Big Leaf Farm

March 20, 2012

Week #9 Farm News

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris O'Brien @ 3:22 pm

Can I sleep now? Molly rests after packing this week's share...

We made it!  This is the last CSA distribution for the winter season, and our last one for a while as we shift our focus from the farm, inward towards the family for a little bit.  I’m looking forward to spending more time with Molly and working on a serious home addition we have planned for our ‘year off’.  Thanks again for all your support in making our farm so successful!  I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating again:  I got into farming because of the plants, but what keeps me going day to day is all of you, and for that I’m very grateful.  Have a great 2012!


The Hunger Gap.  Famines have always been a reality of human existence.  They’re caused by many reasons: political instability, crop failure, and overpopulation are just a few.  In just the last century famines have definitely shaped whole regions and led to massive losses of human life.

Famines are unpredictable because they are usually caused by unpredictable events.  However, there are annual food shortages due to predictable seasonal weather patterns and we’re entering one of those hunger gaps right now here in Oregon.

A seasonal hunger gap is caused because of a gap in harvests.  Right now, many of our winter storage crops such as potatoes and winter squash are exhausted.  Crops that have wintered outside want to go to seed as the days get longer and warmer, and while the rapini from these crops are a tasty food, eventually they’ll be past their edible stage long before spring-planted veggies are ready for the table.

For us (and for all of you, hopefully), the hunger gap is a theoretical problem.  In this modern age, food is readily available.  When there’s less food from the garden we can certainly find it at the grocery store.  For our family, the hunger gap is a time to shift focus in our diet towards stored crops, such as grains and pulses, much of which still comes from the store.  So, while this shift in diet reminds us that we are eating according to the way of the seasons, it doesn’t mean we have to tighten our belts as we might have had to if we were living in Oregon 150 or more years ago.

The hunger can remind us, however, that there are many less fortunate that ourselves that do experience real gaps in their access to food, especially to fresh nutritious food that we receive in our CSA shares every week.

Fortunately, our CSA operation has been a nice vehicle we can use to get fresh food to those in need.  We always have extra food left over each week that goes to our local food bank, and in 2012 we even grew extra of a few crops, so we were able to donate larger amounts of certain things like winter squash, cucumbers and sweet peppers.  In total we were able to donate over 2000 lbs of food to our local food bank, all because of our farming operation that was made possible by all of you.

In addition to using this seasonal hunger gap to remind ourselves how fortunate we are, it’s a good time to consider how we can help our neighbors cope with hunger and food insecurity. While Big Leaf Farm is on leave this year, we hope you’ll explore other opportunities to support your local food bank and similar organizations that help to increase access to food for those in need.

Have a great week and enjoy your veggies!

Week #9 Cast of characters

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris O'Brien @ 3:21 pm

  • Potatoes:  This week’s potatoes are good ‘ole German butterball.
  • Leeks:  These are smaller leeks this week as we go back through our beds to find enough for one last distribution.
  • Rutabaga: Ditto for rutabega
  • Cabbage:
  • Parsnips:  Check out a couple of exciting parsnip recipes below that everyone’s talking about. If you’re not a big fan of parsnips, sneaking them into mashed potatoes is a good option.
  • Collard greens:  Spring collards almost become a different vegetable in the spring.  Their new leaves are smaller and more tender than the leaves of fall.  As a result they don’t need to be cooked nearly as much.
  • Purple sprouting broccoli:
  • Greens mix:  This week’s mix features mache (corn salad), a green you’ve only been barely introduced to, in addition to arugula and some other mild mustards, and a few other things I found in the greenhouse.  This mix can be used as-is raw for a salad.  Alternatively, wilt it under a warm dressing, or even toss it in some hot pasta along with a little leek and garlic sautéed in olive oil, some chopped walnuts and a topping of parmesan cheese.   I’d recommend chopping it first however you eat it. 

Week #9 Recipes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris O'Brien @ 3:21 pm

Pureed Parsnips


1 ½ lbs parsnips, peeled

½ lb potatoes, peeled

1 rutabega

salt and pepper

½ cup buttermilk, cream, or cooking water

4 t butter


Chop the parsnips and potatoes and rutabaga with the potatoes half the size of the parsnips.  Then cover them with some cold water in a sauce pan along with a little salt and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cook until tender.  Drain them, reserving the liquid.  Pass the veggies through a food mill or puree in a blender or processor.  Then add enough of the milk, cream or water to get a nice silky texture.  Season with the salt and pepper and stir in the butter.

