How About a CSA for Your Office?

Oct FM 7

It’s CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) sign- up time in Michigan. In a CSA, a local farmer offers shares to buyers. The up-front purchase supports the farmer as the crops get started. Then, the buyer gets produce weekly through the growing season. Have you considered doing this in your business or office?

I contacted Garrett Ziegler, Extension Educator, Community Food Systems at the MSU Extension Greening Michigan Institute for information. He assists local institutions in sourcing and serving more locally produced food and works closely with local farmers to help them access new markets.

Start by surveying your employees regarding why they want to join a CSA Farm and to make sure they are interested. What kind of produce are they interested in? Do they cook often? Do they need recipe ideas? The business will need to meet the minimum share requirements to start a pick-up site. You could also partner with neighboring businesses.

You will need an onsite coordinator to research the farms and size of shares. Also, they will need to communicate the plan to buyers, send reminder emails, communicate with the farmer, and be there to make sure that the pick-ups go smoothly. Someone will need to occasionally clean up husks, break down boxes, etc.

Here are some logistical questions to ask.

  • What day of the week does your farm deliver its shares? A 3- to 4-hour pick-up window is typical.
  • Where will food be delivered to?
  • Will the space be heated/cooled? Will sunlight hit the boxes at any point?
  • Is there a loading dock?
  • Are their stairs or an elevator?
  • Security – is the door locked? Is it easily opened? Will the delivery driver need a key card?
  • If someone forgets to pick up their share, can food stay in place overnight, or does it need to be dealt with/picked up the same day? Is there a kitchen on site that can store food in a cooler?
  • What happens to shares that are not picked up?

Use this link from Local Harvest to find a CSA near you.

EarthKeeper Farm in the Fall

fall 2015Last autumn I visited the three-generation homestead of EarthKeeper Farm located ‘on the ridge’ near Grand Rapids. I’d met farmer Andrew Bostwick at the Fulton St. Farmers Market; I’ve been purchasing his produce for a couple of years. After writing a conventional apple blog series last year, I went to the farm to explore organic apple farming.

The farm is certified organic and biodynamic by the Stellar certification body. This is the second part of a two-part series. The first was posted last spring; it describes their growing and labor practices.

They grow 50 crops (280 varieties) including garlic, carrots, heirloom tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, rutabaga, cabbage, broccoli, melons, onions, garden transplants, flowers and herbs. This fall they are selling produce at the Fulton St. Farmers Market in Grand Rapids. Over the winter, they often sell at Sweetwater Farmers Market in Muskegon. However, this year they are not planning on it. So, visit them at Fulton St. until Thanksgiving.

For the fall trip, I specifically went to learn about home cider making. They had a new hand press, and they and their neighbors, family, and friends used it on a regular basis during apple time. They don’t have a commercial space, so they cannot sell the cider. It’s too bad, because it’s has an amazing fresh taste. (Apple slices also dehydrate well and are such a treat over winter.)

Their apples are heirloom Jonathans, planted in 1940s. The cider tastes like an apple fresh from the tree – which of course, it is. It’s a pretty simple process. The apples are sorted, and the ones with no damage (normally about 20% since they are never sprayed with pesticides) are sold at the farmers market for general eating. The others are used as home apple sauce and cider.

Hand pressing apples is a pretty simple process – and a good ABS work out. After the apples are picked, sorted, and rinsed they are sent through a grinder that chops them up as they land into a bucket lined with a netted bag. The contents are divided by plastic screens to aid in the pressing process. Then the apples in the bucket are pressed by cranking down a round wooden board. Out drops the golden juice.

I’m totally spoiled with the fabulous fresh taste! This is too bad, because the hard winter damaged the trees, and so there were not enough apples to sell this year. They will be spending time this winter planning some additions to the orchard.

Visit them at Fulton St. Farmers Market until Thanksgiving. They are there on Saturdays from 8am to 3pm, and occasionally Fridays during peak season. Read my Spring post about the farm here.




Flipping the Switch

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you would have noticed that I add environmental issues to my foodie stories. Last week I visited with Chateau Chantal Winery president, Marie-Chantal Dalese to check in on how their new photo voltaic (PV) solar panels are doing. They’ve been running for two months now. It’s the largest solar agribusiness installation at a Michigan winery.

The 148.5 kilo Watt (kW) solar array was installed by Harvest Energy Solutions. It’s annual production of 172,351 kW is like saving the CO2 emissions for the electricity of over 18 homes per year. The PV panels are on track to meet the goal of providing 40% of Chateau Chantal’s electrical needs annually.

The panels are tilted not only for sunlight but also so the snow falls off to leave them open for the winter sun. (Yes, we DO have winter sun.)

