Monday, April 15, 2019

Side of Spring: Potato and Artichoke Heart Gratin


It was to be a spring birthday dinner for a friend featuring those exquisite lamb rib chops often called "lollipops," grilled and properly eaten holding onto the rib end and gnawing the bone to get all the carbonized goodness clinging to it. (If you're a knife-and-fork person, I won't judge you if you don't judge me.)

The mis en place.

In the spirit of the season, I'd volunteered to bring deviled eggs—from Mike and Linda's pasture-raised hens at Terra Farma, which have launched into spring production recently—along with a potato gratin of some sort. I'd considered a leek-and-mushroom version, but a heavy, creamy dish, while delicious and totally appropriate for grilled lamb chops, just didn't seem springy enough.

Ready for the oven.

So I turned to a version I'd concocted based on a recipe by Patricia Wells, renowned author of cookbooks drawn from meals she served at her home in Provence. Hers was a gratin meant to be cooked in the oven under a leg of lamb, the juices from the haunch dripping down into the potatoes as it roasted.

My version eschewed the lamb juices—don't get me wrong, I love this method, which works with roasted chicken, as well—but kept the rest of the ingredients, adding a couple more for a Mediterranean-ish dish that would sing with the lamb chops. Not to mention that it would also be terrific for a simple summer grill with fish or chicken, or a rich vegetarian main dish with a salad alongside.

Potato and Artichoke Heart Gratin

2 lbs. medium-sized Yukon Gold or other yellow potatoes, halved lengthwise and sliced very thin
1 whole head garlic, cloves peeled and smashed but not chopped
1/2-1 c. kalamata olives, pitted
2 14-oz. cans quartered artichoke hearts, drained, or 8 fresh baby artichokes, peeled, cored and quartered (see note)
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves (no stems)
1/2 tsp. fennel pollen
1/3 c. olive oil
2/3 c. dry white wine
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper
2-3 medium tomatoes, sliced thin
1 c. pecorino romano, grated fine
Four bouquet garni: each one should have 4 parsley sprigs, 4 thyme sprigs, 1 rosemary sprig and 2 bay leaves, each tied with kitchen twine

Preheat oven to 400°.

Bring a large pot of water to boil on the stove. Put sliced potatoes in the hot water, and when it returns to a boil cook for no more than 5 minutes. Drain in colander.

In a large mixing bowl, gently combine potatoes, garlic, olives, artichokes, thyme, fennel pollen, olive oil, wine, salt and pepper. Stir to coat the potato slices evenly. Pour into 9” by 13” baking dish.

Nestle the four bouquet garni, spaced evenly crosswise, into the potato mixture. Scatter a layer of tomato slices over the top and sprinkle with the cheese.

Bake for one hour. Remove from oven and gently pull out the bouquet garni, trying not to disturb the tomato slices too much. Serve.

Note: To prepare fresh baby artichokes (step 1 and 2 only).

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Make a Difference in Our Food System: Join a Commodity Commission!


Love West Coast albacore? Passionate about beer? Want to do something to change Oregon's food system for the better? If you care about where your food comes from and how it's produced, please consider joining one of Oregon's commodity crop commissions. Most include a member of the public, so check out this list of the positions available and make a difference in our food system!

Oregon albacore.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) is recruiting for 63 commodity commissions, with a deadline to apply on May 10, 2019. Oregon’s 23 grower-funded commodity commissions support promotion, research and education to improve market conditions for their commodity. A key point: they also give industry members direct access to key Oregon agricultural opinion leaders and decision makers.

Oregon strawberries.

Each commission has a board that includes producer and handler positions. Producers grow or harvest the commodity; handlers are the first to purchase the commodity from the producer and often are processors, distributors, or marketers. And most commissions also include a member of the public. (The dairy commission has a public member position available…just sayin'.)

Time commitment varies depending on the commission, but can be from four to 10 times a year, and phone participation is a possibility. Meetings generally last two hours, but can sometimes be as long as two days, with some expenses reimbursed. For more information, e-mail Kris Anderson. You can make a difference!

Click to see the list and apply.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Mega-Dairy Reform Bills Die, Threatening a Repeat of Lost Valley Disaster


I have rarely, if ever, republished a press release from any organization. But I was so appalled and ashamed by the spineless, kowtowing obsequiousness of the Oregon legislature when it comes to factory farms in our state that I'm making an exception in this instance. Instead of instituting a simple moratorium on approval of new mega-dairies in our state in order to get its regulatory house in order when it comes to our air, water and groundwater quality, animal welfare, human health, the survival of small farms and the vibrancy of rural communities—read my article on Big Milk Brings Big Issues for Local Communities for details—our legislators instead bowed to pressure from agribusiness industry lobbyists to kill the bill before it even got out of committee. This denies Oregonians the right to listen to a full airing of, and a debate on, the future of our state.

