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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?

Farm Salts

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Every so often I write about our salts.  It always amazes me how many members don’t know about these little secret kitchen weapons! We currently offer 6 flavors, although I am working on a new special seasonal blend that includes fennel blossom and parsley and is amazing! In any case we do have these amazing salts, and everyone should have at least a few of them on hand at all times! Lavender is one of my favorites, most definitely my favorite on just sliced tomatoes and my go to seasoning for steak and hamburger. People are always surprised when I tell them the best steak or hamburgers are made with a good sprinkling of our lavender salt, let sit out for 10 to 15 minutes before cooking in a searing hot cast iron, truly amazing! For our pizzas at the sauce parties we have been brushing the edge of the crust with olive oil and giving it a light sprinkling of the Rosemary salt, delicious and crunchy.

The other current four flavors are Thyme, Smoked Chile, Lemon, and Heirloom Tomato. The salts now come in a cute little 2 oz jar so it isn’t much of a commitment to try any or even all of them! I always suggest you use them at the end of cooking, sometimes with spaghetti I put the Rosemary Salt on right on top of the pile in my bowl, I love the salty crunch. All of our salts are made with dried herbs or veg from the farm and ground with very coarse grey sea salt from Britany. One of the things I love the most about having them on hand at all times, is I seldom need to worry about having fresh herbs, typically there is a salt that will cover what I need, and I never use plain dried herbs anymore.  It makes cooking just a little bit easier!

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Finally, San Marzanos Are Coming

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To be fair, I have made plenty of fresh sauce this summer with the Estiva slicing tomatoes, and it has all been delicious.  BUT the darling of the sauce world is turning red out in the field and so serious saucing will begin in the farm house very soon. Many of you switched to the September Sauce Party date and I believe a lot of you did that because of these tomatoes.  If you can’t make it up, we will have them available to you by the case as an add on. I promise you, taking a couple of hours to make your own tomato sauce is worth so much more than you can imagine. Once you start eating your own sauce you just won’t go back. Because these tomatoes come in rather late, I have decided next year we will skip the July Sauce Party and start up later in August, adding more dates in September. Overall I believe it will be better for most of you so you aren’t missing out due to summer vacation plans.  My goal is to convince you all to fill your cupboards with homemade tomato sauce!

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Looking To Next Year

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You can see the tall weeds growing in the pepper rows. When Cameron and I were climbing our way through the pepper jungle, it was quite obvious that weeds make for a much more difficult harvesting. The picture also shows just how much fruit is hanging on those plants, I can assure you it is far more than what we need. So what to do? Last week we got a brand new roll of woven weed barrier for the new beds of strawberries. Nigel preferred using the “Extenday” because it lasts for years, as opposed to the more common shiny black plastic we all see used in fields. 

 

The reason more people don’t use this type of weed barrier is the cost is really high in comparison. The one roll we ordered last week was $1,200.00. Half of that role was used on the new strawberry beds. So you can imagine how much it would cost to use on many crops. I believe part of Nigel’s thinking in the past was let’s grow more, not worry about weeding/hoeing and we’ll have enough for what we need. 

 

But Cameron and I are now finding we have created the most amazing habitat for squirrels and rabbits because they have all these jungles to wander through loaded with food.  It also makes it that much harder to discover pests early on, which makes it impossible for us to take any action. Planting more to compensate for weeds, pests, and ease of picking, also means more hours of preparing beds and planting, and more land needing irrigation.  Which really translates to more tractor hours as well as man hours.  We are doing some serious thinking; with so many factors to consider would we be better off investing $600.00 in reusable fabric and grow 50% fewer peppers? Now that Cameron and I have our first year behind us, we are looking to the coming year as a time for some limited and specific experimentation. We will invest in one roll of Extenday for the peppers, plant all the non Lunchbox Peppers with fabric and plant as many of the Lunchbox as we can with the second half of the roll. We will still have beds of Lunchbox without fabric so we will have an excellent controlled study. 

