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Although the weather has warmed up, the Ecosystem Farm staff continues to play the waiting game that, in between the mad rushing moments of spring, can characterize life on a farm: waiting for a tractor part, waiting for wet fields to dry, waiting for green tomatoes to turn red. After all, not everything can bring with it the same instant gratification afforded to us by the fast-growing summer squash that has been a part of our harvests these past few weeks; these plants pump out harvestable fruit from a flower in a matter of days. Oftentimes, life calls instead for the same patience that we use when we watch a bed of green tomatoes week after week, waiting for their shoulders to blush.
During this mellow week, the farm staff has spent time cultivating beds, tying up tomato vines, and working to keep ahead of the weeds. As the staff assesses the work that lies ahead of them, they have also begun to assess their work thus far, considering, for instance, to forgo this season’s experimental method of snap pea planting. The snap peas (so beloved by the staff as a refreshing summertime treat) were interplanted with a grass-like plant called triticale, and were expected to trellis themselves up the wheat-and-rye cross. This the sowed-a-little-late peas finally did, but not as well as was hoped. But a “failed” experiment is still a valuable experiment on the Ecosystem Farm, and the staff has continued to learn how to improve their work as high summer has continued to come near.
Up Close With Kohlrabi
This week marks the Ecosystem Farm’s first harvest of kohlrabi (kol-ROB-ee), a member of the Brassica (or cabbage) family whose shape somewhat resembles that of a hot air balloon. With its round, turnip-like base and its tall-reaching crown of cabbage-like leaves, its strange name (from the German words kohl and rube, meaning cabbage and turnip) begins to make sense.
Purple globe and apple-green varieties are grown on the farm, both of which reveal pale green flesh when cut open. Kohlrabi leaves can be cooked like collards or other cooking greens; the bulbs can be eaten a number of ways. From a post about the vegetable on Farmgirl Fare:
Sweet and mildly flavored, kohlrabi can be braised, boiled, stuffed, sliced, scalloped, steamed, julienned, roasted, and sauteed. You can grate it into slaw, toss it into salads, slip it into soups and stews, snack on it raw with dip, and stir-fry it. You can even wrap it in foil and grill it. I’ve seen recipes where kohlrabi was covered in cream, sauteed with anchovies, stuffed into empanadas, fried into cakes, served with hollandaise sauce, and turned into a cinnamon brunch bake. This vegetable is versatile.
To get our SHAREholders started, we’ve included a simple recipe for roasted kohlrabi later in this post.
Below, photos from this week on the Ecosystem Farm. Click images to enlarge, or view them on Flickr.
This Week’s Recipe: Roasted Kohlrabi
Recipe from A Veggie Venture
1 1/2 pounds fresh kohlrabi, ends trimmed, thick green skin sliced off with a knife, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon garlic
- Set oven to 450 degrees F. Toss diced kohlrabi with olive oil, garlic, and salt in a bowl. Spread evenly on a rimmed baking sheet and put into oven (it needn’t be fully preheated). Roast for 30 to 35 minutes, stirring every five minutes after about 20 minutes. Serve sprinkled with a good vinegar.
National Trails Day and Captain John Smith Geotrail Kick-Off: Saturday, June 4, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Accokeek Foundation at Piscataway Park: Celebrate National Trails Day with a geocaching adventure! In collaboration with volunteer geocachers, the Chesapeake Conservancy, and the National Park Service, the Accokeek Foundation will host the launch of the Captain John Smith Geotrail with a kick-off event featuring geocaching demonstrations, bonus caches, and activities for kids. A geocache (pronounced “geo-cash”) is a hidden treasure that one locates by using a GPS device. A geotrail is a series of geocaches linked by a common theme or topic. The Captain John Smith Geotrail is a unique journey across Chesapeake landscapes evocative of the scenes and stories experienced by Captain Smith 400 years ago.
Local Food Forum: Tuesday, June 7, 2011, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Education Center: The Local Food Forum is a monthly meeting of producers and consumers interested in local food. We discuss locally-grown fruits, vegetables, eggs and meat—from where to find them to how to make them more available.
Ecosystem Farm Volunteer Day: Thursday, June 9, 2011 (Recurring, Second and Fourth Thursdays), 1 to 4 p.m., Ecosystem Farm: Volunteers will join the farm crew in their work and, in the process, learn about organic and sustainable agricultural practices. Please wear appropriate clothing, including long pants, sturdy shoes or boots, sunscreen and/or a hat. Bring snacks and a refillable water bottle. Work will vary depending on the weather.
