Monday, November 15, 2010

I am a Canadian Farmer

I realized I haven't posted in a's something to read for my fellow Canadians (and American friends, too) It was printed on a calendar a few years ago:

I am a Canadian Farmer

I am not Old MacDonald or a factory farmer,

And I don't wear coveralls and rubber boots all the time.

I use a computer, a tractor and a shovel on any given day.

And if they farm, I probably do know John and Liz and Wayne from Guelph,
And they are really nice people.

I have a kitchen table, not a boardroom table.

I am an active environmentalist.

I can proudly stamp my flag on food shipped around the world.

I believe in producing safe food.

And more of it on less land.

The best in the world.

If you ate today, thank me.

I am a Canadian farmer.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Another Market Season Closed...

It was a bittersweet market two weeks ago, as we had our final opportunity to sell our produce and products at both the Inglewood Farmer's Market and the Countryside Farmer's Market. Yes, there is SO much work involved - picking, and packing everything, baking (in my case), trying to have everything looking it's freshest and tastiest....and knowing that this will be the last time until next spring.

At the Inglewood Market, we closed down our third season. That meant that alot of the vendors had come to know each other very well. Sharing similar interests - especially the passion for local healthy food - bonded us in a way that ensured lasting friendships. We all took pride in being able to grow food for our customers, as well as for our own families.

Being able to offer the freshest mushrooms my customers will ever eat (short of picking their own in the wild), gave me a huge sense of satisfaction and pride. I enjoyed my weekly chats with my shoppers, both new and the "regulars". New recipes were always received eagerly, and I knew that the people who bought from me had a singularly dedicated approach to eating and to providing food for their families. Eating local
ly, often organically, and always fresh was ridiculously easy and enjoyable for them this summer. Indeed, it was only as we all realized that this wonderful cornucopia of food was winding down, that we all agreed how much we would miss it...and miss each other's company.

Email addresses and phone numbers were exchanged, and we all hugged each other as we said our goodbyes. To all of my friends at the markets, customers and fellow vendors, thank you for a blessed season and enjoy your time off in the winter! See you in 2011!
(that's me in the middle, with the blue and brown patterned hoodie...)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Following the Food Chain...

It's certainly been a bountiful summer. Aside from our own vegetable garden and fruit shrubs/trees, I have made a point of harvesting "outside the box", so to speak - collecting produce from what Nature and some generous friends have provided. This includes the wild leeks (aka ramps, pictured at left) and fiddleheads in the spring, both which were first time introductions to our dinner table.

Recently, I was given elderberries by a friend, which I made into a syrup to be used later in the winter, with yogurt, crepes or deserts. A
loaded crabapple tree which was growing at one of the markets was the source of fruit for a beautiful clear red jelly. I've already found a recipe for rose hip jelly, since my rugosa roses are loaded with them this year. Our pantry is starting to look very colourful, now: I've also made bright yellow zucchini relish, salsa from our tomatos, pesto made with basil and garlic from the garden and a canned tomato/veggie base, which will go into this winter's lasagnas, soups and chilis. But I digress...

A few weeks ago, one of the chefs who shops regularly at the Inglewood Farmers' Market came by with a voucher to be used towards a dinner at his restaurant. Chef Erik Kjaer, along with his wife, Peta, and daugher, Erin, own The Market Hill Cafe, which is about a 25 minute drive from our home. Ralph and I arrived with good appetites, and we certainly were not disappointed!

Erik's workspace faced us as we entered, and he greeted us with a smile as he continued with his kitchen duties. His daughter showed us to our table - I chose to sit at the beautifully upholstered bench, while Ralph's chair faced the fireplace. The room had a simple, but elegantly tasteful decor (we found out later that Erik did all the work himself). Music that ranged from light jazz, to the Beatles, to folk classics, played quietly from the kitchen area (inspiration for Erik, maybe? ;) A few vases of fresh, pastel coloured lilies were a lovely touch to the wonderful surroundings in which we could relax and enjoy our dinner.

Our menu featured specials that included locally-produced and raised food - lots of choices. There was lamb from Bert Niewenhuis, produce from Sandra's Garden, Willow Creek Heirlooms, and Caledon Farm and of course, our own mushrooms :D.

Ralph started with the Kale, Tomato and Walnut soup, while I had crab cakes with home-made seasoned mayonnaise. So far, so good! The presentation was beautiful, and the food very yummy, with "just right" sized portions for appetizers.