From “Vegetarian cooking for everyone” by Deborah Madison.


Curried parsnips with yogurt and chutney

Try serving this on a bed of your salad mix from this week.  You could also add some purple sprouting broccoli to the sauté.

1 ½ lb parsnips, peeled and chopped into roughly even sized pieces

2-3 T butter or oil

1 onion, chopped

2 apples, cored and thinly sliced

1 t curry powder

salt and pepper

¼ cup yogurt

2 T chopped cilantro

¼ cup chutney (either commercial mango chutney or follow the recipe below for dried fruit chutney


Steam the parsnips until they are just slightly tender, then melt the butter or add the oil to a skillet and sauté the leeks, apples and curry for about 10 minutes.  Then add the parsnips, the salt and pepper and cook 5 more minutes with another splash of the oil or a little more butter.  Turn off the heat and stir in the yogurt, the chutney, and the cilantro.


For the chutney:

1 ½ cups whole dried apricots, chopped

½ cup golden raisins

¼ cup dried currants

¼ cup dried cranberries

3 ½ cups apple juice or water

½ cup cider vinegar

2 T julienne strips of ginger

½ t fennel or anise seed

½ t black peppercorns

½ t coriander seed

¼ t red pepper flakes

salt and balsamic vinegar to taste


Put all but the balsamic vinegar in a saucepan and bring it to a boil.  Then simmer it for 45 minutes, until the liquid is reduced and thickened.  The fruit should be soft but not mushy. Then season with the balsamic vinegar and salt.

From “Vegetarian cooking for everyone” by Deborah Madison

March 13, 2012

Week #8 Farm News

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris O'Brien @ 2:30 pm

It’s spring… no it’s winter.  Definitely winter!  We awoke to about two inches of slush covering the farm this morning. Fortunately, everything left to harvest was in the greenhouse, so we didn’t have to dig through the snow to get your veggies.  One more week left!

Have a great week and enjoy your veggies!

Ducks enjoying the snow this morning...


Week #8 Cast of Characters

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris O'Brien @ 2:29 pm

  • Potatoes:  We’re back to red potatoes this week.
  • Leeks: 
  • Beets:  These beets overwintered in our fields this year, which is a first for us.  It’s because the winter was so mild.
  • Celeriac:
  • Spinach:  Like the beets, some of this spinach overwintered outside this year.  The bulk of it comes from the greenhouse, though.
  • Mizuna: This green serves double duty as a salad addition, or cook it as a green.  It’s tender, so it cooks very quickly.
  • Rapini:  This week’s rapini comes from our turnip planting that went to flower earlier than we’d hoped.  As a result you get flowering stalks instead of crunchy roots.  The whole thing is edible!
  • Radishes:  Cubed radishes are wonderful in miso soup.  Mizuna is great too, by the way.  Molly’s grandmother who is visiting this week claims that they’re also tasty sliced raw on a piece of good bread along with some cream cheese or spreadable goat cheese.  Enjoy!

Week #8 Recipes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris O'Brien @ 2:29 pm

Soup weather has returned with a vengeance.  Here are a few good recipes to keep you busy!


Spinach vichyssoise

This French classic is served cold.  First you make what is basically a leek and potato soup, then you chill it and add the cream and spinach.

3 medium size potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ inch dice

3-4 leeks, washed and finely sliced

4 ½ cups water

2 tightly packed cups of spinach, chopped


1 ¼ cup cream

2 T shredded raw spinach leaf.


Combine the veggies in the water and bring to a simmer.  Cook the soup gently for about 15 minutes.  Then add the chopped spinach and cook another 5 minutes or so, until the spinach is cooked and the potatoes are falling apart or are easy to crush against the side of the pot.  Then add salt to taste, and ¾ cup of the cream.  Puree the soup and pass it through a strainer if you want to remove the chunks.  Then chill the soup (keeping it covered to prevent a skin from forming) and whip the rest of cream just until it starts to thicken.  Serve the soup with a dollop of cream and a sprinkle of the shredded raw spinach.

