Monday, March 19, 2018

Changes are coming and I couldn't be more excited

Summertime- I hate it. As a farmer, I have learned to dread the season. It's filled with emergencies, hot temperatures, and dehydration. They seem to feed on each other. But last Summer, I had a revelation. Our well had broken again and we were having to pull the pipe. Once again, as happens every year despite training, our seasonal staff had prematurely picked the pumpkin crop thinking it was squash. And I found myself begging my father to please just please would you please spray the grapes before the sun goes down and would you till up this strip of ground so we can plant peas and beans?

These problems happen every year. I was crazy and foolish to think that the problems would ever change and that our situation would improve. Our well and water are so laden with iron that the well company had to pull the pipes and replace them after only 9 years. Our whole system is incredibly convoluted after multiple companies have offered different solutions. It constantly clogs and our crops receive an irregular water supply during the sweltering summer months. The well company recommended that we drill a backup well just in case our well fails during the summer again. Ummm yeah no? This would cost us at least $10,000 and we don't even know if the water quality would improve with a new well. It's a huge gamble. I was tired of spending so much money on crops that make us so little money. I knew one thing: we needed to be growing crops which aren't so dependent on irrigation in the hot summer sun.

Another fact I've been facing over the past few years is that my dad is getting older. He is a disabled vet, but a workaholic. He has never let his heart problems (his heart functions at about 30%), or random flareups of gout-like growths (unidentifiable by doctors) to stop him from trying to do his work. Nevertheless last year, it was simply evident that he is no longer able to keep up with the demands of running a 12 acre produce farm during the Summer. He doesn't believe me when I say he should take a smaller role on the farm, and I doubt he ever will accept it, but I can't continue to run our farm with him being a central figure. He will deny his limitations every step of the way, but he is my dad. I love him and I respect him enough to 1) tell the customers what's going on and 2) adapt our farm to our changing family. 

Finally, every Summer, we need extra help. The tomatoes need staking, the vineyard needs weed eating, the beans need weeding, the produce needs picking daily, and the bugs need squishing. These might sound like simple tasks, easily taught to interns or high schoolers, but let me assure you, they are not. Just looking at the books, the extra labor we take on during the summer never justifies the extra money we make during that time. Farm labor does not equal "unskilled labor." Farm labor is INCREDIBLY skilled. It takes about 10 years of experience to become a farm manager, and I've just reached that point this past year myself. Learning all the intricacies of the environment, the weather, and the crops takes time and frankly, America is not producing that many of these sorts of workers anymore. AND if we are producing these sorts of workers, they can easily go work anywhere else and make much more money with their dedication, hard work, and attention to detail. It's hard to run a farm if you don't have a large family to help you out with the work, and well, I'm an only child who happens to be single and childless. Yes, this matters. I simply cannot hire the people I need who will stick with me year after year to run a successful operation during the summer.

The solution? You ask? YES. There is one. It came to me one day last year as I was sitting on the porch of the farm stand. I was elated, jumped up and down, and might have even bought myself a celebratory beer. But, I was scared to tell anyone because I didn't know if I could pull it off. Right now, we have executed the first two steps, so I am confident I can share with you the rest of the plan and that it will happen.

We are going to transition to a "Pick-Your-Own" operation which specializes in strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and grapes. People LOVE Berries! (so do breweries). We are going to continue to plant things which are not so dependent on the irrigation (greens, Jerusalem artichokes, butternut squash/seminole pumpkins, okra, onions, garlic, beans and blackeyed peas). It will take two- three years to get all of these perennial crops producing and to get our income stream to match our expenditures, but I know that this is the MOST SUSTAINABLE way to proceed. We are going to focus on growing plants which are suited to fluctuations in the weather and purchase the other vegetables from farmers who are doing a much better job of growing these crops than we ever could. 

Some people will say that we aren't running a truly diversified farm anymore. I'm ok with that. I'm so ecstatic about the possibility of having my summers back and having a better relationship with my father that I could honestly care less. We will still be providing delicious food to Cabarrus and Mecklenburg County, but it will be both ours and a more diversified offering from other local farms. We maintain our commitment to supporting the local farming and food communities. Not everyone does everything well. Find what you do well and do it. Let everything else go. Quit struggling and see where the Good Lord/ Universe is leading you. 

Peace, y'all and I'll see you when we open up the farm stand with STRAWBERRY SEASON!!  






Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Kohlrabi

This vegetable looks strange. It presents itself to the world like a globe as it grows above the ground on a sturdy root. They almost look like alien ships surveying the ground they sprout from. But believe it or not they are of German origin and not Asian. Here are some facts about this interesting and tasty plant.

