Saturday, June 30, 2012

If it's green, it's a bean

Its that time of year when fruits and vegetables are coming on in full force. One of the veges that there always seems to be a surplus of is green beans. This happens when you grow a large garden of them, as well as if like us, you grow between 50 and 150 acres of green beans annually. As a result, green beans are something that we never have a shortage of. When I open my deep freezer to see what to make for dinner, if its in there and its green...its a bean.

You'll notice this machine on the front page of my blog. This is a green bean harvester. We planted about 50 acres of green beans today, June 30th. They will be ready for harvest around August 30th. Green beans take about 60 days from planting till harvest. In a good year, we will harvest 200 bushels per acre. Thats a lot of green beans!

Green beans were one of the vegetable crops that was easy for us to diversify our farm because we can use the existing equipment that we already own. It would not be cost effective for us to grow green beans if we need to buy specialty equipment in order to grow them. We are fortunate because the company that we grow green beans for brings in the harvesters so our main job is to plant and tend the crop until harvest.

Green bean harvester picking fresh market green beans destined for the grocery store.

All our green beans are grown for the fresh market in the Washington DC, Baltimore, and MidAtlantic region. This is a perfect example of a family farm supplying fresh produce to the grocery store, but whose face you never see. Many of us produce growers grow for certain brands or certain companies but because they are supplied through a distributor, the customer at the store has no idea that the produce is actually locally grown by a family farm. I think that is one of the biggest mistakes customers make at the grocery, assuming that because its not from a farmer's market or farm stand, that it must have been shipped in from afar. In season, that generally is not true. Most grocers source locally and regionally in season.

There are specific uniformity, size, and shape requirements for fresh market green beans. If the beans don't make the grade for fresh market, then they end up at the cannery and are processed into canned green beans.

I have several very distinct memories of green beans growing up. Picking green beans was a chore my older sister and I hated. It was always hot and it was always tedious. We didn't appreciate the homegrown aspect of our parent's garden back then. It was just one more chore we had to do. Another is sitting by a farm pond snapping beans. Down the road was a neighbor who had a pond fed by an underground stream that was open to the neighbors to use. It was the pond where I took swimming lessons as a child. It was also the pond I remember snapping green beans with my mom and my 4H leader. Finally, my mom is famous for canning her "dilly beans". We LOVED these spicy pickled green beans as kids and it is one of the things I love to can when our green beans are ready. I taught my daughter this recipe and has entered them in our county 4H fair.

So I want to share with you a couple recipes to help use up that surplus of green beans that you have from your garden or maybe your neighbor dropped off on her way by (like mine did this evening). Like I said, we just planted green beans today, so I have none of my own but was the welcome recipient of a generous neighbor today!

Fresh picked green beans with our own farm raised ham and potatoe for dinner tonight! YUM!
2 pounds green beans, snapped
4-5 cups chicken or turkey stock
4-6 potatoes, cubed
1 tsp minced garlic
1 pound cured ham, cubed
1 stick butter or margarine
salt to taste (or add Old Bay for some kick)

I use turkey stock left over in frozen containers from Thanksgiving. Stewing the carcass of the turkey will give me many quarts of stock to use throughout the year for various dishes. Bring the stock to a boil. Add the ham and let it simmer for 5-10 minutes. The stock plus the ham add a wonderful flavor to the veges. Add the potatoes, green beans, garlic, salt, and butter. Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are soft. We eat this as a main dish even on a hot summer night.

My favorite green bean recipe as I said above is "Dilly Beans". This makes 8 pints.
4 pounds of green beans, whole
1-2 cloves garlic per jar
1 head fresh dill per jar
1/4-3/4 cayenne pepper per jar depending on how hot you want them.
3 cups of water
3 cups cidar vinegar
1/4-1/2 cup salt

Stuff bottom of jars with seasonings. Add green beans lengthwise, leaving 1/4" head space from the top of the jar. Combine water, vinegar and salt in a pot and bring to boil. Pour boiling hot over beans, leaving 1/4" head space. Adjust caps loosely and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Let beans stand for at least 2 weeks before tasting to allow for flavor develoment.

