisdom offered to discuss what would be most beneficial for our particular family and our current stage of life.

These are the goals Chad and I laid out for 2010 in January, dubbing them “the four B’s”:

BREAD - We began making our own sandwich bread from freshly-ground wheat berries the first Saturday in January – one year under our belts now. Yeah! We’ve had some really “dry” weeks, where even the toast wasn’t so great, but overall it’s been a good experience and I think we’re moving toward
more consistently edible bread.

BUTTER instead of margarine – and more of it. While we were at it, we also got rid of all cooking spray and cooking oils, keeping only coconut and olive.

BREAKFAST - We became much more intentional about incorporating a protein source every morning. This has often been eggs, but we have counted whole milk yogurt, too. Mid-year we also did away with any and all breakfast cereals (read why here). I have to tell you, my kids (and husband) really fretted about this one for a few weeks. Now? Well, I made our traditional huge batch of sweet potatoes for a Christmas Eve dinner party, which needed a couple of cups of Corn Flakes on top. The remainder of it sat in the pantry untouched for two weeks without anyone even asking for it. They’ve really begun to enjoy baked oatmeal, yogurt with granola, homemade muffins, and such.

And, finally, BEDTIME - Believing adequate rest was probably the main thing lacking in our girls’ lives, we resolved to re-establish earlier bedtimes for all four of them. That lasted about a week. We’re not nearly as good at the whole bedtime thing as when we just had one child. Oh well!

The things that were added in along the way in 2010 were learning to make dairy kefir (used primarily for soaking oats and wheat so far) and kombucha in early summer. We made 6 quart-sized jars of the soda-style kombucha every week for about 5 months, interrupted by a family trip in December. My girls started begging to make it again – they were very glad to get back to it this month!

As for 2011, my thoughts are to branch out beyond bread and pancakes with the freshly-ground wheat (and to try other grains as well). This should be a little easier with my new Bosch – I never thought I would be so excited about receiving kitchen appliances from my husband for Christmas!

Another goal is to return to our pattern of hosting other families for supper 2-3 times per month. Actually, it’s not so much that we haven’t had friends over, but more that when we do host, I still serve one of several tried and true recipes adopted over the past decade. I need to figure out how to prepare and serve “real food” recipes that would be crowd-pleasers.

Finally, I would love to build on our weekly farmers’ market purchases of last spring, summer, and fall. Oh, how I miss the farmers’ market! I’m thinking the goal might be to double the amount of produce I choose each week in order to put some aside for winter. (Help! I have no idea how to do that!)

Thanks for the invitation to share our baby steps, Julie. Thinking back over our recent journey has made me realize how far we’ve already come. Now even the larger steps that remain ahead don’t seem nearly so scary anymore!
2012 Update

I am glad to report that we have enjoyed many opportunities to host in the past year and we have a deep freeze full of yummy vegetables from the surplus of our Kellogg Farms CSA (I highly recommend purchasing a half or full share for great produce all summer long)!

My teenage daughter has taken on full responsibility for keeping the kombucha going week in and week out, for which I am very grateful.  She also keeps herself busy in the kitchen making homemade applesauce, salsa, and more whenever her schedule allows.  What a blessing!

We are still failing miserably at the bedtime thing.  I seriously need ideas to have at least a few people in this house asleep before 10:00 p.m. each night.

In 2011, we did find great new ways of using the wheat berries to make hamburger buns, cinnamon rolls, and more, thanks in large part to friend Johanna Gelatt, who gave a bread-making demonstration in my crowded kitchen last winter.  If you're considering grinding your own wheat, get in touch with Johanna - she can share from a wealth of knowledge and experience!

Our food world was turned upside-down yet again when we took the plunge to begin the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) in November in order to address our 7 year-old's ongoing GI troubles (www.pecanbread.com and www.breakingtheviciouscycle.info).  No wheat, corn, oats, potatoes, rice, or sugars here for the forseeable future, but we are thrilled with her new outlook on life thus far!

The added work in the kitchen to make the SCD happen would have been truly impossible even two short years ago - I would have been in a heap of tears on the floor, I'm afraid.  Instead, by God's grace, we have taken baby steps which have led us to the place of being able to say "yes" to a radical change in eating that is proving to be very beneficial for our Caris.  I am grateful!

