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Eating locally grown food makes you stronger, smarter, more beautiful, and possibly funnier

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Eating locally grown food makes you stronger, smarter, more beautiful, and possibly funnier

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Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset Now that I have your attention lets talk about what eating local food is all about, tasty meals you share with your friends and family. These meals may not change your life overnight but just standing next to them telling people you cooked them will definitely make you look smarter and more beautiful. Eating real food grown by local farmers will make your stronger not because of all the nutrient dense foods you will be consuming but because of all the veggies you will be chopping, your on your own for funnier.

All jokes aside I am very serious when it comes to eating local and sustainable food but it wasn't always this way. I was a vegetarian growing up who mostly ate frozen veggie burgers and rice and beans, partially because I learned about how factory farmed animals are treated but partially because I never wanted to eat another one of my moms overcooked pork chops ever again. I moved from the midwest to the west coast for college and fell in love with a cook who taught me a lot about food but also how to cook for myself. He was nice enough to eat vegetarian meals with me for years but seemed incredibly relieved when under a doctors recommendation I started eating meat again while I was trying to get pregnant. While pregnant I really couldn't get enough meat and Farmer Matt would laugh at me, the former vegetarian and once vegan, as I stood at the kitchen counter and devoured most of a roast chicken even the little bits of overcooked skin.  I then set about trying to learn how to cook meat, roasting a chicken for the first time and burning myself because I decided to start with a recipe that involves hot bricks, a not so pretty but delicious first roasted chicken that I haven't made since. I started reading all kinds of books about nutrition and cooking mostly with traditional foods in mind like bone broths, fermented vegetables, animal fats, and also the idea that eggs, milk, and meat that come from animals foraging on grass are much healthier for you and the animals. This was a big change for me when I most of the time just tossed a salad together with some goddess dressing to eat with my frozen veggie burger or fried up some tofu and called it good. It still wasn't the biggest change in the way I cooked.

Heriloom Tomatoes

We moved to the farm with the intention of growing most of the food we need for our family in addition to raising animals on grass for eggs and meat that we would sell at farmers markets. Farmer Matt and I had always grown a little bit of veggies in our backyard in Seattle and raised chickens for eggs but nothing on a large scale. It was a huge eye opener to go from 4 raised beds to a garden that was several acres and a season that was much shorter and less temperate than the one we had on the west side of the mountains. Wind, we also have lots of 30-40 mph days of wind which can flatten your veggies and make your soil dry out quicker than you can imagine. Every success in the garden feels like a triumph against the odds and does not go to waste. So between what we grow for ourselves and all of the fruits and veggies we get from our friends at the farmers markets we usually have lots of great food around the house. Because of this and because the grocery store is far away I started slowly giving up recipes and just throwing together meals with whatever we had on hand. This is not a revolutionary idea and it was mostly started out of necessity but I want to encourage you to try it. It took me awhile to get used to cooking this way and I think I've slowly gotten better but there are a couple great benefits. The creative part for me is huge with days where the farm chores are the same and the children are bouncing off the walls its nice to carve a part of the day where I get to experiment and use my brain in a completely different way. Thinking about what food we have on hand and how best to use it for the weeks meals I also end up wasting less food. Little bits from one meal end up getting incorporated into others and last but not least its a great way to cook with local ingredients. Recipes don't always have seasonal ingredients in mind or ones that are specific to your region so you always end up going to the store for something that you probably wouldn't be able to get from your local farmer. This quote from Arthur Ashe sums up how I feel about cooking and farming these days-

                                           

                  " Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can."

 

I was excited to be apart of the Oxbow Organic Farm and Education Center CSA box challenge because it is perfect for the kind of cooking I have grown to love. A box of veggies show up that you haven't picked out what kind or how much of and you have to figure out what to do with it. If you are unfamiliar with what a CSA is it stands for Community Supported Agriculture. The idea is that you are buying a share of the farm at the beginning of the season which allows the farm to have some financial sustainability and you get a box of veggies and sometimes fruit every week through the growing season for a price cheaper then you would be buying them for at the market. It usually starts with a small box at the beginning of the season and by the end they are so heavy you can barely get them to your car. I love the strong community connections that CSA memberships build.  We just finished our first very successful Egg CSA and have been planning on a Meat CSA for the fall. As a farmer you are always in a crunch for capital to do projects or just day to day needs of the farm and a CSA gives you a nest egg to help you plan out your season and allow you to do things like build a new chicken coops or buy the tools you need.

