CSA 2019 – Registration is open!

We are now accepting 2019 CSA memberships!  Sign up now to receive 21 weeks of local, delicious, organic produce straight from our farm to your table.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It is a grassroots movement to bring consumers into a closer relationship to their food producers. Also, by purchasing your CSA share now during the winter or even in early spring, you’ll give our farm more of an income during the winter months when produce is sparse, which helps us to pay for seeds, soil, and supplies for the coming year. Our gratitude to you for this support is beyond words. 💗 We’ll do our best to showcase our wide variety of incredible produce in each box during the CSA season to make it worth your while. 

We look forward to sharing this next season of organic bounty with you!

Sign up here:  https://www.gatheringtogetherfarm.com/csa-registration

Ode to the Beetle in Your Salad

Diversity as an Organic Pest Control

We have all had the experience of finding the occasional beetle in a salad or a slug in a head of cabbage. When we encounter such a thing, we have to decide how we feel about it. But it’s hard to know what to think, and there is so much more to think about beyond what meets the eye.

On occasion we’ll get a call from a chef who bought our produce saying that an upset customer found a bug in their salad. We thought it was important to tell our customer base more about the truth behind that bug in the salad mix, and why it is actually something to make you feel better about your food rather than worse.

So why would anyone feel good about finding a bug in their salad? There are three main reasons why this would be the case, which I’ll get to in a bit. But first, it is essential to understand the concept of the microbiome. The microbiome is the ecosystem of non-human lifeforms that exists in your digestive system to regulate your digestive and mental health. Having a diverse microbiome is a healthy microbiome. This is because a diversity of microbes can protect a diversity of attacks on your health. A small amount of “bad” microbes cannot take hold and create an infection because they have to compete for space and resources with the diversity of beneficial microbes present. The same is true of the ecosystem outside our bodies. A diverse ecosystem is a health ecosystem. When a farm’s ecosystem has a diversity of bugs present, it is harder for one bug to become a major infestation.

The first reason why a bug in your salad is a good thing is that we do not use any broad-spectrum pesticides. Broad spectrum pesticides eliminate all forms of bug life within a certain category, whether they’re beneficial, indifferent, or damaging to the crop being “protected.” The ecosystem then has such a lack of diversity that it is essentially a blank substrate that can be easily taken over by a pest again, rather than kept in balance by the multitude of different kinds of critters all vying for the same space.

Also, broad-spectrum pesticides create heavy selection pressure on pest populations, forcing them to rapidly develop resistance to the chemicals being dumped onto the ground. This can quickly lead to the creation of what are commonly referred to as super bugs that are so resistant to our methods to control them that complete crop failure becomes a likely risk. Additionally, there are many other negative environmental side-effects of broad-spectrum pesticides aside from the fact that you’ll make pest control harder for yourself the following season. As our agronomist John Yeo takes on pests on the farm, he remembers Jerry Mahoney’s quote, “If we poison the earth, we’re poisoning ourselves.”

Secondly, broad spectrum pesticides are not good for your health in a more direct way than harming the environment. Anything that is designed to blindly destroy life should not go into your body. Of course there is a system in place that is designed to make sure that anything applied to food crops does not harm you, but this classification system is flawed. In simplified terms, for a pesticide to be approved for use, it must be classified under “non-mammalian toxicity.” But this is highly problematic, as the majority of cells in your body are not actually mammalian. They are protozoan, bacterial, fungal, etc. Just as described above, a healthy microbiome is a diverse microbiome.

And lastly, on our farm we feel very strongly about never spraying anything on leafy greens specifically, as they will be consumed raw. That means no organically certified pesticides either. Straight up nothing goes on greens that you will put into your body raw. Leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach, and arugula are very delicate and must be treated as such. To spray something on a leafy green is to eat what you spray, and we take that reality very seriously.

So what do we do to control pests on our farm? Our main control methods are exclusion and staying in tune with the annual rhythms of pest populations. Exclusion controls pests by creating a barrier between them and the plants. For our outdoor greens we put floating row cover, a cheese-cloth like fabric, over the greens and just lift it up when we need to harvest. For crops inside hoop houses, we hang netting over the ends of the house to keep bugs from getting in.

Working with the natural cycles of pest populations is also very important. There will always be certain times of year when pest populations reach their climax. It’s like clockwork. During the times when we know aphids will be rampant, we don’t harvest the crops that they have infested. We wait it out, move on to the next planting, and go back to the old planting after the aphids are gone and it has produced a new set of shoots to harvest.

We also focus heavily on interplanting insectary plants to encourage the growth of beneficial bugs who like to eat pests. Currently, we plant lots of alyssum, and in the past we have also used calendula and phacelia. Alyssum is excellent at attracting wasps that eat aphids and thrips, which are major pests on our farm.

