Among the many apprentice adventures we've been having around the farm lately—doing deliveries, learning to drive forklifts and tractors, picking parsley and strawberries, hiking in Blomidon Park on our days off—we were lucky enough on Friday to make a visit with Trish and the kids to Valley Mushrooms in Waterville. The generous and knowledgeable Leonard North took some time out of his busy day to show us around, walking us through the steps and equipment it takes to produce several thousand pounds of mushrooms every week (year round) in the Maritimes.
In his eight tunnels, Leonard has his various types of mushrooms growing in 5-8 week rotations in bags of pasteurized compost. The compost is made up of straw, chicken manure, and gypsum. It's pasteurized in special buildings by its own biological heat (up to 165˚C without any added energy!) before it is bagged and mixed with mushroom spawn. For those of you who have been following Chris's experiments with mushrooms here at the farm, you'll already know that mushroom spawn is a grain substrate (at Valley Mushrooms, millet) mixed with bits of mushroom mycelium that act as the 'seed' for the mushroom. These bags of compost and spawn are kept in insulated tunnels at controlled temperatures and carbon dioxide levels appropriate for their growth and fruiting (some of which have smart thermostats that Leonard can control with his phone! There's an app for everything).
As Chris has experienced, mushrooms are very easy to contaminate, because they thrive in similar conditions to molds. We had to be careful about what we touched when we moved around the facility, and close the doors of the tunnels quickly to keep the mushroom flies out!
Though I'm not a mushroom scholar like Chris, it was really neat to see a totally different kind of farming from what I am used to. With almost everything inside and as precisely controlled and regulated as possible, it felt like I was walking around a laboratory or a space station more than an ordinary vegetable farm. But Leonard's sustainable mushroom practices aren't that different from any other ecologically-conscious farm: there are no pesticides used, the harvesting is done by hand, the waste is minimized through recycling (he sells his used mushroom compost to gardeners, farmers, and landscapers), and almost everything is operated within the local economy of the Maritimes. And Leonard knows his mushrooms—he has a masters degree from the University of Pennsylvania and has studied both agriculture and pathology.
But one of my favourite parts of the trip? Bob, Leonard's sweet and cuddly cat, who is even more enthusiastic about mushrooms than we are! (here he is devouring a tasty button mushroom)
That's all for now! Thanks again for having us, Leonard!
The past two weeks we've been working on a project with the awesome folks at Flowercart. Since the CSA goes year-round, it's really nice to have some of those spring vegetables for the winter shares. Unfortunately, here at the farm we are all too busy harvesting, planting, delivering, seeding, packing, washing, weeding, et cetera to be able to wash, chop, and bag 550 lbs of rhubarb! So, Dawna at Flowercart and her team have done the task for us!
When factoring in all of the costs for the project-- including the 6+ months in storage at Webster's Farms' big freezers, Flowercart' services, a lot more running around than expected, and the cost for the rhubarb itself-- will make the value of the end product about $4.00 per bag in your shares. Not bad for 1 lb of Valley rhubarb, frozen at the peak of it's flavour and abundance!
How do you feel about rhubarb, or frozen items in your shares in general? Does it help break up the root-vegetable-winter-blues?
Today was an exciting day. Upon entering the sprout room to mist my mushroom bags I realized they have started pinning. Both bags are starting to produce mushrooms. It will be three weeks on Thursday since I inoculated the bags, at which time they should be ready to harvest.
A CSA is a very unique way to get food into your house, and even with as many members as we have, and as many CSAs as there are in the province with their members, too, it is still considered an "alternative" food system, and not the way the majority of people get their food. Being part of a CSA is a lot different than going to the grocery store. It means that occasionally you have to come to terms with trying something you wouldn't normally buy. Sometimes you'll eat a lot of one type of vegetable for a period of time because it's in season (and if it's something you don't prefer, all the tougher to do!). Sometimes, you just plain don't like something and can't use it. Unfortunately, that is inevitable and we can't (and don't pretend to try to) please everybody with every item every week.
We all do it- pawn it off on a neighbour or friend or family member, compost it, or the worst sin... forget about it in the back of the fridge until it no longer resembles a vegetable. I just wanted to let you know that this is OK, and you don't need to feel like you failed as a CSA member. I feed any greens that I don't like (*dandelion*) to my rabbits and I planted my sunchokes instead of eating them (although, as a solution to not liking them, I suppose that's not the greatest, as I am really just creating more!) So, of course the boxes will not be perfect for every single person at every single moment. We try to provide a good mix that most will enjoy, and also try to get you things that come into We welcome your feedback, and want to share in all parts of the process, including supporting you when you struggle... whether it's a recipe, or in this case, just telling you that you are not a failure if you don't eat everything in your box every time!
This ramble of mine was inspired by a very nice email I received today re: Patricia's post about Too Many Potatoes. I appreciate the perspective... What do you think?
Hi - I'm weighing in on the Week 12 post - I do NOT think bad thoughts when I get too many potatoes. I do NOT think bad thoughts about anything in the box - okay - perhaps some disappointment when I see a pale little cabbage quivering in the corner - looking like last year's orphan - but that thought is quickly eclipsed by how wonderful it is to be part of this growing challenging thing called a farm.
Lots of us folks have our own gardens. Some of us, I'm sure, follow up picking up our box on Saturday with going to the market. Some things in the box might never see the bottom of a pot - I for one will not spend too much time scraping Jerusalem artichokes (or as a friend once called them - Jerusalem architects - and he was of the latter ilk) because I'm not that hot on them and so don't want to labour over them much. My choice! I am a fully autonomous human who knew what I was getting into. I don't feel bullied by vegetables - just lucky I have the opportunity to share in a farm's ups and downs, winters and summers, plagues and aplenty!
I wanted to share a tip with you about how to keep green onions growing at home by putting them in water. They don't last forever, but it's amazing how much green growth they keep producing for weeks, it works especially well with the huge onions from the share. I thought others might like to do the same. http://www.theburlapbag.com/2012/03/grow-green-onions-in-water/ has a nice set of pictures and explanations!