The words I am focused on for 2012 are "simplicity" and "authenticity" - in relationships, in parenting, in life.  They aren't specifically related to our eating, but I can certainly see how returning to preparing and eating whole, real foods is a simple way to live (not easy, mind you, but simple).  The relationships that grow as we work together in the kitchen, defer to one another's needs while on the go, and invite others into our home are the biggest joy of all. . . and they're authentic! Win-win!


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Feb 12, 2012

Rattle's Garden: A Local Organic Farm

Guest post by Tara Stainton
Our farm's name is Rattle's Garden, located near Vilonia, Arkansas.  On paper it's run by myself, my husband and our 18-month old son.  Sustaining it however, requires the help of a lot of extended family, friends and college interns.  One of the aspects I love the most about a small farm is that it becomes a sort of community.

This is our fifth year selling vegetables and flowers but only our third year of it being my primary form of work.  My husband works in Little Rock for a small company that specializes in wetland mitigation which is cool because both of us have a passion for environmental issues.

I grew up in the middle of corn and soybean fields in Iowa.  My parents didn't farm but my extended family did and almost all of our friends and neighbors had ties to agriculture.  Despite being so close to it, I really had very little knowledge of commercial agriculture growing up.  Terms like "Round-Up Ready" and talk of commodities among the adults in my life as I was growing up went in one ear and out the other for me.  I was twenty-eight years old when I read Jane Goodall's "Harvest for Hope", merely by chance.  In it, she spoke of seeds being genetically modified to withstand Round Up being sprayed on them.  Round Up Ready.  Wait, corn and soybeans we are using as food being sprayed with Round Up?  Something clicked and my eyes were opened.  With my husband working out of town for about two months I spent endless hours on the internet researching industrial agriculture and our current food system.  I became determined to grow our own food.

My first garden was small.  A small garden still has appeal to my type A personality.  I could control almost everything in it.  I could raise the rows easily to allow my plants to stay above standing water in early spring.  Bad bugs could be hand-picked in a small garden.  Plants could be easily covered in the fall to provide frost protection.

All of that got a little more difficult as our garden grew to this.

And we've grown more this year.  I think we'll continue to do so as long as we can continue to maintain the standards we started with.  I am a firm believer in growing organically.

With that in mind, until last summer, I've never considered certifying organic.  My main reason for this was that I had standards set beyond certified organic standards.  Until last summer we never even used an organically approved compound on our garden.  When bugs or disease got bad we burned bugs and plants and replanted.  This was costly but really important to me.  The way I see it is we are not that much higher on the evolutionary scale than bugs and plants.  A neurotoxin is a neurotoxin whether it is naturally sourced or synthetically produced.

Enter blister beetles.  Last summer blister beetles threatened to wipe out our entire vegetable crop.

We had to make a decision.  We either needed to cut the garden back to a more manageable scale and only produce our own food or find alternative means to combat blister beetles.  As difficult as this was for me, we chose to use an organic compound called Pyganic to fight the blister beetles the rest of the summer.

The only thing that made me feel better about this decision was knowing that Robert and I would be in control of where the Pyganic was being used.  Most of the time we were able to knock the bugs off of the plant and then spray them on the ground as they ran for cover.  The few times we did have to spray directly on a plant, I marked the plant with twine and we didn't pick from it again.  That is how much it scares me to use a chemical of any kind.

This story is awfully long to tell over and over at the farmers market.  So the only way I see to honestly label our food is to certify organic.  I hope this is the right decision.

In the meantime, our spring is ramping up with our tiny greenhouse overflowing with early vegetables and flower seedlings.

I'm excited about the summer and can't wait to be back at the Argenta and Hillcrest farmers markets.  We hope to have a bigger presence at the ASN online market this year as well.   I started a blog a few months ago where I'm attempting to document most of what is happening here on the farm.  I don't know any way to be more transparent about how we are growing things.  If you want to follow us you can find it at www.rattlesgarden.com, otherwise come meet us at the market.  We love to make new friends!

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Feb 9, 2012

VIDEO: Chicken and Rice Soup

HB shares her secrets for making a HUGEMONGUS batch of delicious, nutritious chicken and rice soup in no time flat.  It is four gallons worth to be exact.  Watch below or click here if reading in email.

And for the record, she added the chicken after the rice cooked (no matter what she said on the video).  There wasn't room in the pot for it.


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Cooking for an Army

When HB and I get together and cook a month's worth of food for two families, we have been cooking and chopping solo in our respective kitchens for several days prior.  I've attempted to document in pictures the vast proportions of food used in this herculean effort.

