The History of Love (of seasonal, healthy vegetables, of agriculture, and farmers)
Now that you’ve become acquainted with the farm and with us, the farmers, it is time to add the next piece of the Chubeza puzzle: our form of operation, “CSA,” Community Supported Agriculture. This Newsletter and next week’s will be devoted to the CSA mandate to forge a partnership, responsibility and reciprocity between farmers and consumers.
When Ecclesiastes said, “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven,” he was surely referring to this movement of partnership between farmers and consumers. And not just because farms grow vegetables in season and send fresh produce in boxes, but also because this model arose simultaneously and independently in both Japan and Europe– without either country being conscious of the other (in the pre-Internet era). It was the 1960’s, when an awareness of the dangers of modern farming was just beginning to emerge. Countries were losing farming viability and the wherewithal to sustain independent farming in an era of global market economy and low-cost imports. In short, people began waking up to agricultural problems that were threatening the mouth that consumes it, and began searching for answers. Japan became concerned with food safety, pondering whether the connection between artificial inorganic material and food was beneficial—an issue urgently driven by disturbing revelations on “Mina Mata Disease.”
It began in an affirmative, pastoral environment: in the 1920’s, a chemical plant was established in a small fishing village in the peaceful Mina Mata Bay. The villagers were convinced that the factory would provide support and boost opportunities for the residents. “Chisso Chemicals” started out producing fertilizers, and later expanded to manufacture material for the plastics industry. They released their industrial wastewater into the bay. The plant was a great commercial success, but eventually the residents of Mina Mata began noticing that for no obvious reason, their cats would become spastic, contort, and drop dead. Dead birds then started falling from the sky. Soon it was the people who were getting sick and babies were being born with dreadful deformities. The villagers suspected a connection between the chemical factory and these phenomena, since no such symptoms had existed before Chisso Chemicals arrived.
An exploration revealed that between 1932 and 1968, the plant released approximately 27 tons of methyl mercury into the bay, which bio-accumulated in shellfish and fish that were consumed by the local populace (including the cats and birds). This highly toxic chemical produced neurological damage, resulting in 68 deaths from mercury poisoning, including 22 miscarriages. The villagers demanded that the wastewater be banned from the bay, but Chisso superiors concealed scientific data they had amassed and claimed the mysterious disease was unrelated to their operations. Subsequently, they paid the victims’ families a small “indulgent” compensation, extracting a commitment that no legal claims be brought against the plant. Chisso continued to release the toxic water into the bay. Forty years later, some 4,000 people were diagnosed with “Mina Mata disease,” and the plant was obligated to compensate them. To this day, people living in the area continue to claim compensation from the company.
This episode, among others, caused more and more Japanese citizens to opt for organic food, but they encountered difficulties in this endeavor as well: on one hand, the increased import of agricultural produce posed a threat to local Japanese farming. On the other hand, forgeries and fabrications in labeling organic products sent consumers in search of an alternative. The solution: direct purchase from the grower, in return for his/her commitment towards the consumer. The first group organized in 1965 along the existing teikei (Japanese for “cooperation” or “joint business”) model. With reference to CSA, it is commonly translated as “food with the farmer’s face on it.” A small group of woman formed the first cooperative, and went in search of a farmer who would create a partnership of mutual support.
It is no surprise that this development took place in Japan, where a respect for health is integral in the culture. But beyond, the Japanese boast a tradition of co-ops, the first established in 1897! To this day, 14 million Japanese (some 22% of the population) are members of the cooperative Japanese consumers union, the largest of its kind in Japan. Japanese co-ops run the gamut from medicine and housing to insurance and education. Most teikei programs are partnerships between farmers’ co-ops and consumer co-ops.
