Aley Chubeza #2 – January 4th-6th 2010

The Hand that Sows the Soil…

In traditional agriculture, the winter months of January-February are family time. After the hard work of autumn and the rush to get everything done in time, it’s the weather which dictates a slower pace and provides the farmer with shorter work days, a temporary respite from the never-ending toil, and a time for introspection– with hope and prayers for timely rain and bountiful harvests.

In this wintry spirit, I’m devoting some of this week’s Newsletter to the faces behind your–our– vegetables, the people who work all week preparing the earth, planting and seeding the vegetables, watering and fertilizing the growing plants, weeding and thinning the garden beds, trellising, covering or pruning if needed, and lastly, picking and packing the produce. There is a great deal of manual labor in vegetable growing, but in Chubeza, we believe that it doesn’t end with just the physical exertion. We all gain from the happiness and devotion our workers put into their efforts. When farming can be pursued in an environment of friendship and cooperation, concern and faith in the good earth, and out of a connection to nature and labor, this is all thanks to a good, talented team of diligent workers. I’d like to introduce you to them now.  Each is of course a world within him/herself, but I tried to limit myself to one paragraph per person…

I established Chubeza over six years ago. Six months later, Alon Efrati joined, first as a worker, then as a manager. Finally he took over management of the entire farm, a burden he carries on his calm, strong shoulders to this day. Today he and I are partners in the management of Chubeza.  

I arrived at Chubeza as a sort of retraining and career change, after spending most of my adult life in the realms of education and therapies. I did realize that an occupation that involves a lot of speaking and responsibility for the well being of human lives might be too hard for me. After several years of dealing with the difficult, even filthy, areas of life, I needed the peace and quiet offered by working alone in a green field—where the dirt is just mud and there’s a plethora of growth and blooming…Life’s interesting jolts led me to San Francisco Bay Area in California, where I took a local gardening course and started working in small farms that managed to survive, despite it all, in the heart of Silicon Valley. After two years in three farms, I returned to Israel bounding with western optimism, positive that I would be able to establish a CSA in the Promised Land.

I’ll spare you the sarcasm and cynicism (some would call it experience and realism) that I encountered when I first began. Yet, somehow I managed to move on, encouraged by support from family and friends, and most of all, my dear sister, who introduced me to Alon Efrati (one of the three Alon’s), who helped me nurture Chubeza then and now.

Alon, an agronomist by profession, brought the professional side and diploma to Chubeza. Unlike myself, Alon had known for some time that he would be a farmer. In his “post-Army-tiyul” he stayed in South Africa for a short while and worked in a small permaculture farm. While at school, he started a home vegetable garden to (literally) get his hands dirty. From the start, Alon brought a vast knowledge of medicinal herbs, wild plants and plants in general. To this day, he continues to contribute his knowledge, with modesty and a readiness to learn and understand more about farming. Our first years supplied many opportunities to learn—most of them the hard way–how, where, how much and when to grow quality vegetables. We’re still learning, but today we can happily say that the great vegetables you find in your boxes are first and foremost thanks to a talented, modest, calm and very intelligent farmer named Alon Efrati.

The next tribute to a Chubeza worker goes to Suwet– our most veteran worker, who arrived to Israel from a “moshav” (as he describes it) in the Chiang Mai area of north Thailand. Like other Thai workers, Suat came here initially to earn a living, but we were blessed with a smart, dedicated worker who has great knowledge from his own rich experience (he taught us about growing and picking ademame, the green soybean). But his success comes mostly from the love of his work. Today Suat is our field manager, infinitely capable of maneuvering his heavy workload with wisdom, calm, and a constant smile.

Next is Alon Karni from Mesilat Zion, who became interested in the organic farming of his yoga student (Alon Efrati) and eventually found himself, three and a half years ago, straining his body at Chubeza twice or three times weekly. Aside from being an excellent yoga teacher for children and adults, Alon teaches environmental studies at a boys school near Lod, where he instructs these youngsters how to grow vegetables, make natural buildings, and most of all– how to live, grow and enjoy it. On harvest days, Alon is in charge of the packinghouse, and he does this with skill, diligence and serenity.

