Wild Edible Wednesday

IMG_5040 IMG_5041 IMG_5042The old farm house I live in, located in the small hamlet of Wicklow, 20 kms east of Cobourg and just a little west of Colborne; where the Big Apple is, has an amazing property along the waterfront of Lake Ontario. The house was owned by a lady named Sheila, who lived here most of her life, spending most of her time being in the great outdoors. I can understand why Sheila loved to live here, there is a beautiful old barn, a gorgeous meadow surrounding it, and damp woods with paths running through it. I also spend most of my time outdoors, even after working at the farm all day, I want to wander the woods to see what I can find.

Luckily for me, this property is a gold mine of wild edibles and precious plants. I have made it my hobby to collect the plants, hang them to dry and use them in teas or other ways of consuming them. I have decided that I will make my Wednesday blog dedicated to wild edibles and help you to understand that those weeds in your yard, or garden are actually delicious, nutritious and not obnoxious.

A flowering plant that most people recognize from the side of the highway, in meadows, woodlands and open areas is the Sweet Rocket. It stands tall with either white or light purple flowers that look similar to phlox, however sweet rocket flower has four petals and phlox has five. The flowers are very fragrant, especially in the evening. Sweet rocket is in the Brassicaceae family which also includes mustard, radishes, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. The flowers are great for attracting wildlife, are hermaphrodite,and pollinated by bees and other insects and bloom from April to July.

The edible parts of Sweet Rocket are the young leaves which can be tossed raw into salads or other dishes, and the flavour mimicks that of arugula. To avoid having a bitter bite to your salad, harvest the leaves when the plant is young and before it flowers. However the flowers can also be eaten, adding a mustard flavour to your dish and a punch of beauty. The seeds can be sprouted or pressed, because it contains 50% edible oil. The leaves are rich in vitamin C, A B1, B2, B6, E, K, and also contain calcium, iron and magnesium. This wild edible contains vital phytonutrients and antioxidants that support good health.

Sweet Rocket grows on the edge of my property which I walk past everyday to work. I cut a big chunk down and hung it upside down to dry in my room, which also acted as decoration. When I removed the plant to replace the area on my wall with a shelf I built, I placed the bundle on the floor, which was immediately attacked by my two kittens. They loved the frilly flowers, chewable stalks and crinkly leaves, within minutes my room was pleasantly scattered with Sweet Rocket. The dried stems have been a constant source of entertainment for the cats and me.

Sweet Rocket has many benefits and is waiting in a woodland near you to be found and foraged.

Gorgeous Garlic Scapes

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One of my favourite things to eat is butter, (and cheese, this girl could never be vegan), and one of my second favourite things to eat is garlic. And when the two are combined it’s a deadly combination of deliciousness. This weekend I made a big batch of garlic scape butter, enough to last me at least six months, or so I hope. Once I make the mint green goodness, I eat it on everything, everyday. Last summer my roommates caught me scraping crackers off the top of the garlic butter and eating it straight up. Yikes, get fat or dying trying!
Garlic scapes are a great culinary treat because they have a stronger garlic flavour than the bulb itself. They can be used in any method of cooking like garlic heads; sautéed, roasted, in soups, salad dressings, in sirfrys, BBQed and even pickled. The most common way to prepare garlic scapes is by making a pesto with parm cheese, nuts and seeds, olive oil, and spices. Last week Elaina made a roasted parsnip and garlic scape dip, with a hint of maple syrup. I was skeptical at first, but the sweet and garlic spicy was so fantastic that I found myself fingering the bowl when no one was looking at lunch. I took the parsnip garlic dip to the Cobourg farmers market on Saturday and it sold out rapidly. Everyone loves garlic, in any shape or form.
Garlic scapes are the flower stems that emerges off the garlic plant in late spring, early summer. It is a green solid stalk that curls around in a loop like a roller-coaster, and needs to be harvested before the white flower head develops and opens. Growers often remove the garlic scape to push the plants energy into bigger garlic bulbs, for the remaining of the season. When harvested at the earliest time, the scapes are tender and delicious.
The scapes grow up straight out of the top of the plant for a couple of inches and then begin to curl. This curling is due to the variety of garlic, and caused by the cells on one side of the stalk lengthening before the cells on the other side. The number of curls the scape will achieve depends on the type of garlic, and can curl two, three or four times before straightening out and proceeding to open the flower head, which looks similar to a chive flower.
Harvesting the scapes is a fun and easy task. It is best done with a knife or scissors in the heat of the day, so the open wound where the cut happens can scab over and prevent any bacteria from entering the plant. Garlic scapes are harvested all at the same time, and the season only lasts one to three weeks. so get to your farmers market get the gorgeous green garlic scapes and experiement!
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Summer CSA boxes begin!