At the very bottom of our pest control repertoire are organically certified sprays, of which we use only three. The most commonly used spray is Surround, a brand of kaolinite clay that is very fine that we spray on winter squash seedlings to protect them from cucumber beetles. The second is BT, a bacterium known as Bacillus thuringiensis that is a naturally-occurring bacteria that lives in the soil. We spray it on Napa cabbage seedlings to prevent moths from laying their caterpillar eggs on them. Lastly, we will use Pyganic, a chrysanthemum derivative, on our pepper seedlings to protect them from aphids. In all of these cases, the crops get sprayed at a very young age to get them through to when they will be strong enough to protect themselves.

If you are reading this, you are likely already someone who is able to choose to pay the extra dollar for organic produce for ethical and health-related reasons. You probably already know that conventional food production is rife with environmental degradation, minimal nutritive quality, and a corporate-controlled suppression of science. But perhaps you didn’t know that finding a beetle in your salad is a physical embodiment of environmental and nutritive health. Either you see a beetle on occasion and you know that you’re eating real food, or you never see any sign of life on your food and you know that it’s been eradicated.

Diversity is what it all comes down to. Diversity is what we work to preserve.

Delicious, nutritious diversity.

By Laura Bennett

September on the Farm – A Time of Transitions

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we go hard all summer long. We Oregonians know all too well that summer sits precariously in the year like an island amidst a sea of rainy days, and we must make the most of it. So we get lost in the heat of the season, trying to soak up every last ray of sunshine while the days are long, jumping into the river every chance we get, and eating our weight of the sweet summer fruits that we’ll soon miss so much. For us on the farm, summer is the time to, as they say, make hay while the sun shines.

But then the abundance of August gives way to September, and things begin to transition all around us. Summer produce begins its descent away from the apex of abundance, and the nights roll in with a chill that reminds us that our time on this summer island will not last forever.

Though most of us mourn summer’s decline, September really is a unique time of year when we still get to enjoy the last fruits of summer even as the fall harvest begins rolling in. Our greens that have taken a hiatus in the heat are now bursting forth with delicate new leaves, winter squash is ripening up on the vine, and the immense diversity of root vegetables that we grow are sizing up secretly beneath the earth.

Farming requires us to have our bodies in tune with the environment in a way that modern life has worked to distance us from, and to notice the cycles of transition by which we must abide. In this way life demands of us that we be present to experience it if we are to expect it to produce the abundant food that graces your plate.

There are hot times and there are cold times, times of abundance and times of famine, and even more times where the lines between these extremes are not so clear. The food in front of you today is an embodiment of transition, and the flavors to be experienced cannot be found at any other time of year or on any other place on the globe. It is regionality by the spoonful. Nowhere else at this moment will a poblano be developing its deep, mole flavor as it enters its chocolate-red state of ripeness, ready to be combined with a sweet and buttery delicata winter squash fresh from the vine. It is in these times of transition that we can literally taste summer ending while fall begins, all within a single bite. Eat up.

Best,
Laura Bennett

News from the Farm – Beginning of 2018

GTF is off to a great start in 2018. Spring vegetables are here!  We have been getting great production from our overwintering greens. All the fresh greens you are eating today are from our outdoor production. Watercress and mache are from greenhouse production. All the roots were harvested this last fall and stored away for your enjoyment for many months to come.

Our propagation greenhouse is full of starts which will be transplanted into our high tunnels as well as become our first outdoor plantings. We’ve got a lot of healthy young tomato plants with grafted rootstock to make them even happier. In our high tunnels we have seeded carrots, beets, spinach, cilantro, white turnips, radishes, scallions, chicory, and peas.

If you are willing to embrace the mud, we welcome you to take a look around and enjoy the beauty of our vegetables bursting forth.

The Magic of Microgreens

Imagine a tiny little seedling, just emerged from the soil using the energy stored in a single seed. The first leaves are just beginning to unfold, and on the cellular level the tiny plant is bursting with newfound life. Cells are differentiating, nutrition levels are skyrocketing, and flavor is incredibly concentrated. There’s something so invigorating about eating one of these little life bursts, something almost magical.

Microgreens can be that final splash of color atop a gourmet dish, or they can be added onto a salad or into a green smoothie easily at home. Not only are they packed full of flavor and five times the nutritional content as the same plants in their mature form, but they’re tiny and pretty and we’re simply in love with them! Out at the farm we have microgreens on our salads for farm lunch (GTF provides a home-cooked meal for all employees three days a week), and we top most all of our dishes with microgreens in our own farm to table restaurant.

