Sunday, August 17, 2014


This week's CSA and a series of Flora Selfies...

  • radicchio
  • beans
  • eggplant
  • peppers
  • cucumbers
  • arugula
  • walla walla onions
  • carrots
  • melons
  • potatoes
  • garlic
  • celery

Flora has been using the iphone to capture some selfies this week and agreed to let me share a few with you. This, in our busy summer weeks, serves as entertainment for her and photos for me...multitasking.

And, she did wonder whether a "shelfie" was a thing and, after a short Google image search, we learned it was. Thought you might like to know.

Back to the vegetables and the flowers....
The radicchio is a new variety for us. It is long and green, with a yellowish tint. I recommend slicing thinly like cabbage, tossing with a nice olive oil some lemon juice and finishing it off with some reggiano. It was a nice side to our potato leek soup. The flavor is more mild and less bitter than the purple variety. I hope you will enjoy it as much as we do!

Tomato update: All of the field tomatoes have been taken by the blight. The tomatoes in the hoop houses are still holding on. They are showing some signs of going down but we think we'll get a bit more out of them. We are very cautious of jinxing ourselves, so we aren't putting it on the list, as if to suggest our uncertainty to Mother Nature so she know we aren't taking anything for granted.However, we are planning to harvest what's there and share with you. Consider the tomatoes a footnote.

Mid Season check-in: Tell us how things are going from your end. Is there something we can improve on (besides being more prompt about sending out the harvest list)? We want to make the experience of being a CSA member as rewarding as possible for our customers so if something is not working for you, please let us know.

Culinary Herb Bed: So....our culinary herb bed is finally ready for your clippers! Along the path to the barn, there is a bed of culinary herb including tarragon, oregano, marjoram, thyme, lemon verbena, rosemary, sage and an occasional edible flower (calendula, borage, nasturtium). Please help yourself to herbs when you pick up your share. And, if you are close enough to the farm, stop by anytime for a little bit of fresh herb to spruce up whatever you're concocting in the kitchen.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Cultivating Optimism

This week's harvest:
The first (but hopefully not last, F#$%* Late Blight!) taste of tomato
Summer Squash
Patty Pan Squash

Sometimes we hit this place in the summer and on a warm evening, as the sun sets, I'm outside wandering around with a purpose I can't remember and I'm overwhelmed by a sense of awe. The fields, in all their glory, every plant reaching, flowering, trying to produce a flower, to breed and then to make seed. Its all I can do to hold it in, remember what I walked outside for, milking check the CSA share room, to check the mail for the first time in a few days.

The summer farm is full of breeding. If you miss a clutch of eggs, you get 8 new chicks.

 For the first stretch of years we were farming, every morning John would tell me of some dream he had where the livestock were out of their respective pens, interbreeding, rampantly multiplying like a Dahlov Ipcar children's book using farms as a medium for counting.   Now he tells me of different dreams, more comfortable with growth and change and seasonal cycles.

Our weeks are full of harvesting and planting and weeding and talking with customers and managing our largest crew ever.... we just did a payroll for 17 people. Most of our camp weeks are fully enrolled, (there's room in the last week).

 And our weekends send us to far flung places to deliver wedding flowers and then back home to celebrate a union here at the farm. The ducks are growing.

There are an ample amount of chickens-in-training (just not sure what their training for).

 And the long barn smells like garlic heaven as our garlic crop dries.

I'm eager for a good book to read but have no time to go pick one out. Our children wonder if there is anything but cucumbers to snack on and I head to the store for cereal and chocolate and cheddar. We're fueled by chocolate milk snacks at 10AM and 4PM. The laundry stays on the line through too many thunderstorms and then lives in piles on the floors of our bedrooms. The guest room is in constant rotation with a changing cast of characters coming by to visit. But, we know this ride, we know there is balance annually, just not week to week. This summer mania comes to an end and then we miss it. We miss our friends and family visiting. We miss the enthusiastic summer campers, the CSA customers sharing their vegetable exploits in their kitchens and the happy couple embracing after they've shared the farm they've come to love with their family and friends.

