Please see our active website & blog at

Please see our active website and blog at

Note: This site exists because a direct import from blogger to our new wordpress blog didn’t work very well. The import failed after 500 posts and the formatting was odd. Advice on support forums suggested importing to a free blog first, then exporting & importing to our wordpress installation. This yielded a much better result.


Mid-winter work

After returning from a much-needed and -enjoyed early January trip to visit family and friends, we’ve launched ourselves into number of important winter projects.

Immediately upon returning home, we got to work putting together the first CSA shares, including setting up the inaugural online member survey. Our goal is for this system to allow limited share customization, helping members have some control over what they do and don’t receive, while not being too complicated for us to manage. Two share sizes plus ten or so items plus three options (none, standard amount, extras please) is already a significant amount of complexity, but we’re trying the system out this year because we really like the value it creates for everyone involved.

Shares were delivered on Monday and Thursday afternoon, with only one small hitch that was easily corrected. It took about 2 hours each day to do the delivery route, a significantly shorter time expenditure than going to one market, though higher mileage. Saving us more time, one of our employees will generally be doing the Thursday delivery route for us, paid as an independent contractor for the off-farm work. She likes the idea, as she’ll be working here Thursday mornings anyway, and it means we only have to come to Columbia once a week, a significant time savings for us.

We’ve received a couple good comments already, so I’m hoping everyone enjoyed their pulse of fresh winter vegetables (and purchased eggs, in some cases). We’d certainly like to hear of any concerns. Although storing all these crops until now creates a higher risk and workload for us, we also really like getting some product to members right away. It makes their investment more real; no one has to wait five months to get any return on the up-front payment, and it buffers any future crop failures or issues through the rest of the year. So far, so good for the 2012 CSA.

Before leaving on our trip, Joanna especially worked long hours putting together our fairly complex seed order that juggles six or more seed companies and ~150 varieties. In addition, we save our own seed for many other items, but still need to integrate those stocks and any leftover seeds from last year with the rest of the order. Developing the seed order inherently requires putting together a realistic planting plan for the coming year, which is a large task in itself as we balance crop rotations, work schedules, weather/climate considerations, CSA needs (which are quite different from market needs), and more. Effectively, to make a cost- and resource-efficient seed order requires planning out much of the next year, and needs to be done by early January so we can get the orders submitted in time to get everything we want. With the continued growth in both small farms and gardening, more pressure is placed on the seed-supplier bottleneck every year and many items vanish quickly (particularly so as organic certification requires us to seek out organic seed whenever possible/practical). Most of our orders are now submitted, and are arriving. The first indoor seed starting (onions) is already only a few weeks away.

We used results from our December survey of CSA members to guide the seed order development. For example, with respect to pepper heat/spiciness, only one household of twenty voted for habanero-level heat, so most of the hot peppers that we grow will be in the low-to-moderate heat category. (We were thinking about skipping habaneros altogether until we tasted an amazing habanero salsa while traveling and learned that the almost tropical fruitiness is a characteristic flavor of habaneros; so we’ll grow one or two plants.) From the survey, we also learned that many members seek out bitter flavors, so we’re going to trial a couple of new crops that tend to be on the bitter side: escarole and radicchio. Joanna isn’t especially fond of bitter flavors, but then again, neither are most insects, so these crops are likely to have fewer pest problems than some alternatives. Radicchio has a reputation for being finicky, though, so we’ll start by trialing a smallish quantity this year. We had several members comment that they would love to get any fruit we can grow. Hopefully the strawberries that are in the ground will produce enough for distribution, and we’re tentatively planning on a small watermelon patch, though they tend to be space-hogs for the yield anticipated. We’re also increasing blueberry and fruit tree plantings that will hopefully pay off with fruit in future years. And in spite of an already complex seed order and planting plan, Joanna always enjoys playing with a few new things, so this year some new herbs are on the trial plan; these include shiso, cumin, anise, and bronze fennel (some of which can be grown for seed, but all of which have edible leaves).


