Sunday, November 15, 2009

Benefits to Community

The honest truth is that I have not actually worked for the farm in some time. I pulled out of the Ferry Plaza scene in spring when Kara joined the crew and left the farm stand sales position back in the middle of summer, making room for the cheery and organized presence of Kim. The personal story behind this is that I take on other types of environmental projects that distract me from a regular schedule and hence lose my weekly positions as a result. It is no good for reliability which is pretty nice to have in farm help.

As a result, I have traveled a bit this season and farm and market tours are always on the back-burner, or forefront, of my priorities. I have visited regions including San Luis Obispo, Idaho Falls, Boise, Eastern Sierra/Mono Lake Region, the Coachella Valley and Palm Springs, the Palo Verde Valley and Colorado River/Salton Sea areas...making several trips through the north-south highway corridors that pass through our Great Central Valley of production, the coastal 101 corridors of lettuces and strawberries galore.

What is this relevance in relation to Tierra Vegetables, your local and your-round farm resource? My perspective to each of these new regions seems to always relate back to Tierra as a benchmark. I always find myself sharing with other farmers and growers what is being done back home at this wonderful farm I work with, relating their success as potential avenues other growers might take to diversify or troubleshoot challenges. My heart remains with Lee, Wayne and Evie as I respect and share their work at any opportunity.

Tierra has worked so hard year after year to create a system that includes diversity in products and markets. All year you are able to visit your local farm for you food, you can always go and see it in all stages of production, you can talk with your farmers, you can bring your kids and take a walk and learn and talk about whatever there is to learn (always something). The semi-urban location of the farm is a huge benefit. It offers convenience to the community and opportunity to interact with most all aspects of the farm, even as a consumer.

Many CSA farms must be contacted for an opportunity to visit. It is not so easy to simply stop in and watch as the season moves on, carrots get bigger and strawberries go through their ups and downs with the eather. A box of vegetables dropped on a local porch is a great way to get food (especially compared with a grocery store selection) and a service Tierra does offer, but there is no comparison for the experience of coming to the farm, choosing what size or shape or color veggies you want to take home that week, and experiencing what the local food system has to offer.

I could rattle on and on over these topics, but the underlying theme of this post is simply that after all my travels this season and making comparisons with environments, marketing systems, production and products, it is my opinion that you customers of Tierra Vegetables have a really good thing. And I just can't help myself from sharing that because I have a forum to do so.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Random Photo Inspiration

This farm inspires not only ideas in the kitchen, but in creative projects for children and adults alike. I think this veg-Barbie was constructed by Lee and a young woman named Paige who has spent a lot of time with the farm as a friend and neighbor. I wanted to take a moment to share the just ought to be enjoyed. See if you can identify the source of all the bodily components and accessories.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Sangre De Toro

Origin: Bull's Blood is the literal translation of this bean's title. This bean's tradition is traced to the South American region. The Tierra Vegetable seed stock is said to have come from Peru, according to the San Francisco customer who passed a small handful of beans on to Lee a few years ago.

Cooking: This is a large, long and deep red bean. Sangre de Toro is certain to make a robust red bean base for salads, soups, chilis, etc... According to Rancho Gordo (who also grows this bean), the bean liquid (also called pot liquor) that is produced a a result of cooking this bean is prized by those in Mexico and elsewhere who treasure this bean as a part of their culinary heritage.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Alubias De Tolosa

**Disregard the "Italian" on the sign in the photo above, Evie and I have since tracked this bean to it's Spanish Basque origin...

Origin: Name meaning beans of Tolosa, this bean is highly prized in Basque Country and has been grown and sold in local markets since ancient times. Tolosa is a town and municipality to the south of San Sebastian in the Basque province of Gipuzkoa, Spain. This bean became a part of the Tierra Vegetables seed stock following a visit to the Terra Madre Slow Food International event when it was brought home by your farmers to test out in our local Sonoma County growing climate and has since been deemed a success!

Cooking: One serving suggestion according to Basque tradition includes slowly cooking in an earthenware pot with garlic and olive oil (I'm sure this could be done in a pot that is not earthenware too). This dish is then usually served with cabbage (Tierra grows fantastic cabbages!). Other ingredients often paired with these beans include spicy green peppers and pork ribs.