Mulberry Trees

The mulberries are pretty loaded this year, but it is obvious when you look up into them, just how much the birds love them. I found this bird’s nest tucked up in there. Finding a nest always feels like finding a special little surprise. Later that day, I saw a farmer had posted on Instagram a picture of one of their mulberry trees and had this to say about Nigel:

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“This mulberry tree will always remind me of the late great Farmer Nigel of Eatwell Farm. He said that mulberry tress at the edges of orchard rows will keep the birds satiated and will reduce their fruit thieving.”

It’s true, we keep our birds well fed with mulberries. I always tell people who visit it is the one crop we never harvest, it is here for those of you who make the trip to the farm, and for the birds!  Thank you, Jellicles Farm, for sharing your memories.

Artemisia

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I walk the farm and I see many dreams Nigel had for the land.  There are lots of projects he started but never had the opportunity to finish, or move forward far enough to realize it was not such a great idea.  About 10 years back Nigel planted Artemisia Arborescens. It is in the wormwood family, and there had been some amazing research done on the essential oil.  As things go in the aromatherapy world, great research does not often translate into great demand. Also, distilling the Artemisia is very problematic because the essential oil is so inky blue it is almost impossible to clean it out of the still and ends up costing a lot to produce. I look at the rows of massive bushes that just sit there, taking up space, providing excellent cover and habitat for the troublesome rabbits and ground squirrels and I ask myself, why am I keeping them? They are taking up precious land. I can hear Nigel’s voice, the excitement he had for this particular essential oil, the fact that the plants that we have, are the correct type, and they are hard to find.  But I also know that some of our lavender needs replacing pretty soon, and that would be a great spot to put it.  So decisions have to be made soon.  

Someone Is Enjoying Our Peppers

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Some pesky critter is enjoying our peppers a lot! Sadly, they have also enjoyed our cucumbers and melons, and it is looking like they have taken a big bite (pun intended) out of our crops this year. It is an enormous challenge we face each year trying to keep the ground squirrel population in check. Part of our problem is we have too many good hiding places for them. We do have some amazing predators living up in our trees. There are many gorgeous hawks all around the farm, and owls. If you look closely up in the tops of the poplar trees you will find many large nests.

Students on the Farm

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This past week, we had two very different groups of students on the farm. Early in the week a small class of UC Davis Vet students were here to check out our chicken operation. It is always interesting to hear what they have to say about what they see on our farm. The primary questions they ask are around the topic of disease prevention and treatments. How do we treat, how do we prevent? We so seldom have issues with our birds, it isn’t much of a problem for us. The houses, the nest boxes, watering systems are all sanitized. We move the birds onto some fresh pasture, add rosemary extract to their water, along with grapefruit seed extract and sometimes Rescue Remedy. This all seems to do the trick.  Of course, we have also sent birds to Davis to be tested to find out what happened to them, but so far nothing really serious has occurred. I think they were surprised by all of this because it is fairly different from what they are taught and experience. How much of a difference does it make that our birds live outside in the fresh air, roaming the pasture, eating plants and bugs? Our girls look really happy, and healthy.

On Thursday a group of 6th graders from Prospect Sierra in El Cerrito came for a visit. They do a large farming project every year, and part of the visit includes an interview of the farmer. They come prepared with questions and followed a specific format. We all sat around my kitchen table while they interviewed me. One of the questions they asked was what is my favorite thing to do on the farm?  My answer was quick and simple, “this; what we are doing right now”. For me, there is no greater joy than sharing with our young friends the importance of eating fresh food. Explaining the freedom and joy one gets from knowing how to cook, and how that ability can literally change your life, is one of the most important things I can do with my life. We live in a world that constantly tells us cooking is drudgery, it is too expensive to eat healthy, buy this cheap unhappy meal instead. Share family time together while everyone eats their own frozen meal. And by the way, kids don’t like vegetables.  

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We have a lot of loud voices to overcome to make change, but working with young people is the best way I know to get there. Showing kids around the farm and letting them taste vegetables like chard and kale, that they just picked out in the field, opens their mind to completely new experiences. Set them loose in a strawberry field and tell them “YES, eat as many as you want!” Well, that is life changing. just ask the many young CSA members who come up every year for Strawberry Day, they know!

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