News from the Farm: Sheep!

It just got a little woolier around the Hometown Harvest Farm this week, thanks to our newest arrivals.  

This group of six Southdown sheep males will spend the summer grazing our pasture, soaking up healthy nutrients from the grass and clearing the way for the chickens to follow behind in the rotation. 

   

 In the fall, we hope to be able to offer a limited amount of the grass-fed meat, and we know the chickens will appreciate having their pasture cleared for the summer. 

Did somebody say “chickens”?

  They always love to say hello!  

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Winter Farming: Tunnels (and Cherries!)

Kevin of Quarter Branch Farm

There is something almost magical about a farm in the winter–so much is going on below the surface if you know what to look for. Though we haven’t had many breaks from the wintery weather in the last few weeks, Tony and our produce buyer Mila have been hitting the roads visiting our network of organic growers to discuss plans for the spring. So far a major trend in protecting dormant plants has been a variety of tunnel systems, which our growers hope will allow them to start harvesting earlier, with higher-quality yields.

cherry.farm.1Tony & Mila stopped to meet with a new-to-us cherry grower, Joshua Dauman of Cherry Tree Lane Farm in Chambersburg. Originally from Washington State where cherries flourish, Joshua has been perfecting his techniques for producing this extremely hard-to-grow fruit here in our region. By using a high, open-sided tunnel, he is able to protect the growing cherries from excess rain on the fruit (which can cause splitting) but still maintain maximum sweetness.

IMG_4234

Cherry bud chock full of tiny cherries.

So far his buds have remained healthy despite the long cold winter, so we are hoping that his diligence will allow us to offer a variety of local cherries throughout the harvesting season. pic5

Joshua also had an abundance of beautiful storage onions that he was able to supply us with–you’ll recognize them if you received onions in your order this week.

IMG_4309This week in Virginia, Tony & Mila visited our friends Kevin of Quarter Branch Farm, and David Guisti of Second Spring Farm. Kevin was busy working through the snow to show us some amazing pac choi that he’s been growing under cover in his greenhouse. Seeing the fresh green with snow all around was amazing, and we’re so excited to share it with you. IMG_4307

Stay tuned for more updates as we continue to visit our farmer friends and plan for spring offerings, as well as updates from our own new Hometown Harvest Farm. A little snow and ice can’t slow us down! 🙂

Prebiotics (Or Eating to Feed 10 Trillion Mouths)

Dr. Greg (aka Dr. Garbanzo) of 2Armadillos Snack Co. shares how “prebiotic” foods can boost gut bacteria health.

If you pay even passing attention to science and health news, chances are you’ve seen press about the newest study on why meat is killing us. In this trial, researchers fed a group of people different diets sequentially and then sequenced their gut bacteria. First, volunteers ate a version of the Atkins diet: eggs and bacon, ribs, steak, salami, and pork rinds. Then the group was fed a standard “healthy” diet: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and pretty much devoid of any animal products. Researchers found the different diets produced major shifts in the microbiome of the people in the study after just a couple of days. It’s proof of of the concept that our own flora are significantly influenced by our food intake.

The relationship between the food that we eat, our gut bacteria, and human health and disease is one of the most exciting areas of research going on today. And the mainstream science press is on the case. You may remember articles from earlier this year on red meat altering gut flora to increase inflammation or the hypothetically increased cardiovascular disease risk from TMAO synthesized by gut bacteria after egg ingestion. It’s fascinating to me that the headline after these studies come out always seems to be some variation on the theme that animal products are terrible for us and we need to avoid them to reduce our chances of becoming sick.

In my previous post on probiotics,* I took a look at the myriad inflammatory conditions and infections that seem to be markedly impacted by the trillions of bacteria that live within our colons. There’s a lot of compelling evidence that probiotics, either from fermented foods (like kombucha, yogurt, and sauerkraut) or supplements, have a positive impact on our health via directly altering our personal bacterial populations. But the corollary to this is that it’s not enough just to have a good balance of bacteria, they need to be fed appropriately in order to flourish.

Prebiotics are substances found in roots, tubers, and vegetables (like chickpeas) that are undigestable to humans but stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. The major ones in our diets are inulin and oligofructose, but there are plenty of others such as fructooligosaccharides and galactooligosaccharides. Some scientists like to make a distinction between short chain and long chain as different lengths feed bacteria in different areas of the colon (short chain feed bacteria early in the colon and long chain a bit further down).  By feeding our gut bacteria prebiotics, we alter them in beneficial ways. There’s evidence that prebiotics can modify immune function and may even protect patients with inflammatory bowel disease. And some researchers suspect that one of the reasons breast milk is the perfect food for newborns is that the oligosaccharides present in it provide an excellent prebiotic source for the infant’s developing microbiome.