Behind the scenes, we’re developing a new farm website that uses a WordPress platform to integrate our blog, general farm information, CSA member information and utilities, and a better recipe/advice section. It’s a major upgrade to our online presence, but takes a lot of programming, design, and content development. At some point in the next month or so we expect to have enough done to bring it online, at which point this blog will go dormant as a content archive and all activity will move to the new site. In the meantime it means we’ll be competing for computer time while balancing our roles (Joanna does most of the background programming & structural design, I’ll be doing most of the writing and layout). It’ll probably take us a year to really get all the new content put together, but we at least need to get enough done for a respectable online presence.


Weather and indoor work permitting, we have a long task list on hand for outdoor infrastructure work. There are several more acres of overgrown land we’d like to clear of cedars entirely, and/or thin out for better pasture, given the growing goat and chicken population. The image above shows the orchard area; most of the visible cedars are on the clearing list. I also have to build a new, strong fence for this area, which will have more trees and other fruits going in this spring; other pasture areas could use some fencing work as well.

Another view of the new chicken shed above the orchard; that thick mass of cedars needs to go, so the area can regrow in a better pasture mix that chickens and goats will enjoy. We’ll be saving the few hardwoods in that mix, which should really benefit from more sun and growing room to hopefully become good shade trees. We’re also working with some neighbors to set back the thick cedar groves south of our entry road, which currently prevent the winter sun from warming and melting any snow and ice on that steep hill.

Whenever we get enough cedar logs collected and milled, there are a wide variety of possible projects requiring wood. We already have a request for some nice lumber for raised garden beds from a past wood customer. High on the list is enough lumber to build a smallish passive solar greenhouse for seed/plant starting, to get that work out of our basement and away from expensive grow-lights. In addition, I’d like to be able to improve the goat barn by adding battens along the walls (thin planks to seal gaps between the original boards) to improve the interior comfort. I also want to rebuild most of the doors, which were originally built with really ratty lumber because that’s all I had left from the year’s milling when the rest of the barn was built. Then I need to build new milking stands for the (expected) larger milking herd this year, making it possible for two people to milk at a time. The new chicken shed also needs more work, including finishing battens and building a solid confined run so the birds can have fresh air on days when hawks are around (right now we’re just using less-than-ideal chain-link panels). Any logging we do generates branches to chip into mulch that needs spreading on paths, and various types of firewood that need to be hauled and stacked.

Many small but important indoor tasks might be tackled this time of year, such as tool cleaning and sharpening, packing barn improvements, recipe research/writing/editing for later CSA use, finalizing the planting plan (& improving the long-term rotation plan), organic certification paperwork, tax preparation, and more. 

January CSA share

We’ll begin the 2012 CSA season by home-delivering our January share this week, a nice diverse set of seasonal storage produce with some fresh items made possible by the mild weather so far (we don’t use hoophouses).

We intend to start writing up and including more recipes for items as the year goes on, but are still rebuilding our website for now and so haven’t gotten to that yet. For now, Google and personal cookbooks will offer plenty of suggestions for recipes & uses, though I did find three recipes in our blog archive that rely heavily on share-included items:

Parsnip-sweet potato shepherd’s pie
Sweet potato curry
Spiced squash soup

Here’s a look at what shares will include, depending on individual requests (CSA members have the ability to opt out of items they don’t like/want). Images don’t necessarily reflect quantity distributed. NOTE: many root crops will have some dirt remaining on them, as it’s just not practical to fully scrub these outdoors in winter conditions. Much easier for each household to wash a pound of roots in a warm kitchen with warm water; we did a basic wash to remove clods, numbing our hands in the process, but you’ll want to finish them. That’s the reality of farm-fresh food sometimes.

Garlic heads: A selection of multiple garlic heads, drawn from good storage varieties still on hand. Siblings of these garlic heads are already in the ground growing, and this is the time of year when the biological clocks of some of the remaining storage heads also realize that it is time to sprout and try to grow. Heads can last until March or longer, but if you notice that one is beginning to sprout, just use it first. Green sprouts may have a more pungent flavor than the rest of the clove if used raw.

