A Memorable Summer

This summer has all but passed us by.  Busy hands make time fly, and that pretty much sums up what has happened here on Old Loon Farm.  We’ve been through planting, harvest, preserving and back to planting again.  It’s almost Labor Day.  Fall is right around the corner.

Travel plans prompted our decision not to participate in the farmers market, CSA, or on-farm sales this year, and instead concentrate on wholesaling our excess produce and preserving as much of our harvest as possible. A trip to Hawaii in April kept us  from starting most of our own plants from seed this year; others crops we direct seeded later in the Spring.  And a two-week trip to the East Coast during early July meant that we missed some harvest and returned home to find weeds taking over our gardens and fields.  August brought family visitors to the farm for several weeks.  (Our grandkids all grew an inch during that time enjoying the delicious, fresh farm food!)  All part of this year’s growing season, and we wouldn’t trade this summer for the world!

As Fall approaches, we are busy canning tomatoes, pickles, peaches, and grape juice and making jam. We’re cultivating our asparagus beds, and harvesting blackberries and  everbearing strawberries.  Apples and pears (ugly because we don’t spray with pesticides) are in the cooler waiting to be made into cider.  We’ve planted spinach, romaine, mesclun, carrots, radish, beets, arugula and butter lettuce for our Fall garden.

We’re also watching our sweet sorghum form seed heads and move toward maturity.  It looks good at this point, and we’re planning harvest by end of September. A group of student interns from Merry Lea  helped us thin and measure our crop last month, as we track growth and success of this new crop.  October 12 is the Family Festival and sorghum processing demonstration at the Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College in Wolf Lake.

Our hayfield has been cut and baled twice this summer, but now is quite soggy, like most fields in our area. Three sandhill cranes were spotted fishing in its shallows yesterday, and Canada geese stopped by this week as well.  Recent rainfalls  rivaled the spring in amount and intensity; our lakes are at high-water mark and we’re mowing yards weekly.  It’s lush and green here in northern Indiana!

Have a wonderful Labor Day holiday!

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Looking forward to a Memorable Weekend

It’s the traditional start to Summer in the Midwest – Memorial Day Weekend – and it’s right around the corner.  Established to remember those American heros who died in war, it is also the first big holiday weekend of the season, even though by the calendar Summer doesn’t officially start until mid-June.  Those of us of a certain age remember  schools closing for the summer before Memorial Day and reopening after Labor Day, so summer vacation was really bookended by those two holidays, with Independence Day on July 4 marking the mid-point.  Even if the temperatures don’t cooperate, in our minds, it’s Summer and we welcome it with open arms.

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Garlic scapes

It’s been a cool and uneven Spring, very wet here in our area. Lots of our fields and garden patches are still too wet to be planted, while others that have been seeded, are struggling to get started. It’s the nature of farming that there are seasonal differences and most crops get in the ground, grow, and mature sooner or later.  It is what it is.

ChardEven as we launch our boat and mow grass twice a week, we continue to harvest asparagus and fresh salad greens for sale at the farm.  Baking has taken a back seat while planting and other spring chores get our attention.  Our garlic has begun to sprout its seed shoots  (garlic scapes – edible and lovely in salads and vinegars), radishes are ready, and rhubarb is prolific.  We’re hopeful for some good strawberries this year to pair with all that rhubarb! Herbs are prolific, including mint, thyme, oregano and chives, ingredients to enliven our salad dressings and meat rubs and seasonings for the grill.

Fingerling potatoes, onions and sweet potatoes are in the ground in our upper field.  Sorghum planting will start next week as we turn the corner to June.

As you begin to gear up for summer relaxation and fun, don’t forget to eat fresh, drink lots of water, apply your sunscreen, and stay safe.

 

 

 

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Asparagus Season

asparagus croppedYup, it’s here again!  Asparagus season. The local harvest has started.  Sure, you can buy asparagus at the grocery store in the middle of winter, but it comes to you from halfway around the world.  Now is the season for the world’s finest – LOCAL, HOME-GROWN asparagus.  Does anything else shout spring quite so eloquently?

This weekend our little community around Loon Lake gathers for the neighborhood garage sale, a kick-off to spring as necessary as putting the piers in.  We’re participating with a few pieces, but mostly with food – breads, cookies, honey, sorghum, maple syrup, asparagus and spring vegetables.  The greens have been terrific so far this spring!

The other midwestern spring treat we eagerly await is just starting to produce:  rhubarb.  Rhubarb, also known as “pie plant,” looks and acts like a fruit, but it’s a vegetable that’s packed with vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. As kids, we had permission to pick from our neighbor’s rhubarb patch.  We tore off the deep green leaves and started chomping on it raw, sometimes adding a sprinkle of salt.  Pucker up!!  Rhubarb makes the most wonderful pies and jams, too!  Mix with strawberries or go it alone, you just can’t beat it!