Two years ago, Alon brought along his brother-in-law, Lobsang. Tibetan by birth, Lobsang was raised in India. Although he spent most of his life in the snowy mountains of northern India, he is Chubeza’s greatest hater of winter. But even on rainy, wet, cold days, he keeps up his good spirits, singing as he works. Beyond his agricultural skills, Lobsang is an amazing chef. After he came aboard, our cooking rotation quickly dissolved. The job went solely to Lobsang, who upgraded our hummus-based meals to true vegetable delicacies. If the sun and green haven’t yet convinced you to come visit, now we can bribe you with one of Lobsang’s renowned lunches…

At approximately the same time, two years ago, we were joined by Mohammed, who comes from Beit Likia, in the Judean Hills north of Chubeza. So close, really, only half an hour by bike, but over the “border.” Mohammed is a veteran farmer who has been growing vegetables and olives in his village and other moshavim in the area for years. His intelligence and farming experience, which cannot be learned in any college, come from a deep understanding of how to raise crops and how to love and respect the earth. Mohammed is our collector and teacher of edible weeds. More than once he has pointed to some wild plant or another and suggested a recipe for a tasty meal.

Our newest additions to the “Chubeza Salad” are Shacham from Kibbutz Nachshon, and Yossi from Har Adar. They’ve both joined recently and are making headway on the farm, learning from our veteran staff, and experiencing first-hand what pea picking in the rain is like, how heavy feet-in-boots can be after walking around the farm on a muddy day, and how delicious a lunch salad and hot sweet tea can be on a strenuous workday. We also have a supplemental crew that joins occasionally- Miriam and Sarah from Lod. They are our guardian angels, arriving just as the weeds are threatening to take over, weeding garden-bed after garden-bed. Our new very weedy farm could never have provided the produce in your boxes without the rescue team from Lod.

In addition to our paid workers, we have been blessed with very devoted volunteers who pitch in to help with the farm’s endless chores, enjoy the sun (or rainy days), get their hands muddy, strain their muscles, and of course, dine on Lobsang’s lunches… First and foremost is our oldest volunteer (so to speak), Alon’s grandfather, Avraham Sabach, who has arrived every Wednesday for the past three years to be Alon Karni’s personal assistant in weighing the vegetables and distributing them in the boxes. Over the past year, Rachel from Tel Aviv and Alon from Beit Shemesh have been coming faithfully every Monday harvest day, bright and early, to toil till almost the end of our workday– and making us feel we’re doing them a huge favor. Lately, Na’ama from Neve Ilan has joined as well, and together with her sister help us out with every necessary farming task.

Last but not least, Davidi from Bar Giora, who has been with us for the past two years in various jobs, comes on Wednesdays to help out with harvest.

You usually don’t come in contact with us, the actual farmers, but every week we do   meet, via our loyal delivery team. Eyal delivers to the “Jerusalem outskirts” on Mondays and to the Jerusalemites on Wednesday. Ariel delivers a surprising amount of boxes to Jerusalemites on Wednesdays, Eli is in charge of Modiin-Jerusalem-Gush Ezion on Mondays and even Alon Karni joins the delivery forces (once a fortnight, at the end of a long workday) delivering to Nes Ziona, Rehovot and Mazkeret Batya. In the Tel Aviv area, Amit is in charge of the crew for clients of Tel-Aviv, Ramat Gan and Givatayim. Our delivery team has been with us for a long time. Neither rain nor shine, nor gloom of the night, car problems or other mishaps, will keep these men from delivering your fresh lettuce, carrots and broccoli that only yesterday were snuggled in the warm earth.  

This combination of volunteers and workers, older and younger people, and the diverse cultural backgrounds of those on our farm is another aspect of poly-culture–the multi-culture that is not merely expressed in the variety of vegetables and species in a small farm. It’s a devoted group of people happy to bury their hands in the earth, who hope together for its successful harvest, who rejoice at the sight of the first potatoes, and sigh (sometimes with relief) when the last one is pulled from the earth. Most of all, they enjoy the farm work, the observation work, and the work of the heart that go with farming.

I apologize for the long newsletter this week. It was important to me to introduce you “personally” to each and every partner in our work, and to thank them all for joining us.

