— Connie Carlson, Executive Director, Crow River Food Council

The COVID-19 epidemic is rapidly impacting all of us in ways that many of us probably didn’t expect. From toilet paper shortages to learning how to make a Zoom call, these times are requiring us to be flexible, resilient, inventive and patient. On behalf of the Crow River Food Council, we hope you are finding ways to take care of yourself and others that maintains both your physical and mental health.

One way that I’m caring for myself is planning out my 2020 garden. This is something I enjoy and look forward to doing every year. I ordered my seeds from my favorite companies, have drawn out my diagrams and planned where I’m going to put my plants. Perhaps in a fit of extreme optimism, I put in a row of carrots and peas with my quarantined teenager this week, just before it snowed.

CRFC_seedsI thought one way I could be of service to my community during this disruptive time is provide new gardeners with some ideas for how they can start their own garden this year. I’ve been hearing through the circles that there has been high demand for seeds and that Victory Gardens might be making a return. (If you don’t know about Victory Gardens, I encourage you to read about them here.)

So, I’ve made a short list of suggestions to think through if you are considering planting a garden this year. I encourage you to post questions, comments or suggestions and keep the conversation flowing!

  1. Keep It Simple: if this is your first year or first time growing something, keep it simple. Gardens do require regular weeding, watering, pest management and harvesting and if you haven’t managed one before, it’s easy for them to get away from you. Simple is wonderful.
  2. Do Some Homework: there are a few things to know about gardening that will help start you out on the right foot and the University of Minnesota Extension website is great place to get good information. These are the very first things you should know:
    1. Our Growing Zone: Wright County is in Zone 4. When you pick seeds or plants, be sure to select ones that are within our growing zone.
    2. DSC_0062Cool season vs. warm season: Some plants grow better when the soil is cool. These include peas, salad greens, carrots and beets. This list of plants can be sown directly from seed and are even frost tolerant. Some plants need the soil to be warmer, like cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and squash. Some of these plants can be started from seed in your garden (cucumbers and squash) and others will need to be started indoors or purchased as seedlings (tomatoes and peppers). Seed packets and labels have this information printed on them.
    3. Soil Nutrients: it’s always smart to test your soil before you plant your garden. Doing this will tell you if you need to amend your soil with additional nutrients such as nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) or potassium (K). You can learn about how to do a soil test here. Don’t worry about the soil test if you are going to grow in pots this year and will be using purchased potting soil.
  3. Make a plan: Some people start with pots or dig up a small patch of their lawn in a sunny spot.
    1. Sun: Vegetables need at least eight hours of sunlight, so before you dig up your lawn, watch the area to see what type of sunlight it gets.
    2. Water: Also, be sure to consider your water source and have a plan for how you are going to keep your garden adequately watered.
    3. Weeds: One of the best ways to keep down weed pressure is to mulch around your rows. I use grass clippings (I don’t spray my yard), but wood chips, newspaper, cardboard or straw works too.
  4. Expect to Make Some Mistakes: I grew up on a farm with a family garden and have had a garden every year for over 20 years but every year brings something new. Some years, my tomatoes are the pride of the neighborhood and other years I’m begging friends to share their extras. Sometimes my mistakes are carelessness, but most of the time when things don’t go right, weather or pests are to blame. That’s just the way it is with gardening. Be kind to yourself and keep your expectations realistic.
  5. Prepare to be Surprised: I enjoy working in the soil, watching for signs of life and listening to birds and wildlife as I garden. Every year I learn something new when I garden and every year my garden surprises me. I love using fresh herbs in my meals and watching my kids forage for a snack amongst the snap peas. Even after all this time, I’m still surprised and delighted by my garden. Good luck with your garden and enjoy the gifts it brings you every day.

Gardening from the Ground Up; a Webinar Series

A group of local Extension Educators has come together to bring you Gardening from the Ground Up; a Webinar Series. This series will take place May 12-15, 2020. Each session will be from 1:00-2:30 pm. Register at z.umn.edu/GardenUp.
Topics
●  Tuesday: Soil and Soil Testing
●  Wednesday: Fertilizer & Nutrient Deficiencies
●  Thursday: Cover Crops
●  Friday: Beneficial Insects
To receive the links to the live workshop you must register by May 11, 2020 at 12:00 noon (z.umn.edu/GardenUp). If you register after that you will receive the recorded links only. You only need to register once to gain access to all workshops. If you cannot attend all of the sessions in the series that is alright.

