Monday, February 23, 2009

Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA

Community. Function: noun. 1: a unified body of individuals. Supported. Function: transitive verb : to promote the interests or cause. Agriculture. Function: noun 1: the science, art, or practices of cultivating the soil, producing crops, and raising livestock and in varying degrees the preparation and marketing of the resulting product.

Many Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs are treated like fruit delivery services—a grocery store on wheels, if you will. In reality, a CSA is a manifestation of something much deeper in our cultures and civilizations. Yet it wasn’t not until the mid-1980s, long after the principle farming communities had moved to urban areas in hopes of better lives, that the first CSAs (as we know them) came into being. And they did so not out of a need to provide food—large multinational agribusinesses could do that well enough—but out of a desire by individuals to farm at a sane, sustainable level in order to nourish the Earth and provide food to like-minded people. During and prior to this period, many farmers went out of business and their lands developed—never to be used to grow food again. But some farmers fought back. And not with pitchforks and rakes, but by realizing they weren’t the only ones that cherished farms, farmers, and fresh organic food. So they farmed differently……

The Happy Child CSA—Frog Hollow Farm’s version—is one of the best ways we have to bring our legendary fruit to you. But, as I started out, our CSA is more, so much more, than a fruit delivery service. In addition to bringing you organic fruit year after year, we require a certain almost spiritual commitment beyond membership. That is, we may ask you to support us as farmers and as a farm in ways we can’t even imagine. Yet knowing that you’re there for us and we’re there for you is what a modern, CSA farm business is all about.

2009 promises to be a stellar season for us. The plums are in bloom, cherries + apricots not far behind, and so on. In a few months we’ll be harvesting our first fruit and reveling in the joys of what it means to be a farm in the 21st century. And with supporters like you, who can blame us.

Friday, February 20, 2009

And so it begins.....

After several days of cold, rain, and wind, we're finally starting to see the beginnings of Spring here at Frog Hollow Farm. For a few weeks--slowed only by the cool, wet weather--we had been seeing fruit tree blossoms begin to develop. Today, we were actually out helping Mother Nature get a start on the 2009 crop year. How, you ask? Well, through what is known as supplemental pollination (SP). Come again, you say?

As most people are aware, almost all farmers rely on pollination of their crops to fertilize the flowers in order to make fruit (or vegetables). The method most growers use is natural pollen sources disseminated by honeybees and other pollinators (e.g., wasps, flys, insects, even some birds, wind, etc.) Honeybees were, and are, by far the most important. In fact, there are many crops that simply wouldn't exist without adequate pollination; and other that unfortunately are weakly compatible. That is, there may be plenty of pollen and plenty of pollinators, but the pollen just isn't the right type to "make fruit."

Pollen incompatibility plus the current crisis surrounding honeybees (i.e., colony collapse disorder), in addition to weather issues, has sent many growers in the direction of using supplemental pollination (and pollen) to set a crop. Years ago, growers of some crops (like apples) overcame the incompatibility issue by planting compatible varieties close to each other, or collecting "floral bouquets" as an additional source of pollen. Since most stone fruit is self-fertile, SP simply helps nature along, or wasn't needed at all. But for varieties that are not strongly self-fertile, SP not only assists Mother Nature, but is an absolute requirement for a crop.

So, in the Spring pollen collectors go out into orchards to cut anthers (i.e., where the pollen resides in the flower) and collect the pollen. The pollen is then sold to growers who use Frog Hollow Farm. This pollen is generally good for more than 1 season and can be frozen used for several years. However, just like with natural pollination, growers must make sure they get compatible pollen from the collectors. Rule of Thumb: don't use pollen from the same variety you're trying to pollinate.

Here at Frog Hollow Farm, we actually mix the pollen with a silica type material in order to provide a surface for the pollen to stick to and a little weight to make sure it gets to the flowers surface. We put the pollen/silica mixture into a modified leaf blower and drive up and down the rows blows pollen into the trees. And that's where we were today.

