Portland Winter Farmers’ Market

The Portland Farmers Market took another step toward year-round farmers’ marketing this winter by adding nine Saturdays (January 7 to February 25) to their schedule. The weekly market is held in Shemanski Park between SW Salmon and SW Main from 10 am to 2 pm.

This run of winter markets (along with winter markets in Newport, Corvallis, and Hillsdale) gives Gathering Together Farm new opportunities to reach our customers with fresh and stored produce. It also helps the farm keep its finest workers employed, and it brings home much-needed income at a time when expenses are high and financial reserves are low (due to seed buying and getting ready for the spring and summer growing season).

Because winter is not known to be conducive to vegetable farming in Oregon, GTF has taken steps over the years to improve the quality, quantity, and diversity of our cold-season offerings. We’ve raised more hoop houses to insulate crops against cold temperatures and keep them from drowning in the rain. (For more on the subject, give this OPB radio story a listen). We’ve selected vegetable varieties that store better, longer and planted more of them. We’ve even teamed up with Sweet Creek Foods to preserve some of the harvest by canning it.

Because of our efforts, we actually have a fairly wide selection of vegetables and preserved goods for sale each weekend at our farmers’ markets. Our customers, in turn, have responded by braving the cold, rain, and wind to get their hands on our organic produce, and for that, we are so very grateful.

The availability at our winter markets will vary with some weeks being more abundant and some a little skimpier depending on the circumstances. Expect to see lots of root vegetables (carrots, potatoes, rutabagas, celariac, parsnips, turnips, beets), aliums (leeks, onions, shallots, cipollinis), and greens (chard, kale, collards, salad and/or braising mix) as well as our house-made salsa and our canned goods.

GTF certainly won’t be the only booth at the Portland Farmers’ Market this winter. Actually we’re just one of 40 vendors, which together offer vegetables, seafood, baked goods, grains, frozen and storage fruits, a variety of meats, nuts, dairy products, prepared hot foods, wine, coffee, jam, yarn, and more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Portland Farmers Market isn’t our only winter market. We’d love to see you in Corvallis at the Corvallis Indoor Winter Market, in Newport at the Lincoln County Fairgrounds Fairgrounds Farmers Market, and every other Sunday in Hillsdale at the Hillsdale Farmers Market.

 

Pig Break-down

The cool winter months are a time of preparation at the Gathering Together Farmstand. While much of the vegetable and on-farm food preservation occurred in November, the start of the new year brings a second phase to the GTF kitchen: butchery.

Less than a mile from GTF, Mosaic Farms grows and produces some of the nation’s finest heritage breed hogs. Using hand-mixed feed, sustainable land management, and so much love, owner/operator Chris Hansen has grown Mosaic steadily over the last two years. He is one of a cadre of young farmers in the region who is putting his own stamp on agriculture through his hard work, smart business practices and full bore commitment to the welfare of his animals. Last week, Hansen personally delivered a whole hog, packed in ice in the back of his station wagon, to the GTF kitchen.

Breaking down the animal took several hours as chef, JC, worked to prepare meat for copa, bacon, salumi and fresh cuts. Of the 200-plus pound whole animal, less than four pounds was determined unusable.

For a gallery of images from the break-down, visit our Flickr photo set, here. A warning: we believe people should know what their food looks like at all stages, however some of the images are graphic.

Variety Selection and Seed Ordering

Gathering Together Farm will celebrate its 25th anniversary this summer, and over those years we’ve trialed just about every kind of vegetable that could possibly grow in this climate. Currently, we plant hundreds of varieties of dozens of crops. Each growing season, new varieties are sown at the farm while others are culled because of poor performance.

Last week, Joelene (seed, greenhouse, and irrigation manager) sat down with John and Sally (co-owners), Rodrigo (field crew manager) and Rose (human resources, customer service, and marketing manager) to go over the fruit and vegetable variety list from last year and reassess what worked and what didn’t. Each member of the annual planning meeting looked at the same vegetables from a unique perspective, bringing his or her own experience to the table.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joelene is concerned about seed availability and expense, germination rates, disease resistance, special infrastructure needs (drip irrigation, floating row cover, etc.), space management, and the timing of maturation.

Rodrigo focuses on ease of planting, weeding, trellising and harvesting. He also pays special attention to yield.

