Multiple Outlets

Northwest Washington is the wild berry capitol of the entire country, I’m convinced.  Gooseberries, saskatoons, thimbleberries, blueberries, huckleberries and raspberries aside, wild blackberries line the raodways, fields and river like no other place I’ve seen. And they’re so much bigger than the wild blackberries we have at home in North Carolina.  These are big and juicy and just as often sweet as they are tart.  And they’re just starting to fruit.  Other WWOOFer Ashley and I picked about a gallon off of the bushes lining the different fields of the farm the other day; the ones actually making it all the way to the bowl were destined for jam ‘n pie.

Pomona's Pectin allows you to use honey or less sugar

One box of Pomona’s Universal Pectin, an odd assortment of canning jars and 2 organic spelt pie crusts later, we had mashed, cooked and jammed berries and oatmeal-crumb topped pie de la blackberry.  We left them to cool on top of the fridge (out of little hands’ reach) ready to savor them in the morning as pie and toast and jam with perhaps a blackberry smoothie to round out the meal?

One of the interesting things about working on Highwater Farm has been not marketing through farmer’s markets or CSA but instead, co-op and food bank orders.  The main cash crops of the farm – green onions, beets, parsley and peas – we harvested almost everyday of the week to take deliveries to 2 different food banks(Mount Vernon and Sedro-Woolley), 3 co-ops (Mount Vernon and Bellingham’s 2) and one organic food distributer, Dandelion Organics (kind of like a CSA but with a middle-man who buys from a number of local farms and delivers the box of produce to customers homes.)

The last week of being there was heavy in green onion harvesting.  185 bunches one day, 150 the next, 250 another.  We gently tug them to loosen the roots on the largest ones in the field, they pull up quite readily after that, we clip the roots off and box them up to sit in the shade of the barn and peel back the dirty and papery layers til we get clean, shiny, white green onions which then get bundled into bunches of 4-7 depending on the size (the food banks will take the uber-large, and teeny tiny ones.)  Then it’s into waxed boxes and the extra fridge in the barn (they have a walk-in cooler but with frequent orders of only a few boxes worth, it’s really not worth it to power the thing up, so a regular household fridge does the job) before stacking them in the car for the 10-minute drive (Mt Vernon/S-W) or 40-minute drive (Bham/D.O.)It’s taught me a little bit on how to plan planting, maintenance and harvesting schedules for marketing to grocers and bulk buyers and wholesaling. 

The deal with the food banks is a neat scenario.  The state of WA has grant money for the food banks that goes directly to buying food from local growers.  It’s a lively amount of somewhere in the $10,000 annually range and they’ll typically buy all vegetable seconds (ones with scratches, or that are too big or have some small defect) and as much as we can fit in the car of a bumper crop that would otherwise go to waste in the field.  That’s one important thing I’ve learned to be on the lookout for; an outlet for excess harvests and seconds.  In some places that means a road-side stand you can stock with vegetables you bring back from market, in other places there are non-profit ‘gleaners’ who will come by the end of market to take donations of whatever produce you didn’t sell and some will even come out to the farm to harvest and leftovers which is especially helpful when you’re pea-picked-out or the tomatoes need to come up for the next rotation or there are too many peppers on the plants for you to possibly pick before they start rotting in the field.  Multiple outlets are a very convenient and almost necessary means for making a living farming (the food banks don’t pay a competetive price for the crops but it’s still something, and you can get a tax write-off for all those donations.)

See? There are lots of things you can do with excess green onions


A Tale of Two Burgers

Sunny Burger..........Zucchini Curry Burger

If it isn’t apparent yet, I am a burger-fiend.  Plain and simple. There’s something about the juicy, round experience of biting into a cohesive combination of moist, tender burger sandwiched between a chewy bun dizzied up with an artist’s palette of condiments along with an assortment of fresh, crunchy veggies like onion, lettuce, grated beet, carrot slithers or summer squash rounds, or the likewise tantalizing creamy options in mushrooms, avocado and tomatoes.   This divine juxtaposition of so many textures and flavors holds me captive every time.  Even when I was a vegetarian, sometimes the only thing that would satisfy was a thick juicy veggie or bean pattie plated up with the fixins.