The following was released by the following coalition: Columbia Riverkeeper, Food & Water Watch, Friends of Family Farmers, WaterWatch of Oregon, Center for Food Safety, Farm Forward, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Humane Voters Oregon, Factory Farming Awareness Coalition, Humane Society of the United States

April, 12, 2019

(SALEM, Oregon) — Oregon is at risk of repeating the ecological and economic disaster that occurred at the Lost Valley mega-dairy in Eastern Oregon after three bills aimed at fixing the problem failed to pass this legislative session. This means the loopholes that allowed the Lost Valley mega-dairy (top photo) to rack up hundreds of environmental violations, threaten groundwater, and leave behind more than 30 million gallons of liquid manure can be exploited by the new owner of the property near Boardman. In the wake of regulatory and environmental failures surrounding the Lost Valley, which was permitted for up to 30,000 cows in 2017 despite significant public opposition, a coalition of nearly two dozen farming, consumer, animal welfare, and environmental groups had called for reforms, including a 'time-out' on state-issued permits for new mega-dairies.

Irrigating crops with manure slurry at Threemile Canyon Farm on the Columbia River.

Senate Bill 103 would have put a hold on licensing new mega-dairies to allow the Oregon Department of Agriculture and other state agencies time to ensure future industrial dairies wouldn’t cause similar unchecked damage. Senate Bill 104 would have allowed local governments to enact common-sense measures to prevent groundwater and environmental contamination from sewage and dead animals at new mega-dairies. Both bills received a public hearing but have died in committee without a vote

“The Legislature had an opportunity to place a time-out on new mega-dairies in the wake of the Lost Valley disaster, but failed to take any meaningful action,” said Tarah Heinzen, senior staff attorney for Food & Water Watch and a member of the coalition. “We will continue to call for a mega-dairy moratorium on behalf of all Oregonians—who value clean water, vibrant rural communities, and ethical business practices.”

A cow standing in manure slurry at Threemile Canyon Farm.

“Industrial mega-dairies are using loopholes in Oregon law to expand their operations while operating under the same rules as the small and mid-sized family farms they are driving out of business,” said Ivan Maluski, Policy Director for Friends of Family Farmers, another coalition member. “Unfortunately, even the most reasonable reforms were blocked by lobbyists representing the growing number of mega-dairy operators that are putting our family-scale dairy farms out of business.”

According to new data released this week from the USDA Census of Agriculture, the dairy industry in Oregon and across the US is consolidating into larger and larger operations. Nationwide, the number of dairy farms dropped by more than 17 percent in the last five years even as milk production and sales increased, with smaller dairy farms going out of business as the largest farms grow larger.

Another bill, SB 876, was requested by State Senator Michael Dembrow to tighten up rules to prevent unsustainable water use by new large dairies. An amendment focused on preventing pollution and overuse of threatened groundwater by new large dairies with over 2500 cows was offered in the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources in the final days before a key legislative deadline, but even this modest proposal failed in a 2-3 vote with Senator Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay) aligning with two committee Republicans, Senators Cliff Bentz (R-Ontario) and Alan Olsen (R-Canby) to kill the reform.

A section of a 20-acre slurry lagoon at Threemile Canyon Farm.

"We participated in Senator Dembrow's work group for several months, and had hoped it would have led to reasonable industry groups working together with us to prevent the worst mistakes made at Lost Valley from happening again,” said Brian Posewitz, who worked on the issue both as a staff attorney for WaterWatch of Oregon and as a board member for the animal welfare group Humane Voters Oregon. “For example, lobbyists representing industrial dairies blocked a provision in an amendment to SB 876 to prevent unlimited exempt use of groundwater by new operations over 2500 cows in areas where other agricultural water rights are restricted by rule or order due to declining and limited supplies. They also prevented creation of a task force, which would have had equal representation from the industry, simply to talk about animal welfare issues at industrial dairies.”

"I think Oregonians would be shocked to know that the majority of dairy products now come from industrial mega-dairies like Lost Valley that raise cows in extreme confinement, where animals often stand in their own feces, with little to no access to the outdoors. While it's no surprise that Big Ag worked hard to defeat these bills, we're disappointed that three legislators on the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee didn't listen to the majority of Oregonians who value animal welfare and sustainable food,” said Erin Eberle, Director of Engagement for Farm Forward.

