Chard of Many Colors

Chard will always be there for you. Like a reliable friend, it is one of the greatest, and often least appreciated, of all the gifts from your local farmer.

Chard’s long, thick stalks have wide, glossy green leaves that may be smooth or curly, depending on the variety. The stalk comes in many colors, from white to green to brilliant red, yellow, and pink. At many farmers markets you’ll see the flashy Ruby Red and Bright Lights varieties. They are glamorous and hard to resist, but the old-fashioned varieties with white stems and green leaves are even tastier.

TRUE BLUE, EXCEPT IT’S GREEN

Not only is chard giving, it’s forgiving too. It’s much more heat-resistant than spinach, grows well under most weather and soil conditions, and is disease resistant and bug resistant too. After harvesting, the inner leaves come back quickly, so you’ll see chard at farmers markets from early June clear through Thanksgiving. And at PFP, we have it growing in our high tunnels for the Winter CSA Share! Because it’s always there, you might take it for granted, but, as with a good friend, you shouldn’t.

EASY, TASTY AND CONVENIENT

Chard is as close to perfect as a vegetable can get—a low-calorie, high-nutrition green with a mildly sweet, clean taste. It’s also a fast food. Tender young chard leaves can be eaten raw, adding a beet-like flavor to salads and sandwiches. Larger stalks and leaves can be blanched in boiling water, or sauteed up in a matter of minutes, quick and easy. Then toss the cooked chard into pasta with olive oil and garlic, add to omelets and frittatas, or use instead of spinach in your favorite recipe.

This article had been adapted from Farm Fresh Now! a project of The Land Connection. See below for two tasty winter chard recipes.

Pancetta, White Bean, and Chard Pot Pies from Smitten Kitchen

Pancetta, White Bean, and Chard Pot Pies from Smitten Kitchen

Swiss Chard and Sweet Potato Gratin from Smitten Kitchen

Swiss Chard and Sweet Potato Gratin from Smitten Kitchen

For the Love of Vegetables

Sowing the Seeds of Life-Long Healthy Eating 

by Ellie Limpert

The minute a class of students step off of their school bus on to the farm, the excitement is palpable. The day may be grey, rainy, or even snowing, but the young pack of explorers can barely contain themselves because they know the next two hours hold adventure and discovery. Poughkeepsie Farm Project is a place that invites curiosity and unearths rich multisensory experiences. A place to marvel at the rising steam of a colorful compost mountain, celebrate beneficial insects and dance the honey-bee-waggle, a place where getting dirty is encouraged, and above all, vegetables are king.

As a passionate nutritionist dedicated to inspiring children to develop a taste for vegetables, I find myself in a very powerful position at PFP. It is rare that after digging up an octopus-like carrot, journeying through a kale forest, or discovering the zombie like effects of shredding a beet, children haven’t fallen in love with what our farmers grow. When children line up to leave the farm at the end of their visit we are often confronted with the same questions. From the children: “Can we LIVE HERE?” (it’s always assumed we live in the coop) “More More More More?!!” (referring to whatever vegetable we last tasted) and from myself and fellow educators: “Do they carry this enthusiasm home?!”.

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For all those young vegetable enthusiasts who beg for more turnips and kale and wish to live in the spirit of the farm, and for our education team questioning the extent of their reach, we have developed a new and exciting program that works to bridge the gap between PFP and home: Farm Fresh Home Chefs. Farm Fresh Home Chefs is a family cooking workshop series that brings children and their caregivers together for a hands-on healthy-eating experience. During the first hour of these workshops adult participants receive a nutrition lesson while youth engage in a garden activity. Families come together for the last hour to cook together. In this hour together they discover new vegetables or celebrate familiar ones, share money-saving techniques and practice recipe modification, learn appropriate cooking tasks for all ages, and discover the joy of coming together over healthy food.

Fall of 2016 marks our third round of Farm Fresh Home Chefs and we couldn’t be more excited. Below is a story about the experience of a hard-working family of four who participated in Farm Fresh Home Chefs last fall.  May PFP continue to sow the seeds of little healthy eaters, and encourage a culture of life long healthy eating in Poughkeepsie.

Sam*, Tina*, Louis* (7th grade), Layla* (5th grade)

Sam and Tina are the epitome of hard working parents dedicated first and foremost to their children’s well-being. Though both would drop anything to ensure the safety and happiness of Louis, 7th grader at Poughkeepsie Middle School, and Layla, 5th grader at Krieger Elementary school, they have found some of their efforts in providing the best for their children to be quite a battle, namely, encouraging healthy food.  Participating in “Farm Fresh Home Chefs” (FFHC) a cooking and nutrition program offered by Poughkeepsie Farm Project, was Layla’s request, and Tina and her husband Sam jumped at the chance.

