Saturday, May 26, 2012

Goodbye Grandma Roberta!

Today my family will honor the woman who played a huge part in my ability to be farming today and a very very large reason the Ebey's Landing National Historic Reserve exists today.  My grandmother Roberta Mae Smith (Haegar).
Grandmother Roberta passed away earlier this week.  She was 94.
My grandmother was a young woman of just 54 when my grandfather Knight passed away suddenly in 1970.  Then, within a year, his brother George died.  This left my grandmother and her sister-in-law Maryon crippled not only with the debt of our family's Ebey's Prairie farm, but huge inheritance taxes as well.
Struggling with how to pay the bills, many widows would have simply cut their losses, sold the land and moved on.  But my grandmother refused to "lose the family farm" which had been in the family since the last 1800s.  So ensued many years of struggle.  She traveled to Alaska and drove a bus on the pipeline to make some quick cash.  At one point, the farm went on the "auction block" but Grandma was able to buy it back on the courthouse steps.  Eventually, my grandmother and Maryon hatched a plan to develop along the west, top side of the prairie.  Sell lots to pay off their bills and keep the rest of the farm.
And that sparked the property rights battle that eventually ended in the creation of the Ebey's Landing National Historic Reserve.
The Smith Farm was the iconic "heart" of the reserve and, I hope, remains so to this day.  My grandmother Roberta was vilified by some as being an attempted "developer" of the reserve.  That always pissed me off.  Although yes, that could have been what happened, Roberta was certainly not looking at the prairie as a potential cash cow.  She was merely trying to survive.  I remind people that when her husband and brother-in-law first died, and the tax man was waiting impatiently and there was no solution at the time on the table for the federal government to buy our farm land and keep it forever in farming.  That came many stressful years down the road. Roberta's goal had simply been to just not loose the farm. Even if some of it had to be sold to save the rest.  And this, of course, is why we have lost so so so much great farmland in this country.  Because farmers have to pay their bills in the end too.  And so an acre here, an acre there....until it is more concrete and suburbia than fields and dirt.
We are lucky that the solution found for central Whidbey was so much grander and broader.  My grandmother lived to the end of her days thrilled to see the land still in production, the many visitors to the reserve enjoying it's great beauty and the fact that, strangely enough, her eldest granddaughter felt the undeniable allure of farming and returned back to the 20 acres we still owned on Ebey's Prairie and well, started growing a few things.  And because the prairie WAS saved back in the 1970s (back when I was just a young girl), I started farming in a community that supported agriculture, with farming neighbors and surrounded by not just our beautiful farmland, but all the farmland of the prairie which is now (mostly) without developmental rights.  I tell people all the time that I'm very lucky because, unlike most young folks who want to farm today, when I decided to farm I had easy access to amazing, fertile farmland and the structure and resources to support that crazy dream.  In that wouldn't be the case if it hadn't been for Roberta Mae.
So today, we honor a lady who, if she hadn't been determined to save her family farm, wouldn't have ended up saving land that so many today find invaluable.  We love you Grandma!
Meanwhile...of course, the veggies march on.  So while I'm at services, my fabulous crew will be at the Coupeville and Bayview markets.  Bringing a great selection for a beautiful weekend.  Here goes....
From Willowood:
* Mesclun mix
* Arugula
* Head Lettuce
* Braising greens
* Broccoli Raab
* Radishes
* Garlic Scapes
* Walla Walla Spring Onion bunches
* Kale
* Peregion Beans
* Rockwell Beans
* Rhubarb
From Prairie Bottom Farm:
* Chard
* Herbs
* Beets
* Limelight Beans
From Mikey at Whidbey Green Goods (Bayview Market only):
* Cauliflower
* Basil
* Cucumber
* Meat!
* Golden Beets
* Broccoli
Also grains from Georgina and emmer from Ebey Road Farm.
Hope to see you there!
Farmer Georgie
Willowood Farm of Ebey's Prairie

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Radishes, radishes and more radishes!