I love that there’s so much to choose from: beef, bison, lamb, ostrich, turkey and bean are some of my favorites when it comes to protein choices.  Homegrown tomatoes are a classic, as is a crispy red- or green-leaf lettuce, and avocado (though in no way local fare) is always a pleaser.  One of the best perks to working on farms with livestock or veggies-for-meat barter systems, is having an array of meats in the freezer to choose from; lamb was a constant menu offering in Kansas, bison was within hand’s reach in Montana and beef is pretty standard elsewhere.

Here in Mount Vernon, WA, ground deer has been added to the assortment!  And as there are other vegetarian WWOOFers here during my visit, making burgers can expand from just ground meats to grains, legumes and seeds.  A great cook book to check out (written by local authors, graduates of Bastyr Univ) is The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook, it has great recipes for vegetarians and omnivores alike, as well as some awesome baked goods, breakfast ideas and food-allergy alternatives.

Last nights table offerings: Zucchini Curry Burgers and Sunny Sunflower Seed Burgers. 

For the zucchini burgers:
One medium zucchini, whizzed up real good in the food processor
About one teaspoon of curry sauce
One pound of ground meat

Mix it all together with your hands, form into patties (depending on how fatty your meat is, you might need to add a beaten egg to hold the patties together.) Refrigerate for about 30 minutes if you can, then into a hot fry-pan (or hot BBQ) for about 8-10 minutes, flipping once.

For the Sunflower Burgers:
1 cup of rice cooked in 2 cups of water for about 45 minutes, let cool a bit
2 cups of sunflower seeds
Herbs of your choice (thyme, oregano, cilantro, cayenne are all good ones)
A bit of tamari

Blend the seeds and herbs together for a good minute in the food processor til grainy in appearance.  Then add and pulse briefly:
A couple of carrots
A handful of parsley

Stir in the cooled rice and squish it all together with your hands to form patties (no thicker than a 1/2 inch is best) and cook over medium heat til the outside is browned and pretty in color and the inside has had a chance to heat up equally. Maybe 12-15 minutes, flipping once.

We enjoyed these with organic wheat buns and homemade sourdough, condiments and the season’s first (for me!) tomato.

Another topping I highly recommend (…………especially is you’re feeling peaked………..) is peacamole!  With the abundance of end-of-the-season shelling peas waiting to be cooked before their all their sugary goodness gave way to starchy bland, I eyed a recipe in a cookbook at the co-op for it. Basically it’s cooked, mashed peas (the book also recommended fava beans) with all the things you’d add to guacamole: garlic, lime juice, salt, maybe a tomato or pepper.

It’s much more warming and filling than guacamole and offers a nice, thick spread for a burger or plain piece of toast (or finger.)

A Very Bay Day

I feel like I've been waiting my whole life for berry season!

Yesterday I took a break from the farm (Highwater Farm) here in Mount Vernon to drive up to Bellingham for the day; a coastal town known for its progressive energy, local-centeredness and bike-friendly streets (I believe Bellingham was actually named most bike-friendly city in the US?)  It’s Saturday market – The Bellingham Depot Market – is by far the most hustling and bustling I’ve seen yet. 

The colors of summer

On a breezy, sun-soaked Saturday I found myself down by the bay amidst produce, textiles, flowers, garden art, hot food kiosks, herbal soaps and creams, specialty tea-blends, bakers, massage booths,  multiple buskers, and a healing henna tent.  Most all of the market was sheltered under permanent awning structures (much like the ones just outside of the Grove Arcade, for all my Asheville readers) except for one semi-indoor area with garage-type walls and windows and the 6 or 7 vendors with EZ-Ups.  And the entire market is run off of the solar panels beaming on the roof of the enclosed area and one of the awnings.

Interestingly, it doesn’t open until 10 in the morning, and goes until 3pm.  I guess with the amount of shaded space it provides, and the cool breeze the bay offers, the fruits and veggies can stand to show off (and survive wilt) a little later in the day.

Did you know that the original carrots were purple?

And there were some shows off! Just check out these tomatoes, yes tomatoes!

Striped Romans

And the Romanescu – what happens when a broccoli and a cauliflower get together.