Seed Starting

— Jamie Stang, Wright County Master Gardener and Master Food Preservation Specialist, Crow River Food Council Member

Starting seeds indoors can be a great “pick me up” during the short, cold days of February and March. Growing your own seedlings is a great way to try out new or unusual varieties of vegetables that you may see in seed catalogs but are not available at your local nursery. It can be more economical than purchasing seedlings, especially if you have a large garden or if you share seedlings with family and friends.

plants-macro-growth-soil-113335Growing plants from seeds is easier than most people think. The trick to successful seed starting is planning ahead so that your seeds have adequate time and optimal conditions for growth. Most seeds need 4-8 weeks of indoor growing time before they are ready to plant out, so March is the ideal seed starting time for Minnesota gardeners.

Seeds should be starting in a space that has good air circulation but doesn’t have large temperature fluctuations or cold drafts. While many people are tempted to start plants on a sunny windowsill, the radiant cold and heat fluctuations are not good conditions for seedling growth, and many windows provide inadequate light. A basement or interior corner of the house that is lit with artificial lights can be an ideal location for seed starting.

Both florescent and LED bulbs can be used in place of commercial “grow lights”, which tend to be more expensive. The use of either two “cool” spectrum or a “cool and natural” spectrum combination of lights will provide adequate light for seedlings. Plants that emerge should be 2-4 inches from the light, so it’s important that either the lights can be raised and lowered by hanging them from adjustable chains, or that shelves can be adjusted as plants grow taller. Seedlings need at least 8 – 12 hours of darkness each day to mimic outdoor conditions. An automatic timer can be useful in assuring adequate but not too much light exposure.

tomato-lot-1327838The use of heat mats is beneficial for starting seeds, especially for seeds such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil and other plants that prefer warm soil conditions. Electric heat mats are available online and where seed starting supplies are sold. Heating pads sold for human use are not safe around moisture and do not provide the same level of temperature control, so they should not be used.

The best soil to use is a seed starting mixture, which is lighter than typical potting soil and is easier for tiny roots to establish themselves in. A mixture of seeding start mixture and a light texture potting soil can also be used. Because these mixes are light, they dry out quickly. But it’s also important not to overwater, as tiny roots will decay quickly in wet soil. Water lightly every day or two and check the soil about ½ inch below the top to see if moisture is needed. Spraying the seedlings with a misting bottle can be helpful in dry, indoor conditions.

Seeds should be started in small individual containers. Several seeds can be planted in each space, then thinned out as needed. Domed covers that have openings to allow for air circulation can be very useful as they help keep moisture from escaping while also allowing light in. They also help to retain heat. If used, you will want to check to make sure that excessive moisture doesn’t build up and harm seedlings.

Seedlings should be hardened off about 2 weeks before you plan to plant them into your garden beds. Start by putting them outside in a sheltered location for a few hours, then bringing them in overnight. Gradually increase the exposure to direct sun and the time outside until the temperatures are right for planting.

You can find more information and resources for starting seeds at home at the University of Minnesota extension website.

Never eat this food again!

— Katie Henson, RDN, Crow River Food Council Member

Image 2I have to admit, “Never eat this food again!” might be my most disliked click-bait of all time. Between fear mongering blog posts, ads, and the never-ending quest to find the magic bullet for weight loss, I fear that we are losing the joy in eating. The truth is, unless you have an underlying health issue, allergy, etc. there is no food you should never eat again. As a Registered Dietitian, the old tried and true (but not catchy or sexy) saying is “variety and moderation.” Any one food can be bad for you if you overdo it – even water is toxic if you drink too much! So the key is to enjoy all of your foods and focus on filling up on the good stuff. We all know what we are supposed to be eating – more vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins, but I hope we can somehow find our way back to eating the occasional piece of dessert without shame and guilt. Because if you feel bad eating food that you like… what’s the point? Food tastes good and it should truly be enjoyed. And just maybe, if we truly savor our indulgent foods, we can feel happy and content with having it only occasionally. There is a quote from a Registered Dietitian that I just love,