 Last week, one of our wedding couples from a few years ago came by with their beautiful new baby and I knew, in that moment, that in our own small way, we're part of something big. And those sweet moments, tucked in between the loss of a tomato crop to Late Blight and an unmentionable amount of potential revenue as a result, keep us afloat. And, the knowledge that I could just run out to the grocery store for tomato sauce. Life is not dependent on our tomato crop, the farm revenue is diverse for a reason. Hopefully we can sell more flowers and distribute a few more bushels of cabbage. (Our CSA members may have noticed it's a good cabbage year). Keeping it all in perspective is a job John and I take turns with. We talk each other off the cliff each day, helping the other find the joy in the larger picture, enabling us to face those 17 employees with a smile and a sense of optimism.

 "Do the best that you can in the place where you are, and be kind." Scott Nearing

Blessings on the meal (but not the Late Blight)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Mid-summer Dahlias and a Dance Party

This Week's CSA Harvest:
Green Onions
Green Beans
Summer Squash, Zucchini, Patty Pan

Also this week, our mid-summer Annual  Pack-a-Picnic and Dance Party with the Strangely Possibles.Join us for a fun, outdoor evening at the farm, Thursday, July 31. Bring a picnic, watch the sun set and dance with us in the barn to the Strangely Possibles. The music starts at 7:30 but we'll be out there enjoying the evening from 6:00 on. Bring the family, bring your friends.

So, about that cabbage.... I know you probably feel inundated with it but, when there's bounty, we do like to share. I acquired a mandolin a few years ago and I thinly slice lots of cabbage on the mandolin for use in salads, sandwiches and roll-ups. I use this thinly sliced cabbage in place of salad greens. I love sauerkraut and we make it regularly in the summer. And, if you're slow to warm up to cabbage, it lasts a long time in the refrigerator so you can nibble at it for  week to come. It is a great storage crop.

Looking forward to dancing with all of you in the barn on Thursday!

Blessings on the meal-

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Just Your Average Girl

This Week's CSA Harvest:
Zucchini/Summer Squash/Patty Pan Squash
Green Onions
Green Beans

I really like thinking about marketing and when campaign season rolls around, I'm always intrigued by how boring political campaigns are. There's no humility, no self-effacement. If I ever run for office, I'd be running the Just-Your-Average-Girl Campaign. It would go something like this:

I'm often late (as are all the Brenners, we suffer from what my friend Jones calls "time optimism")
I'm a B student
There are no Magna, Summas or Cumma behind my degree
I sometimes forget to brush my teeth
Not all my jokes are funny
I've bounced a few checks, forgetting to transfer funds into checking

When I presented this idea to my family, they assured me I would be hard pressed to find campaign funders.

Selling yourself, your stuff, your ideas....what a challenge. And then, you get stuck in a thankless job where only half the town likes you.

I much prefer growing flowers and vegetables, feeding people, making things a little more beautiful. But, even then, we're just your average farmers.

And, these average farmers are worried our potatoes and tomatoes are about to go down to Late Blight. This article from 2 weeks ago started the ball rolling in our direction. And now, we are squarely seeing signs in our fields. The best conditions for Late Blight are synonymous with weather that makes my hair curlier: humidity, misty rain, hazy sun and passing showers.
Though this summer weather is not so wet, this disease was apparently introduced by infected seed potatoes. Late Blight is a fungus that mostly affects leaves and most years we get it... in September. (Don't worry about eating the potatoes or tomatoes, what we can harvest in spite of the Blight, is safe for human consumption.)

The Just-Your-Average-Farmer campaign looks something like this:

Sometimes we get Late Blight
Sometimes we lose a crop to weeds
Sometimes we let something get root bound in the greenhouse

It might just be the 12-14 hour days, every day, but we feel pretty average in July. A hearty harvest of cucumbers or larkspur can raise our spirits something fierce. But, it takes 12 months to correct a mistake in the field, it takes 12 months to try a new tactic. It takes 12 years to realize each year you'll be assaulted by some new bug, some old pest, some fresh disease. We brainstorm how we'll do it differently next year and then we have to wait to give our ideas a try. Long suffering patience, for this average girl-farmer.

