Monthly Archives: October 2014

Carrot Rounds

Raw donut holes? I saw the recipe, and thought why not? One thing to understand about raw cupcakes, donuts, and other snacks that are usually baked is that the texture is not like baked.

But, these were tasty and had lots of fiber, so they didn’t blow out my blood sugar level. They taste great with Michigan apple cider. This recipe has inspired me. I’m going to play around with a carrot cake recipe next.

2 cups shredded carrot
2 large ripe bananas
12 medjool dates pitted
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
½ Tbl lacuma powder (optional)
MI maple sugar (optional)

Put all ingredients, except the maple sugar, in food processor and mix until smooth. Roll into balls and place on teflex sheet. Dehydrate 12-20 hours at 115F.
Dust with ground maple sugar if desired.

These are best right out of the dehydrator and will gain moisture during storage. Store them in the refrigerator and only for a few days.

This recipe originated here, but I tweaked a couple of things.

We ate them after a Pickerel Lake hike as we balanced them on the car hood. Happy Autumn!

donut holes

Pickerel Lake

Michigan fall foliage

Pickerel Lake


The Mother of Michigan Apple Production

Jack Brown Co-OpBack in 1960, five other apple growers joined with the Brown family to create Jack Brown Produce Co-Op. “Ma Brown” led the organization as founding president. She lead with honesty, integrity, innovation, and as the stories go – a bit of an iron fist. She was also the innovator for the concept of selling apples in three-pound plastic bags.

This was our third stop in the Michigan Apple Committee 2014 blogger tour. (See below for links to the earlier posts.) The co-op now has 45 grower shareholders with 75 total growers. President John Schaefer was our tour guide.

I was surprised to find what it takes to package apples! Our tour started in the long-term storage area. The chilly room we viewed holds 500 – 20 bushel bins. And, it’s one of the small rooms. In 1957, the Browns were the first to use cold storage technology which was developed in the 1940s and 50s.

The apples are held at optimal condition. We had to stand at the edge of the room to peer in, because we wouldn’t live long in the 1.5% oxygen air. It’s mostly nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Every 15 minutes, the air is automatically sampled and adjusted as necessary.

Beyond storage, the facility packs apples either out of the storage rooms or right from the orchards. It’s a Just in Time process where as little as 24 hours goes by from orchard to grocery cart. The apples are sorted and graded – all apples are used. The small ones and seconds are used for juice, applesauce, or prepared slices. There are people and machines that check the apple exteriors and even a machine that checks for interior defects and water content.

The apples go through quite a process: they are washed and brushed, rinsed, and polished. Then, they are dried prior to the application of a palm oil based wax.

As if this wasn’t enough, Meijer wants them packaged in plastic bags, Kroger in mesh bags, and Costco in clamshells. Brown Co-Op does 750 types of packaging monthly, with each retailer and the USDA having various standards.

The facility runs year-round with full-time workers with benefits. In 2012 – the year that the blossoms froze so there were few apples to process – there was worry of a layoff. Instead, new processing lines were built by the workers, so they had jobs, and the co-op had skilled workers for the 2013 and 2014 bumper crops!

Click here for the first in this series (Sietsema Orchards).
Click here for the second in this series (Youngquist Farm).

NOTE: The MI Apple Committee sponsored this trip; however, all opinions are my own.

brown co op processing

Bagging apples at Jack Brown

Apples in Cold Storage - until we meet again

Apples in Cold Storage – until we meet again

Farming the Sunlight

Youngquist FarmCurrently farmed by Mark (5th generation) and Jordan (6th generation) Youngquist, the Youngquist farm has been around for approximately 130 years. It’s located on “the ridge” northwest of Grand Rapids. The ridge is a significant ecological area. It’s 30 miles from the Lake Michigan shore duneline. The ridge is the second duneline, and the elevation is 800 – 850 feet.

The first trees of this 180 acre farm were planted by Marks’ grandfather. At that time there were 30 trees per acre. Now, they can plant up to 1,000 trees per acre. This is due to newer techniques such as a high-density trellis system. In this system, the trees are attached to stakes and pruned to allow sunlight to hit the apples to ripen them – farming the sunlight – as Mark calls it. It can double the output. Traditionally grown trees have a lot of apples that the sunlight doesn’t fully hit, and they cannot be harvested.

