Sunday, July 24, 2011

The New Kohlrabi on the Block

Heritage Harvest Farm




Selling crops commercially might be a new venture for the Gompf Family, but owning a farm and producing sustainably grown crops has been a long time dream in the making. The story begins 60 miles north of Columbus at Heritage Harvest Farm. There I was introduced to Matt, Corinne, their adorable son Fletcher and two playful dogs Bailey and Buddy. Although this farm was started less than a year ago, in August 2010, it promises to have the roots to make it successful for many years to come.

Matt, the agriculture education teacher at Mt. Gilead High School and Corinne, a former editor, decided it was time to turn their dream into a reality. They purchased 2 acres in Galion, Ohio and haven’t looked back, turning their passion and hobby into a way of making a living. They believe in producing good, wholesome food without the use of harsh chemicals. The small amount of land that makes up the farm is surrounding by 240 acres of conventional growing fields, so although they can never be a certified organic farm they practice sustainable growing methods including using fish fertilizers and homemade, all natural insecticidal soap to coat the plants leaves when necessary.

Due to Heritage Harvest’s modest acreage and a short growing season in Ohio (especially this year given the not so farmer friendly weather), the Gompf’s prefer to grow crops that have a quick turnaround. Meaning, if you are a crop that wants to make it into the soil at this farm you must have very few days from seed to harvest. As soon as a plant is harvested, a new one is waiting to immediately be put in its place. Another stipulation is you must possess unique qualities. For example, a few not-so-ordinary crops they are growing this season include 8 ball zucchini, okra, tomatillos, dragon tongue beans and rat tail radishes from Southeast Asia, which I must point out do disturbingly look like rat tails but pack an unexpected spicy kick! Of course Matt and Corinne are growing the staple veggies, but it is these unusual varieties that set them apart from the rest.

I decided to focus this visit on the fast growing and unusual kohlrabi. This enigmatic vegetable never seems to find its way onto the grocery store shelves, and those who grow it cannot seem to figure out the reason. Heritage Harvest chose to add kohlrabi to their lineup of unique eats because it is roughly 55 days from seed to harvest, it is easy to grown, has few pests, and stores nicely for their customers. Kohlrabi is part of the brassica family and just like its relatives cabbage, brussel sprouts and broccoli, it grows above ground. Heritage Harvest plants the “early white Vienna” and similar to cabbage this plant grows one bulb or head per plant and also has a pretty purple variety.

So what’s in the works for next year? The Gompf’s plan on having a small orchard, having recently planted five fruit trees. They also hope to migrate towards offering solely CSA (Community Supported Agriculture – see The Solitary Sunchoke post) and use the three markets in which they participate as pick up points. Part of the Gompf mission is to reinvest what they make from the markets and eventually CSA’s into perennial fruit and vegetable plants along with the restoration of their 100-year old farm.

Kohlrabi




The Heritage Harvest kohlrabi (pictured left) traveled 60 miles to Columbus. I went to several local grocery stores in search of kohlrabi with no such luck. The closest thing I could find was its cousin the cabbage (pictured right) and the only clue to its origin was the “Product of the USA” stamp on the price card attached to the shelf.

Kohlrabi is more easily assessable and popular in Europe, and maybe that is because it was first discovered in Germany. In fact, the name translates to kohl (cabbage) and rabi (turnip) in German. It is low in calories, but high in dietary fiber, vitamin C and many other vitamins and minerals. Since kohlrabi tastes very similar to cabbage, you can substitute this veggie for your favorite raw or cooked cabbage recipes.

References

Nutrition and You - Kohlrabi

Kohlrabi and Apple Coleslaw

*This is a great side dish for summer cook-out and since it contains no mayo you can let it sit out longer without refrigeration.

Ingredients

  • 5 cups (about 4-5) Heritage Harvest kohlrabi, finely shredded
  • 2 cups (about 2) granny smith apples, skins left on and julienned
  • 1 cup carrot, finely shredded
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed

Directions

  • In a large bowl, combine kohlrabi, apples, carrot, and cranberries and set aside
  • In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, oil, honey, salt, dry mustard and celery seed
  • Pour liquid mixture over coleslaw and let set at least 2 hours before serving



Saturday, July 9, 2011

My Mushroom Trip in Central Ohio

Blue Owl Hollow and Blue Owl Garden Emporium




Sit back, relax and set your mind at ease as I lead you 41 miles northeast of Columbus to Blue Owl Hollow and Garden Emporium. This integrated farm system is a combination of Blue Owl Hollow; a 130 acre tree farm where log grown mushrooms are harvested and Blue Owl Garden Emporium; a small herb, heirloom fruit and vegetable garden. Although a variety of sustainably grown crops and herbs are produced here, I am focusing this trip on the edible fungi shiitake. The growing seasons of mushrooms vary by species and my quest to understand the entire process of producing shiitakes started with an afternoon outdoors in late March, a time of year in Central Ohio too late to be considered Winter and too early to feel like Spring.

