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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Blue Sky is coming!

Here's a reminder to get your tickets today to our beautiful collaborative event between us and Blue Sky Bakery (a non-profit that helps train youth with barriers to employment) and our partner yoga studio Bloom Yoga Studio!  Get tickets for September 20th!

And now, just because I'm a farmer, I'd like to bring it down a notch again and talk about the weather.

Weather is gorgeous lately, yes, I will concede that (aside from near tornado miss yesterday).  But we are still suffering from the devastating affect of rain early in the season.

Illinois lawmakers and Gov. Rauner have asked Obama to issue a disaster declaration from the USDA for counties that have seen heavy rainfall this season, such as our own Kankakee county. The declaration would allow farmers to get low-interest emergency loans.  As most of you probably can deduce, Peasants' Plot has not been able to acquire much cash flow from market, an important part of our business plan this season. We are harvesting everything we possibly can to our CSA, our much appreciated loyal members.  We wish we were able to give everyone more and have more to sell at market.

The "disaster" of this season feels just as financially acute as a tornado, although I recognize every single day our great luck to have dodged any human or property casualties. June was the wettest month on record in Illinois (since 1888). An average of 9.37 inches fell statewide. In Kankakee specifically we got 17.22" in June when the average is normally 4.14 inches. For farmers this is indeed disastrous and hard to bounce back. Many vegetable farmers haven't been able to finish planting crops or have had to replant flooded fields. Late plantings or reduced plantings mean lower yields. Commodity crop farmers of soy and corn are hurting in the same way but will receive some subsidies from the government and are generally well insured. Crop insurance for our type of small vegetable farm is not yet a viable investment.

We appreciate our members' decision to support the expansion of more organic vegetable growers in Illinois.  It is a tough world for this new farmer generation and we couldn't do it without our CSA.  We are hoping that all our CSA members are with us in the long run--in the commitment to support our efforts to grow organic vegetables just a few miles from home.
The truth is....who else is going to do it?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


So many peppers!  They got in very late due to the monsoon rains,
 but they are looking healthy!

Other plants, also planted or replanted late in the season, include
KOHLRABI. Lots of direct seeded veggies like turnips and radishes and more!

Tomatoes look GOOD!! I was premature in my
prognosis!  They are recovering nicely from
being underwater in June.

First of all, before I get into all the political stuff, thank you all so much for your continued support during this very challenging farming season. We are sharing similar stories of damaged crops and delayed plantings with our friends of Gray Farms, Beets + Beats, Three Plaid Farmers and Deer Creek Organics, among others, commiserating on Facebook and over the phone. And we keep hearing of other small local veggie stands down by us closing early or not opening up at all. It is hard to be a vegetable farmer, people!  We appreciate our customers all the more for showing us that they care about small family farms and local organic food. So thank you again and again.

Here's the political stuff:

The DARK Act is in the Senate. It stands for Deny Americans the Right to Know and would make illegal any label about anything GMO in your food products.

Polls have shown that more than 90% of people want food to be labeled if it contains genetically engineered ingredients. Several states have already passed laws requiring labeling starting next summer, unless this bill passes through Congress.  This bill has been called the DARK act by those who oppose it. We oppose it on Peasants' Plot because, as a USDA-certified Organic farm (officially certified since June!), we are concerned about the state of organic seed.  GM seed is NOT "organic." We also just think that people should know what is in their food.

Question: What's so bad about genetically engineered foods?

Answer: Maybe nothing. We don't know their longterm consequences except to say that, once GM seed is introduced into the marketplace, the organic seed supply of that crop is endangered with great risk of contamination.  For example, in 2004 foreign DNA was detected in 100% of canola seed tested.  In other words,  the canola seed supply has been completely contaminated by foreign genes. Basically this means, once a crop is approved as GM, we can never turn back.  Right now, zucchini, alfalfa, yellow squash and apples are among the fresh produce items that have a GM counterpart.

Some more Q & A assembled in an email last week sent out by The Food and Water Watch:

Question: What is a genetically engineered food or GMO?

Answer: A genetically engineered food is a plant or animal that has been changed by taking genes from one species and inserting them into the DNA of another species or altering the DNA in a way that could never happen through traditional cross-breeding or in nature.

