From the Ground Up – Buying Local in Connecticut

“We have lived our lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption, that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and learn what is good for it.” — Wendell Berry

By C. Dennis Pierce

Do you remember this as a kid? “April showers bring May flowers”, an old adage that we all learned as a child. It originated in England where April, for them, is the one of the soggiest months causing flowers to bloom in May. Based on what I found on the internet, one origin suggests it comes from the year 1157 where a short “poem” was written by Thomas Tusser, and it said: “Sweet April Showers Do Spring May Flowers”. Another notion is that at the end of the fourteenth century the poet Geoffrey Chaucer penned a version that translates as: “When in April the sweet showers fall, that pierce March’s drought to the root and all, and bathed every vein in liquor that has power to generate therein and sire the flower”. 

The cycle of the seasons always surprises me or maybe it just takes me off guard. It amazes me how each of nature’s elements interacts with another causing a catalyst for change. For instance, I was recently walking on a very windy day on the path that surrounds Bicentennial Pond. The March rainy season caused the ground to be saturated and very wet and run off water from the forest pooled along the trail. Suddenly, the wind picked up and there was a loud crash as a nearby tree was uprooted and fell causing the ground to shake. Needless to say, it was a frightening experience. It took me a minute to stop and realize what I had just witnessed. My initial thought was at least now I know the answer to that age old question, “ If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it does it make a sound? Fortunately, I was there to observe the event, and hear the thunderous boom but it also made me pause to realize the interconnectedness of the elements of nature. The natural cycle of life surrounds us daily, seasonally, yearly, and generationally. Whether it be in the plant world or with man we all have a time when something encourages us to lie down. In this case the soggy ground, rotting roots and heavy wind encouraged the tree that it was time to lay down and now decompose, creating habitats for insects, flora and later enriching the soil. Sometimes we are blind to what is around us. We take for granted on how the earth renews itself as the living things within an ecosystem interact with each other to create the perpetual cycle of nature. At the end of each cycle, we have decay and decomposition. Now it’s spring and nature continues the cycle by nurturing life as it provides us with emerging leaves and countless flowers.   

Melanie Desch, part owner of Foliota Farms is a nurturer. She grows flowers because they bring her a peaceful opportunity as she gardens early in the morning. “Flowers are a gift that brightens up your life”, she told me during a recent visit to the farm where she and her partner Ulises Arbelo grow over 150 varieties of flowers. Foliota Farm, which is located on 40 Woods Road in Mansfield Center, name is derived from the fungi, genus pholiota. One of the species of the genus pholiota is a species called  Namiko,  an edible fungi also known as Butterscotch Mushrooms, Forest Nameko, and Forest Mushroom. At Foliota Farm Melanie and Ulises incorporate fungi cultivation in some of their bed-prep, as well as employ practices promoting fungal health. As Melainie and Ulises shared their story and how they decided to grow flowers rather than vegetable they realized that from a business sense it is more profitable to grow flowers per square foot than growing vegetables. Sure, they encounter the same challenges as vegetable farmers with lack of rain or too much rain, insects, weeds etc. They, as most farmers, begin the flowers from seeds inside during the colder months and later in hoop or row houses. They have to be conscious of their soil make up since flowers like a PH of around 6.5. Weeds are discouraged by mulching and new beds are prepared by covering the ground with black plastic in effort to inhibit weed and grass growth. Melanie explained that there are two categories of flowers, “one and done” and “cut and come again”.  The farm needs to maintain a system of succession planning in order to maintain an ever-bearing inventory.  As their farm continues to be successful, they have set their sights on the next project and that is procuring a high tunnel to assist in the off-season.

Foliota Farm puts soil health first, using minimal tillage practices to maintain soil structure and promote microbiological and fungal diversity. They prioritize Connecticut natives, perennial plants, and heirloom varieties. Growing on our land, and helping improve our local ecosystem, has been a dream come true for Melanie and Ulises. The farm’s flower selection can be purchased at the Willimantic Farmer’s Market. The market is moving to its summer quarters and their first day will be on Saturday, April 27th from 9:00am until 12:00pm. Melanie is adamant that at the market they should offer several price points for their bouquets. “Everyone may not be able to afford a more expensive bouquet so that is why we offer five-dollar bouquets. Everyone one should be able to experience the beauty of locally grown fresh flowers”.  The farm also is very creative by offering a flower CSA. Information found on their web site explains the services offered. Their bouquets are average market sizes, with anywhere from 15-25 stems. They  contain a variety of annual, native, and/or foraged flowers to grab your interest. Color themes will vary, and they will experience the seasonality of different varieties. They will be arranged in a spiral pattern and cut to achieve an aesthetic, rounded look in a vase. The farm wraps their bouquets in paper to keep them secure during transport. All flowers are harvested the day of or the day before pickup and will be in the freshest state possible. Some bouquets may be partially closed and should open over the next few days, which gives you a longer period to enjoy their beauty.  The farm provides returnable mason jars to transport them home which fits easily in your car’s cup holder. The farm’s CSA offers 10 weeks of carefully cared for, locally grown flowers starting the first week of July for two hundred dollars and an option for 6 weeks of carefully cared for, locally grown flowers starting the first week of July for one hundred and twenty dollars. CSA bouquet pickups on Wednesday can be picked up at the farm at 40 Woods Road in Mansfield Center and Saturday’s bouquets can be picked up at the farm’s booth at the Willimantic Farmer’s Market at 28 Bridge Street, Willimantic, CT.  Check out their website at   https://www.foliotafarm.com/  for more information and some very attractive photos. The farm’s contact information is 908.894.0652 and email at FoliotaFarm@gmail.com.

Local markets will be offering kale as the season begins. While it appears that kale no longer has the popularity it did a few years ago it does provided an excellent source of vitamins. Here is a great way to “sneak” kale into your diet: 

Kale Scones with Pumpkin & Cheese

(Makes 8 to 10 large scones)

Pre heat oven to 375 degrees. Set oven rack in the middle of your stove.

Ingredients:

2 cups of kale leaves

2 cups of flour

½ teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of baking soda

½ teaspoon of baking powder

1 tablespoon of sugar

1/3 of a cup of cold butter

1 egg (preferably local)

¾ cup of buttermilk

½ cup of cooked pumpkin or squash, diced

¾ cup of grated cheddar cheese

If you do not have buttermilk, you can add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to the ¾ cup of milk and let it stand for ten minutes before adding it to the recipe.

Directions:

Steam kale for a minute or two, just to blanch

Squeeze as much water out by wrapping it in a paper towel. 

Chop kale finely. You should have less than one cup of chopped kale.

Blend and sift, flour, salt, baking soda and sugar together

Cut cold butter in small pieces and blend it in the flour mixture with you winters. Don’t overwork since you want your butter to stay cold. You can also use a dough blender / cutter if you have one. 

In a small bowl beat eggs and then add the buttermilk. Beat until combined

Add egg / buttermilk mixture and kale, pumpkin / squash, and cheese to dry ingredients.

Mix with fork just to combine.  

Drop by spoonful on a parchment covered cookie sheet. Note, if you want to cut the mixture into shapes such as triangles or if you use a cookie cutter knead in about ¼ cup of extra flour to make the dough easier to handle.

Bale 20 minutes until browned.

