Erehwon Farm, CSA


Food, Local Farms

It’s official.  I am a CSA member.  Yahoo!  For the newbies, CSA means Community Sustainable Agriculture.  In a CSA program, one buys a share in the crops at a local farm.  Once per week you pick up a half to three-quarters of a bushel of local fruits and vegetables.  My friend Laura offered to split the payment and the bounty with me.   Now we can lovingly prepare fresh, organic veggies for our husbands EVERY night whether they like it or not.  This is going to be fun!

The Erehwon Farm CSA begins the first week of August and goes 12 weeks, through the end of October.  It really is a good deal at $35.00 per week, or $17.50 per couple if you share.  There is a slight risk that weather will rob you of your veggies, but us optimists don’t worry about that much.  I stumbled across Erehwon while surfing the internet.  I liked what I saw, so I called Beth Propst  and Tim Fuller to find out if there were still shares available and there were.  What sold me on this CSA were the recipes on the web site and the fact that this is an organic farm.  Erehwon is not certified organic, but as I learned on my tour they do a good job of out-maneuvering pests without using chemicals.  Now I love veggies and I love trying new foods… but let’s face it, I am busy 70 hours per week with work and blog and I don’t really know what to do with a fresh Daikon Radish.  (Do you?)  This way, I buy vegetables, pick up a week’s supply, and make them into something tasty, or become a slacker in my mind.  Now I will have vegetables, recipes, and be motivated! 

Beth and I had a nice chat when I called:

Me: I have a blog called Mental Farmer and I would like to visit your place and interview you.  If you’re interested, I hope a weekend will work, or an evening…  I have a day job.

Beth:  Of course, come on out this Saturday, there is  tour scheduled.  The tour is at 1:30.  I won’t be there, but Tim will be around.  If you can come early, Tim can talk to you before the tour.  And there will be a cooking demo after the tour, so if you stay you can take some pictures and meet everyone.

Me:  Oh, that sounds wonderful.  I have a corporate job and farm vicariously through others, hence the Mental Farmer name.  What a great life you have, I can’t wait to see the place. 

Beth:  You work in air conditioning and have benefits.

Me:  Yes, but you get to stay outside and grow things.

Beth:  You get to work indoors in the deep winter and stay warm and you don’t have weeds to pull.

Me:  Well… yes, but you grow everything you need to eat and it’s so healthy.  And you are your own boss.

Beth:  You have a regular income and don’t get eaten up by insects.

By now we were laughing and I ran out of ways to prove Beth’s life was better than mine.  My lifestyle is certainly different.  Physically easier, anyway.  And what Beth and Tim are doing is more important in the overall scheme of things.  

Saturday dawned HOT, just the way I like a summer day.  I lit out for Elburn, a relatively short, green, and pretty drive.  As luck would have it, I got caught on the wrong side of not one, but two freight trains, so arrived about 1:10.  Gayle, a cheerful young neighbor of Tim and Beth’s, greeted me when I arrived.  She said Tim was napping before the tour, so my 10 minute tardiness was of no concern.  Gayle said she’d go get Tim, but I did not want her to wake him up.  I respect the nap.  I took the time to write my check for the CSA, meet Bucky the Chocolate Lab, look at the plants and syrup for sale and meet the women arriving for the tour and demo. 

Tim wandered up in short order and we took a seat in the shade to talk.  When I visit a farm, I find the first few minutes of conversation awkward.  Not because of the farmer, but because these kind folks have no idea who this “Mental Farmer” is.  I call, out of the blue, and ask for time and they give it.  Week after week, they stop, they sit, they are gracious, and they talk to me, the Un-Farmer.  That in itself is pretty amazing.  I always check out farm web sites and make a list of questions, but I find that every story is so different, standard questions don’t really fit, nor do they always draw people out.  I have a list of questions in my head because I think I should; a list that is ready.  A list that recedes or is dropped entirely as I follow the lead, step in the footprints; the stride changing on every farm.  These people are sturdy in spirit and they persevere.  They learn, they fall, they lose money, get muddy, find joy, remember their mission, start over, get muddier, freeze, they water,water, water, get hotter than hell, fight bugs.  What’s really remarkable is that they do it because they want to.  They want to give back to the community, educate, keep something of a time when folks cooked and ate at the table each night and talked about the day.  I value that.

