Snow begins to delicately blanket the farm more frequently these days reminding us that the outdoor farming season is drawing to a close. This is a time of year when Jeff and I usually ask the grandparents to stay with the kids, and we spend a long weekend planning for the upcoming seasons and beyond. As is a common refrain in our world right now: this year, everything is different. Our kids are staying home and we’re heading to warm-ish spots on the farm (the greenhouse!) to change our scenery and plan.
We originally planned the 2020 growing season back the fall of 2019. We imagined the upcoming season would be filled with hosting a flurry of farm events, building a more robust farm stand, attending our Oak Park Farmers’ Market, hiring a large farm crew and growing for our farm share CSA program. Another common refrain comes to mind: in early 2020, COVID changed everything.
Our CSA share sales took off as people became more interested in cooking at home and increasingly concerned about where their food was coming from. Our Vegetable Shares grew nearly 30% beyond what we’d expected and purchased seeds for! While seed sales were also going through the roof, farmers were given first preference and we quickly purchased more seeds to grow more food and remapped our farm field plans. Each week, we talked to our team and the Klugs exchanging plans and ideas on how both of our farms could safely harvest, deliver products and keep our families safe in the process.
We made a myriad of quick decisions that fundamentality changed our farming season. While we increased our CSA size, we decided to keep our crew smaller, brought back experienced crew members, and created a culture of health transparency between all of us. Additionally, we assured our crew that we would not let them experience financial difficulties if they became sick.
We made the extremely difficult decision to forgo an in-person farmers' market. We decided to sell to our farmers' market online only to keep everyone as safe as possible and ensure we had produced enough food for all.
We placed a hold on farm events to ensure that our friends at Pizzeria DeVille were supported through their own transitions as they sought to pivot and help out other chefs throughout the city.
We built our farm store in one month rather than the three months we originally envisioned. In doing this, we quickly opened up a new market to help twelve different farmers, many of whom lost sales due to the pandemic.
Most importantly, we thought through each and every interaction with our CSA members, our farm crew, and by extension, everyone's families to ensure health and safety was prioritized first and foremost. This care about the people that mean so much to us was truly our essential work.
While the weather remained out of our control, Mother Nature blessed us with the best growing season we’d had in five years. We doubled down on our regenerative farming work. We planted 50% more cover crops, provided soils more time off from production, increased compost applications, continued to limit tillage, and fostered native habitats throughout the farm. We cared for our food forest and these longer-term crops continued to thrive while we tended to the short-term vegetable crops.
Thanks to your generosity and that of our site hosts, we donated thousands of pounds of produce throughout the season to local charities within the communities where we deliver. When delivering to the Oak Park Farmers' Market, we tried to deliver both orders and donations. We opened up our farm stand to accept WIC coupons and accepted LINK coupons through the online market. We never turned away anyone who needed food assistance from us this season.
The positivity of our community (you!), our farming crew, and our farming partners allowed us to view this year as an opportunity to think creatively. We will continue to build on the creative progress we've made this year. This winter, we will join other local farmers' in an effort to create a Local Food Caucus to build a stronger Illinois food system.
Finally, we will also continue to hone our skills of reading people’s eyes and head tilts if we can't see the expressions hidden behind a mask :)
We're grateful for every expression of your warmth and trust we've received this season and truly appreciate the community that has grown around our farm. We look forward to continuing to farm for you and for the health of this community.
Warmly, Jeff, Jen, Owen & Gavin Miller and the dedicated PWFF farm crew
Notes from the Farm Kitchen
This week's share contains scarlet turnips that have a mild radish flavor and a delicate sweetness that can be played up in dishes that call for apples, apple juice or honey. You can leave the skin on for a beautiful addition to roasted root vegetable combinations, or use a mandoline to slice into thin medallions and combine with other fall veggies for a roasted vegetable gratin.
Fall spinach makes another appearance in shares this week. Like last week's spinach, don't forget to eat the stems! The stems simply need a bit more time to cook but also add nutrients and texture. Keep refrigerated and within the plastic bag for the best storage.
Seasonal Recipes in the Farm Kitchen
Skillet Turnips and Potatoes with Bacon 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar 1 tablespoon sugar 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 8 ounces thick-cut bacon slices, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces 1 medium shallot, thinly sliced 1 1/2 pounds turnips, peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks 1 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Mix 1/4 cup water, vinegar, and sugar in small bowl. Combine oil and bacon in heavy large skillet; sauté over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Add shallot and garlic; sauté about 5 minutes. Add turnips and potatoes; sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sea salt and toss 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium low, cover, and cook until vegetables are almost tender, stirring and turning vegetables occasionally, about 15 minutes.
Push vegetables to 1 side of skillet. Pour vinegar mixture into cleared space. Toss vegetables with vinegar mixture. Spread vegetables in even layer in skillet; cook until golden and slightly crisp on bottom, about 4 minutes. Turn vegetables over; spread in even layer and cook until browned and slightly crisp on bottom, about 4 minutes. Continue to turn, spread, and cook vegetables until tender, golden, and crisp around edges, 7 to 8 minutes longer. Season with more sea salt and black pepper. Transfer to bowl. Sprinkle with parsley.
Roasted Cabbage with Balsamic Vinegar 1 medium cabbage 2 tablespoons olive oil coarse salt and ground pepper 2 to 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut cabbage into 12 wedges; remove thick core and discard. Pull wedges apart; toss on a large rimmed baking sheet with oil, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cover sheet tightly with foil. Bake until cabbage is crisp-tender, about 20 minutes. Remove foil; continue cooking, tossing occasionally, until tender and browned in spots, 20 to 25 minutes more. Toss with vinegar.
Ginger, Carrot and Sesame Spinach 1 tablespoon vegetable oil 1 tablespoon peeled and grated ginger 1 large carrot, peeled and sliced into thin rounds 8oz spinach, stems and leaves, rinsed and coarsely chopped 1 tablespoon soy sauce 1 teaspoon rice vinegar Toasted sesame oil, for drizzling Toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
Heat a wok over high heat, and then add the vegetable oil. Add the ginger and cook for 30 seconds. Add the carrots and stir-fry for 2 minutes (adding a splash of water if necessary to facilitate cooking). Add spinach and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Season the vegetables with the soy sauce, rice vinegar and a drizzle of toasted sesame oil. Garnish with a sprinkling of the toasted sesame seeds.