Because nearly five hundred varieties of vegetables wasn’t quite enough for us to juggle, we decided to start our own microgreen operation. For the past year we have been trying out different plant varieties and processing techniques, and now microgreens have become a solid piece of production at the farm. There are many varieties of micros that we have grown, but here are our main selections, complete with flavor profiles and followed by methods of production.

Microgreen Variety Breakdown

Amaranth – Burgundy

  • This dainty little microgreen wins the micro award, coming in at a towering 1-2 inches. It has become quite the favorite among chefs, as its deep burgundy stems and leaves provide a beautiful contrast atop many dishes.
  • Amaranth is most commonly grown for its grain, though we grow it for greens in our salad mix as well as a microgreen. It is related to beets and therefore has a very mild beet flavor.

Mustard Medley

  • We’ve been playing around with various ratios of different mustard greens for a while now, and we have finally landed on a winner—Mustard Medley #4, a combination of Arugula, Ruby Streaks Purple Mizuna, Miz America Green Mizuna, Ho Mi Dragon Tongue Mustard, and Golden Frill Mustard.
  • This microgreen has such a great wasabi-like kick to it, combined with some of the milder yet savory flavors of the more mellow mustards. Beyond the amazing flavor, the color variation in this medley is unique from all the other micros we grow.

Peas

  • Pea microgreens have very soft leaves, and a deliciously mild pea flavor. Due to their leguminous nature, these micros have especially high protein levels making them great for green smoothies.

Radish – Purple Leaf

  • This is another favorite among chefs for its deep purple color and mildly spicy flavor. The dark purple leaves fade down the stem to a lighter purple at the base, and little light green mutants shine through the sea of purple expressing the genetic diversity still present in the seed.

Radish – Purple Stem

  • These multi-colored radishes have slightly darker green leaves than the daikon radishes, only with bright pink stems. The spice level seems to be higher than the purple leaf, but milder than the daikon.

Radish – Daikon

  • This radish is my personal favorite. Both the stems and leaves are such a bright chartreuse color, the smooth, supple seedlings almost glow. Beyond the eye-popping color, daikon radish microgreens provide an intense, feel-it-in-your-nose wasabi spice reminiscent of purple roots that they could one day become.

This selection of microgreens works the best for us currently, though in the outskirts of the season it’s likely that we may play with cooler-weather crops such as micro dill and micro cilantro. We may even toy around with special kale mixes, beets, orach, chrysanthemums, and sunflowers, the possibilities are quite literally endless!

 

The Low Down on Growing Microgreens

Best office ever!!! We built cages to go over our greenhouse tables to keep mice off the microgreens. But we do like to open them up often so that the microgreens can feel free 🙂
Micro peas and beets on one of our house-made pasta dishes at our restaurant.

We make a special soil media for microgreens, heavy on peat moss, mixed with perlite and compost. This way the medium drains well and doesn’t keep the micros too wet, which can lead to dampening off.

We tamp the soil in the flats down to make a solid, flat layer that we can seed the micros onto. To seed the microgreens we simply shake seed onto the flat by hand, doing our best to sprinkle as uniformly as can be.

After we seed the flats, we cover them with a light layer of topper to protect the seeds, and water them in. We have to be careful not to water the flats in too hard, otherwise the nicely uniform seed that we worked so hard to sprinkle will get pushed around in the flat, leading to uneven germination. Microgreens are delicate little souls, they need everything to be just right.

Our pea process is a little different from the rest of the microgreens. First we have to soak them (check out the before and after soaking photo), and then we put them in flats without any topper. The flats must then be stacked and weighted down with bricks so that the peas root down into the soil and don’t pry themselves up into the air, which would make them very difficult to cut later. After a couple of days, we unstack the flats and let the peas do their thang!

We do micro beets in the cooler ends of the season, both spring and fall. Beets really hate being inside a greenhouse in a flat in the middle of summer, so they’re a special treat when we can have them. Beet microgreens have such succulent stems and leaves and a fully bright beet flavor.
Most weeks we have microgreens for sale at the farmers market, generally just PSU Saturday and Hillsdale Sunday. You can purchase greens by the pound or by the flat.
Mustard Microgreens sitting patiently on a creamed carrot soup at our restaurant.

I’d like to give a big thanks to all of the wonderful restaurants and individuals who have been taking advantage of our microgreens. Every week our order boards have been full and we’ve had to turn away customers, so we can only assume it’s time to up production. You can expect to see our microgreens atop dishes at the restaurants listed below and many more in the Portland area, as well as at our own restaurant, The Farmstand.

Thanks everyone for your support!

Here are some photos from Instagram of our microgreens at restaurants in Portland. It’s an honor to have our produce displayed so beautifully.