Know Your Farmers…and Appreciate Them

A friend shared a post from a farmer  friend of hers and it is important to read.  As you know, I feel my ability to grow anything is challenged…..no green thumbs. I do like good food, however, so I honor my farmers not only with my business to preserve their surplus and give them another income stream, but I tell people again and again that the best they can do with their food dollar is to support their local farmers.  If you personally do not know where that steak came from, that tomato, or that egg, you are missing out on the best the agricultural work has to offer.  And you probably really do not know the real taste of the food you are eating. 

Soul Food Farm is quietly tucked into the rolling hillsides of Northern California. Since 1988, the Koefoed family has continued the legacy of this historic farm, and today it is bountiful with both wild and artisan flowers, lavender fields, and an estate olive orchard where,  every year, the local community gathers to help with the harvest. Happy chickens sunbathe in the fields while the sheep, goat, steer and cow nurture the soil with their grazing. Whether you’re visiting the farm for one of our many workshops or attending a farm-to-table dinner or special event, Soul Food Farm will leave your heart enchanted and your soul nourished. Read more about our story here.

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Over the years I made a deal with myself to stop apologizing for the price of our farm products. It took a long time to develop that frame of mind, but eventually, I understood that hard work needs no defense. End of story. But, yesterday at a Farm to Fork event I had an encounter with a couple that stopped me dead in my tracks.

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A couple walked up to our little Soul Food Farm table and so naturally, I expected them to be interested in our olive oil Why else approach the table? Instead, I got this look of suspicion while they picked up a bottle and turned it over and then it came. They looked at me and said, “we don’t want to be rude, but why is it sooooooo expensive.” And then I was face to face with a choice. Try once more to explain what it takes to farm or dismiss the question. The irritation this dilemma caused in the past crashed through my memories and in a moment I decided to answer her question. Deep breath, positive expectation, begin. I started to explain that I prune the trees myself, and we pick the olives by hand, and we pay the mill upfront to press the oil, and as I ’m talking, she waves her hand in my face and says’ yeah, yeah, whatever” and walks off.Image may contain: table and outdoor

Instead of getting mad I was left wondering why is there still this lingering suspicion that farmers are price gauging? Customers would never walk into a grocery store and expect a discount before they bought an item or demand a sample. The utter contempt that’s conveyed not only by demanding to know why farm food is priced the way it is but just the plain rudeness of walking away when someone is speaking to you astounds me. Now, I could brush this off as a one-time occurrence but I know it’s not. I have many farmer friends who are up against this every time they sell at a farmers market. The constant and varied questions about price that always fall just short of an outright accusation of trying to cheat the customer.

As I walked around the farm today putting animals away, collecting eggs, filling water troughs, my frustration started to compound. What is it going to take for us to bridge the gap between farmers and consumers? When are small farmers going to be treated with respect? Not only from folks shopping at farmer’s markets, but the restaurants that buy their food, and the farm to fork dinners, festivals and conferences that are continually popping up. What do I mean by respect? I mean not haggling with farmers at the market over their price per pound. Do folks think farmers are running some racket? A get rich quick scheme with carrots and tomatoes? Restaurants need to start paying farmers at the time of delivery, COD. Farmers already cover the total cost of production; it is simply wrong to expect farmers to wait thirty to sixty days for payment after deliveries. And all those farm to fork events, how about actually having a good representation of local farmers at these events. Better yet, stop asking small farmers to donate food items to events that charge a ticket price.Image may contain: plant, fruit, outdoor, food and nature

We have to let go of the imagery that farmers are part of a pastoral fantasy. Farming is not a fable but a job, that’s necessary to the very fabric of our existence. Farming is often soul crashing hard work. Long, lonely days in the field. Planting seeds. The sun beating on your back. Nights comforting animals. Cold, early mornings, to harvest, pack and get to market. The burden of the cost of production yours and yours alone. Farming is not only a career it’s a service to the surrounding community. In return, only one thing is asked or expected, that the work is appreciated and treated with respect.