Meanwhile, at the same time, across the ocean:
At the beginning of the 20th century the Anthroposophist movement was established, based on the ideology of philosopher, architect, and Austrian teacher Rudolf Steiner, and on his writings in education, medicine, arts, religion, economy and agriculture. I will only relate to his approach to agriculture, but for further information I suggest these sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthroposophy, http://www.waldorfanswers.com/Anthroposophy.htm
The Anthroposophist relationship to agriculture is otherwise known as “biodynamic agriculture.” In 1924, Rudolph Steiner was sought out by a group of Central European farmers concerned with the deterioration of various plants and animals resulting from the use of chemical fertilizers. They requested that Steiner set out the foundations for applying anthroposophist tenets to practical farming. In eight lectures given in Silesia, Germany, Steiner characterized the optimal agricultural system as a complete ecologic system where people, animals, plants, microorganisms, earth, water and air exist in a dynamic balance and equilibrium. He also stressed an astrological element, in the influence of cosmic powers upon fixing stars and planets, to the fertility of the earth and the vitality of the metabolic processes in the earth’s organism and the kingdoms of nature. Practical use of these powers in agriculture enables the elimination of toxics and chemical fertilizers, aiming to provide agricultural produce with biological and nutritious quality.
Since 1924, biodynamic agriculture has developed in many countries, and the scientific research of Rudolph Steiner’s blueprint is carried out in institutes devoted solely to this pursuit.
Steiner also focused on “associative economics,” to create an alternative to competitive economy. Steiner’s model presents an economic order that cultivates reciprocation and communication between manufacturers, merchants, credit suppliers and consumers to deal with issues of fair prices, actual needs, reduction of poverty and expansion of social equality and environmental influences. A combination of the two approaches–biodynamic organic agriculture and an economy based on cooperation and reciprocation–served to create the ultimate model: a partnership forged between farmers and the non-agricultural community to confront these issues.
At the end of the 1960’s, the Buschberghof Farm, a German collective farm based on these principles, was established alongside a “collaborative agricultural community.” This initiative aimed to create a network of non-farmers who support farmers by giving loans and partnering. In Switzerland a similar process took place, influenced by the Chilean cooperative movement during the regime of Salvador Allende (1970-1973). In the 1980’s, agricultural partnerships and communities were established in Germany and Switzerland, influenced by parallel processes taking place in the U.S. The Buschberghof Farm evolved into an actual CSA.
The development of the CSA movement in United States was quite similar to that of their European counterparts. I won’t go into the details here, but for those interested, I recommend this very informative and interesting article about the origins of the movement, focusing on the nation’s pioneer CSA farms in Massachusetts and New Hampshire:
Each of these two farms, by the way, is still operating as a CSA today, some 20+ years later. B’karov etzlenu!
Next Newsletter: The different faces of today’s global CSA Movement, and Chubeza’s commitment to stimulate this model in Israel.
This week’s basket includes:
Monday: lettuce, carrots, mustard greens / tatsoi, kohlrabi, cilantro, tomatoes, broccoli, potatoes, green cabbage, beets, cucumbers, spinach, fennel.
In the large box, in addition: cauliflower, green onions, first fava beans!
Wednesday: cauliflower, arugula/spinach, tomatoes, dill, green onions, broccoli, turnips, clementines, carrots, lettuce, cucumbers, potatoes / fennel.
In the large box, in addition: kohlrabi, beets, new fava beans!
And Now to Our Featured Vegetable: the Kohlrabi
It’s a UFO! It’s a parachuting turnip! It’s a long neck trying to swallow something round and wide. No! It’s the kohlrabi, an amazing, if unassuming, vegetable in this week’s box.