When there are 40 trees per acre, there’s a net of 700 – 800 bushels per acre. But, not all are the same red color. With high- density growing there are easily 1,000 bushels per acre of more uniform color and ripeness. Recently, Youngquist got 1,700 bushels per acre from some high-density Ida Red trees.

Skilled pickers are needed for apples, because they are easily bruised if pinched or dropped. Apples are all harvested by hand – unlike MI cherries which can be machine harvested. The skilled labor here are from Vera Cruz, Mexico. They come for seven weeks in the summer through the Federal H2A program and are paid the wage set by the government ($11.49 per hour) or by $16.00 per bin. The workers must be able to climb an 18 foot ladder carrying about 60 pounds of apples on their shoulders. Stems must be in tact to prevent damage during storage.

The Youngquists reminisced with us about their relationship with their workers. Sometimes the family is invited to workers’ major family events (a 25th wedding anniversary) in either Mexico or Florida (where this group also picks citrus).

On the farm there are three 72 foot by 30 foot triplex housing units for the workers. They were built to Department of Agriculture and Department of Labor standards and are inspected annually – with intermittent surprise inspections.

During this part of the Michigan Apple Committee trip, Julianna Wilson from MSU Extension spoke to us about the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) processes used by conventional apple farmers. According to the US EPA website, IPM is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices. IPM programs use current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment. This information, in combination with available pest control methods, is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.

In this case, they use a lot of ‘mating interruption’ of the codling moths. Pheromones are distributed around the orchards by a machine that intermittently poofs out the scent or by small scented sheets hung around the area. This synthetic version confuses the males and the mating doesn’t happen.

Also, fungal spore traps are set up to help determine when pest management is necessary. They are timed with environmental characteristics such as rain. The timing of pesticide application is based on biology rather than the calendar.

“Pesticides are not sprayed during bloom,” said Youngquist. “This is to prevent damage to the honeybees.” Five percent of the trees are pollinator trees. According to MSU Extension, pollinator trees are planted to support and maintain pollinators by supplying food in the form of pollen and nectar that will ensure that these important animals stay in the area to keep pollinating crops for continued fruit production.

The Youngquist apples are processed at Jack Brown Produce Co-Op. (Next story in this series.)

Click here for my Sietsema Orchard post.


Youngquist Farm

Youngquist Farm

Youngquist Farm


Big Bowl of Michigan Awesome – Autumn Edition

This summer, I posted my Summer Edition of this improvisational recipe. In Autumn, there’s still plenty of farm fresh fruits and veggies to work with.

First make this simple dressing: one part MI honey, one part fresh squeezed lime juice, and one part mild Dijon mustard (I use Meijer Organics).

There’s still time to toss in some shredded zucchini for this first one that features red bell pepper, apple, and sunflower seeds.

autumn zucc red pepp apple sunfl seed 2

The next two have a base of shredded beet and carrot. The first includes apple and walnuts, and the second has pear, grapes, and sunflower seeds.

autumn beet carrot apple walnut

autumn beet carrot pear grape sunfl seed

Improvise and have fun!

Simple. Delicious. Michigan.



Sietsema Orchards

Sietsema OrchardsDid you know there are 9.2 million farmed apple trees in Michigan? That’s 850 growers farming 36,500 acres. I was recently invited to attend a blogger trip sponsored by The Michigan Apple Committee. The committee – a staff of 6 – was put together by the apple growers in 1939. They realize that they will benefit by working together. The organization does apple marketing, education, and research (mostly through MI State University).

This is the first of a three-part series on MI apples and this day-trip. We started at Sietsema Orchards; Andy Sietsema, the fourth generation farmer, was our tour guide.

Sietsema Orchards is what I’d call an adult agritourism business (no pony rides). “We want people to take time to enjoy themselves,” said, Sietsema. They grow 150 apple varieties. Many are heirloom varieties used to make their hard cider. They’re always experimenting with new flavor combinations. One includes MI hops, another lemongrass, and a third will be aged in former Founders Brewery KBS barrels.

