recipes and tips for better living

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"How Do You Feed Your Soil?" A Farmer's Market Experience: La Milpa Organica Farm Teaches Us How To Select The Finest Seasonal Produce

Who doesn't like a trip to the farmer's market? Besides the feeling of community, the vivacious musicians and performers, and the impressive crafts, nearly each and every stall is filled with seasonal, fresh, and AMAZING foods. Here in San Diego, my favorite Farmer's Market stop is in Hillcrest every Sunday. Why is it my favorite? Because there are soooo many samples. Everyone wants you to try their peaches, their pears, their nuts, their avocados, their greens....and you know what? i do! i walk up to each and every one and i sample and savor every bit of divinity that passes my lips, of course ONLY after asking, "are these organic?" (being the mindful consumer i pride myself to be). The responses always vary from 'yes', 'no', 'no spray', 'no pesticide', or 'in the process of getting our certification', or 'it's too expensive for us to get our certification'...So what does all this mean to the consumer? Who do we buy from and what are we really getting/eating? What questions should we ask to know we are getting the best and freshest holistically grown produce at the market? I spoke to Beth from La Milpa Organica Farms, to uncover these and a few other questions. If you've never stopped by their booth, it's a must! They offer the most beautiful and abundant amounts of greens - varieties you never knew existed, but once you try you will never forget! Read the interview below...and do visit them next time you are at the market. Everyone at their booth is friendly and knowledgeable, and will leave you walking away with a big warm smile and goody bag filled with vibrant green energy!
How long has your farm been in business?
We’ve been here in Escondido for 6 years.
What Farmer's Markets are you currently selling at? Where else can we find/dine on/buy your produce?
We can be found in Oceanside, Vista, La Mesa and Hillcrest, currently. We also provide [limited] CSA boxes to a couple of San Diego neighborhoods. The Linkery, Starlite, Prep Kitchen, Whisk ‘n’ Ladle, Nine-Ten, Stone Brewery, and The Lodge at Torrey Pines are some of the restaurants that serve our food.
As a consumer what questions should we be asking the farmers/vendors in order to get the best seasonal produce selections farmed in a holistic manner?
I think a good foundation for knowing how to shop at a farmer’s market or health food co-op is to spend just a few minutes getting to know the produce that is prevalent in each season, especially in a climate such as ours. As far as holistic farming techniques, you have to ask a handful of questions, but I think the most important one would be, “how do you feed your soil?” If we are what we eat, this applies for what our food is eating, too.
What is the difference between "organic" produce and "no-spray", as many vendors are constantly promoting no spray as being just as safe as organic?
The labels of things just aren’t enough to determine whether you should buy them or not. Not spraying is a good thing, we encourage that, but, similarly, when we tell our customers that we are “beyond organic,” it means that there is more to it than just doing enough to pass the certification test. It means feeding the soil, finding the best ways to nurture it and to allow it to continue to carry life in it for years to come. Soil is key.
From a physical health perspective, anything without chemicals is far superior to something that has been brought to life through petroleum products. But in order to be considered truly sustainable, our work as farmers is to do more than the bare minimum—it means we need to give back to our Earth as much as we can in the process of growing food.
How rigorous was the process to become certified organic?
It involves jumping through hoops, paying money and meeting their requirements. I wouldn’t call it rigorous, but there is so much more to it than those standards, as I’ve said before, so it can feel limiting, like being placed in a box.
What varieties of greens are in your mixed salad greens and your 'greens for cooking'?
Oh man, our salad has about 30 different types of lettuce in it. Our braising mix, which is comprised of the darker, heftier greens has beauties like kale, chard, orach, things like that.
What are some of the unique veggies/herbs you grow? What are they good for? What would we use them in/how would we prepare them?
Barry is really good about cycling in new and interesting seeds into the orders. One of my favorite funky things are the Japanese Baby Doll turnips, which are white and are often mistaken for radishes. They are wonderfully spunky eaten raw with a dab of oil and tamari.
Edible flowers are also fun, and many of the herbs we sell are amazing, if I may say so myself- I’m always inspired to make new, fun recipes with them.
The red tropea onions are another favorite of mine, as well as the collard greens. It’s true what they say about greens, of course, that they work magic. The collards are popular around here for wraps stuffed with quinoa and veggies, and I love them steamed with eggs on the side for breakfast. Yum.
All of our farmers and farmer’s market workers cook with and love La Milpa food, and they are always happy to share recipes and ideas.
Can you please provide an easy wholesome recipe made from your produce that would require only simple, healthy, and whole ingredients?
The arugula makes a tasty, spicy salad. I like to make a simple dressing with agave, olive oil, apple cider vinegar and nutritional yeast, and pour it over the fresh arugula and let it sit and soften the arugula up a bit.
It’s wonderful how a recipe can be simple, but everyone around the table oohs and aahs at their first bite- it’s all about the ingredients. Fresh veggies thrown on a grill, or with a simple marinade; the eggplants make an out-of-this world eggplant parmesan, and the squash, rolled in a simple arrowroot batter and lightly fried in coconut oil- my god.
The beauty of the diversity of leaves in the salad mix makes it super easy to whip up a fantastic salad with your favorite dressing in only a minute.

Thank you so much Beth for answering our questions!
Please do stop by their booth - you surely will not be let down!

For those of you interested in taking a more active role with your new found knowledge, volunteers are always welcome at the farm. Those who come out and pull some weeds or help out wherever get to go home with some veggies...a more than fair and fabulous trade. Not only a great way to get further educated, but it may just inspire your green thumb to get your home garden up to snuff.
Additionally, La Milpa is hosting a fundraiser event on November 7th and anyone is welcome to attend. Barry has become known for his woodfired pizza parties on their outdoor pizza stove. Dine outdoors, with friends, under the stars, slices will be only a buck. Many other events are posted on their website as well,


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