Adapted from “Splendid soups” by James Peterson


White bean puree with celeriac or parsnip

You can use this recipe next week when I give out parsnips

3 cups cooked or canned navy or other white beans, drained (and rinsed if canned), but still moist.  Reserve the liquid.

3 T butter or olive oil

salt and pepper

1 cup (or more) chopped celeriac and/or parsnip

Chopped parsley leaves for garnish.


Steam or boil the celeriac or parsnip and add it to the beans.  Puree the beans, using enough of the reserved liquid or water to make them liquid enough to blend.    Then heat the puree along with the butter in the microwave or on the stove-top until the beans are hot.  Season with salt and pepper and serve, garnished with the parsley.

From “How to cook everything vegetarian” by Mark Bittman


Beet and Tomato soup

½ lb fresh beets

1 t ghee or butter

½ t whole cumin seeds

1 t whole black peppercorns

4 whole cloves

¾” piece of stick cinnamon

1 can chopped tomatoes

½ t (or more) salt

¼ cup cream (optional)


Peel the beets and cut them into large chunks.  Then blend them in a food processor with 1 ½ cups of water for one minute or so.  Then strain the juice through a fine sieve, getting as much liquid as you can from the puree.  Then heat the ghee or butter in a soup pot and add the spices.  Cook for a few seconds, then add the chopped tomatoes.  Stir for a few seconds, then add the beet juice and another ½ cup of water.  Bring the soup to a boil, then cover it and simmer for about 10 minutes.  Taste for salt, then add the cream when the soup is done cooking if you wish to richen it a bit.

From “Madhur Jaffrey’s “World of the East Vegetarian Cooking”

March 6, 2012

Winter week #7 Farm news

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris O'Brien @ 2:45 pm

With an end to the winter CSA season coming in two weeks (March 20), I’ll be sending out invoices via email and directions for payment in the next week or so.  Stay tuned!


      Solar power.  The tree planting I mentioned last week continues here at the farm.  This week, a jujube, medlar, pineapple quince, a few black locusts, and some osage oranges and kiwi vines are all going to be finding their way into the ground.

I’ve always been fascinated by trees, especially large mature ones.  As a child I can remember riding in the car on that stretch of McLoughlin Blvd just north of Milwaukie, not far from our SE Portland pickup point.  Does anyone know the stretch I’m talking about?  The road parallels the railroad tracks there next to Westmoreland Park and passes under some massive oak trees that line both sides of the pavement.  These oak trees are so large that they easily span the two lanes of traffic on each side, their branches intertwining above the concrete divider in the center of the roadway.  The dense foliage blocks the light from overhead, and even during a bright summer’s day it’s dark in here.  These trees are clearly old, and they haven’t visibly changed in the last 30 years or so, at least at the 40 miles per hour that most of us see them at.

As an adult, these trees are still fascinating to me. They are a testament.  Not only to whoever planted them who knows how long ago and to those that have lived in the area a lot longer than I have, but they are also a testament to solar power.

I’m not talking about the solar power we usually think of when that term is mentioned in everyday use.  The photovoltaic cell (that generates electricity and are becoming more popular around town these days) was only invented a few decades ago.  The solar energy I refer to is much older, and microbes beat us to the punch of harnessing the energy of the sun by about 2.5 billion years or so.

When I was teaching introductory biology to college undergraduates I always really enjoyed the part of the semester dedicated to covering our understanding of how plants harness the energy in a photon of sunlight.  For one, I really learned a biochemical process forwards and backwards that I had been introduced to and summarily forgotten in high school biology class, but also because it allowed me think much more practically about what this process means in the real world.

Photosynthesis is this process that plants figured out, and it allows them to create food (in the form of sugar) from water taken up from the soil and carbon dioxide from the air.  We usually think of plants getting their food from the soil, but actually they just drink water and get their mineral supplements from the earth.  The rest of their energy comes directly to them from the air around their leaves.  This is true for all green plants, be them large oak trees along McLoughlin Blvd, the big leaf maple trees here on the farm or the radishes  from our greenhouse that are destined for your salad this week.