“The answer to food guilt isn’t more self-control, willpower or discipline. It’s PERMISSION.”
–Emily Fonnesbeck

I leave you with a challenge – instead of challenging yourself with healthy eating, avoiding certain foods or eating less… I challenge you to do one of the following:

  • Find one new healthy food that you enjoy OR
  • Take a favorite recipe and add in some more healthy goodness. My favorite ways to do this:
    • You can swap out half of your flour in a recipe for whole grain flour without impacting the amount of baking soda or baking powder (in my experience it also doesn’t impact the taste much!)
    • Swap out applesauce for the oil

I would LOVE to hear from you if you have any success – let me know if you found a new recipe you love! Email us crowriverfoodcouncil@gmail.com.

— Cody Hanson, Crow River Food Council Member

Minnesota deer hunters have the opportunity to donate their harvest to families in need in our communities. The following is information regarding the wonderful and unique partnership between the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture that allows for venison donations.

The main page is here: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/deer/donation/index.html, which lays out the program, how hunters can participate, and where funding for the program is allocated from. It is important to note that deer must be donated whole, after field-dressing; individual cuts of meat cannot be accepted for donation.

The Department of Agriculture page here: https://www.mda.state.mn.us/food-feed/hunter-harvested-venison-donation-minnesota also lays out the process, provides information for interested charities who want to register, and offers cooking instructions for venison.

Second to last, this page: https://www.mda.state.mn.us/food-feed/reg-venison-processors contains a list of registered vendors for the year 2019. Each processing site must adhere to special processing for deer harvested by firearm, to include x-rays for lead fragments.

13984332612627After the deer have been inspected and passed, they are processed into cuts. An average-sized Whitetail Deer will provide 140 meals to needy families (per the University of Mississippi Deer Lab). The cuts are collected by Second Harvest from these vendors and then distributed throughout the state to registered food shelves, usually in the early spring. One interesting note about the program is that the registered processors and food shelves are required by Minnesota Statutes to provide a disclaimer that lead exposure may occur while ingesting the venison.

The venison donated during this time is important not just as another way for low-income families to access protein, but as a way to share in the celebration of our outdoor and self-sustaining culture that we cherish in Minnesota.

— Jamie Stang, Wright County Master Gardener and Master Food Preservation Specialist, Crow River Food Council Member

Now that fall is officially here, the first frost of the season isn’t far behind. It’s time to turn our attention to harvesting and storing produce such as pumpkins and winter squash. Here are a few best practices for making the most of your fall produce, according to the University of Minnesota extension program.

food-pasture-pumpkin-209515Harvest your squash and pumpkins before a hard freeze. It’s OK to leave them out during light frosts, which are often designated by nights at 29 degrees or above. Don’t worry if the vines turn brown or die back from the frost, as they are less cold tolerant than the fruit. When cutting the fruit from the vine, leave a few inches of stem attached.

The best way to cure your squash is to leave it in the garden for a week or two during dry sunny weather. This helps the skin toughen and lengthens the time it will store. If the weather is damp or rainy (as our year has been) you can take the fruit indoors and store it in a room that is around 80 degrees. Make sure you don’t crowd the fruit, as ventilation is important to allow the skin to toughen and to prevent molding. Handle the fruit with care to avoid bruising, which can speed up the process of rotting. If the fruit starts to rot, toss it in the trash quickly as squash and pumpkins can go from hard gourds to “soup” in just a few days.

butternut-squash-food-fresh-53458If you don’t have space to store whole fruit, you can preserve pumpkin and squash by roasting or boiling them, then freezing the mashed cooked fruit. Slides of squash can also be dehydrated. Canning cubed pumpkin and winter squash is fine if done in a pressure canner, but cooked pumpkin or pumpkin butter should not be canned due to the high pH and thickness of the product.