Tim looked more like a farmer than a lot of the folks I meet on farms.   He was sun browned and a little dirty and appeared to have put in a full day’s work already.   He said he grew up in California in the 60’s and had a lot of friends doing the organic farm thing back then, but he was not ready.  Tim said he believes in starting a new career every 10-15 years, but at 10 years into the farm business, he is not nearly ready to call this career complete.  Tim calls himself a contrarian, but I found him open-minded and amenable to the challenges of farming. 

I asked Tim what he thought the biggest challenges were.  In addition to having moved the farm to this new property (at 40W248 Hughes Road in Elburn) last September, Tim talked about the rigors of CSA management.  First of all, you have to offer variety to your customers.  Secondly, you must have produce for all customers every week.  Probably most challenging of all is that each vegetable and fruit has its own requirements related to sun, water, nutrients, harvest, refrigeration, storage, etc.   Tim said he and Beth have a mission:  To provide affordable, healthful food for local people.  Tim said he and Beth are concerned about obesity and diabetes and want to educate people about more healthful choices.  I think that is a fine mission, don’t you?  I like people who care about their fellow humans and the community.  Then I thought to myself, “Wait a minute, you moved a whole farm?”  I asked about it.  Tim said the job still isn’t done.  They moved soil, compost, plants, and seeds.  

I mentioned that I really liked the recipes on the web site.  Tim told me that they learned they needed to offer recipes as a result of a certain event:  One of the benefits of being a CSA member is that you can bring your own composting materials back to the farm each week when you pick up.  He said the first time they delivered Chinese cabbage to the CSA members, half of it came the following week as compost material because no one knew what to do with it.  So Beth began to post recipes to help the CSA members know how and what to cook.  He also said they have found that CSA members are people who already eat more vegetables than the general population. 

I asked what we could expect during our 12 week CSA program.  The list was a pleasant surprise:  a variety of greens, summer squash, radishes, tomatoes, garlic, onions, eggplant, beans and a variety of herbs.  They plant every week now, in preparation.   As we chatted, guests began arriving for the official tour.  At 1:30, Tim needed to tend to his guests, so we joined the group and began the farm tour, led by Gayle and Tim.  Everyone introduced themselves and talked about why they were there and what they hoped to learn.  Gayle explained that this was an “edible tour” and encouraged us to nibble along the way.  We would also gather produce to bring back for a salad topped with Robin Migalla’s homemade salad dressing.  (Robin was there to provide the cooking demonstration at the end of the  tour.)

First stop, the giant compost piles.  In addition to the compost moved from the former property to this one, a truckload of manure is delivered by a local horse farm every 2 or 3 weeks.  The compost pile contains greens (for nitrogen), manure and urine, and it heats up to 150 degrees inside.  Gayle knocked a chunk of compost to the ground and offered to let everyone stick their hand in there and feel the temperature difference.  I did it, but no one else took her up on it.  It was moist in there.  And hot. 

Composting requires patience.  When it’s used too early it will cause harm, so you have to let the little critters and enzymes do their work before you spread it around.  Tim said they are going to try “hot beds” this winter; using covered, hot compost, they hope to grow produce all winter.  Around the corner from the compost area was a potato field and some bee hives.  Tim said the bees were a recent addition and belonged to a friend.  He said they could be ornery, so didn’ t want to take the group over, which seemed acceptable to everyone.

We passed Tim’s office, as seen in this photo, on the way to a stand of Silver Maples that were probably 50 feet tall.   (I like Tim’s office better than mine, I think.)  It was from these maples that Tim and Beth harvested sap for the syrup they are selling.  Each tree has several hundred gallons of sap (who knew?) and they took 30-40 gallons from each tree.   The weather and the timing have an effect on the sap and when it is harvested.  It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup.  Tim said he and Beth boiled sap every day for 2 weeks after the harvest, until their whole house was moist and humid like a rain forest.  Under the tall maples, they have planted  a row of apple trees.  In front of the apples, a row of peach trees.  In front of the peach trees, currants, then asparagus and rhubarb.  This is an experiment in gaining most use from least space.  They have a five acre parcel of land and intend to make the most of it.  The maples down to asparagus plantings are organized by size.  Each plant is shorter than the one behind it, which allows them to be planted close together, and still utilize maximum sunshine.