 After the first two hour class with FFHC, Tina and Sam could already sense their family’s change in attitude around vegetables.  They had just prepared a heart-healthy vegetable-heavy chili as a family that had the kids begging for more. In watching this, Sam exclaimed “Oh we are going to put on so many pounds in this program!” to which Tina responded “Gain weight? We are going to lose weight!” After several classes with FFHC, Sam was its number one advocate. “Our diets have changed dramatically because of this program. The kids aren’t only willing to try new things, but they come home from school eager to help. They even have their own night that they cook now. Fridays." Their one challenge is to make their dish fit Myplate recommendations. "We were not familiar with Myplate before this program and it is such a useful tool.” Eating healthy on a consistent basis takes time and dedication, and when the children join their parents as a team in the kitchen, the results are eye-opening. “I can’t believe such a fun, engaging, educational program that brings our family together is free.” Sam goes on, “It is invaluable. I want to be the first to know of any other program you offer because I will be there. Do you teach how to grow this food too? We want to start a garden.” 

*Names have been changed.

Farm Fresh Home Chefs is funded by United Way of Dutchess-Orange Region and The Jeannette F Schlobach Fund of the Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley.

NYS Comptroller Highlights Poughkeepsie Farm-to-School in New Report

Mr. DiNapoli talks about the benefits of Farm-to-School programs in NYS.

Mr. DiNapoli talks about the benefits of Farm-to-School programs in NYS.

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli released his report “Locally Grown: Farm-to-School Programs in New York State” on Friday, October 21 at Clinton School in Poughkeepsie, NY. The report details hurdles school districts face when creating and sustaining such programs, outlines federal and state initiatives that are intended to encourage farm-to-school programs, and highlights six successful programs in NYS including the partnership between Poughkeepsie City School District (PCSD) and Poughkeepsie Farm Project (PFP).

Clinton students get ready to sample some locally-grown snacks.

Clinton students get ready to sample some locally-grown snacks.

PFP and PCSD have been collaborating on farm-to-school since 2013 to put local food into school meals and to provide Poughkeepsie students with engaging learning experiences surrounding the food system. On farm field trips, in school gardens, during cooking in the classroom sessions, and through cafeteria tastings of fresh local produce students learn to learn about growing and eating nutritious, local food. In schools, PCSD trials new recipes using locally-sourced ingredients to include in school lunches and conducts taste tests and surveys at school open houses and parent teacher-conferences, seeking feedback from students and parents about whether or not they enjoyed each dish. And in its Discovery Gardens, PFP leads Using Gardens to Teach, a workshop that helps educators integrate gardens into lessons about diverse subjects that align with learning standards while earning professional development credits.

A 4th grader at Clinton School talks about building the school garden at the Comptroller's press conference.

A 4th grader at Clinton School talks about building the school garden at the Comptroller's press conference.

These activities are a few among many initiatives of the farm-to-school project collaboration between PFP and PCSD that seeks to introduce more fresh local produce into school meals and shift the culture of food among students, staff, and families. And the results are undeniable: PFP collected data on the effects of the farm-to-school activities on students’ vegetable consumption during school lunch and found that elementary students who participated in the program ate five times as much kale (by weight) as their peers who were not involved in farm visits and cooking workshops. In addition, 63% of students in the program group finished their serving of kale compared with only 8% of their peers who were not involved in the program and 1% of peers who were not involved and attended a different school. There are more locally-grown foods and NYS products in school meals and summer meals than before the program started.  Newly developed recipes are in regular rotation on school menus. Local foods, including root vegetables, kale, and squash are served to students every Tuesday. And, food service staff have received training in preparing fresh whole produce, developing recipes and promoting healthy choices.

Jamie talks about the successes of the Poughkeepsie Farm-to-School Program at Mr. DiNapoli's press conference.

Jamie talks about the successes of the Poughkeepsie Farm-to-School Program at Mr. DiNapoli's press conference.

“When PFP educators arrive at Poughkeepsie schools, the students exclaim with delight and ask what they will be tasting that day. Our partnership with Poughkeepsie schools is really changing what kids eat. When students have the opportunities to see where their food comes from while exploring farm fields, cooking simple healthy dishes, and learning their academic curriculum in farm and garden settings, they are more interested in eating local food in their school cafeterias, growing their own food at home, and teaching their families new recipes with local produce.”
~Jamie Levato, education director of Poughkeepsie Farm Project.
Clinton students show Mr. DiNapoli their school garden.

Clinton students show Mr. DiNapoli their school garden.

