This guide has been a long time coming (about a year of slowly pecking at it) and even longer stewing in our heads. We were very much inspired by Seattle's Cook Local blog, who did the same thing for Seattle a while back.
The guide is necessarily a work in progress. We'll continue to add restaurants, and to update entries, as often as we can. We'll also work to update the listings with links to the farms themselves.
Better late than never: On December 19, 2009, I made a photograph of everyone at the PSU farmers' market from whom I bought something. Here are some of my favorites. Click on any of them to see the entire set.
Jeff from Persephone Farm. 50 lbs of storage onions, 5 lbs of white garlic, and a bunch of shallots. Some beets, too, later on.
Shane from Gala Springs Orchards. Some Cameo apples.
Jessica. Northwest Heritage Pork. A pound of bacon.
Ann. Gathering Together Farm. Two kinds of kale, turnips, and some salad mix.
Growing up in the Southwest, I took green chile for granted. I didn’t even really know what it was, other than a ubiquitous, delicious, spicy stew that was served in a bowl with tortillas on the side, over eggs, over a burrito, or countless other ways. The dish is sometimes mild and unctuous, sometimes possessed of a searing chile burn. There were also the green chiles themselves, which I also took for granted, and which are served in all kinds of ways, all over Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.
In my mid-20s, I taught myself how to cook Mexican food from cookbooks. Good Mexican food was one of the things I really missed from home and couldn’t find in Seattle. But what I learned from Elizabeth Lambert-Ortiz and Diana Kennedy was regional Mexican cooking, not the Southwesternized Tex-Mex that I’d grown up eating. Nevertheless, I loved the cooking I was learning, and was fascinated by the threads that connected classical Mexican cooking to the food served in taquerias and Mexican restaurants all over the country.
As I learned more about cooking Mexican food, I often wished I could make the green chile of my childhood, but I had no idea where to start. I assumed it was Mexican in origin, so every time I found a recipe for something green (mole verde, chile verde, verde de Oaxaca), I’d try it, hoping that I’d found the authentic green chile recipe. The results were often delicious, but they were never anything like New Mexico green chile.
A couple Sundays ago (Sunday, September 13, to be precise), Holly and Anastasia and I got together with some of our friends and shared the work of processing and canning 130 pounds of gorgeous tomatoes.
Last year we started the tradition of an annual Tomato ExtravaCanza so that we could all put up enough tomatoes to last us until next summer. A few years ago, I was fine with canning a bunch of tomatoes and then filling in the blanks with Muir Glen when we ran out in the spring. But then we found out that Muir Glen is owned by General Mills, and, well, not to assume that all super-huge mega-corps are evil (well, why not?), but we thought we would try to put our money where it mattered — in this case, Oregon family farms. And there are plenty of small farms around Portland that are happy to sell as many tomatoes as we can blanch/peel/seed/hot-pack. It’s up to us to put up enough to last until next harvest season. We’ll see if we did it.
A lot has changed in our lives since we started this blog in 2004. For one thing, the term “urban homesteader” has become a lot more common. For another, we’re not really doing much in the way of urban homesteading, lately. At least not in the sense that we originally meant. We don’t have any land, or even a yard. Our gardening consists of several pots of herbs and a small plot full of sunchokes at a nearby, temporary community garden. We don’t keep any chickens, and this was our last year as managers of the Eastside Egg Co-op, so as of a few weeks ago, we don’t even share ownership or care of any poultry at this point.1
Yet somehow, as we hit the peak of the harvest season, we are still pleasantly overwhelmed with food processing and preserving. We’ve had a busy summer of work and family life, but we’ve managed to hit most of the high points of my canning and pickling goals.
I’ve recently decided that spring is my favorite season for food. There’s something so exciting and delicious about all of the greens and sprouts and shoots that arrive with the last of the rains. Everything has an earthy flavor along with a mild vegetal sweetness; a lovely balance to take us out of the deeper flavors of winter.
Nettles are an emblematic spring food. The plants continue to grow through the summer, but the best time to cook with them is in spring, when the tender young shoots have just sprouted from the root network.
The foragers among you have your secret spots; I prefer to gather mine at the farmers market, from the Springwater Farm table, where they also sell piles and piles of beautiful mushrooms (a few of which make an appearance in the following recipe).
This recipe is adapted from the one provided by Springwater Farm.
1 lb potatoes, diced into 1/2” cubes
1/2 lb young nettles
1/2 lb mushrooms, a combination of shiitake, crimini, and maitake if possible, cleaned, shiitakes stemmed, and chopped
2-4 tb butter
1 qt chicken or vegetable stock
1 tsp salt, plus more and pepper to taste
1/4 c crème fraîche or sour cream, plus more for serving
Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 10 min. Put the chicken stock on to heat to a simmer.
Wearing gloves, put the nettles in a large bowl or pot. Drain the potatoes, pouring the water over the nettles to wilt them (this renders the nettles stingless).
Drain the nettles and chop roughly.
Melt 2 tb butter in the soup pot, add the nettles and stew gently for a few minutes. If the mixture gets dry, add a little chicken stock.
Add the potatoes and stock to the soup pot, bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Puree the soup, either in batches in a blender, or using an immersion blender stick. Return pureed soup to the pot and taste for seasoning; start with a tsp of salt and add pepper and more salt as desired to bring up the flavors.
While the soup is simmering, put the mushrooms, 2 tb butter, and a pinch of salt into a saucepan and cook, covered, over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until the mushrooms are tender.
Add the mushrooms and crème fraîche to the soup, reserving a few mushrooms for garnish if you like.
Serve the soup in bowls, drizzled with additional crème fraîche and topped with the reserved mushrooms.