"Lost Valley threatened groundwater, racked up hundreds of permit violations, treated their animals inhumanely, and left 30 million gallons of manure and wastewater behind, and yet the State Department of Agriculture didn’t prevent it from happening when they could have,” said Scott Beckstead, Rural Outreach Director with the Humane Society of the United States. “With a new owner of the Lost Valley site likely planning to re-open the 30,000 cow facility soon, we will keep working to ensure this and other industrial dairies aren’t allowed to exploit the loopholes in Oregon’s laws again.”

* * *

Read my series of posts outlining the long history of problems at Lost Valley Farm since it opened two years ago, including cows standing in manure from overflowing lagoons and a leaking tank containing dead cows, plus massive groundwater pollution, lawsuits from the state of Oregon and the farm's creditors, and former owner Greg te Velde's own arrest for soliciting a prostitute and possession of methamphetamine in Benton County, Washington.

My article Big Milk, Big Issues for Local Communities reports on the issues mega-dairies pose to Oregon's air, water, environment and communities. You can also find out Why I'm Quitting Tillamook Cheese and read other coverage about factory farms in Oregon.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Your Food, Your Legislature: Take Action Now on Climate Change; Mega-Dairy Moratorium Fails


On the first day of the 2019 Oregon legislative session in January, more than 1,500 bills were introduced, and there are likely to be at least twice that many by the time the session ends. Here is the latest report on issues affecting the food we put on our tables. Thanks to  Friends of Family Farmers for their assistance with this report.

Clean Energy Jobs or Cap-and-Trade (HB 2020): As anyone who's paid attention to the news the last few days knows, there is historic flooding happening in the Willamette Valley, made worse by the effects of climate change. This bill attempts to deal with greenhouse gas emissions from the state's largest emitters of these gases by capping these emissions from most large industrial sources—those that emit more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (or equivalent) per year—effectively putting a price on carbon.

Flooding in Benton Co.

Shockingly, the bill exempts the state's largest agricultural producers of greenhouse gases, and your voice is needed to amend the bill to include these factory farms under the cap. Sign here to send an e-mail to your legislator that Oregon needs to stabilize the climate by reducing industrial and other large sources of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as invest in climate-friendly agricultural practices.

Moratorium on Mega-Dairies (SB 103 and SB 876): Despite efforts on the part of a coalition of 22 health, environmental and animal rights organizations, both of these bills to tighten regulations on factory farm dairies, in part based on the egregious violations and environmental damage from the recent closure of Lost Valley Farm, were voted down in committee.

Toxic emissions into the air are not currently regulated in Oregon.

“Even the most reasonable reforms were blocked by lobbyists working with these big corporate agribusinesses,” said Ivan Maluski, policy director for Friends of Family Farmers, in an article in the Salem Statesman-Journal.

The article goes on to say that Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA), maker of Tillamook Cheese, and Threemile Canyon Farms, the Boardman-area factory farm dairy that supplies the bulk of the milk used to make Tillamook's cheese, testified against the bills, saying the entire industry should not be punished for the faults of one bad actor. It also mentions Easterday Farms, based in Pasco, Wash., which purchased Lost Valley Farm, has indicated it will reopen it as a dairy. The facility was previously permitted for as many at 30,000 cows.

Bans Sale or Use of Neonicotinoid Pesticides (HB 2619): Originally a statewide ban on the sale or use of products containing neonicotinoid pesticides, a class of powerful neurotoxic pesticides that is lethal to pollinators, this bill was amended to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that has been shown to damage children's brains. It no longer mentions neonicotinoids.

Bill to limit aerial spraying of pesticides failed.

Ban Aerial Spraying of Pesticides (HB 2493): This bill, one of three that dealt with aerial spraying of pesticides, would have prohibited aerial spraying of pesticides of land within the McKenzie River and Santiam River watersheds, which make up much a significant portion of the Willamette Valley. It died in committee along with the other two bills.

Family Farmer Loan Program (HB 3085): Provides low-interest loans to small and mid-sized farmers for land and equipment, including beginning farmers, is now in the Ways and Means Committee where funding will be decided between now and the end of the session.

Beginning Farmer Incentive Program (HB 3090): Helps beginning farmers with student loan debt and tuition assistance. It passed out of committee and is now in the Ways and Means Committee where funding will be decided between now and the end of the session.