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Oxbow is a leader in the region for sustainable farming but I am also in awe of all the education outreach they do with kids. Because of that I want to show you the mostly quick, healthy, and inexpensive meals I made with their box of veggies for my family of 5 which includes three small boys all during the busiest time of year on our farm. I wanted to add a little more to the oxbow box challenge so I decided  to come up with 10 meals using the box, a couple other local food favorites, and pantry staples for around 100 bucks. Thats 50 servings over 10 meals, so about 2 bucks a pop! My boys are 6 and under so I'm sure we will need twice that much food in a couple more years. I had a small box share which included a head of romaine, kale, red bib lettuce, a large bunch of dill, garlic scapes, fennel, and a large bag of peas. To this I added a bunch of basil and torpedo onions I got that week from our friends at Whistling Trains Farm, 2 dozen Green Bow Farm eggs, 1 whole Green Bow Farm chicken, a small piece of smoked salmon from Loki, another farmers market vendor we love, some pantry staples, and dairy staples we always have on hand like yogurt and cheese.

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The first meal was just a quick egg scramble. I sauteed some kale and torpedo onions in butter until they were well cooked, whisked up 5 eggs and added them to the pan with a generous amount of chopped up dill and some sharp cheddar cheese. We eat a lot of eggs so this is a very typical breakfast for us usually with a side of toast or some fruit.

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A couple of the things I made this week that carried over into several meals was to make two sauces/dressings made with the dill and garlic scapes. With the the dill I made a yogurt dressing with lots of garlic, apple cider vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. The key to this dressing for me is that the yogurt is made with whole milk so it has a nice thick and creamy texture. The garlic scapes got made into a large batch of pesto with the basil from Whistling Train and there was still enough scapes leftover for a couple other meals.

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The second meal was a smoked salmon salad with the red bib lettuce and yogurt dill dressing. To the top I added fresh peas and capers because my boys love something salty and pickled in their salads. This was one of the quicker meals and probably an overall family favorite. I find the creamier the dressing and  the more interesting and crunchy things are in the salad  the more likely everyone will eat it.

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This is one of those key meals that helps set us up for several meals throughout the week. I butterflied a whole chicken and right after I did this I took the backbone and neck and started making chicken broth and let it simmer for over 24 hours. I seasoned the to be roasted chicken with salt and pepper and as you can see liberally put butter all over the chicken front and back. Then I roasted it in a pan on top of some chopped fennel and torpedo onions and put some of the fennel fronds on top. I served the chicken with a little bit of roasted veggies, and a side salad of romaine, yogurt dill dressing, and some homemade croutons. I saved a breast and a thigh for one of our other meals and the chicken fat and the rest of the roasted veggies for our next breakfast.

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Another change in my cooking is that I always save fat. Whether from a big roast beef, rack of lamb, or bacon it always ends up in another meal. This isn't just a desire to be thrifty but the flavors you get are amazing especially like with the roasted chicken it was cooked with very aromatic fennel and onions. The fat absorbs those flavors and eating fats with your veggies helps you absorb the vitamins in them. Not to mention if you are eating grass-fed meats they have a higher amount of Omega-3's in the fat. Thrifty, healthy, and tasty! So I took the roasted veggies and a small amount of fat from the chicken and heated up in my cast iron pan. I cubed up some stale bread and added it to the mix to absorb some flavor. I whisked up 6 eggs and added them to the pan letting them set up a bit until it was a little brown around the edges. Then I added some slices of sharp cheddar cheese to the top and put it under the broiler for a couple of minutes.

Eggs

This is where my documenting of the project started to break down. There was a couple times where the troops were just too hungry to wait for their mom to take a picture of their food before they could eat so I'll give you a quick run down of some of the other meals. One of my go to meals when I'm short on time is a quinoa salad. It cooks up really fast and its pretty versatile. I usually make more than I need so I can have some to throw into other dishes. I took a large bowl of quinoa added peas, dill, dried heirloom tomatoes we had in the pantry, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and salt and pepper. With the garlic scape pesto I made several quick meals like grilled cheese sandwiches, sunny side up eggs with a big dollop of pesto on the top and other snacks. My favorite one that I used the pesto with was a big dish I made for guests visiting the farm. I made a really large bowl of penne pasta added the leftover roasted  chicken I cut up and warmed in a pan, a generous amount of the pesto, about a half a head of kale chopped up really small and topped it  with some parm.