We walked by the tomato beds.  We all stopped to try the little orange tomatoes, the first to ripen.  Yum!  Sweet little candies, warm from the sun.  I confess, I had several.  Behind them were fields of tall, GMO corn, planted by Tim and Beth’s landlord.  Apparently, he uses a lot of chemicals, and used to plant the land we were standing on.  Tim and Beth have a plan to restore this soil to its original state by composting and reintroducing earthworms.  (At the last farm, it was five years before the earthworms came back to stay.)  On we walked, to the garlic and onion beds.  The garlic was put in at the end of October, a bit late due to the move, and it’s ready now.  Tim said the garlic is ready when the leaves are about half brown.  He said you can eat entire plant when it’s small, including flowers and scapes.  (I do love garlic, so will have to try that.)  If you wait until the second year for harvest, it will go to seed and just keep coming.  He said grocery story garlic is “soft neck” and chosen because it keeps longer.  Tim and Beth prefer “hard neck” garlic for its flavor, as most farmers do.  The Erehwon beds are four feet wide, with enough room between the rows to mow, which mulches the beds. 

Gayle asked me to include a mention of their need for volunteer help in this article.  As you can imagine, an organic farm means pests are fought by hand, whether they are beetle, caterpillar, or weeds.  They could use some help with weeding, especially.  The move has everyone a little behind on their chores for the year, and really they’re starting from scratch.  This hot, dry spell we have been in also means more watering and it all takes a lot of time.  One of the weeds we talked about was Lamb’s Quarters, which Tim referred to as an “indicator plant.”  He said left unchecked, this weed grows eight feet tall, produces 500,000 seeds, and the seeds have 40 years viability in soil.  (No wonder weeds are a constant battle – they have the upper hand from the get-go.)  He said bare soil is not natural, so Mother Nature gives plants coping skills to stay alive over the centuries.  When Lamb’s Quarters are tall and narrow, and the leaves have a purple tinge, it indicates a nitrogen problem; hence, the indicator plant designation.  I asked if they move crops to confuse pests.  (When I was at Wiltse’s Greenhouse, Kate told that is a technique they use to cut pesticide use.)  Tim said moving crops to confuse the bugs is one of many techniques the Organic Farm uses to stay pesticide free.

We then moved over to raised beds containing red and yellow lettuces, Swiss chard, cabbages, yellow squash, pattypans, zucchini, kohlrabi, carrots, and radishes.  There were cabbage moths flitting from plant to plant.  Gayle said the moths lay eggs which become cabbage-eating caterpillars.  When people bring their kids to the farm, each child is given a bright-colored butterfly net and encouraged to chase the moths and catch them.  They like teachers to arrange for class visits so kids can pull a carrot out of the ground or taste an herb.  If you know any teachers, tell them about this opportunity!  Kids need to learn where their food comes from.  (The ground, not McDonald’s.)

Gayle said they also plant heavily composted crops under the hoops, for winter harvest in November.  They work with the Winter Market at Inglenook Pantry in Geneva.  Tim said there are several area farmers who are attempting the hot beds so they can raise root vegetables all winter.  He said the vegetables can freeze and thaw, and as long as you pick them when thawed by the sun, they’re fine.  If you pick them while frozen, they get mushy.  We stopped here to pull up pretty little carrots and rinsed them off, to try their bright orange crunchiness.  We also picked lettuces here, to take back to Robin for salad.  Someone asked why the tender lettuces are sometimes very bitter in her garden, and Tim explained that lettuces stress in the heat and become bitter; they are really a cool weather crop.  We stopped to eat squash flowers.  Yum.  I had eaten a fried squash blossom before, and thought it more attractive than tasty.  The raw squash blossom; however, was absolutely delicious.  What a delicate flavor!  We were careful to pick the male blossoms, as the fruit (squash) comes from the female blossom.  I highly recommend trying a squash blossom.  Just nibble the petals down to the center.  You may be pleasantly surprised.  A member of the tour group inquired about fertilizer.  Tim said they use blood meal, finished compost, fish, and kelp.  

