Mastering Perfect Spinach

When my friend Justin opened a restaurant in Maine, I fixated on his strategy to train kitchen staff: cooks would learn the best one or two ways to prepare each vegetable, so they’d be optimally equipped to deal on the fly with unpredictable supplies of local vegetables and a daily changing menu.

Let’s try this method together – and make perfect creamed spinach like skilled professionals.

Spinach can deserve its reputation, but it’s delicious when done right. Plus, it’s a nutritional powerhouse.

Why creamed spinach, specifically? Because it’s emerald green and perfect with a steak. And because like the names of our great-grandparents, food like this is coming into style again.

Thank you to the New York Times Cooking section for providing me the hankering and the recipe for creamed spinach. And to Justin for helping me make that original recipe more awesome and for taste testing.

–Bethany Fleishman,Vital Communities’ Transportation Program Assistant and former pastry chef, is contributing recipes this spring for our Valley Food & Farm program.

Creamed Spinach
Recipe adapted from The New York Times Cooking section

Ingredients

About 2 pounds spinach (from a local farm or garden – that’s the whole point!)Raw Spinach
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour (gluten free flour is fine as long as it has some thickening power)
1 cup milk (ideally whole, but use what you have)
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Bay leaf (OPTIONAL)
1 clove of garlic (OPTIONAL)
A healthy sprinkle of grated Parmesan or other sharp cheese (OPTIONAL)

Directions

1. Pick over the spinach to remove any debris, tough stems, and blemished leaves.

2. Rinse the spinach and shake dry.

3. Stuff the spinach into a saucepan with a quarter cup or so of water and cook on medium heat, stirring, until the spinach has wilted and turned bright green. You’re doing a combination sauté and steam here. (I like this method because it’s quick, and I have a completely unfounded suspicion that it preserves the most nutrients.)

4. Run the spinach under cold running water until chilled.

5. Grab the spinach by the handful and squeeze out the liquid. This is important to prevent watery creamed spinach.

6. Thoroughly blend the spinach in a food processor or blender. Set aside.Roux

7. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour, stirring with a whisk.

8. Add the milk, stirring rapidly with the whisk. For extra flavor, add a whole clove of garlic (or minced if you like a lot of garlic flavor) and a Bay leaf.

9. Add nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes until it thickens.

2Bowls10. If you used them, fish out the Bay leaf and garlic clove (unless you minced it), and add the cheese (if using).

11. Add the spinach. Stir to blend. Heat
and serve with more ground black pepper.

You’re building your skills: Did you know that the sauce you just made for the spinach is called Béchamel sauce, and is one of the five “mother sauces” in French cuisine? You can use this for the base for cheese sauce and so much more.

Farm Viability a Priority for NH Nonprofits

Farm Viability a Priority for NH Nonprofits

Farm and Food Businesses Eligible for Team of Coaches Tailored to Their Needs

Organizations from around New Hampshire are partnering to offer teams of coaches to New Hampshire farms and food businesses to help them meet their business and management goals. Thanks to a grant from the Northern Border Regional Commission, administered by the Agricultural Viability Alliance, these organizations will offer teams of specialists tailored to farm and food businesses individual needs in Belknap, Cheshire, Coos, Grafton, and Sullivan counties. 

Because of the partnership, farmers and food business owners will be able to get the assistance they need in areas that include:

  • Business planning;
  • Whole-farm planning, goal setting, strategic decision making;
  • Financial planning, assessing financial health, and establishing financial benchmarks;
  • Recordkeeping;
  • Understanding land access, including purchasing and leasing;
  • Education around and road-mapping of transfer, retirement, and estate planning;
  • Assistance with farm succession and land tenure security;
  • Production planning;
  • Enterprise and cash flow analysis; and
  • Branding and marketing assistance, including market channel analysis.

For each client, a team of coaches from across New Hampshire’s nonprofit community will be formed to meet that client’s specific needs. For example, a start-up farm needing help with a business plan might have a team of specialists who can help with whole-farm and financial planning. A food business looking to create a new product may have a team made of specialists who can help with an enterprise analysis and a marketing plan.

