Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Farm Internship Reflections

It definitely crept up on me, but Monday was my last day out on the Cornercopia Student Organic Farm as an intern. It was definitely a bittersweet day because I'm really going to miss working there. I have learned so much and I'm so thankful I was given the opportunity to work their this growing season.

Panoramic view of a storm rolling away from the farm.

There have been so many parts about this internship that I have loved, it's hard to list all of them. I really enjoyed working with the other interns, many of which come from different majors and backgrounds. It made the job interesting when I got to hear about the different perspectives on food and farming that everyone had. My boss has been incredible in teaching me a lot about what it takes to run a farm. She also was super understanding when I and the other interns would goof up on something (like putting tomatoes in the cold cooler or picking the wrong leafy green vegetable) which made our mistakes much more of a learning opportunity than something to be ashamed of. I have learned so much from her and I really hope that, eventually, I will know as much about plants, organic farming and organic food as she does.

All of us goofy interns and our boss, Courtney.

But more than anything I have learned the importance of food and the importance of appreciating where our food comes from. I can eat a tomato any day I want and not even think about it, but after seeding, planting, weeding, and harvesting the tomatoes I ate this summer, something about the fruit just tastes different and better. Maybe it's the emotional connection to the food, maybe it's simply because it's organic, but knowing more about your food definitely makes it more special.

Tomato picking party!

I now also hugely appreciate those that work with food as their profession who make it a point to use local and organic food. University Dining Service chefs and the chef at our on-campus restaurant Campus Club, have been huge supporters of the student organic farm and buy large amounts of our produce to feed to their customers. I specifically remember hearing from the head chef at Campus Club who talked about how a carrot soup she makes just doesn't taste the same unless the carrots she uses are organic. The flavor just isn't there with conventional carrots. I'm also very glad that we are a produce source for the food eaten by students on our campus. As the University of Minnesota works toward a more sustainable future, I think that food has a huge role to play in that shift. I'm hoping that buying produce from us is just the beginning of the U starting to source it's food more locally.

Coupon for lunch provided by University Dining Services.

And, of course, I have learned that food certainly creates community, whether that be here at the University or with other groups in Twin Cities area. Seeing how good food makes people happy was another thing I loved about this job. I hope that I can contribute to these food communities and continue connecting people to good food even more in the future with the knowledge that I gained at Cornercopia. 

 


Monday, October 6, 2014

Fall Colors and a Harvest Feast

Fall really started suddenly here. Probably because we had a strange warm spell a week ago when it was near 80 degrees outside and it felt like summer. But the temperatures have plummeted and now we're seeing the normal 40s-50s and even had our first frost advisory this weekend. The colors have been lovely, especially on some of the early changing trees like the Kentucky Coffee trees by TCF Bank Stadium. They really did a good job with landscaping around such a huge structure, don't you think. They definitely knew what they were doing when they planted trees that would turn one of our school colors (gold) in fall during football season.


Out at the farm we're seeing lots of fall wildflowers popping up in the perennial area. Mainly asters this week were displaying some lovely purple and ethereal-looking whites. 


We had to bundle up some of the crops for the potential frost that was going to hit this weekend. Below you'll see a picture of some of the covered rows of ground cherries. That white fabric was definitely difficult to put on in the 30mph winds we had that day.


Because of the potential frost, we also had to harvest as much as we could before the frost got to it. We went all out on what's left of the tomato patch, got the remaining winter squash in and scavenged for anything else that was left.
In my personal plot, I harvested out as much as I could. I came home with quite the bounty. My zuchetta plant was still going strong, so I picked whatever was there, small or large. Tomato yields were pretty good as well. My favorite variety for the year was Sunset Bumblebee. I'll probably do a seed saving post on those later. Otherwise, my basil plants have had good yields, but I only got one orange pepper for the whole year. Had some volunteer tomatillos in my plot as well.


Once I laid out all the produce I knew I was going to have to do something with them now or else risk letting them sit around in the kitchen where I would procrastinate on using them only to have them go bad.
Luckily I had just ran out of my preserved basil the week before, so I put another round of basil and olive oil into the empty ice cube tray and stuck that in the freezer. This is probably my favorite way to preserve herbs because they're easy to pop out and use whenever you need them. I also use a lot of olive oil in dishes, so this method is perfect for me. Preserving in the ice cube tray is also nice because usually one cube is just enough for sauteing in the size pan that I own.