These positive results are crucial because, according to DiNapoli, “Interest in farm-to-school programs is widespread, but it’s not always easy for school districts across New York to bring fresh, locally produced foods to their students.” The report describes the challenges farmers can face in entering a farm-to-school market and competing in school food procurement. Farmers may not be aware of the publications in which schools post their request for bids, or may not be familiar with other aspects of the procurement process such as billing complexities. The expense of complying with food safety processes can also be a barrier, particularly for small vendors.

Jamie offers everyone a taste of the scarlet turnips. They were a big hit!

Jamie offers everyone a taste of the scarlet turnips. They were a big hit!

At the report-release at Clinton School, DiNapoli explored the new school garden, tasted some of the Farm-to-School recipes, and sampled some fresh PFP scarlet turnips with third and fourth grade students. DiNapoli challenged local communities and policymakers to use the findings to bolster Farm-to-School programs which bring local food into school cafeterias. The report’s recommendations include: looking to boards of cooperative educational services, which in some areas support farm-to-school programs, as a source of expert advice or an organizational home for efforts to emphasize local food purchases; providing training in planning and implementing successful farm-to-school programs to school district personnel; and supporting joint purchasing agreements among districts through the state farm-to-school grant program and examining the role of farm-to-school as regional food hubs grow across the state.


PFP’s work on Farm-to-School is funded by the USDA, United Way of Dutchess-Orange Region, and the Jane W. Nuhn Charitable Trust.

Healthy Food, Healthy Soil

By Patrick Lang

Patrick admires a healthy stand of sweet yellow clover, which is also adored by bees.

Patrick admires a healthy stand of sweet yellow clover, which is also adored by bees.

At PFP, we love our soil, and it’s no exaggeration to say that soil health is on our minds throughout the season. We maintain the fertility and health of our soil in several different ways; they are tailored to our soil type, which means that other farms could take quite a different approach. The main goals are:

  • Ensuring proper levels of nutrients (including metals, nitrogen, boron, and others)
  • Maintain a “crumb-like” soil structure
  • Building and retaining organic matter in the soil (which has many, many benefits)
  • Supporting the health of bees and beneficial insects, and suppressing weeds

This work begins very early in the season, and the first step is applying large quantities of toxic ammonia to all of the fields.

Not really. Ammonia is a synthetic nitrogen source used by mostly by much larger farms, but not by the PFP, where organic practices are followed. Concerning soil health and fertility, using organic methods means using only naturally-occurring fertilizers (including mined materials). Especially on small farms like ours, it also means using additional, “cultural” methods of maintaining soil health, including compost usage, mulching, and cover cropping.

Visiting 2nd graders took turns reaching into the giant compost pile to feel the warmth of decomposing leaves inside.

Visiting 2nd graders took turns reaching into the giant compost pile to feel the warmth of decomposing leaves inside.

Our PFP soils produce beautiful and healthy food in part because fertilizer and compost are added. Veggies and fruits contain innumerable substances that maintain our health, including micronutrients, protein, and vitamins, and these materials (or their building blocks) come mostly from the soil. Since we are harvesting the veggies along with their stores of nutrition, fertility has to be returned to the soil. One way we do this is by adding an organic fertilizer that is tailored to our needs, which means it contains nitrogen sources as well as boron, a chemical element that is naturally low in PFP’s soil.

Compost is another major addition to our soils, and we’re lucky enough to receive heaps of leaf “waste” from the Town of Poughkeepsie, which is by far the major ingredient in our compost. Spread on the fields in March and occasionally throughout the season, leaf compost provides mostly carbon, which helps maintain high organic matter in our soils. This is seriously awesome, as I’ll explain soon. In addition, leaves contain micronutrients that trees mine from deep in the soil, making our compost a highly valued resource.

Some fertility/soil health tools do not involve adding fertility directly to the soil, and these are the “cultural” methods used by many organic farms; cover cropping is the one most often used at the PFP. How can I even attempt to describe the many complex benefits of cover cropping? I won’t. Instead, here are some commonly used (and my favorite) cover crops on our farm:

Mowing a tall stand of rye and hairy vetch is labor-intensive, but it supplies the soil with much beneficial carbon and nitrogen.

Mowing a tall stand of rye and hairy vetch is labor-intensive, but it supplies the soil with much beneficial carbon and nitrogen.