I made my way through 2 chai tea samples, one (gluten-free, vegan, maple-sweetened) raspberry loaf slice, and samples of bison sausage, cinnamon-roasted almonds, fresh hazelnuts, beef jerky, Rainier cherries, pluot, and white peach before feeling the rumbles that told me it was lunch time.

Who wouldn't want to put money in this parking meter?

And now I know why Ethiopian food was voted Asheville’s most needed ethnic cuisine.  A seemingly simple dish of lentils, beets, carrots and cabbage was served forth on a injera-lined plate to take my senses to elevated and melodious heights.  The earthiness of the carrots and beets, the sweet-and-harsh of the cabbage, the nutty spiciness of the lentils and sweet-hot of the jalapeno chutney all married together in creamy matrimony with the underlying sourness of the injera to envelope it.  It goes down like a dream (and a finger on a recipe index.)

Injera is a traditional bread of Ethiopian food culture.  It’s made of fermented teff flour  (I’ve also heard sorghum flour) an African-native grain, and is thin and very spongy.  It’s supposed to be used in place of utensils to scoop the meal, it is placed underneath stews and signals the end of the meal once it’s eaten.
A mix-n-match fruit bag of cherries and pluots rounded out the market experience, and I pedaled off for a bayside scene and a quick West Coast dip before heading into town to experience………

…..the best creamy, vegan coconut ice cream I’ve ever had.  At one Mallard Ice Cream (Bellingham’s famous little shop of flavors; think curry, lemongrass and thyme, hibiscus-mint and you’re almost there) a scoop of Creatively Conceived and Concocted Coconut Cinnamon Spice Ice. Truly necessary for a full taste of Bellingham.

You can't not lick the bowl when it's creamy, vegan coconut ice cream!

Life is Like a Bed of Beets

One of the hardest thing for people to do in the garden is to thin a crop. This is most common with beets and carrots, though any crop sown too thickly will need thinning; lettuce, arugula, and Brussel’s sprouts are some other crops I’ve thinned.

What people find so difficult about it is the fact that you have to uproot and kill perfectly viable plants, robbing them of a long, happy, vegetable life in the garden bed. But this is entirely necessary for the good health of the entire bed. To thin out a crop requires diligence, a steady eye and selective hands.

Thickly sowing a crop like beets helps the seedlings to overcome weed growth and get to a good, healthy stage with 2 sets of true leaves; this is the time when you can start to thin them. If not thinned, the beets will grow their bulbous taproots round and end up smooshing their neighboring beets, competing both for nutrients in the soil and light with their leaves. A good thinning at an early (2 sets of true leaves) stage – to about 2″ between beets – will get the beets to a good standing for salad slicing or whole-roasting size; thinning out at this stage to about 5″ allows the beets that are left an even better home and situation to grow exponentially better to a good sliced grilling or beet-chocolate cake size. But if the beets never get thinned, just left there for fear of killing a few, then the whole bed will suffer – stunted and crowded, not producing as hefty or thriving of a crop as the potential it held.

What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed….But God gives it a body as He has determined.
– 1 Cor 15: 36-38

The beauty in the cycles of nature includes death in a very big way; seeds have to die to their forms in order to become stems and leaves and fully reach their potential as plants – from a sprig of thyme to a 100-foot tall Eastern White Pine. Compost, caterpillars and sunlight are all things that have to die to their current forms in order to offer regeneration and new life to another.

“Now you come so close to Jesus on the cross that he is kissing you….Suffering is a gift of God, a gift that makes us most Christlike.” – Mother Theresa


So it is with our own life’s cycles; we must die to our little hang-ups, ego-embracers and sometimes our seemingly truest desires in order to cultivate integrity, character and wisdom – or simply to focus and grow the better (and most needed and essential) parts of ourselves that we may have been neglecting by trying to save all the little pieces. To be the fullest, best and most formed person we were created to be, we will be asked to choose between what’s easy or seems to make sense, and what’s life-affirming and sustaining. Without diligence, a steady eye and selective hands we may find ourselves stretched too thin along the surface, instead of being able to thin out and away those things that would keep us from tapping into a depth of nurture and nutrients. I’ve found that each hard decision I’ve had to make has been built upon previous struggles in a way that has matured my conscience, my awareness and my compassion. This is the sustainable life; giving up and letting go that which would hinder us from growth and new life. Growth and change will happen; sustainable is not stagnant.

