Thursday, December 17, 2015

gardendwellers FARM and the Mawby's Year In Review

2015 was a year of learning for us!

The new year started off with a new look to the website.  Learning all about what people are looking for on the internet, how to catch their attention, and how to build a good looking and useful website took a lot of time, effort and a lot of 'supper table talks' among all three of us, but it happened and the new site went live without a hitch.
Check it out:

Very early in the spring, we  - especially Adam - started the journey of learning about sheep.  Adam is working hard to learn livestock so he can begin his own multi-species intensive grazing livestock operation. Millie took to her herding duties right off the bat and loved the little babies with all her heart.  As the year progressed, she learned some basic herding instinct and was great at letting us know when the sheep had escaped their fence.

He's been working with a rancher in our area for over two years now so he now has worked off 5 cows that have now been confirmed as pregnant.  His next step was to learn about sheep.  He began this learning exercise with two Kahtadin hair sheep bottle lambs.  Cute little things that at first were very needy but turned out to be a great asset in keeping down tall grass and weeds in areas where we don't like to mow and eventually ended up in the freezer so they are now feeding us over the winter. 

After the first two had gone off to the butcher, Adam decided it was time to start his flock for real and invested in three Kahtadin ewes.  They now peacefully graze off the back of the barn and share the inside of the barn with Millie. 

Speaking of Millie the barn dog - she too was on a learning journey this year.  She began her agility training early this year and by early summer had competed in several Agility Runs and Trials.  She does very well and is rock steady on all the obstacles however she isn't really built for speed (being built more like a Sherman tank than a missile) and didn't qualify in the trials.  Nonetheless, she had a great time and having a working dog with a busy mind is a thing of beauty.

The next thing we learned was that the Cedar Wax Wing birds will eat honeyberries - which we knew - but what we didn't know was that they would eat them while they were still green and rock hard!  So after watching the honeyberries bloom and hoping for a big harvest, it was surprising to find not a single berry when I did go out to cover them with netting - you can bet it went on the calendar to cover them up earlier next year!  Below is a photo of last year's crop.

Next our learning journey took us into the world of hazelnuts.  After years of waiting and hoping for a hazelnut crop, we were finally rewarded.  Hazelnuts form catkins the prior fall and then pollinate the flowers in the spring.  The flowers are almost microscopic little red filaments that come out pretty early in the year and are difficult to see unless you look very closely.    AAWWW, there was hope after all!

There were not tons of nuts, but enough to get an ice cream pail full.  The question was how to know when they were ripe?  When to pick them?  How to care for these crazy looking things in the greenish husk once you picked them?  We did a lot of research and some trial and error and finally learned to leave the ones on the ground - they're empty shells, pick them when they are still in a green husk, dry them in an oast until the husks fall off and then leave them to 'ripen' longer before shelling, toasting, and eating. 

Next was experience with a new vegetable.  In anticipation of our first Farm to Table Dinner at our Esmond/Fillmore location, we wanted to try something new and unusual - and that's exactly what we got!  Rat Tail Radishes are an above ground pod in the radish family that is crunchy and crisp and has a mild radish, peppery flavor to it.  They are great on sandwiches and quick pickled.  Although we learned that actually pickling them in the traditional way doesn't work as well as they lose their crunchy texture and get mushy.  We also learned that they are extremely prolific!  They bloom and produce pods in even the hottest temperatures and continue through most of the summer.  By the time the Farm to Table Dinner rolled around, our three little 3 feet rows produced more than enough for a huge bowl to feed all of our guests.

Which leads us to the dinner itself.  We have done farm dinners before but had not had one here at the Esmond/Fillmore location so with the installation of the restroom last fall, it was definitely time.  We were blessed with almost 50 of the nicest guests and the best food you can source from the area.  Chef Ken came all the way from St. Cloud, MN to help us cook and Amber Jaeger, our summer right hand gal, helped in serving.  We had the BEST weather and the backdrop provided by the newly harvested wheat field was the perfect setting.  Holding the dinner here helped us learn all the in's and out's of the logistic for our location and will make future event planning very smooth indeed.

