Sweet Taste of Autumn Sorghum Festival

our-cane-sorghum

Sorghum cane, hand harvested and bundled, awaiting pressing in 2016.

Our Sweet Taste of Autumn sorghum festival takes place next week, October 12 and 13, at Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center’s Sustainable Farm, 4415 W CR 200 S in Noble County, just south of Wolf Lake, Indiana.  Merry Lea, is less than 10 miles away from three additional sorghum-growing farms participating in the Northern Indiana Sweet Sorghum Project: Old Loon Farm and Wise Farms LLC in Columbia City, and Palmer Farm, Inc., in Albion.

On Thursday, October 12, the festival will kick off with an informal supper at the Merry Lea Farm, consisting of foods prepared with the addition of sweet sorghum syrup – pulled pork, breads and biscuits, baked beans, roasted veggies, salads and desserts.  Following supper, a short presentation of our SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education) funded project which focuses on the profitability of small-plot production of sweet sorghum for syrup.  A farmer panel will discuss this year’s planting, harvest and syrup-making, lessons learned, and next year’s plans.  The group is hoping to attract additional small farm growers who might like to produce sweet sorghum in 2018. Our goal is to add five additional acres of sorghum next year.

bottled-sorghum-syrup

2016 Sweet Sorghum product from Old Loon Farm

On Friday, October 13, activities will resume at 10 am. with operation of the antique press, powered by a tractor, that squeezes the juice from the harvested cane.  The juice is then evaporated over wood fire until it becomes a beautiful and tasty amber colored syrup.  Tasting is believing!  This golden syrup is a natural sweetener, more nutritious than sugar. It has an earthy flavor with a hint of spice that works well with fall foods – including pumpkin, corn, root vegetables, (and beer — craft brewers, take note!)  It’s delicious in pies, cookies, caramels, warm cider – you get the idea! We’ll have it all at the festival!

The Sweet Taste of Autumn sorghum festival is free and open to the public.  RSVP to Jane Loomis, oldloonfarm@gmail.com, so we know how much food to prepare.  Come join in the fun, learn about sorghum, and try this natural, tasty food. Volunteers are always welcome!

 

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Posted in Sorghum Syrup Project, What's IN STORE for you!

Our Sorghum Project

sorghum scouting 083117

Cooperating Farmers Larry Palmer, Chuck Loomis, Jon Zirkle, and Tom a Wise scout a sorghum patch at the Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center sustainable farm 

Investigating the Possibilities of Cooperative Sorghum Syrup Production and Marketing for Strengthening Small Farm Sustainability in Northern Indiana is the official title of our project which has been funded by a grant from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program of the US Department of Agriculture.

Old Loon Farm is officially the coordinator of the project, which includes Palmer Farms, Inc., Wise Farm, LLC, and the Sustainable Farm of the Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College, located near Wolf Lake, Indiana.

Over the next two growing seasons, the three small farms and the Sustainable Agriculture Program at Merry Lea will work cooperatively to investigate the optimum scale for profitably growing, harvesting, pressing and processing sweet sorghum cane on small plots, and to develop new local and regional markets for sorghum syrup.

Sorghum syrup is produced by pressing the canes, collecting the juice, and evaporating it in a process that’s similar to evaporating maple syrup.  But unlike maple sap, which requires 40-50 gallons to produce a gallon of syrup, only about 8 gallons of sorghum cane juice are required to produce a gallon of this golden tan colored syrup. Much of the equipment used locally in producing maple syrup in the winter, can also be used to produce sorghum syrup in the fall.

Our grandparents and folks living in the southern US states are likely more familiar with sorghum syrup than most people living in northern Indiana.  You may see sorghum syrup (often mislabeled as “sorghum molasses”) in stores that carry Amish products, but sorghum cane syrup is not in regular use as a sweetener in most of our area.

We plan to re-introduce sorghum cane syrup – a delicious and nutritious food – to the area’s farmers markets, restaurants and craft brewers and distillers.  Its unique and complex flavor screams autumn and brings to mind pumpkins, cornbread, biscuits, cookies, cakes and even pork BBQ!

In future posts, we will update our progress, as well as post more information on our initial sorghum festival, planned for Thursday, October 12 and Friday, October 13, at the Merry Lea Environmental Center.  Save the date and stay connected!

Posted in Sorghum Syrup Project

Where Did Summer Go This Year?

tat soi

New tat soi loves this weather!

It seems we ask that question every year – where did the summer go?  But this year, for some reason, summer has been even busier, passing more quickly than usual.  It’s also been a very satisfying and fun summer – that’s what counts!

