Carrots: Clean for the Eating

GTFDirtyCarrots This is our summer carrot harvest straight from the ground. In dry times like it takes very little effort to release these sweet root vegetables from the soil. During our high season, we typically harvest 800 to 1,000 bunches of carrots two or three times a week. It takes 10 field crew members about 2 hours when the harvest is easy, the weather is good, and the crop is healthy.  GTFCarrotsonTruckThe crew bunches the carrots as they harvest from the field. We don’t weigh or measure specifically, but our crew ties together about a pound of carrots in each bunch. These bunches are loaded on a flat bed and delivered to barn for a high-pressure hose wash.

CleaningCarrots1We get remove the majority of the soil with the hose, then the carrots are put through an additional wash as they move down the rolling table where they are received and packed.

CarrotsConveyerBeltThe rolling table works well for us because it give the produce a chance to drip dry before packing, and it decreases the amount of product handling, making our process more labor-efficient.

 

Market2photocontestCorvWednesdayOnce packed, our carrots are stored in a cooler until they are shipped to their final destination, such as the farmers’ market, restaurants, or our CSA or farmstand.

Strawberries: Sweet and Ready to Eat

Our strawberry crop is abundant this year. It is the best we have seen in a while. You can find these ever-bearing Seascape strawberries at our markets or at our farm stand. While prices may vary from market to market, you can get some good deals if you by in bulk. If you are able to, buying in bulk is a great way to stretch your market dollars. Canning or freezing is great way to stretch the strawberry season! Read Daniel Blaustein-Rejto’s blog post Cost-Saving Tips for Shopping at Farmers’ Markets for some more great ideas to stretch your budget.

strawberries for marketIt can be hard to not eat all the strawberries fresh from the pint! When I have a little excess of  fresh seasonal fruit, I like to blend the sweet goods into a morning smoothie. Smoothies are great way to pack in some protein and other less-tasteful, nutrient-dense supplements.  It makes for a great workout recovery beverage, if that is your thing. The little ones will think they are getting dessert for breakfast.

strawberry smoothie

STRAWBERRY PROTEIN POWER SMOOTHIE

1 Pint Fresh Strawberries
1 Frozen Banana
1/2 Cup Yogurt
1 Cup Liquid (Milk – cow’s, almond, coconut, water… your preference!)
1/4 Cup Hemp Seeds (optional: choice protein supplement)
2-3 Teaspoons of supplements (optional: I like to mix it up and use spirulina, maca, superfood blends, and/or mesquite powder)

Use a blender and process until desired consistency. Add more fruit to thicken or more liquid if too thick. I like to add fresh market greens when they are around. I have found that you can get away with adding a few leaves of almost any greens without compromising the flavor of the smoothie. I like to use kale, collards, or chard.

Our local natural foods co-op in Corvallis, First Alternative, has a great smoothie supply section in the bulk cooler at their North Store. You can find raw powders of acai berry, camu camu, maca, mesquite, wheatgrass, and cacao, whole hemp seeds, bee pollen, soy lecithin, and cacao nibs.  They also have carob powder and great superfood smoothie mix from Bright Earth Foods. Buying in bulk eliminates packaging waste, is less expensive because you are not paying for individual packaging costs, but perhaps best of all you can assess the product before you buy it for freshness and color. You can also buy exactly how much you would like to try or use. It is a good thing!

Rhubarb – A Market Crew Member Speaks

The best thing about rhubarb for me has always been that it is red. In the usual Pacific Northwest Spring through to “Junuary” (a common term used by market folk) the weather is usually cool. Spring feels “late,” and the dedicated GTF market crew will do all that we can to keep the donuts from getting rained on. At sunrise when you open a market tub full of rhubarb, you are excited to see the rich and vibrant red amongst the sea of green you will need to display before the crowds start rushing downtown.

Unlike many of the market shoppers, I don’t have great memories of strawberry rhubarb pie. I am not sure we ate much pie at all during my childhood. And to be honest, I always thought it strange for the combo; rhubarb and strawberries don’t have much overlap on the market shelves. I have since tasted strawberry rhubarb pie and it is a no-fail tasty treat, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t what drives me to pull rhubarb off the shelf.

For many years, I passed rhubarb up altogether, until I met and studied with Laura McCandlish, an incredible blogger, writer, and radio personality. She has a way for turning me on to almost anything. Several years ago in a Master Food Preserver class she demonstrated making rhubarb syrup with the same variety of rhubarb that we grow and sell at Gathering Together Farm. The color again was incredible – a hot magenta-pink.  She suggested using it in sodas and mixed drinks.  Two years ago, she used the same the syrup to make Italian ice with fresh mint. The flavor combo was perfect, and the frozen treat hit the spot for this eight-month preggo, at the time.

