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The farm as "village:" making of a farm meal, market news and farm happenings

Posted 8/31/2017 7:13pm by Leslie Cooperband or Wes Jarrell.

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Farm News

In about one week, we’ll be sitting down to the farm dinner table with nearly 60 guests to celebrate the diverse labors of the farm. It’s our annual “100 Yard Dinner,” a ritual we have been practicing for nearly ten years!  In the thick of the farming season, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds (literally and figuratively) and lose sight of the diversity we have cultivated on our little postage stamp of a farm.  The food that is brought to the table is the culmination of a season’s work (sometimes more than one season’s worth), and embodies the minds and hands of many micro-entrepreneurs who share and work the farm with us.

The planning for the meal begins in mid-winter, when the ground is frozen and covered with a skiff of snow. By this time, amnesia has set in, blanketing the summer stress of so many tomatoes rotting on the ground.  Instead, the playboy sex appeal of seed catalogues lures you back to purchase way too many varieties of way too many vegetables.  This year will be different. Nothing will go to waste; everything will be eaten fresh or pickled or canned or frozen. 

The orchard lies dormant, awaiting its spring prune, ever hopeful for continuous cold (so as not to break dormancy and kill those insect pests burrowed beneath the tree canopies.)  Winter wipes the slate clean for the dreams of the next season—to bear fruits unblemished from pests and diseases (the organic fruit grower can dream can’t she??).  The goats are pregnant and dry, eating obliviously to stay warm and grow the next generation in their wombs, slowly allocating resources to another season of milk production. 

With light and warmth, thawed ground and fresh compost, the flurry of prepping and planting the garden begins in April. This year’s vegetable garden has been tended lovingly by one of our incubator farmers, “Deux Chevaux.” They tilled, shaped their beds, put down weed barrier and drip irrigation and then planted lots and lots of seedlings and seeds. As I look out at the many hours of their labors, and the fussing over tiny plants, I see a garden brimming with tomatoes, watermelon, peppers, tomatillos, greens, beans, eggplant and herbs; it has never looked better. 

The orchard bore a respectable peach crop, despite threats from the usual suspects: a cool, wet spring, a near-miss killing frost in April, new & old insect pests and brown rot. The apples are ugly but plentiful, pitted with plum curculio damage, but ripening slowly. Even the blackberries, usually raided by misbehaving goats, have respectable ripe berries on their canes.  The two women who tend our orchard spent countless hours pruning and judiciously spraying with biological agents to fend off the pests. In the three years that they have been managing the orchard, they have experienced the joys and sorrows of raising organic fruits. They have learned to work smarter, not harder; they have learned to let go of the quixotic quest for beautiful and perfect organic fruit (they sold lots and lots of ugly but delicious peaches to Triptych Brewery to turn into a sublime peach Belgian ale).  We convinced them to just cut out the bad parts, pick out the insect larvae and savor the sweet-tart joy of a perfectly ripe peach.  We pick up apples from the ground and eat around the bruises.  It’s the truce we’ve come to with the critters and climate over which we have little to no control. 

We always raise poultry for the 100 Yard Dinner. Of course, we usually keep a dozen hens to give us eggs, but this year, we pulled out the stops to raise both Freedom Ranger chickens and guinea fowl.  Not having raised guineas for a couple of years, a familiar kind of selective memory (mostly about how delicious they taste and forgetting about how challenging they are to raise) had set in regarding their husbandry.  The Freedom Rangers are like your perfect child; they come as sturdy little day-old chicks, they grow quickly, they rarely get ruffled by daily stresses and they eat lots and lots of bugs.  Before you know, they are ready for their “one bad day” trip to Arthur.

Guineas, by contrast, are poultry possessed by a poltergeist. The keets (baby guineas) squeeze through the tiny holes in the fencing of their pen and make you chase them around the barn.  As they get older, they like to fly to roost. If they find a crack in the bird netting above their pen, they will fly out and make you chase them through the stacks of hay and the piles of farm junk stored haphazardly in the barn.  Once they graduate to the moveable “chicken tractor,” they try to escape every time the tractor is moved on to fresh vegetation. Once they escape, they’re as good as gone forever, since they hide in the orchard vegetation and then get eaten by predators.  Wes’ solution to their kamikaze tendencies—a giant fish catching net.  Attrition is low this year (cross fingers).

The goats are the starlets of the farm.  Last year’s fall breeding produces an annual crop of captivating kids in March; their curiosity and affections winning over even the biggest curmudgeons among us.  The mothers’ milk flows easily and prolifically in spring, giving us the “problem” of what to do with all that milk.  Their daily gushes let us sock away several batches of raw milk cheeses to enjoy when the wells begin to dry.  The cheese makers toil in their daily routines, transforming liquid to solid, cleaning and tending the aging cheeses and their environs as if they were livestock.  The gelato maker takes what milk she can, working her magical sense of frozen flavors with the season’s bounty of fruits, herbs and nuts.  Day in, day out; spring turns to summer and summer turns to early fall. Seasonal milk changes and the dairy artisans go with the flow.