This is all I have left of last year's Dilly Beans. Hope they last till the this year's crop comes in!
Enjoy the bountiful harvest this season!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

CNN Visits the Farm!

So this was an exciting week for us on the farm. We had the opportunity to host Dana Bash, Senior Political Correspondent for CNN on our farm. She was doing a story on the Farm Bill and wanted some farmer perspective. Due to our proximity to Washington DC, its not unusual for us to have reporters, foreign visitors, and other groups or individuals wanting to come talk about one aspect or another about farming and agriculture. Since the Farm Bill is currently being discussed in the Senate, it was timely for this interview to occurr. Dana Bash with CNN however, is probably the most well-known media person we've ever hosted on the farm, besides politicians themselves.

Dana Bash and her camera man interviewing my husband Hans.

We always get first time visitors to drive a piece of equipment.

Here Dana Bash does a good job helping us bale hay.

So you may be wondering what the big deal is about the Farm Bill? The Farm Bill is the policy and budget by which most all our food and agricultural production is based. It is a 5 year policy last revised in 2008 so 2012 is the year of its revamping and it is currently creating a lot of discussion with politicians and the media. The vast majority of the funds allocated in the Farm Bill are for food & nutrition programs for the poor,  underserved, and child nutrition like school lunch. The remaining funds go to farm payments, conservation practices, crop insurance, specialty crops, and other agricultural titles. As you can see from the pie chart below, food stamps and child nutrition make up 73.3% of the current 2008 Farm Bill spending.

One of the hot topics and what brought CNN to our farm is the issue of direct payments to farmers. You can see by the pie chart above under the Commodity Programs Title, that direct payments make up 10% of the current spending in the 2008 Farm Bill. Direct payments have been in the Farm Bill since the 1930's. Direct payments have for years been consider the safety net over which we farmers operate. In a vast number of years, the income from farming has often been below the cost it takes us to actually grow the crop. But to ensure a stable food supply, the federal government has essentially underwritten the "floor" of our food by providing direct payments to farmers. In the last 4 or 5 years, grain prices have been good and farm income has improved so there is less need for direct payments, thus the discussion of doing away with them while still providing a farm safety net through enhancing the crop insurance title. There are farmers on both sides of the coin with regards to the issue of direct payments. You'll hear in this video clip aired on CNN that we are in agreement that direct payments should not be part of the 2012 Farm Bill. Our opinion is by giving up direct payments is doing our part for fiscal responsibility to lower the US deficit. We do however strongly advocate for improved crop insurance. 2011 was one of our worst years on record and we would be deeper in debt if we had not purchased crop insurance coverage.

Click the link below to go to the story and CNN video clip:

CNN Farm Bill News Report From Our Farm

So if you watched the video in the link above, you heard my husband say we receive $35,000 annually in direct payments. What you didn't hear that got cut out of the interview was that he continued on to say that the direct payments we receive are used to implement conservation practices to improve the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed where we live. Let's be clear, direct payments are not pocket money for farmers to go spend. They are re-invested into the farming operation.

Here are some examples:
1. The insurance premium we pay out of pocket for our crop insurance policy on an annual basis surpasses the amount of the direct payment. That does not include our specialty crops like green beans, tomatoes, and winegrapes which are uninsurable in Maryland.
2. The conservation tillage equipment we purchased for protecting our soils from erosion and improving water quality was more than double and triple what we receive in direct payments.
3. The precision agriculture technology we purchased which decreases our fertilizer applications reducing the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus we apply to our fields surpassed what we received in direct payments.
4. Our fuel bill for our fleet of trucks and tractors to get the crops planted, tended, harvested and delivered well surpasses the compensation from the direct payment.

Farming is not a cheap business. It takes capital to grow your food. If you appreciate your safe, healthy, and economically priced food, it is due more in part to the smart efficiency of today's US farm families, and less due to the direct payments of the Farm Bill. That simply gives the Federal Government way too much credit. Let's give credit where credit is due, to the hard working farm families like mine who work to provide you with safe and nutritious food for your family, often inspite of governmental policy and regulations that make farming a challenge.