I started cleaning out my freezer early this year, because unlike the usual Oregon spring, this May feels more like July, and I want to make room for the blueberry harvest. I found two-quart bags of rhubarb and was inspired to make freeze pops to break this unusual heat. I boiled them down, added mint and honey to taste, strained, and voila: the taste of a cool sweet spring in a summery spell. Tonight I had the joy of watching three young boys gobble them down, and my 2-year-old son keeps dragging a chair to the freezer begging for more.

The Rhubarb Honey Mint Syrup Recipe

8-10 ribs of red-ribbed rhubarb, chopped
½ cup honey
3 Tbsp dried mint or double with fresh mint

In a large sauce pan, cook the rhubarb with some water on low heat. I used about 1 cup of water. Add mint. As the rhubarb starts cooking and more juice collects in the pain, raise heat to medium. When fully cooked, mash rhubarb and mint together. Strain juice into a bowl. Return to pot, add honey and warm until the honey is fully blended. Taste. This is the concentrated rhubarb syrup. Add more honey if you like it sweeter. It should be a nice blend of sweet and tart.

For ice pops, you can make a more concentrated pop, or a light and refreshing pop. It’s up to you. I added a little bit of water to the syrup. Pour into molds. If this is your first time using freezer pop molds, make sure that you warm the ice pop by running it under warm water to get it out of the mold. Don’t rush this, you will see the pop starting to release from the sides. Gently tug on the pop to remove. Enjoy!

Winter Squash

 Gathering Together Farm winter squash display at the Corvallis Farmers’ Market

 A version of this post was first published on Wayward Spark.

Gathering Together Farm grows (among other things) seven types of winter squash on about five acres of fertile ground. Planting, tending, harvesting, washing, packing, and delivering the bounty to market requires a lot of time and a lot of laboring, but the result is monumental and delicious. Their delicata squash crop alone yields about 20,000 pounds of fruit.

buttercup squash, kabocha squash

Squash varieties have been trialed and selected over the years based on several characteristics: yield, market demand, storage, and taste. An individual variety may rate well in regards to several traits but poorly with others. Pie pumpkins are in demand, but they don’t keep very well. Kabocha squash has a decent yield, stores fairly well, and is delicious, but people often aren’t very familiar with it and are sometimes intimidated by its relatively large size.

delicata squash

Delicata squash is a perpetual favorite. Perfect size. Perfect sweet smooth flavor. Easy to cut into. Easily blends into any autumnal recipe. GTF with our partners at Wild Garden Seed grow, save, and sell a farm-original, ‘Zeppelin’ variety of delicata. (You can read the whole story of how they managed to avoid seed contaminated with bitterness like so many other farms experienced a decade ago.)

The farm’s seed/irrigation/greenhouse manager Joelene has observed that winter squash will produce more vibrant vines and have a larger fruit set if they are direct seeded in the spring. The downside of this method is that a wet spring can delay planting, or an early frost can leave a whole crop of underripe squash sitting unharvested in the field. Transplanting young squash seedlings is a more reliable though somewhat less productive method employed by GTF.

acorn squash

Winter squash begins to ripen in September, but the main harvest starts in early October. The skins of the squash harden, and the vines yellow and eventually die back. Before the first frost, teams of laborers head out to the fields to clip the squash stems and later load the harvest into industrial onion bins (with a method similar to the watermelon toss seen here). Bins are trucked back to the farm packing and storage area where they will be washed, sorted, and wiped dry by more workers with the help of a conveyor-belt sprayer system. Squash that doesn’t meet high quality control standards is donated to the regional food bank or composted.

 butternut squash, ambercup squash

Squash will generally keep for several months if it is kept in a dry place at a consistant, cool temperature. At the farm, squash that isn’t sold shortly after harvest is stored in a large shipping container with a dehumidifier.

Gathering Together Farm sells squash in all of our farmers’ market booths, to restaurants and grocery stores in Corvallis and the Portland area, and at our Farm Stand. We also have a long-standing contract for many tons of butternut squash with Oregon-based distributor of organic produce, Organically Grown Company.

This year, GTF grew the following varieties of winter squash:

Butternut

Metro‘ from Johnny’s Selected Seed
‘JSW 6823’ from Johnny’s Selected Seed
Early Butternut‘ from Osborne Seed Company
Nutterbutter‘ from High Mowing Seed Company

 

Kabocha

Delica‘ from Osborne Seed Company
Sweet Mama‘ from Osborne Seed Company
Cha Cha‘ from Johnny’s Selected Seed
Sunshine‘ (orange) from Johnny’s Selected Seed

 

Buttercup

‘Bon Bon’ from Johnny’s Selected Seed

 

Acorn

Jet‘ from Johnny’s Selected Seed

 

Delicata

Zeppelin‘ from Wild Garden Seed

 ‘Marina Di Chioggia‘ from Johnny’s Selected Seed

Sweet Meat‘ from Territorial Seed Company