Organic Gardening Workshop: Weed and Pest Management: Saturday, June 11, 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Education Center: Controlling weeds and pests can be a gardener’s worst nightmare. This course—part of our season-long Organic Gardening Workshop Series geared toward backyard gardeners—will provide you with the information needed to identify several common weeds and pests, as well as the most effective ways of getting rid of them. We will discuss both biological and mechanical methods of control. Feel free to bring along a problematic plant or an unknown insect for identification by our instructors.
by Wilton Corkern, President
On any given day this time of year a traveler along Bryan Point Road will almost surely see a Great Blue Heron stalking the aquatic creatures in the Accokeek Creek swamp. Everything about this bird is big: its head and body are four feet long; erect, it stands five feet tall; its wingspan is six feet. Even its bill is over five inches long. Yet it is a graceful flier, able to lift its five pound frame straight into the air with a single flap of its massive wings.
These ubiquitous birds are highly adaptable, and despite huge losses of habitat over the past half-century, they have found a way to survive and flourish. In fact, their ancestors were around some 14 million years ago, according to fossil records. For now, their populations seem to be growing all across North America, and are most dense in the east, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.
They nest in trees above swampy areas, usually in large colonies. A few years ago friend and former Trustee Byron Williams arranged for me to visit a nesting colony in a relatively remote area of Charles County. We parked alongside a road followed a narrow trail through dense woods for about a half-mile. “The first thing you notice,” Byron warned, “is the smell.” And then it hit us: the odor from massive amounts of fish-eating bird droppings wafted through the trees. As we approached the edge of the swamp we saw birds flying to and forth overhead. Then, the rookery: About a dozen acres of trees, festooned with hundreds of stick-built nests. Birds came and went, carrying food to noisy nestlings.
The Great Blue Heron is a formidable predator. It eats mostly fish, but may also take amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates, small mammals, and even other birds – all swallowed whole. During the past week I have watched our regular visitor devour several fish, a bullfrog tadpole, and a crayfish. According to the Cornell University ornithology lab, an adult Great Blue Heron can swallow a fish up to a foot long. I have video of this one gobbling down an 8” catfish. There are reports of Great Blues actually choking to death on fish too big to swallow. They feed in swamps, along the edges of water bodies, and even in open fields. A few days ago Mary Bruce and I watched a Great Blue perched in an oak tree in our residential neighborhood watching a neighbor’s coy pond for opportunity.
No less an observer than John James Audubon himself described the heron’s habits:
How calm, how silent, how grand is the scene! The tread of the tall bird himself no one hears, so carefully does he place his foot on the moist ground, cautiously suspending it for awhile at each step of his progress. Now his golden eye glances over the surrounding objects, in surveying which he takes advantage of the full stretch of his graceful neck.Satisfied that no danger is near, he lays his head on his shoulders, allows the feathers of his breast to droop, and patiently awaits the approach of his finned prey. You might imagine what you see to be the statue of a bird, so motionless is it. But now, he moves; he has taken a silent step, and with great care be advances; slowly does he raise his head from his shoulders, and now, what a sudden start! his formidable bill has transfixed a perch, which he beats to death on the ground. See with what difficulty he gulps it down his capacious throat! and now his broad wings open, and away he slowly flies to another station, or perhaps to avoid his unwelcome observers.
[Quoted from the online version of John James Audubon's Birds of America, available at www.Audubon.org. It is from an 1840 "First Octavo Edition" of Audubon's complete seven volume text and presents Audubon's images and original text descriptions as written.]
Saturday, July 16–”All My Dreams Are of Indian Corn” Nothing was more important to the colonial diet than corn. Join us as we take you through the many uses of this remarkable plant and the labor that went into its cultivation. This month’s menu will include Baked Indian Meal Pudding, Johnny Cakes, and Native Succotash.
Saturday, June 18th–Join us for a kitchen table conversation as we introduce you to the epicurean delights of colonial Marylanders. This month’s theme is “We Are Very Deficient in Our Gardens”. Learn what Colonial Americans and African American slaves grew for food and why. Tobacco took up massive blocks of time that made gardening a challenge. Learn about heirloom vegetables and how many food traditions stem from these forgotten ingredients. This month’s menu will include The Art of the “Pickle”, Stewed Peas and Lettuce, Onion Soup, and Peas Porridge.