Tip of the month: I have a cedar shingled house and this time of the year I am tormented with woodpeckers. I found that by going to the local dollar store I could purchase silver plastic decorations that can be found in their party section, and I attach them to my outside wall and their presence appears to scare the birds away. I guess woodpeckers are not celebratory feathered friends. Another tip which came from Melanie during our conversation was a suggestion on how to lengthen the life of a flowers. Pick them from the garden early in the morning and place them in a jar of water in the refrigerator. She also mentioned adding vinegar and sugar to the vase’s water. While she has not tried this, she has heard that by adding Sprite to the water, this too extends the life of the arrangement. Ulises also reminded us to cut the bottom of the stems and changing the water periodically as this adds to the bouquet’s life.

As mentioned above, tis the season for local farmer’s market transitioning to their summer market location. Besides Willimantic, as listed above here are a few updates:

  • Storrs Farmer’s Market first day in front of the Mansfield Town Hall – Saturday, May 4th.

https://www.storrsfarmersmarket.org/about

  • Coventry Market at Nathan Hale – Sunday, June 2nd
  • Ashford Market – Sunday April 28 (10:00am to 1:00pm). If this is not the correct date their location will be inside, across the street.

https://www.facebook.com/ashfordfarmersmarketct

And some final thoughts…in nature, every day is a new day. As humans we tend to fixate on the past but when you observe nature and see the constant changes around you, you become more aware that nothing and no one remains in the same place. Sometimes we get caught up in living in the past. We must remember that everyday is new and new again tomorrow.  If you find that you enjoy reading this column every month or if you have some gardening hacks you would like to share with others? Please drop me a line and let me know at Codfish53@Yahoo.com.  Peas be with you. Come celebrate with me and remember, every day is a holiday, and every meal is a banquet.  I’ll save you a seat at the table! 

From the Ground Up – Buying Local in Connecticut

“My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant’s point of view.” — H. Fred Dale.

By C. Dennis Pierce

You know what mystifies me each Spring? Daffodils. Prior to purchasing my house in Mansfield Center many years ago, the prior owner had planted many bulbs throughout the yard. It was an added bonus when spring arrived, when I found bright yellow flowers scattered throughout the property. Only later, I realized that in order to maintain them I needed to separate them when they died out.  I began to take photos of their locations so when they completed their life cycle, I would be able to dig them up. Interestingly enough, when I finally took on that project I found some of the bulbs were no longer there and to my surprise the next year these yellow harbingers of spring would be popping up in new locations throughout the yard.  Maybe it was Mother Nature’s way of playing a game of “wack a mole” or just the mischievous ways of the local squirrels digging them up and relocating them to another area. I know the squirrels were not eating them since daffodil bulbs are poisonous  to squirrels, voles, mice, and other rodents.  Who would have thought the squirrels, besides robbing all of the sunflower seeds from my birdfeeders, these chatty little buggers were also exterior decorators. I can hear them now, “Let’s see next spring we need more color in this part of the yard, or maybe over there…”

Willimantic’s, Know Your Farmers Fair, hosted a wide variety of farms, vendors, and information booths this year, probably the largest yet. I always stop by to collect farm contacts so I may feature the farms in upcoming columns. One of farms that drew my attention was Westview Farm from Woodstock, CT. Woodstock has always intrigued me, tucked into the upper corner of the Quiet Corner with it’s winding back roads and rural farmlands. From what I could find from the Woodstock Conservation Commission’s site from the internet, Woodstock has  somewhere between 39 and 46 active farms. This includes 13 operating dairy farms (down from 16 two years ago, but still more than any other town in Connecticut.) Forest-based industries include tree farms, sawmills, and maple sugaring. So, this week, to prepare for this month’s column I set off to visit Megan Harmon (in photo at right) from Westview Farm, who I met at the Know Your Farmer’s Fair. My directional app took me the long way to reach east Woodstock, but it also showed me how beautiful the area is despite it being a windy and gray day. Because of recent rains the brooks and stream were more than gurgling, they overflowed their banks racing to the larger rivers that they eventually poured into. Upon reaching the farm propped on top of a hill I knew I was in the right place with the towering, majestic barn, rows of outbuildings and an amazing scenic view.  Originally, Westview Farm was founded in the 1800s by the Wetherell Family as a dairy farm that provided glass bottled milk to the community. In the mid -1970s the Harmon Family purchased Westview Farm and successfully maintained the dairy until 1996.After the dairy herd was dissolved, a small herd of Hereford cattle was added to the farm. This was the start of the current beef herd.

Megan, a graduate of the University of Connecticut, greeted me in the small shop that is attached to the main house  It was filled with an array of products that the farm offers including their well sought after dry aged beef selections. She shared the history of the farm and environmental philosophy that makes this agricultural undertaking a rare and unique entity.   The farm is situated on a windswept hill and has an amazing view of the farm’s pastureland and the farm’s 135 acres. Megan’s parents moved from Middletown to the farm in 1976. The farm currently has a herd of about 50 to 60 head of cattle.  Unique to this farm the herd is grass feed but also is grass finished. That is to say all of the grasses and legumes that are fed to the cattle comes from the farm. The cattle are a mix of Hereford, Angus, and Simental.   Their cattle are raised with a heritage diet according to Megan. Through using regenerative methods, they are able to practice carbon sequestration, reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Additionally, on the farm  they never use herbicides or pesticides on any production on the Farm, thus eliminating any chemical impact and promoting clean farming. Megan felt strongly about her life working on the family farm. “ Farming progressively makes an impact on the food that is produced and also an impact on the environment.” 

In addition to beef the farm offers hay, fresh chicken, chicken / duck eggs and beef tallow skin care products. Also produce and flowers in season.  There are many options to purchase from the farm which is located at 209 Prospect street in East Woodstock.  The small shop is currently open every Fridays from 2:00pm to 6:00pm. From June to October the roadside stand is open from 10:00 am to 6:00pm offering in season vegetables and other items. The farm offers a variety of CSA options and a flower subscription plan. I would suggest that you check out their web site at westviewfarmct.com since it is done very well, has options for ordering, and has some great photos.  The farm’s contact information is: 860.928.7491, email is westview.farm@outlook.com 

As my forsythia  arrives in full bloom and the daffodils dance at their feet, I know that rhubarb is waiting in the wings. Rhubarb is a plant (vegetable) that is defiantly persistent with a mind of its own. It sort of takes on the role of an embarrassed celery with a green stalk on top, red on the bottom and a big leaf dancing in the sun while it also protects the garden mice from the rain. Rhubarb is unique. You either like it or not. Surprisingly sometimes rhubarb pies will show up at the local church bake sale but if you arrive late, you will never find one since they are the first to go. Oh, for the taste of rhubarb and the childhood memories it provides. I could not resist this month and provided two recipes. I hope you enjoy.

Rhubarb Coffee Cake

Pre- heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 8” baking pan

Ingredients:

Cake:

½ cup of butter

¾ cup of sugar

1 egg

1/3 cup of milk

2 cups of flour

1 tablespoon of baking powder

½ teaspoon of salt

¼ cup sliced almonds

Filling:

2 cups of sliced (1 inch) rhubarb

½ cup of sugar

4 tablespoons of water – divided

1 ½ tablespoon of cornstarch

Topping:

1/2 cup of brown sugar

1 tablespoon of flour

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 tablespoon of butter

Directions:

Prepare filling –

Combine rhubarb, sugar and 2 tablespoons of water and gently cook in a medium saucepan until rhubarb is softened but not mushy.

Combine remaining 2 tablespoons of water and cornstarch. Add to rhubarb and cook until thickened. Set aside.