I can’t believe I last posted in June. The family descended on the farm at the end of June, and we had various members here until early August.  What great family time!  Since then it’s been quiet, but we miss the extra farm hands (and mouths!)   So here’s what happening these days on the farm:

  • We continue to vend at both the Saturday and Wednesday farmers’ markets in Columbia City.  Thank you to our regular customers and to many new folks! Glad you like Old Loon Farm!
  • Our sorghum plots are growing well – so tall and the plants are heading out already. We expect that harvest will be earlier than planned – originally early October.  Chuck and I still plan to make a visit to a sorghum farmer in KY to see how sorghum’s done there.  Our local sorghum celebration event is scheduled for Thursday and Friday, October 12 and 13, at Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center near Wolf Lake.  Plan to join us for pressing and evaporation, learning about sorghum and sorghum syrup, and tasting fresh sorghum!
  • We didn’t plant potatoes this year, and I miss having those delicious tubers!  Next year, maybe we’ll rotate them into this year’s sorghum plot.
  • We’re raising 30 meat chickens – red ranger breed – and should have these birds ready for sale (frozen) on the farm after September 15.  Per pound price to be determined after processing.
  • After adding new drainage tile to our hayfields, we’ve chisel plowed and disked the soil, will be fertilizing and seeding new hay next month.
  • We are also reworking the entrance to the farm after the county replaced a major drainage tile last winter.  Working with The Watershed Foundation, we’re engineering the area for improved water flow and storm water retention to keep erosion and nutrients out of Loon Lake, which lies just across the road from our entryway.
  • As always during this time of the year, we’re canning and preserving the vegetables from our garden and fruits from our small orchard, as well as planting for fall harvest.  New lettuce, tat soi, and other greens crops are coming up alongside the tomatoes, peppers, okra, squash and other summer crops.  Tomatoes are winding down very quickly this year. We are hurrying to can, dry and freeze as much as we are able.
  • We harvested HONEY in mid-July and mid-August.  As ever, it’s delicious and also limited.  The July harvest was very small, we think due to the heavy rainfall in the spring and early summer.  August harvest was better, and honey is available at our farm store and at the farmers markets, as long as it lasts.  Several hives are not as strong as we’d like them to be; we will see how they fare through the remainder of the summer and into the fall.  Beekeeping has been a challenge for everyone around this area for the past several years!

We’ll be back with more news soon!

 

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Summer’s in Full Swing at the Farm

Mid-June already and once again, we’re asking where the time is going this year!   The gardens are in, the Farmers Market is up and running in town, and our on-farm market days are underway each Tuesday and Thursday.  Lots of new faces are appearing around Loon Lake and they’re showing up at the farm as well, looking for breads, vegetables and other treats.

This year’s asparagus crop was a good one, and it is continuing into June, even with the hot weather and lack of rain we’ve had the past week.  Chuck planted another 1,200 crowns so asparagus will continue to be a big crop for us.  Our small hoop houses produced some beautiful, sweet strawberries and some gorgeous red beets and arugula.  And of course lettuce and other salad greens, including kale, chard, radicchio, and spinach are producing as well.  Onions and radishes are looking good, and other crops that we direct-seeded into the garden are growing well.  Beans, cabbage and edamame are (unfortunately) feeding some neighborhood rabbits so those are under some stress! And we’ve pruned and stayed ahead of the weeds in the berry patch this year, so those are looking spectacular.  Our sour cherry tree is loaded – and the birds are well aware of it.  I’m seeing blue jays and cardinals feasting on the not-quite-ripe cherries and wondering if we will get any harvest there at all!

We’ve been doing a big bread business, with our stand-by 9-grain and braided whole wheat loaves, and some new offerings: Russian rye, peasant loaf, and an einkorn olive and rosemary boule – that are becoming very popular.

Another new endeavor this year that we’d like to report on: Old Loon Farm, in partnership with Wise Farms LLC, Larry Palmer Farm, and Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center, received a SARE grant from the USDA to research the economic viability of small-farm sorghum syrup production in northern Indiana.  It’s a two-year project that includes planting, tending, harvesting, processing and marketing sorghum syrup. Sorghum syrup is much more popular in the South than up here in the northern states. With the exception of some Amish farming areas, most folks haven’t tasted, or even heard of sorghum syrup, sometimes incorrectly called sorghum molasses.  Our last year’s product was smooth and delicious, a great addition to pumpkin pies, cookies and – beer!  So this year we are hoping to move to a bigger, and more standardized production, and document our effort to share with other northern producers.

We’ll update the sorghum grant news as the summer progresses.  But you can mark your calendars now to save the date for our local Sorghum harvest festival, which will be held Thursday and Friday, October 12 and 13, at the Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College, in Wolf Lake, Indiana, just a short drive up the road from our farm.

Meanwhile, June is the month of weddings, and we have two in the family coming up the next two weekends, followed by our own family gathering here at the farm. So while the farm store will be open during the week, we will be absent from the Saturday Market for the next 3 weeks in downtown Columbia City.

Enjoy the summer!

 

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We’re Open!