Here’s a key to the shorthand on the labels:
   All shares requesting garlic should have one of each of these:
        SIB: Siberian, excellent cooking variety which should be featured, not buried in the background.
        FIRE: Georgian Fire, spicy raw variety with strong flavor when cooked.
        SAM: Samarkand, one of the best varieties for storage.
Full shares also have one big or two small heads from among this collection:
        TOCH: Tochliavri, milder variety good for raw uses like pesto and salad dressing.
        BRIC: Brickey–Only a small supply, and thus we haven’t sold it before, but we’re quite fond of its robust flavor. From a woman who has been growing garlic in the area for years and was kind enough to give us a head back in 2009. Look for more in 2012.
        CRYST: Georgian Crystal, a good general purpose garlic.

For other information on garlic varieties, you might review this post.

Onions: A mix of red and yellow onions, small quantities but very tasty.

Carrots: Sweet cold-weather carrots with plenty of uses. They’re a mix of sizes in part because the grasshoppers devoured numerous rounds of seedlings back in late summer, and we kept reseeding to fill in gaps. The small ones are true baby carrots, not the lathed things that get passed off as such in the store. A shredded carrot salad is a nice way to feature these, or simply enjoy the sweetness with a pile of carrot sticks. No need to peel, just scrub.

Parsnips: Excellent roasted, alone or in a root vegetable mix. We really enjoy parsnip soup, which we make as a creamy blended soup that’s rich and filling on a cold winter day.  

Sweet potatoes: Great for roasting alone or with other roots; big ones can also be baked. There are two varieties, one with orange flesh and one with white flesh; we think the latter are especially sweet with a nice texture. We especially like roasted sweet potato fries: Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Scrub potatoes and cut out any blemishes, but there’s no need to peel. Cut small potatoes into rounds, larger ones into cubes or strips of somewhat uniform size. Toss with oil/fat of choice, sprinkle with salt and maybe a touch paprika or cinnamon. Roasting time is usually ~20-25 minutes. Stir after 10 minutes and check again at 20.

Butternut squash: These didn’t store as well as we hoped, and are showing their age, but should still have good flavor & nutrition for those willing to work around any developing softness. Offered as seconds-quality to those willing to take a chance on them. We’d recommend baking them whole (poke a few holes), removing any obvious bad spots, pureeing them, then using the puree in soups, breads, or other uses where the squash is combined with other ingredients. Anything that isn’t taken by members, we’ll use the above procedure on and freeze for later use.

 Leeks: Tasty mild alliums, adding a different flavor to dishes than onions. These are excellent sliced thin and sauteed in butter, or used as the base for leek-and-potato soup. Wash before use to remove any grit that might have gotten between layers. The easiest way to do this is to cut lengthwise in half and rinse under running water.

Cowpeas or cornmeal: Specialty items that are inefficient to grow but fantastic from a culinary point of view. We’re offering members a choice of small quantities, one or the other. Cowpeas are similar to black-eyed peas, and should be featured in cooking rather than buried in something like a chili; they also make a nice hummus base when cooked very soft. Cornmeal will be fresh-ground from heirloom corn, especially good for cornbread or polenta. If making the former, use all cornmeal (no wheat flour) to accentuate and appreciate the flavor.

Daikon radishes (not pictured): Long, large white radishes with a sweet/mildly spicy flavor. Great for stir fries, pickling, and certain salads, though they may be strong raw for some palates. Can also be shredded as a topping for wraps.

Spinach: Harvested fresh from overwintering beds that have done really well in the mild weather. Would not have predicted that we’d be able to pick field-grown spinach in mid January. Delicious sweet winter flavor, almost like candy; don’t waste this on cooking, just enjoy as a nice fresh green salad. We rinse greens and send them through a salad spinner (because they store better if they’re not soggy), but we always recommend that you wash greens again in your kitchen to remove remaining grit, bits of mulch, etc. Thanks to one of our dedicated employees, Kim (in background), for freezing her hands alongside us this day!

Herbs: Snow is melting off now, but haven’t had a chance to check on all of them yet. Thyme is in harvestable condition for sure.

Eggs: These aren’t directly included in the CSA but are available for purchase by members. Only some hens are laying right now, and we can easily personally go through 3 dozen a week, but we’ll have a few dozen extras available.