The dairy is the lifeblood of the farm, and the herd manager keeps the goats healthy and engaged.  She escorts them daily to their prairie and browse; she notices when someone isn’t quite right or someone just needs some extra TLC.  Like a well-seasoned parent, she has learned when to be firm and when to indulge. 

Then, there are the beautiful flowers we admire from our dining patio. The vibrancy of colors, the multiple canopies with showy heads, seducing the bees and native pollinators with their scents and nectar runways.  Each week, I have marveled at the talents of the women who run Delight Flower Farm, their ability to craft sumptuous bouquets from the tidy rows in their flower garden.  Their arrangements will welcome our guests to the dinner table. The whole of our farm is greater than the sum of its parts. 

Although seemingly disparate, the micro-enterprises are connected. They feed each other and then they feed us. Waste vegetables and discarded flower stems are fed to chickens; chicken eggs and meat are enjoyed.  Goat manure fertilizes the gardens, the orchard and the pastures. The vegetables, fruits, dairy products and animal proteins are prepared with love and care by the chefs, and we sit at the table and marvel at what we have grown this year.   

Market News This holiday weekend, we’re attending Urbana’s Market at the Square. The forecast is looking great for hordes of local foods shoppers to descend on the farmers’ market.   Here is the line-up of cheeses for this coming Saturday:

  • Fresh chevre: plain, herbs de Provence, cracked pepper-butterfat is slowly going up, making the chevre even creamier than usual
  • Raw-milk Feta: Packed in whey brine for flavor and preservation, this tangy cheese is perfect for a summer “Greek” salad; with watermelon in season, how about feta & watermelon salad?? Get it while it lasts!
  • Angel Food: our little compact bloomy rind—firm paste, mushroomy rind-very ripe and gooey this week
  • Little Bloom on the Prairie: our goat milk camembert; young but scrumptious
  • Black Goat: our ash-coated bloomy with a hint of yeast on the rind; try our ACS award winning cheese
  • Magia Negra: our nod to a Manchego style cheese, sharp nutty notes with hints of tart berries. Rind is rubbed with an olive oil-black currant & aronia berry paste
  • Moonglo: Our spring batches have a lighter, fruitier flavor profile than our rich & decadent fall batches.  Ask for a taste and you’ll be smitten.

NO YOGURT or CRACKERS THIS WEEK

Gelato: take home a few pints this week (try our “three pint special: buy 3, get $3 off the total price!

  • Bourbon Peach Sorbetto
  • Grape Two Ways Sorbetto
  • Peaches & Cream
  • Red Currant
  • Thai Basil
  • Vanilla
  • Chocolate
  • Hazelnut
  • Gianduja (chocolate-hazelnut)
  • Salted Caramel Swirl
  • Mint Stracciatella

Farm Happenings

Farm Open Hours:  

Please note that we shortened our open hours for the month of September. These are subject to change if we find that people are just not able to come out. We know that fall is a busy time, with kids back in school and work demands beckoning. If you need a little break from the hustle and bustle, come out to the farm.  It can be a very tranquil place in the early fall. There are still lots of things growing, and the goats love visitors any time of the year. The Real Stand is open for business, offering cheese, gelato, meats, eggs and other farm products.  We are planning to offer a few fall themed events. Stay tuned for details and dates.

  • Fridays, 1-6 PM
  • Saturdays and Sundays, 1-4 PM

Don't forget to follow directions to the farm from our website. This will ensure easy travels during the road construction on N. Lincoln Avenue. The detour is in effect until November.

Family Friendly Happy Hour on the Farm:  TOMORROW September 1st 5-7 PM.  This is the final happy hour of the season

Our guest brewer will be Triptych. They’ll be bringing some tasty microbrews to share.  If beer isn’t your thing, we have a fantastic selection of organic and biodynamic wines and Homer Sodas. David Bane of Bane Family Meats returns to the farm grill to cook up some his delicious pasture-raised chickens.  Finish the night with a scoop of gelato or a root beer or Triptych Prairie Peach Picnic ale float.  You can even come out and do some shopping-cheese, gelato, veggies grown at the farm by Deux Chevaux Farm (our incubator veggie growers).  The Sweedler Brothers will be back to serenade you with their gypsy-jazz tunes. 

Delight Flower Farm Retreat on the Farm The talented women who own Delight Flower Farm are hosting an all-day retreat on the farm, Saturday October 7th.  Events will include: yoga, a plant walk, a farm tour, flower arranging, an herbalism class, an introduction to Ayurveda, campfire rituals, and plenty of time to take in the healing properties of nature.  Local-farm-sourced and professionally prepared meals are included. Here's the link: http://delightflowerfarm.com/natural-medicine-a-farmstead-retreat/ If you register by September 1st, they’re offering an early-bird discount ($100 off the total registration).   

Dinners on the Farm: Get your tickets NOW before they’re all sold out. Seats still available for the September 30th Celebration of Squash and the October 14th Pizza Night Out Pop-Up.  


Copyright 2017. Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery, LLC. 2017. All rights reserved. 4410 N. Lincoln Ave., Champaign, Illinois 61822 Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery, LLC is responsible for the content of this email. Please contact Leslie Cooperband or Wes Jarrell with any inquiries.