Fun on the Farm
Did you know? In 1940, each American farmer fed an average of 19 people. The number of people being fed by each U.S. farmer jumped to 144 people in 2006, and to 168 people in 2016!! Meanwhile, all of our farmers are getting older, and the younger generations are leaving the legacy of farming behind. This has resulted in an increased work load for the remaining farmers, and a rising average age in our remaining farmers. The average age of a farmer in 2016 is 58 years old, compared with the average in 1940, which was 45 years old. We need more young people who have a passion for the farming tradition, to step up and invest in the future of our American farms!
What’s Growing on?
Hard to believe a week has gone by already! Spring is right around the corner, and with it, the opening day of our 2017 Saturday Market season! Tomorrow our team will be represented at the Hub City Block Party in downtown Spartanburg, and we will have some salad mixes (and maybe a few Cucumbers?!) from the Urban Farm for sale! I am so excited to finally be able to harvest off some more greens and have them available to everyone in the local community! Nothing beats fresh Buttercrunch lettuce and Arugula from the garden, to signal the end of winter!!
Now, I know I promised to explain a little further what the photos from last week where all about; but how many of you guessed what was going on? I am getting everything set up so that we can install our first vertical gardening posts on the farm, this spring! I will use the PVC pipes as vertical gardening systems; after I drill holes in the pipe, using the hole saw, we will invert them in the ground and create space saving, vertical gardening units! This is a quick and easy way to make use of old piping that we had hanging around the farm, while also creating space saving grow towers! I cannot wait to get them finished, so I can show them to everyone! There are countless ways to be able to reuse, or incorporate old materials you have hanging around, to update, increase efficiency or improve your garden space.
Unfortunately, because I have come down with a whopper of a cold/sinus infection this week, I won’t be hosting a class at the Farm this Saturday. I am going to be taking the time to rest and let myself recover, so that I can come back to work in full force; however, that doesn’t mean that I can’t impart some token of information to ya’ll.
Having grown up on a farm, the preservation and processing of vegetables/fruit/herbs is something that I grew up with, but it is something that I have come to realize, many people aren’t familiar with. On our farm, we took advantage of the abundance of fresh produce that came off the farm during the spring, summer and fall; but what about the winter season? While there are many produce items that are frost tolerant and can be grown over the winter (onions, collards, kohlrabi, carrots all come to mind), you can also take steps to preserve some of your fresh produce from the summer time, for use during the winter season. Most fresh produce can be frozen, pickled, canned (using a pressure canner or water bath, depending on what the produce is) or dried, to help hold it over through the winter time. Salad greens are some of the few things that can’t be preserved for fresh use over the winter, but you can make use of sunny window sills to grow fresh lettuce greens inside over the winter. If you harvest only the outermost leaves that you’ll need for dinner, the plant is encouraged to continue growing, and ensures that you will have a steady supply of fresh salad greens over the winter. For that tomato infusion to your winter salad, you can either grow several plants inside, or you can create your own sun-dried tomatoes, from the abundance you harvest over the summer, and then make your own sun-dried tomato salad dressing to add to the salad. Dried tomatoes can also be reconstituted, and used in pasta sauces or a fresh stir-fry. This prevents any waste during the summer, when you can’t possibly eat all of those fresh tomatoes, and ensures that you can make a wonderful, fresh meal any time you’d like!
Herbs are another thing that are great when fresh, but just as wonderful when dried. You can cut whole sprigs of Thyme, Oregano, Dill or pinch the leaves off of your Basil plant and dry them for later use, when it is too cold to have plants outside. Plants can either be dried in the oven, a de-hydrator, or out on the counter top. Drying the leaves slowly, by hanging them or leaving them on the counter top, ensures that all of the natural flavor from the plant oils is maintained within the leaves, and not extracted during the drying process. This method helps the plants to detain as much flavor and texture as possible. Drying them in a de-hydrator is the quickest, easiest way, but it can strip some of the natural oils and flavoring from the plant. This means that you will have to use a little bit more, when flavoring your latest dinner masterpiece, but it will still be delicious. I dry my herbs in a large basket on the kitchen counter. I line the basket with a layer of paper towels, rinse off my herbs to clean them and blot them thoroughly (but gently) with a towel, before placing them in a thin layer over the paper towel. Then I leave the herbs to dry naturally, turning them over once a day. Turning them helps to ensure that they are drying evenly and also helps me to keep an eye on how fast they are drying and when they will be ready. Depending on the herb, it can take as little as 2 days, or as much as 2 weeks. Herbs such as Basil and Dill dry quickly, and are ready for packaging in as little as 2 to 3 days. Woody herbs like Rosemary take much longer to dry, but retain a considerable potency when dried naturally. If you don’t have the time or the space to let your herbs dry on the counter, or hanging in bundles from the cabinets, you can place your herbs in a thin layer on a cookie sheet, and bake them at 100 degrees for several hours, until the herbs are sufficiently dry and crumble when handled. To store the dried herbs, you can either use glass jars or plastic zip-lock bags. If you are going to reuse old glass jelly jars, clean them out with dish soap, towel dry them and leave them out on the counter to continue air drying for at least 4 days before adding any of your dried herbs. If there is any moisture left in the jar, it can cause mold and other problems down the road. Once you’ve dried your herbs and the jar or bag has been air dried, you can either package your herbs on the stem (in the case of herbs such as Thyme, Oregano and Rosemary), or you can strip the leaves off of the stem and store the leaves in the jar. This will save space and time later on, when you are ready to use the dried herb. I recommend not crushing your herb leaves ahead of time, however, because crushing the leaves will release some of the remaining natural oils, which can result in decreased flavor, over time. Storing the leaves whole and then crushing them when you are ready to use them, results in stronger flavored, more robust herbs, that are as close to the fresh version as possible!
I hope that some of these tips are useful to everyone as we start to prepare for the spring planting season, and you are able to save more of your summer harvest over to use next winter! Keeping some of these tips in mind can help you to store up fresh produce and have access to delicious, local produce all year long; regardless of whether you have grown it yourself or bought it at the market.
I hope that you have found some of this information useful, and that it has given you some ideas! As always, I look forward to chatting with ya’ll again next week, and please feel free to send me any questions, comments or feedback that you have (firstname.lastname@example.org)!!