Then it was time to learn about our hops.  We've always grown a few hops but used them mostly for decoration.  We have installed three different varieties and are growing them up using a teepee method.  Our first real harvest was this year and although it was a small one, it was enough for us to truly learn how to test for moisture content before and after harvest, how to properly dry and store them after harvest, and what to look for as far as quality is concerned.  Barry and I built an oast - which is a fancy hops name for a huge dehydrator - which was another learning opportunity.  It came out quite well and we're pretty proud of it - especially since it works well for not only the hops, but also the hazelnuts and large batches of herbs.  We'll be using our hops this winter to play with a new product line for the farm - so watch for it and if  you're one of the lucky chosen few, we may even invite you over to be a 'test subject' for the new product!

Late in the fall it was time to butcher the old laying hens (who had been residing with the sheep since the replacement laying hens arrived in September).  I had never butchered a chicken before so this was a new one.  Since they were old and we knew they would not have much meat on them, we decided to just skip the whole plucking routine and skin them out to be used for chicken stock.  Thankfully the ordeal went well with no torture or prolonged suffering to our dear old birds.  Millie, who was put in the barn during this process, was a bit confused as to where her chickens were but after a day or so she stopped looking for them.  She had become very attached to her chickens and she actually herds chickens better than sheep.  Luckily the new chickens were there to fill the void. 

Late fall found us learning about my new 'tool', the apple press.  We had enough apples from our orchard, which is still quite young, to press a batch of juice.  Adam helped to crush and press the juice from the apples which I then pasteurized and bottled without any sugar.  It is delicious! I had never pressed apples before and I had never used the fresh juice to bottle either so it was a grand experiment that turned out great.  I can't wait to have a whole stockpile of it in the pantry in years to come as the apple trees begin to produce more and more.  All in, we have about 20 apples trees that will give us juice and hard cider in the future and this press, which was a present from tall, dark, and handsome last winter will make the job fun.

Lastly in the year came the learning that was a bit harder.  All summer we had struggled with the heat and drought and having enough water to get all the crops soaked up as they should be.  Late this fall we had the opportunity to dig a new well so we took it.  The new well was dug not 10 feet from the old well but deeper.  At first, we were really excited as it looked like we would have all the water we ever wanted, needed, and more; and it's true, we do have lots of water.  However, the happy was soon replaced with unhappy as we realized that the new water is not good.  The old well was crystal clear and the water analysis was beautiful for crops and household use.  We never needed a softener, filter, or other device and the water never left stains in any appliance or sink.  The new well = lets just say it is a challenge.  The water is very hard, full of minerals, has a lot of sediment in it, and tastes horrible, which for me - who drinks four bottles every day - is a tough one to take.   We're still working on figuring out how to make this work for us, and I have no doubt we'll figure it out, but still right now it kind of feels like a $7,000 mistake.

We also learned that when you do what we do - it's tough to get others to see things the same way.  With low interest rates, we thought it might be good to refinance the house to get a shorter term on our mortgage and be able to pay off the house quicker.  We began the process with our bank - who we have been loyal to for 16 years.  They are great to work with, however, the hold up was the appraisal.  In this part of North Dakota, appraisers are difficult to come by and you need to wait months to get one.  After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, the appraiser came and unfortunately - deemed our land 'commercial' because of the way we grow and package our products.  She was unwilling to split off the residence from the areas we use for growing and packaging our products and she was unwilling to designate it 'split use' or 'farm'.  This meant that after months of waiting and hoping - we were unable to refinance as you can't get a home mortgage on a commercial property.  We were pretty disappointed but we did learn things through the process.  Now with interest rates going up, I doubt we'll try again anytime soon but when we do - we know what to say, do, and how to approach it, to make sure the appraisal goes well. 

At the end of the year, when all was tallied and counted, gardendwellers FARM had their best year yet.  We harvested more herbs, delivered more product, served more grocery stores and restaurants, had more events, greeted more visitors, did more demonstrations than ever before. 

We want to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and a safe and joyous Holiday Season! Thanks for a great year.
Barry, Holly, Adam, Ida, Millie, the sheep and chickens.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Eating Seasonally

Just because we are a fresh herb company, doesn't mean that eating our fresh herbs stops for gardendwellers FARM when the frost takes the basil.  There are some herbs that are down right cold hardy, and this warm weather has us eating fresh herbs straight from the field even in December.