Update on Little Brown Farm....less than 3 days to go to fund their kickstarter project to build a cheese aging room and store to hold cheesemaking classes.  Right here on Whidbey!  And our community can make this happen, that's how kickstarter works! They only need a bit over $5000 to fund, nearly 3/4s of the way there! If you haven't pledged please check it out.  And share with anybody you can think of! Here at Willowood Farm we can offer the highest recommendation for Little Brown Farm - for their care of their animals, for their dedication to the farm, for their insane talents in amazing cheese-making.

So...this weather has been nice and all but here at the farm we sure could use a bit of rain.  Crazy, right?  Especially since while one half of the farm is becoming bone dry and new young plants are frying, we still have another half of the farm with standing ponds from all that rain in March and April.  If we could just move the water from one side to the other...Actually, we are working on that but it will involve a lot of money which we are working on figuring on how we can come up with but, in the meantime, have to get the crops we are going alive.  So, welcome to farming! 
Nonetheless, despite the frustrations, it is still the best job in the world!  And one of the best things?  Enjoy the crops as they come into season.  Right now it is RADISH season.  As is not uncommon in the spring, we planted 2 rotations of radishes about 3 weeks apart and the first one grew slow (cooler weather) and the second one grew fast (warmer weather) and so they were both mature at the exact same time!  Which means we are literally swarming in radishes.
Or more specifically French Breakfast Radishes.  After years of growing assorted radishes I've narrowed it down to pretty much the French Breakfast Radish.  Why?  Cuz it's the best!  A beautiful raspberry red with a white tip, elongated "icicle" type heirloom radish from (if you haven't figured it out) France, I have never understood why the "breakfast" part in the name til I found the recipe for "Honey Drizzled French Breakfast Radish Tartines."  Made it for our weekly lunch meeting yesterday.  Super yum and strangely enough, I can definitely see eating them for breakfast.  They have just the right juxtaposition of sweet, creamy and crunchy.

Honey Drizzled French Breakfast Radish Tartines
·      Willowood Farm French Breakfast radishes
·      Swede Hill Rye Bread from Treetop Baking
·      Italian mascarpone or any soft spreadable slightly sweet white cheese
·      Island Apiaries Honey

Slice and half rye bread.  Spread generous layer of cheese on bread.  Spread a single layer of thinly cut radishes on top of cheese.  Drizzle with honey.  Enjoy!

Of course, we have more goodies for market today as well, including...
* Baby Head Lettuce (first picking of the year!)
* Mesclun (Bayview only)
* Rhubarb
* Japanese Turnips
* Mustard Stir-fry Bunches
* Peregion Dry Beans
* Rockwell Dry Beans
And from Prairie Bottom Farm we have...
* Chard
* Kale
* Onion bunches
* Herbs
* Braising Greens
* Arugula
* Cress
* Limelight Beans
Mikey from Whidbey Green Goods is bringing (Bayview only)....
* Asparagus
* Basil
* Cauliflower
* Cucumbers
* Pearl Onions
And we have Emmer Farro from Ebey Road Farm and wheat, barley and Kamut from Georgina's Grains!  
Hope to see you at market!
Farmer Georgie
Willowood Farm of Ebey's Prairie

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A very local Whidbey Island Mother's Day Menu

So every once in a while I slow down a bit to think about how to combine all the great food we grow on the farm and all the great food I get from my local Whidbey farmers.  This weekend, with Mother's Day and all, and the sun shining and the food growing, is inspiring my taste buds.  And this is the menu I'm thinking about....

* Spring Asian Greens Frittata with blooming Pea Vines
* Rhubarb Bread drizzled with Island Apiaries honey
* Locally made sausage (or bacon!)
* Amazing secret Mother's Day chevre from Little Brown Farm (she's been posting on her facebook page but won't say what it is to make us come see for ourself!  Naughty cheese maker!)
* French breakfast radishes (cuz my mom loves radishes!)
* A scrumptious dessert treat from Treetop Baking

