Monday, March 18, 2013

Final Winter Share for 2013

Wednesday marks the equinox and start of spring and this last winter share is already showing that first flush of spring growth with more raab and fuller greens than we've had for a while. I pulled most everything that was left out of the gardens and even thinned out the garlic in order to spice up the shares. in the share this week is a bit of raab from different plant, some kale, some purple sprouting broccoli, some cabbage. Raab has little florets kind of like broccoli but really the stem and leaves are the best part. Like most things in the share it's best sauteed with a bit of olive oil or just eaten raw. For chicories there's more catalogna and frisee. There's a turnip with greens, and also a bunch of collard greens. To round things out we scrounged a bit of mache which has naturalized in the gardens. Mache, also known as corn salad, makes a great little side salad with just a little oil and salt. It does hold soil closely in the florets of leaves so make sure to clean it well before eating.

This is the last CSA share post I'll be making on this web site, after this it's all moving over to  The farm will go on a two week spring break from harvest and we're hoping to be back to harvesting the second week of April. A peek under the row cover this morning showed germinating radishes and mustards and recently transplanted lettuces doing nicely. Favas have also come up and there are lots of plants germinating on the heat table in the greenhouse. It's going to be an exciting spring. We'd love to see you at the open house on April 7 from 3-5pm. Head over to the events page at for more details.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Winter turning into spring

This is the fifth of six planned harvests for the winter CSA and it's already starting to feel like spring. Today's share is mostly greens, as the roots and alliums are pretty much played out for now. In the share is a big bunch of Lacinato Rainbow kale, a bit of escarole, a second chicory which might be radicchio (pictured) or sugarloaf or castlefranco depending on the bag, there are a few sprigs of rosemary (I was pruning today), and finally the first of the raab. Raab is the flower bud of brassicas, and most of the raab today comes from the cabbage, which never did head properly, but is now sending up flower shoots. I'm hoping that we'll have lots more raab in two weeks for the final share of the winter. It's a very delicious, extremely nutritious vegetable.

I'm excited for the longer days and more fresh greens. Roots roasts are great in the winter but come this time of year I'm ready for some tender greens. With the longer days, and especially with warm sunny days like today, the over wintered greens are taking off, and soon we'll have seeds germinating in the ground.

If you haven't signed up for spring shares yet, please hop over to our new website,, and put yourself on the list. Let your friends know too, we're expanding and so we have lots of shares we'd like to have spoken for by the end of the month.

Friday, March 1, 2013

New Blog Too...

Everything about the CSA is gradually making the shift over to the new site and that includes this blog. I've put a new post up on the new blog and you should redirect your reader there, or at least add the new blog. Until the end of March I'll continue to update this blog for the winter CSA shares, but after that I'll be concentrating all of my CSA energy on the Our Table site - meaning website and piece of land.

If you're a fan of Slow Hand Farm on Facebook, become a fan of Our Table Cooperative to keep following the blog and all of the other farm news.

Slow Hand Farm isn't completely going away, it's still the name that I'm doing consulting and other farm related education under, but it will no longer be the CSA site.

I hope you'll come follow me over at Our Table as well, and tell all of your friends too!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Our Table

The Farm Has a New Name!

And a new location, and new employees, and lots of news! But we're still offering the same individual sized shares, and four separate harvest seasons in 2013.

Our Table Cooperative
The new name is, "Our Table", and yes, as of a few days ago we are now officially part of a larger cooperative venture down in Sherwood! I'm really excited about this development as it is allowing me to continue offering the same CSA shares, to deliver by electric cargo bike, and at the same time to do more new farmer training, have more events on the farm, and to grow a few crops we haven't had space for in the past. (Check out the new crew bios and photos by clicking here).

For you, the CSA members (and potential members and general farm fans) this change also means you'll have better access to the farm, and access to more products from other enterprises in the cooperative. This includes pick your own blueberries from "old growth" berries, and even potentially meat and eggs. Eventually there are plans for all sorts of enterprises to all work cooperatively on the same piece of ground down here in Sherwood.

Our Table Pano

Sign up for the CSA now!

Please sign up for all of the 2013 CSA seasons (and winter 2014) now. It's easier than ever with online sign up now a reality. Please let all of your friends know too. We are quadrupling production this year which means we need four times the members we've had in the past. All of the same pick up locations from 2012 are still available (except for Sauvie Island) and we're adding extra pick up locations in the corridor between Sherwood and North Portland.

If you know of a location in that corridor that would be a great pick up location let us know. We need at least 10 shares to create a new location, but we're definitely looking for new spots to distribute the shares.

spring share

New List

This is the last email you'll get from this list about the CSA. But don't worry, I've moved all of your addresses over to our new list and you'll be getting a note in a day or two from that list with a lot of this same information and perhaps some more details about the larger operation.