Here’s my mother-in-law’s (Grace Loomis) recipe for rhubarb custard pie, one of my very favorites:

1 unbaked 9″ pie crust

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 Tbls. flour

1/8 tsp ground nutmeg and 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon

1 Tbls. butter

2 eggs, beaten well

3 cups rhubarb, cut into 1/2″ pieces

Blend dry ingredients.  Add egg and mix well.  Place rhubarb in unbaked pie shell and pour egg mixture over rhubarb, smoothing to cover.  Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes; turn heat down to 350 degrees and bake another 50 minutes until center is set.

Enjoy this lovely spring weather!

 

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Hello, Spring!

Hawaii farmers market

Of course we had to talk with all the farmer/vendors at the markets!

After a long and cold winter, and plenty of travel around the country to rejuvenate us, we’re back at home working on the farm. We’ve visited farm markets in Kentucky, South Carolina, Washington DC, Connecticut, and Hawaii, always looking for the freshest and most delicious foods.  We’ve not been disappointed!

 

This year, we will not be vending at the Saturday farmers market in Columbia City, but will have our products at our Farm Store on N Brown Road, near Loon Lake.  Stop by to see what’s IN STORE for you.

Our hoop houses are well into production, with fresh salad greens and some herbs already being harvested.  Carrots and onions are well into early growth. We’re beginning to plant outside beds, with beets, carrots, onion, garlic, fingerling potatoes,

2018 garden started

The hoop on the left is filled with strawberry plants. They’re already blossoming! Can’t wait for those first luscious fruit smoothies!

spinach and other produce already in the ground.  Chuck reports new growth on our asparagus, figuring in another few weeks we will begin early harvest.  Rhubarb is coming up and the berry bushes are beginning to show buds.  Spring is just a wonderful time of the year here.

Meanwhile, we have a good supply of “local sugar” since we worked hard last fall and winter.  We have our own, pure honey, sweet sorghum syrup, and maple syrup, all locally produced.  Freshly made granola, including our new buckwheat and oats variety, as well as jams and jellies are also on our shelves.

And we are partnering with Wise Farms LLC to produce yummy sorghum caramel corn.  Find it here at the Farm Store, and at the Posy Patch on May 11 & 12.

Have a sweet spring and enjoy every minute!

 

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Calling All Sorghum Lovers!

After a long month of cutting, stacking, pressing and boiling sorghum, we are closing this 2017 growing season with a nice supply of locally grown, locally processed, healthful and natural sweetener.  sorghum-letterhead-image

Our first fall sorghum festival, held at the Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center Sustainable Farm was a bit overwhelming, as we are a small group and it entailed a lot of work. But what a great experience!  We shared our vision, meeting people who had not only memories of sorghum from their youth, but stories, ideas and suggestions to share with us.  It was a great learning encounter for all.  Our Thursday evening dinner was delicious and fun; the Friday pressing and evaporation demonstration was informative for all. And our festival attracted three additional local farmers who have interest in joining our cooperative venture for next year!

Next step: getting the word out to chefs, brewers, bakers, cooks of all kinds, and sweet lovers that sorghum is a great choice for your culinary creations! As the fall progresses into winter, our cooperating farms have sorghum to sell, and we will be interacting with favorite local food and beverage artisans to introduce our product.

Meanwhile, try our Indiana Natural 100% Pure Cane Sorghum in your holiday baking: It’s a natural for your favorite cookies, pumpkin and pecan pies, fudge, caramel corn, sweet potato casseroles, BBQ sauces and more! Try the recipe for sorghum cookies (below). Indiana Natural Sweet Sorghum Syrup is available from Old Loon Farm and Wise Farms LLC, in Columbia City; Larry Palmer Farm and DeCamp Gardens in Albion; and Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College in Wolf Lake.

Sorghum Chewies

1 c sugar

1/2 c butter

1 egg

1/2 c sorghum syrup

1 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

1 c quick-cooking oats

1 6 oz. package chocolate chips

1 c flaked coconut

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

Cream butter and sugar in mixer. Add sorghum and egg and beat well.  Sift flour, salt and baking soda and add to the butter mixture, mixing well.  Add vanilla, and stir in oats, chocolate chips and coconut, mixing well.  Drop from teaspoon onto parchment covered baking sheet.  Bake at 375 degrees for about 12 minutes.   Adapted from Sorghum Treasures II.

 

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Sweet Taste of Autumn Sorghum Festival

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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.

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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!

 

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

Our Sorghum Project

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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