Small Family Farm
Below are current issues of The Weekly Dig Newsletter, from Jillian Varney, owner of the Small Family Farm. Stay up to date on what's happening on the farm!

June Nineteenth, 2024

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It’s hard to believe that it will officially be summer this Friday!  With the heat that we’ve been experiencing this week it begins to feel like summer alas.  I find myself welcoming and enjoying the heat this summer more than I have in previous years.  After so many months of being cold  and wearing sweaters and layers, I finally feel warm.  Even the sweating while working in the fields feels like a welcome sauna.  I’m not sure how long I’ll enjoy the heat for, but for now I’m into it!  With all of the moisture in the ground and heat in the air, the plants seem to be growing like crazy!  So much rapid growth happening everywhere we turn seemingly overnight.  They grow up so fast!  

Eating your way through a midwestern growing season can be a journey and experience in itself!  You need to be adaptive, flexible, exploratory, and inquisitive.  When you open that box and you find garlic scapes, kohlrabi, and salad turnips and maybe you’ve never cooked with garlic scapes, kohlrabi or salad turnips before.  This requires a bit of patience, open-minded ness and a willingness to try new things!  I promise, it gets easier!  No necessarily overnight, but it does get easier! 

You need to transform you ideas about what can go into and onto a salad.  Being open to what a stir fry can look like and being open to mixing new kinds of greens into your quiches, onto your pizzas, and into your casseroles of all kinds will be the .  You need to invest a tiny amount of time into finding recipes.  We try to help with this by finding fun recipes ideas to share and broaden your perspective.  It can be very inspiring to find recipes online or in your stash of cookbooks that make you feel excited to pull out your cutting board and get cookin’!  Feeling inspired, getting excited to make dinner, rising to the challenge of using up these new foods will make you feel like a true seasonal locavore!  You’ll be eating fresh, local, seasonal, organic vegetables and feeling like a super hero because of it! 

I like to remind myself that the seasons bring us the foods we need as well.  In the spring our bodies need the purifying asparagus, spicy radishes, and alkalizing greens to help us detoxify and cleanse from a long winter of stagnancy and heavy foods.  The green onions and garlic help clean out the blood.  The crispy turnips and kohlrabi give us juicy, fresh snacks to help keep the fibre in our guts. 

As the seasons change and we move into summer we are offered cooling cucumbers, watery zucchinis, plenty of greens to keep the blood alkaline, and cooling, juicy fruits like tomatoes and peppers and melons that keep us hydrated and also offer preservation opportunities in their overwhelming bounty. 

As we move into fall we get more carb-heavy roots and tubers like sweet potatoes, winter squash, potatoes, rutabagas, carrots, beets, ect.  Nature tells us to store these foods and their dense richness will help carry us through to cold months ahead. 

I find this cycle to be beautiful.  The more we learn to love, appreciate and truly immerse ourselves in seasonal eating the less we care about seeing asparagus in January at the super market.  We can turn our nose up to the grocery store tomatoes shipped in from who-knows-where in February.  We can find no comparison to a seasonal, locally grown strawberry and nothing will replace simply waiting until June to indulge in the fruit within it’s righteous and respectful season. 

I’m a little bias and also a little bit of a food snob.  But I think that’s okay!  I’m just spoiled.  I’ve had access to too much good food for too long and the artificial replacements just don’t do it for me anymore.  After a long winter of eating lots of potatoes, squash, cabbage, beets and carrots, I’m very excited for radishes and kohlrabis!  The strawberries taste divine and salads at every meal make me feel like a queen!  It’s the little things in life, you know? 

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What’s in the Box?

Red Potatoes-  2 pounds of overwintered red potatoes.  These guys have been in cold storage all winter and will want to sprout if left out at room temperature.  We recommend storing them in the fridge if you don’t plan to use them up right away! 

Overwintered Beets-  These guys have also been in storage all winter so we recommend using them up sooner rather than later. 

