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Posted 11/12/2010 5:45pm by Reuben DeMaster.

 

Contributed by Christa Held.

Christa is a friend of the DeMaster's who took Reuben up on the offer to barter services for food this summer at the farm. Her tasks included washing and packaging the vegetables; filling the boxes; and a couple trips to the fields. Christa helped at the farm every Tuesday morning throughout the season, including the days that were cold and/or rainy (which were thankfully--for the food and for her--few and far between). Besides her stint at the farm, Christa is married to Chris, manages her home and coaches her children, ages 3-11, through cyber school.

 


This week marked the end of the CSA season and, with it, my summer 'job'. As I sit here on a cold, rainy morning knowing the farmer will be out again harvesting today, I am somewhat glad to be in my warm house. On the other hand, it was such an awesome experience for my family that part of me wishes I was there today so I could enjoy just one more handful of fresh, organic veggies.

This week's box was no disappointment. Again, it was so full of fresh greens that the box was hard to close. Next season, I definitely plan to take pictures of each week's offering so everyone can see how much food we get. Our two favorites--fresh lettuce and butternut squash--were included again. The farmer also shared onions, cabbage (which I immediately shredded and added to my sauerkraut experiment), chard, kale, arugula, turnips and carrots.

The food seems to be absolutely delicious in the fall. I don't know if it's because I know the season is ending or, as the farmer explained, the cold weather causes the sugars in the food to intensify. Regardless, it makes each bite one to savor and a memory of a season well-lived.

Since my children were such an integral part of this experience, I wanted them to share some thoughts about the summer. When I asked the kids for their favorite memories, they shared the following:
Rachel (age 11) – Knowing that the food I ate for dinner was still in the ground this morning. I thought she would say playing with the new kittens or visiting the horses on the neighboring farm with the farmer’s daughter.
Zack (age 8) – Tell them about how I rode the little bike into the ditch and that riding a little bike is not a good idea. Seriously, he did get the worst injury of his life at the farm this summer. Thankfully, it only involved a brush burn from his forehead to his chin, across his arm and on his knee. From my perspective, it’s the perfect summer injury for a boy—the tough look with no trip to the ER!!
Becky (age 3) – I liked helping with the boxes. Indeed, we were lucky to have the help of one to six kids on any given day.

The kids’ favorite food this summer was the lettuce. Their dislike of hot vegetables led us to be big salad eaters for the past year or so. It wasn’t a huge transition to serve the farm lettuce. The big change came on the few weeks during the summer that we had no farm lettuce and bought salad at the store. We ate it, but knew it just wasn’t the same and we probably shouldn’t waste our money next time. The last week we brought home our farm box, we savored every salad, knowing it would be months before we had anymore.

My favorite food this summer had to be the winter squash. Whether it was an acorn, butternut, or kabocha, it became my focus to find a new and exciting way to prepare a food I had once overlooked as useless (and tasteless). Just a few ways I prepared the squash include baked with butter and brown sugar; filled with a spinach/ricotta mixture and baked; and pureed into a hearty, warm soup. There is one last butternut squash still waiting to realize its purpose. I imagine that, being the last one of the season, the outcome will be amazing!

My initial goal in taking this job was to save money on our grocery budget by bartering my time for some delicious, local, organic vegetables. I left the farm every week knowing that what my family took home (literally and figuratively) was much more than we could offer the farm. My kids were able to spend time in the great outdoors with some truly awesome kids. They learned about food, farming, bugs, and hard work. I learned about farming and was able to pick the brains of the farmer and his wife on everything from baking bread to making yogurt and canning (trust me, they are real experts). I gained a greater understanding of the commitment and heart involved in growing and offering a quality product to people week after week. Finally, I became part of the food chain—so much more than being a consumer or even buying organic. I was able to participate in bringing healthy, new foods to families throughout the Lehigh Valley (and even further in a few cases). I was truly blessed not only to eat this great food and share it with my family, but to know that other families were getting that same experience.

Posted 11/3/2010 11:37am by Reuben DeMaster.

     All of us are used to eating cheap food produced from our super efficient food system.  We have been told to trust the FDA, the EPA, and other government regulators.  But more and more people have been questioning food safety and for good reason.  Here is an example of why you may want to reconsider what you are eating:

SECRET CHEMICALS

     About 84,000 chemicals are used commercially in the United Staes - of these, some 17,000 are kept secret not only from the public, but also from doctors, state regulators, and emergency responders, according to a report in the The Washington Post.  The 1976, Toxic Substances Control Act requires manufacturers to report to the EPA any new chemicals intended for market, but there's a caveat:  they can request that a chemical be kept secret if disclosure "could harm their bottom line". 

      When the 1976 law was enacted, there were "only" 60,000 chemicals on the market.  Since then, the EPA has restricted or banned five and has required testing on another 200.  The agency reports that in recent years 95 percent of new-chemical reports from manufacturers includes a request for secrecy.  Ten of these secret chemicals are used in children's products.  Congress is expected to tackle reform of the 1976 law this year. 

