Opening Weekend at the Farm Stand

The Gathering Together farm stand/restaurant opened for the season on Thursday, February 23, and the staff was pleasantly surprised by how many of our local customers stopped by for produce, pastries, and a hot meal. Alison, the new farm stand manager, spent the past few weeks cleaning, rearranging, and sprucing up the building and garden room, so the place looked great.

Quite a few folks who have turned out in the past two days asked about the farm and flood damage, and we’re happy to report that we are back on track and have most everything cleaned up. Our customers’ support at our farmers’ markets and here on the farm has certainly helped us recover more quickly from  the financial losses associated with the damage, and for that, we thank you.

Spring is generally quieter in the farm stand than on hot summer days, but judging by the turnout this weekend, that may not hold true this year. If your appetite and schedule will allow it, JC (the chef) recommends dining before or after the busy noon-to-one o’clock lunch hour. This will give both the kitchen crew and our lunch guests the to opportunity to take their time preparing and enjoying the food. Larger parties are always welcome to call in reservations ahead of time (541-929-4270).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the flowers in the table settings came from our neighbors at Greengable Gardens.

This month’s featured artist in the farm stand is Carol Chapel who lives just down the road and stops in at the farms often. Carol’s nature and agriculture-inspired works fit quite nicely into the decor.

The farm stand is newly stocked with organic produce and other local goods. Currently available are GTF’s own cipollini onions, parsnips, beets, rutabagas, onions, carrots, potatoes, and watercress.

Alison supplements the produce selection with fruits and vegetables from Organically Grown Company and a few neighboring farms.

We also offer several books and cookbooks written by local authors.

Local wine and beer is available…

…as are fresh eggs from Provenance Farm.

Other goods sold in the farm stand include locally grown/milled flour, coffee and teas, frozen pork, chicken and fish, T shirts, honey, jams, and pickles.

The coffee is always fresh and always hot.

GTF’s signature potato doughnuts are back.

Plus, Ana (the pastry chef) baked some not-too-sweet maple-coconut-date granola, if doughnuts aren’t really your thing.

The menu from the GTF kitchen changes weekly (sometimes daily) depending upon availability of seasonal ingredients, but here’s a quick guide to this weekend’s fare.

February 23-25 Lunch Menu

to start:

house coppa with capers and whole grain mustard
mixed greens with balsamic vinaigrette
GTF salad beets, toasted almonds, and goat cheese with balsamic vinaigrette
roasted vegetable and barley soup with artisan bread
curried carrot soup with artisan bread
 

pizze:

garlic/tomato/mozzarella
pepperoni/tomato/mozzarella
broccoli/leek/tomato/mozzarella
 

secondi:

cavatelli with roasted shallot, olive, and spinach
creamy polenta with vegetables and poached egg
brodetto of clams, mussels, and rockfish
country pork pâté sando with potato and watercress salad
 

JC finishes off a couple orders of brodetto.

Ricky preps pizza dough.

Pizza are made to order with mozzarella and house-made tomato sauce…

…and baked in the wood-fired oven.

Here’s the broccoli/leek/tomato/mozzarella pizza.

The polenta got rave reviews. This one’s in the works pre-poached egg.

JC is particularly proud of the pork pâte sandwich…

…and the house coppa with capers and mustard.

We’d like to thank everyone who came out for opening weekend and encourage other locals to stop in soon. We are currently open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

 

Valentine’s Dinner at the GTF Farm Stand

The Gathering Together Farm restaurant hosted a Valentine’s Day dinner this past week. Chef JC and his kitchen crew went all out to delight the senses of a small gathering of people celebrating their love for each other and of good food.

The Menu:

sweetbreads terrine with sour cherry mostarda

scallop terrine with citrus, fennel, and bok choi

heartbeet risotto with trotter croquetta

duck breast with braising greens and rutabaga

chocolate soufflé

optional wine pairing

sweetbreads terrine with sour cherry mostarda

baby leaves of bok choi

scallop terrine with citrus, fennel, and bok choi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Alison (above left) is the farmstand manager and serves meals along with Tamara (above right).

JC grates parmesan to garnish the risotto.

JC slices beets.

well seasoned beets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JC (above left) plates up the heartbeet risotto. JC develops most of the restaurant menu items himself, using the best local and seasonal ingredients as inspiration.

Ricky (above right) is second in command in the farm stand kitchen.

 heartbeet risotto with trotter croquetta

searing duck breasts

duck breasts

JC deglazes the pans and saves the sauce for later.

braising greens: mustards, chard, and kale

goat cheese croquettas in the making for a vegetarian guest

flowers from our neighbors at Greengable Gardens

not-quite-assembled macarons made by pastry chef Ana (not pictured) to accompany the chocolate soufflé

The kitchen crew would like to thank everyone who joined us for this special meal. Regular dinners at the GTF farm stand will begin in April, but until then we’d love to see you at Thursday or Friday lunches or Saturday breakfasts at the farm stand, which opens for the season this coming week (February 24, 2012).