The beans of Tolosa are well known and the city of Tolosa holds a bean cook off each year. Enjoy experimenting with this bean in Basque tradition or by innovating something entirely New World and modern with the beautiful, shiny black bean.

Photo of Afore-mentioned Tiger's Eye

I was going to leave you hanging to come and see the bean for yourself, but I did snap a good shot of it the other day and may as well share. The beans have not yet been cleaned, but have been brought out for their premier showcase this week....come check it out! There are so many kinds to try it is never too soon to start in on it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tiger's Eye Bean

ORIGIN: This beautifully decorative bean is said to have originated in either Chile or Argentina. It has been given it's name due to the colors and markings that cannot be overlooked and resemble a tiger's eye.

COOKING: A smooth texture and tender skins make this bean a great ingredient for making chilis or refried beans. It has also been recommended to be used like a Pinto bean or as the foundation of a cassoulet. The physical character of this bean make it worth experimenting with all around to show it off in your favorite bean recipes. It is new to the Tierra collection and we look forward to hearing your serving suggestions so they may be passed on to others looking for great ideas.

One final suggestion is to fill a glass jar full and put it on display for all to sure to have a few prepared for eating too though, your admirers will wonder how the admirable legume tastes too. This bean will make a perfect addition to the menu during the holidays or during the depths of the winter months wen you are seeking some color and diversity.

Get ready to enjoy all kinds of beans, vintage 2009 is on it's way!

**I know a photo might be nice here, but why not come in to the farm stand or the Ferry Plaza market and find out what it looks like on your own. It could be a bit early to find them yet, but soon.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Strawberry Lantern Jam

New Jam Flavor!
We have here the Paper Lantern hot chile, hot in the same family as the fruity and sharp Habanero. A new sweet and spicy jam mix has been created this season that consists of a fusion of the two key ingredients you see in the above photo. This is similar to the Strawberry Chipotle recipe, but lacking the smokey flavor found in the chipotles and emphasizing more of a fruity spice. You all must make your way to a sampling table to try, of course.

These are some extra tiny Paper Lanterns that hang down off the top of the plant. This is the prime moment in the season to gather up lots of small and hot chiles like this for drying and storing as they have reached their maximum maturity level prior to any frost hitting our area and destroying them for the season.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tepary Beans

Origin: The name Tepary is said to come from the Sonoran Desert Native American word pawi, meaning ‘bean.’ Papago tribal lingo would use the phrase t’pawi, meaning ‘it is a bean.’

Cooking: Whether brown or white, the Tepary is sweet and delicate. Try them both, compare. The beans are small, but lend themselves well to any recipe where more commonly known beans are specified. Try using in soups, make refried beans, salads, try them on their own…beware although the bean is small, it does not necessarily cook quicker than other dried beans, allow a reasonable amount of cooking time.

Growing: Famously drought tolerant and early to produce amongst native tribes, these beans were one of the first crops to produce each season, making them of paramount importance. Please help keep the heirloom strain alive.

Read more about Tepary beans in this classic article, published in Mother Earth News in the 1980s.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Sea of Brassicas and Brussels

Brassica is a genus of plants in the mustard family. The members of the genus may be collectively known either as cabbages, or as mustards. Crops from this genus are sometimes called cole crops, which is derived from the Latin caulis, meaning stem or cabbage...this description is credited to Wikipedia and I include it now because I often use this word as I seem to enjoy the way it rolls off the tongue.

When walking the fields these days, it is not summer anymore. It is fall, coming close to winter. You must see beauty of farming beyond the thought of tomatoes, corn, beans, cucumber, melons....all of which, while still alive and well as we have not had a frost in Sonoma County yet, but have long ago started going over the hill for their season. When I observe the current state of what is happening on the farm, this is what I see. An up and coming glorious section of the farm covered in a sea of healthy brassicas including brussels, broccoli, cauliflowers, cabbages, etc...

The variety available in these plants is much more than you might imagine. You have mostly all seen orange and purple cauliflowers by now. Don't forget your savoy cabbages, napa cabbages, red and green cabbages (sauerkraut too). There is the Purple of Sicily cauliflower to look forward takes a long season to mature, but once it rolls around mid-winter it is cauliflower heaven on earth. All of these treasures are tucked away within this one little sea of green in the northwest section of the field.