Oregano-  We harvested this oregano a week ago to get it before it went to flower and stored it in the cooler until this week.  Normally oregano harvested in the fall keeps for many weeks without any signs of decay, but these fresh, spring bunches already started to turn brown on the lower leaves.  We figured there is still plenty of good oregano in the upper half of the bunch that you can still use.  You can un-bunch your whole bunch and lay it out to dry in a warm oven or a dehydrator.  Once the leaves are dry you can crunch them away from the stem and store in a mason jar with a tight lid. 

Radishes-  The final giving of radishes.  Just in time for the heat!  Radishes do not respond well to the heat.  Their flavor is much better in a cooler, milder, moister springs.  I think this was a great year for radishes! 

Salad Turnips-  Hakurai salad turnips.  These smooth, buttery turnips are great for snacking, sautéing, or dipping in your favorite dip.

Strawberries-  Roughly 250 CSA boxes got a quart and we had to give pints for the remaining boxes as we didn’t quite have enough to give everyone a quart!  We’re hoping for pints again next week as the strawberries have peaked. 

Garlic Scapes-  Garlic scapes are actually the garlic plant’s effort at making a seed head.  We snap these curly scapes off to tell the garlic plant to put more of it’s energy into making a large bulb rather than putting energy into making seeds.  Lucky for us, they’re delicious and a tasty replacement for garlic until we harvest this summer! 

Rhubarb-  3/4 pound bunches of rhubarb.  Fun to be able to offer at the same time as strawberries!  Strawberry-Rhubarb pie or crisp?

Kohlrabi-  Either a purple kohlrabi or a white kohlrabi this week.  Also called a ‘ground apple’.  Remember to peel your kohlrabi before eating it.  Once you cut into a kohlrabi, plan to use the whole thing right away, they can get bitter if left to oxidize in the fridge for a few days. 

Lettuce-  Two heads of a red buttercup lettuce.  I absolutely love this variety of lettuce and how tender and deep red it is.  The leaves are wonderful for lettuce wraps.  Also a variety that we can only grow in the Spring and fall because it does not tolerate the heat of the summer. 

Curly Green Kale-  The kale this early in the year is very, very tender. 

Peas-  1/4 pound per member.  Peas are always a very time-consuming and labor intensive harvest.  We were hoping to offer more this week, but we had poor germination on our peas this year.  The plants were loaded with flowers this week, so we can look forward to more peas next week! 

Next Week’s Best Guess:  Salad Turnips, beets, green onions, garlic scapes, kohlrabi x 2 or 3, Lettuce, Strawberries?, Swiss Chard, Dill, Peas

Recipes

Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Asian chicken lettuce wraps recipe 1

Pozole Rojo

Pozole Recipe 6 1

Beet Salad Recipe

Best Beet Salad recipe

 Roasted Kohlrabi

Roasted Kohlrabi SpendWithPennies 6

 

June Twelfth

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For the first year in many years, we are having a good strawberry year!  A few bad years has taught us a lot about what it takes to get a good strawberry crop.  We’ve done a little more research and called a few of our farmer-friends who have success with strawberries, and have applied what we have learned to our own strawberry patch. 

Because of the drought last year, we lost all of last year’s succession.  We would be picking off of two patches this year if we had been able to save the planting from last year.  Farmer Adam was so busy getting water to all of the transplants that needed it, the strawberries were lower in priority and did not get saved in time.  We are picking this year off of a 2-year-old patch that is producing beautifully for us.  We also put in a fresh planting of strawberries this year that will hopefully produce well next year.  We put in 1000 new plants every year so that we always have a new succession coming on (assuming there are no failed plantings).

The biggest discovery for us was to not let any frost fall on the blossoms.  This is where we think we may have gone wrong.  This Spring, shortly after we pulled the mulch blanket back from the strawberries after winter to help the strawberry shoots emerge, we covered them with a humongous sheet of ‘remay’ or ‘floating row cover’.  This material is thin like a cotton sheet and provides frost protection on blossoms or any crop.  It also creates a greenhouse effect and warms the soil and plants beneath the ‘floating row cover’.  We think this may have been our secret to success this year. 

Another big issue with strawberries we have faced is simply keeping the quack grass out of the beds.  Grass competition in perennial beds is always a tricky problem to deal with, especially once the beds are two or three years old. 