Printed in Acres USA magazine.  Volume 40 No. 3

 

 

 

Posted 10/28/2010 5:56am by Reuben DeMaster.

       It looks like Wal-Mart intends to sell food that it claims are sustainable.  The largest grocer in the world has set a goal of buying 9 percent of its produce from local sources.  It apparently intends to purchase this food from farms within the state from farmers with 50 acres or less.  Wal-Mart will attempt to measure the sustainability of farms by asking questions about water, fertilizer, and chemical use.  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/15/business/15walmart.html

      At first glance, this seems like a step in the right direction.  Wal-Mart has enough influence to change our food system very quickly.  For many year, Wal-Mart has successfully sold products that people want to buy at prices they can afford. 

     Small farmers like myself, however, have a lot of questions about what this means.  First, we are concerned about the definition of sustainablity.  Does Wal-Mart really have the expertise to decide what is sustainable?  What kind of farms will Wal-Mart support?  Is it really a good idea to purchase local food from states that has water shortages?  What about the southwest United States?  Is Wal-Mart going to examine the labor practices of the farms that it buys from?  Are farmers going to be paid prices that allow them to continue farming?  http://civileats.com/2010/10/22/wal-mart-goes-local-and-big-ag-gears-up-to-fight/#more-9787

     As more and more producers enter the sustainable system, I encourage all consumers to be extra cautious about what you purchase.  Your purchases shape and change the food that is available.  I am glad that Wal-Mart sees an opportunity to buy from local farms.  I just hope that Wal-Mart's choice does not end up reducing the choices that you can make. 

Posted 8/9/2010 8:30am by Reuben DeMaster.

     Last night I did something that Ididn't want to do.  I started watching a video called "The Future of Food".  I didn't want to watch it because I guessed that it would be full of disheartening information.  It is much easier to think less about our food supply.  After all, we enjoy an abundance of inexpensive food that is always available.  What could be wrong with that? 

      Everything seems fine until we start asking questions.  The first question that someone might ask is, "Where does this food come from?"  You might then discover that almost all of our garlic is grown in China.  China?  Well then, can I trust the source?  Do I want to support a food system in which I have to depend on growers across the country and world?  Who is doing the work?  Who makes the profit?  What sprays or preservatives are applied to the food?  Why is this particular variety being grown?  If you purchase a processed food, you might start to ask, "What are the ingredients?"  The answers to these questions are sometimes troubling and often difficult to discover.  Yes, it much easier to just buy the cheap meat, milk, soda, and lettuce from the shelf and go about your business.

     I did not start farming to challenge "big food" or to criticize conventional agriculture; although I knew that I fit in easily with those who did.  I farm because I love growing and eating fresh food and I find satisfaction in helping other people do the same.  However, as I learn more about the way that our food system works, I feel disheartened and upset at the same time.  I disagree with the ability of corporations like Monsanto to patent seeds.  I'm suspicious of the influence that seed and chemical companies wield.  I too wonder about the future of food and I hope to join others in creating a more hopeful future for our food supply.

 

 

Posted 8/1/2010 8:54pm by Reuben DeMaster.

     Several weeks ago, I visited a nearby farm for what was called a 'Bug Walk'.  A Penn State Agricultural Extention agent had organized a time to walk through several vegetable fields accompanied by an entymologist.  As an added bonus, I was able to take my 8-year-old son with me.  He has been showing a normal boylike interest in bugs this summer. 

     I will admit that I have never been fond of insects.  When I was young, I remember the mosquito swarms of the upper midwest, and the fly populations on the dairy and hog farms.  To someone used to "real" bugs like scorpions, my small ticks, ants, and spiders might not seem like a big deal, but I still did not like them. 

      Armed with our nets and our expert, the group of 25 people began searching.  After several hours, the group had discovered a cabbage worm, several colorado potato beetles, a lacewing, several brown beetles, and a cucumber beetle.  However, the most remarkable thing to me was the lack of insect life that we found.  That is, it was surprising unitl I discovered the type and frequency of sprays that they were using on their vegetables. 

      Back at my farm, as I thought more about the insect life that I encounter every day, I am more amazed than ever at the diversity of insect life on this farm.  Each week, I see new insects with a dazzling variety of shapes, colors, and sizes.  Many of these insects are familiar and destructive to the plants that I am growing.  However, many insects are beneficial and harsh chemical sprays would destroy them along with the pests.  For example, I have thousands of ladybugs all around the farm.  I also have an insect called a wheel bug.  Its main task in life is sitting on a leaf and waiting for another bug to get close enough to eat.  I have seen wheel bugs up to 2 inches long and they look vicious.  I guess they are if you happen to be the wrong kind of insect.  Bees are also among the beneficial insects that would be harmed by chemicals.  The farm has many different kinds of bees and each of them seems to prefer pollen from different types of flowers. 