  • Buckwheat grows rapidly, and is best used during the warm part of the season. Its densely-branching root system aerates the soil nicely, and it produces a stand of flowers that pollinators cannot resist. Just try to walk into a stand of buckwheat on a sunny day and try to count the bees. Impossible.
  • Rye/Hairy Vetch is a combination of tall, rigid rye, and vetch, a legume that is a popular cover crop. Rye grows faster than vetch and provides the floppy legume with support once it becomes tall. Rye grows long roots that effectively mine nutrients deep in the soil, while vetch is a great nitrogen-fixer, meaning it converts nitrogen gas in the air to forms of nitrogen that plants can use. This combination will regrow after dying back in the winter, which makes it very versatile.
  • Clover is a legume that exists in many varieties, and another crop in which you’re likely to find me admiring the bees. A strong nitrogen-fixer and miner of nutrients deep in the soil, clover is a very effective cover crop. Most varieties grow exceptionally slowly in their first season (a limitation), but the benefits of clover usually outweigh this inconvenience in timing.

All cover crops, by their very presence, reduce or prevent wind or water erosion, safeguarding precious topsoil. When they are tilled into the soil, they add organic matter, a highly decomposed form of carbon (they’re often called green manure). This stuff increases nutrient absorption, water retention, and air circulation in soil, and makes soil more hospitable to beneficial organisms, among other attractive qualities. Fertile soil with a good structure and plenty of organic matter is the foundation of a system that produces healthy and delicious food, and we’re always working on keeping this a reality. 

Carrots: Nutritional Powerhouse

Red, black, yellow, white, purple, green—these were the colors that wild carrots (also known as Queen Anne’s Lace) started out being – pretty much every color but orange! First cultivated in Afghanistan in the 7th century, the original domesticated carrot was purple outside and yellow inside, similar to the Purple Dragon carrots you see at local farmers markets.

COLORFUL AND DIVERSE

In the 1600's, the Dutch developed the orange carrot, but it was the French horticulturist Vilmorin-Andrieux who took the stubby Dutch carrot, and through crosses with wild carrots, finally produced the elongated, bright orange root we know today.

Now, when you buy from local farmers, you can get delicious carrots in all the colors of the rainbow. Along with different colors, you’ll find carrots of all shapes and sizes. Along with old favorites like Nantes, Imperator, and Danvers, there are tiny, almost round Thumbelinas, squatty Chantenays, and the long, elegant, light yellow Kimbi.

HEALTHY AND POWERFUL

It nearly goes without saying that carrots are good for you. How many times were you implored, “Eat your carrots! They’re good for your eyes!”

With a whopping dose of vitamin A (about 8,000 units per carrot) and lots of beta-carotene and other anti-oxidants, carrots are a nutritional powerhouse. They are also packed with high levels of potassium, calcium, and phosphorus, which help keep bones, nerves, and muscles functioning well. But the ocular claim is dubious.

According to Jane Grigson, the great English cookbook writer, during World War II, in order to encourage the consumption of carrots, one of the few foodstuffs not in short supply, the British authorities spread the rumor that fighter pilots consumed vast quantities of carrots to enable them to see in the dark. And from that propaganda, countless mothers on both sides of the Atlantic have implored countless children to eat their carrots.

FARM FRESH FIGHTERS

Today it is more often nutritionists and physicians who implore us to eat our carrots—not to enhance our vision but to enhance our general health. The carotenes in carrots and many other vegetables work their wonders by destroying oxygen free radicals. This anti-oxidant effect helps fight cancers, enhance immune response, and protect cells against UV radiation.

But when it comes to carotenes, not all carrots are created equal. One of the most widely overlooked factors behind variation in nutrient levels of vegetables is the variety, or cultivar, of the vegetable. Robert Shewfelt, a food scientist at the University of Georgia, reported that carotene levels in any given vegetable often vary by a factor of 20, depending on the cultivar. And it’s usually your local farmers who grow the most nutritious cultivars. So get some great carrots, munch them whole, or try them in a soup, salad, or this light and lively slaw.

Colorful Carrot Slaw

INGREDIENTS: 

  • 1 pound carrots (any color), peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • 1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley (or tarragon or herb(s) of your choice)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Buttery crackers, small biscuits or hot, crusty baguettes, for serving.

INSTRUCTIONS: 

Cut carrots into matchstick pieces and transfer to a bowl. Whisk the lemon juice and oil together, pour over carrots, and toss. Add parsley and toss again. Then add salt and pepper to taste.

You can make this light meal in minutes. Just grate the carrots, toss with oil and lemon juice, then put a heaping spoonful on a cracker, biscuit, or crusty, hot bread. Add another drizzle of olive oil, and another pinch of herbs for a mouthwatering treat of contrasting textures and flavors. Who says food can’t be simple, beautiful, healthy, and delicious all at the same time?