_____________________________

This week’s basket includes:

 Monday: lettuce, carrots, Swiss chard / tatsoi / kale, turnip/kohlrabi, parsley, tomatoes, broccoli, new potatoes!, beets, green onions, cucumbers, celery

In the large box, in addition: cauliflower / green cabbage, peas, small radishes

 Wednesday: tatsoi, parsley, tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, green cabbage, carrots, fennel/turnip, cucumbers, potatoes, green onions/celery

In the large box, in addition: kohlrabi, peas, lettuce

 ______________________

A Fairy-Tale Vegetable

As a child, we had an old storybook with innocent, old-fashioned drawings in light colors. I don’t remember any of the stories, but I do recall that one was about a turnip. The children in the story sowed a turnip in their yard, or ate it for lunch or something along those lines. I remember we kids being astonished: what is a turnip? We imagined it to be an exotic European vegetable that only grows in heavy winters (maybe the children in the illustrations were wearing coats?), with a heavenly taste (the children seemed very happy from their delectable meal).

In Israeli reality, the turnip rates very minimal acclaim. It is considered to be a boring, tasteless vegetable. But in stories, it is highly regarded.

The well-known “Eliezer V’HaGezer” story is originally the tale of a huge turnip that required the cooperation of all members of the household to pull it out of the ground. The original Jack O’Lantern was an Irish drunkard who scooped out the insides of a turnip and placed a candle to act as a lantern.

A Grimm Brothers tale tells about two brothers, one rich, one poor. The poor brother grows huge turnip in his yard, and because he can’t figure out what to do with it, brings it to the king who rewards him with a huge fortune of gold. When the rich brother hears, he comes to the king with his own gift: gold and horses. The king is enthralled by this gift, and in thanks, sends the rich brother home with his gift: a huge turnip.

But beyond fairy tales, the turnip deserves real respect for being a truly great vegetable. Perhaps underrated, because its taste is mild and not as pronounced as other vegetables. Which is unfortunate, because I fear we’re getting used to the strong tastes of over-seasoning, brought to us by fast food and nosh that bombard us with overbearing flavors. We then miss out on the more gentle savors, ones that don’t grab the stage and holler.

The modest turnip is an ancient cultured crop, known in Greece, Rome, China and ancient Egypt. Its origins are in China, central Asia and the Near East. In Israel, the turnip was grown during the times of the Mishna, where it is mentioned as a popular garden vegetable. It belongs to the Cruciferae family, a cousin to cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, garden rocket, mustard, horseradish, radishes and others. Like the rest of the family, it favors a cold winter climate that slows down the plant’s breathing and raises the quantity of the carbohydrate reserve, a process that improves its taste. Variable, unstable conditions will produce a woody root and strong flavor, and the turnip turns bitter if the weather is too hot or dry. Perhaps this why in Israel the turnip is a true winter vegetable. The plant develops a dense root with a crown of leaves on its head, similar to the radish. There are many varieties of turnip: the spherical, the round, the oblate and the skewered, and their colors vary from pink to purple to yellow.

 In Israel, the root is the edible part, but in the Far East and southern United States it’s the leaves that are eaten, with some species specially developed for their leaves. The root is eaten raw, cooked or pickled, and the leaves are cooked like spinach. There are countries that produce oil from the seeds. Somewhere in cyberspace I read about a Canadian who married a southern American, and one day they decided to have turnip for dinner. At the supermarket he placed a turnip root into his cart, to his wife’s astonishment. She was used to giving the root to feed pigs, and demanded the greens instead. He declared that as far as he’s concerned, the turnip IS the root, and leaves are animal fodder. Sadly, neither ever touched a turnip again. The moral: both greens and root can be eaten.

 So indulge yourself with turnips in everything from soup to meat dishes to cholent. Use the turnip as you would a carrot (crusted, steamed with butter, glazed) or a potato (chips, pureed). Combine long, thin pieces of raw turnip (made with a peeler) in a vegetable salad. Or pickle it for two days without pre-cooking in a sweet and sour liquid consisting of a cup of plain vinegar, a cup of water and a cup of sugar boiled together.