Mixing Soil and Seeding Onions

Last week, the propagation greenhouse crew had its annual onion-seeding marathon, 574 flats in three partial workdays with the help of four people. This was the single biggest one-crop planting of the year

Onions are a staple vegetable at the farm, yielding throughout the summer, and storing well into the fall and winter. Gathering Together Farm is growing the following varieties this year (a couple new ones plus tried and true favorites):

Red Storage–‘Ruby Ring’, ‘Red River’, ‘Cabernet’ from Osborne Seed Company

Sweet–‘Walla Walla’, ‘Candy’, ‘Exhibition’ from Osborne Seed Company

White–‘Sierra Blanca’ from Osborne Seed Company

Yellow Storage–‘Talon’ from Territorial Seed Company, ‘Trekker’ and ‘Frontier’ from Osborne Seed Company

Shallots–‘Ambition’, ‘Saffron’ from Johnny’s Selected Seeds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sarah (above left), Paula (above right), and Leslie (who politely opted not to get her photo taken) do most of the routine seeding and propagation greenhouse upkeep. Joelene schedules all the plantings, investigates any problems with equipment or germination as promptly as possible, and oversees the crew, making sure they have what they need to work effectively and efficiently.

Fine Pumice

Soil is the foundation for healthy and successful plant starts. The propagation greenhouse crew mixes all the potting soil used for spring and summer seeding and transplanting from scratch. The soil recipe is based on a mix recommended by Eliot Coleman (organic farming proponent). Over the years, the mix has evolved into the farm’s current recipe.

Gathering Together Farm Greenhouse Soil Mix Recipe

8 gallons composted rabbit manure and leaves

4 gallons peat

4 gallons fine pumice

2 cups powder mix (a 1:1 ratio of green sand, kelp meal, oyster shell flour, fish bone meal, glacial rock dust, and crab meal)

Peat
Sifted Compost

All the ingredients are loaded into the farm’s cement mixer that’s exclusively dedicated to mixing soil. They’re tumbled until they’re evenly distributed. The soil then gets unloaded into a wheelbarrow.

For seeding onions, Sarah, Paula, and Leslie mixed soil and filled 574 flats of “162’s” (flats with 162 cells).

The soil was lightly packed into the flats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flats were stacked 20-high so that the soil in each cell got compressed slightly, leaving a depression for the onion seeds. The flats got stickers to mark the variety with which they would be seeded.

This is the electric seeder. It was purchased used from Peoria Gardens many years ago. Sarah is the primary seeder operator these days, though she “studied” under Joelene’s tutelage.

Here’s the base of the seeder. Each flat is manually placed here to start.

This is the hopper with onion seeds. When it’s turned on, this tray is agitated to get a better distribution of seeds, so they can be sucked up by the  seeder tips.

This header with seeder tips rotates down and sucks up at least one seed per tip. (The one on the far right has two.) When it rotates back up, the suction is released, and the seeds fall down the tubes…

…into individual cells. The tips and tubes can be reconfigured to work with different sized cells, but Gathering Together Farm uses the electric seeder on primarily 162’s.

A steady “ca-chunk, ca-chunk” is the soundtrack as the flats move haltingly down the line, stopping briefly for seed deposits in each cell.

The flats are pushed along automatically by several oscillating arms that give each cell wall a shove down the line.

Sarah has to manually grab the flats off the base before they’re pushed off the end onto the ground (which happens on a very rare occasion).

This occupancy gauge signals to the seeder that a tray is passing through, but if it doesn’t sense a flat, it halts the seed dropping mechanism, avoiding major seed losses as things get busy, and Sarah can’t make it back to feed in the next flat fast enough.

Each tray passes through the seeder twice to ensure that each cell gets at least two seeds. When Sarah is seeding something that she knows has a particularly bad germination rate, she will sometimes send each flat through three times.

In between loading and unloading flats, adding more seed to the hopper, watching to make sure all the mechanical parts are doing their respective jobs, giving flats an extra shove when necessary, and subconsciously keeping track of how many times each flat has passed through the seeder, Sarah tops off the sown flats with a pumice-rich soil mix.

These flats of onions will spend the next two months in the warmth of the propagation greenhouse. During that time, they will be thinned once, trimmed once, weeded twice (because the compost does have some weed seeds in it), and watered daily. The field crew will transplant them outside in mid April where they’ll need weeding at least once more before harvest (not to mention lots of irrigating).

Expect to see fresh onions at our farmers’ markets and in CSA boxes in late spring/early summer. Until then, we still have some of last season’s storage onions available.

Working Hands

Pretty hands don’t exist in the kitchen. There are no manicures. No pampered skin, nor painted nails. Instead there are calluses and burns. A half-moon- shaped cut that slices through the nail-bed to the quick requiring a trip to the Emergency Room and three stitches put in with strong black thread. Jergens would be appalled.

Kitchen hands bear the marks of the trade. They know their way around a knife, move from left to right down the board and down the line. They reach into hot pans and hot ovens, retrieving baguettes without fireproof protection, prodding cuts of meat to test for doneness. A medium rare steak should feel like the web of muscle between the thumb and forefinger. Or like your plump lower lip. Full and filled with appeal.

