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All about the braise......and vegetables too!

Posted 7/25/2017 10:19am by Amber Stenson.

Happy Tuesday CSA Members!

I think I say this every week, but really, it seems that the farm can't be more bountiful these days. We've got the first of the carrots for you all this week marking the turn to late summer crops. Before we know it our plates will be heavy with the late summer nightshade family of eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes and peppers, such a change from all the early season greens we have been munching on. Yum!

This week also marks our first wholesale delivery of the season to the Columbia Heights school district. Here are Danielle and May loading up the truck! We are really excited and proud of this new relationship in sourcing local and organic food to the five schools within the district. Later in the fall we will host students at the farm and pay farmers to visit the classroom closing the loop on a full farm to school partnership! This week we are sending carrots, zucchini, and summer squash which will be chopped and frozen for stir fry mixes to be used throughout the school year. Tasty tasty!

Meet your CSA Packer

Lately I have been thinking a lot about farm workers and the labor that is needed to keep a small-scale vegetable farm afloat. The other day I saw Farmer See Nay in the field with a crew of 15 people. He told me "Weeds are expensive!"and I couldn't agree more. Thanks to encouragement from one of our CSA volunteers, I felt it prudent to give thanks to our CSA workers, a reliable crew who arrives at 7am on Tuesdays to sort and pack your veggies. We really couldn't do this without them. 

Meet Paul, Andy, Willow and Mary. Absent from the photos are Brendan and Susan who have also helped out this season.

See them in action here as they move boxes along the assembly line!













Working the CSA assembly line!

Farmer of the Week: 1st Karen Farm

Story by Nancy Cook; photos by Lorie Schneider & Laura Hedeen

On May 28th, 2016, See Nay marks the ninth anniversary of his arrival in the United States. The farmer and part-time pastor has spent the last six of those years in Minnesota. The journey that brought him here to the MFA has been full of twists and turns.

Born in Ahmoe, in wartorn Burma, See Nay experienced a great deal of loss and instability in his youth. Forced by circumstances, See Nay’s family had to flee from village to village and, as See Nay recalls, he “saw too much death, too much war, and lost too many friends.” He remembers and still mourns one friend, in particular, who tried to prevail on the young See Nay to join in the fighting; the friend died in the hostilities, three bullets in his body. Others See Nay knew survived but were tortured or later suffered from post-traumatic stress.

In 1997, See Nay’s family – his parents, himself, four brothers, and five sisters -- fled to Thailand, where they lived for ten years in a refugee camp before an opportunity to emigrate finally opened up. See Nay and one brother came to the U.S., See Nay relocating to Wisconsin and his brother settling in Texas. By this time, See Nay had his own family, including a daughter and two sons. A third son was later born in the U.S. All four children, aged five to seventeen, are still living at home and going to school.

The move to the United States presented a great many challenges. Although See Nay had learned some English as a student in Burma, the little bit he’d mastered was of no help. He had start to over to learn American English. In all phases of life, he found he had to adjust to larger organization with built-in hierarchy. He also remembers well the culture shock he experienced around everything having to do with food. Even adjusting to American eating utensils took time. In Burma, at a family meal, although there might be a single knife, fork, and spoon on the table available for serving, at their respective places, people would eat with their fingers. The grocery store presented other surprises. For See Nay, it seemed things were organized in strange ways. The “breakfast foods” aisle was a real curiosity.

Coming from a place where rice was a staple at all meals, including breakfast, he couldn’t understand the strange boxes of cereals and bottles of pancake syrup. A simple sandwich at lunch was a novelty, as See Nay had never eaten bread with cheese folded inside. The culinary education worked two ways,of course. 

When the Burmese newcomers made a Karen meal for their sponsor, the man gamely picked up a whole chili pepper and put in his mouth, not realizing how hot it was. The sponsor’s ears turned red and tears flowed, to everyone’s amusement.