Deciding on our meal was a little trickier, with the variety available, but in the end, we opted on a glazed Salmon steak on rice with vegetables for Ralph, and an open-faced Yorkshire pudding, topped with braised lamb in a shiitake mushroom glaze, also with vegetables (slightly crisp, julienned carrots, squash, beans, onions and beets - perfect accompaniment to both entrees). Between forkfuls of food and contented mmmm's, we agreed that the food was outstanding. This was especially nice for us, because I love cooking, and am a pretty good cook, which sometimes leads to disappointments when we go out. Not this time, in fact, we decided to go all the way, and ordered desert!

Ralph had an apple crisp, hot out of the oven topped with ice cream, and I chose a homemade maple pecan pastry which "sandwiched" a scoop of ice cream - a little on the sweet side, for our personal taste, but delicious, nonetheless! The other choices also included a fresh peach pie with meringue topping and Erik's own cherry/cranberry/lime cheesecake. As we enjoyed the ambiance of the almost-full restaurant, we commented that it was indeed a gem, right in our own backyard, practically. To top off our wonderful evening, the surprise was that, even with our drinks (selections included Ontario VQA wines) and all the food mentioned above, our meal came to under $100.

We were so happy to be able to enjoy the fruits of our labour, as well as some of my fellow vendors' at the market, in such a relaxing atmosphere. The food was prepared magnificently and truly a feast for anyone who appreciates good cooking, but especially "local" good cooking. Thank you, Erik and family, for a wonderful evening!

The Market Hill Cafe is located at 19834 Airport Road, Mono Mills, ON. Hours are Tuesday-Saturday 11:00 am - 2:30 pm for lunch, and 5:00 pm - 10:00 pm for dinner, reservations recommended at (519) 941-5150.

Oh, and just to be fair, I hope to visit some of the other restaurants who are taking part of the Eat Local Caledon Challenge for the month of September. Trust me, when you combine chefs who are passionate about their work, with fresh, delicious local produce, you are in for a taste sensation! Treat yourself to what our local community has to offer, you won't be sorry!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Hello again!

As a fellow blogger commented recently, sometimes other things get in the way, and before you know it, it's been ages since your last post - in my case, 6 weeks...yikes! In my defense, I have been attending 2 farmers' markets, and have added baked goods made with mushrooms to my sales table, so there's a bit more preparations involved.

Despite the work, I get so much satisfaction from working my side of the table, both in Inglewood and in Grand Valley. Each market has it's regulars - some I know by name, but most by their weekly purchases. Derek gets half a pound of shiitakes every week, occasionally a whole pound. Paul (who is also a vendor) buys 3/4 pound of blue oysters whenever he attends, which he grills on his BBQ. Then there's Sally and Jefferson, who tell me about their culinary adventures, often including our mushrooms...

The customers I love to see are the ones who made their first purchase of mushrooms the previous week, and have promised to return with their comments. They arrive at my table with big grins, and tell me how surprised and thrilled they were with their mushrooms. One couple, who left with half a pound of mushrooms and my mushroom soup recipe, came back to tell me that they will never buy canned mushroom soup again...and yes, they were grinning!

Aside from the mushrooms, I offer my now-famous mushroom dip, as a sampler and in two sizes of containers, freshly made that day and ready to be enjoyed. My customers come back to tell me all the different uses they found for it, aside from just as a yummy dip. My favourite so far is on top of a chicken burger from Heatherlea Farm Market. Of course, my fellow vendors are always more than happy to do a "quality control" check by sampling as often as they can get away with it!

My snack-sized phyllo pastries are often gobbled up by shoppers as they buy their weekly groceries at the market. I offer vegetarian, made with my own spinach, swiss chard, leeks, onions, garlics, mushrooms and Feta cheese, and a beef version, with locally raised beef, onions, garlic, red pepper and of course, mushrooms.

The big hit this summer has been my mushroom puff pastry. I started off bringing 4 each week, but now, the 8 I bring weekly are usually sold out before the end of the market. I have asked people to order ahead, to avoid disappointment, but it appears my customers are as busy as I am and rarely do! Oh well, better to sell out than go home with too many leftovers...

New recipes are brought almost every week, in keeping with the ever-increasing variety of veggies available as our summer season progresses. I will include a few at the end of this blog, and promise to add a few more before the end of the week.

If you still have never been to a farmers' market....what are you waiting for?? A little bit of searching on the internet will probably help you find the closest one to you, no matter where you live. Join the hundreds of happy people who make the weekly trek with their baskets and cloth bags, to fill up on the wonderful bounty being offered. Stay for the season, and enjoy the changing menus you can offer your family, as we go from spring greens and asparagus, to summer beets, carrots, swiss chard and tomatoes, to fall squash, pumpkins, fall greens and of course, all the tasty fruits - plums, apples and pears.