Prepare cake:

Cream butter and sugar. (mix together)

Blend in egg and milk

Mix flour with baking powder and salt and blend into creamed mixture

Spread half of the batter in a greased 8 inch square baking pan.

Cover with rhubarb filling and top with almonds

Top with remaining batter. 

Combine topping ingredients and sprinkle over batter.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes until firm

……and another recipe….

Rhubarb Relish

Ingredients:

1 quart. of rhubarb, diced

1 qt. of onions finely cut

4 cups of brown sugar

1 tablespoon of salt

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 teaspoon of all spice

1 teaspoon of cloves

1 teaspoon of ginger

½ teaspoon pepper

2 cups of white vinegar

            Directions:

Combine all ingredients and heat slowly to boiling

Simmer 45 to 50 minutes until thick.

Place mixture into sterilized glass contains such as those use for canning, jelly, or jam.

Serve with meat or with a charcuterie platter.

In my last month’s column, I suggested that you save the lint from your dryer trap and place it in a suet feeder so that the birds arriving this spring will have some nesting material. I need to retract that suggestion. While at the Fair a reader shared that this is harmful to nesting birds. Upon arriving home, I found that in fact it is not a good idea. It appears dryer lint dust can be hazardous to baby bird’s lungs, and the concentrated chemicals from perfumed and dyed detergents are toxic to both baby birds as well as brooding adults. Furthermore, lint with a strong odor can attract predators, bringing them right to a vulnerable nest.

As I mentioned last month, I am incorporating some tips I have picked up along the way from farmers, markets, and local gardening associations. One tip is for better success, soak your seeds before planting. In a bowl, cover your seed with warm water and leave to soak for 6 to 24 hours. Smaller seeds and those with thinner coats need the shorter time, and larger seeds with thicker coats need the longer period. Some seeds will naturally float, and some will stay below the surface. The UConn Home Garden Center suggests that if you are working with older seeds check for viability by placing 10 seeds on a damp paper towel and keep moist until germination. Six to10 germinated seeds are a good sign.

If you are in search of compost for your garden, you might try to see if there is any still available at UConn. The dates for pick up are Friday April19, 2024 from 1 to 4 and April 20,2024 from 10 to 3. You must purchase online prior to arriving. However, it may be too late since there is always a rush to purchase and there is a limited supply. I believe this is the link to make your purchase. If it does not work contact Jaren Smith for the correct link – Jaren.Smith@UConn.edu. Purchase link: https://secure.touchnet.com/C21646_ustores/web/product_detail.jsp?PRODUCTID=1702

If you find that you enjoy reading this column every month or if you have some gardening hacks you would like to share with others? Please drop me a line and let me know  at Codfish53@Yahoo.com.  Peas be with you. Come celebrate with me and remember, every day is a holiday, and every meal is a banquet.  I’ll save you a seat at the table! 

From the Ground Up – Buying Local in Connecticut

From the Ground Up – Buying Local in Connecticut #2

In the spring, 

at the end of the day, 

you should smell like dirt.

      -Margaret Atwood

By C. Dennis Pierce

Spring is four weeks away! Many of the local maple trees already are feeding intravenously, through a zig zag network of tubing, large white containers which hold the sap that will later become maple syrup. Yes, a true sign of spring. As I write this column once again, I feel the frustration of being unprepared for the upcoming gardening season. This might be called the “spring shoulder season” but as I look out my window I think “patches” is a better name. It is that time of the year when the ground is warming up and the last snow begins to fade away and plants are waking up from the dormancy of winter. On a positive note, it is the best time of year as the air mixes with the warming soil, that earthy smell that reminds you don’t give up warmer weather will soon be here keeping you excited about what’s to come. Many here in the Northeast may refer to this as mud season.  The combination of rapidly melting snow, thawing ground, and even rain causes only one thing…mud, and lots of it. Here in Mansfield, I recently experienced several back roads were closed or limited to travel due to the impassible muddy roads.  

The “spring shoulder season” is encouraging for hobby gardeners like myself but for the local farmer it is a time where they are working on the first steps of garden production. It is a crucial time for indoor planting. Hundreds if not thousands of seeds will have their first opportunity to snuggle in the enriched starter soil. Farmers begin the process of coddling, transplanting and carefully waiting for the right time when the soil is warm enough to be placed in the ground. Some planting methods bypass this step and seeds are placed directly in the garden beds. The early spring starter method jump starts the little seedlings so they can beat the growing season and show up at the local markets earlier. So why does our local farmers start early? For one, they grow produce that goes directly to the market. The key for market farmers is to produce a product for their customers that they like and cannot find elsewhere. Sometimes this means growing unique varieties not usually found on traditional market shelves. Sometimes it simply means growing a familiar crop at a time when it is difficult to find fresh elsewhere.  If you have not developed the habit of buying locally, perhaps this is the year to start. With inflation impacting the prices of items in traditional stores and you have always thought framer’s markets are too expensive now maybe the time to rethink your choices.      

If you read my column on a regular basis, you will recall that my column was absent from the last issue. Some thought I have given up on advocating for Connecticut Grown and the local farmer or sharing recipes that may incorporate local offerings. While a break in the process of crafting this column for the past ten years has given me the opportunities to reflect on what to focus on in the future. Despite the fact that it is a tremendous struggle for the younger generation to buy or rent farmland, establish a footing in the farming community (which by the way receives them with open arms) and sometimes fight the bureaucracy of local towns, young farmers are now beginning to sprout up like mushrooms after a rainstorm.

Interested in meeting those who ventured into local farming as a career? On Saturday, March 9th,  plan on visiting the upcoming “Know Your Farmer Fair” which is held annually in Willimantic. This year it is at the relatively new Community Center that is across for the Willimantic Food Co-op. “The Know Your Farmer Fair” is an opportunity for residents, chefs, food service directors and restaurant owners  to meet local farmers and to look ahead to the upcoming growing season. Residents can shop at the farmer’s market as well as discuss local Community Supported Agriculture Programs (CSA), farm stands and pick-your-own opportunities. What to learn more? Check it out at https://www.grownconnected.org/knowyourfarmerfair

Typically, most individuals who are in search of local produce or products fulfill their quest at  local farmer’s markets. As a localvore, (one who purchases local farm produce and products) are you aware the Willimantic Co-op offers produce that is in season and products that are Connecticut Grown? I recently asked Patty Smith, the new General Manager of the Willimantic Co-op, if she could share with me a list of those that provide product to the Co-op and also, I asked her for a clarification on membership requirements to purchase from the Co-op. Patty sent me the following which I thought it would be great to share with our readers. “ The Co-op is not currently charging the 10% surcharge to non-members. We stopped doing that when the pandemic hit and haven’t reinstated it. We believe it is an outdated practice that no longer serves the Co-op, its members, or the community, especially as we attempt to become more accessible and welcoming to all members of our community who are interested in what the Co-op has to offer, even if they are not ready to become members yet. All shoppers are prospective members, and we believe the surcharge is an obstacle to our ability to serve shoppers who either can’t afford the price of a member share ($120 at $20/year for 6 years) or who simply don’t yet see the value in joining. However, members still receive special benefits for joining, such as a 15% discount on most case pre orders, a 10% coupon upon joining, and other member-only specials and coupons throughout the year, in addition to the benefit of participating in collective and democratic ownership of a community grocery store. We’re currently running a member survey on the topic, to gauge the level of member support in permanently eliminating the non-member surcharge.”