It'll be a few months from now before the results of the activity are fully realized. But in just a few weeks (or days if we had a microscope) we'll be able to see the little fruit (fertilized flowers) begin to develop. There'll be more postings in this blog about the crop development, so come back often. For now, enjoy the pictures and video of the beginnings of the 2009 season.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cherimoya--the Andean ice cream fruit

A cherimoya (Annona cherimola) doesn’t look like luscious eating. Often shaped like a heart, it’s green, knobby, and pocked with scales like a pine cone. Yet hiding beneath the forbidding aspect of this pre-Columbian fruit is a seed-studded, creamy-custard pulp brimming with fragrant musky-sweet juice. (Some fans find the flavor similar to Juicyfruit® gum, or a mix of pineapple and guava.) Says Calimoya® founder Jay Ruskey, “The cherimoya will take you on a little vacation from the chill of winter.”

This fruit has a long growing history in South America. Its name comes from the ancient Quechua language of the Incas. Originating in the highlands of the Andes between Colombia and Bolivia, they require a very specific combination of southern hillside exposure, rich soil, and mild climate without great swings in temperature or harsh winds to thrive. Southern California, it turns out, is a great place for cherimoyas.

Having started in 1992, Ruskey now has 22 acres of cherimoya trees in the foothills of Santa Barbara. Choosing the right site is a challenge, but cultivation and post-harvest handling practices are equally important. California lacks the particular bees and wasps that pollinate the trees in its native habitats, so each flower must be hand-pollinated. (In Oaxaca, the flowers are used to flavor agua frescas.) The fruit itself must be hand-picked and carefully protected from bruising during picking and packing. Fruits can range in size from a petite 8 ounces apiece to 2 pounds or more. Cherimoyas are best ripened at room temperature. Let ripen for 1 to 3 days, as needed, until they are just beginning to soften. (Overripe, squishy-soft fruit can lose its custardy texture and get grainy.) Once ripe, refrigerate and serve chilled. Avoid jostling or bumping the fruits, as they’re easily bruised despite their tough-looking skin. The easiest way to eat them is to simply slice in half, pull out the central fiber, and scoop out the flesh with a spoon, removing the shiny black seeds as you go. You can also quarter, peel, and slice, popping out the seeds with the tip of a spoon. Toss with pears, melon, pineapple, bananas or grapes for a fruit salad, or puree into a dessert sauce or smoothie.

Written by Stephanie Rosenbaum for the Happy Child CSA newsletter (Feb 15 2009).

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Apricot Chicken

Stay tuned and remember you may also substitute Frog Hollow Farm dried apricots for fresh. Frog Hollow Farm apricots are just around the corner!

serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium yellow onions-chopped finely
2 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon dried chilies
¼ teaspoon garam masala*
1 whole chicken, cut up 3-31/2 lbs
2 medium tomatoes –skinned and seeded, or 3 whole canned tomatoes
2 teaspoons salt
2c chicken stock or combination chicken stock and water
¼ teaspoon saffron
2 tablespoons hot milk
1 jar apricot conserve or 6-7 fresh apricots halved and pitted. (You may also substitute Frog Hollow Farm dried apricots for fresh).

Rinse the chicken pieces in cold water then pat dry with a paper towel. Pound the garlic, ginger and dried chilies with 1 teaspoon of the salt into a paste. Sprinkle the saffron over the warm milk and set aside.
In a sauce pan with a tight fitting lid or Dutch oven saute the onions in the olive oil until translucent. Then add the ginger/chilie/garlic paste and saute for 2-3 minutes more.
Add the chicken, garam masala, tomatoes and the remaining salt. Add the chicken stock and or water and simmer covered until the chicken is tender and the liquid has reduced to about ½ its original volume (about 45 minutes). Add the milk/saffron and the apricots or apricot conserve. Simmer slowly for 15-20 minutes.

Serve warm over basmati rice with chopped pistachios or almonds
Add to Technorati Favorites