But, don't despair. With 120 vegetable varieties and 200 flower varieties, there's always something that does well. It always a good season for something.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Down The Aisle

This Week's CSA Harvest:

Zucchini and Summer squash
New Red Potatoes
Broccoli (for Tuesday. The Friday folks had some last week)
Napa Cabbage
Green onions

I've been brewing a post for awhile about weddings in my head. This year marks 10 years of marriage for John and me. Ironically, we met at a wedding (which we both-- uninvited- crashed). We didn't grow up dreaming of being in the wedding business. John thought he would be an artist. He says he didn't think too hard about it. I was a always going to be a farmer, but somewhere along the way, I also became a midwife. The wedding business, believe it or not, is very similar to the birth business in the sense that it is a huge exercise in walking people through their misplaced anxiety. Here are some observations:

1. When a woman would come to me pregnant, I would walk her through the process of growing a baby. Every visit, she would come with questions and concerns and preoccupations. Its a layering process. She would be worried about the size of the baby, will the baby fit, the labor, will she know its labor, the birth, will the baby fit, the pain. Hardly ever would a woman mention any concern about how she will be as a mother, how the baby will fit into her tidy life, how it will change her relationship. It's the same with weddings. I meet these sweet couples, and we focus on details and design. They stress about the linens, the menu, the favors. They never speak of the changes, the union to come, the life after the wedding.

2. When I take care of a woman in labor, she's not of herself, she's let go, making room for another love in her heart. This translates into a lot of terse comments for the time she's giving birth and then the clouds lift, the birds start singing and the sky is blue as she smiles and looks up and I would see that friend I met 9 months ago when she first stepped in to my office, finally holding the sweetest prize and all I can think about as I wipe the tears away (cause I cry at every birth and every wedding and every AT&T commercial from the 90's) is what an honor it is to be present to witness great love. With the wedding, we spend some time....maybe 9 months, maybe 6... (depends on if the couple is personality type A or B) planning, talking scheming. They often aren't thinking a lick about the marriage. The focus is on the large party with a union of family and friends that feels overwhelming at times. Sometimes, they get lost in the details, fraught with what I like to call their misplaced anxiety...focused on the single serving jam party favors and the perfect hemstitch napkins. But then, they process down the aisle, and, like birth, they make room, at some point as they're traveling to the altar, for another true love in their heart. The venue isn't important, the tent doesn't matter, the dress is second fiddle. As popular as the 15 minute wedding ceremony is in America, there is still something to it .... to the moment these two people open up and let the other one in for the long haul, with witness. That's what we're celebrating when we help folks have a wedding. We're celebrating the honor of being witness to the heart growing larger.

And, when we are lucky enough to make it just a little more beautiful with our flowers or just a little more comfortable at our farm or just a little easier because I had some effective comment during a phone meeting, the profoundness of what we are contributing to, the love we are supporting, is never lost on us. Even when we put the last drunk wedding guest from a wedding here at the farm on to a shuttle bus to head back to Portland for the afterparty, we often

embrace each other and laugh about how we ended up stumbling into the wedding business. We wonder if anyone met at the wedding who will later be married. We wonder if the flowers were just right. We wonder what can we do better next time to help each couple navigate the space between engagement and moment they stand in front of all those they love. Once the ceremony is over, the reception feels much like the time shortly after the birth, its just like the afterglow once the baby is in that momma's arms for the first time. A huge sigh of relief, a huge knowing moment between beings.  A cocktail and some tasty hors d'oeuvres help but mostly its the reality that you've committed to love, to knowing an open heart, to knowing a lasting union.

The honor of being present for this never gets old.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

In July

Sugar Snap Peas
Garlic Scapes
Red Stemmed Turnips

Some of the things on this week's harvest list for the CSA may be unfamiliar. Most of the share is best eaten raw this week. Which may work out well, given the warm temperatures. Sugar snap peas are meant to be eaten pod and all. They are picked at their peak of sugar content so the sweetness for a vegetable is unparalleled. The mizuna is an Asian green best eaten raw. It loves to be incorporated into salads or made into a slaw. It can be cooked, but anything beyond a wilted preparation comes out slimey. The red stemmed turnips are a spring turnip that is sweet and tender and can be eaten raw in a salad or as part of the mizuna cole slaw. You can roast the turnips as well. The strawberries....well shortcake is the quintessential 4th of July dessert so I guess you could say Mother Nature timed it well this year.

For those of you who are wondering, we will be harvesting and distributing produce on the 4th of July, which is this Friday. We will start distribution early, at 12:00, on Friday.