Yukina Savoy Tatsoi.  Yum Yum!
Granted...I've got some shopping to do this morning from Little Brown Farm for the cheese and the dessert from Treetop and the honey from Island Apiaries. All of those you can find at today at the Bayview Farmer's Market or alternatively, Bayleaf stores in Coupeville and Oak Harbor are both smart enough to carry Little Brown Farm and Treetop goodies and I think Island Apiaries too (Beth is the queen when it comes to getting only the best in her shop!).  For the sausage (or bacon! I haven't decided yet!), I'm going to stop by Scotty's Farm to Market shop in Freeland.  Scotty has a SERIOUS selection of awesome local meats for sale and the sausage I've gotten from his in the past has been AMAZING!  (like I ate almost a whole pack myself, oops). 
The frittata veggies, eggs and rhubarb for the bread, however, I can source most of that direct from the farm. Or for you folks, come by and see us today at the Coupeville or Bayview farmer's market.  Here's how I'm thinking I'll do it....
First the frittata.  This is a basic frittata recipe.  Make sure to have a spatula, whisk and an oven-proof skillet (preferably cast-iron). 
  • eggs (anywhere from three, for a small frittata, to seven, for a large frittata)
  • salt (sea salt is preferred)
  • pepper
  • milk (optional)
  • oil or butter (to prevent sticking)
  • Cheese, grated.  We prefer Little Brown Farm's capriezella.  About 1/4 to 1/2 cup.
Now that you have the ingredients and the equipment, get to work!
  1. Mix the eggs, salt, and pepper together in a bowl or cup with a whisk or fork until thoroughly mixed. I like to add a splash of milk for taste and consistency. Experiment with this to find your own preference.
  2. Turn on the cooktop to medium heat. Put the oil or butter into the cast iron skillet and place the skillet on the cooktop. Spread the oil or butter around, then add the egg mixture.
  3. Preheat the broiler to high heat. And sprinkle in the cheese mixture. 
  4. Next, take the skillet off the cooktop and place it in the oven under the broiler. Broil for a few minutes, until the top just starts to brown and bubble.
  5. Remove the skillet from the oven with an oven mitt. Careful! The skillet handle will be very hot!
But I'm going to take that and into step two, BEFORE I add the egg mixture I'm going to throw in some amazing greens and stuff.  I'm gonna chop up first some garlic greens and scallions and brown them in the oil/butter.  Once they are soft, I'm going to chop up in fairly small pieces some Tatsoi, some Baby Pac Choi, some Ruby Streaks mustard and throw that into the mix.  About 2 cups worth for our frittata for 6 folks is about right I think.  I'm going to cook that on medium low heat (make sure not to burn) and once they are soft I will make sure to pour off any extra liquid that might have come out of the greens, a bit more butter and oil so the eggs don't stick, and add in my eggs. 
Then....once the whole thing is done I'm going to lay it on a beautiful spread of flowering pea vines and next to it I'm going to plate up that amazing looking cheese from Little Brown Farm (whatever the heck it is!) with some gorgeous French Breakfast radishes, a plate of sausage, the rhubarb bread still warm and sliced and drizzled with Island Apiaries honey and the dessert from TreeTop ready in the waiting.  Voila! 
Oh yes...and here is the Rhubarb Bread recipe (courtesy of my mom who found this somewhere....).

1-1/2 C  brown sugar
2/3 C butter, softened
1 egg, beaten
1 C sour milk or buttermilk (I put some lemon juice in my cup of milk)
1 tsp vanilla
2-1/2 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 C nuts, chopped  (I used walnuts)
2 C finely chopped rhubarb
Sprinkle of brown sugar for topping

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees and grease the bottoms of 2 loaf pans.
In a large bowl, mix brown sugar and butter together until creamy.  Blend in egg, milk and vanilla.  Gradually add flour, baking soda and salt until batter is smooth.  Gently fold in nuts and rhubarb.
 Pour into loaf pans and lightly sprinkle brown sugar over top of loaves.  Bake for 1 hour or until top is browned and a toothpick comes out of the center clean.  

