(412) 979-2230

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The horses at Blue Star Equiculture are striking individuals.  Sonny is a rambunctious toddler, climbing the manure pile, chasing and running from his elders at top speed. Tex is stoic and silent, ears perked to every new voice, always guarding his herd. Jasper is the quintessential old man, cranky if you’re a minute late with dinner, spending all day with his friends along the fence, watching the world pass by.

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Beyond their personalities these horses are representatives of Millenia of cultural input, training, breeding and partnership with humans. I was immediately drawn to the Shires when I arrived, and they all welcomed my company. I imagine their ancestors, and mine, working in the fields of Ireland, growing grains, potatoes, cabbage and all sorts of food. I imagine them pulling stones up the hills to build all of the castles and manors, walls and houses. I imagine them pulling wagons and carriages from one end of the island to the other.

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Like the seeds I grow in my garden these horses are irreplaceable. There are no others like them, they cannot be taken for granted, and they cannot be recreated.  Just 100 years ago horses were so common that no one would find it out of place to pass several on the street. Now we see horses so rarely that we consider them “luxury items” or disposable leftovers of a bygone era.

But we built these animals to be what they are today, and they shaped our history just as much as we shaped theirs. We owe their descendants a way forward.

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Blue Star Equiculture does more than just provide a peaceful retirement for 30+ horses, we preserve their legacies. As people come to the farm they start to connect with this lost culture. I connect through my garden, by growing with many of the techniques that were contemporary to the horses here, and by preserving the legacy of our agricultural past I can better understand the horse’s place in it. Others connect through husbandry, simple and everyday tasks like mucking stalls, grooming and feeding become therapeutic sources of connection for so many of our visitors including veterans, disabled adults and foster children.

Blue Star Equiculture provides a place where young people can learn how to drive, farm, run a business, and so much more.

Without your support this work cannot continue. We are raising money to ensure that the horses and humans that rely on Blue Star have a stable base of funding for the near and far future. Please help us in this mission by 423-367-1647 with monthly donations of your choosing, or by giving a one time donation.

Thank you.

Crop of the week: Turnips, brassica rapa

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The turnips had a rocky start.  They had poor germination rates, and got very weedy very fast. Early on I even considered pulling them out and planting something else instead, I’m so glad I didn’t.  When they finally got going they performed excellently, with a beautiful flavor and great greens.

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Turnips are part of the cabbage, or Brassicacea, family. The plant may trace its roots back to India more than 3000 years ago, where it was used as an oil producing plant. Today turnips are common foods throughout Asia, Europe and parts of Africa.

The turnips planted at Blue Star Equiculture are Golden Globe turnips from Hudson Valley Seed Library.  They are excellent spring and fall crops, and ours are lasting into summer months as well. The smaller turnips are sweet and tender, whereas larger ones develop the strong flavor generally associated with the purple turnips sold in the USA.

I love turnips. I eat them roasted, mashed like potatoes and in casseroles, but my all time favorite recipe is Stewed Turnips with Greens

 

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There’s nothing more satisfying than eating an entire plant, especially when the different parts complement each other as well as turnips and their greens do.

My aunt and uncle taught me to make this dish, they use a ham hock or turkey neck, but I tend to convert everything to vegetarian. The most important part of the recipe is to get something flavorful into the broth and then let it stew for a long time.

Ingredients:
6-8 medium sized (4 inch diameter) turnips with their greens still attached
3 cloves garlic
1 medium sized onion
1 vegetable boullion (or whatever flavor you prefer, I like “Not Beef Boullion”)
1 tsp Braggs Liquid Aminos
2 cups water
1 tbsp olive oil (or whatever cooking oil you prefer)

Trim the roots and stems from the turnip bulbs. Using a pairing knife or vegetable peeler remove the outer, tough skin, then cut into 2 inch pieces. Wash the turnip leaves and trim off the stems so that only the broad sections of the leaves remain, then slice the leaves into 1 inch strips.

Dice the onion and sautee in the oil for 5 minutes. Mince the garlic, and then add to onions, sautee for 1 minute. Add turnips and sautee for another 5 minutes. Add turnip greens, sautee for 3 minutes, or however long it takes to be able to add all of the greens to the pot. Add water, Aminos and boullion, stir to combine and dissolve boullion.  Bring to a simmer and then stew on a low heat for at least 1 hour.

(360) 230-5020

Dino Kale
Dino Kale

This is my first year farming and I’m learning a lot. Some of those lessons come in the form of crops not doing as well as I would have liked, or coming too early or too late.

If a single crop is pulling its weight though, it’s the Kale.

Kale is a hearty cooking green, in the same family as cabbage, and it is in fact the same exact species as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and more. This group of plants has deep roots in European cooking, with documentation as far back as Ancient Greece. More recently Kale and its siblings have been major staples in European cooking, including that of both my Irish and Eastern European ancestors.

We have 2 types of Kale planted, Vates Blue Curly Kale and Dino Kale (AKA Tuscan or Lacinato)

The Curly is both the most productive and the biggest.

Vates Blue Curly Kale
Vates Blue Curly Kale

Kale can be sauteed, stewed or steamed. It can even be eaten raw if massaged with vinegar first. Finding myself with a great abundance of kale I made two of my favorite recipes:

Kale Chips

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Pickled Kale Stems

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In Farm School NYC we took an advanced class in food preservation, taught by Michaela Hayes, the fermentation genius behind Crock & Jar. One of my classmates, Katherine, was doing an apprenticeship at Sisters Hill Farm and found herself in my current predicament: TOO MUCH KALE.

