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Nicole Bauman and Nick Simons were getting blue as things got less and less green.
This summer's drought was hard on a lot of people, but particularly hard on the duo overseeing Rise Up Farms on the east side of Elkhart.
They have a few dozen customers who paid them to provide vegetables each week. And when the summer was at its driest before the July rains came, there were a few sparse weeks. When I went to pick up my weekly share, I tried to calculate whether I was getting enough. But I also knew it was as dry as it's been in decades.
“Those were hard weeks,” said Bauman on Friday. They wanted to have more to offer. “It felt like we were working harder than ever and producing less than ever,” she continued.”
They lost crops because they didn't germinate or pests wiped them out. There won't be many winter squash coming from the plot along S.R. 120. There haven't been many green beans and won't be this year. Salad greens didn't do as well as they hoped.
Simons and Bauman are, by their own admission, newer farmers. This is her third year at the farm and he's just finished his first. “I grew up on a farm but we weren't doing this kind of farming,” she said.
With the rains, their weekly emails to customers became more upbeat and the harvests were larger. This past week, there was a bounty waiting for customers.
On Tuesday, the list included collard greens, red Russian kale, parsley, turnips, kohlrabi, basil, garlic, cucumbers, tomatillos, tomatoes, broccoli, melons and green beans.
Big swaths of greens were bundled together. Big melons were on the ground awaiting a ride home. The tomatoes weren't pretty like supermarket tomatoes, but were almost bursting with locally grown goodness. Many of the items from Rise Up aren't as pretty other produce, but it's grown using organic practices and you pick it up next to the field it grew in. You know where it came from and how it got to you.
On Tuesdays, I get this stuff and try to use it. I don't always. I admit that collard greens have gone to waste in my fridge this summer.
What do you do with collard greens? Lots of them? They were one thing that grew well this summer.
Adam's Bistro will turn them into a Southern dish, I'd guess with pork. Adam Williams is purchasing some of the surplus, the first that Rise Up has had to sell to a restaurant this summer.
The kale I've gotten has mostly gone into breakfast smoothies. I've had a fruit/vegetable smoothie nearly every morning for months and kale has often been a star. I'll try collard greens in one, but after talking to Bauman, I really want to try one of her suggestions: collard won-tons.
Last summer, she made a ricotta/herb mixture, wrapped a destemmed collard leaf around some and then grilled the little package.
It sounds delicious. I'll be doing that soon.
My favorite dish of the summer out of my own kitchen has been sauteed chard. I'd chop the leaves and stir-fry them in oil, garlic, ginger and adding a little soy sauce, sugar and oil. The basic recipe is from “The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook,” by Gloria Bley Miller. It's a classic first published in 1984.
Nicole said she makes potato soup, often adding some turnips and then choosing to use dairy or miso. That would be good, too.
It's been an odd summer. Blueberry season lasted longer than usual. There won't be many, if any, local apples or peaches. Some people's gardens did well if the owner watered. Others have struggled.
The drought isn't over, but it's less dire. Watermelons and cantaloupe are ripening at Rise Up. Peppers will be, too. “Our sweet potatoes are looking really good,” Bauman said. They're still battling potato bugs, but the other potatoes are looking good, too.
On Friday, Bauman and others were harvesting at the farm. She was happy. And the crops are looking better.
She said the watermelons they were picking were “bigger than toddlers.”
“That's fun,” she said.
It makes me smile.
Marshall V. King is news/multimedia editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth/eTruth.com. You can reach him at 574-296-5806, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Facebook at www.facebook.com/diningalaking.