The brussels are admittedly my personal favorite. I feel proud of them as a grower, intrigued by them as a viewer and satisfied by them as a consumer. Brussels are just neat and I hope anyone who does not consider them might think twice. They carry us with a regular harvest during the cold months with flavorful little green bursts of sweet cabbages. The plants look like some fantastic creature I cannot identify. It is one of those veggies I think it could benefit to take the kids out for a look and see how it actually grows, maybe take a picture of the kids next to a monstrous brussel plant that is the same size as they are.

Additionally, if the standard variety of brussel is not interesting enough, the purple brussel is on it's way this season. I have been following this crop closely since we seeded in months and months ago. Here it finally is setting some sprouts, harvest is not so far off. It will be time for a taste test of brussels sprouts colors and colorful brussel dishes.

Looking forward to the season of brassicas in addition to all the other fall and winter crops including parsnips, sunchokes, celeriac, beets, rutabaga, carrots, a plethora of dried shell beans and more. If you haven't already resigned yourself to a local and seasonal diet, consider giving up grocery store bought tomatoes this winter....try eating with the seasons and locally, there is so much food that is grown right here and Tierra stays open all year long to accommodate you being able to do so!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Peanuts and Garbanzos

Gophers in the peanuts....this is an occasion to monitor the progress of a subsurface crop if there ever was one. I had to pull up a few of the nutty legumes to check on what the actual peanuts are looking like at this time in the season. Especially before the gophers get them all...

Here is what I found upon investigating underground. Since the last post on the peanut crop, the plants have flowered and sent their reproductive parts underground where the familiar little nodules of crunchy snacks we know so well are forming, growing and thriving. Don't forget, if you want to see this in action, you must walk all the way to the back of the field. It is worth it.

Now here is another unique leguminous crop (pea family, nitrogen fixing). The garbanzo beans in the Tierra Vegetable fields come in 2 colors. Traditional white/beige beans and a more unusual black version of the garbanzo you are used to finding in a can or dried and packaged in a plastic bag. Fore-go canned goods, plastic wrapped and distributed beans from unknown sources and come to your local farm for these ordinary and entirely out of the ordinary culinary ingredients.

Black Garbanzo Beans! Another example of the diversity of vegetable ingredients constantly surprising us with something new and different. These beans are a little smaller than your traditional garbanzo and ought to be fun to experiment with in comparison.

And I leave you with the garbanzo bean. It is really not a huge crop of any of these legumes I have listed here, but they were tried and seem to have succeeded to some extent. See if you might find them for sale as the winter months come on.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

More on Corn Meal

The dried corn harvest is now and nearly complete. This means that the 2009 corn meal selection will be available from here on out....until it sells out. Be creative, colorful, plan some special uses for the holidays or just incorporate locally grown corn flour into your daily and weekly uses. Access to such a fresh and sweet product like this is not so common, take advantage and tell your friends!

Here are just some of the harvest bins full of dried corn. In the background are the Hopi Blue flour corn, quite a successful crop this season. There is more blue corn than last season and the quality is near perfection. See, there are many moments of success in farming! In the foreground on the left is Hopi Pink. Proving less perfect than the blue variety, Wayne admitted to having to sort through this one a bit. The kernels often did not come out as pink as one might hope and a lot of white was mixed in, washing out the beautiful colors that the variety had been selected for. On the right are many of those cobs that had cross bred or come out with inconsistency.

Note how the blue kernels somehow cross-bred their way into this (I think it was supposed to be Hopi Pink) cob. Perhaps images like this will make you think about what your corn meal looked like prior to processing...cross breeding colors like this may or may not produce an aesthetically pleasing flour for a consumer. Ah, more of the trials a farmer faces.

Here is the Hopi Pink, after sorting out the less pink colored cobs that slipped in. It ought to be beautiful to work corn muffins and bread, pink grits, why not? It would be nice to wait until Valentine's Day for an occasion like this, but I predict this color will not make it to February before being sold out for the season.