A wonderful book that I bought last year is "Simply in Season". I am now offering it at my table as well, because I want to share it with everyone. The recipes are organized by season, making the most of the produce and foods that are most plentiful during that season, with a wonderful "year round" section, featuring breads and year-round staples.

Hope to see you soon at the markets!

Julie's Cream of Mushroom Soup

1 1/2 lbs. mushrooms (may be mixed types), chopped coarsely
1 small onion, shopped
6 c. chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 c. butter
3/4 c. flour
6 c. milk
3/4 c. heavy cream (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Cook mushrooms, onion and stock in large pot, covered, for 1/2 hour. Puree slightly (optional). In separate pot, melt butter, stir in flour and cook 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and gradually whisk in milk. Add puree, salt and pepper. Allow to cool slightly, stir in 3/4 c. heavy cream (optional) and serve.

Summer Harvest Medley (one of Ralph's and my favourites, and a great way to use those zucchinis!)

1/2 pound assorted mushrooms, ripped/chopped into pieces
2 small zucchini, diced
2 large ripe tomatoes, diced
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
Handful of fresh dill, chopped
4-6 fresh basil leaves, chopped
Salt & pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp. freshly grated parmesan cheese

Saute onions and garlic very lightly in canola or olive oil, until translucent. Stir in zucchini and cook for 3-4 minutes on medium heat. Add mushrooms, tomatoes, herbs and seasonings and continue cooking until tomatoes soften up, about 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese.

Shiitakes and Swiss Chard - delicious over pasta or new potatoes!

1 1/2 lb. Swiss chard, rinsed
1 lb. shiitake mushrooms
1/4 c. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c. dry white wine
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 c. freshly grated parmesan or grana padano cheese

Saute garlic in oil for 1 minute, add sliced mushroom caps and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add wine, salt and pepper. Simmer for another few minutes. Remove any tough stems from Swiss chard, slice into strips and add to mushrooms. Cover and cook, stirring once or twice, just until greens have wilted, about 5 minutes. Taste, and adjust seasoning, if desired. Top with grated cheese and serve immediately.

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Another Fabulous Recipe

As mentioned earlier, I am now selling our mushrooms at the new Countryside Farmer's Market, just 5 minutes from our home (which is very convenient for me!). Besides the beautiful shiitake and blue oyster mushrooms I bring to sell, I am also offering our mushroom dip and my latest new recipe, Mushrooms and Ricotta in Puff Pastry. When I was baking some to take to market last week, I was inspired to take photos during the process and present them with the recipe here:

1/3 cup chives or garlic greens, chopped
1 small onion, diced

2 tbsp. olive or canola oil
1 1/2 lbs. mushrooms, chopped (I used a mix of shiitakes and blue oyster)
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 454 gm. package ricotta cheese

2 eggs
1 450 gm. package frozen butter puff pastry (2 sheets)

Saute the onions in the oil for 5 minutes, add mushrooms, salt and pepper and cook another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Mix together 1 egg and ricotta.

Fold in mushrooms and chives. Lay sheet of pastry out on a sheet of parchment and mark into thirds. Slit into 1 inch diagonal strips, cutting not quite to the centre section.

Place half of the filling in the centre
section. Brush outside thirds with beaten egg.

Fold over alternating sides and pinch together bottom and top.

Repeat with other sheet. Brush tops with remaining beaten egg.

Place on baking sheet and bake appr
oximately 45 minutes at 375 degrees, or until tops are golden brown.

This is fabulous sliced as an appetizer, (warm or cold) or as a meal with a nice salad and a cold beverage on those hot summer nights. You can even make it ahead and freeze, then bring it out when you have unexpected company, or don't want to heat up the kitchen by using your oven.

Let me know what you think of it when you make it yourself. If you'd rather have me make it for you, come see me at either the Inglewood Farmers' Market or the Countryside Farmers' Market some time this summer! I will be taking orders ahead of market days, so I can bring them freshly made for you to enjoy... Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Off to the Markets!

Well, as mentioned a post or two ago, spring means the start of farmers' markets across the land. After months of using up the preserves, frozen pies and garden treasures of last year, supplies are running low and it's time to stock up again.

Granted, pickings are a bit slim on fresh produce this early in the season, but there are many greenhouse growers who will have greens and young plants available very soon. Other growers, such as ourselves, are fortunate to grow year-round and can provide fresh food to our eager customers.