One rude couple, won’t make or break a small farm, but it’s a good reminder we have a long way to go.

I’m Fed Up and it’s NOT Because I Ate Too Much

About ten years ago something happened. I woke up.

I became aware that a lot of people were writing about the changes to our foods that had been going on since the mid 1990s and also about how some illnesses had also had a surge in diagnosis since that time.

The skeptic in me says coincidence does not necessarily show a cause. The cautious part of me decided I needed to prove it to myself.

Having read about how some of the genetically engineered foods kills insects that typically infiltrate plants like corn by causing their stomachs to rupture, I began to think how my daughter, born in 1994, started developing something like irritable bowel syndrome before she was 20 years old.  The doctor at the college health center recommended she have a colonoscopy which I wanted to schedule with my doctor when she spent the summer with me. He said, no, 19-year-olds should not need colonoscopies, and we made an appointment to talk with him. After hearing her symptoms and the history, he urged her to repopulate her stomach with probiotics and her symptoms eased. Smart man.

As I read more and more I decided we would switch to organic foods where we did not know a farmer who grew a specific food item. We decided to have a 6 month trial and surprise surprise, we have continued this practice for at least 4 years now.  When we follow our own rules, we feel better. But we generally do not recognize that until we travel and end up eating “regular” food. And then the uncomfortable issues start again.

A few months ago the Federal government approved chickens being sent to China to be butchered and then sent back to American markets. What with past issues with pet food and baby food, I am not comfortable with any of the food grown in the US going overseas for processing. Especially since the USDA eliminated the “country of origin” labeling also. Image result for chickens shipped to china for processing

Today I read that the milk industry has petitioned the FDA to CHANGE THE DEFINITION OF MILK to include aspartame. Their point is that it would not need to be on the label and sweet things would be “healthier” without sugar. (Oh, and since so many people are now aware of the ill effects of that artificial sweetener, the FDA has approved changing its name to “Amino Sweet”, so watch for that on your labels!)Image result for just label it

For those of us who prefer to know what is in our food, this is unacceptable. Personally, I really can not, nor do I want to, have a cow. (Pun intended) But it is getting to the point where the ONLY way to control what you are putting into your body is to source all your food from farmers you know.  Farmers who tell you their growing methods. Farmers who are more interested in health than becoming rich.

I really am impressed by ALL the farmers I know, whether they grow with organic practice or even if they grow conventionally. Farming is hard work. Yields are highly dependent on a huge unknown: the weather. And generally, farmers do not make much income. Long hours, low pay.

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And yet, most of the farmers I have met are passionate about what they do. They may be exhausted, but they have the drive to keep on growing food for us.

We are extremely fortunate in Oregon’s Willamette Valley to have almost all our food needs met by local farmers. We need to go a bit farther for citrus and for sugar, but for the foods we personally eat and the foods prepared in the Kitchen of Can-Do Real Food, we support our local farmers as much as possible.

There are tons of diets that claim to offer a healthier body.   No one size fits all, but many can lead to better health.  But above all, start cooking from whole foods and leave the frozen foods with their high sodium and loads of preservatives at the store.  Not only will you discover what foods really tastes like, but you will feel proud that you can nourish yourself so deliciously.Image result for cook from scratch

Can-Do Real Food provides you preserved foods that have been made from local food raised on farms that are certified organic, bio-dynamic, or naturally grown or farms that grow in the organic style. Our only products that come from trees that have been sprayed are the hazelnut butters. Although new trees planted in the past year or so are a strain that is resistant to insect infestation, the mature trees must be treated or there would be no crop of nuts at all. All other produce used to prepare the recipes in the Can-Do Real Food kitchen are raised without any chemical treatment for insects or weeds.  You may opt not to buy our products, but it won’t be because of added chemicals.

Can-Do Real Food                                                                                                                                                                                      Preserving the Local Harvest                                                                                                                                                                                           No Artificial Anything!