The next distribution won’t be until March or later depending on weather & crop conditions, but this early batch of farm-sourced food will be a nice treat for all involved.

Posted in CSA

Using & sourcing electricity on the farm

A reader from Georgia wrote with a question on our approach to electricity use, and our decisions and experiences with being on or off-grid. The response email quickly became detailed enough to become publishable as a useful discussion of this issue.

We’re on-grid through an electric co-op (Boone Electric), and our electricity use varies strongly with the seasons. Summer is by far the highest because we’re running a walk-in cooler and refrigerators for produce. We also run AC in the house midsummer when the outdoor temperatures get too high, because we have to be able to sleep at night, though we keep the thermostat pretty high by most people’s standards. We also have an electric stove, which gets used heavily in late summer and fall for all the canning we do. 

We actually have two meters, one each for our house and main packing barn. The latter runs all our cold-storage areas and electric fences, while the house runs our personal needs plus the computer, and grow lights we use to start plants in spring and summer. The graphs below show the last 12 months of electricity use here, drawn from our Boone Electric account. Keep in mind that the billing month is well after the actual use dates, such that the peak in “October” is actually closer to mid-August through mid-September.

The graphs show monthly usage in kilowatt-hours/month. Our cold-storage barn meter peaked at around 650 kwh/month this year, which was hot and dry. Our home meter ranged from 400 – 1300 kwh/month. The highest month was an outlier (the highest usage peak we’ve had while living here) that may relate to AC use combined with lots of late summer canning, though it still seems abnormally high. I can’t explain the data glitch for the missing “August” numbers. For reference, these numbers translate to monthly bills of $60-$130 for the house, and $20-$60 for the barn (including the base fees and taxes, which are around $20 whether or not we use any electricity that month). The house electric bills also includes a fee for a “renewable choice” program which creates a commitment by the electric coop to source at least as much power from renewable sources as is used by the members in that program.

To put these numbers in context, I drew on data from the US Energy Information Administration, which tracks residential, commercial, and industrial electricity usage by state; the latest data are from 2009.

Our annual household average is just over 700 kwh/month, as compared to 1,098 kwh/month in the average Missouri household. That’s still inflated from our actual personal use, as there’s quite a bit of power used for the business, such as the fact that the computer is running a lot more for business use than personal, and we currently start all of our transplants in the house using grow lights, which are a serious power suck (but one that will dissipate when we build a greenhouse for managing transplants). So in terms of actual personal consumption I’d guess we’re closer to half average.  In terms of total power use, if our household and barn 12-month averages are combined, they total just over 900 kwh/month, meaning our home and farm business combined still use less electricity than the average Missouri home alone.

We take a number of simple power conservation measures. We don’t have a clothes dryer, virtually never use electric heat, have energy efficient light bulbs in virtually all light fixtures that will take them, and keep various electronic devices on power strips that we turn off when not in use to minimize power drain. We do have a solar hot water system, which we noticed cutting our electricity bills by 20-30% once it went in years ago, and which we like having for the ethical sense of how it works. We do try to target our major hot-water usage (like laundry and dishwasher) around sunny days to maximize its benefits, and there are many days where our hot water is effectively “free”. That being said, we’re not sure it was really economically worth it, and are sure that solar PV (electricity) isn’t for us, because given how little energy we use already the cost of the system never really pays itself back. At our low rate of usage, it’s going to take 30 years for the solar hot water system to pay itself back (and that’s if we don’t have more expensive repair bills like we had this summer on a system that doesn’t seem to be nearly as fine-tuned as we anticipated). It would take a lifetime for PV to pay itself back. Estimates for how fast solar or other renewables pay themselves back often rely on high energy use numbers for wasteful households, not for how sustainably minded homes can actually be run to minimize use in the first place.

We could do far more sustainable things with the solar PV money (like invest it directly in our vegetable farm) rather than put it into newly manufactured solar panels which use resources to mine, manufacture, and ship, like just being smart about our energy use in the first place. It’s a similar situation to paying $30-40,000 for a hybrid car, or $12,000 for a normal one that gets 80% as good mileage. I’m happy to see hybrids (and renewable energy sources) being built and purchased as that does help push development of better technologies, but basic personal conservation is still the untouchable elephant in the room of energy options.