Yum! Yum!  Hope everyone has a GREAT Mother's Day!
Farmer Georgie
Willowood Farm
And oh yes....we will be at the Coupeville and Bayview Farmer's markets today! With the following....
From Willowood:
* Blooming Pea Vines
* Tatsoi, Ruby Streaks and Raab bunches
* Baby Pac Choi
* Garlic Greens
* Rockwell and Peregion Dry Beans
* Rhubarb
* Beet bunches (lmt amt and at Bayview only!  Come early!)
* Carrot bunches (lmt amt and at Bayview only! Come early)
* French Breakfast radishes
And we also will have....
From Prairie Bottom farm
* Chard bunches
* Kale Bunches
* Spring onions
* Herbs
* Winter Squash
* Limelight dry beans
And from Whidbey Green Goods I think we have some cauliflower, basil, spinach and other goodies plus grains from both Ebey Road Farm and Georgina! 
Come see us at market.  It's gonna be a great one.


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Vicky and her great cheese!

NOTE - Willowood Farm/Prairie Bottom WILL NOT be at the Coupeville Farmer's Market today!  Wilbur, Julieanna and Henry are off to the state History Day competition and between that and flooded out fields we decided to only do one market this weekend.  Willowood Farm (with Prairie Bottom's produce as well) WILL be at the Bayview Farmer's Market today.  So please come see us there...10 a.m to 2 p.m. behind Bayview Farm and Garden. 

