For the past several years, Clif and I have bought a summer CSA (community supported agriculture) farm share from Farmer Kev, one of our favorite young farmers. In previous posts, I’ve written about Farmer Kev, so I will be brief: He’s still in his twenties, was bit by the farming bug as a young teenager, but doesn’t come from a farming family. Farmer Kev is a friend of the family and is one of the hardest-working young men that I know.
This year, for the first time, Farmer Kev offered a winter CSA farm share, and Clif and I did not hesitate to buy one. As a result, we’ve been getting vegetables that store well over the winter—beets, carrots, potatoes, garlic, and lots and lots of squash. The time had come, I decided, to make a spicy squash soup.
Any squash will do for this soup, but as I had an abundance of acorn squash, that is what I used. The soup is a two-step process because baking acorn squash first is the easiest way to mash it. Even though the hands-on time is minimal, I usually plan to bake the squash one day and make the soup on the following day. This time was no different. I baked the squash on Monday and made the soup on Tuesday.
To bake the squash—I used three—I greased a baking sheet, cut the squash in half, scooped out the seeds, placed the squash face down on the baking sheet, and baked them for an hour or so at 350 degrees.
When the squash was very soft—I poked it with a fork to test it—I removed the baking sheet from the oven, let the squash cool, and then mashed it into a bowl, which was then stored in the refrigerator until the next day. Note: If you are an early bird, then the baking of the squash and the making of the soup could easily be accomplished in one day.
Next came the making of the soup base. For this I used potatoes, carrots, and garlic, all courtesy of Farmer Kev. (I also used an onion, which, alas, I had to buy at the store.) I sautéed the vegetables, added water and spices, and simmered them for about an hour. When the potatoes and carrots were very soft, I blended the cooked squash into the simmered vegetables.
And then there was soup.
Clif likes his soup to be bulky with either crackers or pasta or some other ingredient to “fill it out,” as he puts it. So I usually cook some pasta to go with puréed soups, and the pasta is added to the bottom of the bowls rather than to the soup itself. That way, the pasta doesn’t swell into something unrecognizable.
I just thought of another reason why I bake the squash the day before. That way, the oven is free for me to make homemade bread to go with the soup.
Hot soup and homemade bread on a cold January night. Pretty darned good, as my Yankee husband might say.
Spicy Squash Soup
Makes six generous servings
4 medium potatoes, cubed
2 small or 1 large carrot, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
6 tablespoons of oil or butter
6 cups of water
1 teaspoon of dried tarragon
1 teaspoon of celery seed
1 teaspoon of cumin
1/2 teaspoon of white pepper
2 teaspoons of salt or to taste
4 cups of cooked, mashed squash (pumpkin could also be used)
In a large stockpot, heat the oil and add the potatoes, carrots, and onion. Sauté for five minutes and add the garlic, sautéing for 30 seconds. Add the water and the tarragon, celery seed, cumin, white pepper, and salt. Simmer for about an hour, until the vegetables are very soft.
Blend the squash into the cooked vegetables. The best way to do this is with an immersion blender. Set the stockpot in the sink, add the squash to the pot, and blend away in one easy swoop. You don’t have to worry about burning yourself, and you don’t have the mess of blending it in several batches. Whoever invented the immersion blended should be pronounced a hero to home cooks everywhere.
If you don’t have an immersion blender, then use a blender with a glass pitcher, do it in batches, and be careful not to burn yourself.
On Saturday, Longfellow’s Greenhouses in Manchester hosted an Eat Local Winter Farmer’s Market. Our own Farmer Kev was there, and Clif and I stopped by just a half hour before closing time. Even so, there was quite a crowd.
“How did you do?” I asked Farmer Kev.
“Fantastic,” came the reply. “We sold a lot.”
This time of year, Farmer Kev has mostly root crops, and how delicious they are. (This week, I’ll be making a squash soup with his squash, and I’ll post the recipe when I do.)
Anne Trenholm, another young farmer from Winthrop, was at the farmer’s market with her dairy products, and she was sold out of most everything, include an herbed cheese that is oh so good.
There were also vendors with baked goods, chocolate, lobster rolls, and olive oils, and they all seemed to be doing a brisk business. Food is quite the draw, especially on a cold January day when you get to stroll through the warm greenhouse, and the scent of flowers mingles with the smell of food.
Longfellow’s will be hosting another Farmer’s Market on January 31, and there will be even more vendors. Farmer Kev will be there, and weather permitting, so will we.
Yesterday, Farmer Kev delivered the last of the summer CSA vegetables, which were actually fall vegetables—potatoes and a variety of squashes, all things Clif and I really love. However, my heart was not too heavy over this last delivery as Farmer Kev, for the first time, is expanding his CSA into the fall and winter.