“I went through a farm viability program myself,” said Nancy LaRowe, farmer, Mighty Oak Farm, and coordinator at Vital Communities. “I knew how to raise animals, and the program helped me put the pieces together so that I could run a business as well. Farming can be an isolating career. So we’re providing a support structure that can help farms and food businesses grow.”

The group of nonprofits awarded this grant include Vital Communities, Land for Good, the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, and the ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture project of the National Center for Appropriate Technology. Additional support is from other organizations who have also received funding from the Agricultural Viability Alliance: UNH Extension, Farm Credit East, Yankee Farm Credit, and the Center for an Agricultural Economy. This grant funding ends at the end of 2021 but all the organizations involved are committed to working together toward a common goal that represents the early stages of the creation of a farm viability network for the state that will go beyond the grant end date. 

Farms and food businesses may apply to have a team created for them at: https://forms.gle/h1DNDJ33QH9vkYJ76 and will receive roughly 15 hours of assistance (depending on need) over the course of 2021. Receiving support from a team of coaches will require commitment from farmers to work with the coaches as well as a willingness to share financial data.

Please contact Beth Roy, Vital Communities Food & Farm Program Manager, for more information or to request assistance.

beth@vitalcommunities.org (802)291-9100 x105

Climate and Community Resilience: Lessons from the Soil

Climate and Community Resilience: Lessons from the Soil
Spring Community Webinar Series to Unpack What Creating Our Future Looks Like

What is good for the soil is good for our communities. Deep healthy soil governs flood resilience, clean water, strong local economies, and a myriad of ecological functions. Lessons from the soil–such as interdependence, biodiversity, and resource cycling–can help us to understand the past and create the future for the Upper Valley. In these times of great ecological, social,  and economic transformation, this series of six programs will unpack the science of whole systems landscape function, explore how land and society change together, and offer practical ways to engage with the land around you for community resilience and social justice. This series aims to expand the base of active “doers” who work together to build a more livable, resilient region and planet.

Find detailed information about content at Vermont Healthy Soils Coalition!

FREE and open to all. Registration encouraged.

REGISTER HERE

As a precaution to limit the spread of the Coronavirus and to safeguard the health and well-being of everyone, the series will be modified to a webinar format.

Strengthening community and providing space for people to connect and learn together has suddenly become a more urgent need. We need each other now more than ever. To increase accessibility and safety we will plan to host the entire series in webinar format using Zoom. When it becomes safe again to commune together publicly we will switch back to in-person gatherings. We will keep everyone informed to changes as the uncertain future unfolds. Please register to receive updates.

The Zoom web browser client will download automatically when anyone joins their first Zoom meeting. It is also available for manual download here: https://zoom.us/download

Earth’s Cycles: Foundations of Energy and Matter
Sunday, March 22, 3:30-6 pm

Framing the entire series, this event introduces cycles of energy and matter that create a livable planet. The soil health principles provide a lens to understand how systems work together and to identify points of intervention where changes have been – and can be – made to influence climate and ecology. 

Click here March 22 at 3:15 or after to join this webinar.


Historical Landscape: Learning from the Past
Sunday, April 5, 3:30-6 pm

Take a deep dive into the history of the Upper Valley to understand its watersheds, landscapes, climates, and inhabitants – and how they affect each other. Use the lessons of the past to envision a just future. 

Click here April 5 at 3:15 or after to join this webinar.


Here and Now: Human Impacts
Monday, April 13, 5:30-8 pm

The world today has been shaped by human decisions to rearrange Earth’s systems. Learn about how and why the world exists in its current unstable state and explore possibilities to make better decisions in the future.

Click here April 13 at 5:15 or after to join this webinar.


Systems Collapse: Climate and Ecological Crisis
Sunday, April 26, 3:30-6 pm

The environment is destabilizing, along with societies, economies, and cultures. Understand the collapse through various lenses to explore adaptation and avoid false solutions. 

Click here April 26 at 3:15 or after to joim this webinar.


Revolutionary Resilience: Creating a Different Future
Monday, May 4, 5:30-8 pm

With the understanding of the impacts of human decisions for the planet, explore the intersections of justice, land, and life. Work together to envision and create “what could be” in terms of a just future in the Upper Valley and beyond.