Cooking insane amounts of food causes one's mind to wander and I've wondered about the sanity of chopping 23 cups of onions!!  Yes, I used my food processor for some of the onions.  However, it is not alway consistent with chopping the onion.  I need to hide from my texture sensitive son so I chopped some of the onions in tiny pieces.  And it makes me cry.  You should smell my house.
Other odiferous offerings: this is what 24 chopped cloves of garlic looks like.  All of it went into the curry.
We used fresh and roasted garlic.  Food photographer I am not.  Let me reassure you, those 8 heads of roasted garlic were incredible. My husband, who eats girl food, said it looked so good he wanted to eat it for breakfast.
Not everything is stinky.  Some of it is kind of sweet - like 8 cups of coconut milk.

Here's what four pounds of garbanzo beans look like after they've been soaked and cooked.  That's almost two gallons of beans!
yummy hummus here we come!
The Cruise Director told me to roast 22 sweet potatoes but I think I roasted a few extra...and we used every single one.

I used a roaster for the first time this week.  It's really just a huge crock pot.

Long story short: last week I let the water boil out of my broth leaving a dry crock pot.  In an early morning stupor, I poured cold water into a very hot (and dry) crock pot.  Do not do that.  It will crack.  You will be sad.  And feel very stupid.

Every cloud has its lining.  I borrowed this roaster from my friend who has TWELVE children.  (Yes they are all biological!  I suppose she feels like she cooks for an army every night.)  This roaster is awesome.  I cooked 3 chickens at the same time.

The next day I cooked three more (total of six) because the Cruise Director told me we needed more chicken.

Another reason this roaster is incredible: BROTH!!  I'm talking GALLONS of broth at one time.  Those are chicken feet in there, people.  Go get you some.

This is just a small glimpse of what it is like to cook for an army.  To read the menu and recipes for our cooking day, go here.

Not pictured: 3 gallons of broth, 60 cups of cooked and chopped chicken, 4 quarts of heavy cream, 5 pounds of butter, 7 pounds of cheese and a lot of soap to wash all the dishes!


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Batch Cooking: Another Day in the Freezer

HB and I cooked a ton of food today - great proportions of nutritious and delicious goodness (menu and recipes here). My saintly mother arrived last night from Kentucky and not only provided childcare for us today but also washed a mountain of dishes.  She was a HUGE help.
L to R: Brenda (Julie's mom), Julie, Gramm (HB's son) and HB
I will admit to telling HB that I thought we were biting off more than we could chew.  Her response?  "I will not admit defeat until I walk out of that kitchen."  She was raising the bar whether I was ready or not.

The biggest difference maker of the day was the fact that the Cruise Director came with a schedule in hand.  She wrote out what and when dishes would be made and by whom.  In the end we agreed that the schedule helped tremendously with our time management.

It must also be said that we could not have cooked this much food on our first cooking day.  This is our fourth time to cook together.  Each time we get to know each other better - our strengths and weaknesses (I don't always measure - she likes to follow recipes exactly.)  I feel like we're kind of in a rhythm now.  The next cooking day will go even smoother.  But I don't think it would be possible to make more food.
HB started immediately with sauteing onions and peppers for the burritos while I went to work on the curry.  Below is a picture of her burrito making station.  She was making burritos at 9:00 this morning.
After the above picture, the Cruise Director had me so busy that I couldn't didn't take any more pictures until the end of the day.

Below you'll see our packaging station - a card table and an ironing board.  Instead of rolling up the area rug, I put the orange table cloth on it (because the rug is a bear to get to lay flat if it's moved.)  Please note that we were running out of table space so I started laying packaged food on the floor.  The Cuties boxes were the perfect size for storing our burritos for the freezer.
Recap -
8:45 - HB arrives
8:46 - we start cooking
8:47 - our boys start fighting arguing.  My mother runs interference.
11:00 - Mom takes 3 kids to Chick-fil-A
11:30 - HB & I eat lunch standing up while cooking/cleaning
2:00 - drink pina coladas for a little pick-me-up.  A special drink is always planned for the day.
2:45 - HB leaves to pick up the twins from preschool (I washed dishes)
It's starting to get blurry now.  I can't remember if we were packaging before or after the twins.  Because once the 4 year old twins were in the kitchen...well, production screeched to a crawl.  My mother took them to the park.  We worked like mad to clean the kitchen and package remaining food.
4:30 - HB's swagger wagon pulls out of my driveway.
4:31 - I put burritos in the oven to warm for dinner.
4:32 - I collapse on the couch.


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