The popularity of hard cider is growing in the US. People’s palates are adjusting to a drier, more wine-like flavor. Their cider business has been doubling annually; now they’re moving into the Chicago market.

In the orchard, they have a clear area where they can fit a 250 person tent for weddings and corporate events. The other bloggers and I enjoyed a lunch there catered by Suburba, from Ada, MI. They serve monthly farm dinners during the mildest months. The meal featured apples and other local foods.

Find Sietsema cider on site and at these locations.


Sietsema Orchards

Sietsema Orchards

Suburba sandwich

2014-10-08 11.40.10

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Black Bean Soup

black beans from MichiganDid you know that Michigan is a bean producer state? Let Michigan warm you from the inside while its cold outside with this easy-to-make black bean soup.

I found Michigan, organic black beans from Shady Side Farm at my local farmers market (see their website for locations and schedule). Their website and the Michigan Bean Commission website have lots of recipes too.

Black Bean and Coconut Soup

Serves 6
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Handful of cilantro leaves (about one cup) and more for garnish
2 cups broth
3.5 cups cooked Michigan black beans*
1 (15-ounce) can coconut milk
1 teaspoon curry powder

In a medium-heavy pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat until hot, then stir in the onions and garlic along with 1 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook until golden; about 6 minutes.

Stir in the cilantro, stock, cooked beans, and coconut milk, and bring to a simmer. Simmer the soup until the cilantro leaves are tender, about 5 minutes.

Puree the soup in batches, then season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve topped with the cilantro leaves.

* About one-half pound (or about 1.5 cups) of dry beans will cook to 3.5 cups of cooked beans for this recipe. I often cook beans in large batches (2 –  3 pounds) and freeze them in recipe sized portions for later use. To cook, rinse them and remove any stones. Soak them covered (more than one inch above the beans) in water overnight. Drain and rinse, and place in a pot again covered with water. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to simmer and cook until soft – about 2 – 3 hours.

black bean coconut soup





The Turkey Alternative

DSC03045Have you ever met someone who’s job is to artificially inseminate turkeys? It could happen. Your basic Thanksgiving turkey doesn’t have a very natural life.

Is it because farms don’t want turkeys to have fun? Not really. It’s because turkey eaters want giant turkey breasts. Most holiday turkeys are the breed, Broad-Breasted White. Like other commercially raised animals, there were ‘designed’ to grow quickly and in whatever direction the American consumer tends to prefer.

Even if they were not slaughtered for a holiday dinner, they could not live long after. This is because, as outlined in Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, they would grow so heavy their legs would collapse, and besides, they would not be able to fly, forage, or mate.

What’s the turkey alternative? Heritage Turkey. Late this summer I visited Idle River Farms, run by Matt & Kristal Buddick, to check out the heritage turkey livestyle. It takes twice as long for a heritage turkey to mature to harvest than it does for a commercially grown turkey.

Heritage turkeys are specific breeds, and the ones that I visited are Bourbon Reds and Narragansett (or a cross between the two). They arrived in Michigan young (called poults) having been shipped here. There were no naturally inseminated turkeys in Michigan! Natural pregnancy is a requirement for a turkey to be called a heritage.

They live “free range” which is a loose term. Idle River uses a process that is a balance between giving them space and access to food and being able to keep track of them. Since they can fly, if they are in the open, they don’t easily come back to the pen at night when they could be attacked by natural predators.

There were 24 in a large moveable pen. Daily, the pen is moved so that the turkeys have a fresh area to live and eat. They eat bugs – grasshoppers being a favorite – and plants, such as clover and alfalfa. They also have available to them a non-GMO feed which is a combination of Michigan corn and soy.

So, will these turkeys have sex? Not this time, since they mate in winter – after the holidays.

There’s a limited amount of these turkeys available this year through Duba & Company. They are shipped frozen, but depending on the shipping time, they may arrive cool to the touch. Contact them for pricing and delivery information. (Click Add to Cart for additional details.) But, there will be a pick-up location in Grand Rapids on Tuesday November 25, 2014.