I die every day – I mean that. -1 Cor 15:31


Beet Chocolate Cake!

But just as we can witness a bed of beets sincerely thrive and prosper when tended to with thinning and weeding, so we are assured that our choice to die to ourselves and the little hindrances will bring to fruition both depth and meaning in our lives. The act itself might be painful and smart for a while but just as beets grow more vigorously with a little root disturbance (see previous post: Of Weeding Ways and Summer Soaks) so our characters and personalities can be twice as strong with the mending.

Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with Him, we will also live with Him.

– 2 Tim 2:11

So don’t fret over thinning out that bed of crowded beets, they will thank you for it with a harvest of abundance. You’ll get to enjoy the harvest it produces at multiple stages of its growth. Same goes for your garden of life.

A Curry of a Life

As I finish my westward journey it hits me that I’m half-way through my intended trip. Though I’ve placed no sincere agenda on my time of traveling (could be one year, could be one season, could be 3) I’ve made it to the northwest tip of the United States; I’ve driven across the country. I’ve been through 11 states and one province to get to where I am. That’s a good accomplishment to look back on (rolling over to 226000 miles on the car isn’t a bad reminder itself.) And the friends and network of contacts I’ve made along the way from St. Louis to Lawrence to Canon City to Castle Rock to Hamilton to Sorrento (and even far off in Connecticut and New York!) have been both God-sends and a good stream of people with which to keep in touch and call in a pinch if need be.

All this is extremely affirming and an exciting endeavor for a young will-be farmer amid the paradigm shift of her generation coming back to the land. So many farmers become locked down to their land, and WWOOFing is a wonderful way to keep a working network among a hard-working, ingenious, resourceful and intuitive group with similar problems, different solutions and a variance of microclimates that couldn’t be more diverse. In fact, the one thing I’ve heard from almost every farmer I’ve stayed with so far is that they really wish they could WWOOF.

But I have to admit, that I’m finally getting tired. A little road-weary. A bit nostalgic for my own bed, in one location, for more than a few weeks. I’m craving familiarity to yin the yang of newness all of the time. There’s a lot to be said for making friends in lots of places, but if you can’t have your one place of lots of friends it’s easy to feel adrift at times.

“If variety is the spice of life, mine is a curry.”   -From My Life in France, by Julia Child

And at this particular time, it’s proven helpful to sit down and re-evaluate my intentions and goals for this season of traveling and farm-hopping. So I have rewritten my info page and hope with that to maintain a clear focus on this time of my life where youth and transience and a sponge-complex aid living and learning.

Though time (and money) is one thing, experiencing, tasting, handling and feeling are things one can’t get merely from reading a book (or even a blog, sadly.) And that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing – to fully interact with my passion and interest in a very educational, hands-on way. Be it compost piles, potato beetles, sheep, horses, goats, chickens, herbs, flowers, squash, broccoli, peaches, apples, pears, hoes, shovels, wheelbarrows, hay balers, 100degree markets, 20degree markets, potlucks or honor-system roadside stands.

I will always remember the fertility of the Kansas soil and how to herd a sheep from behind; the feel of the grit on my knees of the rocky, sandy garden in Montana; making compost tea in Colorado; weeding beets with knives in B.C., and; that the perfect trellising system for peas has yet to be invented.

The Fruit Basket of BC

The other day me and the other farm gals hopped in the car to make the 2 hour drive to a friend’s orchard for black cherry picking.  Hundreds of trees (plums, apples, peaches, pears and cherries) graced the gently sloping hillside just back of said friend’s produce stand/market in Kelowna, BC.

Picking buckets in tow (strapped to belts hanging over the shoulder or from the waist makes it easy to pick any small fruit/berry as it frees up both hands) we were given directions to strip the trees as much as we could and take as much as we wanted.

Coco - one of the other farm gals

70lbs of  cherries later (plus 5lbs of sour cherries for a pie) we headed back up to the stand and were told we could pay whatever we thought fair, something less than $2/lb was all the suggestion we got.  So emptying our collective pocket of $60 we transfered the fruit to the lugs we brought from the farm with visions of pies, jams, dried cherries and infused drinks dancing in our heads.