When our egg co-op got its start in 2007, we were able to jump-start egg production by buying a flock of 10-month-old hens. They were fully in to their peak laying period, and their delicious eggs, available to the first shift of volunteers the morning after we got them, certainly made for a sense of immediate gratification. We knew, however, that buying full-grown hens would not be a sustainable method of flock replenishment, nor were we planning to keep hens past their laying prime. We would need, sooner or later, to come up with a flock rotation method.
Rotating a flock involves two steps: Acquiring new birds, and getting rid of the old birds. As of December 7, we have one working method for each step.
Acquiring new birds
Eastside Egg: The new generation
After much debate, the co-op decided that the best way to get new birds on to the farm was to raise our own chicks from day-old birds from a hatchery. We would have co-op members raise the chicks in batches in their own homes, for the first six to eight weeks while the chicks are still very fragile beings. After the chicks got their feathers, we would move them to the farm into a pullet house, where they would spend their days until they were old enough to lay (around six months of age). At that time they would be integrated into the main laying flock.
In early October we held a chick-care training workshop with the families who had volunteered to be chick tenders. At that workshop we distributed feeders, waterers, bedding and chick starter feed to all the chick tenders. The volunteers all generously agreed to provide their own chick housing and heat lamps.
In late October, we were the excited postal recipients of a box of fifty peeping chicks.
Over the course of a rather thrilling day, all of the volunteer families came to our house and took home their batches of chicks. We had eight families volunteer for chick care, with each family taking from six to ten birds.
During the month of November, while the chicks ate and grew, a few of us engaged in some fevered chick-house construction. The weather was too unpredictable to plan any formal work parties, but when we saw a good weekend, we grabbed it.
With the help of Craig and Amy Clark and Craig Giffen, we hammered together the basic structure while enjoying some fall sunshine. We improvised a design around the structure afforded by a piece of cattle fencing, which we manipulated to form a kind of hoop house. Around this form we added a wooden exoskeleton and a skin of tarping and hardware cloth.
Hoop house of cattle fencing, framed by wood.
We had initially planned on the chicks staying with the chick tenders until they were around 8 weeks old, but we were getting regular calls from folks noting that the chicks were getting too big to keep in their basements and garages. We knew we needed to wrap up the pullet house, and get the chicks on the farm.
We set a date for final construction and chick delivery on December 7. In an example of perfect timing, in early December we got a chance to buy a passel of young hens, who had just started to lay. This was an opportunity to get some fresh layers into the rotation; in effect, it was like doing the whole chick-raising thing back in April. But in order to take delivery of twenty new hens, we had to figure out how to get rid of some of our older hens â€” and a little sooner than we’d anticipated.
Getting rid of the old birds
The traditional thing to do with spent laying hens is to slaughter and butcher them for the stewpot. We asked our co-op members if they would like to learn how to do this, and if they thought this was an appropriate final destination for our birds. The answer to both questions was a resounding “yes.”
Our flagship flock of forty hens will be fully replaced by new birds by the time we launch into our third year on Summer Solstice, 2009. We will butcher some of them ourselves, and we will teach our co-op members the ways of this crucial practice. Eventually, as our expertise and facility allows, we will offer classes on home poultry butchering to the general public.
But for now, we needed to get rid of some older hens quickly. I had heard of a nearby family who was interested in buying old hens to butcher and sell as stewing hens. Over the course of a day of phone calls we managed to contact the family and make arrangements for them to pick up some of our old layers. We also contacted the farmer who had the laying hens to sell, and arranged for the delivery of them. We timed it all to happen on the same day that we would have the volunteers bring the chicks out to the farm â€” and kept our fingers crossed.
The big day
The big day arrived â€” rainy, of course! We had everything slotted for a four hour window, and werenâ€™t really sure how it would all fit, but we got out there early to wrap up the construction on the pullet house and were joined over the next couple of hours by one household of chick tenders after another.
The coop had some construction to complete, including the door and securing the tarp. We got most of the sawing and drilling done before the rain started in earnest.
Two folks from the local butcher operation came by and picked up 20 of our older hens. A group of volunteers peeled off to help catch chickens in the field and load them into the truck.
Pretty soon after that, the young layers arrived, and we carted them out to the field in the transport cage and set them loose in their new home. At this point, the feathers were truly flying.
We were happy that a lot of the families raising chicks had brought their kids, to help see their pullets in to their new home. They had a great time running around between the chickens in the field, the barn and the pullet house, and helped out by tagging all of the new pullets with leg rings to help identify them when they are integrated in to the larger flock.
Chick house inspection
We moved the coop into position next to the barn, and a couple of volunteers raced to put in the roost bars, while others got bedding, feed and water into place. By this time, it was really raining, and we called everyone together and started piling bin after bin of pullets into their now cozy new home. After all had had a chance to peek in and assure ourselves that the pullets were happily eating, drinking, scratching and exploring, we wrapped up the work and repaired to the farmhouse for a post-chick-raising feedback meeting and some pizza.
The poulet chalet
It’s now nearly a month later. The chicks are growing up quickly and we’re now focused on getting their fencing procured and set up, so that we can have them out and about during the day, just like the layers. Thanks to the diligence and dedication of our volunteers and the folks at Zenger, all of the chickens, and all of us, survived Snowpocalypse 2008. We learned a few things from that time of crisis, and will be making some preparations for next time.
2009 looks like a good year for our co-op. We plan to further fine-tune our efforts, continue maintain a healthy and productive flock, and explore ways to utilize the co-op as a platform for education and urban-agriculture advocacy.
Happy new year to you and yours, and see you around the farm.