The second big thing we learned about strawberries is to ‘renovate’ the patch.  Strawberries need to be mowed down after harvest season is over to eliminate any diseased leaves and to stimulate new plant growth and runner production.  This is another step in strawberry production that we have known about and have almost always done, but not as early as right after harvest season ends. 

I’m feeling a renewed sense of hope for the future of strawberry production on this farm!  We have always put a lot of effort and labor hours into our strawberry patches with very little return the last few years.  We’re hoping that we have it figured out now and can consistently provide beautiful strawberries for all the years to come!  We are also only able to give pints this year because we are picking off of just the one patch.  If last years patch had done well, we would have been able to offer quarts.  We’re hoping that next year we can offer quarts again like we did several years ago. 

There are some crops that are keystone.  Tomatoes, green beans, sweet corn, carrots, potatoes and I feel that strawberries is one of them as well.  They are so well loved and appreciated we want to be able to grow them and share them with you!

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What’s in the Box?

2 lbs Red Potatoes-  Overwintered Potatoes!  These little babies were kept cold in our cooler all winter long.  If set out to room temperature they will want to sprout.  If you don’t think you’ll get to eat them up right away we recommend putting them in your fridge for longer storage. 

Herb Pack-   The herbs in this week’s pack are Basil, Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano.  There is nothing like fresh basil when you’re cooking farm-fresh seasonal meals!  Always, if you have the space outdoors to plant these herbs, they will do best with full sun outdoors.  Container gardening is also a perfectly acceptable.  Be sure to use certified organic potting soil to plant your lovely herb babies into and give them plenty of sunlight and water and don’t be bashful to pick off of them!  They love to be harvested! 

Lettuce x 2-  Two baby heads of lettuce per member this week.  Most of went out this week was field-grown red oak leaf lettuce.  We filled in with a tiny bit of romaine and green oak leaf. 

Cilantro-  Beautiful bunches of cilantro for your taco salads, asian salads and all the fun ways you may use it up! 

Cherry Bell Radish-  Perfect little cherry bell radishes.  No signs of bolting, not too spicy.  Just pretty little, crispy, crunchy decorations for your salad.  For the hard-core veggie lovers out there looking to get the most out of your CSA box, you can eat the radish greens as well! 

Salad Turnips-  Hakurai Salad Turnips are such a smooth turnip.  They will transform your perception of what a turnip is and can be.  Nothing similar to a fall, storage turnip!  The greens to these Hakurai salad turnips can also be eaten. 

Green Garlic-  These are actual garlic plants pulled young before the garlic bulb begins to form.  Use like you would a green onion or leek and eat the lower part of the white section.  Be sure to use these up because garlic scapes are coming soon! 

Pac Choi- 1-2 heads of pac choi per member.  These guys varied in size quite a bit this week.  The last of the greenhouse grown crops for the year.  Pac Choi is wonderful in asian salads and stir fry! 

Strawberries-  Pints for all this week!  Mostly large berries this week as well!  We’re sure we’ll have berries in next week’s box, but it’s always hard to tell about a third week.  Next year we can hope for quarts! 

Onion or Shallot-  We also had some overwintered onions and shallots to share.  The onions and shallots, like the potatoes, were in cold storage and will sprout if left out on the counter.  If you don’t think you’ll get to eating your allium right away, keep it in the fridge until you plan to use it up! 

Recipes

Hakurai Turnip Asian Saute (recipe that uses the greens too!)

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Herbed Potato Salad

herbed red potato salad recipe 1 copy

Pac Choi Stir Fry

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June Fifth

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Small Family Farm is a realized dream.  It’s what happens when you’re young, romantic, and idealistic but also focused, determined and hard working.  What was once a storybook vision painted in watercolor imaginings, is now the consummated, mature, and experienced version with a crystal clear presence.  The rows of vegetables on a rolling hillside in the Driftless region, the rooster crowing amongst his flock of cackling hens at dawn, the cows in the green pastures and the barefoot children, especially the children, running wild and free in the countryside.  Twenty years of a slow-growth mindset has amounted to a real-life dream come true. 