Kevin and his trusty band of workers—some paid, some just helping out because they want to see Farmer Kev make a go of it—have been busy blanching and freezing vegetables for the winter CSA. In addition, there will be root vegetables—carrots, potatoes, beets, and squash—delivered until February.
Clif and I are signing up for the winter CSA, and we are doing it for a number of reasons. First, and foremost, Farmer Kev is one of our favorite farmers. We’ve known his family since he was very young, and what a pleasure it has been to see Kevin become a dedicated and hard-working farmer. This reason alone would be enough.
However, close behind comes the value of Farmer Kev’s CSA. His vegetables are fresh and organic and delivered. There is no way I could buy the equivalent for the same price at a farm stand. Again, this reason alone would be enough.
Finally, there is the larger picture—where our vegetables come from and the miles they travel. In grocery stores, many of the fruits and vegetables come “from away,” really far away, as in California, which over the years has become the country’s agricultural hub. Now, I am grateful for all the bounty that comes from California, and I am especially grateful for the labor of the underpaid workers who harvest the fresh vegetables and fruit.
But there is the little problem of climate change—actually, a big problem, one of the biggest yet. It takes a great deal of energy to transport those vegetables across the country, and there is a lot of carbon spewed into the air as a result.
However, there is something equally alarming to consider, and that is the drought in California. According to that state government’s website, “With California facing one of the most severe droughts on record, Governor Brown declared a drought State of Emergency in January and directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for water shortages.” (For some horrifying pictures of before and during the drought, click here.)
No one can see the future, of course, but what if the drought continues? What if California stops producing so much bounty? How will we eat? What will happen to prices, which have already risen 40 percent over the last fourteen years? These questions should worry all of us.
Maine and indeed New England is blessed with abundant rainfall. Sometimes too abundant, as those of us who want to be outside in the summer like to grumble, but really we have no cause to complain. Most of the time we get the right amounts of rain to produce bountiful crops, and this year, in particular, is bursting with tomatoes, one of my favorites.
With careful, mindful, and prudent land management, Maine could grow a lot more of its food. (Once upon a time, in the mid-1800s, Maine was even considered the breadbasket of New England.) Sometime soon, if the drought in California continues, we might very well have to grow more of what we eat. But—and it’s a big but—the infrastructure to do this can’t happen overnight. Fields must be cleared, soil must be fertilized, and people need to learn the art of farming. One isn’t born a farmer. It requires years of study—formal or informal—and lots of hard work.
Supporting Farmer Kev, and other farmers as well, feels like, well, an investment in the future of food in Maine and New England. This might sound like overstatement, but I don’t think it is. In the years to come, we might be extremely grateful that so many young farmers have decided to settle in Maine, and right now, we should support them in whatever way we can.
And, that readers, is reason enough to join Farmer Kev’s CSA or any other CSA, or that matter.
Last week, my husband, Clif, and I went to the 72nd Maine Agricultural Trade Show at the Civic Center in Augusta. On a cold January day, it lifts the spirits to walk around and look at all things agricultural. Maine, a rural state, is blessed with a vibrant food culture, which in turn supports farms and farmers. This trend is heartening, a very bright spot in a state where poverty and inequality are high. After all, what could be more essential to life and health than good food produced by Maine farmers?
There were many exhibits to look at—over 150—but there were two that especially attracted my attention. The first was Fedco’s display of heirloom apples. I had heard of only one—Northern Spy. The rest were unknown to me. What a wonderful diversity of shapes and colors.
The big, red apple—Wolf River—in the lower right-hand corner really stood out, but apparently size doesn’t matter when it comes to apples. The man at the booth told me that these apples aren’t very flavorful and that they were mainly used for pies. “Put in enough sugar and spices, and any apple tastes good, ” he said. (Unfortunately, I did not get the man’s name.) Wolf River’s claim to fame is that you get a lot of apple after peeling it. Here is a closer look:
Fedco also had T-shirts, and I promptly bought one. I will wear it not only when I am occupying my own yard but also when I am biking.
Now, I am someone who loves it when food samples are available at a booth. After all, how do you know if something is going to be tasty until, well, you taste it? You don’t. And food that looks enticing in its package might not be as delectable when you actually eat it at home. Oh, yes, this has happened to me more than a few times. Thus, I nearly click my heals with joy when a vendor has samples, and when those samples are cooked pork, I feel as though I have hit pay dirt. (I’m not sure if it’s because of my Franco-American roots, but pork is my favorite meat.)