As I sit here this morning drinking that first precious cup of coffee and contemplating the (hopefully) dry market day coming up I'm thinking about my friend Vicky and her farm, Little Brown Farm.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Little Brown Farm and her amazing goat cheese (and other goat milk products), come see Vicky today at the Bayview Farmer's Market and let her tell you all about it.  Or stop in at bayleaf Stores in Coupeville or Oak Harbor, they carry Vicky's cheese. 
Now, for those of you who follow my facebook page, you've probably seen me posting about Vicky over the last few weeks.  But many of you that receive this link don', I want to tell you about Vicky and Little Brown Farm.  Because Vicky is, right now, asking for our community to support her farm project (more about that a bit later).
First about Vicky.  I first me Vicky I think maybe 5 years ago?  We served together and a committee to develop the Whidbey Island Grown brand.  (Which is starting to take off, btw).  I remember listening to Vicky talk about her dreams of having a goat dairy outside of Freeland.  Her lamenting about this or that monstrous delay/huge new expensive as she and her husband Tom struggled to build a dairy and facilities and meet codes and requirements on multiple levels.  I remember sampling her cheese.  And I remember thinking there was probably hardly a chance in hell this goat cheese thing would ever get off the ground. 
Why?  Well...I grew up (sorta) in dairy.  My neighbors, the Sherman-Bishop farm at the time) had about a 300 cow dairy herd.  (They sold their herd a few years back which, ironically, left Whidbey Island with no licensed dairies until Little Brown Farm opened for business).  So I grew up feeding calves, mucking stalls, starting when I was about 10 and I was in our local Coupeville 4-H dairy club - The Milky Way - all through high school. 
So I learned first-hand....Is there any more demanding, regulated, never ending field in agriculture than dairy?  Well...I challenge you to come up with one and that's coming from me - a farmer!  The dairy industry has layers up layers of regs to comply with.  They have animals that have to be no excuses for farmer being sick, otherwise busy or simply lazy.  (In veggies, yes, I can consider taking a day or two off on occasion and generally speaking, the veggies won't die!).  And well Vicky and her husband, they came from non-ag backgrounds (Vicky was a CFO of a big company and Tom is in computer-whiz sorta work, still doing it, as a matter of fact to help pay the bills while they grow the farm).  I admit, I doubted they could cut it and while I hate to poo-poo the interest and excitement over small scale farming these days, there are a lot of "enthusiastic beginners" who really have no idea what they are getting themselves into as far as time, work and money.  (To be honest, I don't know if I would have done if I would have truly realized what it would mean! Oh well...I'm stuck now! LOL!).
But as I got to know Vicky and Tom over the years since I have continually been impressed by their knowledge, their passion, Vicky's amazing ability to create incredible cheeses, yogurts and other exciting goat milk products and their drive to work the insane hours and love doing it.  And just to make sure you realize how talented Vicky is at cheesemaking, her cheese is ON THE MENU at Walrus and Carpenter in Ballard.  The #3 "best new restaurants in American" as listed by Bon Appetit magazine in 2011.  This is a big deal people and we are incredibly lucky to have such a talented cheese maker on Whidbey Island.
So Vicky and Tom have caught the farming bug and it isn't letting them go.  And as I like to say, "You don't become a farmer to make a million dollars.  You become a farmer because you CAN'T NOT FARM."  Unfortunately, hopefully you see the sad catch in all that.  What it means is that unless you a multi-national farming corporation receiving millions in dollars in subsidies, farming to the actual farmer means a whole heck of a lot of debt, a lot of work and a lot of hoping and praying it will pay off someday.  (If there is any more eternal optimist then a farmer, well...I don't know!).   But the reality is, we as a nation have pretty much since about the 1950s followed an ag policy that means small, local family farms will struggle to make ends meet.  Back when my great-grandfather first came to Whidbey Island in the late 1800s it was a given that "if you had land you had a living."  That's not the case anymore.  It started back in the 1950s when the ag policy became "get big and get out."  And while the picture in ag is starting to change with the growth in local and naturally grown food, as we realize the economic, environmental, and health costs of those "get big or get out" policies....well it's going to take more than a few years to combat 60 plus years of ag policy getting us to where we are today.
Now here's the part of this blog where I ask you to help Vicky and Tom.  Because Vicky and Tom have a project in mind - and while I have faith that the huge financial investment they have put into establishing their facilities and herd, the knowledge and passion and hard-work they are maintaining are going to eventually pay off for them....Vicky and Tom have put all the money into the farm they can currently manage.  Yet, they have so so so many more great projects in mind that would mean more cheese products, more access to the farm and more likelihood that their farm will grow and thrive. 
Here is Vicky and Tom's project...
A cheese cave aging room - which would allow Vicky to make great aged goat cheeses, ones with a hard "rind" so to speak.  Which means more cheeses for us to love love love! And a farm store where they could sell their projects but more importantly, where Vicky could share her cheese-making skills in classes for the community and host educational tours for schools, senior citizens and other interested groups.
This is a "Kickstarter" project.  What that means is "crowd-source funding" or, get a bunch of people to just put up a little money.  Which results in lots of people supporting a great project they believe in.  But the catch is....they've got a deadline.  And if the project isn't totally funded well then, nobody's money gets taken.  For instance, I've pledged $200 to help Vicky's project.  Because I believe in Little Brown Farm and what they are doing.  But...if they don't reach the project goal of $21,500 by May 22 well all that money will stay with me.  Right now, Vicky has reached a little over one-third her goal and she's got a few more weeks left.  I think they are enough people in our food community that will put up even just $5 or $10 to help this project fund.  And that's why I'm writing ask you do so.  I wouldn't do it (because really, I hate asking people for money!) if I didn't feel so strongly about Little Brown Farm.  About their potential to be a really successful, vital farm on Whidbey, and their ability to incubate and encourage other possible island farmers (Vicky is the "go to" lady on the island when it comes to goat and sheep health!). 
So please, go visit Vicky at Bayview Farmer's Market today.  Check out her fabulous cheeses.  She how happy she is to be doing this crazy demanding job and if you are inspired by her as I am, click on her kickstarter project and pledge just $5.  It can make all the difference!
And now...I better finish up this cup of coffee and head out and pack up the van.  And, if you are dying to know, here is what we are bringing to market today (an shorter list than I had hoped for unfortunately, because some of our crops were too flooded to pick yesterday!).  But nonetheless, here is what we got....
* Baby Pac Choi - new crop!
* Raab - tender new thinnings, super good!
* French Breakfast Radishes
* Leeks - about the last of the overwintered ones, enjoy while you can!
* Bobbie's amazing Sweet and Spicy stir-fry bunches
* Garlic Greens
* Collard bunches
* Peanut Fingerling potatoes (almost the last of the 2011 crop....)
* Rockwell Beans
* Peregion Beans
And from Prairie Bottom Farm we have (most of their crops were flooded out!)...
* Chard
* Kale
* Limelight beans
We also will have grains from Georgina, emmer from Ebey Road Farm and Mikey from Whidbey Green Goods is bringing some spinach, carrots, cauliflower, basil and meat products from Skagit Valley growers.
Hope to see you at market!
Farmer Georgie
Willowood Farm