 The turnip also has medicinal qualities. According to Nissim Crispil, it relieves coughing and hoarseness, mucus buildup and breathing problems. In natural medicine, quaffing turnip juice is said to improve your mood. It is also beneficial for the kidneys. Turnip roots contains calcium and potassium; drinking turnip-leaf juice aids in neutralizing excess blood acidity, and fortifying bones, hair, fingernails and teeth. 500 grams of turnip root will produce a glass of juice beneficial for anemia, arthritis, asthma, disruptions in the menstrual period, bladder obstruction, heart disease, fever, and kidney, liver and lung function. 500 grams of leaves will produce half a glass of juice (one quarter in the morning, a quarter in the evening) to heal a cough, hoarseness and hair loss.

Tips for Turnips:

  • Peel and wash turnips just before preparing, to prevent darkening
  • Cooking time for turnips is 5-10 minutes in boiling water.
  • Since turnips tend to absorb a great deal of water, dry them a bit after cooking in a frying pan slightly greased with butter.

 

Turnip recipes:

Ruth from Jerusalem sent me this one, fresh from last Shabbat’s meal: With all the turnips and sweet potatoes we’ve collected, I made up a soup Friday which everyone loved:

4-5 turnips, cleaned and trimmed
4-5 sweet potatoes
1-2 big onions
water
salt and pepper
olive oil
fresh sage
a little butter

Sauté onions in olive oil. Add turnips and sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Cook in water till tender, then blend.
In a small frying pan, heat olive oil and a little butter, stir-fry fresh sage leaves till brownish. When serving soup, garnish with crumbled sage leaves.
Enjoy!

 

Shalram—an Iraqi dish that’s perfect for very cold days and Shabatot

Ingredients:
5-6 medium turnips, cleaned and trimmed
4-5 T. sugar
Black-tea bag
Water to cover
Salt (just a little)

Preparation:
Slice turnips in half or in quarters. Bring turnip slices, tea bag and sugar to a boil.
Now you have two options – you can lower heat and continue cooking until tender (about 20 minutes), or you can treat it as chulent: place it on the Shabbat plata and let it cook overnight. Serve warm.

 

Turnip Puree

Turnips, like other root vegetables, are particularly delicious as a puree, which brings out the flavor. Simply peel and boil in salted water. Once turnips are soft, drain and place in food processor with a bit of milk. In moments you’ll have a white, lustrous puree with a gentle bitter savor.

 

  “Torshi” Tunisian Turnip Recipe (from www.matkonim.net )

A winter salad, hot-bitter-tart, served with couscous and also excellent with hamin

Ingredients:
2 turnips
2 green chili peppers
4 cloves garlic
1 medium lime, or several Chinese lemons
1 T. Tunisian harissa
1 t. ground caraway seeds (kimmel)
salt
2 T. regular oil

Preparation:
Clean and wash turnips. Cut to thin slices, and then cut each slice into small triangles. Slice the pepper and cut in thick rings. Peel the lime, slice into large pieces, and crush into the vegetable mixture. If using Chinese lemons, slice into small cubes. Slice garlic thinly. Add remaining ingredients and stir. Salad is ready immediately, but it’s preferable to leave at room temperature overnight to enhance the absorption of the flavors.

 

Turnip Salad, Lettuce and Carrots

Ingredients:
Raw turnip and grated carrot
Vinegar
Fresh dill, chopped
Lettuce
Salt and pepper

Preparation:
Mix and serve

 

 Like Other Vegetables, Turnips Can—and Should—be Preserved

Ingredients for pickling mixture:
1 c. sugar
1 c. vinegar
1 c. water
salt

Preparation:
Carefully peel turnips and cut into cubes. Bring pickling liquid to a boil and pour over vegetables. Store in glass jar.
Can be served as soon as the liquid cools, or kept refrigerated for several weeks.

Aley Chubeza #1 – December 28th-30th 2009

Our first English newsletter is a cause for celebration–and a mark of maturity. It means we are sufficiently fluent in our “mother tongue,” which is Hebrew, as well as “farm language” – the language of vegetables, weeds, insects, earth microbes, raindrops, sunshine, and most of all- the language of the earth.
After five and a half years of writing in Hebrew (our first Chubeza newsletter debuted in April 2004, with our first box of vegetables) here we are, ready to publish in an additional language.
For me, personally, it signifies a sort of closure. My entrance to the world of organic farming came when I worked and farmed in California. My language of discovery and practice was English, and when I returned to Israel I struggled to translate the nomenclature to Hebrew.
The English newsletter would have never happened without Melanie and Aliza’s persistence (they’re editing and translating the newsletter), and before we even start, I would like to thank them in advance for sleepless nights in the race to translate each Monday’s newsletter in time…
Some of you have been breaking your teeth over the years reading our newsletters in Hebrew, but for others, this is a first introduction to our weekly message. For that reason, we’re adding a bit more background information about Chubeza and about us. The first newsletters will feature a brief look at our piece of land, the people who work it and the ideals behind “Chubeza.”