More information about preserving your squash and pumpkin can be found at the UMN Extension website: https://extension.umn.edu/preserving-and-preparing/preserving-winter-squash-and-pumpkins.

— Colleen Wolbeck, Crow River Food Council Member

The Crow River Food Council is driven to make food grown by local producers readily available to the consumers in our area. This year we have a committee who spearheaded a cooking demo program at local Farmers Markets. This idea originated from Rockford Farmers Market Manager Colleen Wolbeck who is on the Council. After a few planning meetings this idea came to life on August 9th at the Rockford Farmers Market. The second cooking demo was at the Howard Lake Farmers Market on August 29th. The chef for the demos were Jamie Stang (Rockford, pictured below at right) and Kristi Varner and Donna Gjesvold (Howard Lake).

Aviary Photo_132098762695621743The original recipe used this season is a Zoodle (Zucchini Noodle) Recipe where you spiralize zucchini into noodles. This recipe is vegan, healthy and can be lactose free if you omit the parmesan cheese. For those who don’t have a spiralizer, you can shred, use a peeler, or cut your zucchini to pasta size. Recipes will be catered to what is available at the market on the day of the demo. You can find the recipe at the bottom on the page.

All of the produce can be found at your local Farmers Market. We were lucky to have had generous produce donations by vendors and chefs. The chefs have been fellow Crow River Food Council members and a chef from Main Street Farmer in Saint Michael, but in the future we are planning to bring in more local chefs to inspire us. These cooking demos are a tool to help customers get new ideas for using the produce they buy at the market. The calendar for the rest of the season is as follows:

Monticello Farmers MarketThe market operates Thursdays, 3:30-7:00PM in the Monticello Library Parking Lot at 200 West 6th St. in Monticello. The cooking demo will be from 5-6PM on September 12th. The recipe will be the Zoodle Recipe below. The chef will be Colleen Wolbeck, a member of the Crow River Food Council and home chef.

Rockford Farmers Market – The market is open Fridays, 3:00-6:30PM at 6121 Main Streeet in Rockford. The cooking demo will be from 4-5PM on September 13th. This will be a new recipe called Summer Vegetable Quesadilla. The chef will be Stacy Besonen who is a Crow River Food Council member and Wellness Coach.

Albertville Farmers Market – The market is open Thursdays, 3:00-7:00PM located just off Main Ave in Central Park. The cooking demo will be from 5-6PM on September 26th. The recipe will be determined by what is available at the market at that time. The chef will be Colleen Wolbeck who is a member of the Crow River Food Council and home chef.

Buffalo Farmers Market – The market is open Saturday mornings from 8:00AM-12:00PM located at 100 1st Ave NE in Buffalo. The cooking demo will be from 10:30-11:30 AM.  The recipe will be determined by what is available at the market at that time. The chef will be Stacy Besonen who is a Crow River Food Council member and Wellness Coach.

We are very excited to be able to introduce this important program to help the community eat local and healthy. We plan to expand the program next year to more markets in the area. So be sure to check out one of the demos that is in your area.


Here is the recipe we have used so far (courtesy of Inspired Taste Garlic Parmesan Zoodle Recipe):

Guilt-Free Garlic Parmesan Zucchini Noodles Pasta Recipe

PREP 8mins
COOK 12mins
TOTAL 20mins

We’re in love with this easy zucchini pasta recipe. There’s fresh zucchini, tomatoes, basil, parmesan, and lots of garlic. Plus, it only takes 20 minutes to make. Make this with 100% zucchini noodles or swap half of the zucchini for regular spaghetti for a heartier meal.

