Archive for August, 2009

August 23, 2009

>Farm Tour, part 2

>Aaaaand we’re back. Moving on from the strawberry patch, we venture out into the cow pasture. Watch out for, er, manure patches.

This is most of the herd, converted from the dairy fleet that the Collins kept for thirty years. Now they’re raised for meat, which we sell along with the produce on the local market.

These are the calves that were born this summer. The black one in the middle has grown quite a bit since the first part of the tour! (That’s virtual reality for you – the time dimension doesn’t always line up.)

This is the hay field, which was just cut before the photo was taken. A neighboring farmer baled it for us and we picked it all up and put it in the barn. With the help of the Collins’ sons I learned how to drive a tractor and how not to stack hay bales, and earned myself three red blisters for the effort. Turns out lifting 100 pounds of hay by thin pieces of baling twine a few dozen times is tough on an ex-city-person’s fingers.

This is the hay field that was cut earlier in the summer, now hosting a flock of real Canadians (geese!). Behind them are three huge cottonwood trees, probably some of the biggest on the island according to some forestry people who paid a visit recently.

We just hiked all the way back across the fields and returned to the garden. These sunflowers are grown for the market, where they’re sold along with the cosmos and dahlias here. Although Andrea and I first considered flowers an almost criminally useless thing to grow, we have conceded that they really are quite pretty (and, as Ann points out, people buy them).

Tour guests Jordan and Madison, aged 7 and 4, stop for a photo with some tomatoes they found in the greenhouse before heading up to see the pigs living in the pen beside the barn.

Henrietta and Hernia, the two pigs who swam the river. They’re a lot bigger now but excitable as ever. Hernia earned his name by herniating part of his intestine through his belly button. They usually running a lap or two around their pen whenever people come to see them, and they go crazy rolling in the mud pit in the middle of their pen.

The pigs love berries, potatoes, and being scratched on the back. Turn on the hose on a hot day and they’ll go hog wild, so to speak, frolicking like pups and grunting the whole time. (The pigs are probably my favorite, so please avoid discussion of bacon at this point in the tour.)

Hernia: “Pigs are smarter than dogs.”
Carmen: “Well, at least I don’t lie in mud all day and get fat.”
Hernia: “I hear your mother has fleas. Oink.”

And that concludes our farm tour. This view is from the far pasture (where we saw the geese). The property ends here at the river. You can just make out the house, the barn and the greenhouse beyond all that grass – about 40 acres of it. I still can’t believe I live here.
The farm is doing well and people are coming out to the market in far greater numbers than last year. For the time being, then, it seems this piece of paradise will stay paradisaical and continue producing food for the valley. Hope you enjoyed the tour.

August 19, 2009

>A Virtual Farm Tour, part 1

>Collins Farm is in the full swing of summer now. Each morning we haul in a couple flats of strawberries, a bin of tomatoes and a bucket of lettuce, and we’re barely staying ahead of the harvest. Luckily, Port Albernians have also shown up with reinforcements to buy all the goodies at our Saturday markets and even during the week.
In the afternoons, we often take groups of curious campers to see what’s “down the hill”. Kids are fascinated with the chickens, piggies and horses, and the grownups usually walk back up to the campground full of plans for their own gardens. On Sunday, I took the afternoon off of kitchen duty and followed one of Ann’s farm tours with my camera.

First stop, the barn, home to the horses, donkeys, cows and one cat.

Buster the barn kitty. No, you can’t have him. He’s mine. I mean, he’s the farm’s. We need him to catch mice and keep the cobwebs off the top of that old milk tank.

It was an exciting morning a couple weeks ago when we went down to the barn to find one of our cows giving birth. She was the last of our herd to do so this year, and the only one I actually got to see in the act.

Well, sort of. We watched the feet hang out for a little while, then decided she probably wanted her privacy and went up for breakfast. When we came back, the little guy was already wobbling around under his mom.

This is the view of the farm up by the barn. We’ll look at the garden first, then the chickens (just outside the frame to the right) and stop in the strawberry patch between the two big fields. Then we’ll pay a visit to the cows and head through the hay field towards the three big trees in the distance. Hope you’re wearing your walking shoes.

Ripley, Phoxy and Paris, three of our Canadian horses out in the pasture for the evening.

In the garden, Ann picks some cucumbers for the tour group. Behind them, the corn has reached gargantuan heights.

Peeking under the giant squash leaves, we find these baby pumpkins – a sneak preview for Halloween.

Lettuce, carrots and beets. Behind them on the fence are the peas. We’ll get to the sun umbrellas in a minute when we visit the chickens.

Our laying hens (plus one watchful rooster) roam around in this pen, pecking at kitchen scraps and harassing their roommates, the three paranoid little ducks.

Although the ducks have their own little barn away from the chicken house, they never quite seem to feel safe and cling together like a gang of teenage girls, yakking away at each other in duck-ese. Of course, if they feel like going for a swim, they are capable of swallowing their fears and jumping in the water trough. This utterly disgusts the chickens, who would much rather take a dirt bath.

Sun umbrellas provide shade and protection from the eagles, who have been known to swoop down and steal the poultry.

The chickens share a laying box, which they enter through a door from the inside of their house.

The box has a little door on it that we open to gather the eggs.

This chicken has kindly modeled the laying process for us, but I think today she is just sitting on them. Once she leaves we peek into the hay and find…


Now we head out toward the strawberry patch and cow pasture, on the way checking up on the apple trees.

These sunflowers are “volunteers”, but they make great shade when picking strawberries out here. It takes two people about an hour each morning to pick just half of the patch.

Yum. These plants are the “ever-bearing” variety, which means they started putting out berries in June and won’t quit until the frost comes. In the meantime, we’re filling up our freezers and jam cupboards.