Patty also shared an extensive list of those farms and individuals who already provide product to the Co-op. I have shortened this list since I wanted to focus on local Connecticut products and Connecticut Grown.  The original list contained over 135 vendors. Due to a lack of space for my column I have chosen  local farms from the surrounding communities as an example: A&Z Apiaries / Honey, Alice Rubin / farmer / plants, Still River Farm / eggs, grains and flour, Apis Verde / produce, Baldwin Brook farm / dairy products, Bats of Bedlam/ maple syrup, Berry Bird Farmstead / eggs, Bliss Farm / plants and flowers, Bluebird Hill Farm / produce, BOTL Farm / eggs and meat, Bright Acres farm / produce, Brown Farm / flowers, Bruce the Goose / Eggs, Buddha’s Bees / honey,  Cambera Farm / baked goods, Cato Farm / cheese, Cloverleigh Farm / produce, Cobblestone Farm / produce, KDCrop Farm/ eggs, jams and jellies, Kim Bowers / eggs and maple syrup, Kindred Crossings / meat, Lara Skirvan / produce, Maggie’s Farm / produce, Mary Hawley / eggs, Mathew Olkin / produce, Matt Pulk / produce, Melinda Fields / eggs and produce, Monument Hill Farm / produce, Mountain Dairy / dairy products, Proctor Hill Farm / meat, Rachael Landry / flowers, Raptor Ridge Farm / eggs, Shooks Apiaries / honey, Shundahai Farm / produce, Swift Acre Farm / produce, The Clucking Chicken Farm / eggs, The Loved Hen Farm / eggs, Tiny Acre Farm / produce, Tobacco Farm / produce, Waddicor’s Winterplace / cheese, Wayne Sweet / eggs, Willow Valley farm / produce, and Winterplace Farm Creamery / cheese. 

If you have a farm and are interested in selling to the Willimantic Co-op Patty suggested  you can use the Contact Us form on the Co-op’s website or if it is produce their local produce buyer Mark at produce@willimaticfood.coop.

Egg Salad, Yup, But Not Your Mom’s

Filling for four sandwiches

Ingredients:

4 large eggs, preferably local.

5 tablespoons of mayonnaise

1 cup of finely chopped celery ( 1 stalk)

¼ cup of minced parsley

1 scallion, minced (you can substitute with a ½ of a small onion)

1 granny smith apple, peeled, core removed, and apple grated into salad.

1 tablespoon of minced dill weed

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Cover eggs with lightly salted water in a pot

Bring to a boil. Boil 12 minutes

Drain hot water and immediately submerge in cold water.

Let water run over eggs until eggs are cooled.

Peel eggs. 

If you are peeling fresh local eggs don’t be surprised if they are a pain to peel.

Chop eggs, add mayonnaise, chopped vegetables / apple

Season with salt and pepper

Cover mixture and place in refrigerator for one hour.

Serve on a whole wheat bread or bagel with lettuce and tomato.

Eggs are the sign of spring. The local hens have begun laying and we will begin to see a lot of signs pop up on the highways and byways offering local eggs for sale. Did you know that egg salad sandwiches is a favorite in Singapore?  This egg salad sandwich is actually a Japanese favorite called Tamago Sando. It is tucked between two slices of sweet milk bread, and it is prepared with kewpie mayonnaise.

Starting with this column I am planning to incorporate some tips I have picked up along the way from farmers, markets, and local gardening associations. As birds are making their way back to the area, welcome them  with some nesting materials. Do you have one of those suet holders laying around? Leave it by your clothes dryer and every time you take out the fluff from your filter add it to the suet holder. When full hang it by your bird feeder. Birds will think they died and went to heaven.  Also, my experience last year, while taking the UConn Master Gardener program (which I highly recommend) is that when gardening do not state that your growing matter is dirt. Instead call it soil. Dirt is what you track into the house. Another tip is when going to purchase soil to fill your raised beds do not fall for the expensive marketing of raised bed soil. Instead purchase several bags of a lesser priced substrate and purchase a bag of compost and a bag of peat moss and make your own mixture. You may also want to add vermiculite for water retention.  Countless recipes can be found online. Lastly, as it will soon be early spring, if you have not done this recently have your soil tested. Think about it. How can you invest in expensive seeds or pre grown plants if you do not know the composition and attributes of the soil you are planning to grow in. For a reasonable price you can send it or drop it off to the University. A great article and contact information can be found here:  https://homegarden.cahnr.uconn.edu/factsheets/soil-testing/ 

If you find that you enjoy reading this column every month or if you have some gardening hacks you would like to share with others? Please drop me a line and let me know  at Codfish53@Yahoo.com. I am grateful to those who let me know that they missed my column when it was absent in the last issue. Peas be with you. Come celebrate with me and remember, every day is a holiday, and every meal is a banquet.  I’ll save you a seat at the table!

From the Ground Up – Buying Local in Connecticut

By C. Dennis Pierce

Mushrooms are miniature pharmaceutical factories, and of the thousands of mushroom species in nature, our ancestors and modern scientists have identified several dozen that have a unique combination of talents that improve our health.

… Paul Stamets

My dog decided that 3:10 in the morning was a great time to go outside and listen to the geese as they land in the nearby reservoir. She cocked her head and stared attentively into the dark as she listened to the geese who were checking in with each other as they settled in the water. I guess they were sharing whether to stay the night or head off to Chesapeake Bay as they headed south. Tinker, short for Tinkerbell, ultimately decided the need to go outside at 3:10 in the morning was a false alarm and she did not have to pee after all and trotted back to the house back to the warmness of her bed. 

I should have been upset being dragged out of bed in the middle of the night. Actually, not dragged since Tinker is a small terrier but more like licked to death which is her way of saying, “get up buddy I have to go”. As I have gotten older, I find this is not really an inconvenience at all. It provides me with a glimpse of nature that I would have missed. The stillness of the middle of the night is something to experience. During this part of the season which I refer to as the “shoulder season” where fall is here, and it is trying to coax winter into making an appearance. Old man winter is reluctant. He is not ready to make his blustery appearance. He is holding back in hopes of bringing in snow for Christmas or at least much colder, sweater weather. During the middle of the night this time of year you do not hear the crack of the frozen branches in the stillness at 3:10 in the morning nor the soft sound of snow as it falls to the ground. You are only fortunate to listen to the sounds of the honking of geese and an occasional car whose driver is on their way to work to start their milk route for the local dairy.

Over the years I have been fortunate to share the stories from my many interviews with farmers, owners of vineyards, and owners of distilleries. My recent interview which I found educational and interesting was the opportunity to meet Randy Collins and his wife Amada, proprietors of Collinswood Mushrooms in Tolland, Connecticut. Randy was a parcel delivery person and Amanda was studying to be a nurse when they got married. My interview with Randy was an eye opener. Mushrooms have always been a mystery to me. While walking through the many paths in Mansfield and those that are part of Josuah’s Trust, I have seen mushrooms appearing like magic after a few days of rain. So, when I had the opportunity of meeting Randy at the Storrs Farmer’s market, I arranged for an interview to learn more about mushroom farming. 

