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The First Storm of 2019

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This time of year, we keep a close eye on the weather. By Thursday I saw they were predicting gale force wind for the weekend, and that is never good for the Farmers Market. I have learned the you cannot trust the weather forecast and quite often the storms they predict fizzle out. I have also learned that even if the storm isn’t what they predicted, the threat keeps people away from the market. Being right on the water, the tents at the market get hit by the wind pretty hard. So we sent extra weights, came up with a game plan for stormy weather, told the crew to pick 1/2 the amount of vegetables, cut the staff back to bare bones and planned for a cold, wet, miserable day.  

For those people who shop the market in spite of the weather, you are our heroes! Doing the market is a lot of work, doing it when you are cold and wet and afraid that your tent is going to blow away, well it just isn’t very pleasant. To have people come out and shop makes it all worthwhile.  I couldn’t go down this weekend because of a private party here on the farm, but our crew rocked it! 

Joyce, Havel, Cory and Eric made the day happen. And even though the market shut down 2 hours early, they sold out of eggs and had a pretty fantastic day. The market is where Eatwell got its start. And one of the last things Nigel made me promise was to never miss a market. Eatwell has a perfect attendance record, we have never missed one yet, but that is only possible because of our amazing crew!  

Happy New Year And I Hope You Remembered to Eat Your Cabbage!

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I grew up with my mother’s German tradition of eating pork roast and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day.  My mom always told me you have to eat some sort of cabbage on NY Day to bring good fortune in the coming year.  I never thought much about it, but I did continue that tradition in my own home.  This year is no different, we will enjoy a ham from our friends George and Anne House, and some Eatwell Red Cabbage for our New Year’s gathering.  But today, as I was thinking about what to write for this week’s newsletter I began to wonder where this tradition came from, so I googled it.  

This is what I found on the “German Food Guide”:

Eating Sauerkraut on New Year's Eve is a long-standing tradition in Germany. It is believed that eating Sauerkraut will bring blessings and wealth for the new year. Before the meal, those seated at the table wish each other as much goodness and money as the number of shreds of cabbage in the pot of Sauerkraut.

I also read that the long shreds of cabbage are meant to represent a long life.  And for the pork, well a pig cannot look backwards, only forwards, and therefore only roots forward.  This is meant to represent looking to the future rather than dwelling on the past.  And the pig/pork roast is also a symbol of good luck for the coming year.

As Cameron and I walked around the farm today, for the last time this year, I couldn’t help but smile when I saw this gorgeous purple row of cabbage and look forward to our delicious New Year’s Day meal.  Happy New Year Y’all!

Chicks, Chickens and Chicken Stock…..

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The circle of life for the chickens on the farm.  The day after Thanksgiving, Agustin and Miguel were busy finishing up the final steps to prep the chick house.  Babies were hatching at 9 am, yes that is the time that was scheduled, and due to arrive between 10:30 and 11:00 that morning.  The fresh bedding was spread, heat lamps turned on and watering bowls (officially called poultry drinkers) were filled.  This all happens after nearly a week’s worth of cleaning and sanitizing the house.  It’s important to make sure the babies have a clean environment in which to start their lives.   Once all that work is completed,  we’re ready for the cuteness to arrive. 


The new flock will start laying pullets in about 6 months.  Have you ever tried a pullet?  They are an egg you find in stores because in commercial production they go for powdered eggs (can I say, yuck!).  When they come around I encourage you to give them a try, they are my favorite, with a truly delicious, silky texture.  Of course we never have many of them, so when you see available as an extra, I would jump on them!


Once fully matured our girls are great layers for close to 2 years.  As they age the eggs get bigger, and bigger.  During the later spring and early summer months our flock is laying close to 120 dozen a day, but then drop to the low point, which is where we are right now, to the mid 50’s.  At our current low egg production the cost of feed and labor is solidly at $8.00 per dozen.  This swing in production is really challenging to make the numbers, cost/income balance, because when our production is high so is everyone else’s, and the pastured egg market is flooded. It is hard selling all those eggs, but I am grateful for you members who take advantage of our specials and order extra, and  I am  grateful for Nopa, who during those months, purchases 12 cases a week! 


As chickens age, not only does the size of the egg go up, but the amount laid each week, goes way down.  At that point it is no longer economical to keep them and off to the soup pot they go.  Our friend Tomas, the owner of Rolli Rotti, is now the king of stock; you find his bone broths in stores all over the Bay Area.  They take our spent hens and turn them into stock for us.  I would have liked to have processed birds a couple of months ago, but Tomas is so busy, especially just before the holidays, that he had no time to slot us in.  I spoke with him Saturday and we will get birds to him the weekend of the 15th and will have stock a few days later.  I know many people were disappointed to not have stock for Thanksgiving, I know I was.  AND with colder, wetter weather, I am seriously missing it.  I keep wanting to make a quick soup and realize I have no chicken stock in the freezer and it stops me in my tracks.  The crazy thing is, I am 56 years old, how in the world did I make soup all those years before we started making our stock?  Simple things, like a great chicken stock,  can dramatically change your cooking life, in a very good way.  