On April 25 we finally were able to open our farm stand/store for the season, and it’s been going well! Thanks to all our neighbors and friends who have been visiting us on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

DSCN1869It took some serious remodeling our of space over the winter, but we now have a dedicated sales area and more room for baking and packaging our products.  We find it’s more efficient for prepping for the Saturday farmers market in Columbia City too.

Speaking of the Market, it opened for the season in downtown Columbia City last Saturday, May 6.  We sold out of most of our products.  It’s been a long and eventful winter, but worth all the effort, as the Market has now incorporated as a community based not-for-profit corporation!  Find out more on the Whitley County Farmers Market FaceBook page.  And visit us Saturdays downtown!

Back on the Farm, here’s what’s IN STORE for you:  Currently our Tuesday/Thursday market, open 10 am to 6 pm, features fresh asparagus, salad greens, fresh eggs, assorted baked goods, and home crafted jams and jellies.  We’ve already sold out of our creamed honey and will have to wait for June until we can harvest new honey.  Chuck and his partners are out working in the apiary today – prepping for new queens that will arrive tomorrow.

Out in the garden, we are just now beginning to till and direct seed crops.  Warm weather prior to Easter tricked everyone into thinking summer, and then of course Mother Nature announced it was still spring in northern Indiana.  We had lots of cold, rainy days, and a serious frost/freeze a few nights ago.  We lost some nice tomato plants overnight, even though they were in the closed hoop house!  But at least according to weather reports, the cold and frost is behind us now, so we are anxious to get out into the garden and get planting!

Blue eyed Mary

Despite the cold, the Spring blooming season was gorgeous!  Chuck has set out at least 1,000 new asparagus crowns, so we should have plenty in the years to come!  The berries and fruit trees are looking good and were flush with blossoms, so we are keeping our fingers crossed for an excellent fruit season. And the morel mushroom harvest wasn’t too bad either!

wildflowerAs always, enjoy your time in the great out of doors!  Take a walk in the woods and greet all those beautiful wild flowers. They fade fast!

 

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It’s Spring! On the Calendar, at Least!

Now that we’re on Daylight Savings Time and the days are warming up a bit, it seems that working takes up a lot more of our daily lives!  No more sleeping in!  Welcome, sunshine, birdsong and warmer weather!

Although many of our neighbors have been busy starting seedlings in their homes and greenhouses for the last couple of months, we’re just getting started with that here on Old Loon Farm.  Part of the reason is that we are still elbow-deep in remodeling the farm kitchen.  The other part is that we try to rein in our enthusiasm and start our plants in March and April rather than January or February.  We’ve experienced too many seasons of leggy  plants that are ready for transplanting long before the garden and weather are ready for them.  That can mean a lot of long hours down the drain, so we hold back a bit. We won’t have the earliest vegetables, but hopefully we’ll have some of the best!

Chuck has been diligently working in the farm kitchen and store, installing new lights and outlets, counter tops, sinks, dishwasher, and completing other construction tasks.  Our brother Gary Hierholzer, from Celina, Ohio, built our beautiful hickory cabinets to our specs and delivered them last week.  We feel like we’ve gained a whole lot of work space, and now have a dedicated area for sales as well.

Construction always takes longer than anticipated, so our store opening scheduled for March is being pushed back a bit.  Once we get rolling, though, we plan to be open on Tuesdays and Thursdays for on-farm sales. Beginning May 6 we will be at the Farmers Market in downtown Columbia City every Saturday morning 8:00 – 12:30.

Meanwhile, we have fresh eggs and hearty granola on hand, some honey and jams.  We’re here most days, but email ahead if you want to be sure: oldloonfarm@gmail.com. We’ll be adding breads and fresh baked goods to the lineup once we’re on a regular schedule.  Hope to see you soon!

Posted in What's IN STORE for you!

Limited and Elegant

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard over the years in farming is this: “Don’t ever apologize for being small.”

We think about that every year as we review our previous seasons and draft our farm plans for the upcoming year, and I’ve been thinking about that advice recently quite a bit.  As we get excited about our work and our opportunities, it’s easy to start to thinking big and bigger.  But curbing our enthusiasm is not all bad; one can get greedy and before long, have an operation that’s way out of control.  Small is beautiful on this farm!

What does small mean?

It means hard work but it also means quality control.

It means limited production and elegant food – tasty varieties grown with care and harvested at the peak of flavor and nutrition.

It means an end to “mediocre and plenty of it,”  Instead you get seasonal anticipation, delicious foods, and appreciation of each bite.

It means learning to preserve our bounty at the height of flavor and nutrition, and then experiencing it again in the middle of winter — summer comfort in the cold and dark season.

It means better quality of life for the farmer and producer; thoughtful rest during the by-season, and rejuvenation of spirit.

So we will continue to stay small, producing the best products we can,  enjoying what we do and sharing it with you!

Spring is just around the corner.  Thanks for supporting Old Loon Farm!

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