NOTES: 

Seasonal Cook’s Notes: Serves 4 as a side dish, or 2 as a main course. The more different varieties of carrots you use, the more delicious, nutritious, and beautiful this slaw will be. You can eat it as a salad, or serve on crackers, biscuits or bread.

Content in this post comes from Farm Fresh Now! a project of The Land Connection and the Illinois Department of Agriculture. 

Soup-A-Bowl: A Community Effort

By Margery Groten

Karl and Cathy display the first round of bowls from which attendees can select.

Karl and Cathy display the first round of bowls from which attendees can select.

Fall leaves rustling in the breeze outside, folks gazing at the large table of handmade bowls trying to select one, live music, delicious soups donated by local restaurants, friends talking and laughing, shoppers reviewing exciting silent auction items, a community coming together for a cause—these are the images that come to mind when I think of Poughkeepsie Farm Project’s (PFP) annual Soup-A-Bowl event.  This is the third year I have chaired the committee for Soup-A-Bowl and I continue to be amazed by the dozens of people who pitch in their time, talents, and resources to make Soup-A-Bowl such a success. 

Jamie and Ellie show off their beautiful new bowls!

Jamie and Ellie show off their beautiful new bowls!

I work with a committee of dedicated volunteers who make miracles, including my “souper” co-chair Tina Vaitkus.  100% of the proceeds support the charitable and education programs of Poughkeepsie Farm Project.  These programs include donations and subsidies that provide fresh, healthy food for low-income neighbors and positive fresh food learning experiences for urban youth.

Dan Pressler has organized the pottery sessions at Art Centro, a community arts space located in the Middle Main neighborhood of downtown Poughkeepsie, operated by The Mid-Hudson Heritage Center.  Art Centro provides PFP with discounted classes for people who wish to learn how to throw bowls.  Some bowls are made by experienced potters, some by new students.  All 200+ bowls are a community effort, thrown by one person, trimmed by another and glazed by a third.  A shared effort that yields beautiful results!  I have thrown, trimmed and glazed various pots for this event, coming home covered in clay and satisfaction. 

One of the delicious bowls of soup served at Soup-A-Bowl

One of the delicious bowls of soup served at Soup-A-Bowl

Committee members reach out to community businesses to secure sponsorships and items for our silent auction and raffle.  Others reach out to local restaurants for donations of soup, bread, beverages and desserts.  Generous local businesses helped to raise over $20,000 last year.

Zinnia Gutowski and Penny Dell organize a rich array of silent auction items that include gift certificates to restaurants, baskets of wine and beer, gift certificates to local shops and personal services and beautiful handmade pottery, glass and art. 

A family enjoys the festivities.

A family enjoys the festivities.

We start in early spring and hundreds of volunteer hours build up to a crescendo on the day of the event.  Cathy Coughlin and her enthusiastic family are at the center of food operations leading up to and on the day of the event.  They arrange the food donations, collect the hot soups from the restaurants, arrange for the delivery of other food items, ensure the food is at proper temperature, coordinate the servers and oversee the cleanup.  The kitchen is run as a professional commercial kitchen and if you can’t take the heat stay out of the kitchen!  Soups range from minestrone, to vegan roasted beet & kale, from lobster bisque to lentil, from eggplant to butternut squash.  The varieties boggle the mind and tickle the palate. 

So many bowls!

So many bowls!

This year we are proud to make the event a zero-waste event by using the services of Zero to Go, a zero waste carting company focused on composting, recycling, and waste-reduction education.  We will be composting all of our non-ceramic bowls, cups, flatware, napkins and food waste!

All of the hard work seems so worth it when I know that in 2015 our community donated over 34,000 pounds to our sponsored share families and to emergency food providers.  

Our lead sponsor again this year is Consigli, Inc.  Additional sponsors include:  D’Arcangelo & Co, LLP, Stop and Shop, and Hannaford. We truly appreciate the support of each Soup-A-Bowl sponsor.

Our community comes out for a good cause!

Our community comes out for a good cause!

This year the event will be held on October 16th at Vassar Alumnae House.  There are two seatings: 12:00 to 1:30 PM and 2:00 to 3:30 PM, but the first seating has sold out!  Tickets are $35 if purchased before September 30th ($40 after) and $10 for children.  An adult ticket buys you a handmade pottery bowl, three servings of soup and accompaniments (gluten and gluten-free), the chance to participate in a raffle and silent auction, live music and lots of fun!  Last year over 200 people attended—not including the scores of event-day volunteers who make the event run smoothly.

The day of the event is a long day, starting with early set-up by the staff of the Vassar Alumnae House, PFP staff, and volunteers, and ending in the evening after distribution of auction items, tallying of cash, cleanup of the kitchen and dining room, and cheers of delight. 