Please help us start spreading the word and check out our new website at Also, tell all of your friends to go there and sign up for our mailing list and to like us on Facebook.

Thanks so much for all of your support over the past four years and here's to many more under our new name!

Oh, and for those of you who are more interested in the other things that I've been doing under the Slow Hand Farm name, like workshops, consulting and tool development, stick around. I'll continue to use this list for occasional updates on those topics. The Slow Hand Farm name isn't completely going away, not just yet.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Foraging the back forty

Winter harvests feel very much like foraging to me. In the summer, harvest is pretty straight forward. Crops ripen relatively predictably and evenly. I can see what's coming the following weeks, and I can tell at a glance what's good to harvest. Maybe it's because I'm only harvesting every other week in the winter, but after every winter harvest, which is always messy and a bit of a hunt for what is surviving the weather, I always wonder if there'll be anything for the following harvest.

Today the castlefranco chicory was looking very nice, certainly partly due to the dry weather. I found a few carrots in what was mostly a failed winter seeding. The turnips are a nice size and with good greens. I harvested the last of the leeks, and the collards had grown back enough for another good bunch.

For lunch today, before deliveries, I ate one of the turnips along with tortillas and beans, and a bit of salsa. I sautéed the chopped root and then added the chopped greens and a bit of white vineagar. Now I'm off to ride the boxes of bags to town.

Friday, February 8, 2013

New Farm, New Farm Crew!

Yesterday was the first day for the new farm crew and the first day working up some of the ground at the new farm site! The weather was unbelievably beautiful and we got more done than I was expecting to. The above map is the full property (outlined in red and you can see more photos by clicking here). The property is 58 acres and we're just using a small swath on the west end, 2/3 of an acre. 

This is the first year for employees on the farm and I'm excited to work with a great crew: Louis, Forrest and Karen. We'll be doing more proper introductions soon on the website, which will be getting a major overhaul, including online ordering (welcome to the 21st century)!

Forrest and I rode the nearly 60 mile round trip commute from Portland. He and I plan to continue the bicycle deliveries. I'll be making the run up into North Portland and Forrest will open up a new corridor into the area around SE 60th and Division. Louis and Karen were more conventional, arriving by car. They'll be opening up potential for pick up sites in NW Portland, Durham and the Tualatin areas. We'll also be working with the larger, soon to be named co-op, to market our CSA shares. Gianna will be helping us with all of that.

Finally, save the date of April 7 in the afternoon for the first planned open house of 2013 for the CSA, should be a good time for all!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Share 3

Third share of the winter and I'm already out of clever titles. There's a nice variety in this share: kale, catalogna, salsify, carrots and frisee. The carrots have a bit of back story, but I'll start with a few notes on the salsify and catalogna first, since they're the more obscure vegetables in the bunch. 

Salsify was in the first share of the winter and in the past has been a winter staple. It didn't do very well this year showing some disease that I haven't bothered to identify yet. This is the last of it. It's also known as oyster root and it does taste a little like oysters when it's boiled. I put small chunks in a thai curry last time I harvested it. It's really excellent fried, but be careful because it browns and then blackens quickly.

The catalogna is new for this year, although we've had it in years past. The first time I grew this it was a mistake and I was thinking I was growing escarole. Fortunately an italian cook stopped by the farm and got really excited before we turned in under as a crop failure. It looks very similar to dandelion, but it has thicker ribs, which are slightly bitter, but nice and crunchy sweet, much like the rest of the chicory family. I like this one best cooked, either chopped up into a vegetable stew, or sauteed with olive oil. 

The carrots are from a trade with Danny Percich from Full Plate Farm in Ridgefield, Washington. Danny worked with me during the first season of Slow Hand Farm and then moved up to Washington to start his current operation and a family. This summer he had a garlic crop failure and I had more than I had intended to give out. I had a bad carrot year this year so he agreed to trade me garlic for carrots. Sunday I took a visiting Irish farmer out to his place for a tour and the three of us quickly dug these beautiful Red Core carrots before sitting down to an evening board game and a bit of farm talk.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Sneak Peek

I updated this site yesterday, including the sign up information for 2013. That means you can now officially sign up for the spring 2013 through winter 2014 seasons (and take a look at what the plan is projecting). I'm putting this out there in a low key way because the name of the farm is changing soon, very soon, and so when that happens there'll be a big announcement. But you don't need a big announcement do you?