Farmers market tokens.


Double Up Food Bucks (SB 727A): $3 million in funding for Double Up Food Bucks programming at farmers markets and other farm-direct locations passed the Senate Human Services Committee and is awaiting action in the Ways and Means Committee.

Restrictions on Canola in Willamette Valley (SB 885): Maintains current restrictions on canola production in the Willamette Valley, capped at 500 acres per year and only under permit to protect the region’s specialty vegetable seed industry. Passed out of committee and awaits action in Ways and Means.

Ability to Sue for GMO Contamination (HB 2882): Protects farmers by holding the patent-holders of genetically engineered crops financially accountable when their products cause economic harm to farmers who experience unwanted contamination. Passed out of committee and moves to the House Rules Committee for further discussion.

Find your legislators and let them know you expect action on the issues that concern you.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Eat 'Em to Beat 'Em: Purple Varnish Clams


I know, I know…just the word "invasive species" makes you shudder, right? Visions of monstrous, deformed aberrations don't generally sound like something you want to find on your plate, much less put in your mouth or serve to guests.

The Purple Varnish or Savoury clam.

But rest assured, gentle reader, that, in this case, the invasive species in question is simply just the wrong creature in the wrong place. Known as nuttalia obscurata, the Purple Varnish clam or just Varnish clam—sometimes marketed as the more delicious-sounding Savoury clam—was most likely sucked up as planktonic larvae into the ballast tanks of a large ship that was traveling from Asia to the Puget Sound. When the ship arrived and the ballast tanks were discharged, the surviving larvae found footing in the hospitable waters of British Columbia and the Sound.

Steamed and ready to eat!

In the waters of the Sound and the Hood Canal the Varnish clams have been displacing Manila clams, also natives of Asia that arrived here mixed in with Pacific oyster seed in the 1940s which soon began invading the territory of native Littleneck clams. The Varnish clams' success may be laid to their flexible nature, able to tolerate varied types of environments. Physiologically they may have an advantage because of their two feeding siphons and the ability to both filter feed and deposit feed (here's a fascinating deeper look at this clam). Both British Columbia and Oregon have established recreational fisheries for the clam, and a commercial market is developing.

And since April happens to be Invasive Species Month, it seemed appropriate to take them as an appetizer to a friend's birthday party. I drove over to Flying Fish in the Providore market, where I found them next to the regular Manila variety. In response to my question, the helpful clerk confirmed that the Savoury clam was an invasive species in Washington that was both delicious, as well as being a little less expensive per pound than the Manilas.

Sold!

Four pounds of clams more than fed a crew of ten adults as an appetizer when combined with fennel, garlic, chorizo and a cup of white wine, then steamed for ten minutes or so, and garnered raves for their size and flavor. So help out our Littleneck and other native species and eat more invasive-yet-tasty clams; they'll thank you for it.

Steamed Clams with Fennel and Chorizo

4 lbs. clams
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 fennel bulb, quartered, cored and sliced crosswise
3 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 oz. Spanish-style chorizo, sliced crosswise into 1/8" thick rounds
1 tomato, sliced thin
1 c. white wine

Pour olive oil into a large pot over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add fennel, garlic, chorizo and tomato slices and heat briefly. Add white wine and bring to a boil. Place clams on top and allow to steam for ten minutes until clams open. Serve with thin-slices of baguette for sopping up the delicious broth.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

In Season: Bound, Hop, Jump, Leap, Vault!


No matter how you say it, spring in the Northwest is a much-anticipated season. Gardeners are getting out their seed packets and determining how many yards of compost their backs can withstand—see this post about holding off on the tomatoes for now—and cooks are dreaming of the bright green herbs and greens that will soon festoon their tables.

Seeing nettles and fiddleheads already popping up in my social media feeds, I figured it was time to talk with produce guy and fruit monkey Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce about what he's seeing on his local farmers' fresh sheets. So grab a pencil, kids, it's time to make our spring farmers' market shopping lists!

Raab-o-Rama

Josh knows my weaknesses, so of course the first thing he pulls out is the list of the various raabs, rapinis and rabes on offer. We could both hear Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm snorting that the only true raab comes from turnips, the rest are the inflorescence of plants, defined as "a group or cluster of flowers arranged on a stem that is composed of a main branch. Morphologically, it is the modified part of the shoot of seed plants where flowers are formed."

Raab with mushroom sauce.