British Columbia has one of the longest and most reputable sweet cherry breeding programs around.  Van, the variety we picked, was introduced in 1944 at a station in Summerland BC, which has produced 22 other varieties as well, some for earlier ripening, some self-fertile (meaning you don’t have to buy 2 of the same variety of tree just to get cherries to fruit) some for later-frost hardiness.  The Van cherries are deep red, full-season cherries that can cross-pollinate lots of other varieties and since the trees themselves produce such a heavy abundance of fruit, each cherry is just a bit smaller than other trees that put all their efforts into bigger, but less cherries.

Pitted perfection!

Since they’ve come home with us, some have already been freezer jammed with Pomona’s Universal Pectin (a unique type of natural pectin that has you use calcium water to help in the setting which makes it possible for you to use less sugar or honey in the recipe, check it out!) some have been pitted and frozen and some have made it to the dehydrator.  I’m promised pie tomorrow by one other pie-smart farm gal and my share will be acompanying me in dried state for ease of toting around.

Epicure For a Hot and Bothered Farm Worker

Feeling in a bit of a lavish mood after a particularly hot, dusty and sweaty day in the fields here at Notch Hill Organics weeding beets (knife in hand!) only to wipe my pearl-dampened brow with the back of a hand coated in fine soil particles (nature’s best natural sunscreen, I’m convinced,) I began to devise a plan to treat my oh-so-feminine-farmer-lass-self.  Herbal Hair Treatment! Like, totally!

A few days ago I had harvested some wild horsetail growing in the fields and after small bunching them in rubber bands and hanging them from a coat hanger, I left them to dry hung up on the upstairs banister.  Horsetail (Equisetum spp) is technically a fern-allie, and contains a generous amount of silica in its stem and tiny leaf whorls.  Silica is a very important component in hair, skin and nails and is often in supplements for them.  (Interestingly, the silica-content also makes the raw, dried plants very abrasive; so much so that Native Peoples and pioneers in North America used them as a scouring pad for pots and pans.)  Nonetheless, horsetail is a great hair strengthener, scalp treatment and general lock-tonic.

The same day I had also harvested some chamomile (Chamomilla recutita) from the herb garden, snipped the flower heads off the stems and laid them on a baking sheet to dry on the counter.  Chamomile is often found in hair care products on the store shelves and is a great rinse for blond hair as well just a nourishing hair tonic in general.  I’ve even heard from a few sources that it can act as a lightener; this doesn’t make sense to me being the beauty school graduate that I am, but I’m all to happy to let nature and experiments prove what they will.

And so, with both of these herbs fairly well dried, I broke them up and covered them in apple cider vinegar (they didn’t have to be totally dried since vinegar, like alcohol, extracts both water- and oil-soluble properties in herbs) and put them in a pot on the stove until it just barely reached a boil. Vinegar is the menstruum of choice since it extracts all properties of the herbs and clarifies and softens your hair due mainly to its acidity.  I turned the gas off quickly and towel-wrapped the pot before setting it in the fridge to chill off a bit.

Meanwhile, I decided to give my hair an interim oil treatment and dolloped a bit of coconut oil on and combed it through before braiding and wrapping my hair up.  After half and hour or so, when the herbal vinegar had cooled enough, I sieved out the solid particles and bottled the rinse in a squirt bottle that promptly accompanied me to the shower.

Rinse. Shampoo. Repeat. Forego the conditioner – it’ll just block herbal properties from being able to penetrate the hair, and the vinegar will just rinse it away anyhow.  Squirt on the rinse, let it sit for a moment, then rinse with cool or cold water.  And, you’re done!  Turn off the shower and slip in to a fresh-out-of-the-dryer towel (woah, now epicurean, let’s not get too carried away,) wring your hair out a few times, and wide-tooth comb it to tangle-free, soft and sassy tresses.

This is a great treat to indulge in every couple of weeks if you’d like, but any more than that and you risk over-stripping your hair and actually drying it out; especially if – like every other Epicurean Farmer – your locks are out in the sun’s rays everyday.