Chickens are an integral part of all that happens here on the farm.  Not only do they produce eggs and broth, but they are the center of our fertility program.  As the chickens move from place to place they eat down the pasture, and the bugs, scratch up the soil and leave behind fertility.  It becomes challenging in the wet months to move the houses, because the ground needs to be dry enough.  For everyone’s sake, we always appreciate a good rain, followed by several days of sun and a little breeze to dry things up.  


I’d like to finish up this long article about our chickens with a brief explanation of the different descriptions used on egg cartons, cage-free, free-range and pastured.  Cage-free is just that, chickens live in houses, and are not confined to cages.  They have no access, at all, to the out doors.  Free-Range, is a tricky one, because it sounds good, but honestly it is quite misleading.  Here is what Consumer Reports says: The claim implies that the chickens ranged freely outdoors. However, producers can make the claim as long as the birds are given access to an outdoor area, but there are no requirements for the size or condition of the outdoor area, how accessible the outdoor area is to the birds, how often and for how long each day the birds have to be given access to the outdoors. Chicken and eggs labeled “free range” therefore do not necessarily come from birds that ranged freely outdoors.


Our girls are pastured.  As far as I know, there is no legal definition.  But typically a pastured bird is one that lives outside.  Some farmers lock their hens up at night for protection from raccoons, fox etc.  We don’t have those problems, only cayotes, but Daisy keeps them at bay.  Many of our girls sleep inside the houses and many love to sleep under them, we leave it up to them.  The only time we lock them in at night is when we plan on moving the houses the following morning.  Whether they are locked in at night or not, there is great benefit to having your birds outside all day, mostly it keeps them much happier.  With lower stress levels there is a lot less fighting.  Fresh air and fresh ground reduces the chances of disease.  Do we feed them less?  No!  Those girls move a lot and have big appetites.  Their poor caged sisters expend very little energy.  And just so we are all aware, the vast majority of eggs produced in this country come from caged birds, in 2016 that figure was 90%.  Those birds live in cages about 8” wide.  


So now you have a full life cycle lesson on your Eatwell Hens.  I think it is important for us to understand why things cost what they cost, and how your food is grown.  Great care goes into your Eatwell Eggs.  But as I hear from customers all the time, they are simply the best!

Care Shares and The Cooking Project

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Many of you have generously given to our Care Share program.  Years ago when Nigel came home from his first round battling cancer at UCSF, we quickly realized how important the nourishing food from the farm was for his recovery.  Because of that, Nigel and I decided to donate 10 CSA boxes, weekly, to people fighting serious illness, and asked our members if they had friends or family members who could benefit.  We asked you to help connect us with people, but very soon into it, many of you offered to donate and help support even more people.  

As the Care Share program grew we expanded it to donating boxes for seniors at the Portrero Hill Neighborhood House, and we donate to classrooms that have cooking programs.  I have personally seen how most kids will eat vegetables they would never consider touching, when it is presented to them with a connection to the farm and they play a part in cooking it.  For these kids our Care Shares make a real difference.  Today I wanted to share with you what The Cooking Project has been doing with their shares.  Thank you all for being so generous, and don’t forget, if you know someone who could benefit, please let them know about the Care Shares. If your child’s class has a cooking program, let them know they could receive a box for free.

“We at The Cooking Project have been so fortunate to partner with Eatwell Farm! We have been receiving a CSA box every week filled with organic fresh produce which we incorporate in each cooking class within our "Flavors of Asia" program series at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center. We've cooked down fresh bunches of bok choy and radishes in our noodle dish, used the plump heirloom and cherry tomatoes in our Chicken Afritada (pan-fried chicken stewed in a tomato stock), and even experimented with using fennel in our comforting bowls of Sinigang with pork (tamarind based soup) - all of which came from the fresh pickings of EatWell Farm's CSA box for the week.

Another added bonus, is that we've been able to share the produce we didn't use in our classes with our students, all eager to take home bundles of chard, sweet potatoes, mint, or baskets of tomatoes to cook with their families and apply what they have been learning.  We emphasize how it is important to know where your food comes from and how it is grown, supporting local family farms, and cooking/eating in season. We try to keep our program as accessible as possible to under-served youth, and the CSA shares from EatWell Farm help us keep costs down, as well as provide an incentive for our students to keep coming to the class.  Food is truly the gift that keeps on giving!”

Giving Thanks

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It feels a little strange to be celebrating; anywhere you go in Bay Area, vistas look like apocalyptic sci-fi movie sets.  The smoke is a 24 hour reminder that just a short drive from us people have lost everything.  Knowing this I think it is a struggle for us to be joyful, but as Thanksgiving approaches we can always remember to give thanks.