(I even found this description somewhere: “Hold the kohlrabi root-side-up, and the stems will look like boiling wax dripping from the bulb…)
So our friend is rather strange looking, and that is because he is a very unconventional phenomenon in the vegetable world. We know vegetables that are the fruit of the plant, or the leaves, or the flowers or even the roots, but this time it’s the stem! True, it’s a little strange to think of a round ball-shaped stem, and the kohlrabi resembles other round roots such as his distant cousins, the turnip and radish. But to be honest, the only similarity between them is on the outside: botanically speaking, the kohlrabi is actually closer to the cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprout and broccoli. In the beginning of its growth, the kohlrabi looks a lot like the cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli or kale plant. It sprouts green leaves on an upright plant. But upon maturity, the kohlrabi searches for an individual identity, and suddenly its stem thickens, curves up and becomes ball-like until a round kohlrabi sits on the earth (not under it!), light green (or purple, depending upon the type), sweet and juicy.
For those of you who may not be acquainted with this vegetable, or perhaps once found it tasteless, or was put off by its strange shape, I have only one thing to say: take one out of the box right now. Find a small one, peel it and take a bite: it is juicy, sweet and delicate, and just wonderful!
Speaking of hot air balloons, the geographic distances the kohlrabi has traveled over the years wouldn’t shame any frequent flyer. Like the rest of its family, the kohlrabi’s ancestor is the wild cabbage, or curly cabbage, whose origins are very ancient. In the first century, Roman agronomists and cooks wrote about it. Roman Emperor Karl the Great demanded that kohlrabi be planted in his kingdom. From Europe it traveled to north India in the 17th century, where it became a main component of the Hindu diet. From there, our vegetable migrated to Northern Africa, the Middle East, China and Africa, and later, to the United States–specifically, to the southern kitchen. To this day kohlrabi is a main favorite in Indian, Asian, German and Hungarian cookbooks.
The origin of its name derives from German: kohl=cabbage, rabi=turnip. But it isn’t really a hybrid of the two. The name was given perhaps because the vegetable belongs to the cabbage lineage, but looks like a turnip or a similar bulb. But that too is misleading, because the kohlrabi is neither a root nor a bulb. If you’ve ever seen a kohlrabi in the field, you can easily define the edible part, for it is sitting atop the earth, and is, in fact, a thickened stem.
Like the rest of its relatives, the kohlrabi is fond of a cool climate and grows in different seasons in different areas. Thus, while we Israelis are already receiving a second crop of this friendly creature, in California or in different parts of the U.S. they’re only now seeding it in the hothouses. In Israel, the kohlrabi will find it very difficult to grow during summertime, but where spring and summer are cooler, he enjoys sprouting, just like the cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower.
The kohlrabi is speedier than the rest of his family, because we don’t have to wait for the plant to flower in order to get to the edible part (like the cauliflower or broccoli) or for the leaves to close (like the cabbage.) As a matter of fact, the kohlrabi should be picked early, when it hasn’t yet matured. A big kohlrabi means it was picked too late, and its texture is liable to be fibrous. This is also the reason you sometimes receive tiny kohlrabies. The winter stopped their growth, but a longer wait would have harmed the juicy, crispy texture, which is why they were picked small. Kohlrabi comes in green or purple, although for both the inside is light green.
So the kohlrabi is picked young, in some seasons less than two months after being planted. But it is in fact a bi-seasonal vegetable, meaning that in order to arrive at a complete growth cycle climaxed by seed production, it must undergo two growing seasons. In between is a rest period, or “incubation,” after which it will flower and produce seeds during the following springtime.
Kohlrabi can be eaten in any form. It is customary to eat it raw, which is why we will name other forms of consumption. The vegetable is delicious grilled or roasted in the oven or an outdoor grill. It is delicious cooked or steamed, not only in soup, stir-fried in butter or baked with salt, white pepper and sage. It can even be pickled. In Chinese-food recipes, it can substitute for radish or turnips and for water chestnuts. Its leaves are similar in taste to kale, and are great in soup, pasta sauces and stir-fries.