A Members Only Event**
Midsummer is the time when the sun reaches the peak of its power, the earth is green and holds the promise of a bountiful harvest.
A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each others lives.–Wendell Berry
On Saturday, June 21–the longest day–we’ll welcome in summer and the “promise of a bountiful harvest”, as we honor those who are an important part of the Accokeek Foundation “community”–our members and volunteers.
Join us for good food, music, and merriment! We’ll begin the evening with a guided “behind the scenes” tour of the Ecosystem Farm, followed by a splendid spread–prepared and catered by our very own Elaine McVinney–games, and entertainment.
RSVP by Wednesday, June 15 to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 301.283.2113.
Not a Member? Learn how to join today!
When word came down that this year’s Children’s Day would be celebrating the life and work of colonial apprentices, I got a little nervous. Schoolchildren on field trips to the National Colonial Farm are always asked, “What are pigs used for?”—which is followed by a lot of talk about ham and bacon. I was relieved to hear that the apprentice activities planned for “How Things Were Made: Colonial Apprentice” were things like blacksmithing, woodworking, and churning butter. There was no mention of anything involving pork.
I asked Tricia, our Coordinator of Public Programs, if she wanted me to do anything special during the Accokeek Foundation’s annual event. She said, “Well, Sally, it would be really nice if you didn’t spend the whole day napping.” Napping? What does she take me for? A lazy pig? I was about to utter a snide retort, when she added, “After all, you are our star attraction.” Ah, well. She had a point.
A.J. was the first apprentice to run by the pigpen, intent on getting to the blacksmith station. When he stopped by to visit me later, he proudly displayed the S-hook he had crafted with help from my secret flame, blacksmith Tim Buckley, who taught his apprentices the origin of the phrase, “Strike while the iron is hot.” Don’t you just love a man in colonial britches?
All afternoon, the sweet smell of Johnnycakes spread with fresh-churned butter wafted over from the kitchen and the shouts of children playing colonial games echoed out from the Tobacco Yard. It was a fabulous day of fun at the farm. And, though I am a star attraction, please know that the fame has not gone to my head. I am very approachable, and I love having visitors (as do the rest of the farm’s menagerie). You can come see us each and every day—it’s fun, and free!
P.S. Inky, that teenybopper sheep, is now being mentored by Yours Truly. And if you are wondering who that woman is with the lamb following her everywhere, it’s not Mary, but Polly, our new Livestock Manager.
Thursday, May 26, 2011–Volunteers will join the farmer crew at the Ecosystem Farm and learn about organic and sustainable agricultural practices as they work in the fields — turning compost, weeding beds, planting, and harvesting throughout the season.
This is a recurring bi-monthly event, taking place on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays from 1 pm to 4 pm, through November.
Please wear weather appropriate clothing including long pants, sturdy shoes or boots, sunscreen and/or hats. Bring snacks and a refillable water bottle. Work will vary depending on weather conditions.
For more information email the volunteer coordinator.
As the season quickens, the atmosphere of the Ecosystem Farm has experienced a positive shift. The garlic have sent up scapes, flower stalks that will soon make their way into our harvests. The summer squash have grown in size, as the staff hand-pollinates the greenhouse-dwelling plants that are screened off from predators and pollinators alike, calling for human hands to do the work of bees and butterflies. And a pair of Prothonotary Warblers have been found nesting in the packing shed, so be on the look-out for the bright yellow birds when you come to the site to pick up your SHAREs (but don’t confuse them with the House Sparrows that are nesting nearby).
Even the farm staff has developed a more positive outlook on the season that lies ahead. This week, the staff met with former manager Shane LaBrake, ever-knowledgeable and helpful in acclimating these three new-to-Accokeek farmers with the place that he helped to build. Shane was the first manager of the Ecosystem Farm, and has returned to the site to help the staff get things in order, offering his perspective on the land’s past and present and encouraging them to come to an understanding rather than an impasse. A well-known quote from Theodore Roosevelt has inspired both Shane and the staff: We must do what we can, with what we have, where we are.
As the four farmers opened up a new channel of communication, the call of the yellow-billed cuckoo rang out. The common but quite elusive bird (its call is heard more often than the creature is seen) is often considered to signal a turn of fate. Whether it is a good turn or a bad turn, we suppose it is up to the staff to decide. And they, of course, are ever the optimists.
