This is Rebecca McKeever– you may have seen me snapping pictures at the market or sporting a green market t-shirt around town. Not only do I help out with the farmers’ market, but I’m a big fan of fresh, home-cooked food. That doesn’t mean that I have time to make a meal for my family every night. Between daytime work, evening activities, and our three year old, we sometimes can end up either grabbing take-out or having spoonfuls of peanut butter for supper.
As much as we like peanut butter and take out, this wasn’t a good solution. First, take-out can get expensive. Second, too much peanut butter, or restaurant food for that matter, makes me feel like a glob of peanut butter. And most importantly, I will cry if I find the beautiful vegetables I got at the farmers’ market, shriveled and spoiled in the back of the fridge. We needed a plan to avoid that situation.
Here’s what we do (and what you should maybe do, too):
- Find a consistent time each week that you can dedicate to spending a couple hours in the kitchen. During this time you’ll prepare most of your food for the whole week. This is often referred to as batch cooking.
- Go to the farmers’ market sometime leading up to your cooking time. (We get our vegetables and meat at the market on Saturday so we can cook together on Sunday.)
- Get plenty of whatever is in season. Get enough of each ingredient to make a large dish with it. If you are a busy, forgetful person like me, don’t buy one cucumber and think “Maybe I’ll slice this up sometime for a snack or maybe I’ll put it on a salad” Because it will rot in your fridge. Buy a whole slug of cucumbers and plan to make a whole container of refrigerator pickles during your cooking time. Or buy all the ingredients for the salad and actually make the salad. And if you’re thinking about buying one acorn squash because it looks cute, change your mind, buy at least three, and bake them all up at one time so you have side dishes ready for when you need them that week.
- Plan some meals around these items. You don’t need to plan what you’ll have each night of the week unless you want to. For us it works better to make three or four triple-batch size main dishes and a couple sides we can use all week. That way we can mix and match and use the same foods in our lunches. We might overdo it with one dish one week, but the next week we cook something different.
Three side dishes (cabbage, brussel sprouts, and zucchini) we prepared during our batch cooking time.
- Get any other ingredients you need for your plan at the grocery store. What does our family get at the grocery store during farmers’ market season? Not much at all. Our grocery list is usually: soy sauce, curry powder, rice, coconut oil, bananas. If you know any coconut oil or banana vendors who would like to participate in our market, please let me know– it would save me a trip to the grocery store.
- Cook all the food! (Well, you don’t have to cook it all, just prepare it for eating). For us this is the day after market and we usually just spend a couple hours in the kitchen. Since my husband and I like to cook together, it usually goes pretty smoothly. I put a pork roast in one crockpot right away so that while I’m chopping vegetables I can feel like I’m already cooking. Next we start a big pot of soup. We throw most of the vegetable scraps in the second crockpot, then add a chicken neck, salt and water. That’ll be the broth for next week’s soup. As I throw the rest of the chicken in the oven, my husband starts cooking up some vegetable side dish. Then I start chopping up vegetables for another. Squash or potatoes can be baked at the same time if the oven is on anyway. Within a couple hours, we have quite a variety of food either cooked or cooking. We can work quickly because we don’t worry about meal plans or recipes– our only thought is to get as much food as ready as possible as quickly as possible.
- Store the food. This is another area we’ve improved upon lately. We used to put everything in big plastic containers so that it, too, could rot. No longer. We are now putting as much as possible into wide-mouth pint-size mason jars. It is much more convenient to grab a pint-size serving of soup or stir-fry when packing your lunch than it is to find a container and dish it out in the morning and clean up the mess you’ve made while dishing it out. And guess what– if you want to eat it at home for supper, all together, you can just open up three jars.
Genius. Now our farm-fresh food actually gets eaten. I guess that’s step #8: eat the food. Since implementing this family routine, morale is up and wasted food is down. Here’s a graph:
Morale has improved in our home since implementing this batch cooking routine.