Below are photographs from the day that the switch was flipped to turn on the panels! Senator Stabenow was on hand for the celebration. (Photos are courtesy of Chateau Chantal.)

Senator Stabenow Chateau Chantal Solar EventCropped

SolarSwitchFlip_June2015 (63)

Pyle Dairy Farm

Ever wonder what a dairy cow on a small Michigan dairy farm does all day? I actually did wonder. I pay a lot of attention to how food animals are raised. Do you? I visited Pyle Dairy Farm as part of a day-long blogging tour organized by Promote Michigan. I suspect, as far as the dairy cow lifestyle goes, that this is as good as it gets. (Don’t assume that any other farm raised animals are treated like these cows. Do your research if you care about animal treatment!!)

When our travel bus arrived, the whole Pyle family was there to greet us. This Michigan Centennial Farm is run by the sixth generation. By the time of our mid-morning arrival, 130 cows had been milked. They are 100% registered Holsteins(R).

So, what’s the life of a Holstein dairy cow (and farmer) like? Well, in this case they hang out in a barn with a sand floor and giant fans on the ceiling. Cows get stressed at about 72 degrees, and the fans keep the temperature tolerable for them. There are shades on the sides of the structure to block heat or cold and for sun control.

Bred to produce way more milk than a calf could ever need, they are milked twice daily – at 4:00 am and 3:00 pm. The whole process, including clean-up, takes the farmers three hours. Twice daily, the cows also get fed, and the manure is removed from the barn.

The manure is stored with waste water from washing the milking parlor, and this is used twice per year to fertilize the fields. What’s in the fields? It’s hay and corn to feed the cows and a little wheat to use for straw bedding.

By two years of age, they are old enough to calve. The cows are artificially inseminated, which I was told they don’t seem to mind. When the calves are born, they are removed to another barn filled with other calves. Each newbie is in her own stall at first. They are fed their mother’s milk (by a farmer) for four days. (I was told by another farmer that they don’t feed directly, because they will feed from any cow and many cows, so they could spread diseases between the herd members.) The female calves are kept as future milking cows and the males are sold – often as beef.

After the initial four days, they are fed a milk replacer – much like human babies are often fed formula. After a few weeks some grain is added to their menu. At seven weeks old, they are ready to be with the other calves eating all grains.

The milker is electronic and each cow has a tag, so the amount of milk can be tracked to tell if they are running out of milk or potentially sick. There are NO bovine growth hormones used on these cows.

The milk gets filtered, pre-cooled, and bulk tanked. Off it goes to either Hudsonville Ice Cream or Leprino Cheese.

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EarthKeeper Farm

Earthkeeper FarmLast autumn I visited the three-generation homestead of EarthKeeper Farm located ‘on the ridge’ near Grand Rapids. I’d met farmers Rachelle and Andrew Bostwick at the Fulton St. Farmers Market; I’ve been purchasing their produce for a couple of years. We’ve stayed in touch over the winter as I’ve been writing a two-part post about their farm. The second one will be posted late summer.

The farm is certified organic and biodynamic by the Stellar certification body. Andrew and Rachelle explained the process and techniques to me, noting the on-site certification visits. The soils are tested in a lab and custom soil amendments, such as fish emulsion, kelp meal, or bone meal, are made for fertilizer to supplement the local manure and compost they use. And they don’t usually have to spray any organic pesticides. If they do, the occasional use is Neem oil.

For labor, they do work shares, and they host people through WWOOF – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. In this program, they provide basic housing for people who want to work on a farm in exchange. They’ve met lifelong friends this way as evidenced by the photo collage in their barn.

They grow 50 crops (280 varieties) including garlic, carrots, heirloom tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, rutabaga, cabbage, broccoli, melons, onions, garden transplants, flowers and herbs.

As the season begins, they are selling flowers, wheatgrass, pea shoots, buckwheat shoots, baby kale, baby collards, spinach, green garlic, and heirloom vegetable transplants. Soon they will have lettuce, spring turnips, green onions, cooking greens, and bok choy.

“This spring we are delighted to offer 100% heirloom, organic vegetable plants for pre-order,” said Rachelle Bostwick. “There are 34 different varieties to choose from, including tomatoes, summer squash, peppers, kale, and much more. Plants come individually, in 6 packs, or in mixed flats that contain all the veggies you will need for your garden.” Plants are available for pre-order through the farm or at the Fulton Street Farmers Market; they will be ready the last two weeks in May for pick up at the same places. Many of the varieties are from Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, which is a list of foods specifically valued for their outstanding flavor and meaningful role they play in the food system.

Follow the farm on Facebook or visit them at Fulton St. Farmers Market until Thanksgiving. They are there on Saturdays from 8am to 3pm, and occasionally Fridays during peak season. During winter, they sell at Sweetwater Farmers Market in Muskegon.