Yaaaaaa! It’s the beginning of summer and of Wicklow Way food boxes! This marks the swing into full production on the farm, with the responsibility to feed 70 CSA members and 4 farms markets during the week. Wicklow Way has been attending the Cobourg, Port Hope, and Wychwood Barns market in Toronto on Saturdays, and the Sick Kids hospital in Toronto on Tuesdays. Now, in addition we have 70 food boxes to prepare for delivery to people in those locations as well.

The people we provide food boxes to are CSA members. CSA stands for community supported agriculture. It is an fantastic program in which the member pay a set fee at the beginning of the year, and receive 18 weeks of food boxes stuffed with great produce from Wicklow Way farms. The concept behind CSA’s is an alternative, locally based economic model of agriculture and food distribution. The members buy shares in the farm and help support the farmer with the risks and benefits of food production. This model creates a stronger consumer-producer relationship as the degree of involvement is higher because the consumer is willing to fund a whole seasons’ farm budget in order to receive high quality food from a producer they know and trust.

Wicklow Way has been providing CSA food boxes for a number of years and has built up a reputation of fresh organic food with large quantities and fantastic quality. Last week was our first box delivery and I had 12 members come visit me at the Cobourg market to pick up their food. The excitement and joy the people have to be getting food they look forward to since the beginning of the season is a pleasure of mine to be a part of. They members bring their reusable bags and one item by item I fill the bag and show them what they are receiving. Yesterday I travelled with Greg to Toronto to delivery 46 of our boxes to urbanites. We have 5 drop off sites around the city, which I had to drive the giant cube van to, and deliver the boxes to places that the members will come and pick up the food. It was such a pleasure meeting Greg and Elaina’s friends who are enthusiastic and great believers in supporting and being part of the great organic food movement. I am looking forward to being the delivery girl for the summer, plus it gives me one day off the farm and outta the dirt!

Last week was our first food box and it contained:

Green onions, eggs, red leaf lettuce, salad mix ,oregano and chive herbs, sprouts, a tomato plant and chicken poo pellets for fertilizer.

This week the box provided:

Napa cabbage, red leaf lettuce, escarole, eggs, green onions, garlic scapes, and winter savoury herbs.

Wicklow Way also provides a newsletter to inform the members about what‘s happening on the farm, and what is included in their box. The newsletter is helpful in members identifying vegetables they might not be familiar with and ideas or recipes on how to prepare it.

 

If you are interested in being part of the local economic, organic food movement contact Wicklow Way, or google CSA.ca to find farms near you, to receive the best quality food money can buy!

 

In addition to buying a share into the farm, some people like to come and volunteer their time to help eith the labour and get a better idea of what production goes into the food they are eating! We have been lucky enough to have Chantal, a CSA member come and work with us every other week for a month. She has been graciously added to our team and contributes beautifully. ImageImageImageImage

Cool as a Cucumber

Cool as a cucumber! That is what the gang at Wicklow Way is trying to keep in mind, as we repetitively get slammed with hard rain in high quantities. At this point in the season, with summer only a few days away, we have transplanted almost all of our plants into the field from our greenhouse. The cucumbers and squash went into the ground by the row full, starting last week when my good friend Alicia came to visit and volunteer for a day at Wicklow Way! It was perfect timing to have the help of extra hands to put the plants, who were over growing their pots in the moist soil. However, in the meantime, the farm has received an exponential amount of precipitation, and because we are so close to Lake Ontario, we have a low water table, leaving us with plenty of puddles in our fields. Our worries are surrounding the cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant as they have sensitive roots systems and prefer a dry hot quality of growing.