With the tomatoes and some of the basil, I whipped up my favorite One-Pot-Pasta recipe. This is a great, fast meal because everything happens in the same pot so you don't have to worry about watching different things. You can make this in several easy steps:

One Pot Pasta
Step 1) Start to cook the amount of pasta you need for the number of people you're serving.
Step 2) While the pasta is cooking, cut your tomatoes into small, bite size pieces. I usually use cherry tomatoes that I halve and quarter.
Step 3) When your pasta is almost done, strain off a large amount of the cooking water, leaving a little still in the bottom of the pan. You need this for the base of the sauce.
Step 4) Add the tomatoes (and onions, garlic, basil, whatever else you like in sauce) and cover the pan.
Step 5) Cook until added ingredients are soft and have incorporated somewhat into the the water.
Step 6) Cool and enjoy!


I had several zuchetta squash that had broken ends and needed to be used straight away, so I sliced them into thin rounds, threw them in a pan with some olive oil and sauteed them until soft. Once they were soft, I lowered the heat as low as possible and covered them with shredded cheese and some garlic salt. When the cheese had melted, I served them as a side to my pasta dish. They were pretty delicious. The picture below is a bit blurry, but you get the general idea.


Overall, it was a lovely fall harvest feast. I brought the kale, tomatillos and most of the tomatoes to my parents who were in town this weekend, along with two winter squash my mom asked me to pick up from the farm. I feel like I'm turning into their own personal CSA since I seem to bring them vegetables every time I see them!

Now I'm off to the farm for work, and thankfully we have a lovely, sunny fall day to make up for the terribly cold and windy day we had last Friday.
Cheers!
-Abby

Sunday, September 7, 2014

First Week of Classes

So I've finished up my first week of classes, and while I can't honestly say that I know for certain how busy I'll be this semester, I know that having only three classes instead of two is really nice. While the workload for the classes seems to be rather heavy, having less of them makes things a lot easier. My initial impressions of my classes are generally positive. All of my professors are engaging and seem to genuinely care a lot about the course material and the success of their students which is always a plus.

In our first Plant Production lab we planted A TON of stuff that we'll be growing throughout the course of the semester. The best part is that we get to keep any of the produce we grow over the season. We planted tomatoes (3 varieties), sweet peppers, melons, cucumbers, squash, chard, kale, several varieties of greens (bok choy, etc), and herbs. For flowering plants, we planted cyclamen and poinsettias. All of these are greenhouse grown, so they'll be flowering and fruiting into November and December. There will be many more things that we'll be planting in future labs as well. In the lecture portions we also discussed plant communication and how plants use different signals such as chemicals to signal to other plants, pollinators, and the predators of pests that might be harming them.

World Food Problems is also very interesting. It's a night course so I only have it once a week for 3 hours, so I haven't had enough of the class to really get an impression as to what the course material will really be like. It's co-taught by an Agronomy professor and an Applied Economics professor, which makes it an interesting combination of the two subjects and gives the class material a lot of different perspectives.

Intro to Entrepreneurship seems as if it will be challenging and work-intensive, but not unpleasant. A lot will depend on the group I end up being placed in for our gigantic project that takes up most of the semester. So we'll have to wait and see on that.

I'm still working at the organic farm until the end of the season, so we're pretty much in harvest mode at this point as we attempt to pick everything as fast as it fruits. Pretty hard with the crops like the tomatoes which seem to never ever end. Not a bad problem to have, but it's a lot of tomatoes to deal with. Otherwise, we've been harvesting potatoes, cucumbers (still), strawberries (as they're a day-neutral variety which fruit later), broccoli, and apples. The best part about the strawberry research project taking place at our farm is that there's always an over abundance of strawberries, and I'm constantly going home with free quarts. Free, organic, delicious strawberries? It's the actual best.

One of the strawberry quarts I took home this weekend.

If you want to read up more about my farm, we were featured in the Minneapolis Star Tribune today. A lot of the article is focused on the research we're doing, but also talks a lot about how we provide food to several different places on the University of Minnesota campus. :)

I've also started to see a good amount of food come out of my personal plot at the farm this week as well. I took home cherry tomatoes and basil that I used to make a margherita pizza, which turned out delicious. Otherwise, I did get things into the ground a lot later than I would've liked, so we'll see what more I get besides the tomatoes and possibly some peppers. The weather has been cooling off so there might not be much more time for things to ripen up.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Beginning of the Last Year

Whoo boy, it's getting closer. T-minus 12 days until the start of my senior year of college. How insane is that??? From this Thursday until the end of the month I'll be completely occupied with the Minnesota Marching Band's pre-season training camp (can you say 12-hour rehearsal days?!) I figured I'd do my semester intro post now so that I'm not scrambling to get it done once school rolls around.
I'm only taking three classes this semester (whoo-hoo!) which is down from my usual four. This is the awesome part about senior year. I only need to take six more classes to graduate so three per semester sounds like a mighty fine option to me! I will say that technically I'm taking 5 classes because both marching band and pep band count as classes because I receive credit for them. But honestly, they're not academic classes with homework and tests and all that, so I don't generally count them when people ask me how many classes I'm taking.