 

Marketing the Market

Last year something funneled down into my thinking mode and I realized I could ask shoppers at the Farmers’ Market booth if they would like to receive an email early, maybe Tuesday night, maybe Wednesday (leaving myself wiggle room) that would tell them just what we were planning to bring to the Thursday market.   And guess, what? People signed up! About 150 of them.

Since we often make small batches, maybe only a dozen of some yummy, I like to give the Buying Club a chance for first dibs. People are reminded if anything intrigues them to let me know to set one aside for them. It does not mean they need to purchase; just that they have that opportunity. This has been particularly friendly for those people who can not get to the market until late in the day.  (And because there is nothing lost if they do not show up or do not buy the reserved item, I don’t mind. I can always market it another day. The joy of preserved foods.)

I thought you might enjoy the Market Newsletter I emailed out Tuesday evening to the Buying Club for this week. Just to see the kind of communication it is.  If you have any ideas how to make it sparkle and drive more sales, PLEASE let me know.

JAM SESSION!!

Let’s make beautiful music for our taste buds this week! I’m bringing ONLY jellies because we have the new harvests beginning to pop and it is time to remind you that fruit spreads shine in ways more than breakfast toast or peanut butter sandwiches.

 

Our gravenstein apple tree was loaded last year (does not look good for this season, though) and when we heard one of our farm partners, Gratefull Gardens had a wooden cider press, we went over there to make a lot of cider. We took some of that juice and produced a beautiful clear MULLED APPLE CIDER JELLY.  Fall flavors, sure, but you know you enjoy them. This jelly can also be used to cook with sausage, potatoes, peppers and apples. Or as a glaze for chicken.

Two of our farm partners, Bethel Springs Farm and Keeler Estate Vineyard, both grow plums. Those deep purple orbs lend themselves to so many uses. Cara Lagunas of Third Street Oil and Vinegar suggested we splash a bit of pomegranate balsamic vinegar into that mellow plumminess. If you have not even tasted POM PLUM JELLY you might not understand how this deep rich flavor can translate very easily into a magnificent salad dressing.

Okay, the ever-present QUINCE PASTE will not be around much longer (at least until the fall). We have introduced this little known fruit to many people who now fully understand how matching this mellow full flavored paste with cheese is the bomb! Over goat cheese, in a baked brie, or simply with cream cheese, it’s superb. It’s also great with peanut butter.

“I don’t like rhubarb!” You know how often I hear that? When asked, it turns out the introduction was very tart. Well, I like my rhubarb sweet so here ya go…give it a try. Mixed with ginger because, as I’ve said it before, I just do not do with other people do. I love it with strawberries, don’t get me wrong. I just want to excite you with new options. Come taste the  RHUBARB GINGER JAM.  Great on ice cream and can be a filling for a cake also.

From Keeler Estate Vineyards we bring you two forms of their pinot noir wine. The PINOT NOIR WINE WOW! is a deep rich jelled spread that will help you introduce this to nonwine drinkers. (Did you know we must boil off the alcohol in order to get to set point for the jelly, so sad or not, there is no “booze” in this.)  We also introduced mulling spices to the mix and so, MULLED PINOT NOIR WINE WOW! is also available with cinnamon and other lovely flavors.

However, there IS booze in the NAUGHTY BUNNY MARMALADE, orange liquor to be exact. This marmalade is full of oranges and that is the flavor that comes through. Excellent as a glaze for chicken or fish. And to explain simply why we developed this marmalade, all you need to do is think of all those slightly pornographic carrots, you will understand that Bethel Springs Farm has more carrots than they can sell to their customers. More excitement in our canning kitchen and your home kitchen thanks to them!

We went to a nearby farm to obtain some pears a couple of years ago and the farmer showed us a bush that, after harvest, had only a few desiccated berries hanging. With the chickens underfoot wanting what little remained, we tasted them and eagerly agreed to harvest the next season. That was last summer and we only have a few jars left of GET YOUR GOUMI JELLY. A Siberian native plant, it has no predators here nor does it spread. It has a huge pit in the small berry, hence its lack of commercial viability here. So, we have this one small batch, almost all gone with a unique sparkling taste.