On the other hand, there is a lot of Hopi Blue it seems. That is a good thing because it proved to be a great corn meal last season. I have memories of the toasty brown crust on the outside of a blue muffin with chile flakes inside that Lee made last winter. Notice the size of these cobs. Notice how uniform the kernels grew. Wayne was showing me a technique of counting the rows of kernels that the field manager, Pablo, uses to judge a great cob of corn.

Finally, here is the Oaxacan Green. It is simply blue and yellow makes basic as learning your primary colors. I'm looking forward to observing this one post-milling in it's green flour form. It also leaves me inspired to mix blue and pink to make purple. Why not?

This harvest season at Tierra you may find corn meal in a grand variety of colors (variety is unavoidable at this farm) from yellow to blue to pink to green and whatever you might mix and create in between. Enjoy!

Friday, October 2, 2009

New Hot Sauce Variety

Oh so much work goes into developing and producing new and unique products in order to appeal to customers and make use of what is grown at the farm. This season the hot sauce line is expanding when possible....the product development is seasonal along with everything else at the farm. A grand array of chiles are available NOW for fresh consumption, processing of the famous chile jams, drying and smoking chiles for powder and dried chiles and chipotles later on, and the hot sauce. This opportunity dies with the frost, colder mornings are already upon us.

The hot sauce will last until sold out and often they go quick. Take a sample or two at the farm stand or Ferry Plaza. Grab a bottle or two for use now or after fresh chiles are a thing of the past. Thank goodness for sugars and vinegars to preserve the flavors of our fresh food. Tierra is a master of preservation in my perspective whether it been jam making; fermenting pickles or sauerkraut; dehydration; crop selection like popcorn, corn meal or dried beans. A lot of thought and experience has gone into providing for us all season long creatively and with a continual diversity of flavors, colors and textures as our palates desire.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Topics on Corn

I can only assume this is the Nothstein Dent corn, grown for flour/corn meal processing. It seems a reasonable assumption since it is yellow, dried up, and full of characteristic "dent" kernels. So it seems your yellow corn flour for 2009-2010 is about ready for harvest.

Here is the Oaxacan Green corn, also grown for flour. This one is new this season. Those of you who followed the corn meal last season may recall the yellow (pictured above), a blue called Hopi Blue and a red one called Bloody Butcher. Now we have green to add to the list of color, flavor, and diversity. It ought to be fun to compare results as usual.

I think this is a Peruvian (?) black corn? Grown for corn meal/flour. I'm working off info I gathered during spring seeding with Lee, but have since only wandered the fields w/o the farmer to be certain of what is what. With so many kinds of corn out there it is hard to keep it all straight. Anyhow, here is another diverse color, a deep, dark black kernel. I wonder how it will turn out after running through the mill.

And now I transition away from the topic of corn flour and onto the topic of corn pests. This is fresh corn we see now.....sweet, fresh corn. Unfortunately, everyone likes a good sweet veggie like this, including the Corn Worm. If you can look past the worm and it's damage, you are rewarded with an incredible seasonal treat, grown without the influence of chemicals or pesticides to rid the crop of this kind of thing. I tend to remind people that this pest evidence is their organic certification in living flesh....try to look at it optimistically this way. One way to avoid the corn worm is to plant an early crop of corn. This way, you may be able to harvest the crop prior to the development of the pest. Like the growth cycle of plants, pests require certain environmental conditions for their complete development.

Ever seen this? I hadn't until a farmer pointed it out to me a couple of years back. Corn smut is a fungal growth. Sometimes it is even a mushrooms? Whether good or bad in one's perspective as a foodie delicacy or a growers fungal disease, I think it is all interesting.

Enjoy your corn, fresh now and dried for later. Hope you gained some insight into the broader picture of what and how it is done at Tierra.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Chicken Tractor Construction Project

Here is a look at Wayne's current on-going construction project. He is building a size-able, mobile dwelling for chicken's on the farm. I have watched it coming together piece by piece for the last few months now.

If it is not one innovation it is another. Projects that increase capabilities and efficiencies to bring more sustainability to the operation are always welcome. This is just one of many....I'll try to continue to highlight some others as time goes on.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Poha/Cape Gooseberry

Many people seem tuned into ground cherries or husk berries, gooseberries, or the poha. Whatever variety you may have tried or be referring to, at Tierra the Poha, or Cape Gooseberry is grown each season.