In our Weekly Dig Newsletters, I’ll mostly share with you the beautiful side of this life.  Because there is so much beauty and bounty on the farm.  I believe there are lots of grumpy farmers out there in the world who love to complain about the weather and their crops and how hard it is to be a farmer, so I’m going to try really hard not to be one of those farmers.  I’ll save actual complaining for when it really, really matters and needs to come out and the hardships need to be shared because you, as a shareholder and invested member of the farm, need to know.  I also believe that your life has hardships too. What we need to do more for one another is share the beauty, even when it’s hard.  See the positive side.  Keep our chins up.  Help one another through this amazing life filled with challenges and struggles. 

I’ll assume that you just know that farming is hard.  You may also know, because you have small children of your own or have raised a family of your own, that raising children is also hard.  So here we are out here, in the middle of no-where, doing really, really hard things singing about how dreamy it is. 

But isn’t that the way it goes?  The harder it is to achieve something, the greater the rewards? 

I think so. 

Year after year we make it to the end of a growing season and we re-evaluate.  We do a cost/benefit analysis.  Year after year we determine that even though it’s hard, it’s a very good life for us. 

I would be remiss if I did not mention how much of our success is attributed to my amazing and supportive mother.  She lives next door and is here cooking us dinner, helping run the kids to their soccer practices and swim lessons and picking up oil filters and groceries and errand-running of all kinds so that I can be home working on the farm.  Her real super-power is cooking.  She makes it so that we all come home to a warm and nutritious meal after a day of dispersal.  We always seem to have a little too much going on and mom’s presence and meals in our life provide a grounding force needed that holds us all together somehow.  

The farm is a tapestry of people.  It’s an intricate weaving of all the faces who come here to help and invest their time and energy.  It’s the kids and the farm hands and the grandmother and our amish neighbors and our other neighbor, Jammie, who comes down on his four-wheeler every time we call him for help and who also happens to know how to build, fix, and grow everything.  It’s not just Adam and I who made the dream come true, but the whole lot of us.  Even you! 

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What’s in the Box?

Pac Choi- This Asian green does very well in the Spring and Fall when the weather is cool.  It was grown in the greenhouse to ensure it was ready for the first CSA box of the year!  So tender and delicious!  Pac choi is wonderful in stir fry or raw in fresh salads.

2 x Green Oakleaf Buttercup Lettuce-  These heads of lettuce were so tender it was difficult to handle them at harvest, washing and packing without ripping the leaves. 

Cherry Bell Radish-  I love how the humble radish is welcomed in ceremony in the Spring after a long winter of very few vegetables!  Radishes never taste as good as they do in the Spring!  Did you know that Radish greens are edible?  If you're wanting to get as much out of your CSA box as possible, radish greens are good in salads, made into a pesto, cooked with eggs or whatever way you can dream up!

Overwintered Onion-  These onions were grown last season and kept beautifully in the cooler all winter.  They will sprout if left out on your warm countertop.  We recommend eating it up right away or sticking it in your fridge if you can’t get to it right away! 

Spinach-  1/3 pound spinach.  We had hoped for a much larger spinach harvest this Spring, but these beds of spinach didn’t not do as well as we had hoped, something to do with how the beds tilled up this spring. 

Asparagus-  Asparagus is the only vegetable that we actually buy for our CSA boxes.  We get it from a certified organic asparagus farm by Baraboo, Wi.  It takes an awfully big field of asparagus to produce enough for a 400 member CSA farm! 

Herb Pack-  Rosemary, Sage, Thyme and Mint.  We recommend using certified organic potting soil mix if you want to plant these little babies into pots.  Or, better yet, give them the honor of space in your garden if you have it.  They will all appreciate as much sun as you can give them.  Thyme, sage, and mint will all come back next year if planted outside.  Rosemary will love to be  planted outside and will do very well there, but will need to be dug up and brought in if you want it to last all winter! 

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Recipes-

Brown Butter Radish Crostini

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Pac Choi in Ginger Sauce

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Grilled Asparagus Pizzas with Gremolata

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