As an example, thyme is downright evergreen and with the right conditions it can be picked throughout most of the winter. 
Yesterday I made a wonderful soup with just a few ingredients.  Thyme is the main character in this one along with carrots - those wonderful root vegetables that last forever in our cold storage room.
All you're going to need for this one is the following ingredients:
8 large carrots - which is relative I know.  What's a large carrot in the grocery store is not a large carrot from our garden, so I only used 6 of our 'giants' and the soup worked fine.  The majority of large carrots for us this year were of a variety that had red skin on the outside and were orange on the inside so I knew that the soup would have that wonderful orange color.
You'll also need one onion.
You'll also need a nice little bunch of thyme.  I went right out to the field and picked the thyme I used.  You can see that in the winter, with the cooler weather, the thyme takes on a darker color and the stems turn a reddish or purplish color.  Wash your thyme and then tie it into a nice little bundle with a piece of string.
Peel and course chop the onion and begin to sauté it with 2 or 3 tablespoons of butter.  
Chop the carrots into thin slices.
When the onion in the butter has softened a little, add the carrots, your thyme bundle, a little salt, a little pepper and 32 ounces of chicken broth or stock.

Now sit back with a good book, do some laundry, or gather your chicken eggs while all of this simmers for a while.  It will take at least a half an hour but I like to let it go for longer until the carrots are nice and soft.

Then remove the thyme bundle and either run the whole mixture through your food processor or use an immersion blender to pure' it until its nice and smooth. 

I then put it back on the stove and add just a little (about a quarter of a cup) sour cream just to bring out the flavors and add another dimension to the soup.  This soup can be served warm or cold but I prefer it warm topped with some chopped parsley for garnish and added flavor.

Isn't it beautiful?  Winter stored carrots, especially ones you grew yourself are sweet and tasty and the thyme and parsley add just the right amount of flavor without overpowering the carrots.

Growing carrots doesn't have to be back breaking work either.  We grow all of our carrots in a bed raised to waist high.  The box is only 10 inches deep and filled with wonderfully soft, rich, compost.  Each year we get all the carrots we need for our little family of three without having to break our backs with a shovel digging them all out.

This is just a small selection of the carrots we harvest from our little bed.

Once dug, we wash them lightly and place them in plastic totes with lids and store them in our cold cellar for the winter.  They will last until spring for us.

Winter is the time to eat these and other wonderful root crops and long storing vegetables like squash and pumpkin and with the cold hardy herbs like thyme and winter savory you can add flavor to make wonderful winter dishes!

Here's the soup recipe in a nutshell:

Carrot Thyme Soup
8 large carrots - chopped into thin slices
one large onion
2 Tablespoons butter
one bundle of thyme (about 2 ounces), washed and tied with a string
32 ounces of chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
parsley to garnish if desire
1/4 cup sour cream - optional

Melt butter in a soup pot over medium heat.  Add onion and sauté until almost soft.  Add carrots, tied thyme bundle, salt, pepper and stock.  Simmer until carrots are soft - about 30 minutes.  Remove the thyme bundle.  Puree the soup with an immersion blender or food processor. If desired add the sour cream and stir in until smooth. Garnish each bowl with chopped parsley or a dollop of softened butter.

This recipe is from the cookbook: From Asparagus to Zucchini and was originally submitted to the cookbook by Pat Cook, Neenah Creek Inn and Pottery and Madison WI. Herb Society.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Season's End

The 2015 harvest season has now officially concluded. 
In all, we officially harvested and delivered 171 pounds to restaurants and individuals and 552 pounds to grocery stores for a total of 723 pounds of herbs, that's 8,832 individual one ounce packages and 173 bags for a total of 9,005 packages of herbs this year! In all, we harvested 800 pounds of herbs this year (that includes the amounts we over-picked or picked and did not sell). 

Doing what we do is not easy, but it is rewarding.  I can't think of any job that smells as good as what we do.  It's a LOT of work but we do it with LOVE and have some fun along the way.  It takes time and diligence to follow the health and safety rules that keep our customers and product safe but it is SO worth it. 

Now it is time to do the things that come when harvest concludes, cleaning out the fields, adding compost, preparing for next year by making notes on what went right and wrong this season, planning for facilities upgrades like new plastic on the high tunnel or screens for the high tunnel to assist with grasshopper control.  It's time to put things to bed...and maybe, if I get time...clean the house really well for the first time since spring. 

Since what we do is work with herbs, and most people only purchase or use one two packages at a time, it doesn't seem like it would take a lot to accomplish, but when you put out over 9,000 of those little buggers over a 14 week season, it is work.  Granted, we're not hauling around tomatoes or squash or other heavy veggies, but it's still back breakingly long days.  We'd like to share with you what it takes to get our product from field to customer on harvest days so we've put together this little video.  We hope you enjoy it. 