We thank you and this year's Soup-a-Bowl sponsors:

 
 
 
 

Managing Pests and Plant Disease for a Bountiful Harvest

By Lauren McDonald

Our fundamental approach to combatting pest pressure is to grow healthy plants from the beginning of their life cycles in the greenhouse until harvest in the field. This means using high quality potting soil and careful watering practices in the greenhouse, optimizing weed management so the plants are not stressed and competing for resources, planning and protecting soil health, and carefully monitoring irrigation and water needs. In short, the combination and interaction of all the farm systems you’ve been reading about in these newsletters results in plants that can resist damage from insects and diseases.

Cucumber seedlings in the greenhouse

Cucumber seedlings in the greenhouse

Additionally we use physical barriers to protect our crops from insects. We cover most of our Brassica crops (broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage, arugula, bok choi etc) with Reemay floating row covers- these are the big white covers you’ve probably seen on the farm. This polyester-like fabric keeps out the small black flea beetles that eat pin holes in leaves and can destroy tiny seedlings. We also cover all cucurbits (cucumbers, squash, and melons) until they start flowering in order to block out the cucumber beetles that suck fluids out of leaves and stalks and spread bacterial wilt disease. The row covers also protect from cold in the spring and fall- each layer of Reemay can add about 5° of warmth, depending on the weight of the cover.  Another physical barrier system you’ve probably seen on the farm is our blueberry netting to keep birds from eating berries. We  installed new netting curtains for the blueberries in July.

Anthony inspects a cucurbit planting.

Anthony inspects a cucurbit planting.

We also make specific decisions about timing and planting location in order to manage pest pressure. We transplant snap peas because when they are seeded directly in the soil, seedcorn maggots (or possibly earth worms) tend to eat the seeds. Similarly, we time our last planting of cucumbers and zucchini so that we’ll finish harvesting from the plants by early September when downy and powdery mildew will start to come in. For the whole farm, we use a four-year crop rotation meaning that a particular crop family will only be planted in each section once every four years. This helps avoid diseases and insects that stay in the soil.

Leon show the team what septoria looks like on a tomato leaf.

Leon show the team what septoria looks like on a tomato leaf.

High tunnels are also valuable ways to manage disease in tomato and cucumber crops and a significant reason for installing the two new ones this season. When tomatoes are grown inside a plastic tunnel, rainwater and dew doesn’t settle and sit on the leaves the way it does in the field, consequently minimizing the spread of water-borne diseases. In the past, we sprayed a copper soap on tomatoes and peppers. The copper reacts with water and becomes toxic to the disease causing fungi. Instead, having all our tomatoes under cover will potentially eliminate or at least significantly reduce our copper spraying. With insect pests we do also use organically approved chemical sprays as a last resort, and we try to avoid spraying the same chemical more than once on the same crop/pest. All of these pest management techniques require us to be constantly observant and to closely monitor every crop. So, if you’re ever picking in the field or working with us and notice an unusual insect or potential disease, please let us know!

The farm crew inspects a young planting of spinach.

The farm crew inspects a young planting of spinach.

Weed Control at PFP

By Lauren McDonald

Weed management is one of the biggest challenges for organic growers, and a large percentage of our labor hours are dedicated to this never-ending pursuit! Our goal is to get the weeds out when they’re small, and we have various tractor implements and hand tools to help make this possible. We never want weeds to go to seed- one of our common weeds, amaranth or pigweed, can produce over 100,000 seeds per plant! Weeding is especially important in trying to promote plant health because when plants are stressed because they are competing for light, water, and nutrients, they are more susceptible to diseases and attacks from insects. Weeding also promotes airflow around the plants, consequently reducing fungal diseases, and helps make harvesting more efficient and pleasant.

Before we plant, we go through a process called stale seed bedding. This means that we prepare the soil a few weeks before we’re going to plant so that weed seeds can germinate and then we can knock them back either with a shallow rototill pass or another implement. As soon as our transplants have established or after direct seeded crops have sprouted, we follow with various cultivating implements on our electric Allis Chalmer G tractor as well as rear-mounted ones on the smaller of our Kubota tractors. We use a basket weeder (above left) when the plants and weeds are very small. The baskets roll as you drive forward and disturb just the top layer of soil to dislodge sprouting weeds. Once the plants are bigger, we use a spring-loaded tine weeder (below right). The tines bounce off deeply rooted veggie plants and disturb the top few inches of soil in order to lift up and dry out weeds. We have additional implements that just target weeds in the furrows between beds.