That’s pretty much it! Let us know how you prepare the food you get at the farmers’ market, or let us know if you need ideas on how to cook different foods, with or without a recipe.
Les and his hogs have an excellent working arrangement.
Have you ever entered a hog pen and come out with clean shoes? It is possible, at least at Wheatstem Meadows farm. Les Miller, who owns and operates the farm along with his son Eric, specializes in pastured beef and pork. Even though Les grew up raising hogs, he still finds more to learn as he continually researches how to keep his livestock healthy, naturally. “Healthy food for healthy people,” he explains as he walks across the dry bed of wood chips to where his hogs are rooting in the shade of the barn.
Wheatstem Meadows Farm is located just north of the airport along North 60th Street. Les has worked in agricultural real estate for most of his career, and during that time he gradually pieced together the acres of his farm as they became available. One of the things he likes about his land is that it sits on a hill, which means that no other farms drain onto his. This allows him to control the nutrients in his soil using organic methods such as cover crops and composting.
When Les gets a load of fresh, new wood chips for his hogs’ home base, the old ones are moved to the compost pile. After aging, the compost is spread onto the gardens and pasture. The pasture is seeded with a blend of plants that Les has chosen based on their ability to balance the soil and give nutrients to the pigs as they are let out to graze it section by section. One of those plants is kale, and the pigs love it.
Preparing pasture and rotating the hogs through it section by section keeps the soil and the hogs healthy.
The pigs also enjoy some non-GMO feed, to which Les adds rosemary and garlic, which naturally control parasites in hogs. Les adds apple cider vinegar to their water to keep their digestion healthy. “It can decrease their feed needs by 30%,” Les says.
On the next hilltop, where the cows graze, Les points out the variety of plants growing in the pasture and explains how he encourages the good ones and discourages the invasive ones. It’s a lot of detail work, but he’s seen big improvements in the soil and the pasture during the time he’s owned the land. “We test our soils extensively, and we take Brix readings to test the dissolved solids in our plants, and tissue samples– it’s more than N-P-K, it’s the whole spectrum,” Les explains. “And there’s a new soil test called the Haney test, and that one tests the biological activity in the soil. Fungi, protozoa, bacteria… in healthy soil there should be the equivalent of three cows [by weight] of living creatures in the top twelve inches of an acre of soil.”
This breed of cows is known for high amounts of healthy fats, so the meat is pasture-raised but not too lean.
Besides cows, pigs, and all the microscopic life in the soil, ducks, geese, vegetables and flowers also grow on this farm. Many of the vegetables end up as food for the animals. Any land that is not in immediate use is planted with cover crops– Les has developed his own mix of eight crops that each add nutrients to balance the soil in some way. This way the soil is always improving and getting ready for its next task.
No land on the farm sits idle, and neither does any time. The biodiversity on the farm helps to keep nutrients in balance and pests under control, but caring for four different species of animals and dozens of plant varieties means that there is never a dull moment. On any given day, Les could be found purchasing a new bull, making sure a sow is caring for her new piglets, picking pumpkins, or planting kale for the pigs. Even with all the work on the farm, he finds time to keep reading and researching and sharing his knowledge with other farmers through professional organizations, such as Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture. But sometimes, you’ll find him walking through the hog pen, hanging out with the animals he cares so much about.
The Prairie Farmers’ Market is all about high-quality goods and high-quality people. Our farmers and makers are some of the most hard-working people you will ever meet. And we’ve noticed that our customers are some of the most caring, inquisitive, and proactive people in the Sioux Falls area. Ask almost any of the vendors at The Prairie Farmers’ Market, and they’ll tell you that the highlight of their week is talking with customers at the market. (I say “almost” because one or two of our farmers are introverts and their favorite thing is being out in the garden!)
Because we love our customers, we’re hosting a Customer Appreciation Day this Saturday during our market at Cherapa Place from 8am–1pm. What’s so special about Customer Appreciation Day?
We’re really looking forward to a fun-filled day on Saturday and we hope to see you there. We appreciate you!