Bees are fun to photograph, and they actually don’t sting because they’re so focused on harvesting the pollen.

In the early morning when we’re picking sunflowers for market, the bees are sleeping on the flowers and refuse to be woken up. They hang onto the flowers no matter how much blowing, shaking and wiping you do. If we were braver, we could probably just remove them by hand, but usually we just leave them on and let them fly away later – hopefully not in somebody’s house!

We now interrupt this exclusive tour for lunch. Join us again tomorrow for more cute kids and animals, this blog’s first concession on its hard-nosed anti-flower position, and yet another pretty view of the farm.

August 8, 2009

>Planning for Eat-Ability

>Imagine a setting in which people can live, access life’s necessities without need for motorized transportation, and never worry about having adequate food or water. There are a thousand types of communities that might come to mind, but one of them is probably not a typical suburban or rural housing subdivision. Somehow, though, the majority of people in North America and other developed regions live in these kinds of developments. They sprawl like lichen on a rock across rural landscapes – without an outwardly visible source of food or water. Placed far from urban areas, with cul-de-sac after cul-de-sac of nearly identical houses and no other necessary amenities nearby, suburban and ex-urban (i.e., stuck in the middle of nowhere) developments are a prime example of bad design. They’re impossible to walk through – most lack sidewalks or logical footpaths between cul-de-sacs. To access work, school, or stores, residents have no other option than to hop in their cars, get on the freeway, and find the nearest suburban center. The only remnants of nature might be found in the fake pond at the golf course or perhaps in the subdivision’s name – “Willow Crest” or “Fox Hollow”. And worst of all, most of these developments are built smack on top of prime farmland. From a food security perspective, this manner of paving over and occupying the landscape is fairly frightening.

Of course, some developers talk about “sustainable development” (a puzzling little oxymoron) or planning for “livability”. They throw in a few bike paths and extra trees. Still, these greenwashing tactics don’t solve the root problems of urban sprawl: isolation of communities and the destructin of ecologically valuable unpaved land that has the added benefit of keeping the population fed.
Thanks to rural land speculation and the cycle of decline in inner cities, this pattern of development has been difficult to stop or even slow, although the present recession is helping immensely. Still, the sight of sprawling asphalt and rows of single-family dwellings from an airplane window has the power to throw me into a funk of hopelessness for days.
But wait! Could there be a slow shift in consciousness here? I was recently mailed an article (the old-fashioned way, no less) describing the hottest trend in housing developments: organic farms. And I don’t mean developers are buying out farmers and naming the subdivisions “Pesticide-Free Strawberry Fields” instead of “Shady Oak Glen”. No, according the New York Times article, farms are now considered “subdivision amenities” by many developers. Instead of building homes around golf courses, they are putting in organic farms to draw in yuppie foodies or perhaps those who have ideas about living in a rural area. Residents can even pitch in around the farm and share in the harvest. Of course, the article left out some of the potential difficulties that immediately come to mind. What happens when the breeze shifts and some unfortunate homeowner realizes they’ve purchased the olfactory privilege of living downwind from the chicken house? Will residents tolerate the drone of a tractor disturbing the peaceful summer ambiance?
Apparently, somebody has figured out a way to make it work, because the developments do seem to have caught on. They probably won’t work everywhere – not all sprawl takes place on pristine farmland with ample water – and they certainly don’t cure the basic problems inherent in urban sprawl mentioned above, but I suppose if people must live in subdivisions, they might as well have a convenient, safe food source nearby. The logical next steps will be to put in a school, a few small, locally owned stores and restaurants, and public gathering spaces, eliminating the need to drive thirty minutes for a coffee fix or a new rake. Put it all together, and a sprawling city will have devolved into a cluster of small towns. Livability? Absolutely. Eat-ability? Even better.
August 2, 2009

>Stuffed Zucchini or Summer Squash

>It’s the age-old summer “problem” of gardeners: too much zucchini. We have them in droves, along with patty pans, which are a neat UFO-shaped squash. It’s probably the only thing a vegetarian might take one look at and think “Boy, that would look beautiful stuffed”.
This is a very flexible recipe, and I’ve changed it to accommodate various diets over the years. A vegan version would probably be possible by either substituting the eggs and cheese with some replacement product, or simply leaving them out and having a more crumbly final product.

Stuffed Zucchini or Summer Squash

4 medium zucchini, summer squash or patty pan (or one giant one)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 egg
½ cup minced fresh herbs (parsley, oregano, basil and/or sage)
1 tomato, chopped
1 cup bread crumbs (can also use part cooked rice or quick oats)
1 cup grated cheese (cheddar, swiss or mozzarella)
Olive oil

2 cups tomato sauce (to top)

1. Prepare the squash. Halve zucchinis lengthwise after cutting off ends; slice the tops off patty pan squash. Scrape out the insides and set aside. Arrange the shells in an oiled baking pan or cookie sheet with edges.
2. Sauté garlic and onion in olive oil a large frying pan until onion just begins to brown. Grate or finely chop the insides of the squash and add to onions. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove the pan from heat.
3. Meanwhile, precook the squash shells. Add about a half inch of water to the baking pan and bake in a 375° oven for about 10 minutes, until shells are tender but not soggy. Drain the pan before filling the shells.
4. To the cooked vegetables add herbs, chopped tomato, bread crumbs, cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Fill the squash shells with the mixture.
5. Bake the squash at 375° for 20-30 minutes, until tops are golden brown and filling sizzles. Serve with heated tomato sauce and enjoy.

No-cheese (low fat?) version:
Add one more egg, and increase the bread crumbs (or rice or quick oats) to 2 cups.

Carnivore version:
Omit bread crumbs, decrease cheese to ½ cup. Add 1 lb cooked hamburger or turkey burger to filling.