Last year we also purchased a new Precision Cultivator/Hoeing Machine from the Dutch company HAK (below left) that will take our weed management to the next level. As we attempt to optimize our weeding strategies, we want to work on cultivating as close to plants as possible without damaging them and figuring out better ways to weed in between the plants in each row. Our current implements are very effective between rows, but as many of you know because you’ve done it during work hours, we end up hand weeding right around plants. The precision cultivator has many different attachments, all of which can be adjusted to our specific bed dimensions and crops. We’re looking forward to trying the rubber finger-weeders that rotate and interlock in a way that should knock out in-row weeds right up to the base of plants, reducing hand weeding by 40-60%. Remember all the hours you may have spent with us last year weeding carrots, onions, and kale? Imagine cutting that in half! 

In addition to mechanical cultivating we use different types of ground covering to block weeds, help protect soil structure, and hold moisture. We lay Biotelo biodegradable black plastic or reusable landscape fabric for the crops that are in the ground for the longest amount of time through the season. This includes all of our tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, squash, melons, onions, leeks, and celeriac. We have to hand weed in the holes around the plants, but that is an incredibly quick process if we do it early, compared to how many tractor passes (which eventually would be impossible once plants are too tall) or rounds of hand weeding or hoeing we’d need to fight the weeds without plastic. In the blueberries and raspberries we similarly use wood chip mulch to prevent weeds.

Inevitably there will be sections that despite all of these forms of attack will still have big weeds, so we pull those by hand or use scuffle hoes. Perhaps that’s a comfort to some of you, who like me, find weeding to be satisfying and meditative work. Sometimes our team likes to play word and guessing games while hand weeding, so please do join in whenever you are weeding with us!

Reflections on "Using Gardens to Teach"

PFP's 2016 Summer Institute for Educators focused on helping educators of youth in the primary grades integrate gardens into their teaching.

"Using Gardens to Teach" participants being plant parts

"Using Gardens to Teach" participants being plant parts

On day one, educators took part in garden math stations on using a coordinate grid, measuring using your handspan, finding the perimeter of garden beds, and graphing flowers by their attributes. They toured PFP's Meditation Garden and Discovery Gardens, and learned how to garden with children.   

The second day of the training started with a session on Literacy in the Garden led by local storyteller and reading specialist, Muriel Horowitz. Next the group took a field trip to two school gardens in Poughkeepsie, one at Clinton Elementary School and the other at Warring Elementary School. The day ended with a session on the hows and whys of saving garden seeds.

On the final day of the Summer Institute, participants learned how to teach nutrition concepts through cooking workshops, toured Poughkeepsie Farm Project, learned to process tomato and pepper seeds, explored children's literature and curricular resources, and developed social studies lessons based on fictional and non-fiction children's books.

Jes (left), Juliana (middle), and Sam prepare to tell a story to the group.

Jes (left), Juliana (middle), and Sam prepare to tell a story to the group.

The Summer Institute for educators is super exciting! We exchanged tons of resources and strategies to work with gardens as great outdoor classrooms. 

-Juliana Quaresma, Onondaga Earth Corps

The Summer Institute was a very rewarding, educational, and inspiring experience. ... I left really pumped to initiate the garden-based education skills and ideas that we discussed.

-Sam Adels, garden educator, Hudson Valley Seed

Suzi (left) and Mary make squash ribbons to add to the kale salad.

Suzi (left) and Mary make squash ribbons to add to the kale salad.

"The knowledge of the PFP staff, their love of their work, and their willingness to share is amazing." 

-Suzi Sullivan, 3rd grade teacher, Clinton Elementary School

"I had a great time at “Using Gardens to Teach.” The hands-on activities at the farm were very engaging. I have lots of ideas to bring back to school."

-Mary Ficht, 4th grade teacher, Warring Elementary School

From Farm to Freezer: Learning How to Preserve the Bounty for Our Poughkeepsie Neighbors

By Katherine Chiu

One in 4 households in the City of Poughkeepsie are food insecure by USDA standards. That’s higher than the national average of 1 in 6. Through our Food Share program, Poughkeepsie Farm Project partners with local organizations to connect more of our neighbors with good food. Last year, PFP donated over 21,000 pounds of fresh farm produce to pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and other community organizations. 

Our Food Share program partners love making use of the fresh produce that they receive from PFP, but with their skeleton kitchen crews and limited cooler space, we sometimes test their capacity with the amount of produce we send their way.  So we decided to test out a new recipe:

Take one chef at a PFP Food Share partner organization, with a kitchen equipped to turn out hundreds of meals each day;

Add several PFP workshare members, with work hours to fulfill;

Throw in hundreds of pounds of collard greens, kale, and chard, harvested by PFP’s farm crew and workshare members and donated to our Food Share partners!