So what classes will be taking my time away from blogging and gardening you ask?
First, we have my one and only horticulture class this semester: Plant Production I. This class is all about nursery operations. So I'll be learning about crop data, utilizing economic data, pest management, and governmental regulations in relation to the nursery industry. I'm a little up in the air with how much I think I'll like the class. It's a required class for the horticulture major, so I have to take it, whether I like it or not. It's not really something that's related to the focus I'm trying to take with horticulture (education/sustainable and local food) but who knows, maybe I'll really enjoy it.
Second, I'll be taking Intro to Entrepreneurial Management, another class that I have to take to finish off my degree. Because I chose the "Business Option" in my degree (as opposed to the "Science Option"), I'm required to take so many business-related classes.
Third, and finally, I'll be taking World Food Problems. This is the class I'm looking forward to the most. We'll be talking about food security, food production/storage/utilization in developing countries, and how ethical and cultural values, population and technology affect these things. This is the class I'm taking that is most related to my area of focus in my studies. This is a class that's also helping me finish off a requirement for my Sustainable Agriculture Minor.
And that's it! No fourth class to weigh me down this semester!

Besides classes, I'll be doing band (obviously), working at the farm until the growing season is over, working at the UMN Admissions Office once my farm job is done, serving as Historian for my band fraternity and volunteering time through service projects for the Mortar Board Honor Society. Yay busy life! Hopefully I'll still have time to blog, although it may not be as frequent as my blogging during the summer. But now I must get some sleep so I can have a blast running the farmers market stand tomorrow! Goodnight all!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Leaving/Going Home

The bad part about loving both the city you currently live in and the city that you call your hometown is that when you leave one to go to the other, it's incredibly bittersweet. As I've gotten older, leaving my hometown after spending time at home with my family has gotten more and more difficult. I'm sitting here, it's 12:13am and my flight back to Minneapolis leaves in just over 12 hours. A lot of me wants to just stay here, but I'll be glad to be back in the Twin Cities. I think another thing that's making this difficult is that the end of this mini-vacation to my hometown also means that my summer break is almost over and it's my last real summer break for, well, ever. After I finish this next year and graduate from college, summer break really isn't a thing anymore. How weird is that?

I've only got ten days until pre-season camp starts up for my last season of marching band (during which I will be on hiatus from my blog and related social media, but we'll address that at a later date), and 22 days until my last year, my senior year of college starts. I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around all of these last things that I'll be encountering over the good part of next year.

I haven't posted much at all this week, mainly because I've spent my time enjoying my time off at home instead of on the internet. So I'll probably have a post or two more for you before my marching band hiatus. Since things at the farm are going to get hectic as the harvest season gets into full swing, there will probably be at least one post about those goings-on.
Hope you all have had a lovely week!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Visiting Upper Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula


This weekend I took a trip up to the UP's Keweenaw Peninsula to go camping with my family. We've been making this camping trip for over 10 years and I've always enjoyed my time there. The Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan has a lot of great activities for those who enjoy the great outdoors. My experiences have been primarily set in the summer, where it's generally a lovely daytime temperature in the mid-70s/low-80s, and comfortable, cooler temperatures at night. Whatever your outdoor recreation preferences, this area is a great place to do what you love. I've put together a brief travel guide that touches on some of the great activities you can do in this area, and maybe you'll find that you're interested in adding the Keweenaw to your bucket list.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Gone Camping


Hello all!
I'll be out of range for all communication-like technology from Thursday to Sunday while I enjoy a weekend of camping with my family in the gorgeous wilds of the Upper Peninsula. There's no cell service and very little wifi to be found, so there will be no blogging, Twitter or Pinterest for me and I'm looking forward to disconnecting for a few days and enjoying the great outdoors. More specifically, I'm incredibly excited to spend some time hiking and birding while I'm up there. I've got some species I'm hoping to check off my life list. I'll be back in my hometown after Sunday for a week, so I might throw up a post or two about my parent's gardens while I'm there. But this is essentially my vacation from my summer vacation, with no farm work and no alarm clocks, and I'm so so excited to be home for the first full week since January, so forgive me if I mentally check out for a while. Have a lovely weekend everyone!