1. It's in season in fall and winter.
2. When raw, it tastes like a slightly spicier version of turnip, it's reminiscent of turnip and a parsnip.
When cooked, it is a bit sweeter, especially if caramelized. You can cut it into cubes or wedges and roast it, or slice or cut into matchsticks and stir-fry.
3. You will see white, pale green, and purple bulbs. At The Farm Stand we have the pale green ones. They all have a creamy white interior.
4. The leaves are edible (and loaded with iron); add them to a salad or sauteed with garlic as you would mustard or beet greens.
5. Kohlrabi is a good source of fiber, vitamins C and B6, and potassium.
6. A cup (raw) has just 36 calories.



Some easy ways to enjoy them is to peel the outside skin off, chop into bite size chunks, and toss in a salad.
OR
Make them into fritters for the entire family! This is a great way to get kids to eat their kohlrabi!
Shred it and mix with an egg and a few tablespoons of flour or breadcrumbs. Heat oil or butter in a flat skillet, drop on small mounds, and flatten slightly with the back of your spatula. Turn after a few minutes, and serve when both sides are crispy.
Serve with dipping sauce or by themselves. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

How to cook these

What does a person do with dry peas?
Dried peas must be soaked before they are ready to be made into an amazing dish. When I say peas my brain automatically goes to English Peas which these are not at all like. So, I've been thinking about them like dried beans. Dried beans need soaking and so do these.

First Step
Soaking:
Rinse the peas(Or Beans) several times and discard any “floaters.” Then, in a large pot, cover them with 4 cups of water for each cup of peas. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat and keep at a low simmer for 2 to 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover, and let stand for an hour. The peas will soak up the water and become moist again and reduce cracking or bursting while cooking later. If you are not going to cook them till later you can soak them in water overnight as well at room temp. 

Second Step
Recipe for How to Cook These Peas: The Southern way
  • After they are done soaking, drain the water. 
  • You can use either cured pork side meat or bacon along with salt, pepper, onion ( yellow or spring variety) and dried herbs. Dice Onion and set aside.
  • Cut bacon or cured pork side meat into 1.5 inch slices.  
  • Place in a skillet and gently brown. Don't throw away all the grease. If it weirds you out you can put 2 tablespoons of fat into peas and discard the rest or if you don't mind all the fat then use it all. It adds flavor. 
  • Rinse the peas and put them into a pot with either just plain cold water or a mixture of water and stock, enough to cover the peas by about an inch.
  • After bacon is rendered down to golden brown put it and its juices in with the peas and liquids.
  • Add diced onion at this point as well
     
  • Add salt (taste it first to see if salt content is good with just the drippings in it or if it needs more). I don't want you to blow out your taste buds on salt, add pepper (coarser ground is better for flavor) and dried herbs. I like to use thyme, or basil, or powdered onion if you don't have the fresh stuff. 
  • Cook on med. or a gentle boil for 25-35 mins. Foam might form on the top, so just scoop it off. It's part of cooking peas. 
  • Peas need to be cooked but not mushy.
  • Taste for seasoning adjustments.

    Enjoy!


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Party it up!

We are having a party!!

 
Harvest Celebration
Dover Vineyards
The Grapes are in, the vegetables are planted. It's time to celebrate as we being to relax after a trying, rainy, wet, 2017 Season. Come join us for a bonfire, dinner from the Cookin Coop Food Truck and Live Music from Dave and Court. Drinks for sale by the flight, glass, or bottle.
 
Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017
5-9pm
3600 Concord Pkwy S.
Concord, NC 28027
 
Bring the kids and the friends
 
See ya'll there! 
 
 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Feel the Chill

Good day everyone. Good chilly mornings and cooler evenings. Here at The Farm at Dover Vineyards we are looking forward to our Harvest Celebration on Oct. 14, 2017 5-9pm! It has been a tough season but we are thankful for all we have and will celebrate no matter what! Please join us for this celebration.
 There will be a bonfire, dinner from the Cookin Coop Food Truck and Live Music from Dave and Court Drinks for sale by the flight, glass, or bottle. It will also be kid friendly, there will be Wine tastings and Wine for purchase.
Lock this address into your GPS: 3600 Concord Pkwy S. Concord, NC 28027
 
Also I wanted to share with you some ideas for these gorgeous pumpkins we have. I know that a lot of people will carve these pumpkins for the Halloween celebrations and the ringing in of Fall. Be what other sorts of things can be done?
 
 
 
 A good way to start with a pumpkin is roasting it. It is daunting to look at the round, mostly hollow item you just bought and think, "What do I do with it now?" You can roast it for a recipe with instruction below. 
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Using a spoon, remove the pulp and seeds from the pumpkin. Discard the pulp and reserve the seeds for roasting, if desired. Using a sharp knife, remove the skin from the pumpkin and cut the flesh into 1-inch cubes (you will have about 6 cups if not more depending on the size of the pumpkin). Toss the cubes with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper.
3. Spread the pumpkin on a large rimmed baking sheet and roast until golden and tender-firm. It should be a little charred but not too tender, about 25-30 minutes. (Stir the pumpkin once after the first 20 minutes.) Remove from the oven to cool, and reduce the oven’s temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
You can then add the pieces to stew or soup or you can eat as is as a side dish.
 