On Friday, I will be selling at the inaugural opening of the Countryside Farmers' Market. It was formerly known as Seven Oaks Garden Centre, and is located at the corners of Hwy.9 and Hwy.25 South (or Cty Rds.109 and 24, as they're known these days...) The owner, Darlene Daughen, has rounded up an interesting blend of vendors, including beef, honey, herbs, seasonal vegetables and baked goods, just to name a few. The market will open at 2:30 and run until 7:30 (approximately).

On Sunday, I will be at the Eat Local Caledon Spring Festival. It will be a preview for customers of the things to come this season at the Inglewood General Store (15596 McLaughlin Road, in downtown Inglewood), many of the "regular" vendors will be out, along with 2 local chefs. The chefs will be demonstrating how to make the most of using local produce (I have already been asked to supply some mushrooms for one of their dishes!)

The festival will be from 11 am to 2 pm, so drive out to the country and get a sampling of what it's like to eat local! Hope to see many of you there!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

After the Mushrooms: Compost

One of the wonderful things about growing mushrooms (aside from the mushrooms themselves) is the byproduct at the end of the cycle - the compost. Contrary to popular belief, blue oysters and shiitakes do not grow on manure, yet the growing medium is still a valuable source of nutrition. The base for the oyster mushrooms is pasteurized straw, to which other amendments are added, as well as the spawn (ie. seed).

Once the mushrooms have gone through 3 or 4 growing cycles, the mushrooms have completed their growing, yet the straw base still has lots of value for the soil. We store the spent medium in huge compost piles, which are turned occasionally to promote good composting. After several months, the end product is a beautifully rich, spreadable compost - ideal for garden topdressing.

There are high levels of microrhyza, for optimum root growth, for starters. The pH is 7.6, and it has a natural nemacidal effect on soil pests. When used as a top dressing, the earthworms love it! They come up to the soil surface and drag the compost down, effectively incorporating it into the soil structure. After even one season of topdressing, the improvement to the soil structure is highly visible. My vegetable and flower gardens have never grown so well, or been so healthy! And because of the composting process, and the fact that the straw was initially pasteurized before growing mushrooms, there are no weed seeds (something that cannot always be said from using animal manure, especially if it is not properly seasoned...)

Last weekend, spring took a holiday and it was a sleety, blustery day. Regardless, our son, Phillip, spread mushroom compost over one of our fields where we will be growing open-pollinated corn varieties this summer.

Here the compost is being loaded into the spreader...
(click on the picture to enlarge it)

...which will be used to broadcast it over the field

This is what it looks like up close:

We now have several repeat customers who come each spring to get their compost for their gardens. Some are neighbours who use it on their vegetable and flower gardens, others are professional gardeners who recognize the landscaping value of this product. I'm just happy that I have an endless supply of it...and the gardens are grateful, too!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Spring Means....Farmers' Markets!

Well, spring is officially here in Dufferin County - robins, killdeer, sparrows and grackles are very vocal around the farm. In the gardens, my fall-planted garlic is poking up, the fat drumstick primulas are blooming in my bog garden, and all the spring showgirls have arrived: tulips, chinodoxia, scillas, grape hyacinths and daffodils, to name a few. By the way, the good looking farmer at the left side is my husband, Ralph!

The warmer weather means it is easier to keep the mushroom barns at the right temperature, and somehow, even though they're kept inside, the mushrooms know it's spring, too. It's that wonderful time after heating season and before cooling season!

For the last two summers, I have been taking our mushrooms to a local farmer's market, in nearby Inglewood, Ontario. We had an advisory committee meeting this afternoon, so that we could discuss ideas for how to improve the market, and get more people to buy delicious locally produced food. Hopefully, within a few weeks, I will be able to provide a link for the market on this blog, so you can check it out for yourself.

In the meanwhile, I'm going to get on my soapbox and explain what I love about the Farmer's Market. First of all, from my point of view, it's an opportunity to show off our beautiful mushrooms. Many people have never seen mushrooms the same day they are picked - often they are several days (or up to a week) old when they are purchased in stores. Fresh mushrooms not only look better, their taste is amazing! And the aroma! Once I've "wowed" people with the mushrooms, I can answer questions about how we grow them, give them ideas for menus and recipes, and explain our farming lifestyle.

From a customer's perspective, in most cases, they are meeting the people who grew the food they are going to be taking home and eating. Putting a face to the person who took the time and expertise to grow your food somehow adds a truly personal touch to the meal you will be eating, a connection to the source of your nourishment. As I said earlier, any questions (and often misconceptions) can be dealt with directly with the people who will have the answers.