It all starts in the land

I first laid eyes on our field October 2003. The thorns were man-high, but in my passionate, blind love, I knew this was a sign of fertile land and great promise. The field was surrounded by a tree nursery that added greenery and some shade, and to the north were the hills of the Ayalon Valley, its fields and houses.

            Our field now numbers some 12.5 acres and is located in the fields of Kfar Bin Nun, on the Latrun-Ramle road in the Ayalon Valley. After six years in our first field, where the entire valley lay before our eyes, we changed our location to various plots within the Moshav– close to our modest packing house, peeking mischievously from  between the houses, adding grace, beauty, and an old-fashioned aura to the modern Moshav. Another plot, still young, is outside the Moshav; behind it is a natural grove which makes the view of the Nesher Factory in the distance a little more tolerable…

Some of the plots have been organic for the past two years, and another for only one year. It has undergone detox and is now taking its first steps in the chemical-free world as it transforms to being organic.

            After last year’s winter, we’ve started this one with a sigh of relief (bli ayin hara). The timely, gentle rains gracing our fields every few days are ultimately manifested in the quantities of mud in your vegetable box. Such is characteristic of this time of year, when hearty showers have already saturated the layers of land (may they continue till springtime!). This is typical specifically of our heavy earth, the Terra Rossa of the coastal plain of Judea– red, clay-like dirt that is rich in iron oxides. This type of earth is common in the hilly areas of limestone and dolomite. It contains a high volume of clay created by the erosion of these rocks, arriving here after being washed down from the hills and reaching the valley. The red soil, from which actual clay is made, is the thinnest soil entity (made from particles smaller than 0.004 millimeters). Just like when you wet clay, you get mud, when this soil gets wet it absorbs the water, drains slowly and becomes very muddy. Which is why it leaves a residue of mud on the vegetables. The advantage of the mud is that the Terra Rossa clay is also very rich and fertile earth: it absorbs various minerals, iron and potassium oxides and even nitrogen, which is why it can be found in nature in various colors. Once it dries (rather slowly), it shrinks and naturally crumbles into small clumps, allowing roots, water and air to penetrate. This is why clay is an ideal environment for growing almost all types of plants. It is porous, ventilated and hydro absorbent.

The earth of the Ayalon Valley is indeed fertile and high-quality. As Gabi, a veteran farmer, neighbor and close friend, says, “We have all the weeds in the world, plus a few more that are just ours alone…” Weeding is indeed one of our more common tasks, especially during wintertime–even more so, in a wet winter like this one, and specifically in new organic fields like the one we are now cultivating. As you will notice, root vegetables are an inseparable part of life at Chubeza (a major reason we named the farm after one of our favorite and most common edible weeds in the field, and in your boxes, every winter and spring).

We will now have some time for weeding, as we are entering a short recess in planting. Last week we completed our final planting and seeding for this period, and now, over the next month and a half, we will only be planting a new crop of lettuce and scallions. The rest of the vegetables will wait patiently while the Class of Pre-Winter will grow. In February we start planting anew.

Winter is a lovely time here at Chubeza. As Moshe Stavi (Stavsky), a chalutz, farmer and Hebrew writer beautifully describes Israeli winter, “The first rain brings relief to man, livestock and flora, and the heart sings in joy, anticipating the new life… here the word ‘winter’ symbolizes revival, invigoration and youth.” It is true–Our farm gladdens the heart this time of the year: plants decorate everything in dozens of shades of green, the brown earth is soft and saturated, and the air is full of movement and the buzz of life. Rainy days warm the heart, after-the-rain days are clean and beautiful and clear, and it feels good to warm up in the winter sun. Even hazy days, like the ones we had last week, are sweet because we know they precede rain.

Come visit us– we would love to host you in our winter. And we welcome your feedback to this newsletter!

