July 12, 2012

Fennel quinoa salad with raspberry mint vinaigrette

Helllooo out there! Sorry I've been away from this blog for so long but I've been busy having a love affair with fennel.

Photo by Katrina Ludlow

And peas, and swiss chard, and raspberries. Oh ok fine, and turnip greens as well. But the fennel, oh that fennel.

Photo by Katrina Ludlow

Some of you have asked for updates and photos from the farm but it's been so busy I've barely found time to keep up this blog, let alone take pictures that do justice to this beautiful place. Luckily, 2 talented photographers have been visiting us lately, doing some gorgeous photography work, and they very kindly allowed me to use their images to illustrate this blogpost. For those of you who don't know, I am currently doing an organic farming apprenticeship with a farmer affectionally dubbed Farmer Tom, on his biodynamic farm in midcoast Maine. And while it may be a bit of a rough segue going from talking about dainty flowery ice bowls in the last post, to talking about shovelling sheep shit and such, as Farmer Tom says: this stuff is future food! (or as he once called out to a particularly nicely composted little pile of manure in his best Smeagul voice: "it's my precious!")

Farmer Tom photographed by Katrina Ludlow

Tom's farm provides weekly harvest shares to over 100 CSA members. There is also a small dairy on the farm, as well as chickens and sheep.

Photo by Katrina Ludlow
Photo by Katrina Ludlow

When I fantasized about doing a farming apprenticeship while sitting at my desk in a downtown Toronto office, I had no idea I would find it this challenging. It's not as if I had never done any gardening or farm work before, but apprenticing through a whole growing season really puts you face to face with your own limitations and challenges. It's safe to say my farm fantasies were a little too Martha Stewart picture perfect. After an initial first few weeks of the honeymoon phase where everything was seen through rosy-coloured glasses, I realized the reality is more dirty, at times monotonous, and almost always achy. I seriously considered whether I am really cut out for this work the day we mucked out a one-foot deep layer of compressed manure in the sheep pen.

Photo by Britt Leckman

(Note the pained look on my face?) I laugh about it now, but I wasn't laughing then. I was already feeling tired and achy that day, and not thrilled at the prospect of several hours of shovelling. But what really nailed me was the combination of the pungent permeating odour (bringing a new understanding of the word "fresh") and my good old overactive gag reflex. 

For the first hour, I had to make a superhuman effort not to throw up. Between shovelfuls, I would start heaving and have to run up the ramp of the sheep entrance to take quick sips of cool clean air. But the ceiling is very low there (sheep are not very tall you see), and on one of these occasions I got up too fast and whammed my head on a sharp point on the ceiling. I was so shocked by the shooting pain compounded with the bubbling belly storm that I had been trying to suppress that tears started streaming down my face instead. Right there on the sheep ramp, I had a mini meltdown, with thankfully, no one looking. It took me a moment to collect myself. I work with a bunch of guys you see, and although they are the "sensitive types" they are also adept at the art of teasing and I didn't think I would live it down if they saw me blubbering over the mundane task of shovelling manure. So I composed myself as best as I could and got back to it. I have to admit that finally seeing the floor below that layer of muck is one of my great life accomplishments. I was beaming with pride as if I had just made a great work of art.

Photo by Katrina Ludlow

So yes. Farming is hard work. I knew it, but I didn't KNOW it, know what I mean? Now I know it in my achy shoulders, calloused hands & grimy nails, and sunburnt arms. What I am getting out of this apprenticeship more than anything is an ever deepening appreciation for the labour involved in getting food to our tables. Particularly organically-grown foods, which require added human labour (often a labour of love) since rather than spraying your crops with pesticides, you have to find alternate, often creative methods to deal with weeds, insects, mould, and disease. I say this following a very long afternoon under the relentless sun, picking juicy potato beetle larvae with my farm comrades. Someone commented that what took 5 of us several hours to do would have taken 1 person around 30 minutes of spraying on a conventional farm. (Although I hear a local organic farmer uses a shop-vac to suck them up fast!) Any way you look at it, organic farming is a challenging path, but it is a deliberate choice to respect life on this earth, including our own, and is infinitely more rewarding. It has been shown by a 2011 United Nations report that small-scale, sustainable farming is the best way to feed a growing global population. And with over 150 species estimated to be going extinct with every day that goes by (much of it linked to intensive agriculture and overfishing), it's heartening to see the incredible biodiversity of plants, crops, birds, and insects that thrive on an organic farm. 