So if prebiotics from plant sources appear to improve our health via microbiome modulation and animal products like meat and eggs cause our gut bacteria to change and start pumping out substances that increase heart disease risk, shouldn’t we all be vegans? Maybe, but I’m not convinced on the basis of these studies. These are great first steps in the investigation of the role food plays in our microbiome and subsequently our health. They don’t tell us anything about long term disease risk, only about short term biomarkers. All I can take away at this point is that eating nothing but meat and eggs for a short period of time may chance my gut bacteria in ways that may not be good for me. I haven’t learned anything about the long term effects, and I certainly haven’t learned anything about my actual disease risk. Those studies take huge groups of participants followed over years to tell us anything definitive. But they do provide us with food for thought.

As with all diet studies, our ability to draw conclusions is confounded by multiple variables being simultaneously manipulated. How much of the changes observed in these studies is due to the presence of meat and how much of it is due to the absence of plant matter? Maybe concurrently eating prebiotics from tubers protects our microbiome from the destruction wrought by meat. Or maybe adding a probiotic would do the trick. Of course, it’s still always possible that meat actually is unhealthy and that it wreaks its damage to our body via 10 trillion helpers. As with most nutritional research, the definitive answer remains far from clear.

My takeaway is simple: your mom was probably right when she told you to eat your vegetables! I suspect that veggies, tubers, and roots are probably good for you. Don’t fall prey to the latest study** trying to convince you that what you’ve been eating is killing you. If you’re going to eat meat or eggs, it’s not a bad idea to have a side of asparagus or top if with some onions and garlic. So eat a variety of plants and feed your bacteria because they are hungry!

 

*Quick refresher: probiotics are live bacteria found in fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and yogurt. You can also get them in supplement form

**Or even worse, news article about the study!

-Dr. Greg Katz, 2Armadillos Snack Co.

The Source Report: Crispy Chickpeas

Read more about our latest product, Crispy Chickpeas, from guest post author, co-owner of 2Armadillos Snack Co. and medical doctor, Greg Katz.

Crispy Organic Chickpeas

In the modern age of industrialized food production and distribution, it can be impossible to know where your food really comes from. If you stop to read a label on some of the food that’s being sold in your supermarket, it can be quite a shock to see the additives and unrecognizable ingredients. This bread has high fructose corn syrup? What the heck is carrageenen and why is it in my Greek yogurt? It can be sad to see how corporate interests and marginal profits have disrupted the wholesome production of some of our favorite pantry staples.

Luckily, you have some friends out there doing things a bit differently. Hometown Harvest and 2Armadillos Snack Co recognize that making healthy choices is a lot easier when you have readily available options that are better tasting and better for you. We make crispy roasted chickpeas out of Union Kitchen in NoMa, Washington DC, using only organic chickpeas, high quality olive oil, salt, and seasonings. Union Kitchen is a commercial cooking facility and food incubator that facilitates small food companies making their entry into the business world.
2Armadillos has been at UK since our beginning, and having the opportunity to work alongside so many other food entrepreneurs committed to using high quality, well-sourced ingredients in handmade products has been an inspiration for us. The “community” aspect of housing our production inside of such a facility has helped us create relationships that have changed our business. When you work side by side with people who are committed to making a product that is socially conscious, high in quality, and delicious for customers, you can’t help but be inspired. The cooks and business owners at Union Kitchen never compromise on the quality of their products or use additives and unpronounceable ingredients to raise their margins at the expense of their customers. And it’s amazing to produce our snacks in such a vibrant environment; the buzz in the air at Union Kitchen makes us excited about our business every day!
Through our membership at Union Kitchen, we’ve formed close relationships with the owners of several other local small businesses. We are particularly close with Capital Kombucha, makers of the popular fermented tea drink and are exploring distribution partnerships to help customers enjoy the synergistic relationship of a refreshing probiotic (kombucha) with a tasty prebiotic (chickpeas) to nourish their bodies while delighting their palates.
We at 2Armadillos couldn’t be more excited about sharing our delicious and wholesome snacks with you and your family through Hometown Harvest! And we encourage you to check out all of Union Kitchen so you can learn about all of the amazing local businesses helping to feed hungry mouths all over the DC area!
—Greg3x4 POS 2A graphic - 10.24.13

The “Source” Report: Squash is the Word!

Red Kuri Squash

Squatter and darker than a pumpkin, this red kuri squash makes a mean soup.