In 2012, while on his route while employed by a delivery service Randy was severely injured as another vehicle failed to provide Randy with the right of way.  Randy’s injuries were mostly confined to his legs, but his rehab time was extensive and it was a critical turning point. During this period Randy realized that he needed to find a new path in life and through his research on the internet he came across several interesting articles that shared the knowledge on how to grow mushrooms. While this is a common practice of local farmers where they add inoculated plugs into fallen logs  Randy was more intrigued with how to grow with the mycelium growing process in a petri dish. So, you ask what is mycelium? The dictionary defines mycelium as a network of fungal threads or hyphae. Mycelia often grow underground but can also thrive in other places such as rotting tree trunks. A single spore can develop into a mycelium. The fruiting bodies of fungi, such as mushrooms, can sprout from mycelium. In my interview with Randy, he shared the in-depth process, where he sources his strains such as one his buys from Mossey Creek farm in Tennessee and begins the growing process in a petri dish. He also shared that in the process of growing mushrooms he is able to create hybrid mushrooms that take on new flavors or should I say shared flavors. I found this interesting. Much like a wine connoisseur describes a bottle of wine, Randy describes the attributes that the various mushrooms offer. The flavor profiles of different mushrooms might have hints of cashews, others were beefy with a slight taste of anise.  

Collinswood’s mushrooms have the ability to currently grow up to sixty pounds per week but also has the capacity to grow up to two hundred to three hundred pounds per week. They currently sell to chefs in the Hartford area, and in the Storrs, Ashford, and Tolland farmers market. Their mushrooms can also be found in the Heirloom’s market in Wethersfield. In my conversation with Randy, I was curious on how best to store mushrooms when purchased. Randy suggested that they should be stored in a paper bag in the refrigerator. Never a plastic bag since they are a living organism. Another lesson I learned from Randy was the proper way to prepare mushrooms. I have a culinary background and I can honestly say this was the first time I have ever heard of the dry pan method. The dry pan method is as follows: In preparing mushrooms they should be sliced or quartered as needed for your recipe. Use a heavy pan such as a cast iron pan. Use medium heat to heat the pan. Once the pan is warm add a handful of mushroom making sure not to crowd the mushrooms or they will release too much moisture . The heat of the pan will cause the mushrooms to release the liquid that they hold. This liquid will cook off as the mushrooms brown. Sir occasionally to prevent burning. When the mushroom are brown, they are done. That is the time you can add some butter and salt or garlic. The mushrooms will absorb the added ingredients, soaking up the richness of the butter. These can be added to omelets, or a mushroom quiche or to top off a burger.    

Want to learn more about growing mushrooms? Randy follows Eric Meyers’ YouTube channel, Paul Stamets who has several books available and Peter McCoy, whose book is, Radical Mycology.  Collinswood Mushrooms specialize in gourmet and medicinal mushrooms that are locally grown in Tolland Connecticut. Randy’s contact information is 860-906-2063 and randy@collinswoodmushrooms.com

Several years ago, I was fortunate to introduce Frances Moore Lappe, author of the book Diet for a Small Planet when she came to the UConn Book store while on tour promoting her 20th Anniversary Edition of her cookbook.  For those who do not know who Francis is, her book  started a revolution in the way Americans eat. The Washington Post stated, “Diet for a Small Planet, holds that universal access to a healthy and sustainable diet provides a global springboard to a better environment, functional democracies, stronger economies and increased social justice. While the concept might seem commonplace today, it was revolutionary at the time. For Lappé, focusing her research on the merits of a plant-centered diet was inevitable, even though she was not herself a vegetarian at that time, because it was clear that growing legumes for consumption was more cost-effective and ecoecoconscious than raising animals for food.” 

Over the years I have prepared the following recipe that is in Francis’s cookbook when I had an excess of mushrooms and also when I needed a meal where a vegetarian guest was present. 

Mushroom Stroganoff

Serves 4

Ingredients:

½ pound of egg noodles (the flat kind). I supposed you can also substitute rice.

1 Tbs. of butter

1 small onion, finely chopped

½ pound of mushrooms, cut in half

2 cloves of garlic crushed

2 Tbs. of fresh parsley chopped (plus 1 Tbs. if you want to garnish the dish when completed) or 1 Tbs. of dried parsley

3 dashes of Worcester sauce

1 cup of cottage cheese

½ cup of yogurt

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: 

Prepare noodles and drain.

Heat butter and sauté onion, mushrooms and garlic until onion is translucent.

Add parsley when onions are almost done.

Stir in Worcester sauce

In a blender or with a hand mixer blend cottage cheese, yogurt and salt and pepper until smooth.

Add heated vegetables to blended mixture

Serve immediately over hot well drained egg noodles.

Garnish with chopped parsley

For those who embrace Nature and the earth’s cycles. You might have missed the viewing of the Beaver moon in the early hours of Monday, November 27th. According to astrologer from The Cosmic Co, Betty Andrews, “This name has its origins in the traditions and practices of some Native American tribes and was later adopted by European colonists. The Beaver Moon is linked to the time of year when beavers begin to take shelter in their lodges, having gathered enough food to last through the winter.” And least not forget Winter Solstices is December 21st.  NASA, defines the Winter Solstice, or the December Solstice, as the point at which the path of the sun in the sky is farthest south. At the Winter Solstice, the sun travels the shortest path through the sky resulting in the day of the year with the least sunlight and therefore, the longest night. In the lead-up to the Winter Solstice, the days become shorter and shorter, then on the evening of the solstice  from then onwards the days become increasingly long leading up to the Summer Solstice or the June Solstice, and the longest day of the year. 

So that ends another year of my Neighbor’s columns. Most of my previous columns can be found online at Neighborspaper.com. My first column was written in March of 2010. Seems just like yesterday. To all that follow my column, Happy Holidays. May the magic of the holidays fill your heart with peace and happiness. Wishing you a joyous holiday season! If you have a suggestion for a farm or a local grower or even a recipe that would feature a local ingredient, please let me know. I will do my best to share your suggestions in a future column.  Drop me a line at Codfish53@Yahoo.com. So, Peas be with you. Come celebrate with me and remember, every day is a holiday, and every meal is a banquet.  I’ll save you a seat at the table! 


From the Ground Up – Buying Local in Connecticut

By C. Dennis Pierce

“Everyone loves fried chicken, Don’t ever make it. Ever. Buy it from a place that makes good fried chicken.”

Nora Ephron

As it is stated, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, wait a minute”. This week has given us record highs and record lows. Local gardeners and farmers are anxiously waiting for that first hard frost. Both want to get their garlic in the ground and nestle them with a blanket of straw while gardeners are in search of the best time to plant their bulbs just hoping that their monetary investment does better than the stock market and that the evil skunks, voles, mice, squirrels, chipmunks  and other creatures don’t ravish the crop before the flowers make their spring debut. 

This month I sought out a unique venture that has sprouted in Columbia, Connecticut. Before I share my exciting find I want to shed  some light on our history of buying locally. The roots of the “Farm to Fork” initiative stretch back to the 60’s and 70’s when consumers became increasingly dissatisfied with processed foods that they found bland. One of the first farm-to-table restaurants in America was opened by Chef Alice Waters who opened her restaurant in California in 1971. Her restaurant, Chez Panisse, featured fresh, locally grown ingredients as part of a seasonal menu. Waters was inspired by the sustainable community food movement she enjoyed when she lived in France. 