Question: Aren't genetically engineered foods safe?

Answer: The approval process for new GMO crops in the U.S. is extremely weak and relies solely on the safety tests done by the corporations that are creating these crops. Right now, most crops are approved by federal regulators under the "generally recognized as safe" provision, which means that if a GMO corn variety looks and "acts" like the non-GMO version of corn, it is approved.

Question: But don't farmers need genetically engineered foods to feed the growing world population?

Answer: Over 99% of the GMO crops that are being planted today are engineered to withstand strong chemical applications, or to produce their own pesticides. Often, the chemical companies like Monsanto, Dow and DuPont that create GMO crops also create the chemicals that have to be used with the crops, so the main benefit of these patented crops is for the companies and their profits. Additionally, most of these GMO crops — like corn, soybeans, canola and cotton — are not grown as food for direct human consumption, but rather for animal feed, or to create ingredients in processed foods.

Question: If over 90% of Americans support the labeling of GMOs, why hasn't Congress or the Food and Drug Administration done anything?

Answer: What we eat and feed our families has a direct impact on our health and well-being, and we have a right to know if the food we're eating has been altered in a way that could never happen in nature. Unfortunately, the big food industries spend millions lobbying Congress and federal agencies to keep labels off of GMO foods. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents the biggest food and chemical companies, has spent over $50 million to defeat labeling initiatives in multiple states.

Question: Why should I take action and ask my Senators to oppose this legislation?

Answer: Genetically engineered crops are in most processed foods but are unlabeled, so many people who wish to avoid foods with GMO ingredients don't know where they are lurking. GMOs are untested, and it's unknown how these engineered foods may be impacting our health and the environment. At the very least, shouldn't we have a choice to avoid them if we want to? The legislation that Congress is considering will prohibit any states from labeling GMOs and will make federal labeling voluntary, which is what we have already.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Rain is bad BUT the beets look good!!!

It is official that we here on The Plot do not like rain.  (see previous post "Rain is Good, Right?")  We realize it seems like farmers are never happy. One year it is too dry, another too wet. We just heard on the radio that it is now the wettest June in Illinois recorded history.  Not surprising:  we haven't had a dry field for six weeks.  Let me repeat that:

We haven't had a dry field for six weeks.  

(I wrote that last week.)

Since we normally plant all June long and continue into weed-oppressive July, this is a huge setback for us; however it does not mean we have failed our CSA members.  No!  It just means we are pushing the season back and possibly doubling up shares in later months.  We have all kinds of schemes in our heads.  (At the height of one particularly creative brainstorming session--when no idea is a bad idea--infused vodka was part of a pantry share.)  We still plan on cucumbers and squash and potatoes and brussels and more.  We also have a good-looking broccoli crop this year, one of the few crops that made it in before the deluge.

We are not the only farmers suffering the rain this year.  Among us is Genesis Growers, down by us, who has had many of their crops washed out by the rain.

What can you do to help?  Just stay patient!  You may also try forming in your mind's eye a beautiful tomato growing in the hot sun.  Tomatoes are, turns out, in a particularly low part of our field.... So we need all the positive thinking we can get.

Todd is working like a maniac today to plow as much as he can while others plant.  Any attempt at interaction prompts his only reply "Every single second counts."  Off he goes!
Me too!--Thanks to all our CSA members who are essential to growing a local food economy, alongside us, across the cyberspace,

Please enjoy this montage of happy (mostly) and sad (just one) photos from the farm last week:

Beets!  Next time you see us you will get beets!

The broccoli!
The tomatoes.  High tunnels are pretty great for mitigating rains,
unless you get 10 inches in a couple of days followed by 4 more
and then 2 more and more and more....

And kale! Of course kale!

We can store lettuce in our walk-in cooler now!
Thanks to Kickstarter last year!

We have a lot a lot A LOT of seedlings waiting for a dry day to go in .

These went in today.
Todd and Lucy!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Rain is good, right?

One of our CSA members asked me the other day:  Which would you rather have--drought or flood?  I think we would prefer drought on our farm if we had to choose.  If someone put a gun to our heads and said CHOOSE which natural catastrophe would we like this season.  We just might say drought.  Just for one season.