The other thing that will be changing is that I'll continue to add new pick up sites as options, no timeline on that one yet though. If you have a spot you'd like to have vegetables delivered definitely let me know. And let all of your friends know, we've got a lot of shares to sell this season, plenty to go around.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Post Freeze Harvest

A few days late, but still looking pretty good. The parsnips look better than I've ever had them, big and fat and a nice bunch for the shares. This is all of them and they keep well in the fridge if not used right away. For example, we've had a mass of parsnips in our fridge for about three months now, which we are slowly making a dent in, and they are still delicious. There's a leek in there for some allium goodness, and also a small bunch of collard greens and a head of sugarloaf chicory, also known as pan di zucchero. 

The sugarloaf usually keeps pretty well but it definitely has signs of frost damage. I ate one earlier and it was delicious, but they may not keep very well. Some of them have a little browning on the leaf tips, which can just be torn off. There may also be translucent sections, which if eaten right away are fine, but are essentially dead and will allow decay to start if stored warm for too long. Sugarloaf is very much like other chicories, good raw, but also a fine candidate for cooking either by roasting whole or halved, or tossing into a stew. 

The collards are small and haven't grown well, mostly due to slugs. This cold weather should have sweetened them up quite a bit. They are like kale but I find them tougher and so they need a bit of extra cooking.

If you haven't had parsnips before they are like an incredibly sweet, soft carrot. I don't know anyone who eats them raw, they're slightly fibrous for that, but cooked in almost any way they become very sweet. Before sugar was commonly available I've heard that parsnips were used to sweeten pies and I believe it. I also like making latkes with them, either alone, or mixed with potatoes.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

2012 Financials

No photo today, just a few cold hard numbers. Every year I try to do a little analysis of how the farm did the previous year. This year the numbers are a little warped due to the extra work of starting the farm move, but they're in the ball park I think. As an average of all hours worked on the farm, including field work, harvest, deliveries, and office time in 2012 I made about $7.50 and hour - definitely not hitting my goal of $11/hr.

It is somewhat unusual, in my experience, for new farm owner/operators to keep track of their hours and I talk to a lot of young farmers who have no idea how much they're making per hour. I also meet with too many farmers who don't pay themselves at all, and all they have to show for their significant labors each year is whatever value their is in the business and the assets that the farm owns. I can understand if folks aren't making money in the first few years as they invest in the long term success of the business, my understanding is that this is common in many business start ups. Regardless, it's been important for me to track my numbers so I can understand how I'm doing with some level of detail, and what it is that I need to do better.

This years number of $7.50/hr was definitely impacted by extra work developing new beds in town for the winter harvest and having to rework the plan mid season to accommodate the move. Adding bicycle delivery to the mix was probably the biggest single piece of downward pressure on the dollars per hour numbers. It's interesting to note that if I took out just the extra time spent on the bike and instead considered them recreation (isn't that what going on a bike ride is?) my hourly income for 2012 would be closer to $8.50 per hour. Even knowing that, I'm much happier taking the pay cut and riding the bike, which goes to show you can't just look at the numbers.

2012 was also my heaviest administrative cost year. I scaled back the farm this year, which didn't significantly change the planning work required, but did reduce the number of shares paying for that planning. Next year, 2013, that trend will reverse as we quadruple in size, and it will be interesting to see how much it saves the farm.

For comparison, in 2011we had a good year and made about $9.50 /hr, which is talked about in this post. In 2010 we doubled the farm size from the previous year, but didn't do a good job of selling the extra shares, and in fact we reduced our delivery range which also made it harder to sell more shares. That year we only made about $6.50 per hour. On paper 2009 was our best year with an income of $9.80/hr.   I think one of the major contributing factors there was that we did a good job of selling all of our shares and not having extras. We also really scrimped on tools and supplies that year and so while we made a little extra money because of it, we suffered a bit physically as a result. To put it mildly our set up was not very ergonomic in many cases that year. We paid for that a bit in 2010 as we upgraded systems.

A couple of other interesting numbers, at least to me. The farm grossed about $60,000 per acre in 2012, and expenses were about 25% of the gross. With a little work I think we can actually drive that gross per acre up a bit, although in 2013 I think it will go down, as the new site encourages us to spread out a little more than we would have in the past. I'm also guessing that our expense as a percent of gross will continue to grow, as it's quite low right now, and has gone up slightly every season.

Looking ahead to the 2013 season, we're being very optimistic with our projections. By taking advantage of some of the equipment available to us on the new property and by increasing our labor to management ratio I'm hoping we'll be able to come close the $11/hr average that has been my goal since starting the farm. I'll let you know how it goes next January.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Bicycle Deliveries

Bike share station in Washington DC

"I got hooked on biking because it’s a pleasure, not because biking lowers my carbon footprint, improves my health or brings me into contact with different parts of the city and new adventures. But it does all these things, too — and sometimes makes us a little self-satisfied for it; still, the reward is emotional gratification, which trumps reason, as it often does."I ran across this great quote by David Byrne today from an excellent article he wrote in the New York Times last May and I immediately connected with it. 

