From the Farmer

Week 23 – 10/15/2013

Rain and a Plug for Conservation of Good Soils

I wasn’t going to tell you about the rain we got last week – 8 inches over the last seven days – but it did occur to me how grateful I am to be farming well-drained fields.  Our fields held up admirably in an unusual rain event (5.5 inches just over the last few days).  Whether these extreme events are happening with greater regularity or not, the most important resource we have as farmers is good soil.  There are a lot of things we can do to improve things, but there are certain physical limitations to any piece of land that is a result of geography and natural history.  It is not feasible to engineer ones way out of these limitations, certainly not economically.  Farmers who are growing food – annual crops, especially – need the right soils. 

I’m going to put in a brief plug for conserving good soils.  It’s not enough to leave just any field undeveloped as “open space.“  If we want a local agriculture that feeds people, we need to prioritize the conservation of our best soils.  Each state classifies its best soils as “prime” and “of state-wide importance” and you can bet that these soils are also often sought after for non-agricultural development.  Point is, not all farm land is created equal.  And it’s not farm land just because it’s not something else.  

Radish Returns

Some of you may know that Radish our barn cat has been AWOL from her post the last couple months.  Radish limped up to the barn at dusk one summer evening with a pretty good wound on her foot.  I took her up to the emergency clinic (since she’s still a dependent she’s covered under my plan) and got her taped up. 

This wound required a good deal of care due to its location on her ankle – daily unwrapping, cleaning, and re-sugar wrapping.  Radish spent a full month at Aldie Veterinary Hospital under the care of Dr. Drew Luce and his team.  She then spent the last month or so recuperating at my house, much to the consternation of the dog.

You know I don’t try to sell stuff on here (ok, veggies and meat and stuff, yes), but Drew and his family are CSA members and I want to publicly thank him and the entire staff at Aldie Vet Hospital.  If you take your creatures there then I am glad for it, and you won’t be disappointed.

They were very good to us.  Radish is a supremely sweet cat and but she can be a wild thing and likes to box when… whenever she feels like it, really (cats are clinical socio-paths, right?).  She got a penthouse suite and was loved up at any given moment – given the staff’s greetings when we came in for checkups I think the staff genuinely missed her when I took her home.  I was granted visiting privileges, clear explanations of what was going on and regular updates as to her progress. 

Radish is obviously more than just a barn cat, and I wanted to her to be whole if it was possible.  This was a complicated wound and they did an excellent job getting it to heal.  What I appreciate most is how much they cared about her well-being.  They are friendly, they are professional and they are fair, and they are very caring.  Dr. Luce has a great team – not just Drs. Hood, Pattie, and Griffing but the whole staff.  I probably can’t thank them enough but I can tell as many of you as possible.  

In the Share

As for Radish, she is now back at the farm and with the full support of the dog, who is an only pet again.  And just in time, as we’re putting up the storage crops in the barn and it’s a busy time of year for a barn cat.  In honor of her return you get radishes this week.  They don’t need to be eaten raw in a salad!  Try them cooked in some oil and eaten with catsup.  Or bake or cook them up with any of the other root crops, they add nutrition and a little kick to whatever you’re making.  Also, Hulk-style Broccoli (we did something right on this broccoli) that will feed you for weeks; the last of this year’s tomatoes, really this time; potatoes; Kuri winter squash (bake it, make pie out of it, whatever you do you won’t go wrong); peppers; Swiss chard, very tender; and lettuce mix.  I worked for some folks who grow great lettuce.  Sometimes, when the salad mix would get ahead of them, they’d label it as Lazy Lettuce.  Salad mix has been ahead of us recently and we have a lot of it; it’s between baby leaf and full head size, great for sandwiches and salads you need a fork and knife for.  Try it with grilled chicken and fruit this week.

Okra – at the Stand and in Our Hearts

This Ode to Okra comes from CSA member Gene Loughran.  Weep with us as we mourn the last of this year’s okra.  And buy some at the Farm Stand and make something good and hearty and hot, like gumbo or risotto:

Okra is a food that has been enjoyed by people around the world for quite some time.  In fact, no one knows exactly where the okra plant originated from.  The name, "okra," comes from Nigeria.  The word "gumbo," which can refer to the dish or to okra itself, also comes to us from Africa by way of Portuguese, Spanish, and French translations.  It's likely that it came to us via the Caribbean during the early years of colonization.

However you call it, okra is one of nature's super foods!  A super food is one that is high in antioxidants like Vitamins A, E, and C that help keep us healthy by removing free radicals.  Besides these, okra is also a great source of B-complex and K vitamins as well as calcium and magnesium.  Okra is also a good source of fiber.  One cup has about 10-20% of the daily allowance of fiber, only about thirty calories, and almost no fat.

But what about the goo?  If you cut up okra, a goo or "mucilage" will weep out of the plant tissue.  That goo actually contains a rare type of soluble fiber that can keep the helpful bacteria in our colon healthy!  Uh-oh…you say you don't like the goo, huh?  Well, there are ways to prepare okra that minimize that goo…while not minimizing the health benefits! 

The way my mom made Okra was to lightly bread it and pan-fry it whole.  That keeps the goo locked up inside the plant material and makes for a wonderfully crunchy, tasty treat.  You basically hold on to the stem "cap" and eat the rest of the pod.  You can also blanch okra to reduce the goo.  Add it to boiling water for about 3 minutes, drain it, and then chill it in ice-water for another 5 minutes.  One more way to make it "goo-free" is to thinly slice the okra and flash fry it in a pan with just a little bit of oil.

There are still other ways to eat okra.  There are almost as many ways to eat okra as there are ways to eat shrimp–you can boil it, bake it, sauté it, fry it, you name it.  In fact, you can even extract the seeds from the pods, roast them, grind them, and make a caffeine-free coffee substitute!

Of course I like to enjoy shrimp and okra together.  These two have flavors that complement each other well and are key ingredients in gumbos.  A gumbo is a stew made predominantly in the Deep South and Cajun country.  Emeril Lagasse has a popular gumbo recipe, served over quinoa, but I prefer mine with some shrimp, okra, tomatoes, and Andouille sausage over a bed of steamed rice. 

Any way you enjoy it though, try some soon before it's gone for the year.  Okra likes to grow in hot weather and we're probably a little overdue for the end of its season.  The late warm spell may have given us a few extra weeks to enjoy this treat.  I got so excited about it, I wrote a poem!

Ode to Okra

Lady fingers, purple and green
favorite of the South,

my mother told me, listen Gene
Just pop them in your mouth.

Lightly breaded, diced, served fried
in a gumbo, soup or stew
Anyone can make this treat!

Such a taste you think you'd died
hurry friends, for it is true
they're only here in summer's heat.

One more week to yet come try 'em
they'll be at the stand.

No need for you to buy 'em
just line up and demand,

Mike, bring 'em from the farm!
Deb, make sure that he does
and put a carton in each share.

Surely there will be no harm,
if this ode creates a buzz
and okra comes again next year!

– Gene Loughran

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