Photo by Katrina Ludlow
Photo by Katrina Ludlow

There are so many magical moments scattered throughout each day on the farm, but the biggest joy of all for me is harvesting and cooking the tasty fruits of our labour. There have been so many recipes I've wanted to share with you all lately that have slipped by, and I promise I'll try to blog more frequently from now on, but this most recent one is a summer quinoa salad with fennel, green peas, chèvre, and a raspberry mint vinaigrette (since our raspberries have just begun and our peas are in full swing... and our fennel, well we already talked about that - let's just say that that elegant row of proud fennel is my very favourite place on the farm)


QUINOA, FENNEL, AND PEA SALAD
Quinoa salad is delicious with whatever fresh seasonal veggies you have on hand, so if you don't have fennel and peas but instead have zucchini and tomatoes, by all means, use whatever you've got that is in season in your area (although I wouldn't use the below vinaigrette on a tomato-based quinoa salad, a simple olive oil, basil & vinegar vinaigrette would be my pairing of choice instead)

2 cups quinoa, cooked, drained, and cooled (be careful not to overcook it if you don't want porridge salad, yuk)
1 fennel bulb, finely sliced
3 green onions, finely chopped
1 cup fresh garden peas (I used bot shell peas and snap peas)
1/2 cup crumbled chèvre (goat cheese)
1/4 cup chopped fennel leaves
Mix every thing together in a large bowl.

RASPBERRY-MINT VINAIGRETTE
1/2 cup crushed fresh raspberries (or you can substitute 1/4 cup raspberry jam)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tbsp maple syrup (don't use if using jam)
1 1/2 tbsp vinegar (I used white balsamic)
5 sprigs of fresh mint, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely minced
Salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste
Mix together and shake in a bottle. Pour generously over your salad and serve!


14 comments:

  1. We really do have a romanticized idea of farming, don't we? Your experience sounds eye-opening!

    That salad looks great- I plan to try it since quinoa is my number one grain :) Thanks!

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    1. Thanks Caitlin, always nice to hear from a fellow quinoa lover! :-)

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  2. Aube that salad sounds amazing, the photography is stunning, and its so fun to hear all about your life on the farm

    xox
    Pam

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    1. Thanks Pam! Hope you guys get some nice trips down to the valley this summer! xoxo

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  3. Wow. We have just begun to receive CSA shares from a farm in Gatineau, Bryson Farms. Reading your story makes me appreciate them even more! Thanks for sharing and the lovely recipe!

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    1. HI Gina, Kevin did mention the CSA and I think that is so great! I'd love to hear how you find the experience and what goodies you'er receiving. I used to get a CSA share in Halifax and it was like Christmas every time a new box came. I would pop the lid off and inhale the fresh herb & veggie smells and it would make me so happy. It's great because it would also sometimes force me to eat veggies I might not otherwise buy and to find new recipes... Now I'm on on the other end, harvesting the vegetables for everyone, it's so neat to see this side of it. Enjoy being a CSA member, it's a a wonderful way to connect with farming and where our food comes from! xoxox

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  4. Wow, thank you for the inspiring recipe (fennel... mmm) AND the personal experience story... I recently visited an organic farm and was stunned to see how unbelievably dedicated the two owners were, putting in so much effort and sacrificing so much of their own lives in their quest to grow good food while also respecting nature. We need these passionate people more than we realize; their work is truly admirable. You should be really proud to be a part of the organic farming movement as a blogger and an apprentice, even when it means shovelling manure for hours... Keep up the good work!

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    1. Merci pour l'encouragement Marie-C!! :-)

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  5. these pictures are so stunning!! I also want to say that I am so proud of your resilience and strength, you are such a beautiful and talented woman. happy to be your sister. <3

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    1. merci ma belle, je suis si fière de toi aussi, et on se voit très bientôt hein?! bisous bisous bisous

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  6. Loved this post! How did you find this organic farm? We are intensely interested in moving to few acres in the country and having a homestead. We have a couple of gardens now on our small yard and breed rabbits but we have big dreams of chickens (against code), fruit trees, goats, sheep, a bigger garden and so much more. I'd love an opportunity to do something like this.

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    1. Hi Jerilea, thanks! I found this farm through the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardener's Association Apprenticeship program: http://www.mofga.org/Programs/FarmApprenticeships/tabid/502/Default.aspx
      I think there are many apprenticeship programs like this one in various states and countries around the world. I recommend the experience!! And I can completely relate to your desire to move to the country, having lived in cities myself for years :-) Good luck and I hope your dreams of having chickens and other wonderful creatures come true soon!

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  7. The idea of growing your own vegetables in a farm like this, it's amazing. However, I also know it's hard, my grandfather used to have a small land with different types of fruis and grapes for doing wine and all that work is hard but i think it is very satisfactory at the end, isn't it?

    I have already published your receipt for doing ice bowls.Thanks a lot for let me share it with Spanish people.
    http://experienciasdecolores.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/bowls-de-hielo-y-flores/

    Thanks and best regards, Ana

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    1. Muchas gracias Ana, que maravilloso blog que tiene :-) Gracias por compartir la idea con los lectores españoles! Me encanta!

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