I love figs. I know many of you do too. We tasted an amazing FIG ORANGE JAM when we were in Croatia several years ago and have been trying to replicate it ever since. This one not only is great as is, but if you take the time to reduce it a bit, it can make a great filling for homemade fig newtons.

BERRRY NAUUGHTY was made for the first time last year when the market was about to open and Can-Do Real Food had next to no inventory until the 2016 harvests could be processed. We raided the freezer and had a few of this and a little of that and a bit more of this other berry. Not enough of any to make a straight jam. So we combined them, added some orange liquor and we sold out! So, now, we gathered our berries from the freezer, this time blackberries from a wild patch on a farm well off the road so no fumes, some raspberries from my canes, and some blueberries from our partner farm Beach Family Farm. It is with great pleasure we offer you a deep rich jam and I suppose you could use if in another way, but only if you can tear it out of the hands of your family members who are putting it on their toast.

See you Thursday noon to 6pm!!

 

 

 

Center of My World

I felt it when I first started visiting this area to consider it as a place for us to move upon retirement. I feel it again each time someone from elsewhere in the world stops to chat at the Can-Do Real Food booth at the McMinnville downtown farmers’ market. McMinnville is a world class destination.

No, there are not world class art museums, but we have a pretty amazing air and space museum that includes the Spruce Goose and stealth bombers. Image result for evergreen air and space

No, we are not on a major hiking trail system but the town has glorious parks and we are close to the Coastal Range with its national forests offering outdoor recreational opportunities including trail running and mushroom hunting. Image may contain: 1 person, plant, tree, outdoor and nature

No, we don’t have restaurants with prices that match your monthly housing cost, but we have an amazing cross section of restaurants in all price ranges, many of which use local food for their menu. Photo of Community Plate - McMinnville, OR, United States. Kale chopped salad (refreshing lemon vinaigrette) $8, scoop of tuna salad

And why would they use local food? Because they can!!! Withing 15 miles of McMinnville we have food producers that not only offer produce and protein, but also wheat and  milled flour, olive oil, cheese, honey, and so much more.

And should we mention the beer, the cider, the mead, the saki. Mashing in on the new system

And finally, truly world class, the wine. 

Each week at the farmers’ market I meet people who are not only from other places in Oregon, but people who have travelled here from all over the United Sates and foreign visitors from Europe, Asia, South America and Africa.

People who care about the amazing things the earth can produce come to McMinnville.

Can-Do Real Food is very proud to be part of this community, offering amazing canned and dehydrated foods from local farms. We CAN eat locally for almost all we need. Lucky us. The pioneers who traveled the Oregon Trail knew this is a special area.

Who Do You Know?

My mom was a nurse and so made sure we ate healthy meals. Each night we’d all sit down together as soon as the parentals were home from work and we’d have a meat and two veggies. Usually a home baked dessert afterwards. Sometimes it was delicious and sometimes I would have preferred to have a “no thank you” helping (i.e, liver).

As I struck out on my own I usually made a meat (never liver) and veggie, trying to skip desserts. Anyone who knows me personally knows I lost that attempt.

And once the kids were on the scene the effort improved and more veggies entered the picture (but never any liver). Most meals were made from scratch in those days but I had my shortcuts, like boboli or frozen bread dough to make pizzas and Betty Crocker brownie mix for the chocolate fix.

About seven years ago I started learning more about how the food we were eating was considerably different from the same food of my childhood. Concerns about pesticides, herbicides, genetically modified foods were one thing. But then I learned about how fish like tilapia was a farm fish which meant it was raised in man-made ponds that were often pretty polluted. And now, to complicate things more, Congress permitted country of origin information to no longer be on labels. So, really, where DOES that chicken come from?

Around the same time I began to get involved in the farm-to-table movement in West Virginia.  To say I knew nothing is not an understatement. I grew up in the New York metropolitan area, and while New Jersey’s nickname may be the Garden State, I lived in the paved part. But I enjoyed visiting farms and asking questions and I learned.

