Independent Thoughts

(Originally posted on July 4th, 2010)
Today is the Fourth of July, our nation’s celebration of independence from Great Britain. Our course we all know that what we celebrate is the declaration, not the actual fact. Independence was only achieved after a long hard war.

Farming has a lot to do with being independent. Many see family farming and small farmers as the final frontier in the struggle for independence. I used to think this was a lonely venture, to be trod in relative solitude. No more.

This year I have discovered that many people want to stake a claim to freedom that is found in the economics of the small homestead farm. We have had the most amazing number of volunteers turn up at our farm-gate, wanting to learn how to feed themselves. I’m witnessing a small revolution, one that is centered on the gift of good land and all that it implies in our lives.

This year, the 4th fell on a Sunday. And so it is appropriate to acknowledge that freedom is ultimately a gift from the Creator, and we are blessed with the ability to choose how we use that freedom. What my volunteers are teaching me this year is that many are using that freedom to help others and grow themselves in ways that only a connection to the creation, and ultimately the Creator, can. I do not know what the future has in store for this country. I do know that the liberty of freedom is coupled with the burden of responsibility – to each other and to our gift of good land. JB

Its About Time

(Originally posted April 4th, 2010)
Its all about time. Time to till the ground, get the plants in the ground, make preparation for the new year that is hard on us. Its about time – making the best use of it when there doesn’t seem to be enough, taking time to think and plan, and making work count.

Spring is here, and all the winter farming is put aside for the real world of soil, sweat, and sunburn. As a farmer, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

JB

Work From The Heart

(Originally posted July 16th, 2009)
There’s alot that is right in this world. The fact that only bad news sells (or so they say) distorts my view of the world many times. This week, my family and I experienced something that seldom gets air time, but is so powerful that it could, and probably is, turning the world “right side up.”

On Monday, July 13, 29 high school and college age kids, along with 6 adult leaders, stepped off a bus at the end of our drive and walked right into our lives. They were in Calvert County, MD for a week, part of a group of 250 teens participating in Catholic Heart Work Camp. We had been expecting them for the last six weeks, so I had my “To Do” list in hand when they walked up the hill. I expected kids that would spend some time working, and I expected to get some things accomplished. They did and I did.

Our bank barn was painted – a back breaking four day project. The fields were completly weeded and mulched. Drip irrigation was run, beans were picked (twice), tomatoes picked (twice), potatoes, cucumbers, etc, all picked and ready for our customers. One group backed the CSA shares on Tuesday and Thursday. Another group installed a new barbed wire fence and learned all about pain.

Still others worked around the houses and pulled weeds, demolished our rotted wood fence, and moved the bunny hutch. In the meantime, I was learning names and getting to know a wonderful group of people. They were not here just to punch their public service card; they were here to live Christ.

On Thursday afternoon, their last day with us, I took them for a wagon ride to the back part of our farm, the scenic part with all the woods, water, and animals. We talked about farming, stewardship of God’s creation, and the need for smart farmers. And I also shared how they had been an answer to our prayers.

We went to the closing program at St. John Vianney’s and sat with our group of kids. We heard stories from other people who had had teams work on their houses or businesses. Patty and I lauded our team, and I truly think they had to have been the best of the best.

Afterward, we gathered for the last time outside the Family Life Center, hugged, cried, laughed, and promised to keep in touch. There’s not one of these people that I wouldn’t invite back. And quite frankly, Patty and I would adopt them all. The work they did was great, but the real joy in this was getting to know who they are and what they are about. While this story may never make the headlines of the paper, we will never forget the impact it made in our lives. JB

Earth Day

(Originally posted April 24th, 2009)
I spent Earth Day with some of the best people on this planet. They were not fancy, and hardly any of them would consider themselves to be activists, or even environmentalists. I passed the day without any real thought to doing something “special” for the Earth, and I’m okay with that. I spent April 22 at an auction with several hundred of my bretheren, talking about farming, bidding on equipment, eating good food, and generally enjoying the company of farmers. My wife had her own bidder number and spent a few hours under the tent, looking over things for the house. I walked around with by best friend, who now lives in NY, catching up on his 11 children and the current state of the dairy business.