As I approached the farm I was first greeted by Hickory, an energetic pooch, followed by the proprietor of Blue Owl, Janell Baran and her husband Peter. Janell didn’t waste time getting down to explaining the growing process and putting me to work! Before the manual labor began, she took a few minutes to go into detail about mushroom growth. She stated that mushroom spores are saprophytic and naturally reside in trees. She went on to tell me that mushrooms need a substrate in order to survive and different species of mushrooms are commercially grown in different substrates, the substrate most often being what a particular species of mushroom prefers in nature. Depending on the species the substrate could be logs, sawdust, garden soil, woodchips, or even straw. Each species have a number of sexes and in order to generate a fruit producing mushroom there needs to be proper crossing. If proper crossing occurs, the mushroom spores create mycelium. This root system acts like the internet channeling its way through their substrate of choice while the spores function as seeds.

Shiitakes prefer to call the mighty oak their home. Coincidentally, many of the trees growing on the grounds of Blue Owl Hollow happen to be oak. So, after a brief explanation of mushroom sex, we were off into the woods with chainsaw in hand. After all, to grow shiitakes one needs to have oak logs. Janell carefully selected a fallen oak and cut it into perfectly portioned hosts for our mushrooms. At Blue Owl Hollow they believe in letting nature take its course and only cut fallen or abundant trees to use for their mushroom logs. We brought the freshly cut logs back up to the house where some aged logs were ready and waiting for their spores. After the logs are cut, it is important to let them age for a week or two so the natural antifungals (the tree’s natural defense against fungi) dissipate. Part of the mushroom growing process is knowing when the proper time is to inoculate without letting the logs dry out. While we were done with the chainsaw for the time being we weren’t yet done with the power tools!

One by one, the aged logs were drilled with holes, allowing the spores to get to work. Janell handed over the drill and instructed me to create a diamond pattern keeping the holes 4”-6” apart. Each log was given 40-60 new holes for the mushrooms to call home. The next step involved plugging the holes full of our mushroom spawn combined with a little snack of sawdust. Finally, we sealed the holes and the ends of the logs with a melted un-dyed wax. Janell stated that this is “to keep the moisture in and competitors out”.

Good things come to those that wait and although it takes a while for the mycelium spawn to incubate the logs and about a year for the log to start producing fruit, the end product is beautiful and delicious. The farm started inoculating mushroom logs in 2006 and didn’t start cultivating until 2007. At any given time Blue Owl Hollow targets about 120 producing logs. They even trick the logs to produce when needed for market by simulating a heavy rainfall and soaking them in large water troughs. Each log follows a production cycle, peaking and then declining in production, but producing mushrooms for 4-5 years!

Besides keeping herself busy on the farm, Janell was awarded a Farmer/Rancher grant from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program of the USDA to work on a special side project. Through this aid of this grant, Janell was able to develop an environmentally responsible way of a controlling a fast-growing invasive tree species without using harmful herbicides. Please read more about her research using the links under References.

Blue Owl proudly sells a variety of mushrooms, herbs, and heirloom fruits and veggies at the Granville Farmer’s Market and herbs at The Greener Grocer. If you are up for the challenge, you can purchase freshly inoculated logs when available. Each log will produce 3-4 pints of fresh mushrooms and will have 2-3 fruitings over the course of a season. Blue Owl Hollow and Garden Emporium believes in selling a diverse product with minimal impact on the environment. One good trip into mushroom bliss revealed more about this healthy medicinal organism than I ever thought possible.

Shiitake




The Blue Owl Hollow shiitakes (pictured left) traveled 41 miles to Columbus, while the shiitakes (pictured right) traveled around 440 miles from Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.

Shiitake mushrooms originated in China and have been grown in Asia for nearly 1,000 years! They are widely known for their amazing health benefits including reducing cholesterol, strengthening your immune system and even helping prevent cancer. In fact, these mushrooms are the Asian symbol for longevity. Because they are low in calories and rich in dietary fiber, they are a perfect diet addition to someone looking to shed a few pounds. If you have never tried these magic mushrooms have an open mind and eat up!

References

Blue Owl Special Projects
Blue Owl Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)
Elements for Health - The Health Benefits of Shiitake Mushrooms

Grilled Shiitake Bruschetta

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large baguette, sliced ½ -inch thick (about 25 slices)
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage, finely chopped
  • 2 pints (about ¾ lb.) Blue Owl shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and stems removed
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • A few ounces of good quality Romano cheese

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees and heat grill to high
  • On a baking sheet, line up baguette slices. Brush 2 tablespoons olive oil on slices and toast in oven for about 3 minutes or until light golden brown
  • In a medium bowl, mix garlic, remaining olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sage, salt and pepper
  • Place mushrooms on grill and brush with oil/vinegar mixture
  • Grill 2 to 3 minutes per side or until just cooked through
  • Remove shiitake’s from heat, finely chop
  • Spoon mushroom mixture onto toasted baguette
  • Shave slices of Romano cheese on top of each bruschetta piece and serve warm