That concluded our nibbling tour.  We headed back to where “Rockin’ Robin Migalla had set up for her cooking demonstration.  Robin gave me two business cards.  The first one is hers, and the business is called Health for Life Colon Care, LLC.  I won’t pretend I know anything about this, but will check out the site.  The other card belongs to a group Robin is a member of, called Traditional Nutrition.  They meet every second Saturday in Elgin. I’ll check that one out, too.

Anyway, we all got a cup of ice-cold water and pulled our plastic chairs into a circle to watch Robin’s demo.  First, Robin chopped chard into pieces about an inch square.  She then wrapped the chard in moist patapar paper.  (A product I did not know about.)  The patapar paper is a type of parchment, sturdier than your everyday stuff.  Moistening it makes it more pliable.  The sheets are large and may be used multiple times.  If you are careful with it, Robin said it will last a year.  Once the chard was in the paper, the four corners were pulled up and around and the bundle placed in a steamer.  The patapar paper is barely porous and keeps nutrients in, so they don’t evaporate with the steam.  Robin said the chard needed 20 minutes from the time she turned the gas burner on. 

She then prepared a kale dish.  The kale was chopped after Robin washed it thoroughly and cut the tough stems out, while we were on our tour.  She reamed one lemon and added the juice to a large frying pan along with some olive oil.  She chopped one yellow onion and one red onion, and sautéed them in the oil.  When the onions were translucent, Robin added the kale.  She said if she is feeling fancy, she may add raisins or dried, sweetened cranberries.  All that was left to simmer, and Robin stirred it regularly. 

We tried the chard first, with a little butter and coarse sea salt.  I will be purchasing patapar paper in the immediate future.  The flavor difference was distinct and I loved it!  Then we had the kale, also with a little butter added, salt and cracked pepper.  Excellent!   I love the tartness of the lemon, softened by the oil and kale.  I think this dish would be great with a splash of apple cider vinegar, too.

Last but not least, salad with Robin’s famous dressing.  YUM!!!!   Robin took the juice of one orange and one lemon and poured it into a regular commercial salad dressing bottle.  She added a teaspoon of local honey and shook it until mixed.  She then filled the bottle the rest of the way up with good virgin olive oil.   This dressing is delightfully light and allows the flavor of the fresh lettuces to come through.  This is my new favorite salad dressing.  I really loved the simplicity and freshness of the food and I cannot wait to get my first CSA goodies!  I want to try recreating these dishes. 

Before I left, Tim let us try that Silver Maple syrup.  I almost fell off my chair it was so good!  Seriously, it’s the best maple syrup I ever tasted.  It was chilled and poured into a little paper cup.  It was thinner than most syrups, but lighter than the grocery store stuff, and there was a hint of caramel.  The first thing I thought of was pouring it over a bowl of vanilla ice cream.  I did that when I got home and it was fabulous!!

At this point, I had to take off to make another event by 5:00, so said my goodbyes and took off.  I thoroughly enjoyed my chats with Tim, Gayle, and Robin and I thank them all for their time and for sharing their knowledge.  Another delightful farm visit, another satisfying day.  And I joined a CSA. 

If you think you would like to tour the farm, watch a cooking demonstration, try the world’s best syrup, pull a few weeds, or join a CSA, I know just the place.  There are tours coming up on August 6th and 20th, and again on September 24th.  All are $10.00 per person and begin at 1:30 sharp.  You can call the farm to book your spot at 630-485-9963.  Tell them the Mental Farmer sent you.

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4 Comments on “Erehwon Farm, CSA”

  1. Jennifer Richardson Says:

    I SO want to do this when I grow up!!!
    Wow… you’re tapping into my dreams.
    Hey, why don’t you and John move back east
    in about 5 years and we’ll have a go at this:)
    (Only with an additional facility on site for other arts
    classes and venues as well.)
    Loving this blog, Mary….really love it!



  2. Dorothy Ward Says:

    What are “the hoops” in the Erewhon blog? Mom



    • mentalfarmer Says:

      The hoops are long, metal or plastic rods bent in a half circle, both ends in the ground. They hold up the plastic cover. The whole thing acts as a greenhouse.



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