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).

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.

 

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.