And thanks again for all of your support, good wishes, words of encouragement, and feedback throughout the year.

Barry, Holly, and Adam

Friday, August 28, 2015

After the Dinner

Overall, our first Farm to Table Dinner in our new location turned out quite well.  A good time was had by all.

We had the perfect weather for the evening with a slight breeze to keep the mosquito's away and it was warm but not too hot.  Our backdrop, as provided by our neighbors the Jaegers, was a beautifully harvested wheat field with the golden straw and bales showing off their fall color in the setting sunlight.

Aaron Hill, from Fargo Brewing  Company, was an excellent co-host for the evening and did a fabulous job of teaching us all about the great microbrews from their business.

We were able to perfectly pair these wonderful microbrews with some GREAT food sourced from North Dakota producers and businesses and that made it all the more special.

The first course of the dinner, the appetizer, was pizza.  Guests had three pizza's to try out.  The first was a lemon basil marinated chicken pizza on a BBQ sauce sourced from Oakes, ND - Dad's Ropin' Good BBQ sauce.  We had to search long and hard and do more than a little begging to get our hands on this no longer made sauce, but MMMM, MMM, MMM, was it worth it!  The second pizza was a pesto sauce, made with the pesto recipe on our website, topped with garden ripened tomatoes from Jerry's Gardens - Jerry Harmel of Rugby - and mozzarella cheese.  And last, but certainly not least, was the lamb pizza.  Several people were unsure of eating lamb and it was interesting to see after the first round of serving how much lamb pizza was leftover, but it wasn't long before people started coming back for seconds and thirds of the lamb pizza and before we knew it not only was it gone but people were demanding the recipe.  Which, by the way, is now posted on our website on the main dishes recipes page. 

It worked out well that opposite the view of the fantastic straw bale field was a view of Adam's sheep and with so many people asking questions about the lamb, we had Adam take a few minutes away from cooking to explain about his fabulous 'hair' sheep, the Katahdin's. One of them is visible in the photo below in the lower right hand corner of the picture, along with two of our 'free range' hens.

The next course was a little surprise as well.  Along with a great herbed salad with pistachios and pepitas, we served apple bobs dressed with a yummy lime cilantro sauce.  This was another item people came back for seconds and thirds on. 

The main course, the beef kabobs made with grass fed beef marinated in an herbed marinade turned out perfectly grilled by Adam and Chef Ken and the colors of the peppers from local producers made it just as lovely to look at as to eat.

The kabobs were served with two sides that also brought a lot of interest to the dinner and were items that few guests had experienced before this evening.  We planted some rat tail radishes this year and found them to be the perfect snack with beer when quick pickled and along with those, our 'Pea Currant' cherry tomatoes made the best red/green combination!

The final course of the evening, as described to me by one of the guests, was 'life changing'!  Stephanie's gingerbread cake, made of course with the darkest molasses, local honey, local eggs, dark brown sugar and Fargo Brewing Company Sodbuster Porter beer, then served with that same beer and topped with Pride Dairy vanilla ice cream - was literally the grand finale'!

Photo above courtesy of Christie Jaeger
A good time was had by everyone and we certainly enjoyed having them all with us!
Even as the sun was setting on this perfect evening, people enjoyed the food, farm, fun, and new friendships made with everyone at our Farm to Table Dinner.
It's been one week since your 2015 Farm to Table Dinner and Social and I think we're finally all cleaned up.  This past week has been a true roller coaster ride!  We were in the middle of clean up when we received a call from our Grand Forks Hugo's stores wanting an additional delivery of herbs as they had placed them on sale and they needed more!  It made for a very hectic Saturday and put some of the clean up chores on hold.  Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday it was back to the hectic pace of harvesting, packaging, and deliveries. Then yesterday, we were in Grand Forks to showcase our herbs by doing a demo at the Hugo's store on 32nd and doing some radio spots to highlight our products.
Back at home today we just finished cleaning, washing, and putting away all the utensils and other items from the dinner and updating the website with all the recipe's we used. 
We're very thankful to everyone that attended the dinner.  We hope you had as much fun as we did!  And...we hope to see you again next year!
Remember to look on our website: on the recipes pages for all of the instructions on how to recreate this great food in your own kitchens and
Live Life Well Seasoned!
  Barry, Holly and Adam