I learned a lot and I learned only a smidgen of what they know. They, the magic makers who take a tiny little speck of stuff, a seed, and manage to make that turn into tomatoes or squash or spinach. Amazing magic. They know how to do it and it definitely takes a lot of skill.

Right now here in the Willamette Valley some of the farmers are finding some fields are drying out enough from the winter rains to get started, but others will have to wait for more sun….or at least more non-rain days.  And then, later, they will deal with the vagaries of the weather, with heat and sunshine and lack of rain. And then, here in Oregon, the rains will start again, maybe in October, maybe in November, maybe with climate change whenever it does.

Those vagaries can make or break a financial year for our local farmers…and your local farmers too. I don’t care where you are when you read this, you have some small farms nearby. About a hundred years ago there were farms all over. The Garden State, for example, had earned its nickname because it was the vegetable garden for New York City.

So, accept this piece: there are farmers near you, raising food you can eat.

Before I started working with the farmers I met in West Virginia and here in Oregon, they used to be invisible. Either I never went down back roads or the roads I drove were not rural enough. But they were there, all along. Maybe just tucked back off a long driveway, or around the hill on the other sides. They are there.

Why am I belaboring that point? Because it is time, past time, for you to know your farmer.

I’ve been using that phrase for years and it seems more and more I am posting it almost weekly as new disgusting things about our food becomes known. But what does it really mean?

It means that it is once again time for you to understand that what you put in your body does make a difference.  It means your food is even more important than who won March Madness.  It means that it is time you understand the difference in your food can make a difference in your life.

I’m not talking any special diet here. I am talking knowing the source of what YOU chose to eat.

First of all, and maybe this is all you need to appreciate, it will TASTE BETTER!  Why? Well, most of the fruits and veggies at the supermarket come long distances, flown in or by train or by truck.  In order to be transported without spoilage, those fruits and veggies are picked green…not ripe. Almost everyone has eaten tomatoes in the winter and then a fresh tomato off someone’s backyard plant in the summer. THAT amazing explosion in your mouth is the humongous difference in eating something picked green and something vine ripened.  ALL fruits and veggies are that way.

Not only that, but if you were brought up with canned vegetables, try all those that you decided you would avoid as an adult one more time, fixed from locally grown fresh produce. If you’re like me, you will be surprised. Those cans of spinach that Popeye crammed down his throat to get strong never convinced me….until I ate fresh spinach in a salad and then braved up and cooked some. Spinach is no longer on my “hate it” list.

Secondly, and this is a bit concerning to me, we know our infrastructure (bridges and highways) have not been getting the maintenance they should have been getting over the past few decades. If there is a problem, as there was with the blizzard here in Oregon in the Columbia River Gorge blocking I-84 and the railroad, the transportation of goods (including food) may be slowed.  If I can get most of my food from local sources, I can manage quite well. Now the Willamette Valley is an amazing garden and so much grows here that we could get by with only a few things missing from our diet, but not all areas are this fertile. Nevertheless, there is food near you. Find out what it is and learn how to prepare it for your meals.

Third, while the economic indicators show that the recession is over, it just doesn’t feel that healthy yet. One way to have a tremendous impact on your local economy is to spend more of your money IN it. In other words, use local shops and farms and services instead of the large corporate entities as much as possible. I, for one, discovered that printing my labels for my canned products cost more at Staples than at a small locally owned print shop. A lot less at Copy Cabana! So, when I go in weekly during my processing season and pay for printing, I know that money will mostly stay right here in my town.  The food I buy from local farmers helps the local economy the same way.

So how do you build a relationship with a farmer?  One easy way is to identify where and when your local farmers’ markets are.  Many market managers make an effort to plan the hours so consumers can stop during lunch hour or after work on their way home. Here in McMinnville, our planned market hours are expanding to noon to 6pm on Thursdays from mid May to Mid October. There are markets every day of the week within 30 minutes of here! Maybe in your area too.

When you go to your farmers’ market you will see four or five or more fruit and vegetable stands as well as other specialties with meat,  bread, wine, beer, candy, and preserved items (yeah Can-Do Real Food!).  Speak to the person at the booth. Ask about how they produce their food. They will be happy to speak with you!  They are proud of what they do and love it when people show interest.