Makes 4 Servings

YOU WILL NEED
4 medium zucchini (about 2 pounds)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 to 4 cloves)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, depending on how spicy you like the pasta
2 medium tomatoes, chopped, see note (about 12 ounces)
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1 cup basil leaves, torn into pieces
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons cold water
Salt, to taste

DIRECTIONS

  • PREPARE NOODLES
    Trim and spiralize the zucchini. Cut extra long noodles so that they are about the length of spaghetti.
    Add olive oil, garlic, and the red pepper flakes to a large, deep skillet. Turn to medium heat. When the oil begins to bubble around the garlic, add the zucchini noodles. Toss the noodles with pasta tongs and cook until al dente — they should be wilted, but still have a crunch; 5 to 7 minutes. Do not let the noodles cook any longer or else they will become mushy. As they cook, keep tossing so that all the zucchini noodles have a chance to hit the bottom of the skillet.
    Stir in the tomatoes, basil, and parmesan cheese. Cook for one minute. Use pasta tongs to transfer the noodles, tomatoes, and basil to a serving dish. Leave the liquid in the skillet.
  • TO FINISH
    Bring the liquid left in the skillet to a simmer.
    Combine cornstarch and cold water in a small bowl then whisk into the simmering liquid. Cook, while whisking until the liquid thickens to a sauce; about 1 minute.
    Taste the sauce and season with salt. Pour the sauce over the zucchini, tomatoes, and basil. Finish with more parmesan cheese on top and serve immediately.

— Stacy Besonen, Crow River Food Council Member

Our group of dedicated community volunteers are working hard to connect our community to local grown food. Research shows that if we eat local, we are healthier and our community thrives. This summer, we have several programs in the works. Here’s a little summary of a few of them:

  1. PoP program: Each week, kids* receive a free $2 token to spend on produce at the farmers market! Registration required, no income restrictions. Participating farmers markets: Albertville, Annandale, Buffalo, Delano, Howard Lake, Monticello, Otsego and Rockford. Partnering with the PoP program helps the program thrive, if the program thrives then local kids thrive with increased consumption of local fruits, veggies, and berries! See graphic below for dates and times. (*age eligibility depends on market)
  2. Senior CSA: A program we are hoping to develop and test this summer in which 20 area seniors will be gifted a CSA share. This is a small box of locally grown produce. Boxes will be delivered directly to the home for six weeks during peak harvest. Breaking down barriers for these seniors to have access to local produce will improve his or her wellness.
  3. Little Boon FarmMonthly meetings will be held at different locations throughout the summer. We visit local farms, restaurants that source local foods, farmers markets, food hubs and food festivals. Visiting local sites helps the council get a pulse on what is happening and what projects we need to focus on in the future.
  4. Planning and coordinating a Cooking Competition, using locally growing produce, with area high school students. We are mentoring and inspiring future chef’s and food service entrepreneurs. These students will also involve area middle and elementary school students in to the cooking competition process.
  5. Group1Farmers Market Coalition Manager: continuous communication with our area farmers markets helps everyone understand the need for locally grown produce, not only for our communities, but for our farmers, too! Read about our latest Farmers Market Manager meeting here.
  6. Saving food from being wasted! Working with our farmers to save the ugly produce, extra produce before it spoils, and those who could benefit and consume this produce. To see a list of what other states are doing with gleaning, click here: https://foodtank.com/news/2017/11/gleaning-fighting-food-waste/

If you are interested in becoming involved in any of these projects or have ideas for us, please feel free to connect.


 

WC PoP 2019

 

Feature image is a stock photo.

— Katie Henson, Crow River Food Council Farmers Market Coalition Manager

ProduceTree‘Tis the Season! Yes, I know (and am thankful) that it is not December – but I am positively joyful about fresh, great-tasting, affordable AND locally grown produce! The raspberries, the asparagus, the tomatoes…my mouth is watering already. I absolutely love going to my farmers market. It gives me a sense of community to connect with the person growing my food and it brings together the neighborhood. Now that I have children, I enjoy the fact that they are aware of where their food comes from and get excited to pick out our produce for the week.

To get ready for the 2019 farmers markets, we had an extra meeting this year for our managers. We get together every spring to talk about our upcoming markets, what the plans are and share information. But this year, we also had some exciting guests come from the University of Minnesota Extension Program come and teach us how to get the most out of our social media pages. Here are two not-so-fun facts:

  • Unless you are strategic about your social media posts, there is only a 6% chance that someone will see what you posted.
  • Out of those who do not attend farmers markets, many do so only because they do not know when and where their market is.