In other exciting news!
We are going to be on Flavor, NC!! so excited. Thanks for visiting with us, Lisa Prince! It was a great visit, despite my car breaking down and stepping in tons of ant hills.
 
Hope we see you at the Harvest Celebration and follow us on Facebook at Dover Vineyards. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Roasted

It is about to be October, where tree leaves are turning and pumpkins are on the front stoop or being made into pies. There are also winter squashes coming along and I wanted to share a recipe today for that. At the farm stand we get all kinds of questions and often it's how to cook something.

Winter squashes are a familiar item to see at the end of summer and into fall along with spaghetti squashes as well. Today's recipe is about roasting winter squash. You can interchange between the the squashes, butternut, spaghetti squashes, acorn squash, pumpkins, and any other squash varieties you can find.

To start:
Wash the outside of the vegetable and cut in half or cut into large chunks. Some times you can cut off the outside layer and just have the inside flesh or for Butternut squash specifically you CAN leave the outer layer on, it is edible.  Pre-heat over to 400 degrees F. Scoop seeds out with a spoon. Place squash halves or pieces into a flat pan or casserole dish. Sprinkle with Salt, Pepper, and a touch of Cinnamon or savory Thyme. This will depend on what taste you're going for. You can add other spices or herbs here too. Lightly drizzle olive oil onto squash.

 
Start the roasting time at 45mins then go up 15-20mins depending on size and weight of squash. Smaller acorn or butternut squashes won't take as long as the larger more dense squashes. If you have chunks, take a spatula and move the pieces around and then smooth them out again so they cook evenly.
It will be ready when a fork can easily slide into the squash and come out clean. If there is a slight tug when you try to extricate the fork, you need a bit more time.

Now the fun part. When they are tender, remove the pan from the oven. You have many options here on how to eat this awesome roasted squash.
1. Carefully remove squash from baking container and place it in your serving dish. If in chunks you can drizzle with butter and sprinkle more salt and pepper to taste and serve.
2. If in halves you can scoop the insides out, if outside layer is still on, and whip it in a food processor or with a hand mixer while adding butter or heavy whipping cream to get more of a mashed feel to it.
3. If it is a small squash you can serve in halves. Simply place the half on plate or in a bowl and serve while hot.
4. Larger squash can be sliced in its shape and served with drizzle of olive oil or butter.

Check out the Farm Stand this Fall or Plaza Midwood Farmer's Market on Saturday and see what kinds of squashes we have in so you can get going on your new recipe!
Enjoy your time making roasted squash!






Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Catch up on good times

We had a contest on who could use Two Pigs Farm Pork Product in a recipe the best!
The winner is Chelsea Stone!! One of Dover Vineyards own. She made a delicious Mexican style Chorizo dish.
How to make it:

Cornmeal Biscuits with Chorizo Gravy and Scallions
4 SERVINGS

Ingredients
Biscuits
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
    ¾ cup cornmeal
    1 tablespoon sugar
    1½ teaspoons baking powder
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1 teaspoon kosher salt
    ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    ½ cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
    ¾ cup buttermilk
Gravy and Assembly
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
    1 pound fresh chorizo, casings removed
    3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    2½ cups whole milk
    Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
    Hot sauce
    1 avocado, sliced
    4 scallions, thinly sliced
    2 radishes, thinly sliced (optional)
    ½ cup cilantro leaves with tender stems
    ½ cup Cotija cheese or queso fresco (optional) (Cackleberry Queso Fresco)
Preparation
Biscuits
  1. Preheat oven to 425°. Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Using your hands, work butter into flour until pieces are chickpea-size. Add buttermilk and mix just to blend.
  2. Drop dough by heaping ¼-cupfuls into an 8" cast-iron skillet, spacing about 1" apart. Bake, rotating skillet once, until biscuits are puffed, golden brown, and cooked through, 12–15 minutes.
Gravy and Assembly
  1. While biscuits are baking, heat oil in a medium skillet over medium. Add chorizo, breaking up any large pieces with a spatula. Cook, stirring occasionally, until chorizo is browned and crisp, 8–10 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl with a slotted spoon.
  2. Whisk flour into drippings in skillet and cook, whisking constantly, until roux is very smooth and starting to turn a light golden brown, about 5 minutes. Gradually add milk, whisking constantly until incorporated. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook gravy, whisking constantly, until thickened, 5–8 minutes. Stir half of chorizo into gravy; season with salt, pepper, and hot sauce.
  3. Spoon some gravy over hot biscuits and top with avocado, scallions, radishes, cilantro, Cotija (if using), remaining chorizo, and more hot sauce. Serve remaining gravy alongside.
    Great job Chelsea!