Luce’s Meats had a full array of sausage samples, including Breakfast, Maple Breakfast, Sweet, Hot, and Chorizo. Clif, of course, liked the Hot Sausage while I liked the Chorizo. However, we both agreed on the Maple Breakfast, and we went home with a frozen pound, which we plan to use at the end of the month when we have friends over for brunch.
Finally, I have a thing for green John Deere tractors. I don’t know why. In general, I am not at all drawn to machines, but there is something about those green John Deeres that is irresistible to me. At the Ag Show, there was a huge, green John Deere tractor, and I just had to take a picture of it.
Oh, how lovely and green it was. Just the tonic for winter, when spring seems so far away.
Today is the last day of summer as according to my calendar, tomorrow is the first day of autumn. With the bright sunny days and cool nights, it already feels like autumn, and I understand that last night there was frost in some parts of Maine.
But not at our little house in the big woods, where the frost comes late. The annuals are still in bloom, the herbs look suitably perky, and the last of the tomatoes—the wonderful Juliette—are waiting to be picked. I am hoping we get another few weeks before the frost hits our yard.
Nevertheless, the harvest is in full swing in central Maine, and on Sunday, I went to Farmer Kev’s house to pick up vegetables to store for the winter—50 pounds of potatoes and 20 pounds of squash. I also bought 12 pounds of carrots, 8 pounds of Roma tomatoes, and a big bag of green peppers, which we will use fresh until they look as though they might be going, at which point we will freeze them.
As I was chatting with Farmer Kev, he said, “Grab a pumpkin, no charge, so that you can have a fall decoration. And how about some zinnias?” Again, no charge. Yes and yes and thank you so much, Farmer Kev, for the wonderful, fresh organic vegetables sold at an incredibly good price. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have Farmer Kev.
This year, Farmer Kev will be a senior at the University of Maine at Orono.
“What will you do next year?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Farmer Kev answered. “I want to find some land in the area so that I can have my own farm.”
But good farm land is hard to find, and it is expensive. Still, Farmer Kev didn’t appear to be discouraged, and I think he remains optimistic that eventually he will get land for his own farm. We chatted for a bit, and I said, “Have fun your senior year, but not too much fun. You do need to study a bit, too.”
Farmer Kev just laughed.
Next year, you can bet that I’ll be joining Farmer Kev’s CSA again and will do so for as long as he stays in the area. And may he stay here and farm for many, many years.
Not long ago, Tim Leavitt, Farmer Kev’s father, came to our house to deliver eggs. The Leavitts have 5 hens, and most of the eggs we eat come from those hens. Usually, we swing by the Leavitts’ house to pick up the eggs, but since we know Kevin’s parents, and since they were out and about, they decided to deliver the eggs to us. (How cool is that?)
Naturally, after Tim delivered the eggs, we chatted a bit. Farmer Kev is a third-year student at the University of Maine at Orono, and we speculated about what Kevin would do when he graduated from college.
“He’d like to get a farm,” Tim said. “With the profits he’s made from his gardens, he’s bought quite a bit of equipment, but he can’t buy a tractor until he has a place to keep it.”
“Like his own barn,” I said. “Oh, I wish he’d come back to the Winthrop area to farm, and I know a lot of people, including other farmers, who feel the same way.”
Tim smiled. “We’d like to have him stay in this area, too.”
“Could Maine Farmland Trust perhaps give him a grant. I know land is so expensive.”
“Maybe,” Tim said, “But one of the biggest problems around here is finding open land that hasn’t been developed. It’s not easy.”
Open land that hasn’t been developed. I should have thought of this as a problem, but somehow I hadn’t. This part of Maine is so rural that it seems as though there is plenty of land. In one sense there is, but much of the land around here has trees, lots of trees. You might even call this area “heavily wooded.” Now, trees are great, and so are woods. We want to have them. In fact, we need them for the health of the planet. But to grow vegetables, open land is needed, and Tim is right. Much of the open land around here has been sold for house lots. While land can be cleared, it is a heck of a process as well as an expense.
This lack of open land for farming in the Winthrop area could become a serious problem as the price of fuel goes up, and food becomes ever more expensive to ship across country. I’ve become interested in a movement called Transition, which started in England. The Transition Movement focuses on how towns might become more resilient to deal with the problems brought about by climate change and peak oil. There are Transition communities around the world, working on projects ranging from CSAs, local currencies, and seed swaps as well as many other projects. Winthrop is in the “mulling” stages of becoming a Transition Town.
But let us return to the problem of finding open land that hasn’t been developed. This, in turn, leads to the question: Could Winthrop feed itself if push came to shove?
This is a question I’ll be asking local farmers. It will be interesting to get their take on the subject, and I will, of course, be writing about their responses as well as more about the Transition Movement.
And, now, readers, I have a question for you. Could your community feed itself?