Cucumbers are part of the cucurbitaceae family which also includes squash, pumpkins and melons, and can be vines or bush varieties. These frost sensitive plants are transplanted when the soil has significantly warmed up, and the air is humid and the sun shines 8 hours a day. Cucumbers take only 55 to 60 days from planting to picking, so they grow fast and rigorously. To assist their growth, we plant the cucumbers under a sheet of black plastic to keep the moisture in the soil, the roots nice and toasty, and to suppress the weeds. And for additional attention, we cover the beds with floating row cover which is a light white fabric, to allow the sun and rain in, however keeps the pests out. There are many bugs that attack the cucumber plants and will quickly eat the leaves down to the stem, or demolish the flower, leaving the plant unable to produce the gorgeous long fruits.

Cucumbers range from standard American cukes to small lemon-shaped heirloom types, from long, thin oriental cucumbers to seedless and disease resistant cultivars. Cucumbers have a long history of cultivation and were first grown as a crop in India. The fresh summer fruit dates back as far as 2400BC in Greece and Egypt, eventually reaching the Mediterranean, and became part of the delicious dip known as tzatziki. In England, cucumbers were dubbed ‘cowcumbers’ and fed to livestock. Different varieties have different characteristics, such as the thickness of their skin and the amount of seeds within. Plant breeders are continually tweaking cucumber genetics to combine desirable characteristics, including mild flavour, productivity and disease resistance. Wicklow Way grows cucumbers under the names of Babylon, Marketmore, Corentine, Lemon and Picolino; which I am most excited to see develop. Apparently Picolino is a perfect 4 inch snacking cuke with thin skin and a sweet flavour. I was first introduced to Lemon cukes while working on Golden Rocks Farm in California. These adorable yellow cukes are spherical, about the size of a golf ball to tennis ball and have a citrus like flavour. They are amazing for snacking and a very prolific grower. Jamie and I made gorgeous pickles by slicing the yellow Lemon cukes with green and alternating the colours in the jars, with lots of added dill, mustard and garlic. It isn’t always known, but you can pickle any type of cuke. It is best to harvest the cuke when it is the right size to fit in the jar, but because they grow overnight, it can sometimes be difficult, so it is best to cut them into spears or slices. Pickling is the easiest thing, so anticipate cuke season and try to jar some of your own!

Tips for growing your own crispy cukes:

Prepare the soil: well drained, light fertile soil. Lots of compost, manure or organic matter.

Give plants a head start: although seeds can be directly sown into the garden, its best to start them inside, however be delicate with their roots when transplanting.

Defend against cucumber beetle: As mentioned previously, we cover our crop with white fabric to battle beetles. Remove the row cover when the plants start to bloom to allow pollinators to gain access.

Let them climb: the cuke vines are content growing along the surface of the soil, but give them a structure to scramble upwards for their pleasure. The fruits with receive more indirect sunlight, allowing them to avoid white patches and will also grow straighter fruits if left to dangle.

Harvest early and often: smaller fruits usually taste better and have soft immature seeds that are easier to digest and won’t cause gas!

So if you haven’t experienced something other than an English slicer from the grocery store, keep your eyes peeled for new varieties of cucumbers and bite into a juicy cool fruit!