Health-wise, the kohlrabi holds all the medical merits of the Cruciferae family. It has a much greater nutritional value than cabbage, is an outstanding source of vitamin C (one cup of sliced kohlrabi supplies the recommended daily portion), and like the cauliflower, is a great source of nutritional fiber. Kohlrabi also contains high levels of potassium, folic acid and calcium. In folk medicine it is considered to cleanse the blood and kidneys, as well as being beneficial for the lymphatic system and for digestion. Nissim Krispil writes of Moroccan Jews who make kohlrabi and honey juice to remedy hoarseness and mucus. In natural medicine kohlrabi is mixed with other vegetables to make a juice that treats asthma, improves lung function, sinus problems and the thyroid gland. Adding carrot juice will improve the taste of kohlrabi juice.
And a little joke before we turn to recipes: The American indexing society that is devoted to indexing, summarizing and building databases, awards an annual “Kohlrabi Order Prize,” named such because, “Just like the kohlrabi, no one knows who we are or what to do with us.”
But after this newsletter, you all do now!
Ingredients: 4 kohlrabies 2 cups sweet cream (shamenet) 1 t. salt, or to taste ½ t. white pepper 1 T. very soft butter
Preparation: – Peel the kohlrabi and slice into as many thick pieces as possible. Place in a deep bowl. – Mix the cream with salt and pepper and pour over the kohlrabi slices. – Mix gently until all slices are coated with cream. – Grease a medium-size flat baking pan with butter. Add kohlrabi slices and level them on the surface. – Bake in medium oven (pre-heated) for around one hour or until the cream is almost steamed and the casserole is golden. – Turn off oven, and leave the casserole inside for another 10 minutes, until solid. Serve warm.
Kohlrabi and Rocket Salad with Apples and Apple Vinaigrette: Recipe from “Shkedim” Catering. From www.eat2.co.il
Ingredients: 5 small kohlrabies 3 hard Grand apples 2 lemons 1 pkg. fresh rocket
Vinaigrette: 1 can apple juice concentrate 1 t. coriander seeds ½ t. mustard seeds 1 c. corn oil ½ c. olive oil 1 t. ground ginger salt, pepper walnuts for garnish
Preparation: – Peel kohlrabies and grate coarsely. – Core apples and slice into very thin crescents; soak apples in water with the juice of two lemons – Wash the rocket, dry and place on paper towel. – In a small pan, add apple juice concentrate, coriander, mustard seeds, and ginger. Bring to a boil, cook for 3-4 minutes, and cool. – When mixture is cool, place in blender. While blending, add corn oil and olive oil; add a bit of salt and pepper, and continue blending till mixture becomes brownish. – Place kohlrabi and rocket in bowl, drain apples from lemon mixture and add to bowl. Pour on the dressing, toss and serve. – Can garnish with shelled walnuts or cashews
Rumanian Kohlrabi Soup: Recipe from the book The Lowfat Jewish Vegetarian Cookbook–Healthy Traditions from Around the World by Debra Wasserman
Ingredients: 2 kohlrabies, peeled and chopped 1 small head of cauliflower, chopped 2 carrots, peeled and chopped Small onion, peeled and thinly chopped ½ c. dill, finely chopped ½ c. parsley, finely chopped 2 T. oil ½ t. thyme or basil salt and pepper 1 T. cornflower 11 cups water ½ c. lemon juice 425 gm. tomato paste
Preparation: – In a large pot, sauté kohlrabi, cauliflower, carrot, onion, dill and parsley at medium-high heat for around 5 minutes. Season. – Dilute cornflower in a cup of water and add. Add 10 more cups of water and bring to boil. Lower flame and cook covered for an additional 30 minutes. – Add lemon juice and tomato paste, and continue cooking on low heat for an additional 15 minutes
Ingredients: 4 kohlrabies, peeled and grated ¼ c. chopped scallions 2 eggs, beaten 2 T. breadcrumbs 1 t. salt very hot pepper ¼ c. olive oil (for frying)
Preparation: Drain grated kohlrabi well Mix all ingredients (except oil) together in a bowl Heat oil in large frying pan Using a spoon, drop fritters in the pan Fry 3-4 minutes on each side (depending on thickness) until golden
And, one last: