It’s All About That Sweet Sweet Sorghum!

This has been a busy week here at Old Loon Farm.  Asparagus is in full growth mode, although the heavy rains we’ve had this month, coupled with the saturated soil, have made harvesting a bit of an extra chore.  We’re still working on a remodel of our summer screen porch where we gather as family during the warm months.  We’ve got some Frozen broilerlovely salad greens, herbs, and strawberries coming to maturity in the hoop houses, along with seedlings of tomatoes, peppers, okra, onions and cucumbers. Although potatoes, radishes and garlic and doing fairly well in the garden outside, and peas, beets and carrots are beginning to push through, most beds are empty – too wet to work, too chilly to plant.  Every season is a challenge; patience with Mother Nature the necessary virtue of the farmer.  Meanwhile, our chicks are growing, layers are producing fine eggs, and we took our first batch of pastured broilers to the butcher this week; they’re safely in the freezer waiting for sales.  IN STORE FOR YOU THIS WEEK:  Fresh asparagus, free range eggs, frozen pastured broilers, sorghum and maple syrups, and fresh bakery items (Friday only).

sorghum 2018 But today we want to talk a bit about our sweet sorghum.  Have you tried our Indiana Natural* pure cane sorghum syrup yet?  It’s a local sugar, like honey and maple syrup.  It’s pressed from the cane of the sorghum plant, evaporated at a ratio of about 7:1, and bottled.  We plant the variety Honey Drip in early June, tend it for about 100 days with hand weeding and cultivation – no pesticides.  Sorghum is drought-tolerant and will grow in marginal soils, so is quite a flexible crop.

Come harvest time, the cane is cut at ground level, the seed head at the top is chopped off (can be used as feed for the animals), and the cane is put through a chopper/press. The juice is boiled in an evaporater and turns into a beautiful amber syrup.

So what’s so great about sorghum?  It can be grown in small plots – one-quarter to one acres is a manageable plot.  Small farmers can work cooperatively to share planting, tending, harvest and transport to the processing facility; or a small press and evaporator can be set up on a small farm.  It’s a great local product to sell at farmers markets, add to gift baskets, and use at home in cooking and baking.

And best of all, unlike white sugar, sorghum has high nutritional value.  One tablespoon of sorghum provides 32 mg. calcium, 21 mg. magnesium, 210 mg. potassium (about the same as half a banana), and 12 mg phosphorus. In addition, sorghum contains iron, zinc, and B vitamins thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and B-6. (USDA National Nutrient Database Report 2017). Check the nutritional label on sugar: empty calories!

What about flavor?  Sorghum speaks of the earth – grains, sweetness, fruit.  It pairs well with apples, pears, peaches, raisins and dates.  It enhances oats, barley and other whole grains.  It brings a richness to pumpkin, sweet potatoes and winter squash.  You can dream of it with vanilla and caramel on ice cream, popcorn, and other snacks.  Anything made with buttermilk tastes even better sweetened with sorghum. Barbeque sauce, salad dressing, iced coffee, even your favorite cocktail – experiment with this versatile ingredient!

Cheers to a better diet and a more healthy YOU!

DID YOU KNOW?  Do you sweeten your yogurt with honey or jam?  Try a spoonful of sorghum! It pairs so well with plain yogurt.  Add a piece of banana or a few blueberries and you’ve got a breakfast or snack that is delicious AND nutritious!

*Indiana Natural Pure Cane Sorghum is produced by a cooperative of local small farms. Look for each farm’s name on the label. Indiana Natural also produces value-added sorghum products such as caramel corn, cakes, cookies and barbeque sauce.

 

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Enough Rain, Thank you!

magnolia tree in bloom 2019It’s been a chilly and wet spring.  That could be the understatement of the year. The spring bulbs have finally flowered and the grass is growing so fast we may need to bale it.  Our sour cherry and pear trees are in blossom, as are the redbud and our beautiful magnolia, but the soil temperatures are still low and the garden is too wet to get much tilling or planting done.  Such is life: every season has its challenges. It’s a blessing to have the small hoop houses that give spring crops a boost.  Our strawberries are thriving and in bloom, and we’ve started some seedlings in Hoop #1.  They’re small, but with the chilly weather, no need to be long and leggy just yet.

spring saladWe were able to take advantage of the slow spring to take a short trip to the east coast to visit family, and came home to find some nice salad greens popping up in another of our little hoop houses.  Coupled with fresh seafood that we bought and iced from the day boats just before we left Connecticut, we’ve enjoyed some delicious meals this week!  We have wonderful fresh lake pan fish here in Indiana, but fresh seafood is a great treat.