I have absolutely no guilt about missing Earth Day. Nor did any of the others at this auction. Caring for the earth is something of a full time job for me. I know Earth Day is nothing more than a PR campaign. Its not as if 1 day is going to set to right the other 364. But perhaps it is at least a moment to consider the possibilities of reforming those other days in order to better our planetary nest.

I prefer to think of myself and our guiding principle here at The Lamb’s Quarter in terms of conservationism rather than environmentalism. A conservationist is someone involved in actually taking care of what is their’s to take care of; an environmentalist is someone involved in the act of telling someone else how to take care of it.

I’ll take a plain farmer any day over a concrete-pounding activist.

Subtle Shifts Amidst Green Plants

(Originally posted on April 20th, 2009)
I just heard the most amazing thing on the radio – Monsanto is a sustainable farming company. It’s true; they told me so. The biotechnology giant has once again given new meaning to painting shades of grey. Of course, their view of sustainable agriculture centers upon their own corporate sustainability by creating “frankenfoods” (that the majority of the world doesn’t want), to be sprayed with their trademark “Roundup,” creating weeds that cannot be killed, and giving us food that is poisoning rats in Scottish test studies. It was Monsanto to gave the dairy industry rBGH/rBST, the synthetic growth hormone that many dairy farmers used to boost production in their cows. Cows went from 5-7 lactations or more down to 3 or fewer. The consumer rebelled, and now its hard to give away milked produced by using rBGH.

The fact that a company like Monsanto would try to pirate the term “sustainable” should not surprise anyone. Monsanto is certainly not the first to attempt subtle shifts in the meaning of words, and quite frankly, both the left and the right are guilty of language manipulation. Unfortunately, modern culture makes this task all too easy. Put some glitz and spin on something, turn it just a little to the side, and most people will never notice. We can put a person into space, but can’t figure when we’re being hoodwinked by the PR machine.

I just had to endure the annual visitation of our bishop. I saw firsthand how concepts that are fixed in scripture can be spun into new meanings that completely gut the original definition. By the end of the day, the unsuspecting thought all our troubles could be solved by group hugs, social activism, and marches. An incredible dumbing down of the basic teachings of Christ.

So what does this have to do with farming? Part of being involved in authentic sustainable agriculture is honesty. Honest work, honest food, honest living. It’s the honest food part that grabs most people and makes them want more. Whole food (no, not the hyped-up store) has always been in style. Processed foods are a lot like the PR machine that sells them – a lot of calories without a lot of nutrition. Quick and easy is seldom the path to success in any venue – nature is simply not made to work that way.

Slow is what we have this spring, as the temperatures warm up ever so slowly, leaving us wondering about harvest timing and succession plantings. We have put the row covers on to warm up the soil, and we continue to seed and work in the greenhouse. We have outgrown of current propogation greenhouse, and have ordered a 16×48 replacement.

In a world of confusing words, and subtle shifts in meaning, the key is to listen attentively to what is being said – and what isn’t. Thinking, like farming, is not an armchair sport.

Zucchini Pie

1 cup sugar
½ stick margarine (I prefer butter)
1 heaping Tablespoon flour
3 eggs
1 tsp coconut flavor
1 tsp lemon flavor
1 cup grated zucchini
1 unbaked pie crust

Mix together everything except the pie crust. Pour into the pie crust and bake for 45 minutes at 350*

Zucchini Crisp

10 cups zucchini, peeled, seeded and sliced (slices should resemble apples for apple pie)
2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
½ cup lemon juice
1 ½ cup water
Topping:
12 T. butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp. salt

Place the first 5 ingredients in a pot on the stovetop. Bring to a boil and then simmer lightly for 10 minutes. While this is simmering, mix together the topping ingredients until crumbly. Pour the zucchini mix into an ungreased 13x 9 pan. Sprinkle the topping mix over the top. Bake in a preheated 350* oven for 45 minutes.