     As an organic farmer, I have chosen to manage insect pests without sprays that would eliminate the good with the bad.  This challenge will require years of observation and trial and error.  There is a chance that I will not be successful with certain crops.  However, the attempt seems valuable to me.  I might even learn to appreciate insects more.  They certainly are fascinating. 

 

Posted 6/8/2010 7:58pm by Reuben DeMaster.

We like to stir - fry garlic scapes, sprinkle them in salads and omelettes, or put on a pizza.  I recently heard about making pesto with them as well.  That would be fantastic, if you have enough. 

Here is an article with more information about garlic scapes and the recipe for the pestohttp://www.ehow.com/how_2325835_use-garlic-scapes-shoots-recipes.html

Have fun cooking and eating!

Tessa

Posted 6/5/2010 9:03pm by Reuben DeMaster.

 

Here is a website to help with your rhubarb questions.  http://www.recipetips.com/kitchen-tips/t--1372/all-about-rhubarb.asp

Also, we've included some recipes for rhubarb in our recipe section.  Our family truly enjoys eating a bowl of rhubarb sauce for dessert.  Look up Sam's Rhubarb Sauce for great directions for this simple treat. 

The first dessert we always make with our first picking of rhubarb is Rhubarb Kuchen.  This is a delicious and easy cake type bar that turns out wonderful every time.

We hope you enjoy!

Posted 5/1/2010 5:48am by Reuben DeMaster.

Last week, the farm received a certification called Certified Naturally grown.  This organization was started as an alternative to the federal Certified Organic program.  It was designed to meet the same standards while avoiding some of the costs and recordkeeping for small farms. 

Willow Haven Farm is still in a period of transition to organic.  In order to receive certification, a field must be completely free from synthetic fertilizers and chemicals for 3 years.  Some of my production areas are in their second year. 

You can read more about the Certified Naturally Grown program at www.naturallygrown.org.   

Posted 4/14/2010 6:34am by Reuben DeMaster.

     It appears that nanotechnology is being used on our food.  It is not being regulated or disclosed to consumers.  Most likely, large food corporations are denying their use of nanoparticles.  We do not know if there are any health risks involved with these processes.  In other words, the same thing is happening as does with many of the other foods that we commonly eat. 

     My question is, "Why?".  Why do we need to manipulate flavors and extend shelf life?  What is wrong with eating food grown on healthy soils and purchased locally?  Will we ever consider or know the true cost and the risks of the additives that we insert into our foods? 

http://www.aolnews.com/nanotech/article/regulated-or-not-nano-foods-coming-to-a-store-near-you/19401246

Posted 4/10/2010 5:12am by Reuben DeMaster.

     Last month, I enjoyed a book that was both an introduction to growing plants, and an in depth study of biology and chemistry.  This man has a teaching gift that makes the complex understandable while challenging common assumptions about plants.  In some ways, this book pulled together my past science classes and helped me to apply it to a farm.  For me, chemistry, biology, and entymology becomes fascinating when the concepts can be applied to an ecological system like a farm. 

     One of the main assertions of the author is that insects, diseases and weeds attack unhealthy plants that are grown in unbalanced soil that is low in organic matter.  Balanced soil does not mean simply bringing the PH close to neutral.  That helps farmers effectly apply water soluble fertilizers, but it does not necessarily help plants to grow better.  Instead, Walters believes that balancing the Calcium, Magnesium, and Potassium levels are more essential to grow healthy plants.  This must be done in the context of about 5% organic matter in the soil. 

     Now comes the interesting part.  Walters claims that insects and diseases primarily attack weak plants that are stressed.  Does this sound unlikely or far-fetched?  Another great part of farming is that the land can be improved over time to find out if this is true.  On my farm, the fertility levels are generally good and the nutrients are generally balanced.  However, the shale soil is not very deep and does not have a lot of organic matter.  My challenge will be to use an aggressive rotation while growing a lot of cover crops for the next few years. 

     "Eco Farm" would be a very good introduction to soil fertility, nutrient availability, and the fascinating life of a plant for both farmers and anyone who enjoys plants.

Farm Made Holiday Cookie Plates Made To OrderDecember 9th, 2017

Dear Friends, The Farm Girl bakes delicious cookies and handpies for our markets all summer long. Now she is offering Holiday Cookie Plates for your parties, exchanges and celebrations. All cookies a

Extra Vegetable and Meat Delivery Available Now!November 27th, 2017

Last week, as I was looking at all the vegetables that are still growing, I realized there may be some who would be interested in one more delivery of fresh, organic vegetables before winter comes. M

Extra Vegetable and Meat Delivery Available Now!November 27th, 2017

Last week, as I was looking at all the vegetables that are still growing, I realized there may be some who would be interested in one more delivery of fresh, organic vegetables before winter comes. M

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