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Aspiring Asparagus

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Today marks the end of asparagus season at Wicklow Way farms. I am mourning the end, because I really enjoyed spending every other morning in the asparagus patch, hunting for the little spears. Asparagus grows extremely quickly, estimating 2 inches a day. You can basically watch it grow. It is an interesting perennial, which takes a few years to mature in order to allow the roots to gain strength and spread underground. The rule of thumb is; harvest length in weeks relative to the age of the asparagus in years. Wicklow Way’s asparagus is a young 4 years old, and so we only snapped off the spears for a short 4 weeks. In that amount of time, we harvested an estimated 30-35kgs of the unique tasting vegetable. Fresh picked asparagus spears are far tastier than store bought ones. Most people are unaware that asparagus is quite delicious when eaten raw. The flavour is mild, crisp, juicy and sweet. What I enjoy most about asparagus is the colours it produces, lime green, dark green and purple. If I could make a wall colour scheme it would be the vibrant colours of asparagus.

Young shoots of asparagus are rich in B vitamins, vitamin c, calcium and iron. Being one of the first vegetables to mark the beginning of spring, it is a beautiful boost of freshness to assist in a healthy recovery from the winter blues. Lucky for Canadians, asparagus thrives in climates that endure winter or dry climates. This crop enjoys mostly sunny areas with light soil that warms up quickly, and drain well; wet soil will cause the roots to rot. This low maintenance plant requires very little watering after its fleshy roots are established, proceeding its second year of planting. The crowns of asparagus are best purchased as one year olds, as they get a head start on seeds, and won’t suffer transplant shock like 2 year old crowns. A little fertilizer, such as compost tea, manure, chicken poo pellets or moss for heavy soils, is all the plant needs to survive and grow.

At Wicklow Way, we bunch our asparagus according to size, to please the customers. Some people like the teeny tiny spears with their delicate appearance, most people like the medium spears; best for a quick roast on the BBQ, and I prefer the jumbo or fat spears with the most H20 content. It is often a misconception that the fat spears are woody, but that is only true in the older stalks, when the bud starts to open, and ‘ferning out’. This can be avoided by eating local fresh asparagus, which has been picked frequently and within the last two days.

Preparing asparagus for a meal has endless possibilities, and Elaina; Wickow Way’s own in house chef, has provided us with plenty of delicious eats! My favourite appetizing asparagus was in a cold potato salad with pine nuts, red pepper, kale, onions, oregano and oil, salt and pepper. Other options for asparagus are in a cheese fondue, blanched in a green salad, soup with garlic chives, poached with eggs and spinach or simply steamed with butter. Caution is to be used when preparing asparagus for a meal. It is to be cooked, steamed, blanched or BBQed only 2 minutes. Some people over cook their asparagus, leaving it soggy, limp and mushy. It’s a terrible way to appreciate asparagus.

So hurry out to our closet farmer’s market and get some asparagus spears before the season is over, and we have to say goodbye for another year. The vegetable is precious and delicious, even if it makes your urine smell funny!ImageImage

My Dirty Thirty!