Watermelon Rind Preserves

1 ½ quarts prepared watermelon rind
4 tablespoons salt
2 quarts cold water
1 tablespoon ginger
4 cups sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
1 ½ quarts water
½ cup thinly sliced lemon
(about 1 medium)

To prepare watermelon rind: Trim green skin and pink flesh from thick watermelon rind; cut into 1-inch pieces. Dissolve salt in 2 quarts water and pour over rind. Let stand 5-6 hours. Drain; rinse and drain again. Cover with cold water and let stand 30 minutes. Drain. Sprinkle ginger over rind; cover with water; and cook until fork-tender. Drain.
Combine sugar, lemon juice and 1 ½ quarts water in a large sauce pot. Boil 5 minutes; add rind and boil gently for 30 minutes or until syrup thickens. Add sliced lemon and cook until the melon rind is transparent. Pack hot into hot jars, leaving ¼-inch head space. Remove air bubbles. Adjust caps, process 20 minutes in boiling water bath.
Yield: about 6 half pints

Eggplant Ratatouille

Cook Time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
1 large onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 small eggplant, cubed
2 green bell peppers, coarsely chopped
4 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped, or 2 cans (14.5 ounces each) diced tomatoes
3 to 4 small zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 teaspoon dried leaf basil
1/2 teaspoon dried leaf oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried leaf thyme
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Preparation:

In a 4-quart Dutch oven or saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and onions and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 6 to 7 minutes. Add eggplant; stir until coated with oil. Add peppers; stir to combine. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep vegetables from sticking.
Add tomatoes, zucchini, and herbs; mix well. Cover and cook over low heat about 15 minutes, or until eggplant is tender but not too soft.
Serves 4.

Eggplant Parmesan

The “Who Needs All That Breading”
Eggplant Parmesan Recipe

1 ½ to 2 lbs. eggplant, peeled and sliced ¼ inch
½ cup parmesan (Sheep milk Romano is wonderful in this)
2+ cups shredded mozzarella
1 ½ -2 cups pasta sauce (***see note below)
This is too easy! Really! Spray a 13×9 pan with oil. Layer the bottom with eggplant slices. Using ¼ cup parmesan, place some on each slice. Using about ¾ cup mozzarella, put some on each slice of eggplant in the pan. Now put enough pasta sauce on each eggplant to almost cover them.
Now repeat what you just did so that each eggplant becomes a small stack. Basically use up all of your ingredients except about a ½ cup mozzarella, but keep them tidy in each stack. End your eggplant stack with a touch of sauce. Bake at 350* for 35 minutes. Sprinkle the last ½ cup of mozzarella on top and place back in your oven for 5 minutes.
This is a nice eggplant parm that doesn’t have all of that breading to distract from the taste if the veggies, cheese, and sauce. Because they are in nice neat little stacks, they can be placed in a freezer container and frozen. They need only to thaw and be warmed to be enjoyed. If you freeze them, scrape every last bit of sauce into you containers so there will be plenty of extra moisture.
*** Note on pasta sauce for “Foodies” and those who are in more of a hurry than “Foodies”. True foodies wouldn’t think of using anything other than homemade sauce. Go for it! There are zillions of ways to make incredible pasta sauces and every food loving cook that I know can recite many of their favorites. I’ve been known to share a word or two about sauces. People seem to be really busy these days and there are many who would prefer to open a jar of sauce. I can wholeheartedly recommend a product by Muir Glen. Their Cabernet sauce cannot be equaled in this recipe. It is an awesome sauce, and it works a special magic with the eggplant. While this line of products is generally found in big, organic stores, I have been able to find it here in Calvert County. Yes, it is more expensive than regular sauce in a jar, but it is definitely worth using in this recipe.