Several months ago, we started a new blog called First Steps Farm, which chronicles our life as new family farmers, and serves as a platform for us to share our interests and ideas. We invite you all to join us over there, and this will be our last post on this blog here. We are leaving it here, because we dont want to delete the posts, but our new blog picks up right where this one leaves off, and broadens the perspective beyond just the farm. Head on over to http://www.firststepsfarm.com/blog and take a look!
In our home, we love to cook from fresh local ingredients every day of the year, but Thanksgiving is a special time for cooking and sharing food with family and friends. We look forward to it for weeks! Here are some of our favorite recipes from local ingredients available from our regions best family farms. Thanksgiving becomes more personally “thankful” the closer you are to your food source.
Bon Appetit! Max, Deirdre and Family
Becher Family Pumpkin Pie:
This was always Max's birthday dessert of choice as a kid. Still is actually! We make enough pies at Thanksgiving to make sure we have leftovers for several days afterward! Then once those are gone we make a few more... We recommend butternut squash in this recipe as an excellent substitute for pumpkin, but they both work perfectly. This recipe is sweetened only by dates, so pie is really quite healthy to eat.
Process the dates into a smooth paste. A food processor comes in handy for this. Thoroughly mix / whisk in eggs, sour cream, cooked squash and salt. Add any optional ingredient you want to. Pour the mixture into a crust, and bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes. If you don't want a crust, just pour it into a buttered pie dish, or any dish you want. We do it both ways.
Fresh Herb Stuffing
About 1 pound bread, chopped into cubes (Try using Eva's sourdough bread!)
1 tablespoon each fresh thyme and sage, chopped finely (From BD Dautch and Steve Sprinkel)
About 1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped (From BD)
2 or 3 cups chicken or turkey broth (make broth from the turkey neck!)
Salt and pepper
Make sure the bread is toasted or slightly dried out. Saute the onions and celery in butter. Once they are cooked, mix all ingredients together in a bowl. The bread should be moist, but not soggy. Put this in a buttered baking dish, cover with foil, and bake for about 30 minutes at 400.
Peel as many apples (from Fair Hills Apple Farm) as you want, remove the cores, chop them into quarters, and put them in a pot with a little bit of water. Heat up the water until steaming, then cover the pot and reduce stove to low. Leave covered for several hours. Check the apples, and if you like the consistency, call it done. If not, cook it a bit longer. This recipe could not be easier!!
If it is too thin, cook it down with the lid off to let out steam, but be careful not to burn the bottom. We like our sauce a bit chunky. Add cinnamon if you want to, but it is perfectly good without it.
Chris Miliken's Amazing Sweet Potatoes
Sweet Potatoes (Chris Miliken)
Rub the sweet potatoes in olive oil, and bake for 45 minutes at 400. Take them out, chop them coarsely, and stir in a generous amount of butter, (We use lots!) Add salt to taste, and serve warm. They will be chunky-smooth, with skins all mixed in. Chris's sweet potatoes are so good, you do not need any additional sweetener. Just be sure to use plenty of butter and salt, and taste as you go!
Green Beans with Slivered Almonds
1-2 lbs fresh green beans (as many as you want, really!) – from Chris Miliken or Lane Farm
½ cup slivered almonds, or more if you want (from Fat Uncle Farm)
Steam the green beans for about 5 minutes. We like them cooked, but still somewhat firm. Saute the almond slivers in butter for about 5 minutes until they are slightly golden brown. Salt them. Add the green beans to the pan, and finish cooking them together for a few minutes. Add butter and salt to taste.
I was on the farm early this morning, just after the nice inch of rain we got over the course of yesterday and last night. It was so beautiful right before the sun came over the hill, I had to take some photos.
Under the two sections of row cover are six beds of baby salad mix, and one each of spinach, cilantro and parsley. Moving to the left are three beds of lettuce heads we put out as transplants just yesterday. Then one bed each of radish and turnip, two of beets, and then three brand new beds of kale transplants, also put out yesterday. It was great to get all the plants in before the rain came, so they were very nicely watered in. In a couple months, these empty looking beds will be full of veggies, provided we can keep the critters away...
Young garlic and turnips.
Baby Salad Mix, a week or two away from the first cutting. So fresh!
March 2015. This month we started our second farmers market, this time in Santa Barbara on Saturdays. We now spend our entire weekend selling micro greens! We had to roughly double our production at this point to supply both markets. We now sell to 8 different restaurants and caterers in Santa Barbara through this market, so it was a good idea to go.