A big bonus in this process of photosynthesis for trees is wood.  Cellulose makes up wood and is created from the same food in the air, carbon dioxide.  Wood allows trees to hold up their leaves to compete for the precious resource that is sunlight, and it provides a real physical manifestation of the process of photosynthesis, creating those stately figures in our landscape.  Could you imagine a world without trees?

Newly planted pussywillow getting ready to start accumulating carbon.

A couple of weeks after teaching undergraduates about the chemical steps of photosynthesis, I liked to pose to them the question “Where does the mass of a tree come from?”.  This is a tricky question, and probably one that I wouldn’t have gotten if I was in their shoes.  It was so tricky that usually only one or two people in a class of 30 or so got the answer that I outlined above.  When asked, most students assumed that plants grew mass from material they took up from the ground, which in the face of things isn’t a bad guess since human beings only figured out how trees actually do it in the last two hundred years.  Making the correct connection between the process of photosynthesis and the trees around us is one that I’d encourage all of you to make.  Not only does it connect us with a fascinating piece of biology, it makes all the veggies in your share this week possible.  It also provides a little piece of ‘how the world works’ trivia that you can use on others at cocktail parties!

As I mentioned earlier, trees seem to be such enduring fixtures in our landscape, even though they’re by no means permanent.  They just tend to live so much longer than humans.  But thinking of those giant oak trees along McLoughlin and remembering classroom exercises from years ago reminds me even more of the potential contained in each little sapling that I’m planting.  I enjoy imagining them grow as I plant them and am looking forward to watching their carbon accumulate here on the farm for several decades to come!


Have a great week, and enjoy your trees (and veggies too)!

Winter week#7 Cast of Characters

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris O'Brien @ 2:44 pm

  • Winter Squash:  Here’s the last of the notable 2011 winter squash harvest.  Everyone gets a butternut squash, with a few gold-nugget squash thrown in for the large share folks.  Are you squashed out yet?  If so, try a cookie recipe.  If there’s squash in the cookies, they’re healthy, right?
  • Scallions:  We’ve been using these like miniature leeks, white and green part and all.  The effect is similar if the flavor is slightly different different.
  • Cabbage:  Slow cooked, until it is very soft, cabbage becomes a whole new vegetable.  Check out a recipe below.
  • Radishes: These radishes are called D’Avignon.  They’ve been catching the eyes of farmers and visitors alike for some weeks in the greenhouse.  And now they can catch your eyes too, hopefully on your plate.!
  • Turnip Greens:  We had high hopes for these hakurei turnips, that is until they began growing flower stalks instead of large succulent roots.  So instead of ‘turnips with greens’, I’m calling them ‘turnip rapini with small roots’.  Cook just like any pot green (although they are very tender), or like rapini.  Your choice!  The roots are still fine to eat, there just isn’t very much of them.
  • Salad Mix:  Can you identify all the components of this salad mix?  In here you should be able to find: golden frill mustard, red Russian kale, yukina savoy, spinach, purple and green mizuna, arugula, and claytonia.  Add some radishes and you’ll have a fine salad!

Winter Week #7 Recipes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris O'Brien @ 2:43 pm


Cabbage braised in red wine

2 T vegetable oil

1 cup chopped scallions (both white and green parts),

or red onion

5 cups thinly sliced red cabbage

1 ½ cups grated apples

1 cup dry red wine

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

1 t dried thyme

1 t salt

¼ t black pepper

2 T raisins, preferably golden


In a large pot, warm the oil and cook the scallions/onions until they soften over medium heat.  Then increase the heat and add the cabbage and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes.  Then add everything else, lower the heat, and simmer gently (covered), until the cabbage is very soft, about an hour.  Keep things stirred up every 10 minutes or so while cooking.  Enjoy!

Adapted from “Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health” by the Moosewood collective.


Butternut cookies

1 ½ cup butternut squash puree

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

½ cup olive oil

1 large egg, slightly beaten

1 t vanilla extract

2 cups whole wheat flour (ideally pastry or all-purpose, not bread flour.