I had the honor of meeting Chef Waters at a conference at Yale . In 2001 Waters became interested in the culture of food at Yale when her daughter, Fanny Singer ‘05, joined Jonathan Edwards College as an undergraduate.  A conversation between Waters and Yale President, Richard Levin sparked the idea for an ambitious University undertaking: a project encompassing a sustainable dining program, a college farm, university composting, and increased education around food and agriculture. Driven by this ambitious vision, a steering committee of students, faculty, and staff tackled the dining program first, inaugurating a pilot project in Berkeley College’s (one of Yale’s twelve residential colleges) dining hall to serve all local, seasonal, and sustainable food. A group of students joined Joshua Viertel, the first director, to write a proposal to establish a campus farm. The proposal was approved by President Levin, and in the summer of 2003, the interns broke ground at the Yale Farm at 345 Edwards Street and ran a composting pilot to recycle waste from Yale’s dining halls. The conference that I attended, “Tilling the Soil; Turning the Tables” on Yale’s campus was attended by 170 people from 19 colleges and universities. And that my friend was the beginning of the Farm to Fork movement on college and university campuses.  

But now let me get back to a true local farm to fork initiative. Sure, local farmer’s markets and  Co-ops provide a cornucopia of fresh locally grown ingredients, but nothing stands close to the efforts of, “The GOOD Farm” located at 544, Route 87 in Columbia right down the road from Heartstone Winery. Jefferson Monroe and his wife Erin met  across the Vineyard Sound on New Year’s Day. After an 8-month courtship Erin moved onto the GOOD Farm where she and Jefferson weathered the pandemic with friends, fried foods, and farming. It started in 2021 when they found the farm in Columbia and they were able to purchase it from Walt and Nancy Tabor of Heartstone Winery. Erin has continued her lifelong passion for helping people as a Nurse Practitioner in the Hartford area while Jefferson spends his days raising animals and piloting the Twin Beaks trailer around northeastern Connecticut. So, you ask, what is the Twin Beaks trailer? That dear readers is the true “farm to fork” experience. The GOOD Farm pasture raises hundreds of chickens for the main purpose of becoming the best, gluten free (yes, gluten free) fried chicken that you have ever put into your mouth. My first experience was at the Andover’s farmers market this summer where Jefferson and Caroline Bayarsaihan, one of the members of the farm’s crew, let me experience culinary nirvana. At first glance when lifting the lid of the old fashion cardboard box the fragrance tempted me to jump right in but then upon my first glance I hesitated because the chicken did not look like Kentucky Fried. Adjusting my perception, I realized that because they are using potato flour to coat the chicken, thus making it gluten free, these savory morsels took on a whole different appearance. So, without hesitation I tore right into it,  and I can honestly say (having a culinary background) this is by far the best fried chicken that I have ever experienced in my life.     

Their website says it best: “Our culinary inspiration comes from the ground up – literally! We raise our animals with an eye towards their welfare and the carrying capacity of our land. What we sell grows out of that ethos and foods we love – many of our dishes were test run at employee meals for months before getting added to the menu. In fact, the idea of frying our delicious, farm raised chicken came from not one, but two separate employees before we even gave it a try. We strive to use flavors that complement our roots – that of our farm and the land we rest lightly upon.”

The concept of raising chickens and then offering the best fried chicken comes with a wry sense of humor and that is the name of their mobile offerings. Twin Beaks Fried Chicken combines some of their favorite things – barnyard puns, the mundane oddities of life and the (occasional) supernatural event or vision. They are  mostly just trying to have fun in a little old town called Twin Beaks, trying to get to the bottom of the mystery of:  “Who killed Leghorn Palmer?”, while serving and eclectic menu to delight the appetites of all. Since opening Twin Beaks Fried Chicken in 2023, the GOOD Farm has served their chicken, pork, lamb, and eggs as ready to eat takeout from their mobile/kitchen / trailer.  While they specialize in fried chicken, they love all of their delicious menu offerings. 

I hope at this point you are intrigued, anxious and hungry. The best place to find when Twin Beaks Fried Chicken will be visiting your town is to saunter down to their website and check out their master calendar, https://www.twinbeaksfriedchicken.com/where-to-find-us And that’s not all. If you still have not planned out your Thanksgiving dinner The Good Farm is still taking orders for their turkeys. GOOD Farm Connecticut Turkey Order Form 2023  is on their website under, “Where We Get Our Meats. They will be distributing their turkeys the week leading up to Thanksgiving so that your family can experience a delicious, pasture raised bird for the holiday. At this point I can go on and on but a recommend that you check out the GOOD Farm’s web site, Twinbeaksfriedchicken.com to learn more about the history of their venture, Jefferson, and their full menu at Twin Beaks. Questions? Contact them at  thegoodfarmmv@gmail.com

Summer vegetables are waning. You  will be fortunate if you can still find a tomato at the farmer’s market and if you do grab it since it will soon be a collectors item or just a memory. But to try out the following recipe be on the lookout for fall chard. This tangy relish is a nice accompaniment  for pork, 

lamb, or a firm fish like swordfish. With its vinegar-soaked raisins it can be a substitute for cranberry relish if you double or triple the recipe.

Chard Stalk Relish With Pine Nuts & Raisins

Ingredients:

1/3 of a cup of golden raisins, currants, dried cranberries, or regular raisins

2 tablespoons of sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons of water

¼ cup of pine nuts or slivered almonds

2 tablespoons of olive oil

½ cup of finely diced, red onion

A large pinch of red chili flakes or a small dried red chili, crumbled

½ teaspoon of minced garlic

Stalks from 1 large bunch of chard, preferably rainbow chard. Sliced ¼ inch thick and sauté until tender

Kosher salt

Directions: 

Place the raisins or dried fruit in a small bowl with the vinegar and water.

Let soak while to prepare the other ingredients

Place the nuts in a small frying pan over medium low heat. 

Toast, tossing occasionally until golden. Watch carefully as they burn easily.

Transfer to a plate and let cool.

Place 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat.

Add onion and red chili flakes and sauté, stirring occasionally until the onion is tender.

Add the garlic, sliced chard stalks and cook for a few minutes.

Add a small splash of water, cover and cook, stirring occasionally until the stalk are tender

Add raisins (or dried fruit) with their soaking liquid and bring to a simmer

Allow the liquid to cook off slightly

Remove from heat, stir in nuts and the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and season to taste with salt

Serve immediately or at room temperature.

If you hold the relish and serve later hold back the nuts and add them just before serving.  

I hope the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday provides you with the opportunity to gather with friends and family and maybe even dine on a turkey from the GOOD farm!

If you have a suggestion for a farm or a local grower or even a recipe that would feature a local ingredient, please let me know. I will do my best to share your suggestions in a future column.  Drop me a line at Codfish53@Yahoo.com. So, Peas be with you. Come celebrate with me and remember, every day is a holiday, and every meal is a banquet.  I’ll save you a seat at the table! 

From the Ground Up—Buying Local in Connecticut

By C. Dennis Pierce

The garden year has no beginning and no end. 

—Elizabeth Lawrence

The world of gardening is like drinking through a fire hose. You can never learn enough. For some time, I have considered myself somewhat of a gardener. Each growing season I had a simple relationship with the soil and I either introduced some seeds into my garden or, for lack of time and planning, relied on the local greenhouse’s “starter” plants. I watered and, when necessary, at least at first, weeded, until the weeds ruined my rapport with my plants. I would also load up with a spray mixture of Dawn dish soap and water as I engaged in a war against undesirable insects, often losing the battle. As the summer progressed, the only reward I hoped for was a few tomatoes and basil leaves to make the essence of a fresh summer salad.