See Nay worked hard to become a contributing member of the community. His first job was at a Sears store and, after it closed, he worked in a grocery for nine months. Then he got a call from a friend living in St Paul. The friend wanted See Nay’s help organizing for his church. See Nay had for two years served as a pastor in the Thai refugee camp, and he was grateful to receive the call. So in 2010, See Nay moved with his family to the Twin Cities. Shortly after arriving, he saw that the local Karen organization was looking for a farm program coordinator and he applied. To his surprise, See Nay was hired. In 2013 See Nay was admitted to MFA’s basic training program.

The transition to his double career as pastor and organic farmer makes perfect sense to See Nay. In Burma, his family was self-supporting, raising rice, corn, and chili peppers, among other crops. Growing things comes naturally. He says working with the plants gives him peace; he loves nurturing them and watching them grow. Being able to see them every day makes him happy. “Food is my medicine,” See Nay says. “It makes the body healthy.”

There is an unmistakable connection between sustainable agriculture and pastoring work, which See Nay continues to do. As a pastor, See Nay’s job is “to encourage and nurture members, and focus on clean living.” He sometimes bring members of the congregation to the farm, and shares extra food with those who need it. See Nay dreams of becoming a successful organic farmer, with the ability to feed the community and to provide good health and good life to others. “The world is battling disease,” he says. “Many diseases are food related. We need to rebuild with healthy food. I want my produce to give strength that will spread through community, and even throughout the world.”

Update: As of 2017 See Nay and 1st Karen Farm are now the 1st Karen farm to be a member owner of Shared Ground Farmers Cooperative!

In the Box

Full Share

Fennel, Beets and Lacinato Kale from Mhonpaj's Garden

Fresh Onions, Green Onions, Carrots, Beets, Cucumbers and Peas from The Early Birds

Zucchini and Basil from Sebra Farm

Cucumbers and Swiss Chard from 1st Karen Farm

 Half Share

Fennel and Lacinato Kale from Mhonpaj's Garden

Fresh Onions, Carrots, and Cucumbers from The Early Birds

Zucchini and Basil from Sebra Farm

Cucumbers from 1st Karen Farm

In the Kitchen

For those with savory tastes, I highly recommend experimenting with a simple braise with this weeks box. Braising sounds fancy, but its really quite simple. Braising is essentially a way to brown in fat and then stew vegetables or meat. I love to braise all sorts of veggies with butter, olive oil or meat drippings and the flavor melding is soooo delicious.

You could easily braise your fennel, carrots and onions from this box and if you want through in your chard and zucchini!

Here is a basic recipe for a fennel carrot braise from Deb Lindsey for the Washington Post. Some may think this a cold weather treat, but I love eating it warm or cold as part of a hearty grain salad or on top of a bed of sauteed greens.

Photo courtesy of The Washington Post

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large shallot, minced (a heaping 1/4 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seed, coarsely crushed
  • 2 small bulbs or 1 medium bulb fennel, plus a few fennel fronds for optional garnish
  • 2 strips of orange peel, removed with a vegetable peeler, each about 3/4 by 2 inches
  • 1 pound carrots, trimmed and cut into 1/2-by-2-inch sticks
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more as needed
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup water

Melt the butter in a large skillet or shallow braising pan over medium heat. Add the shallot and coriander seed; cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the shallot is translucent.

Trim the fennel bulb(s); if desired, reserve a handful of the fennel fronds and coarsely chop them. Cut the fennel bulb into 1/2-inch-thick wedges.

Stir the orange peel and fennel into the shallot mixture until evenly coated; cook until the fennel just begins to sizzle, about 4 minutes. (This will give the fibrous fennel a head start on the quicker-cooking carrots.) Add the carrots, and season with the salt and a good pinch of pepper.

Add the vermouth or wine; once it begins to bubble, add the water. Cover, and reduce the heat to medium-low; cook for about 40 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Uncover; increase the heat to medium and let the liquid reduce for about 5 minutes or until it nicely coats the vegetables. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed.

Discard the orange peel, if you like. Serve hot or warm, garnished with the fennel fronds, if using.

And finally, a little bit more about fennel from our favorite naked chef, Jamie Oliver!

Three cheers for Zucchini bread, am I right or what? Enjoy the recipe card this week!

Lebo Moore

Food Hub Manager

Minnesota Food Association/Big River Farms

651-433-3676 ext.21