These little garden berries are a wonderful treat mixed within a field of vegetables. Easy pickings during a time of heavy harvest, the berries which are protected and contained within a husk that looks something like a Chinese lantern, will fall straight to the ground when ripe and ready to consume.
To the right here is a look at the plant growing-if you go seeking it in the fields it is immediately south of the chiles, towards Airport Boulevard. It is very tall and shrub to tree-like, therefore proving it is in fact not a "ground cherry." This plant grows tall and wide and sprawls, undoubtedly needing more space than most home gardeners might plan. Related to tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers in the nightshade plant family; the plants are most closely related to tomatillos and resemble them quite a bit, husk and all. The taste? It is fruity, unique, one must try to even begin to understand. So try one this season.
Here is what you are looking for and, of course, the crew at Tierra will only bring the ripe and ready berries to market for you. The little berry is golden in color once you probe inside it's brown husk. It contains little seeds like a cherry tomato and if you really have some time and skill on your hands you could save these seeds for future crops of your own. The possible culinary uses range from a great alternative to high calorie snacks before dinner, a great base ingredient for a unique jam or chutney for holidays gifts, a fruity alternative to cherry tomatoes in your salad, and more....

Here is your source for a more detailed summary of additional aspects of this plants and fruit including history, origin and growth specifics. There is lots to learn about our food, as usual, and thankfully, lots of new foods to learn about. I run into so many great vegetables all year long in my farm foodie world, it is a great benefit and so much fun to pass along to others. The flip side of this is the disappoinment it brings when I am forced into a grocery store these days and discover the limited selection and quality, or the marketing ploy knock-offs of some of the unique specialty items I have encountered in the small farm world. It is trivial to decide what to buy, what to eat, what is true, and I'm pretty well educated on the topic. What about all those other folks? I'm skeptical. Grow your own, let Tierra grow for you, enjoy real food while it is in season. You are going to find superior flavors and something that is always in abundance, even if it is dried beans in the middle of winter. Thank goodness there is a time to enjoy beans when there aren't so many other fresh vegetables demanding to be used up! Now I got lost off on an Eat Local tangent on this post, but it is always worth while to make mention of this way of life.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Field Tour Thursday September 10, 2009

We have now reached the time of year when, as Wayne puts it, there are 10 million things to do at once. Why can't the harvest season that occurs in Sept-Oct spread itself more thinly over the rest of the year? There is certainly never any spare time to do fun things aside from farming when it all snowballs like it does right now.

Below is a general field tour overview of some of those millions of things, but I could hardly begin to grasp it all with a single afternoon walk and a few select photos to share.

First off, here is this week's CSA share, packed up and ready to deliver to Santa Rosa recipients. The selection is always colorful this time of year. This week was napa cabbage (buried beneath), a melon, tomatoes, summer squash, cauliflower, broccoli, gypsy sweet peppers, green beans....just a bit of everything.

I later went out after packing the CSA and found the napa cabbages in the field. Upright like a romaine lettuce, this pagoda named and shaped chinese-style cabbage is a real looker right now. I'm inspired and have since planted some in my own garden at home.

Here is the obligatory chile overview. Hard to chose where to capture an image, but the hungarian wax region have some nice color variety to share. Yellow to orange to red, these are hot ones!

Nearby are the cactus fruit-I forget if they have another name than this, I'm sure they do. These are so flavorful, so unique and will be ripe before long with all else. Processing is not easy, but I was fortunate enough to get to try some last season that Lee peeled and de-spiked. These are highly sought for their nutritional and anti-oxidant value by many.

I love okra flowers. That is what this is. My mother made a good point the other day that they somewhat resemble the beautiful cut flower lisianthus. When browsing through okra plants, I usually seek out the flora rather than the fruit for my own aesthetic satisfaction.

People come back from walking the fields wondering over these super tall stalks. Topped with their little yellow sunflowers right now, the sunchokes/jerusalem artichokes are putting on a grand show.