Today I turn 30! The big 3-0! The Dirty Thirty! and it Dirty it shall be! Being a farmer is a life path that was a natural choice for me. I spent most of my childhood running around outside in the forest, pastures, corn field or pond that surrounded the area in Kingston I grew up. As an adult I still partake in the same activities, only now I don’t have my parents to scold me when I get home with dirty knees and it is after dark when I come inside for dinner. Having the freedom of adventure is something I thrive on. Being active with my strong body is a requirement for my life. Growing and nurturing plants is a desire from inside me, I must satisfy. Making spaces functional and beautiful is an habit I continue to thrive on. Spreading love to people is a service I have been put on this planet for! I chose to be a Farmer because it fulfills all the necessary requirements in my life to make me happy. Turning 30 today, I know I have made the right decision for myself and am extremely excited continue my path for the next decade.
It was 8 years ago that I chose to be a farmer, after I graduated Trent University with a joint honours in Environmental Studies and Globalization: Communities and Identities. It was during my post secondary education that that I learned about the insecure food systems not only around the world, but here in Canada. Being a sensitive person, it rattled and upset me to hear the facts about how people were starving when half of the food produced is wasted, people were losing their land due to large monoculture farming, and people where committing suicide because they couldn’t feed their families. In addition, it was scary for me to learn that people are eating genetically modified organisms, chemical fertilizers and food injected with hormones without being aware. It was astonishing that the government was not taking care of it’s people and instead was holding hands with the large industrial agriculture companies. I decided to take a stand, omit myself from the system as much as possible and be a rebel against the big man!
It is my belief that every human deserves the right to healthy, organic, nutritious, flavourful food. It is basic and simple. However, not part of our ‘modern world’. So the summer after I graduated university, I headed out to British Columbia to WWOOF (worldwide opportunities on organic farms, http://www.wwoof.ca) and travel to small personal properties and meet people who were growing their own food. I met inspiring people, especially one woman who was part of a three women cooperative that supplied food boxes to people and restaurants in Victoria, while being pregnant during the summer months and working like a dog. The remainder that summer I joined the Otesha Project (www.otesha.ca) a sustainable mobile bicycle organization that engages and empowers people to take action for a more sustainable future in this world. It was with this group of 12 people, during 2 months, cycling 2,300km we lived entirely off what we could carry on our bikes and delivered a fun and interactive play to youth to help encourage them to rethink their consumer and community choices. Otesha solidified the thought process that the choices we make impact other people and the planet, our actions have a tremendous potential to create positive change, and using our dollars as voting power. Otesha taught me, that by being a role model and leading by example, I can create the kind of world I want to live in, and contributing to the solution. I was insanely inspired after spending the summer seeing the beautiful province of British Columbia by bike and engaging citizens to make better choices towards a future I can be proud of. I was fearless and ready to face the world.
From that summer on, invested in learning organic farming practices and worked towards positive resistance to the capitalist state. I realized that ignorance and laziness is not acceptable, and every human on this planet must strive to make every day better than the last, they must try to become conscious consumers. I believe that mediocracy is a burden for the rest of humans and no person is exempt from being environmentally responsible. Humanity is facing new difficult issues, and industrial agriculture is at the root of the problem. Environmental degradation and resource depletion is the number one reason why past civilizations have failed, and we are quickly sinking in the sand (tar sand that is!).
I don’t want to sink, drown or suffocate, so I am trying my best to create a happiness with myself that is comfortable for me, and all other living organisms on this planet. I am attracted to organic agriculture, because it is a way of living where people and nature are preserved and enhanced by thoughtful planning, the careful use of resources and the respectful appreciation for life.
So i write today to express my 30th birthday wish!
I wish that my beliefs and concerns for the future of our overpopulated, under appreciated earth, reach my readers hearts and inspire change. I hope that my expression of the love for nature, desire for healthy good food and sense of sustainability will be an infectious inspiration for all the people whose lives I touch!

I promise to keep writing about my life, my adventures, my farming experience and my food experiments, if you promise to keep reading my posts, and try everyday to be better than you were the day before.
I love you and love myself. Let’s love the planet together!

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Terrific Tomatoes!

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Top of the tomato to ya! My name is Leanne Chase and welcome to my blog about my life as a young organic farmer! I’m proud to have that title, to have dirty hands and sun kissed skin, because in this day and age, farming isn’t an occupation that younger adults seek to be involved in, however, it is gaining momentum! I believe in being the change I want to see in the world, leading by example and connecting with other human beings to promote a collective consciousness. Here on my blog, I will share what activities I am partaking in my life, be it, organic gardening and permaculture, foraging wild edibles, concocting fantastic food, repurposing found items for art, or making jewelry, to help inspire you to do the same, and live lightly on the land.