Also, being off-grid increases your risk of power loss, and/or increases your costs to buffer that power loss (large generators, serious battery banks), and for a vegetable farm whose livelihood requires keeping lots of vegetables cool in the heat of summer, the cost/benefit of off-grid power just doesn’t compare to the security of grid power (we do have a small generator for emergencies anyway).

 Besides, neither wind nor solar are all that cost-effective here in Missouri’s highly volatile climate, especially without investing in some serious backup generators/battery banks which also don’t really pay themselves back. We feel we’re overall more sustainable by staying on-grid and practicing effective conservation, rather than spending gobs of money to “save” that last remaining power cost. Part of our estimates, too, rely on the fact that Boone Electric is extremely well-run and we’ve very comfortable placing ourselves in their hands (they’re even quite respectful of our organic status, happily allowing us to maintain our power lines instead of spraying them, unlike some utilities we know of). In a different setting, we might be more willing to explore alternate options, but we’re quite comfortable with our setup. Effective conservation fits our lives better than the alternatives.

Bird list and other natural events, December 2011

December was a wonderful month here. The weather was pleasantly seasonal, with gradually declining temperatures and many sunny days, and enough rain but no disruptive storms. Along with an equally reasonable November, we’ve had a long stretch now of sensible, enjoyable weather that we’ll try to remember whenever it ends. We spend somewhat less time outdoors in December, partly because of office work, and so naturally have less time to see and hear birds and other events, but this is normally a quiet natural month anyway.

Birds were very quiet over the first half of the month, but starting on the 18th much larger mixed flocks of robins, bluebirds, waxwings, titmice, juncoes, chickadees, goldfinches, and more began appearing. During the week leading up to Christmas, it often felt like an aviary outdoors, as flocks of birds packed our trees, chattering and singing away, while other streams of them coursed through and over the treetops. This began around the time a major winter storm walloped the Plains west and north of here, and I suspect many of these birds were moving south ahead of the inclement weather.

Hawks have been all but missing, with only one Red-Shouldered and no Red-Tails observed all month. We’ve seen or heard no sparrows, either, though many do overwinter in this area and we saw multiple species on a morning hike at Rudolf Bennitt Conservation Area, about 15 miles northwest of here. Our Great Horned Owls are clearly remaining for the winter, though, as they can often be heard hooting at dusk from their roosts just to the north along Silver Fork.

NEW IN NOVEMBER (1 species, some observed earlier this year but not in November)
European Starling (one dense flock one day)

Canada Goose
Red-Shouldered Hawk (seen once)
Bald Eagle (seen once soaring over the farm)
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tufted Titmouse
Black-Capped Chickadee
White-Breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow-Rumped Warbler
Northern Cardinal
Dark-Eyed Junco
American Goldfinch

Snow Goose
Turkey Vulture
Red-Tailed Hawk
Golden-Crowned Kinglet
White-Throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow

December food on the farm

December is a wonderful month for on-farm food, as we have about the highest possible diversity of ingredients to work with. Some fresh produce is still available, we can justify starting to dip into preserves, fresh meat is back on the menu, and we can start making time to do some really interesting and enjoyable things in the kitchen. In addition, we often end up hosting many visitors throughout the month, giving yet another impetus to culinary extravaganzas. Here’s an extra-long photo essay on the kinds of food we can source and make from this one diversified farm. As always, ingredients listed in italics were sourced on-farm.

Joanna’s birthday party
We held a special birthday celebration this year, as it turned out that a couple from Joanna’s college geology department would be visiting for the first time over her birthday weekend. Her old workplace at the USGS hosts several other college geology alums, so we invited everyone out for an evening of catching up. Here’s the diverse spread we put together to feed the crowd.

 Tasting platter: smoked pork shoulder, smoked Canadian bacon, cucumber pickles, beet pickles, fresh goat feta cheese, aged goat cheddar cheese.