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The dish I made mostly for myself was the one that also didn't go as planned. I wanted to make a soba noodle soup with spring veggies and topped with a soft boiled egg. When I started making the broth for the soup we were in a cold snap and when I got around to making it it was in the 90's and hot soup didn't sound good to anyone. So I took the broth added some braggs aminos, which tastes like soy sauce, and the leftover garlic scapes and peas and let the veggies cook a couple minutes before cooling it down in the fridge. After cooking the soba noodles I poured some sesame oil over them and ladled the cool veggies and broth on top. My whites were a bit too runny so we ended up with soft boiled yolks on top instead. For a strange cold noodle soup salad experiment it was pretty good. Being okay with failures and missteps is also just a part of what cooking without recipes or trying new techniques is all about. There is going to be changes of plans and things you might want to throw away but its part of what makes it interesting. My last meal was nice and hearty, I took the chicken broth that still had a tiny bit of veggies left in it and cooked up a large pot of french lentils. I served them up with a dollop of the yogurt dill dressing and some toast with garlic scape pesto. It was so easy and filling for a long day on the farm where we didn't sit down until the sun was starting to set.

The 10 meals were all pretty quick and simple and mostly successful. The best part was that I still had leftovers. There was enough chicken broth to make another pot of soup. Some yogurt dill dressing to dip veggies in for a snack and some pesto left for some quick sandwiches. I hope this will inspire you to break out of your routine in the kitchen or maybe even join a CSA. Every person that supports a local farm or farmers is making a change in the way food is produced and how the future of agriculture will be shaped. Every bit counts, even the fatty bits.

 

 

 

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This ain't no disco

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This ain't no disco

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Scottish Highland The season is in full swing and we have more animals on the farm then we have ever had before. So many chicks, turkey poults, ducklings, and lambs its hard to keep count. We are also without help again and doing it all on our own for the most part. We tried interns for a third time and just didn't work out. Every time we start with high hopes that we are bringing people onto the farm and into our lives that really want to farm. We pick people specifically because they say they want to start a farm of their own but the one thing we have been successful at is showing people they don't want to have a full scale farm. Maybe they want a little homestead, or just a garden, but they sure don't want the kind of responsibilities that we have taken on. We are thinking about and working on the farm 24/7 at this point. There is still infrastructure to build, also a learning curve figuring out how to manage a much larger group of animals, and also experimenting with value added products to make the farm financially sustainable. Everyday is different and full of chances to learn, adapt, and adjust what we are doing. Lets be honest doing this kind of work with a busy family life is not for everyone. The ability to juggle lots of different hats and also do a job that isn't always going to be laid out for you and may require some critical thinking is a tall order but really a must if you want to start your own farm.

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The most disappointing thing about not being able to successfully have interns isn't just the much larger work load and not being able to do all the projects we wanted to do this season but the fact that we wanted this farm be a place where people could learn about grass based farming and also give them a chance to see how a farm is built. We have been planning and building fencing, irrigation, ponds, and shelters for almost three years now and its the kind of thing that many young new farmers would also be faced with because your not going to necessarily get a farm that has all of those things and the amount of land you want handed over to you. So for now we will try to teach people through our blog when we have time or if people want to come visit the farm we will teach them as much as we can but we won't be taking on any interns anytime soon.

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We have been getting by with the help of friends and neighbors lending a hand when they can. I also have a friend that is going to work in the garden once a week in exchange for some veggies so even though the season isn't working out they way we hoped we still feel good about the future. I have also enjoyed working more one on one with Farmer Matt. Our first summer on the farm I was pregnant and last season our son was just a newborn so as you can imagine I had a hard time taking care of three little boys and getting actual work done on the farm. Now I try to wake up before the older boys and Malcolm and I will start doing morning chores near the house, I even have a sitter coming a couple mornings a week so I can help Matt move larger projects forward. We also try to split up and get things done by one of us taking one or two of the boys and vice versa. Its not perfect, things take a little longer, the house is a little messier, and many nights we eat nachos for dinner but we are making it happen. We are also taking copious notes for how we want to do things differently next season. There is always room for improvement, especially in farming. You can't control the weather or the animals most of the time but you can create the best possible environment for them to thrive.