This summer, as every summer since I graduated university from Trent in Peterborough, I am working on a farm to help promote healthy food options for people and to rebel against the industrial food companies that are ruling our grocery stores, plates, bodies and hospitals. The farm I have been graciously invited to work at is called Wicklow Way, owned and operated by a fantastic couple Elaina Asselin and Gregory Hill! The farm is located along Lake Ontario, a tomato throw away from Cobourg, south of hwy 2, along the bicycle route. Wicklow Way Farm is certified organic with 5 acres under cultivation and growing! The tremendous list of products they supply comes from heirloom vegetables, herbs, flowers, pigs, chickens, ducks, goats and bees.

Greg and Elaina started their farm years ago, only growing tomatoes. Lots and lots of tomatoes! The first year they grew 1,200 heirloom tomato plants. Holy tomato sauce, that’s a lot. Over the years they cut back on the juicy plump fruit and added other vegetables to their list. Their main focus is still on the tomatoes, as they celebrate the beginning of the year with a tomato plant sale, and have a tomato festival in the summer, where people come from all around to taste test the delicious heirloom tomatoes! I could go on and on about the farm, oh and I will over the course of the summer, but let’s first focus on a very important word…HEIRLOOM! and secondly TOMATO! Heirlooms: are standard, open pollinated (OP) varieties that breed true from seed and can be passed down to the next generation (like your grandmother’s emerald ring!) It is important for these unique varieties to be transmitted and used for breeding, as many are rare and endangered, because of the popularity of the F1 hybrids found in grocery stores. Tomatoes are tremendously diverse in size, shape and colour; ranging from gigantic beefsteaks to cherry tomatoes, from round, square, wrinkly, ugly, and growing noses, to every colour of the rainbow: red, yellow, orange, pink, purple, green, black and white. Tomatoes get funky enough to have a splash of every colour, like the Berkeley Tie Die, bred and created by Wild Boar farms in Napa Valley. Some famous heirlooms have been sold and passed down in families and communities for hundreds of years, and others were recently bred by cross pollinating one heirloom variety with another; again like the Berkeley Tie Die (which is Green Zebra and Cherokee Purple). The characteristics of heirloom tomatoes have been highly prized by gardeners for their beauty, flavour, fragrance and/or productivity. The comparison of heirloom tomatoes and grocery store tomatoes is not a competition because the factory red, perfectly round, tasteless, goopy, mealy tomatoes available out of season for purchase, are picked before they are ripe, polished to be shiny, bounced around on a truck for 1,500 miles from Mexico, to end up on your plate with no love injected at all, only possibly a fish hormone to keep the skin firm and prevent it from rotting. Yummy, right? So wrong! Heirloom fruits are often not suited to large scale production because many types don’t ripen all at once, so they cant be harvested mechanically. They often don’t keep well during shipping and storage, and many of them don’t have consistent appearance. Heirloom tomatoes may even look a little odd, like the Purple Calabash, which has the reputation of being one of the ugliest tomatoes with a great taste! However, heirloom tomatoes are ideal because they have a more pleasing taste and texture than hybrids. In nature’s true ability to adapt to it’s environment, heirlooms will produce better fruit, and become pest and disease resistant when grown in the same climate and soil conditions year after year. In addition, heirloom tomatoes are also a tangible connection with the past, such as old furniture, the plants of earlier generations draw us closer to those who have grown them before us. Some varieties have fascinating histories like Radiator Charley’s Mortgage Lifter, a huge meaty tomato that helped its cultivar, an unemployed mechanic who cross-bred his best fruits for 6 years, until he was happy with this one. Charley had people driving up to 200 miles for his plants, which he sold for $1 each during the Depression. Another great tomato history is the Sandia Gem, which was found in a pouch on top of a mountain in Peru, and only 3 seeds germinated.

The list of these fabulous fruits continues on the Wicklow Way website at http://www.wicklowway.ca/2014%20tomatoes%20page.htm

Please take a gander, read all the varieties, sign up for the newsletter, so you can be reminded to come join us for the TASTING OF THE TOMATO FESTIVAL in the summer time.

Thanks for reading my first blog entry, and check back often, as I will be writing multiple times a week!