Andrew Bostwick, Earthkeeper Farm

Earthkeeper Farm

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Basil in the Basement

Getting that urge for the flavors of a Michigan summer? How about some basil? Growing Green Family Farms grows basil, cilantro, and microgreens in an environmentally controlled basement. They take care to maintain the right lighting, airflow, humidity, and temperature – so we can have basil in March!

Microgreens are small greens; usually no more than 2 inches tall. They are not sprouts, but are rather a young plant that is in between a sprout and an older green. They also grow kale, lettuces, wheatgrass, bok choy, and beet greens in a greenhouse.

No herbicides and pesticides are used. And, the fertilizer used is an all-natural mix of plant and mineral materials. The water is filtered rainwater.

So, what to do with basil when there are not a lot of other summer veggies around? How about paring them with dried tomatoes? Did you dry tomatoes last summer? If not, think about it for the upcoming summer. And, you can always make a pesto sauce!

I also send a small bunch of basil through the juicer when I am making a juice blend from other greens. It really adds a summery punch.

Where to find MI winter basil:

Fulton Street Farmers Market on Saturdays between 10:00 am to 1:00 pm.

Velo City Cycles in Holland on Saturdays between 11:00am and 1:00pm.

Farmhouse Deli in Saugatuck/Douglas on Saturdays between 9:30AM and 10:30am.

Nourish Organic Market in Grand Rapids.

Nathan from Growing Green

For more shopping details, visit their website.

Where do Vegetables go in the Winter?

DSC02916Do you ever wonder where your veggies hang out over the winter? I did. So I took a truck tour of Visser Farms with Phil Visser in the late fall of 2013 for my former blog page.  So, this is a Throwback Thursday post! They farm a total of 200 acres in Zeeland and Jenison.

It turns out that some vegetables can stay in the ground. Weather is always a factor, but kale, rutabagas, and turnips usually stay in the ground over winter and are harvested when there’s access to them, and then they’re stored temporarily before market or delivery. Broccoli likes the sudden warm days of autumn and springs back to life. It stays in the ground until damaged. So, it’s available when there is an occasional, very mild winter. (Well, not this year!)

Root vegetables, such as carrots, onions, potatoes, rutabagas, turnips, sweet potatoes, celery root, and beets are stored in a nearby facility over winter that’s about 38 degrees.

The farm started in 1902; currently the fifth generation is working it. They do their best to keep sprays to a minimum and use natural fertilizer. Also, they plant cover crops, such as rye, in the fall to prevent soil erosion and to replenish nutrients into the soil when plowed under. The crops are regularly rotated to ensure that the soil is healthy and not stressed or stripped of nutrients.

Find the Michigan root vegetable mainstays at restaurants in Grand Rapids and Holland and the Fulton Street Farmers Market. The market is open on Saturdays 10:00 am to 1:00 pm from January to April.



How Do You Like Those Apples?

apples 4.2Last weekend, I visited with John Platte of Platte Farm north of Grand Rapids. We talked about what to do with all of those apples he sells. There are eight varieties available from him at Fulton St. Farmers Market in Grand Rapids.

John started his farmers market career at the age of five, by going with family to the market in Muskegon Heights, MI. He’s been vending at Fulton St. Market for fifty years!

Here’s what’s available:
Braeburn: Very hard, slightly tart, great taste; cook or eat fresh.

Northern Spy: They are like a Granny Smith, tart, “Spys for pies” they say; bake or cook them.

Jonagold: Good for anything – cook or eat fresh. They’re sweet, so cut the sugar by least in half when baking or cooking. Also mix with Courtland and Ida Red to make no-sugar applesauce. It’s his favorite pie apple; nice texture and nice taste.

Gala: A great eating apple; can cook and bake with them

Fuji: Very sweet, very crunchy, hard; good to eat or cook it. They are not for pie though; too juicy.

Honey Crisp: juicy, crisp, crunchy. Make sauce or eat fresh. They are most people’s favorite, and he will have them into April this year.

Ida Red: A great all-purpose apple for eating raw or for pie or sauce.

Cortland: Eat, bake, or make sauce. This is the one they sell the most for applesauce.

Platte Farm is all run by family. It’s located on the ridge north of Grand Rapids, between 6 – 7 Mile Roads. The farm is 36 acres; 6 of it is apple orchard with 9 to 10 acres of vegetables where they use crop rotation strategies. In addition to apples, they grow and sell corn, tomatoes, melons, summer squash, zucchini, green beans, cucumbers, and pickles.

Find them every week at Fulton St. Farmers Market.

Apples from Platte Farm


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


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

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