If you've been reading this blog you know that I started delivering all of the CSA shares by bike this year. I've been doing this in all kinds of weather, with all kinds of loads, since I got the bike in June. Doing a straight forward cost analysis of bicycle delivery vs. car delivery there's no way it makes sense over the distance I travel, not that's it's particularly expensive, but my car was just so cheap the way I used it. Like Mr. Byrne, I got hooked because it's a pleasure, and I appreciate all of the other benefits as well, none of which come with doing deliveries by car. 

In 2013 the farm is moving, and expanding, and even though the ride will be a little longer I'm still planning on doing deliveries by bike. Some folks think I'm nuts, and maybe I am and I'll realize my folly. Probably some of the shares will end up being delivered by car, just because of the expansion and I won't be the only one doing deliveries any more. Those details are still being worked out, but I'm optimistic and I think we'll be able to deliver most my bike.

I just got back from Washington DC where I was really impressed with the bike share program they have there, and that folks seemed to actually be using it (based on a short walk I took where I saw two separate users within just a few blocks). It's incredible to see the change in bicycles and bicycle culture here in the US in the past decade. Change like that makes me very optimistic for the future, not just that folks will live in a more environmentally responsible way, but that they'll live more pleasurable lives. Part of the thinking behind the farm is to not only look at how we can produce and distribute good, clean, fair food, but also how we can do it in a way that's more pleasurable for everyone involved. 

Monday, January 21, 2013


The above photo was taken on the ground in the "fields" at 1pm, still frosty. This means I'm rescheduling this week's harvest for Thursday and hoping that it thaws by then. I can't really assess the crops until things thaw out, and the yards aren't getting a lot of sun these days so they really need it to warm up for a few days before they can come out of this extended freeze. The forecast isn't clear on when that'll be, but right now Thursday looks like our best bet. 

Meanwhile, planning and set up for the spring continues with office work and more seed orders being delivered all the time. I'm a bit late on announcing 2013 prices and availability, but let me just say that my target is to have it out by the end of January, and we're quadrupling the number of shares available in 2013 so I'll be looking to all of you good readers to spread the word when I get that posted. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Farm in a box

I just unpacked three of six of my seed orders today. It's like Christmas all over, very exciting. Always crazy to think that basically all of the plants for the entire farm will come from that box of seed. 

I got a nice little note on a sample pack from Dan at Seeds From Italy. I've actually tried the variety in the past and if you're looking for stand out radicchio check out the special selections from Franchi available through Seeds From Italy. I'm still waiting on some of my other chicories from my friend Frank at Wild Garden Seed - not as flashy, but they've been solid performers, especially in the cold. 

Now I've just got to get the propagation house up and running so we can start seeding.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Winter 2013

The first winter share of the year, the first share of 2013, and the first Slow Hand Farm share harvested entirely inside the Portland city limits. As a transitional strategy between the Sauvie Island farm location and the new Sherwood location, I planted the winter crops in my backyard and my neighbor's backyard. Today's harvest was interesting, figuring out new little systems for packing the shares in a new space, and figuring out what survived the wet, warm fall and the holiday freeze. Winter harvests are always the biggest guess of all the seasons. I already have seen some crop failures, which is par for the course every year, but I can never really tell what's going to be good until it's actually harvested. Today's share has leek, escarole, radicchio, kale and a sample of salsify. 

Salsify is probably the most unusual vegetable in there, although I do grow it every year. It's also called oyster root and typically I scrape off the skin of the root with a knife (at which point it bleeds white, sticky sap that browns easily) and then I either chop it up and boil it until tender, or slice it and fry it until golden. Boiled it does taste a bit like oyster. Fried, it's very sweet and you have to be careful not to burn it.

The escarole, radicchio and kale all have a little freeze damage, dead spots on the leaves which can easily be torn out before cooking. They should be dealt with right away as they will shorten the storage life of the vegetables. The freeze did help sweeten them up though. I really like the escarole and radicchio in salad. They are slightly bitter, slightly sweet, and crunchy. I liked them sliced fairly thin. Soaking in cold water helps crisp them up and remove bitterness. Oil, lemon and salt makes a great dressing. I like kale sauteed and for that it helps to cut out the stems, chop them up and cook them a little longer than the leaves.

Leek, excellent sauteed like onion, used in soup, baked in bread or biscuits, baked whole by itself... It's just a fantastic vegetable.

I hope you all had a great holiday. I'm excited to be back to harvests and there's lots of work coming up getting the new farm site up and running.