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On a happier note we found out the breeder that we got Lulu, our Great Pyrenees, from just had another litter so we will be going to pick out another puppy in about a month. Lulu, Bella, and our soon to arrive puppy are and will be  integral members of our farm team. Lulu spends time going between the sheep and the chickens day and night keeping prey both in the sky and on the ground away. Bella still officially a pup helps us heard the animals even the chickens, although that is something we have to work with her on on a daily basis so she just herds them when we ask and doesn't chase them for fun. Both of them alert us if something is amiss and I really appreciate Bella always wanting to be by your side especially those night time runs out into the pasture to check on animals or to lock the chicken tractors up. The second Great Pyrenees will help us cover more ground especially when we have groups of animals on separate sides of the culvert and also give Lulu another companion. She spends much more of her time out in the pastures and could use another dog to keep her from getting bored. Lulu was an amazing puppy and although she was and still is  harder to train basic commands to, unlike Bella the border collie, her strong guarding instinct plus her incredible gentle way with the kids make her the perfect dog for our farm.

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 Farmer Matt sees spring in sight

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Farmer Matt sees spring in sight

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It has been a very productive winter for us. We finished our website www.greenbowfarm.com, worked on some grant proposals, but the majority of it was spent planning our next year, talking about what worked and what didn't, and the new things we want to try out and grow into over the next couple of seasons. Last year we were building up our breeding flock of sheep and figuring out if there was a market for our eggs and poultry so we haven't had much to sell this year, but we will have more than double the amount eggs and meat to sell next year at our farmers markets. Last year we tried a little bit of everything and quickly learned what we wanted to put our time and energy into the most but also keeping the key elements that create biodiversity on the farm. EggsInFridgeIn addition, we spent the winter selling at the West Seattle Farmers Market where we sold our late season pasture raised broiler chickens, all our fall lamb, and of course our pastured eggs. One place where we took a risk was investing a large amount of money to send our lamb pelts off to be tanned and turned into lambskins not really knowing if people would want to buy them. Luckily we were overwhelmed by peoples interest in them so much so that we will probably be selling the one that we were going to keep for ourselves. Believe me it's a good problem to have.  We are enormously grateful to all our wonderful customers and all the feedback they've provided us. It's really hard to imagine farming without the community we have found at farmers markets. This spring, we are getting busy on fencing with help from the NRCS and improving our pastures by finalizing our rotational grazing system. It amounts to dividing our  large pasture with two permanent fence lines. From there we will be able to section off smaller pastures using temporary fencing. This style of rotational concentrated grazing improves soil health and there by grass production. It also greatly benefits the animals by moving them to fresh ground regularly and allowing the chickens to follow cleaning up and sanitizing after the ruminants so that when the cattle and sheep return all the manure they left when they were there before has been scratched out by the poultry and returned to the soil, greatly reducing the risk of parasite infection. It is a symbiotic relationship that regularly occurs in nature and with a little help from temporary electric fencing we are able to mimic it. All of these activities builds soil, builds forage production and protects the health of the soil. In effect, we are grass farmers first and the wonderful beef, lamb, chicken and eggs are simply a byproduct.

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Weather wise, winter didn't seem to show up until February. We had some cold spells, but mountain precipitation was absent and the threat of drought was worrying everyone in the northwest. But at the beginning of February, the high pressure ridge off the coast broke up and brought us winter. The mountains began receiving heavy snow fall. Getting over the pass every Sunday morning for market became challenging as it seemed to snow every Saturday night and into Sunday. Once, I even drove from door to door on snow, getting to the market 100 miles away  and shoveling our booth spot free of snow.

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This week our new apprentices arrive on the farm. Ryan and Crystal found us through a social media site and sent us their letter of interest. After a brief discussion, we invited them to come and stay with us for a few days as a get-to-know-you session. We hit it off famously and invited them to be here for the 2014 season. They are very serious about starting a farm of their own and its that desire to learn by doing that feels like it will be a good fit for our farm. We are very excited to have them here and their presence, I suspect will greatly improve our farm. You'll see them at the markets, so please give them a big "Hello".

Our chicks begin arriving soon and with the break in winter weather the workload will begin to increase rapidly. With a couple of nice days in March I already feel behind on all the repairs and building work that needs to be done. With a growing family and growing farm there really isn't a day that goes by that I don't feel behind on projects but we are hoping to get the boys out with us more often and have more projects be a family affair now that they are getting older.  With a toddler though, that won't always be possible so we'll also try to get some family days squeezed in hiking and camping or just exploring our valley. We have been so busy starting our farm there are still many parts of our valley and surrounding mountains we have yet to explore.