Something – we suspect a large dog – got into the chicken yard just before we returned an killed or ran off with 20 of our 30 free range laying hens.  Sigh.  Generally our little dog, Diamond, keeps theses predators away from the birds, but she wasn’t home either. We’re thankful the meat birds were penned up and didn’t get molested.  They’re nearing maturity, and we expect to have frozen broilers available in June at our store.

asparagusOur asparagus crop is coming back to life. We need a lot of good sunshine now to get it really producing. Lots of requests are coming in and we can’t keep up.  An envelope of cilantro seeds I tossed into the hoop house last winter has produced a lively crop.  Potatoes and peas are finally starting to show their leaves from our early April planting, and of course, fall-planted garlic is going strong.

This year our sorghum crop was very good, and we’re marketing this local sugar across the region.  We also had a nice production of maple syrup, and several bee colonies made it through the winter this year. That’s very sweet!  So we’re looking forward to the warmer weather, new summer honey, and fresh crops from the garden that we can share with you.  Our farm store will be open on Fridays only, but our specialty products are available through the DeCamp Gardens farm store in Albion every day.

DID YOU KNOW?  Here at Old Loon Farm, we provide a place for our lake resident neighbors to dispose of their leaves, seaweed and other plant matter.  Burning leaves, or worse, raking them into the lake, is a huge pollution problem for our air and water resources.  Composting creates new, organic-rich soil on the farm, and helps our neighbors too. We are glad to be of service, and happy that our neighbors care about our beautiful lakes.  Everyone can farm!

Happy Spring!

 

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Sorghum, Fruitcakes & More. It’s What’s IN STORE for You at Old Loon Farm

Fall brings with it such rich feelings! Chilly evenings, crackling fires, falling leaves and plentiful harvest are things that we never tire of, and actually welcome after and long and hot summer!

sorghum 2018 We’ve been busy on Old Loon Farm.  As summer began to wane in September, we harvested several plots of sorghum cane and shocked it in the field for at least a week, building up the sugar.  Then we hauled it to Heritage Acres in Middlebury where it was pressed and evaporated into a beautiful, caramel colored syrup and bottled, ready for sale.  We’re happy with this year’s product, judging it far superior to our previous crop.  We have syrup for sale in our farm store in pints and quarts.  It’s versatile and yummy – use it as you would molasses, brown rice syrup or honey – in baking, sauces, caramel corn, BBQ, or simply topping southern biscuits and pancakes.  Check out the recipe below.

Our garden is pretty much exhausted for the year.  Frost has taken whatever was left outside, although we are still getting strawberries, peppers, carrots, Swiss chard and herbs from our unheated hoop houses. A sunny day can bring the temperature in the hoop to the 80 degree mark in no time.  Our lambs are fattening up on the green grasses and the chickens seem to be enjoying finding the insects weakened by the rain and chilly fall weather.  They’re content with the change of season.

fruitcake photo 2018And as October ends and we begin thinking of the upcoming holidays, it’s time again to order our famous Holiday Fruitcake!  These delicious one-pound cakes are chock full of pecans, dates, dried pineapple, cherries and other dried fruits, all baked into a wonderfully sweet, rich cake that you’ll enjoy at any meal. (It seems to be a favorite breakfast treat in our family!) There’s no waxy, candied fruits, nor is there brandy in this product. The cakes stay fresh in your refrigerator for weeks, or can be frozen up to a year.  For your simple yet special dessert you’ll want to try a slice of our Holiday Fruitcake topped with whipped cream.  And these cakes are wonderful additions to your holiday gift baskets!

Also IN STORE for you at the Farm:  Broiler chickens (frozen), fresh eggs, granola, jams and jellies.  ORDER AHEAD:  fresh breads; made-from-scratch angel food cakes in vanilla, chocolate and lemon.  You can reach us by email, oldloonfarm@gmail.com.

Enjoy the Fall and Fall’s seasonal foods!

Sorghum Oven Caramel Corn

15-20 cups popped corn

2 c peanuts (optional)

2 c brown sugar

1 c butter

1/2 c sorghum syrup

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/8 tsp cream of tartar

Pop corn and place into a large bowl, removing seeds. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Combine brown sugar, butter, sorghum and salt in a large, heavy pan.  Boil about 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, baking soda and cream of tartar. Mixture will foam and become light.  Pour over popped corn and mix well to coat all pieces.  Transfer to a shallow pan and bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.  Cool and store in an airtight container.  (From Sorghum Treasures II, National Sweet Sorghum Producers and Processors Association.)

 

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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

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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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!

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