Expanded micro green production to supply two markets. At this point, we were starting them in the greenhouse, and then moving them outdoors once they germinated. We didn't have enough room in the little greenhouse, and the outdoor temperature is warm enough for them March-October. The pic above was taken in early April.
This beautiful picture of amaranth flats was taken in June. June was a big month for us, because we hired our first employee! This was an exciting move for us, and definitely a necessary one by this point. Between growing the micros, running our webstore, doing the two markets, and trying to grow vegetables too, it was more than we could handle, especially since Deirdre also works about 30 hours a week teaching music and dance lessons.
Over the summer, we did not grow very many vegetables. We wanted to, and we had bought seed for a lot of them, but the micro greens took the bulk of our time for the next few months. We did succesfully grow some cucumbers and summer squash, and an amazing bed of basil. After a while, we could not sell the basil as fast as it was growing, so we harvested massive amounts for ourselves and family members. Even then, we lost control of the bed, and had to take down the plants eventually. We grew a very small amount of eggplants and sweet peppers, and a couple beds of nice lettuce mix and arugula, but our tomatoes and green beans didn't make it. Fast forward to September, and the farm was rather taken over with weeds, and not looking very nice. We spent some time cleaning it up, and getting ready for some fall and winter planting.
Time to clean up these old plants and make way for new ones!
9/27/15 Baby lettuce mix, planted in 12 dense rows with our six row seeder from Johnny's Selected Seeds in Maine.
By mid summer, we had totally outgrown our small greenhouse that we built when we first started the farm, and I knew that I couldn't grow micros outdoors when the colder nights came at the end of the year. In July, we decided to make the investment in a much bigger, professional greenhouse (14 x 32 feet.) We ordered it, and it arrived in August, but we didn't get around to starting the construction until late September. The pictures below show leveling the building site and pounding in the first corner post.
The week of September 28th was a big week for us. Not only did we start the greenhouse project, the next day we started a third weekly market, also in Santa Barbara. The new one was Tuesday afternoons. It seemed insane to take on a new market, but we had a particular reason for doing it, and ironically our lives got easier rather than more difficult. Up until this point, our webstore deliveries were on Tuesday and Fridays, but all the items than weren't grown here in the valley had to be bought over the weekend at our markets. That works fine for apples, walnuts and avocados, which can last several days, but not more perishable things like greens and most vegetables. So, we consolidated our two delivery routes into one, and moved it to Wednesday. Not only did this turn out to be way more efficient for deliveries, selling at the Tuesday afternoon market allowed us to pick up lots more items from farms at the market, and then pack them up for deliveries the next morning. The webstore selection blossomed overnight, and we started to receive more orders because of that. Reducing our packing/delivery day to just once per week instead of two has been so much easier! It makes for a longer packing time, but we only have to set up and take down once, so it certainly saves time overall. Tuesday and Wednesday are by far our busiest days of the week now. The pictures below show our booth at the Tuesday market, and our truck filled to the brim with veggie boxes for delivery.
Pre-Halloween farmers market. I wish we had grown those pumpkins... but nope, we bought them! maybe this year... Anyhow, that's enough catch-up for now. Next up, I'll have more pictures of the greenhouse project, and the completed structure.
At First Steps Farm, we're not just growing food, we're growing farmers too (including ourselves, who learn more about farming everyday!) Siobhan put on her "Future Farmer" t-shirt last Saturday to go plant her first veggie garden at the farm. This is her own garden -- she helped plant the seeds, and she is going to help water, weed and harvest it too. Catch a bit of her excitement below!
As the one-year anniversary of my last blog post approaches, I thought I would take a few free minutes this evening to follow up on my 2016 resolution to blog once again. I realize if this is going to happen, I need to stick to short posts, so I will keep this short. Obviously, a lot has happened over the last year (enough to make me think I don't have time to blog!), so it's tempting to make a really long post to cover everything that's happened from last February until now. But since I need to be up early tomorrow to pack orders for our webstore, I will make a series of "catch-up" posts over the next couple of weeks instead.
I got back an hour or so ago from a Tuesday afternoon farmers market in Santa Barbara, which makes the third weekly market we started selling at. Last week's Sunday market in Ojai was very rainy, which doesn't make for good sales, but that doesn't seem to have dampened Siobhan's spirits, who enjoyed prancing around the market with her umbrella.
Below is the most recent picture of the farm (one week ago), which has come a long way in the last year. We now have a 14x32 ft greenhouse, and 32 raised beds formed. I'll post more about how we got here, and what happened along the way. Stay tuned!