If you read my column on a regular basis, you will recall that last fall I shared that I had signed up for the University of Connecticut’s Master Gardener program. Having retired, it was one of the many items that was on my “bucket list.” I applied in October, was accepted, and began classes in January. From January to May, I trekked up to Brooklyn every Friday for classes, only to find that what I thought I knew about gardening was pretty much nothing at all. Now it is September, and classes and volunteer hours have ended. Graduation will be in mid-October, and I will have successfully transitioned from what I call a “sprout” to a certified “permanent nametag holder”: Master Gardener.

You may ask, what is a Master Gardener? Certified Master Gardeners are members of the local community who take an active interest in lawns, trees, shrubs, flowers, and gardens. They are enthusiastic, willing to learn and to help others, and able to communicate with diverse groups of people that might have questions or challenges with their gardening activities. Master Gardeners receive extensive training and then provide information to the public via phone or email helplines, speak at public events, write articles for publications and the internet, and partner with other community programs, gardens, and educational facilities. The label Master Gardener isn’t simply a designation for someone who is good at gardening, but rather a specific title achieved through skill, hard work, and a passion for people. It is a designation overseen by the U.S. government and land-grant universities. Many universities offer Master Gardener programs through the Cooperative Extension System of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Master Gardeners are distinguished by two main traits:

  • A commitment to being a community resource for gardening knowledge as well as a desire to teach and mentor other gardeners
  • A dedication to volunteering and community service

Applications have opened for UConn’s 2024 edition of its Extension Master Gardener program, which blends educational instruction and hands-on volunteer work to instruct participants in the art of horticulture. The deadline for applications is Oct. 13, 2023, and formal instruction will begin on Jan. 8, 2024. The university has a long history of education through the Master Gardener program. It has been taught throughout Connecticut since 1978, at locations including Stamford, Norwich, Torrington, New Haven, and Brooklyn. Online, the UConn Extension Master Gardener program continues to engage individuals of all skill levels in the process of gardening. Participants do not just learn to build their own gardens but are also given a critical opportunity to spread their knowledge and enthusiasm with would-be gardeners and perform community outreach. The application and further details can be found at the official UConn Master Gardener website, https://mastergardener.uconn.edu, which also provides valuable resources and information on Advanced Master Gardener classes. 

While my experience was worth the effort, potential interns should be aware of the time commitment. To become a Certified Master Gardener, you must complete a 16-week course that meets once a week from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., starting in January and running through April. Individuals enrolled in the program receive training in botany, plant pathology, soils, entomology, pesticide safety, integrated pest management (IPM), woody ornamentals, herbaceous ornamentals, vegetables, tree and small fruits, turf grass, invasive plants, weeds, water quality, environmental factors affecting plant growth, and diagnostic techniques for the home gardener. 

Following formal classroom instruction, you will complete a 60-hour internship program. Thirty hours are dedicated to hands-on training in the Extension offices, where interns are supervised in researching and determining the answers to a broad range of horticultural questions, including insect and plant identification, diagnosing plant diseases, and providing sound horticultural recommendations. The remaining 30 hours are devoted to organized community outreach projects. Internships include plant clinics, educational displays at local county fairs and farmers markets, presentation of educational lectures, and working in demonstration gardens. During this past year, I have volunteered with the Friends of Goodwin Forest, maintained information tables at various events such as the Coventry and Andover farmers markets and the Lebanon and Woodstock fairs. In mid-October I will participate in the “graduation” ceremony, where I will receive a certificate and name badge officially verifying my achievements as a University of Connecticut–certified Master Gardener.

In the end, you might ask, was it all worth it? The guy who thought he knew enough to grow a tomato plant realized he was only scraping the surface. This may sound corny, but in a biblical sense the scales fell from my eyes, and I now have a different perspective on the nature that surrounds me. I have a better understanding of the plants, trees, and shrubs in my yard that I took for granted, how they rely on each other and the challenges they encounter, and how the ecological system that surrounds me survives. So, if you ever had the inclination to obtain the certification, do so now. As mentioned above, the application deadline for this year is October 13. 

 No time to commit, but you are an avid gardener? Remember that whenever you encounter a gardening issue, you can email the Master Gardener program and you will receive a response that will help you in your time of need. And best of all, it is a free service brought to you by UConn’s Master Gardener program and Extension offices: https://mastergardener.uconn.edu/ask-us-a-question/.

*

Some of you may be putting your garden to bed, others may still have a lot of squash as a result of a successful production season. On the culinary side, we have a tendency to move to preparing thicker soups, such as a bisque, this time of year. These tend to be a hearty, smooth and richly flavored earthy soups, such as the pureed butternut squash soup described below:

Curried Butternut Squash Bisque

Serves 6 to 8

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Ingredients:

1 medium butternut squash (about 1¾ lb.)

1 tablespoon butter

¾ cup finely chopped onion

1 clove garlic, minced

1 large cooking apple, such as a Cortland or McIntosh, peeled, cored, and chopped into ¼-inch pieces

1 teaspoon curry powder, or more to taste

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

4 cups chicken broth

1 tablespoon tomato paste

½ cup half and half

1 tablespoon minced fresh sage leaves or 1/ teaspoon dried sage

salt and pepper to taste

whole sage leaves for garnish

Directions:

Wrap the squash in aluminum foil and bake for 1½ hours or until squeezable in the center.

Remove and when cool enough to handle, remove seeds, scoop out pulp, and set pulp aside.

Melt butter in a large pot.

Add onions, garlic, and apple and cook over low heat until mixture is soft, about 10 minutes.

Add curry, nutmeg, and flour and stir until flour is mixed in.

Add this mixture, squash, and 1 cup of broth to a food processor and puree.

Return mixture to the pot and add tomato paste, half and half, minced sage, the remaining 3 cups of broth, and salt and pepper to taste.

Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly until beginning to boil.

Serve in pre-heated bowls with a garnish of whole sage leaves.

Preparing a homemade soup is a process. Unlike the convenience of opening a can and reheating the contents, each step is an effort that involves all of your senses and the result is a unique experience that is one of life’s pleasures. There is nothing extraneous in any of the actions. That is what is called living. Life requires time and effort. If we eliminate time and effort, we eliminate life’s pleasures. Enjoy the processes in life, and every so often experience the flip side of convenience.

Lastly, I leave you with a poem by Robert Frost that is so suited as we approach the season of autumn.

October

O hushed October morning mild,

Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;

Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,

Should waste them all.

The crows above the forest call;

Tomorrow they may form and go.

O hushed October morning mild,

Begin the hours of this day slow.

Make the day seem to us less brief.

Hearts not averse to being beguiled,

Beguile us in the way you know.

Release one leaf at break of day;

At noon release another leaf;

One from our trees, one far away.

Retard the sun with gentle mist;

Enchant the land with amethyst.

Slow, slow!

For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,

Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,

Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—

For the grapes’ sake along the wall.

If you have a suggestion for a farm or a local grower or even a recipe that features a local ingredient, please let me know. I will do my best to share your suggestions in a future column. Drop me a line at Codfish53@Yahoo.com. Peas be with you. Come celebrate with me and remember, every day is a holiday, and every meal is a banquet. I’ll save you a seat at the table! 

Caption: John Lorusso, Erica DuPlessis, and Katie Wilcock.