A few years ago we spent about $12000 on a new well.  Todd runs drip tape to irrigate all our crops right at the base of every plant.  It can get expensive to pump water all day during drought conditions but we are able to do it.  California farms cannot easily say the same.

On Peasants' Plot, our soil is only slightly towards the clay end of the spectrum but it holds water in low parts of certain fields.  When we get ten inches of rain over two days, ponds form. Plants do not like this.  Plus it makes weeding inefficient and planting impossible.  We do not need any more rain!

The task that IS happening rain or shine on our farm is harvesting.  Our worker shareholders are really helping with that!  They are troopers.

Garbage bag ponchos look fabulous!

Baby salad mix.


Hardworking worker shareholders!
Learn more by visiting our Worker Share signup page.

D'Avignon radishes, aka "French breakfast radishes." 

Me at Lincoln Square Farmers Market in Chicago, Tuesday!

Baby kale, bags and bags!

Let's finish with a recipe, shall we??  Heres' a good one:

Avocado and Radish salad with Lime Dressing

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoon garlic chives or other fresh herb (cilantro is actually really great to add), chopped
1/2 C. olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
salad mix ---Throw in some spicy mix, too. They’re all good together!
radishes, sliced thin

Put lime, seasoning and herbs in a mason jar and shake. Add oil and shake again to emulsify. Toss over salad mix, radishes and any other goodies. Add avocado and gently toss with hands.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Back in Business!

We are feeling strong this year and excited to be back in Chicago and Manteno area with our Full Season Vegetable Shares PLUS Apples PLUS Honey PLUS Home Delivery. We aim to please.

This is our favorite time of year, full of promise and plantings. We plant all the way into August. Since both July and August have the additional weed pressure, those months can get a little...intense.  May and June--not so bad! Early this month we welcomed our full time intern Lucy who hails direct from the New York City Farmers Market scene. She is re-acclimating to the midwest where she grew up and we are grateful. If you are a Worker Shareholder, you will get to know her well!

The following photos are just some I snapped (tapped) the last couple of weeks to show signs of summer greens and the beginnings of heirloom tomatoes and more.

Worker Shareholders get eggs as a bonus this month.

Baby kale and spinach mix!

Salad mixes abound!
Our cultivators.

Tomatoes transplanted last week!


Us! And Merley Girl.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Community Supported Agriculture is Ready to Perform

A short essay about CSA farming and the wild and wacky people involved.


Farmers who run CSA programs are of a whole different breed. I can say this because I am a CSA farmer. My husband is. Many of the best people I know are CSA farmers. So let me tell you a little bit about them:  They are geniuses.

CSA farmers all toil in the typical ways farmers toil (sun, early hours, long hours, dirt under our nails). We also toil in atypical ways. When the average person thinks “farmer,” most would not conjure the image of someone at a computer running a Kickstarter campaign, or a farmer silhouetted against his field typing into a smartphone. How many people associate farmers with Facebook posts or spreadsheets or yoga events or talent shows?

Today, growing vegetables is not the only work of a farmer. It is just one job among the many other jobs associated with a small business, including but not limited to marketing, education, awareness, community-building. Events. Blogs. T-shirts. Guitars.

The truth of it is that much of my job feels like grass-roots activism instead of a small for-profit enterprise. Some may say that’s bad business. I say it’s exciting. After all, why we did we get into this in the first place? Why CSA?

The rise of this new model of agriculture came partially as a response to a rise in industrial farming and the opening of global trade that pressures companies to source from all over the world. Documentaries such as Food Inc. and others have spiked a concern over GMOs and the conditions under which food is produced: pesticides, labor conditions, animal conditions, etc. These are legitimate concerns! They ask the important question: Where is my food coming from? The CSA experience/relationship is an effort to put people back into the picture of food production.

When my farm in Manteno, Illinois began in 2007, my husband Todd and I were meeting a demand — and joining a movement for more control over our country’s food choices. People were clamoring for more CSA farms. In the 8 years since, CSA farms have increased in number, but the consumer base plateaued.  To get an idea of the growth potential that fuels us:

  • The Madison, Wisconsin, metropolitan area ranks as a virtual hotbed of CSA activity. It has a population of approximately 600,000, and CSA farmers there serve 9,500 households, according to FairShare CSA Coalition’s  2013 Annual Report.
  • The Chicago metropolitan area, by comparison, has a population of approximately 9,000,000 and serves roughly the same number of households (based on an average of 100 households per CSA multiplied by 80-90 CSA farms serving Chicagoland).