So, with that, in alphabetical order, look for these inflorescences at the markets: bok choy, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, kale sprouts, mizuna, red choy, spigarello, tatsoi and turnips, among others. Josh notes that each tastes slightly different depending on the parent plant's particular flavor profile, but all have that amazing, vibrant flavor and crunch when pan-fried—I like to brown a little homemade bacon and chopped garlic first, then add the greens, chopped or not—or, in the case of the bigger sprouts, roasted quickly in a hot oven.

Whew!

More Greens

As for other greens, look for watercress, various mustards, mizunas both green and red, arugula, and a new one to me, wasabi arugula—Josh said it has the tangy bite of that Japanese root. (Note to self: must try.) Lettuces are just barely coming on but will be available shortly, and spinach, which is a bit more cold-tolerant, is here now.

Fiddleheads.

With spring running about a month later than last year, wild things are going crazy trying to catch up. Look for the aforementioned fiddleheads, as well as "triangle leeks" or wild onions, which have a curious folded vertical green, as well as nettles. These will be available at the markets, but if you're headed out on a hike, here's a guide to foraging wild onions and garlic.

Calçots, that spectacular Spanish scallion relative pioneered in Oregon by Manuel and Leslie Recio at their late, lamented Viridian Farms, are appearing, too, so make some salbitxada sauce and throw a spring calçotada! Spring onions like Walla Walla and red onions should be appearing soon, but green garlic is here now—use them like scallions or make a pesto to toss with pasta or serve it alongside grilled meats and fish.

Purple sprouting broccoli.

Dribs and drabs of local asparagus and purple sprouting broccoli—refer to it as PSB if you want to sound cooler-than-thou—are just now coming into season, but Josh advises that you need to get to the markets early to get the little asparagus available, at least for the next couple of weeks before the full harvest comes in.

Bundles of fresh spring herbs like parsley, oregano, chervil, thyme and chives are beginning to show up, so chimichurries and other herb sauces are definitely called for. Microgreens and shoots of favas and peas should also make your list and will only get more abundant as the season rolls out.

Roots and More

Radishes, spring beets and the small, white hakurei turnips as well as their greens are terrific roasted and served with the herb sauces mentioned above. Small local bulbs of fennel will be here toward the end of the month.

Rhubarb.

One of my favorite vegetables-that-cooks-like-a-fruit, rhubarb, is flashing its red stalks, and Josh said a green variety that, unlikely as it seems, is a bit more sour than the red variety, is also being grown locally.

Look for local mushrooms like maitake and lion's mane are coming in from forests and fields, and I've heard whispers that this year's morel harvest may be a big one. Though Josh warns that false morels, or verpa bohemica, a species of fungus known informally as a "false morel" is sometimes sold as a true morel, so be sure to ask your vendor.

Strawberries?

Still two to three weeks off, according to Mr. Alsberg. Look for them at the end of April or the beginning of May. He said that Unger Farms in Cornelius is the driver for strawberry season in the Willamette Valley, and the first to appear will be Albions, followed by Seascapes. The first Hoods will most likely be available around Memorial Day, though—and this is a mantra we should all take to heart—"everything is subject to Mother Nature."

Friday, April 05, 2019

Tomatoes? Hold Your Horses!


Blossoms are showering our sidewalks with pink snow, tulips and daffodils are out in full force, so it must be time to plant our vegetable gardens, right?

Patience is a virtue when it comes to tomatoes.

Not so fast, according to Ginger Rapport of the Beaverton Farmers' Market, a seasoned plant maven. "Now is the time of year to get your peas, kales, rhubarb, broccoli, beets, carrots and some lettuces in the ground," she said. "It is not the time for planting tomatoes and basil unless you plan on keeping them protected from the cool temperatures and rain."

Another voice of reason comes from Chris Hertel of Sun Gold Farm in Forest Grove. "Don’t be fooled and have patience," he cautions. "We can’t mess with Mother Nature! We can only work with her. Too much rain and cold weather will either harm your tomato plant or make it weak."

Radishes and greens? Have at it!

Those garden center tomatoes that are waving their leafy appendages at you, begging you to bring them home and plant them in some nice, richly composted soil? They're grown in heated greenhouses, said Hertel. "The plants are not conditioned to anything that Mother Nature is giving us now. If we wait and have patience, the nights will get warmer and days will be drier. That usually happens around Mother’s Day weekend."

So go ahead and get your spring yayas exorcised and plant rows of those hardy spring greens and root veggies, and wait until the soil temperature gets up to at least 55 degrees—60 is even better—to plant those tomato starts. Your summer will be that much sweeter with a little added patience along with that compost.