Sally, as manager of the packing shed, looks at ease of washing and packing, quality, shelf life, and storage properties.

John, as a farmers’ market vendor, judges appearance, taste, demand, and additive value to the diversity of a display.

Rose sees what is most sought after by restaurants and other wholesale accounts, when in the season crops go out for sale, and how much we are charging for each item, giving insight into what makes money for the farm.

It’s very rare than any single variety is top-rated in every category of judgment. A particular type of vegetable may:

…be gorgeous but not taste great.

…be loved by everyone but get discontinued by seed companies.

…look good but not keep long enough.

…have a high yield under ideal growing conditions but have heavy losses when things are too wet/cold.

…be attractive to customers in the dead of winter but passed by in August.

…have exceptional flavor but be prone to disease.

Often times, the selection process is less a decision about which varieties to grow or don’t grow and more about the proportions of each variety grown. As the farm expands, there is more ground and more need for a diversity of crop types, too.

Joelene has spent many hours recently calculating the farm’s seed needs, reviewing seed inventory, and placing orders. She’s already purchased the vast majority of seed needed to plant greenhouses with early summer tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, etc..  She tries to order just enough of this high value seed because it’s expensive to maintain an excess inventory, and some seed will go bad if stored for over a year.

Joelene will buy many pounds at a time of some types of seed that do store well and will be used in large quantities. For example, she ordered no less than 2,000,000 carrot seeds for the coming year.

Joelene’s major seed and plant material sources are:

Wild Garden Seed (Gathering Together Farm‘s seed-growing partner)

Johnny’s Selected Seed

Osborne Seed Company

Territorial Seed Company

Seeds of Change

High Mowing Organic Seeds

Totally Tomatoes

Seed Savers Exchange

Snow Seed Co.

Rocky Farms LLC (potatoes)

Lassen Canyon Nursery (strawberries)

The first few seeds of the 2012 growing season were sown last week, but soon the propagation greenhouse will be bustling with activity–seeding, grafting, thinning and watering. Joelene will direct seed the first of the early spring greens in greenhouses this week, too.

In the coming months, we’ll be sure to share photos and information on all the greenhouse prep and seedling tending as well as insight into our farming and marketing practices. We hope to see you at our 2012 winter farmer’s markets: Saturdays in Newport, Corvallis, and Portland and Sundays in Hillsdale.

 

Kale and Collards: Varieties, Growing Practices, and Culinary Inspiration

‘winter red’ kale

Kale and collards have always been and will always be staples at Gathering Together Farm. Oregon’s frosty nights and wet climate produce sweet and tender greens when other more glamorous vegetables aren’t available. GTF grows ten varieties of kale and collards on two to three acres of ground annually, and the extended harvest is sold at farmers’ markets, to our restaurant and grocery store clients, and through our wholesale distributer.

bunches of ‘lacinato’ kale headed to several restaurants in the Portland area

Having a diverse variety list of kales and collards (as wells as most vegetables grown on the farm) allows GTF to offer distinctive tastes and looks to our customers. Often times, different varieties of the same crop will have slightly staggered maturity schedules, allowing for a longer and fuller harvest season. Additionally, if for some reason seed of one variety or another isn’t available for a year or is discontinued altogether, Joelene (GTF’s seed, greenhouse, and irrigation manager) won’t have to scramble to fill in with an unknown variety or seed source. A good majority of GTF’s kale and collard seed is produced on-farm by our partners at Wild Garden Seed, but we also buy seed from Johnny’s Selected Seed and Osborne Seed Company.

‘winter red’ kale
‘white peacock’ kale

Kale: ‘Lacinato‘ and ‘Lacinato Rainbow                                            Seed Source: Wild Garden Seed

Lacinato kale (aka black kale, Tuscan kale, or dinosaur kale) is exceptionally flavorful and is the most sought after by our restaurant clients. Unfortunately, it is one of the lower-yielding varieties that we grow. It takes the longest growing period of the kales to reach maturity, and overwintered lacinato is the first variety to bolt in the spring, producing a nice raab and then dying off early.

Kale: ‘White Russian                                                                                    Seed Source: Wild Garden Seed

White Russian kale is arguably the sweetest flavored kale that we grow. It’s also the most vigorous and cold hardy of our kale varieties, and overwintered white Russian kale produces an abundant spring flush of new growth. Both seasoned and novice gardeners would be well-served by growing this variety.