Yesterday was our 2nd week selling Microgreens at the Ojai Farmers Market. We were delighted to exceed our sales from last week, in spite of the day being very grey, with intermittent rain. Rain and gloomy weather usually means lower sales for an outdoor market. This time, we remembered to snap a couple photos to post here.
It might look like these two are loafing on the job, but our cooler doesn't seal all the way, so they are actually helping keep the microgreens nice and cold by holding the lid down. Babies are a great sales-booster at market stands, but for their wages, they demand somewhat constant entertainment. Occasionally they want to sample all your products on display, but we got Siobhan to settle for a bottle of milk, a pet stuffed pig, and a good book instead.
Also over the weekend, we completed assembly of a 10x17 tent which will provide some much needed dry storage space on the farm. We got it from Harbor Freight Tools for only $200, and it seems to be pretty well made. It will also serve as our packing zone for filling orders on Monday and Wednesday for Ojai Farmstand. We finished it just in time for rain yesterday and today. If it works well, we will buy a 2nd one, and place the two door-to-door with a canopy between them, to make a 35+ foot long packing/storage zone.
Finally, below are a few updated photos of the veggie beds, including a thick 6-row stand of salad mix. Most of our beds use drip irrigation, but we installed micro sprinklers (visible from the bottom photo) for the salad mix, since it is impractical to run 6 rows of drip tape in one bed.
This was a big weekend for First Steps Farm. Saturday, we got a tractor -- a 1964 Ford 4000 Industrial. Pictured below. I actually bought the tractor back in July, but that was before we had leased the farm, and we thought that our neighbors wouldn't appreciate us parking it on the street in front of our house while we looked for land. So, the fellow I bought it from agreed to hang on to it until I got the farm. 6 months later, I finally got around to calling him to haul it down from his place in Upper Ojai. It's arrived just in time to borrow my neighbor's disc harrow to turn under the weeds in the half of the field we haven't planted yet. The combination of January rain and February heat has made the weeds go wild, and I don't want them going to seed.
So, in a sense this tractor started the farm. I have a bit of an impulsive streak, and when I saw the tractor for sale, with a working bucket in front, I had to make a quick decision. It was a bit crazy to buy it before we even had land, but I knew it would not be hard to find. And I knew that if I bought it, that I would be forced to find land quickly. It worked!
The tractor is a beauty, and has a working front loader, PTO, 3-point hitch, and 55 horse power. The hydraulics are super-strong. We're planning on using it for some large scale composting, and weed abatement. We can also use it to move horse manure from elsewhere on our landlord's property over to our acre. Down the road, we can use it for planting and harvesting larger quantities of certain crops (potatoes for example) that would be impractical with the BCS tractor.
Then, on Sunday, we started our first week ever of selling at Farmers Markets. We set up a stand at the Ojai Certified Farmers Market, selling our micro greens. Both Deirdre and I were so caught up in making sure everything was OK at the stand, that we forgot to take a photo for the blog. So, photos will have to wait for next week.
We had a great experience selling our own product at the Market. For the last year and a half, I worked at the same Ojai market for B.D. Dautch, who supplies some of the produce sold through Ojai Farmstand. We were very familiar with the market setting, and knew the market manager, but it was a totally different experience selling our own product. We sold everything we brought, except 3 packs of greens, so now we know what to plant more of for future markets.
If you are ever passing through Ojai on Sundays between 9:00 and 1:00, stop by and say hi! We'll give you samples of all the micros.
Well, our farm now has a name. We've been thinking about for a while, and we realized that "the farm" wasn't enough. We wanted something that would express in a few words what we are all about, with multifaceted implications that could be drawn from it.
The stroke of inspiration hit me a few weeks ago when my Godmother posted a picture of Van Gogh's painting "First Steps, after Millet" on my facebook page. When I saw it, I realized what the farm would be called. I found the original painting by Millet himself (which Van Gogh copied for his work), and named our farm:
It all started with seeing a copy of Jean-Francois Millet's famous painting, "The First Steps." The picture (see above) depicts a gardener stopping his work to hold out his arms for his young daughter. The gardener's wife is supporting the child as she leans forward to show her dad that she can take a step by herself. The careful support of the mother, combined with the enthusiastic gesture of the father reveal to the viewer this is a new, exciting accomplishment in the child's life.
So, why did we choose this as our signature photo? Partially because it has a garden in it, and our farm is basically a really big garden. But wait, there's more...
The picture has many subtle implications, which are relevant to us and our mission.