This year I give thanks for the food we grow and all that it has brought to my life, and for me that is a large web.  Of course one of my first thoughts always goes to the incredible bounty we bring home from the market when we trade with other vendors.  The beauty of barter is those coffee vendors, cheese makers, sausage stuffers, kimchi fermenters, and cookie bakers, are so excited to get fresh vegetables from us, just as excited as I am to get all that they produce.  It is a really sweet deal, one that is based on relationships, connections and shared experiences.  We are all in it together at the market when the rain falls, the wind blows and the smoke fills the sky.  Even though those slow markets are a disappointment for all our hard work, we are at least rewarded with lots and lots of treats.

Besides the market, the food our farm grows has given me the opportunity to go into classrooms and show kids how to make soup.  It also gives me a story to tell in front of large crowds.  I get to cook special dinners for people who want an experience on the farm.  I have a life filled with a purpose, to show people just how simple and delicious eating fresh from the farm truly is.  

And of course, the bounty of the farm brings me all of you. To all of you long time CSA members I can never thank you enough for being a part of our lives and letting us be a part of yours.  Many of you have raised your children with a weekly box from this farm.  They learned that vegetables come out of a box with a newsletter telling them stories about their farm.  And for you who are new to Eatwell, thank you for giving us the chance to show you a different way to approach food. I hope you all find a way to make it to the farm to connect with the land that grows your food.  

Lastly, I will forever be grateful for my farmer man who changed my life in so many ways.  Because of him, I am here, living a life filled with community and purpose.  

Happy Thanksgiving Y’all

Pumpkins

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The orange balls of color out in the field are one of the best signifiers that Fall is here.  Here in Northern California we don’t have much going on that screams the season has changed, so for us the pumpkin patch is kind of it.  These are sugar pie pumpkins, which means they are good for exactly that Pie.  I really enjoy reading the history or foods, and learning where they come from.  Here is a short bit on pumpkins from the University of Arizona:

Pumpkins are believed to have originated in Central America. Seeds from related plants have been found in Mexico, dating back over 7000 years to 5500 B.C. Native Americans used pumpkins as a staple in their diets for centuries. They called the pumpkin “isqoutm Squash.” Native Americans used pumpkin seeds for food and medicine. They also flattened strips of pumpkin, dried them and made mats. Early settlers ate pumpkin as a staple in their diet. Colonist filled a hollowed out shell with milk, honey, and spices, then baked it in hot ashes. This is considered the origin of the pumpkin pie. 

The Beauty of Starts

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There really is something so beautiful in trays of starts.  In this picture you see lettuce at the bottom and cabbages above.  The colors are so vibrant, and each little cell in the tray is a promise of great meals to come.  Before we get to the point of receiving these trays though, Cameron has already put hours of work in.  The first step is determining when we want to harvest a crop.  From there he works backwards, factoring in the days to germination, to days of maturity.  How many weeks do we want a particular crop?  Can we harvest before it is at full maturity?  Lettuce and many of the greens we can pick young, putting together bags of Stir Fry Mix or mixed baby lettuce. 

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Once Headstart sends us the trays of starts, the guys get them into the ground.  Several years back Nigel invested in this Italian transplanter, which seats up to 3 guys.  While the tractor slowly makes its way down the rows they gently take the little starts from the tray and pop them down the planting tubes.  Before this machine, we used a transplanting sled.  The guys would lie flat and work off of a wooden platform, not very comfortable and it was much slower.   

Rose Geranium

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Over the summer Andrew took on the Rose Geranium planting project; his plants are looking great. Last week I took Rose Geranium to Wally’s in Sonoma for distillation, which gives us two products - essential oil and hydrosol. Most of you will be familiar with essential oils, but few people know what a hydrosol is, so here is the official definition from NAHA (National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy):

Hydrosols, also known as hydrolats, are the aqueous product of distillation and carry the hydrophilic properties (water-soluble components) of the plant in solution as well as microscopic droplets of essential oils in suspension.”

I use the hydrosols as the flavor ingredients in our Drinkwell Softers. We also package hydrosol in 80 ml spray bottles and sell them pure. Hydrosols are great for light burns, like a sunburn, very cooling, but they make a nice light facial toner; naturally a lower pH than straight water. Our’s are anywhere from 4.2 to 4.8 which makes them a little closer to the natural pH of skin at 5.5. Rose Geranium has a beautiful rose like scent. The plant produces very little essential oil. Last year we distilled 200 lb of rose geranium, which gave us 35 gallons of hydrosol and 2.5 oz of essential oil. By comparison the same amount of Lavender Grosso gave us close to 60 oz! And to be honest that 2.5 oz was a great EO yield for Rose Geranium. This is why we wholesale a 5ml bottle for $50.00.