So there is a lot of room to grow, Chicago!  Your farmers are up and running, and there’s a lot of local food to eat.

The Creation of Band of Farmers
The history of the Band of Farmers group illustrates the collaborative spirit of CSA. It is our formal coalition, in partnership with the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, with aims to promote the CSA model through consumer education and other opportunities.

The Band of Farmers website, newly live, is a place where consumers can now go for quick answers about Community Supported Agriculture. Together we see a bright future that includes a searchable directory of farms (expanding every day!), collaborative events, educational outreach, cooperation with health insurance companies, and much more.

We see future CSA farming as so tightly integrated into this country’s culture that the question “Who’s your CSA?” is heard all over, by people of all walks of life who care deeply about what they are eating and where it came from.

Community Supported Agriculture is ready to perform.

So what’s all this about a Talent Show?
Please join us in celebration at The Third Annual CSA Farmer Talent Show on Saturday, March 28 at The Hideout in Chicago.  Go to the Band of Farmers Facebook Page to learn more or here.

See us as farmers and as people, dancers, singers, poets, jugglers. But mostly farmers.

For those attending FamilyFarmed‘s Good Food Festival & Conference, we have a special discount for you!  Bring your Good Food Fest ticket stub to the CSA Farmer Talent Show and get in for just $5 (tickets are normally $15.) More details can be found on our Facebook page or at

And if you are going to Good Food Festival & Conference, please stop by and visit the CSA Pavilion in the Exhibit Hall on Saturday March 21st. Todd and I will be there to answer your questions plus a host of other farmers like us.

Thank you!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Okay, what is an heirloom anyway???

An heirloom is an open-pollinated plant variety from seeds that have been saved and then passed down generation by generation for at least 50 years.  "Open-pollinated" means that the pollination is done via insects, wind or birds.  There's a lot more on this topic and subcategories to go into, but thinking of open-pollination as a process by mother nature is good enough for now.  Hybrids are different.  They are offered by most seed companies, organic included. Hybrids rely on controlled pollination by humans in which two different plant varieties are selected for specific traits and then bred together, ma and pa, to make very desirable offspring.  A desirable trait might be some kind of disease resistance or "high yielding." I hope I'm doing an okay job of describing all this.

There's a whole world of gorgeous, fascinating heirloom tomatoes out there that you never see in the store.  That's why farmers markets and CSAs are really great!  The reason heirlooms are rarely in the big box stores is because they are usually too delicate to ship in mass quantity and have a shorter shelf life. Stores love hybrids that have been bred for long road trips (from east or west coast or Mexico for example) and long shelf life.

Anyway, hybrids are NOT GMOs.  GMOs take more time to write about, so I might as well just reference one of my previous posts to help clarify any questions there.  Click here for a very brief GMO 101 lesson.  And, after getting sort of freaked out about that, here are some pretty photos.  Don't miss the Tomato Tips at the very end!

Striped German, heirloom

Striped German (heirloom), yellow Sunkist (hybrid), 
German Johnson (heirloom), 
Japanese Black Trifele (heirloom),
clockwise from the upper  left.

The perfect tomato.  Arbison, hybrid.

Gnarly!  Striped German, heirloom!

Heirlooms get funky,  they split easily and their yields are horrible.
But they taste better than anything you've ever tried at Trader Joes.

Japanese Black Trifele, heirloom. This isn't the best photo because
you often see this variety with green shoulders and a little darker.
They are known for their pear shape. This one looks like two grew together....

Clockwise from upper left, Arbison, German Johnson (pink! heirloom!) and Black Trifele.

Tomato Tips:

Feel for softness to determine ripeness.  Don't expect heirlooms to ripen to a red.

Place tomatoes on the counter, out of direct sun, with space all around each of them. Do not store them in the refrigerator unless you want to RUIN EVERYTHING.