Group2We clearly have our work cut out for us. Thankfully, we learned how to increase the number of followers by proactively engaging with the community more. We also learned how to increase the chances that people will see your post using analytics and scheduling posts. Last, but certainly not least, we also received some tips and tricks to beautify pictures and posts to make them more ‘clickable’ or ‘shareable’. While we focused on Facebook, we also touched briefly on Instagram – mainly how to use hashtags to your advantage (and thankfully for me, we learned exactly what a hashtag is).

producePlease be prepared for a social media frenzy about your local markets! If you are not following them already, please do (see links below). They have some exciting plans this year – from local music to kid’s activities and many markets will be participating again in the Power of Produce Club. This program provides $2 tokens to children to go shopping at the market and is loved by many, I am so happy to see this program continue! The Rockford Market will also begin partnering with Second Harvest Heartland and their local food shelf to start a food donation program with leftover produce at the end of the market each week. I hope to see you all at the markets soon!

Happy Farmers Market Season!

#IstilldontknowwhatImdoing #mngrown #wrightcofarmersmarket #farmersmarkets #lovemymarket


Follow our local Farmers Markets using the links below:

— Ellie Vanasse, Crow River Food Council Member

Just south of the small town of Howard Lake lies the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School, a school of about 330 students with a robust Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter. One of FFA’s most successful recent ventures is their garden. Located on about an acre and a half of school property, this garden successfully supports a 37-customer Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, provides produce to sell at the Howard Lake Farmer’s Market, and teaches students both farming and business practices.

“The CSA is run mostly by a student manager,” says James Weninger, an FFA advisor. “This student learns how to run an agricultural business, including overseeing student workers and communicating with customers.

hlww_ffaIn the early days, the garden needed additional support and found it in the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP), a statewide partnership that supports healthy eating, active living, and tobacco cessation efforts. FFA applied for and received a mini-grant from SHIP that was used to repurpose a walk-in freezer, which is now a cooler to store fresh produce. This cooler is used by the agricultural department to support their FFA chapter. By peak season, the cooler is filled with every type of produce waiting to go to CSA customers or the farmers market. “Without the cooler, we wouldn’t be able to harvest our produce in a timely manner,” said Seena Glessing, FFA advisor, who pointed out a crop of radishes that needed to be harvested the week before. They would otherwise be too large to go out in the next CSA boxes and would have been wasted.

The garden is within sight of the high school; one green house and two high tunnels add additional growing space. Also included is an on-site chicken coop. CSA members can receive eggs with their share, as well as extra treats such as honey from a local vendor.

Learn more about HL-W-W’s FFA chapter and their CSA program by visiting their Facebook page.

— Text and photos by BHM Food Service Department

The Buffalo Community Middle School Kitchen is all about providing a healthy variety of lunch options for students. Recent changes to our Grab and Go Lunch line were inspired by the current trend to offer a variety of quick choices with an effort to meet the increasing demand for gluten free diet needs.

DSC_0005Daily meal choices include our signature Fruit Smoothie/Homemade Muffin Bison Cup, which is where we offer a homemade gluten free muffin. Also available on this line is an Uncrustable Bison Box and a Nacho Cheese Bison Box. Our Bison Cups and Bison Boxes are complete meals and students can also help themselves to any of the fruits and vegetables offered. In addition, we also offer a wrapped sandwich served hot every day on the Grab and Go line. The sandwich rotation includes Chicken Patty, BBQ Pulled Pork, Ham & Cheese Croissant, Burgers, and Hot Dog on a Bun. We are excited to be adding a homemade Black Bean Vegetarian Burger on burger day soon!

Image-17Knowing that students can be particular about which fruits and vegetables they prefer, we offer a wide variety of choices including romaine, spinach, tomatoes, peppers, celery, mushrooms, radishes, onions, carrots, apples, bananas, oranges, grapes, kiwi, pears and strawberries. In order to meet the USDA’s legume requirement, we roast garbanzo beans and season them in a variety of flavors then serve them on the Grab and Go lunch line as a crunchy side snack or salad topping.

We will continue to use our expertise and creativity to meet the students’ nutritional needs while keeping food choices fun and inspiring.