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News both big, small, and in between

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News both big, small, and in between

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Farm Sign There are so many changes and things moving forward I'm not even sure where to start. What kept us up at night most was installing a new sprinkler irrigation system with the help of conservation district grants and after over a year of planning, applying for grants, and 6 weeks of 14 hour days it is finally done and passed inspection with flying colors. We needed to hire a little help once we got into the project and it was worth its weight in gold. This was a concern as our year was already financially burdened with all the infrastructure additions, but it proved to be the best thing we could have done. Farmers seem to talk about three things when they get together: weather, any animals lost, and how difficult it is to find good help.

Irrigation project

Irrigation is not the most exciting topic but the results we have already seen on the pasture have made it all worth it. The plan we designed utilizes tail water so as of now we aren't using the irrigation water we pay for every year which amounts to something like 8,000,000 gallons of snow melt. A huge Thank you to Mark Crowley of the Kittitas County Conservation District for helping us see the plan through logistically and taking a couple of his weekends to help us get the project done. We would probably still be working on it if it wasn't for him. The boys were also thrilled to have his son Wyatt here who has been a farm boy all his life helping his dad raise pigs and cattle. The boy knows his way around a farm and his confidence was inspiring for the boys and in many ways for me to see. We also need to thank our neighbor Cleatus and everyone at the National Conservation Resource Services office, especially Erin who worked some magic for us many times.

Eggs

Our first Farmers Market season has been successful, we sold out of our first two batches of broiler chickens and our pasture eggs seem to be sold before we have them. The Roslyn market is done for the season just as our ladies egg production is ramping up and we will soon have more pasture raised lamb and chicken available so we started looking for new farmers markets to try out in addition to our Ellensburg one. We didn't have high hopes for getting in to the Seattle markets so late in the year, but just this week we found out we will have a spot at the West Seattle Farmers Market starting in October. We are really excited about the West Seattle one because it is our old neighborhood and we have had so many people reaching out to us wondering when they could get some of our pasture raised goodness. I am really looking forward to seeing friends and familiar faces from my food co-op days.

Heriloom Tomatoes

We had a harder time selling our produce. Partly because there is so many people selling it at the markets but also on this side of the mountains they don't put as many regulations on who can sell at farmers markets. In some of the Seattle markets they actually require that you put signs up if you spray your produce with pesticides and they make it their mission to support small sustainable farms so you are less likely to see large conventional farms selling at the Seattle markets. While growing a market garden isn't our focus, we are dedicated to a sustainable local food system so we hope to influence our local farmers markets and community in the years to come. This experience also put us on the path of looking into getting Certified Naturally Grown. It's a grassroots movement of farmers who could no longer afford the cost of organic certification or all the paperwork and record keeping that went along with it once it became a national certification program. Certified Naturally Grown bases their guidelines on organic standards but they make it much more economical to obtain. For a small diversified farm like ours certifying our pastures, compost, garden, and each different kind of animal organic is not economically feasible. We are already transparent when it comes to our farming practices but this will hopefully spark more conversations with people who are unaware or want to learn more. We often tell people at our market booth that if it isn't healthy enough for our family we won't feed it to theirs.

Scottish Highland Cattle

Our biggest piece of news is that we are adding a herd of Scottish Highland Cattle to our farm. We read about a farm down in Southern California called Apricot Lane Farms with a similar farm model to ours but on a larger scale. They also focus on mixed species rotational grazing and utilize compost tea, apple cider vinegar, and full mineralization to keep their animals and pastures healthy. I was reading about them and their Scottish Highland herd that put us on a path to finding some for our own farm. They are a very gentle and docile breed, but the other important quality to us is that they browse and graze similar to our Icelandic Sheep. So in a few short weeks we will have three cow/calf pairs and two older heifers arriving at the farm. We will still keep our family dairy heifer, Love and the four steers we got from Pride and Joy dairy but the Highlands will be our giant leap into breeding our own cattle. It's exciting, terrifying, but most importantly it means we need more infrastructure as far as a wintering shelter and a place to corral them. For now though I will leave you with a beautiful quote from John Chester of Apricot Lane Farms  "You have to trust the magic is gonna happen when your heart's desire is in sync with your conscience. Never in a million years would I ever have been able to predict that simply watching animals eat grass would make my chest feel like it's going to explode." 1

Corn Tassel

1. Quote from The Stockman GrasssFarmer Volume 13 #9 "California Grass Farm Focuses on the Symbiotic Relationship of Mixed Species Grazing"

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