C. Dennis Pierce

“I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

George Bernard Shaw

There are times in your life when the unexpected turns your life around. Tom and Kyla Satkowski, current owners of East Willow Farm in Columbia, were living in Berlin and then Amston, Connecticut and were slowly outgrowing their residence and were in search of a larger piece of property. They had engaged a realtor who had introduced them to several options, however these were not quite right. Finally running out of viable options an opportunity arrived to visit a farm in Columbia. On the day of their visit, they were met by the current owner and to Tom’s surprise it was an old classmate who he had not seen in many years. The farm had hundreds of apple trees and Tom’s classmate, who was a former chef on the Cape, had come to conclusion that farming was not a career that was practical for him, and he offered Tom and Kyla a deal that they could not refuse.  So, that all took place a few years ago, and now, several years later, Tom and Kyla have created a “one stop” shop farm that continues to take Columbia by storm. 

Over the years while driving up Route 66, heading out of Columbia proper, while heading to Hebron, I have passed the farm sign on numerous occasions but never took the opportunity to stop in. If you are familiar with the area the entrance to East Willow Farm is right after the park and ride parking lot on Route 66. Visiting the farm, I was welcomed by an inviting avenue of trees that lined the road leading to the farm. While it was a warm day back in Mansfield, I was surprised to feel a fall-like breeze which brought a comforting coolness to the air. At the end of the road there was plenty of parking and a well-appointed farm store. Let me correct that. The “well appointed” description does not do it justice. 

Perhaps this is the best place to stop and explain a trend that I see local farmers are adopting. If you look back many years ago our state only hosted a few farmer’s markets. Now, most towns have a seasonal market that offers a wide variety of local fresh options. The farmers that are present at the market must spend a lot of time and energy to prepare for the market, load their trucks, set up and then tear down and subsequently unload, always hoping that the weather is conducive, and the market has a lot of customers that are interested in purchasing the farmer’s offerings. The trend I mentioned earlier is that some farms are finding that the markets are not the best opportunity and subsequently have created farm stands on their own farms. In essence some of the local farms have almost made a 360-degree change back to what it was in the early days.

Now, let me take you back to Tom and Kyla’s, East Willow Farm. Gone are the apple trees except for a few left standing while the land makes way for berry bushes and a field for the chicken tractors. You ask what is a chicken tractor?  A chicken tractor is a movable chicken coop lacking a floor. Chicken tractors allow free range feeding along with a shelter, this allows chickens fresh forage such as grass, weeds, and bugs, which widens their diet and lowers their traditional feed needs. Unlike fixed coops, chicken tractors do not have floors so there is no need to clean them out. They support a natural, symbiotic cycle of foraging through which the birds eat down the vegetation, deposit fertilizing manure, then go on to a new area. Tom moves their “tractors” daily, so the chickens are always foraging in a new area. 

Adjacent to the parking area is a greenhouse that provides an area to start the farm’s vegetable plants as well as providing starter plants for sale to the farm’s customers. The farm grows a variety of vegetables, raise pigs, chickens and soon turkeys as they prepare for Thanksgiving. While their produce is not certified organic, they do use organic practices and do not use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. The farm also has a small apiary that is used to help pollinate their gardens. Tom and Kyla operating a farm has become a labor of love and devotion. They started this farm because they found something worth sharing right in their own backyard. 

As the responsibilities are divided up Tom takes care of the gardens and livestock, and Kyla operates the well-supplied farm store. Their two children are right alongside them pitching in whenever they can. Now their farm store is not an ordinary store since they sell their own meat offerings, eggs, candles that are made by Kyla and extensive line of locally sourced dairy, honey, and bakery items.  

Back to the farm activities, Tom makes sure that the farm provides a stress-free setting for their animals. Tom has experimented with various strains of pigs in order achieve a hybrid vigor, the best attributes of various pig species combined. The farm’s pigs are pasture raised and they move from paddock to paddock as they go about clearing the land. Tom refers to them as his “construction workers”. Were they happy pigs? I can honestly say when I was taking a photo, I swear I saw some of them smiling. 

So why does East Willow Farm operate with such a caring philosophy? Because their initiative supports healthier and happier animals that are raised ethically in open pastures, animals that deserve to be fed what they are meant to eat. The farm’s efforts builds a stronger community which consists of the customers who wants to take back their control of the food they purchase, cook and eat in order to ensure a long term health and happiness for their friends and families. Lastly, the farm’s efforts are part of the overall stewardship of the soil since it is one of our most vital resources.

Here is a recipe to try out utilizing East Willow’ prized pork:

Maple Glazed Pork Chops with Roasted Corn Relish

Serves: 4 

Prepare Corn Relish prior to cooking chops on grill. You can make glaze prior to making corn relish. You might want to place dishes or serving dish, if you are using one dish to serve from in a warm oven ahead of time.

Maple Glaze / Pork Chops

Ingredients:

6 tablespoons of maple syrup

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Freshly ground pepper

4, thick sliced pork chops

Directions: 

Combine maple syrup and vinegar in a small saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat.

Simmer until reduced by half and just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. About 4 to 5 minutes.

Season with several grindings of fresh pepper and set aside.

Pre heat grill to medium high

Oil the grill rack with an oil spray.

Place pork chops on grill for a few minutes and then turn over and do the other side. This should have made grill marks on the chops.

Brush maple glaze on one side of pork chops and then turn the chops over and do the other side.

Cook until the internal temperature is 145 degrees.

Roasted Corn Relish

Ingredients:

4 ounces of thick bacon diced.

½ cup of finely chopped red onion

3 scallions, white and light green parts coarsely chopped.

2 cups of fresh corn kernels (from about 4 ears). Substitute frozen if necessary.

6 tablespoons of maple syrup

1 red or orange bell pepper, stemmed, seeds removed and diced.

2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Directions:

Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp.

Drain all but 1 teaspoon of fat from the pan.

Add onion and sauté until lightly cooked.

Stir in the scallions, corn, and bell pepper.

Raise the heat and add balsamic vinegar.

Bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits.

Sauté over high heat, stirring constantly until vegetables are warmed but barely cooked, one to two minutes.

Remove from heat and season with salt & pepper.

When pork chops are done gently reheat corn mixture by either returning it to the stove or placing it briefly in the microwave.

Place corn mixture on plates and place pork chops on top of corn mixture. 

I would highly recommend stopping by East Willow Farm in Columbia. They are open Tuesday through Friday from 10:00am to 5:00pm and Saturday and Sunday from 9:00am to 4:00pm. I would suggest a visit not only because of the variety of options they offer but because their farm meats and their farming philosophy make this farm differ from others. Pasture raising their animals is an extremely rewarding process for them.  It’s a way to connect their animals with the earth in a healthy and stress-free environment.  When they can almost eliminate some grains and introduce high quality grasses and nutrient rich soils, their efforts produces an amazing tasting meat.  When grains are being used for their livestock, they are purchased with a specific diet mix from a farm in Scotland.  

​ When animals can roam free, it generates more oxygen in their bloodstream and creates what’s called myoglobin.  Myoglobin is a mixture of water and proteins, which move oxygen to muscle cells.  You will find their pork is of a finer quality than store bought.  You will also taste the difference in their chicken. Since they are pastured raised it is a tender and more favorable meat like no other. Interested in being part of their meat CSA? You can join anytime during the year. Their CSA runs in 6 moth increments. Pick-ups are the first Saturday of each month during normal store hours. For more information give them a call.  East Willow Farm’s phone number is 860.538.2747. They also host a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/eastwillowfarm/ 

If you have a suggestion for a farm or a local grower or even a recipe that would feature a local ingredient, please let me know. I will do my best to share your suggestions in a future column.  Drop me a line at Codfish53@Yahoo.com. So, Peas be with you. Come celebrate with me and remember, every day is a holiday, and every meal is a banquet.  I’ll save you a seat at the table!

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