The tomato patch is plentiful and organized this season! You are able to view the various varieties out there well since Lee ensured the signs were placed at each variety. Harder to get these names from the field to the farm stand, the tomatoes often sell unnamed, but still represent a great diversity of flavors and colors.

This is Lee's millet and it is beautiful. I'm not sure if it is intended for grain or bird food, but either way it simply makes a striking addition to the field. Go find it and see what this traditional grain looks like.

This little purple brassica plants are what will hopefully be bearing your purple brussels sprouts this fall and winter. The variety is called Rubine and the plants are looking good so far. There will be green brussels too for those who need more traditional colored veggies on their plates.

And finally, keeping an eye on the broader view of fieldwork out there, the crew works hard in the afternoon to control weeds in some of the younger crops. In the foreground here I stand within the watermelon patch where a few weeds have escaped the fate of the blade of a hoe...

Take your own field tour. Plenty to see.

Monday, August 31, 2009


The Shishito is another heated, small frying pepper. It has thin walled flesh, is sweet and hot and is popular in Japan. Also popular now with chefs nationwide in the U.S., this small fryer is found on many restaurant menus and enjoyed at home as they become available.

Uses: Quite popular now in our modern culinary culture, Shishito peppers may be fried and blistered, grilled, prepared as a tempura, etc... These peppers have the perfect medium heat where the Spanish Padron frying pepper may be too spicy at times for some (myself included).

Heat: Individual peppers may vary from mild to hot.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dry Bean Harvest 2009 Begins

Fresh shell beans have been harvesting the last couple of weeks and now it is already time to harvest some of the first dry shell beans this season, starting with the Montezuma Red, or Mexican Red bean. On the right are pile of red beans, harvested with shell, plant and all. It is easy to know when it is time because the entire plant dries back. Now that they have been removed from their place in the field, they are awaiting their turn through the thrasher where the beans will be separated from all the brown plant material as efficiently as possible.

This close up gives more of an idea of what we are working with here....the beans grow just like a bush green bean, but are allowed to mature fully and the harvest selected the mature hard seed bean inside the pod. It is surprising to me how many people don't really understand the stages of bean growth and harvest from fresh green beans that we are used to in the summer time, to the in between stage of fresh shelling bean, to the dry sell bean. These differences are mostly a matter of maturity and which use each bean is preferred or selected for is common use. You could save and use the seeds of your green beans for winter soups or next year's seeds if you wanted.

The Montezuma Red bean is just the first of many dry shell beans to come. All of these bean varieties make a diverse and colorful addition to the winter selection around Tierra Vegetables.

A great red bean, this is our field manager, Pablo's, favorite. Give it a try if you haven't already. We still have a few of these from the 2008 harvest that likely occurred this time last year. Just look inside the bean pots when you enter the farm stand to the right.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Yellow Cylindrical Beet

According to the sign it was just a mere three months ago that Wayne and I were out seeding this uncommon root vegetable. Ah how the time flies...the more I do this growing thing the time from seeding to harvest seems to fly by, kinda like human years going by faster each year. While no one, but myself, is harvesting this novelty vegetable quite yet, I think it is time. Keep your eye out for it soon, I put in a vote to bring some out of the fields.

Not only is this beet yellow, or golden, whatever color suits your perspective, but it is also long and large and cylindrical in shape. How does it differ from "regular" beets? Well, I did rip one out of the ground as soon as I saw it and took it right home and threw it in a pot to boil to edible texture. It tastes very much the same, sweet and flavorful, it boils down to a very light yellow, or off-white color, side-stepping the beet color mess. Of course I suggest you beet lovers give it a try once available in your purchasing location.

What are we waiting for? This is a root that can get huge and Lee wants it to have the time to fully mature. Giant roots and other vegetables at Tierra Vegetables are always quite impressive. Hopefully soon you will find some giant yellow beet roots and find time to mix them into your meals amongst all the grand array of summer veggies that are harvesting right now.

I did not hunt around for the largest of the bunch when I selected my trial specimen, but this one did require a good sized pot to cook. Please continue to appreciate the creativity and diversity that reigns in the background of your local farm, giving the yellow cylindrical beet (en espanol Betabel Amarillo) a try when it is available is a good way to do this.