Up Close With Cilantro
Cilantro: people love it, and people hate it. Even the New York Times has written about the divisive nature of this green, feathery plant, inspiring as it does “a primal revulsion among an outspoken minority of eaters.” In Why Cilantro Tastes Like Soap, For Some, Harold McGee writes of a widespread phobia of the coriander plant. What is so popular in Asia and Latin America is so hated elsewhere. Even Julia Child said in an interview with Larry King that, if she were to find cilantro on her plate, she would “pick it out” and “throw it on the floor.”
Ms. Child had plenty of company for her feelings about cilantro … The authoritative Oxford Companion to Food notes that the word “coriander” is said to derive from the Greek word for bedbug, that cilantro aroma “has been compared with the smell of bug-infested bedclothes” and that “Europeans often have difficulty in overcoming their initial aversion to this smell.” There’s an “I Hate Cilantro” Facebook page with hundreds of fans and an I Hate Cilantro blog.
Indeed, “modern cilantrophobes” often complain of the herb’s smell and taste, so reminiscent of soap. But McGee notes that a recent Japanese study suggests that the plant can be “reshaped to make it easier to take,” that the leaves can be crushed to get rid of this soapy smell. So below, we’ve included a recipe for cilantro pesto, which we hope will bridge the great cilantro gap.
Below, photos from this week on the Ecosystem Farm. Click images to enlarge, or view them on Flickr.
This Week’s Recipe: Cilantro Pesto
Recipe from the Seasonal Chef
3 cups loosely packed cilantro leaves, washed and dried
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup roasted pine nuts, walnuts, or other nuts
2 cloves garlic
Juice one lime
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
- Strip cilantro leaves from stems and set aside. Coarsely chop the stems and place in food processor or blender.
- Add cheese, nuts, garlic, lime juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper and process to a uniform consistency.
- Add cilantro leaves and process until leaves are coarsely chopped.
Organic Gardening Workshop: Soil and Compost: Saturday, May 21, 2011, 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Education Center: Improve your garden’s health from the bottom up. This course–part of our season-long Organic Gardening Workshop Series geared toward backyard gardeners–will provide you with the information needed to build your soil fertility. We will discuss how to test and improve your soil, how to construct a backyard compost pile, and how to feed the plants that will soon feed you. We will also discuss how to compost with worms.
Monthly Foodways: Where’s The Beef?: Saturday, May 21, 2011, Noon to 1 p.m., National Colonial Farm: Join us for a kitchen table conversation as we introduce you to the epicurean delights of colonial Marylanders. Learn how our tastes and the food itself have changed over 300 years as we explore the “receipts” (recipes) and meal preparation for everything from peas and pottage to food traditions for which Maryland is known. This month’s theme is “Where’s the Beef?” featuring Curing beef, a pretty dish of a breast of venison, a visit from our friends at the National Museum of the American Indian who will present some of their Nation’s culinary traditions, and Muskrat Love!
Film Series: The Last Boat Out: Tuesday, May 24, 2011, 6:30 to 9 p.m., Education Center: From learning about the lives of America’s young farmers to watching a waterman work the waters of the Chesapeake Bay, come see stories of sustainable agriculture and environmental conservation unfold on the silver screen. Our six-part documentary film series includes movies like FRESH, The Plow That Broke the Plains, and The Future of Food. This month, we will show The Last Boat Out, a film that weaves together the tales of a battered Chesapeake Bay and a family of watermen struggling to preserve their way of life. Narrated by actor and activist Sam Waterston, the film is a story of human determination and hope in the face of past mistakes.
Ecosystem Farm Volunteer Day: Recurring, Second and Fourth Thursdays, 1 to 4 p.m., Ecosystem Farm: Volunteers will join the farm crew in their work and, in the process, learn about organic and sustainable agricultural practices. Please wear appropriate clothing, including long pants, sturdy shoes or boots, sunscreen and/or a hat. Bring snacks and a refillable water bottle. Work will vary depending on the weather.
A few weeks ago, we rolled out a Caption Contest for the photographs selected for Pic of the Week. Each week, staff members tour the site—sometimes to enjoy a beautiful day outside, other times to help with work on the National Colonial Farm, in the gardens, or on the Ecosystem Farm—often with cameras in hand, as you never know what you may see!
We share the best of the best with you. You, then, share with us your best idea for a caption. It’s that easy!
Let’s us know what you think the caption for this week’s Pic of Week should be.