Buying local also means that your food will be fresher, often less expensive (because of lower transportation costs and overhead) and you will be able to learn everything about how it was raised or produced from the farmer. Obviously, eating locally helps support your local economy, but in my opinion, the best thing about it is the quality of the food you will find at the market. Food that has just been harvested or prepared will never taste any better.

Of course, you will also learn that in a cool, wet spring, it will be hard to find sweet strawberries....and that a hailstorm can turn bushels of Grade A apples into marked "seconds" (which will still be great for applesauce and pies). You will develop an appreciation of the trials and tribulations of the farmers you are supporting.

So the next time you see a sign or ad for a farmer's market, by all means go and buy some of the finest produce and farm products you will ever see, but also take the time to talk to the people on the other side of the never know what you'll learn! As we said in our own local Community Harvest here in Grand Valley, don't forget to "Shake the Hand That Feeds You!"

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spring is in the Air

I saw three robins today, and the air is starting to smell like spring, which happens to be a great time of the year for growing mushrooms.

Ralph's sister is recovering very well from her accident, so I should have time to start posting here again. In the meanwhile, enjoy this quick but tasty mushroom idea: The next time you are cooking rice, saute half a sweet onion, some garlic (optional) and a few handfuls of sliced mushrooms (I like to mix shiitakes and blue oysters for this) in a tablespoon or two of canola or olive oil. When the rice is cooked, stir in the cooked mushroom mix and enjoy! It's one of Ralph's many favourite ways to have mushrooms.

More to come soon...

Sunday, January 31, 2010

On Hiatus

Last Wednesday, Ralph's sister and niece were involved in a very serious car accident under wintry road conditions. Our niece was released from hospital, but Yvonne is now in a coma at St.Mike's Hospital in Toronto. The trauma team there is incredible, and the support we have been receiving from other family members, friends and neighbours has been heartlifting. As the medical team tries to help her regain consciousness, and the surgeons continue to repair her battered body, we welcome your thoughts and prayers.

Anyone wishing to track Yvonne's progress can do so at "Yvonne's Journey" -

Thanks, Julie and Ralph

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Story of Ralph and Julie...In the Beginning

After all these posts, many of you are probably curious about how we got started in the mushroom business. For over 30 years, there was an egg-laying operation at the farm, started by the two senior Baumlisbergers, Eugene and Irma. When they sold their quota, the two barns were empty and waiting for the next venture, to be spearheaded by Ralph. A friend of a friend was interested in using the buildings for growing mushrooms, so we looked into it and realized that it was actually a perfect fit for our existing infrastructure (storage space, coolers, trucks, packing area, and of course, the two barns) In the end, we decided to do it ourselves, and the rest, as they say, is history.

We were fortunate to make a connection with a wonderful mushroom grower and wholesaler within an hour's drive of our farm, who patiently helped us get started. We purchased 30 large blue oyster mushroom blocks from him and harvested our very first crop within a short time. Exciting days, indeed! So different from the hens! Alot quieter, but still needing attention every day.

More to come in the days ahead...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

They come in all shapes and sizes..apparently!

Here is an extremely unsually shaped shiitake mushroom I picked today. The consensus at the farm was that it is a kneeling figure...what do you think? (Absolutely nothing was picked off or added, this is how it was picked . There is even brown sawdust at the back of it that I didn't trim off.)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Recipe: Shiitake and Leek Penne

These are the first flush of a new shiitake crop. We grow on enriched hardwood sawdust blocks, with our first pick coming approximately 5 months after innoculation. The blocks will fruit for 1 1/2 to 2 months, with cleaning and soaking in between flushes.

The following recipe is from a new recipe book I got from my children for Christmas, Mollie Katzen's "Vegetable Heaven", with a few changes...

3 large cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 cups cleaned, minced leeks (about 2 large leeks)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and chopped
2 large handfuls fresh spinach
5-10 large raw shrimp, rinsed and shelled (optional)
3/4 to 1 pound penne
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Saute the leeks for about 5 minutes in the olive oil, stir in mushrooms and salt, and cook for about 10 more minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add shrimp, and cook til just done, then add spinach leaves and cook until wilted, stirring every few minutes. Meanwhile, bring a large potful of water to boil, and cook pasta until just tender. Drain, transfer to serving bowl and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Immediately sprinkle with cheese and stir well. Pour sauce over pasta, mix well from the bottom. Top with fresh ground black pepper and enjoy!