1 t cinnamon

1 t baking powder

½ t baking soda

½ t salt

½ cup chopped toasted walnuts, almonds, peanuts, or pecans

½ cup semisweet chocolate chips

½ cup chopped raisins or dried cranberries

½ cup sunflower seeds or chopped pumpkin seeds

1 T sesame seeds (optional)


Preheat the oven to 375 and mix together the liquids, including the squash puree and the sugar.  In another bowl, add the flour, cinnamon, baking powder and soda and the salt.  Then add this to the liquid, and mix until moistened.  Then stir in the nuts, chocolate chips, dried fruit, and seeds.  Scoop up the cookie batter with a spoon and drop onto two large cookie sheets, making about 18 cookies per pan.  Bake for 10-15 minutes, until slightly browned on the bottom.

Adapted from “Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health” by the Moosewood collective.


Oricchiette with squash, pecans and sage brown butter.

5-6 ounces orechiette (“little ears”) or other small,

cutely shaped pasta

6-8 T butter

3 T finely chopped scallions (white part) or shallot

2 t minced garlic

2 T minced fresh sage

3 cups cubed cooked butternut squash

salt and pepper to taste

½ cup toasted pecans (toasted at 350 degrees for 6-10


freshly grated parmesan

Peel and cube the squash and then microwave or steam it until tender.  Then boil some water for the pasta and cook until tender.  Meanwhile, fry the scallions, garlic and sage until it begins to brown.  Reduce this to low, then stir in the squash and add salt and pepper.  Drain the pasta and toss in the pumpkin mixture and the toasted pecans.  Season with the grated parmesan and enjoy!


Adapted from “From Asparagus to Zucchini” by the Madison Area CSA coalition.

February 28, 2012

Winter week #6 Farm News

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris O'Brien @ 3:21 pm

The promise of trees.  These days signs of impending spring are all around us. Daffodil flowers are

Radishes ready for the harvest bin.

just days away from opening on the south side of our house, and the columbines under our windows are starting to sprout out from beneath leaf mulch under the big leaf maple that stands in front of our house. And birds like robins, chickadees and sparrows are starting to sing their breeding songs as the longer days wake up their hormones to tell them they need to start thinking about the upcoming nesting season.  Those of you that know of Woody the sapsucker, a perennial visitor every spring to Big Leaf Farm, will be gratified to hear that Woody is once again performing his annual rite of pounding on any piece of sheet metal he can find at all hours of the day, in the hopes of attracting a female friend.

Trees, too, are starting to show indications of awakening from their winter rest.  Our Asian plum tree (one of the earliest to bloom) is on the verge of opening its pink flowers, and buds on Asian pears and even figs are starting to swell and develop a little.  This is the time of year when I think about planting trees, because if I wait much longer the saplings will be more susceptible to drying out during the seasonal drought of summer if I forget to water them.

This spring is no exception to that activity, and in recent days I’ve planted a February blooming pussy willow (for Molly), a Cascara tree, an English walnut, a Persian mulberry and some Asian persimmons.   These trees will provide beauty, shade, habitat and food for wildlife, and perhaps a little extra food for this farm’s human residents.

Spring is an optimistic time of year, especially for farmers who see a whole growing season spread out before them and perhaps that’s why planting trees fills me with so much hope.  Whenever I plant anything, from tiny seed to small tree, I try to envision the plant in its mature state.  For some reason this is especially fun with a tree, perhaps because they grow to be such a larger and permanent part of our landscape.  Also, because they take much longer to mature, at the moment of planting there is a pathway that extends beyond the forthcoming season in the planter’s eye.  For something as long-lived as a tree, this pathway extends years, even centuries beyond planting.  Trees leave a legacy like no annual vegetable ever can.

But there is also a bigger cost to planting trees than annual vegetables.  Because trees are longer lived, they potentially take more care.  Some of them require long-term protection from pests, and they take more thought to place in the landscape as one tries to imagine the space they’ll occupy over time, the shade they’ll cast, and how their presence will affect access on the farm and how they’ll interact with nearby buildings.  We’re still planning an orchard of a few hundred trees on our place, but in the meantime, we’ll plant a tree here, a tree there, imagine what they’ll look like in years to come, and then observe them as they grow.

In recent years I remember hearing the story of an aged gentleman in his 90s planning, and then planting an orchard of over 100 trees.  This fellow knew that he would probably never see his trees mature and bear fruit.  His planting was not only an optimistic act, but one of faith that his trees would grow and bear fruit in his absence for future generations.  I hope I’m still around and interested in planting trees when I’m his age!

Have a great week, enjoy your veggies, and say hi to a tree or two.

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