Not wanting anything to go to waste, Katherine turned her newfound fermenting skills on the leftover stems, inspiring the following recipe, with a few tweaks.

Ingredients:
1 lb Kale stems
4 cloves garlic
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tsp whole peppercorns
2 tbsp Kosher salt
1 qt distilled or rested water
1 qt mason jar
Optional: 1 hot pepper

Wash the jar and lid very thoroughly with hot soapy water, and rinse very well.

Trim the kale stems so that only the parts that are thinner than 1/2 inch remain. Wash stems very thoroughly.

Crush the garlic cloves and place in the bottom of the jar along with peppercorns and herbs.

Place as many stems as you can fit into the jar, stack in 2 levels if needed, the final stems should be very difficult to get into the jar, but do not allow any stems to reach above 1 inch from the top of the jar.

Dissolve the salt in the water. It is essential to use Kosher salt, or another salt with no additives of any kind. It is also essential to use water that is either distilled or has rested for a few hours to allow the chlorine to evaporate.

Once the salt is completely dissolved in the water, pour the brine solution into the jar so that it fills it except for 1/2 inch at the top.

Tighten the jar lid and place the jar on a plate (to catch any accidental overflow) out of direct sun. Allow to ferment for 5-7 days, preferably between 60-80ºF.  Occasionally check the lid, if you can’t press down on it very quickly release some air from the lid of the jar, and then tighten it again.

When the kale stems turn a unified olive green place the jar in the fridge for a day, then try the stems.  If they are still tough or don’t seem finished you can continue fermentation by leaving the jar out of the fridge. In the fridge the pickled stems will last for up to a year as long as they stay in their brine.

Kale Chips

Tex and Tex
Tex and Tex

A few years ago in Brooklyn my roommate Tex got really into Kale Chips. He tried a few different brands but none of them were exactly what he was looking for. He went to the market and came home with 2 or 3 bunches of kale and experimented with the best way to make them exactly how he wanted.

You can top these with any powdered seasoning you like, but my favorite is curry powder with a little salt.  Store in a closed, but breathable container and they’ll last a few days without getting stale or soggy.

You can make as much or as little of this as you like, but when I make a recipe that involves a lot of waiting around and that lasts a while I like to make a lot.

Ingredients:

2 lbs of fresh kale
1 tbsp olive oil, or other oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp curry powder
or other seasoning to taste

Strip the stems from the kale and tear the leaves into 2-3 inch pieces. Wash the pieces very well, then lay them out in a single layer on a dry dishcloth. Roll up the dishcloth with the kale inside to dry them off, then lay them out again on a clean baking sheet to dry for 1-2 hours, up to overnight. This drying process is very important, but can be sped up by using a fan to blow across the baking sheets, just make sure there’s no dirt stuck in the fan slats.

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Once the leaves are dry toss them with the oil, very lightly, it should just be a slight coating on the leaves, no drips or excess oil at all.

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Place the baking trays in the oven at 200°F for 2 hours, be sure to check on them 2-3 times throughout the baking process and use a spatula to flip and stir the leaves as they dehydrate.

Once the leaves are crisp remove them from the oven an let cool for 5-10 minutes before seasoning.

Enjoy!

Two Points Farm

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The sun is shining. The sky is blue with fluffy white clouds. The snap peas are chest high, covered in flowers and our first crop of peas. The kale is so full and big they look lik
e prehistoric plants. When I first came to Blue Star Equiculture in January I don’t think I could have imagined how beautiful it would be sitting in my field in June. It’s just as hard to imagine now how different Summer will be from Spring and then Fall. After three months of hard work the season is only just now really kicking off.

Blue Star has already taught me a lot about myself. That I’m up to this challenge, that it’s just as important to slow down and not panic as it is to work fast and hard. I’m learning about all of the many differences between urban and rural agriculture, and the many intersections, and where they can inform each other.

 

Naptime

I’m learning about the not-so-secret lives of horses. I see them communicating so clearly with their horse and human friends. I learned first that I was afraid of them and then I learned not to be afraid of them. I’m only just starting to learn all of the lessons they have to teach me.

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I’m learning so much about these plants, ancient partners of our societies, from ever continent. As each one grows its journey amazes me. I think about the millennia-long journey that turned grass into corn, as I weed one and donte on the other. Or how many varieties of tomato are planted here, from all over the world, a common ancestor molded and shaped into exactly what their culture desired. I think about the resilience of lettuce as it battles weeds and sun and then somehow looks perfect and beautiful days after I was certain it was dead. I think of all the different hands that tended the ancestors of the plants I am tending here, the languages they spoke, the songs they sang, the lives they lived.

River
I decided to come to Blue Star for a lot of reasons but one feature in particular enchanted me. Even on that miserable, cold day in January the place where the Swift River and the Ware River meet was pulsing with energy. Sitting there last weekend with my friends we talked about how unbelievably old rivers are, and yet they’re constantly changing, remaking themselves. Sitting by the river I am reminded that nature is vast and powerful, and we are part of it.

Two Points Farm is the name we chose for the farm garden at Blue Star this year. It comes from this place where two things merge into one, and for all of the dichotomies in our lives, the balancing acts and opposing views. It’s a reminder to take a moment to consider both, or all.

I’ll be here all season, come and visit.