Alon, Bat Ami and the Chubeza Staff

________________________

This week’s basket includes:

Monday: lettuce, carrots, spinach, cauliflower, dill/parsley, tomatoes, broccoli, fennel, arugula, clemetines, cucumbers, small box only-red beets

In the large box, in addition: small radishes, mustard greens, kohlrabi, turnips.

Wednesday: cucumbers, mustard greens/kale, cilantro/parsley, tomatoes, lettuce, red beets, broccoli, kohlrabi, cauliflower/cabbage, carrots, snow/green peas-small box only.

In the large box, in addition: small radishes, turnips, leek, celery

_______________________

Each week we will aim to focus on one of the vegetables in your box (specifically the more unusual ones). In this first newsletter, we shall discuss the green leafy vegetables.

Wintertime brings many greens to your box: lettuce, garden rocket, chard, green and purple mustard greens, kale, spinach, tat soi and winter herbs (parsley, coriander, dill). What’s so nice about the greens is that they do not succumb to cultural sophistication and human technology (some say “not yet,” but I hope it’s for good): they’re absolutely seasonal and at their best during winter and fall. In the Israeli summer, most suffer terribly and require a lot of protection and spraying to guard them from pests and other woes. They also cannot be stored for long–they wither and dry up and spoil and play all sorts of tricks to indicate that their time is up and they must be eaten in season and fresh. How nice!

For those who are confused by the variety and quantity of greens in the box, let’s begin with an introduction:

Red leaf lettuce:

Romaine lettuce:

Tat soi:

 

Arugula

Swiss chard

                                                          

Green beet leaves

Flat mustard greens

Curled mustard greens

Purple mustard greens

Spinach

Kale

And now that we’ve met— some words of praise: the leafy vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, those elements that allow the plant to protect itself from solar radiation, diseases and contamination, and from harmful oxidization. They perform similar services for humans as well. Leafy vegetables are rich in lutein—an antioxidant from the carotenoid family, vital for optic health and an aid to cardiac and vascular health–as well as a cancer preventative. The dark, leafy greens are also rich in vitamin K, potassium, folic acid, calcium and magnesium. And what’s good is that these leaves succeed in doing the work much better than any food supplement. The timing and perfect arrangement of the dance each leafy vegetable shares create betters health—fortifying bones, heart and vascular system, muscles, the nervous system, balancing sugars in the body—for the human body as a whole.

Leafy vegetables belong to different families: spinach and the root vegetables beet and chard belong to the chenopodiaceous family; rocket, mustard greens of all types, kale and tat soi belong to the brassicaceac (cruciferae) family; lettuces represent the complex. Their tastes run the gamut—rocket and mustards are pungent, chard and lettuce leaves are sweetish, and the kale and spinach are somewhat bitter. Except for lettuce, where each head is detached from its base, we pick them all in a way that enables regrowth: from chard, kale, tot soi, mustard greens and spinach, we remove the large, older leaves from the plant’s circumference, leaving the young center to sprout. We cut the rocket, similar to herbs, and leave several centimeters from the stalk from which the plants grow anew.

It is highly advisable to consume the greens quickly: their nutritional value is highest when they are fresh. To keep them crisp and fresh after a few days or even a week or more—wrap them in a cloth or paper towel; then seal this well in a plastic bag. Keep the package in the colder, lower sections of the refrigerator. Our members have recommended keeping one sample leaf outside the towel to help identify the desired green from amongst the mummified wrappings on the refrigerator shelf….

The most well-known use for greens is in fresh salads—almost all, even the kale, will add taste and zest to a salad. The stiffer leaves can be sliced thin, but don’t give up on them! Greens can also be cooked—stir-fry them with other vegetables (add during the last few minutes of frying), blend them into quiches (use the more sharp-tasting greens cautiously), prepare warm salads or add them to pasta. Several more interesting uses are to dry the leaves to create crispy chips or to drain and blend them with sweet fruits and vegetables to create a delicious green beverage.

Recipes:

Gingery Sauteed Tat Soi with Tofu Steaks

Mustard greens with onions and more thoughts recipes

Pasta with tat soi

The 5 best kale recipes for everyday cooks

Balsamic-Glazed Chickpeas and Mustard Greens