 At left: homemade ravioli with creamy (goat milk) winter squash sauce & sage leaf. At right: pork loin simmered in goat milk sauce with carrots and parsley.

 At left: fresh bread from Missouri flour. At right: sweet potatoes chopped for roasting.

 At left: mixed salad greens (not the same ones served this night, but a similar fresh mix). At right: birthday carrot cake (our eggs, goat yogurt), with creamy (goat chevre) frosting and organic Missouri pecans.

 This was a fun meal to put together. Overall, Joanna wanted an Italian theme, as her college geology department has strong ties to Italy. As Italian food is generally her realm (partly because of her experience there), this was mostly her meal to prepare, which she was quite happy to do. I insisted on the nice Germanic tasting platter just to even things out a bit, and give me something to do. Plus we had all this fresh pork begging to be shown off…

Serving Sycamore
We try to invite our main restaurant chefs/owners out to the farm every winter. This allows them to see the place and maintain a direct connection with their ingredient sources, allows a good discussion of the past and future growing year, and lets us thank them for their support by preparing a good farm-sourced meal (especially from things we can’t/don’t sell them). Last month it was Trey from Red & Moe; this month we hosted Mike from Sycamore. We went with a Mexican theme this year.

 Fresh-made Missouri-wheat tortillas in the cast-iron skillets, plus two sauces. Upper right, smoked pork simmered in a spicy red pepper sauce (dried anchos, jalapenos, red anaheims, garlic). Lower right, green sauce (roasted green tomatoes/onions/garlic, dried peppers, herbs).

Tortilla fillings (along with meat and sauces): fresh goat cheese, cowpeas.

Other treats: fresh pepper sausage (ground pork, dried anaheim/jalapeno/ancho peppers, garlic, cilantro, stuffed in our hog’s casings). Fresh carrot sticks & watermelon radishes for garnish.

Not shown: baby greens mix and cilantro for topping the tortillas & fillings.

 Other random meals
 When we’re not hosting guests, there’s still lots of interesting food to be made with December ingredients. Here are just a few more meals that we happened to take photos of:

 Stir fry of ground pork pepper sausage (see description above), rehydrated peppers, daikon radish, Filipino noodles. Side of fermented kimchi (cabbage, carrot, daikon).

Healthy breakfast: Diced sweet potatoes fried in lard; fried eggs & cured bacon. Side of strawberry yogurt (goat’s milk yogurt, preserved strawberry jam). BTW, we define healthy as “hearty enough to get us through a morning of work without being hungry two hours later”.

 Above left: baked beans (beans unfortunately not ours due to crop failure): organic white beans, maple syrup, mustard seeds, cured pork, onion. Above right: our weekly staple cornbread (ground corn, goat’s milk yogurt, eggs, leaveners).

Above left: BST (bacon, spinach, & cheese sandwich; cheese on left is our aged cheddar, cheese on right is purchased smoked gouda) with cucumber & beet pickles. Above right: sweet potato pancakes (sweet potatoes, eggs, onion) with simmered cabbage (onion, cabbage, pork, organic Missouri apples, wine, caraway) and a rare treat of brussels sprouts (from a depressingly low-yielding test planting).

There were many more interesting meals, and most of these photos are drawn from the first half of the month alone. Don’t let anyone tell you local foods are boring or restrictive.

Winter holidays

Christmas is a quiet time here; it’s not a major holiday for us, so we mostly enjoy it as a cultural reason to make traditional foods like German Christmas cookies and relax for a couple days. We exchange a few gifts for tradition’s sake, but tend to feel that our lives and actions throughout the year mark our beliefs far more strongly than an isolated flurry of stress and consumerism (we view New Years resolutions the same way).

The winter solstice has a more direct meaning as farmers, marking the literal transition into winter, though also the beginning of increasing day length again just when we’ve finally started to slow down. We celebrated that on Wednesday evening with a small group of friends and a visit from Joanna’s parents.

The farm animals are settled in for winter as well, in solid buildings that will keep them in comfort through the weather to come. Whatever your holiday preferences and plans, may they mean as much to you as a quiet house, warm fire, and good food mean to us. Merry Christmas and all other holidays from all of us at the farm.