You can imagine we don’t sell much of it. Our number one customer for Rose Geranium Essential Oil is the bakery Miette who uses it in their Macaroons. Did you know you can use a few leaves from the plant to scent sugar, by simply putting the leaves in a jar with sugar and letting it sit for a week? You can also scent a lot of sugar with one drop of EO, which is what Miette does.

I love to keep a few sprigs in a small vase near my bed just to have that beautiful scent near me.
You can use the hydrosol spray on your pillow, but I mostly use it as a refresher for my face and hair. Hydrosols can be diluted with water and turned into ice cubes, making your ice something really special. You can see this pretty little fragrant plant has plenty of uses.

Some Old Things and Some New Things

Kohlrabi

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Up until a couple of years ago we grew Kohlrabi.  One of the problems we had was size. It grew quite large rather quickly.  It is also known as the German Turnip, although it is not related to turnips. It is in the brassica family, and is a cultivar of wild cabbage. I love kohlrabi and I grew up eating it, as it was a common vegetable in Germany. My mother would buy it whenever she found it, and always made it the way she made cauliflower, in a delicious béchamel sauce.

Diet is like fashion, how people eat can change fairly dramatically.  In today’s world, a lot of people are gluten free, and some of us are just looking for ways to reduce our carb intake and get more fresh veg into our diets.  Kohlrabi is one of the vegetables people use for making “noodles”.  If you compare 140 gm of spaghetti (which is 1 cup) to 140 gm of Kohlrabi you are looking at 43 gm of carbs for pasta and just under 9 gm for Kohlrabi. 

I’m not really trying to sell you all on the virtues of Kohlrabi, but I realize growing vegetables is no longer as straight forward as it used to be.  There are many things we now need to consider.  The truth is I am looking at trends and don’t honestly know how the majority of our members eat.  But I would guess having ways to incorporate more fresh vegetables by and occasionally replacing it for dried pasta might be of interest to many of you. 


Spigarello

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As for the new thing; I met a farmer from the East coast a couple of years ago at the Market one Saturday. He asked me if we grew Spigarello, which I had never heard of, so obviously the answer was no. He was touting all it’s virtues, delicious, easy to grow, great yields, his customers were going crazy for it, and no one was growing it. Naturally I told Nigel about it but with life as it was for him the last couple of years, we never got around to trying it out. A member reminded me of it, when she posted a recipe on our Slack group (do you all know about our Slack group?  If you aren’t on there, email the office for the link).  Another member gave it a thumbs up too.

So what is Spigarello? Apparently it is the parent to broccoli rabe, and native to southern Italy. It is long stemmed, with curly leaves and tastes much like broccoli.  It doesn’t produce florets, but the flowers are edible.  You use it like kale or other greens, raw in salads or cooked. It grows to full maturity in 45 days, but we can begin harvesting baby leaves at only 21.  I am hoping to get seed ordered this week and get it into the ground as soon as possible.  It is pretty tricky planting it direct, rather than as transplants.  If we have really hot Indian summer weather it won’t be happy. But, as Nigel said, farming is a gamble, so I am going to give it a try. If it grows well and quickly from seed, it could be a nice addition.

Flea Beetles & Other Pests

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As Cameron and I walk the fields checking out various plants, we are now looking for unwanted, tiny critters.  I am sure many of you have experienced our greens with tiny holes in them.  And checking out a small planting of tomatillos we found lots of little holes and tiny black bugs.  Cameron was explaining what he learned in class about the flea beetle.  They will eat little holes in leaves, but they also can spread viruses.

Nigel was a big believer in letting nature take her course, but I think our balance is off. The problem you create when you use pesticides, even natural ones, is you often kill the beneficial bugs along with the pests.  That makes sense, but what do we do about holes in our arugula and kale?

I have been doing a little bit of reading on our options.  Sticky yellow traps are one possibility. I know Nigel used them in the past.  And even though the yellow will attract the good bugs, we would not be saturating a field killing everything out there.  There is no spraying involved so that is plus. If we did spray we could use a mixture of kaolin clay and water.  This is completely natural and non-toxic. It makes the leaves very unappetizing, so bugs like flea beetles don’t eat them. Their predators would still have them to eat and we wouldn’t be killing those beneficial bugs.  Perhaps this would be a positive way to bring things back into balance.  One more option I would like to research further is the use of natural predators.  We all love ladybugs and when they come in at the right time they do wonders on the aphids. Ladybug larva can eat up to 40 aphids in an hour! There are beneficial nematodes that kill the larvae of cucumber, scarab, Japanese, flea beetles, chafer, thrips, white grub, corn root worm, bilbug, CO potato beetle, black vine weevil, root mealybug. Pretty exciting stuff for a wanna be farm girl. Who would have ever thought?

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