Several of PFP’s workshare members became new experts in greens preservation after participating in special workshare shifts in the kitchens of Hudson River Housing and The Lunch Box.  Over the course of just a couple afternoons, we helped to blanch and freeze about 450 pounds of fresh greens donated by PFP, to be used in tasty and nutritious meals for our Poughkeepsie neighbors.  Our Food Share program partners were thrilled to have the extra hands to help process and all the donated fresh produce, and our workshare members had a great time learning new kitchen skills while lending their time and energy out to the extended PFP community.  

Need a quick lesson on how you can preserve the upcoming bounty of fall greens?  Let  PFP CSA shareholders show you how.  

(After the success of these events, we will be offering a limited number of work shifts this fall at Hudson River Housing and The Lunch Box for those of our workshare members whose physical limitations prevent them from working in the field.  We also encourage all our members to volunteer with these wonderful organizations on your own schedules!  Please find more information on volunteering at the end of this story.)

Farm to Freezer: Step by Step

Step 1: Grow and harvest the greens.  Easy--or at least, PFP crew members Lauren and German make it look that way! Our hard-working farm crew is at the heart of the farm’s operations.  Last year, PFP donated 21,000 pounds of our harvest to our Food Share program partners.  

Step 2: Get the greens from the farm to the kitchen.  Shout-out to PFP CSA member Pete for delivering these particular greens to Hudson River Housing!

PFP’s working CSA shareholders are the engine behind our Food Share produce deliveries.  Every week, our workshare members make deliveries of fresh donated produce to several local organizations who help us to connect more of our Poughkeepsie neighbors with good food.

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Step 3: Greens are in the kitchen, here we go!  Set up your workspace: get a big pot of water (or two) boiling on the stove, clear counter space for a chopping board and a sharp knife, and set up a colander in the sink.

Hudson River Housing’s head chef Ritu Bedi gives us an orientation of his kitchen, where he and his staff cook and serve up to 300 meals a day, 365 days a year for Hudson River Housing’s residents--Poughkeepsie folks in need of emergency and transitional housing.

Step 4: If you want to de-stem your greens, you can.  This step is recommended for kale and collards, and less crucial for the tender stems of Swiss chard.  

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Step 5: Chop, chop, chop.  To speed up this task, try stacking the leaves, rolling them up, and slicing thin strips cross-wise across the roll before then doing a few rough chops lengthwise.  The size of your cut pieces is up to you.  We cut the rolls of greens into about 1-inch wide strips.

 

Step 6: Wash and drain your chopped greens, and then drop them into your pot of boiling water.  This step is called “blanching”: scalding vegetables in boiling water or steam for a short time.  This process stops enzyme activity in the greens, which would otherwise cause loss of flavor, color, texture, and nutrients in the greens even while they’re in the freezer. For thick greens like collards, the National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends 3 minutes of blanching time.  For all other greens, 2 minutes is recommended.

Step 7: Remove greens from boiling water and rinse under cold running water to halt the cooking process.  

PFP member Kate got so good at blanching greens quickly, she started working the stove two-handed.

 

 

 

Step 8: Squeeze as much moisture out of the greens as you can.  Then, pack into a sealable freezer bag and compress as much of the air out as you can before sealing.  Leave about a ½-inch of “headspace” at the top to allow for the water content in the greens to expand a bit as they freeze.

 

 

Step 9: Remember to date and label the contents.  How long it will last depends on how consistently cold your freezer stays.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends using your blanched and frozen greens within 12 months.

Mom and daughter duo: Polly came to work in Hudson River Housing’s kitchen for her PFP work hours, and daughter Hilary was there too--as HRH’s volunteer coordinator!

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Step 10: Step back and admire your work.  Then, pop those greens into the freezer!  

We started out with enough collards, kale and chard to fill that stack of orange bins.  Afterward, the bagged processed greens fit neatly into 3 small crates like the one that Kate is holding inside the walk-in freezer--freeing up space in Hudson River Housing’s cooler to store more produce from PFP!

Defrost your greens overnight in the fridge when you’re ready to use them.  Enjoy your local produce this winter in soups, casseroles, quiches...and if you want to help prepare and serve the same produce in warm, hearty meals to your Poughkeepsie neighbors, consider volunteering with PFP’s Food Share partner organizations!

To learn more about volunteering with The Lunch Box, call Dutchess Outreach at: 845.454.3792

To learn more about volunteering at Hudson River Housing, visit: http://www.hudsonriverhousing.org/volunteer.html

PFP workshare members also helped to process greens at The Lunch Box, where 500 meals are served daily, Monday through Friday, to anyone in Poughkeepsie who needs it.