Kale: ‘Winter Red                                                                                            Seed Source: Wild Garden Seed

Much like white Russian, this red Russian-type kale is delicious and produces heavily in the spring.

Kale: ‘Red Ursa                                                                                                Seed Source: Wild Garden Seed

Red Ursa kale is very showy and attractive with its signature frills. It is the last of the kale varieties to bolt in the spring, producing the last raab.

‘green Russian’, ‘lacinato’, and ‘winterbor’ kale bunches at the farmers market
‘lacinato’ kale

Kale: ‘Winterbor‘ (hybrid)                                                                              Seed Source: Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Winterbor kale is a favorite among the field crew because the leaves are so ruffled and dense that only a few of them make an entire bunch.

Flowering Kale: ‘Red Peacock‘ and ‘White Peacock (hybrids)   Seed Source: Osborne Seed Company

Confusingly, flowering kales are so named because of their ornamental leaves not because of any exceptional flowers. Gathering Together Farm grows flowering kale types only in the fall because the varieties won’t transform into the vibrant shades of pink unless they’re chilled at night. Peacock kale varieties are sold in bunches at the farmers’ markets and to restaurants, but much of it is cut at a young stage for salad mix.

Collards: ‘Champion‘                                                                                      Seed Source: Wild Garden Seed

Collards: ‘Flash                                                                                                 Seed Source: Johnny’s Selected Seeds

‘red ursa’ kale
‘lacinato’ kale

For fall/winter-harvested kale and collards, Joelene seeds one planting in the greenhouse in late June that gets transplanted out about three weeks later. She seeds a second planting in the greenhouse in mid July that also gets transplanted out about three weeks later. She also direct seeds a third planting the first week in August. (Jolene recommends that home gardeners direct seed fall kale and collards in mid-July or the very beginning of August.) Johnny’s Selected Seeds advises spacing plants every 8″ in rows 18″-30″ apart.

The field crew begins harvesting kale (and collards) in mid-September, but the greens don’t reach their peak of flavor until they get consistent nighttime frosts. The plants will go dormant because of lack of light and heat in December and January, but the fall kale that doesn’t die off due to extreme cold will begin growing again in February. Depending on the variety, kales will begin to bolt in March or April, producing edible kale raabs (the bolting stems and buds on any plant in the brassica family–kale, turnips, broccoli, etc.).

‘winterbor’ kale
frosty ‘lacinato rainbow’ kale being grown for seed

Joelene seeds another batch of spring kale and collards in the greenhouse in late February that gets planted out three or four weeks later. The tender transplants spend the first few weeks outside growing under floating row cover. Around the time that the overwintered kales and kale raabs are winding down (early May), the field crew begins harvesting the new crop of spring kale. Though it will keep growing over the summer, its taste intensifies as its sugar content decreases with the warm weather, so spring kale is usually abandoned and eventually tilled under in late June or early July.

flowering ‘peacock’ kales
‘flash’ collards

Kale has a mostly undeserved reputation of being tough and having a strong, unpleasant taste. That may be due to the fact that some folks are eating kale in the summer or in climates that don’t get frosty nighttime temperatures. The reality is that good kale is tender and sweet. It is easily prepared in a quick stir fry with a splash of soy sauce and a sautéed leek, or in the recently trendy form of “kale chips”, but if you’re looking for some slightly more complex inspiration, check out these kale-centric recipes:

Lemon Kale Salad + Seared Salmon from Sprouted Kitchen

Kale and Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes from 101 Cookbooks

Kale and Sweet Potato Soup from Joy the Baker

Potato and Kale Skillet Gratin from The Year In Food

Roasted Yam and Kale Salad Rolls from The Bounty Hunter

Enjoy!

Lucky #1 Sourdough Levain

One of the best experiences of the past year was developing technique and recipe for our country levain. Working with sourdough is an exercise in patience and love. The sourdough culture that gives this bread its character, its profile, and its lasting power is fed every day. In return it helps us to make bread. The culture is years old, and this loaf was started 48+ hours ago. Any shortcuts taken subtract from what this loaf can be. We bake our bread in a wood-fired oven. Another exercise in patience and love. An oven is a fickle thing and must be watched carefully if one wants the best results. But what results! The oven spring can’t be matched.