The Gathering Together Farm kitchen crew has hands that speak of their lives. JC’s ring shines on his left hand as he preps onions for filling, dices veg for roasting, takes apart a pig for charcuterie. Ricky’s hands tell of late night music gigs, endless hours holding a guitar, a banjo, a spatula. Ana’s are feminine, but strong. They bear the pinch marks of the Hobart mixer, and the burns from hot oil that she uses to cook fresh potato donuts. Ben’s are made to make pasta: deft fingers creating classic shapes to impart texture from the old countries.

Here, hands shape, and are shaped by, work.

Greenhouse Planning and Direct Seeding

While agribusiness may rely heavily on cutting edge technology and precision machines, Gathering Together Farm is in a lot of ways old school, using tools and techniques known to farmers for centuries. Joelene’s method of direct seeding in greenhouses showcases a couple of traditional practices that hold their own on our small-ag farm.

Starting back in December, Jolene began the monumental task of scheduling WHAT was going to be planted in WHICH greenhouse (There are no less than 38 of them now) and WHEN. She has a database of greenhouses and their rotation histories that she’s made into a large board with vegetable/fruit-name magnets that she can manipulate into different configurations to help her visually organize her ideas.

Because the GTF greenhouses come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes and each has a different history, she can only plant certain crops in certain houses.  Some greenhouses will be planted with short season greens that will have time to produce and harvest before the ground needs to be prepped for later season greenhouse needs. Some will get early tomatoes and when they’re done, she’ll put in fall/winter crops, quick-to-mature greens, etc.

Because greenhouse space is limited, Joelene prioritizes room for tomatoes (three of four plantings are grown in greenhouses), cucumbers (all of which are grown in greenhouses), eggplant (most of which is grown in greenhouses), and basil (some is grown in greenhouses). There are already two houses full of strawberries and raspberries. She’ll fill in the rest of the houses where time and space allow with other early/late crops of greens, watercress, carrots, potatoes, scallions, radishes, celery, etc.

The preparation for each greenhouse varies also. Some need extra nutrients in the form of gypsum or chicken/rabbit compost. Most are tilled with a small tractor, and then beds are prepared by hand. Greenhouses that will be planted to heat-loving crops will get plastic mulch on the ground, and tomatoes and cucumbers also need trellising. Drip and/or overhead irrigation is already set up in most of the houses, but it often needs a little rerigging or upgrading before it can service young plants appropriately.

Not long after Joelene finalized her full greenhouse rotation schedule and had direct seeded the first few greenhouses, catastrophic flooding hit the farm. When the Marys River receded, greenhouses were left extremely wet and muddy, and most of what was planted had washed away. The high waters also threw a monkey wrench into Joelene’s tightly scheduled plan for greenhouse planting. Joelene took it all in stride, and she made a series of small decisions that will make the best of the farm’s conditions and seasonal timing.

There were four lone greenhouses on the farm that were not flooded, and yesterday Joelene headed out to direct seed one of them. It had previously housed a beautiful potato crop, and after the tubers were pulled, the beds were left intact. While this was convenient because the crew could skip many of the ground preparation rituals, the actual soil was rather chunky and had a top layer of leaf mulch and other organic debris, which were added to enhance soil development. Joelene had planned to plant lettuce for salad mix here, but lettuce germinates best when seeds can be planted almost on top of moist soil. The conditions here just weren’t right because of the rough and dry surface with wet soil only an inch or so below. After deliberating a minute or so, Joelene made a quick switch from lettuce to spinach. This choice meant that she will have to fit in a lettuce planting elsewhere in the next week or so. It also means she’ll have to reconfigure the irrigation in this hoophouse to accomodate three drip irrigation lines per bed instead of overhead watering.

This is Joelene’s seeder. Even though she can drive her seeder tractor into some of the greenhouses, she prefers to direct seed with this relic because she can fit a bigger crop in tighter rows with her push seeder. In this location, she chose to use a disc seeding implement because she thought it would do a better job of cutting into the heavily mulched soil surface.

Here’s the bottom of the seeder unit. It has a dial gauge that regulates spacing of seeds. Each crop is seeded at a different setting, but Joelene has a mental catalog of seed sizing and spacing info in her head.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She fills the hopper with spinach seed.

Inside the hopper, brushes sweep seeds out through the disk implement at a set spacing.

She’s loaded up.

In this case, Joelene not only had to walk up and down the rows 12 times, but in order to get the spinach seeded through the mulch layer, she had to put a good deal of pressure on the seeder frame as she traveled.

After a quick trial, she checked the spacing, depth, and consistency.

Each of the four beds got three rows of spinach. The seeds were embeded deep enough that they’re not visible anymore.

After seeding the whole greenhouse, Joelene tightly shut the door flaps. Today she will go back and cover the beds with floating row cover to add extra heat to the soil. The spinach will be ready for harvest in about two months, and when it’s finished, this greenhouse will get planted with cucumbers in early June.

Without any soil preparations, seeding this greenhouse took about an hour start to finish. There are still over 30 greenhouses to plant in the next few weeks, and many of them will require quite a bit more labor to get them ready. Winter may be a quieter time on the farm, but there is certainly no shortage of work to do.