Some farmers offer a CSA. That stands for Consumer Supported Agriculture. This is an easy way to get more bang for your buck (more food for your dollar), but there is a catch, maybe two. First, you pay ahead, either by the month or the season or the partial season. This permits the farmer to have working capital during the growing season. Second, you will get some produce you may have never eaten before. That can be a hard hurdle to overcome, but ask the farmer for a recipe or use your internet skills to search for one. Make exploring new foods a regular family adventure. (When Graham and I  first got together we did a cuisine of the week for a few months and learned new ethnic recipes. Now our exploration usually is a new veggie our farmers suggest.)

Look, some people (you?) have a close reliance on a hair dresser, a nail person, a massage therapist. We want what makes us feel/look/move healthy to be a regular, reliable part of our routine.  Where is your decision about the source of your food in that list of important people? Where is the consideration of how you CAN influence your health with what you eat?

It’s easier than you think. There are many ways to find local information, but an easy place to start is Local Harvest. Stick in your zip code and hit the search button. You will then see a list of farms and more that are near you. Have fun exploring…..and share your stories!

 

And the Beat Goes On!

The weather changed into its winter wet cycle here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon a bit over a month ago but, believe it or not, we are still busy in the kitchen processing our farm partners’ harvests!

This week we processed over 200 pounds of garden huckleberries, making a deep rich culinary syrup. Sure, you could use it on pancakes, but it shines in making beverages. One of the Can-Do kitchen staff started dreaming of a kind of mojito….we’ll have to get her recipe.  We expect another 500 pounds of the berries after this weekend so there will be plenty of syrup for everyone!

Thanksgiving last week was a time to pause and think of all we have accomplished this year. Tied to the harvest, we very much feel blessed with living here in this fertile area. Here is a list of all we prepared this season:

 

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And even now, as we enter the slower time of year, we are busy in the Test Kitchen developing some new concepts.  We have seen that many of the people who purchase our products really enjoy cooking, so with them in mind we are developing some specialized recipes that will cut down cooking prep time. Just to tease you a bit, we have been asked by Creo Chocolate, the Portland chocolatier who supplies the 73% chocolate for our dessert sauces, to develop a mole sauce.  This will enable you to have all the ingredients you need to add to your broth and your protein. Very affordable and our focus group thought it was just the right mix of heat and sweet.

Until then, enjoy the treats you have purchased…..come see us at the McMinnville Grange Farmers’ Market Saturday, December 10 from 10-2 to stock up your pantry, find some wonderful items to enhance the holiday meals and festivities, and perhaps even pick up something to gift to someone special.

 

FIGS!!!

My introduction to figs was Fig Newtons and boy oh boy I could eat a package by myself. Love them.  I was introduced to fresh figs the summer of 1972 when walking across a field in Israel with one of my cousins. We came upon a large tree and he said , “I don’t know the name in English but it is very good to eat.” It reminded me of something but I could not place it. After all, dried/fresh  tastes differ slightly and it was not wrapped in a cookie. We got back to his house, pulled out the Hebrew-English dictionary and my gastronomic education had been enhanced.fig tree

Here in Oregon we have a lot of figs and I have been trying for several years to get some. This year I have connected with three different people who have fig trees and it appears that the first is ready to be gathered this weekend. I am so excited!!!

Assorted milk & plain chocolate in blue bowl
Assorted milk & plain chocolate in blue bowl

So I have two ideas of what I would like to do with them…..I tasted an amazing fig-orange preserves at the Fancy Food Show in January and hope to replicate that. I also would like to prepare a fig paste that people can use many ways, and with a recipe I will provide, bake their own version of fig newtons.homemade fig newtonsfig-orange-jam-5

I wondered if any of you have made any fig preserves of any kind and had a recipe to recommend. I’m also interested in savory recipes, as I will dry a bunch and hope to develop a dehydrated recipe for the 2017 season.