It’s Halloween and who doesn’t have pumpkin on the brain? True foodies know that the oversized carving pumpkins are only good for the month of October, and then it’s all about the perfect little pie pumpkins that sing with squashy flavor and texture. What better than a menu full of blood-sugar-regulating, fiber-filled, vitamin-rich SQUASH to cleanse the body after a bout of weakness with some trick-or-treats?

Baby Bear Squash

These “baby bear” squash are just right!

Squash is a sometimes misunderstood but very healthy veggie option, adding tons of new choices  to our fall meals. As produce buyer, I have the opportunity to try new flavors of seasonal classics as well as new produce items that I have never had before, and this fall is no exception.  I’ve been exploring and tasting the many squash choices we offer, including delicata,  acorn, butternut, kuri, and yes, pumpkin.

All have slightly different textures and flavors, from sweet to mild to even nutty. Some recipes have been quick and easy others more effort, but well worth it. (Pro tip: Keep cooked & pureed squash on hand in the freezer to cut down on recipe prep time.)

Sweet & spicy, you'll flip for this curry/kuri soup!

Sweet & spicy, you’ll flip for this curry/kuri soup!

A new favorite of mine is Red Kuri Squash, which I bake until soft and tender and puree into a wonderful Coconut “Kuri” Soup. Last week I microwaved acorn and delicata squash until tender, then scooped and mashed together for a quick easy side dish, to which I added a little butter and served warm. I’ve also made squash dinner rolls and then used my leftover dough to make breakfast rolls with cherries and cashews inside–so versatile! This week, I plan  on trying a casserole with squash and apples.

Fall offers wonderful new seasonal produce for some amazing healthy menu options. There are really no limits to the flavor combinations of this local veg, so go on—experiment a little and then share some of your squash recipes with us!

squash rolls

Use pureed squash in dough, like these dinner rolls and cherry cashew breakfast rollups.

The “Source” Report: A Pomegranate How-To!

The content of this post comes from The Organic Produce Geek, a fabulous resource for seasonal eating! Check out the original post here for more information!

This week we are offering organic pomegranates, a fun fall treat that is loaded with healthy antioxidants and vitamins! They can be a little tricky to open, but definitely worth learning how to do! Pomegranate arils can be frozen like berries and used in smoothies, salads, baking…anything you like!

TIPS:

  • Scarring on the skin really has no impact on the internal quality of the fruit.
  • The redness of the skin can vary from variety to variety and is not a true indicator of aril quality.
  • Store Pomegranates in the fridge for best shelf-life, but they’ll last for a week or so on the counter too as an interesting, decorative centerpiece. But how do you get at those arils?

HOW TO OPEN A POMEGRANATE:

If you decide to hack open a fresh Pomegranate on a cutting board and then pry the membranes apart, get ready to clean up your crime scene – I mean, kitchen. There will be juice splattering on your cutting surface and surrounding area, and likely on you. Fun for Halloween maybe, but there are better ways.

How to open a Pomegranate… without you and your kitchen looking like a crime scene.

Aqua method:

  • You’ll need a knife, large bowl of water and a colander.
  • Slice the crown off the top.
  • Score the skin making 4 cuts from top to bottom.
  • Open the Pomegranate over the bowl of water.
  • Pull the arils from membranes under water to keep the splatter to a minimum.
  • The arils sink and the membranes float – strain and you’re done.

The “Source” Report: Apples are Great this Year!

Mila, our produce buyer, reports on the expected flavors and varieties of the season.

Fuji Apples
The wooden bins full of rosy Fuji apples are beautiful to look at and even better to taste.
apples, greek yogurt

Our Fuji apples are huge this year! Look how this one compares to 16 oz. of yogurt.

This year will be wonderful for our local orchard apples, according to the seasonal harvest reports coming in. This year’s apples are coming in big and flavorful. Enjoy them fresh as a snack, baked in pies, cobblers, casseroles, or even microwaved, sprinkled with apple pie spices and topped with ice cream or fresh whipped cream. Check out our Recipes page for ideas!

Hometown Harvest has a wonderful selection of apples sourced from local Hollabaugh Brothers Orchard. We are planning to carry five local varieties, all available right now. To get a taste of all five, order the bulk option Apple Harvest Blend from our Produce/Fruit shop page.

Ruby Jon: Staff Favorite!
Whenever a new produce item arrives, the staff here at Hometown Harvest samples it. It’s a fun way for us to try new foods and get to know our products. We all have different taste buds and very different opinions, so it is great to get everyone’s feedback. This apple, the Ruby Jon won unanimous approval as a “fresh-eating” apple with amazing color.20130919-185159.jpg This new apple is definitely worth trying.