Mark your calendar for an evening of music and summer fun July 31st. We'll be hosting the Strangely Possibles. Bring a picnic, bring the family, bring some friends. Most importantly, bring your dancing shoes. There is no cost to join us for this mid-summer celebration. I'm sure Alex, one of the band  members of the Strangely Possibles, and a board member of the Scarborough Land Trust, who owns the property, will probably encourage you to make a donation to the Land Trust, which is always appreciated. It helps keep the barns looking spiffy and enables the land trust to preserve more properties, including the Benjamin Farm, on the other side of town.

 So, come on by and visit us this week. The stand is stocked with greens and berries and peas. There are flowers by the bucketful coming out of our fields. Its the season that gives back, here in Maine. And, I must say after that long winter, it feels so nice to be in July.

Blessings on the meal-

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Week Three and I Have No Good Excuses

This week marks our 3rd week of harvest for the CSA. And, we must offer our sincerest apologies for ignoring this medium to communicate with all of you about what's in each week's share.
But, I promise we'll keep you all posted from here on out.

Week 3
Napa Cabbage
Rainbow Chard
Hakurei Turnip (salad turnips meant to be eaten raw)
Garlic Scapes (a delicious spring garlic treat....the flowering part of the garlic plant)
And, maybe a small pint of strawberries

A note about the berries: We tried something new last summer when we planted the berries and it doesn't seem to have worked as well as our previous strategies. This translates into a smaller yield of berries this season than in past seasons and we apologize. We may not have weeks of those overflowing quarts for everyone this season. However, the good news is, next year's berries are planted, we went back to our old ways and everything is coming along nicely. We'll be overloaded with 2X as many berries as any other year next year. I know that doesn't help your shortcake and jam plans for this year, but....

A note about 4th of July: We will still be harvesting your CSA share on the 4th of July. Feel free to come as early as noon to collect your share if you have evening barbecue/fireworks plans. If you need to switch to Tuesday for travel reasons, just drop Stacy a line.

What's new at the farm....
We are in full tilt boogie over here with lots of new faces. Bread and Butter joined us this past weekend from our friend's at  Ten Apple Farm in Gray. They are Alpine dairy goats and full of love. They are living between the livestock barn and a paddock near the outhouses. Make sure you come say hello. Our summer camp kids are in charge of the goats, walking or carrying them back and forth to their paddock in the morning and afternoon. I think its going to be a wonderful union.

Babycakes, a little bull (male) calf,  was born to our dairy cow, Clementine, on June 9th. I took this little video on the afternoon of his birth.

She found her way to the bottom of the pasture and gave birth on the first really warm day in June. Everyone is doing well. They can be found grazing in the pasture or chewing cud in the barn. Clementine is producing crazy amounts of milk for us as a freshened cow. We are loaded with 4-5 gallons a day. Break out the Nesquik....its chocolate milk time all the time over here.

Flora convinced me she needed ducklings because her friend was getting some.

 We searched online and she decided on white crested as a breed. They look like my little old Jewish uncles with yellow fluff suits and little yamakas on their heads. They always seem to be dancing the hora around their swimming pool. When you mail order poultry, there is a minimum of 15 in an order to make sure they have each other's body heat to keep them warm. So, we have about 8 more ducks than we need. Anyone want some fluffy little Jewish uncles in yamakas dancing the hora in your kiddy pool this summer? The white crested breed is a dual purpose breed. Good for meat or eggs.

The turkey babies have arrived as well. There are 15 and as in previous years, we'll raise them up for Thanksgiving. In the fall, we'll offer a choose-your-own-turkey-and-learn-to-process-poultry class to folks who want a hand in where their bird comes from. It has been a wonderful class to teach and we always enjoy walking people through the experience.

And, the farm stand is open. We moved it out of the flower shop and into the back of the long barn where the CSA distribution occurs. It will be open M-Sat, 9-6 and stocked with flowers and produce. We don't set up the stand on Sundays, but you are always welcome to take a drive out to see the animals and walk the fields and trails.

We built a new produce washing area. We love it and are learning the flow of a new space.

The crew for the season is all here. Between the education crew, the field crew,the floral design ladies and everyone who's able to dance between all of these roles, we have 13 employees. Rafael and his son, Johnny are here with us for the summer from Puerto Rico, where they have a small coffee farm.

We don't count Flora on the payroll but she's mighty helpful and gets paid in ducklings.

Without all these hands, we would be helpless. We are forever thankful to our crew for their patience, sense of humor, and tenacity to get the job done.

Happy first week of summer!
Blessings on the meal-

 I'm pretty sure she's not eating vegetables in this picture....