Click here May 4 at 5:15 or after to join this webinar.


Fertile Ground: Reclaiming Power and Possibility
TBD

This culminating event will bring us together on a local farm to reflect on the power of natural systems and community collaboration. Through discussion, activities and sharing with a team of change-makers and organizations from the region, explore what already exists and help realize next steps for the Upper Valley.

What is good for the soil is good for our communities. Deep healthy soil governs flood resilience, clean water, strong local economies, and a myriad of ecological functions. Lessons from the soil–such as interdependence, biodiversity, and resource cycling–can help us to understand the past and create the future for the Upper Valley. In these times of great ecological, social,  and economic transformation, this series of six programs will unpack the science of whole systems landscape function, explore how land and society change together, and offer practical ways to engage with the land around you for community resilience and social justice. 

This series will introduce the functions of Earth’s energy, water, carbon, and nutrient cycles. It will center lived experiences, sometimes difficult truths, and social and economic justice. Attendees will collaborate with various presenters and facilitators to explore information about the land and inhabitants in the Upper Valley at different periods throughout time – the past, present, and future. 

The format encourages an approach of thinking in whole systems rather than parts, of listening over speaking, of curiosity over knowing, and of participatory learning. A desired outcome is that people will take new ideas, new understandings, new questions, and new energies forward into the community to create positive change. This series aims to expand the base of active “doers” who work together toward a more livable, resilient region and planet.

 

Learn more at Vermont Healthy Soils Coalition!

Renewable Energy Funding for Farms and Small Businesses

Get the information you need to move forward with a renewable energy or energy efficiency project in Vermont or New Hampshire. Join Ken Yearman, Rural Development Energy Coordinator for Vermont and New Hampshire; a farmer who recently completed a REAP project; the solar company that completed that project; and Ana Mejia, Vital Communities Climate Projects Coordinator. Our workshop will be held in the Hanover Co-op Food Stores’ Co-op Learning Center which is inside the Co-op’s LEBANON location at 12 Centerra Parkway. Lunch included! Get all your questions answered and take action on your renewable energy or efficiency projects!

Join Vital Communities, Hanover Co-op Food Stores, and USDA Rural Development for a webinar and workshop series to learn about opportunities to fund renewable energy systems and energy efficiency projects with the REAP (Renewable Energy for America Program).

Attend both events or just one and learn how to use government grants and loans to reduce your energy cost and your carbon footprint.

  • Webinar: February 19, 11:30 am-12:30 pm. Get an overview of REAP grant and loan programs with Fred Petok and Ken Yearman from USDA Rural Development.
    View webinar presentation here
  • Workshop: February 24,  11:30 am-1:30 pm. Get the information you need to move forward with a renewable energy or energy efficiency project in Vermont or New Hampshire. Join Ken Yearman, Rural Development Energy Coordinator for Vermont and New Hampshire; a farmer who recently completed a REAP project; the solar company that completed that project; and Ana Mejia, Vital Communities Climate Projects Coordinator. Our workshop will be held in the Hanover Co-op Food Stores’ Co-op Learning Center which is inside the Co-op’s LEBANON location at 12 Centerra Parkway. Lunch included! Get all your questions answered and take action on your renewable energy or efficiency projects!  Workshop registration.

    This workshop is part of Vital Communities’ Farmer Climate Network. We can provide stipends to compensate Upper Valley farmers for their time to attend this workshop thanks to the Hanover Cooperative Community Fund. Contact nancy@vitalcommunities.org for details.

Canaan Keeps FarmRaisers Alive

Kale. Carrots. Beets. Potatoes. Powerkraut®!

These are just a few of the delightful local foods I’ve received from Root 5 Farm over the past few months as part of my fall FarmRaiser—a community-supported agriculture (CSA) fundraiser run by the Canaan Elementary School PTA that supports the school, the farm, and the idea of healthy, local eating in our community.

Vital Communities launched the FarmRaiser program in 2012 and coordinated it for several years before moving on to other projects. Canaan Elementary was among the first to adopt the program—and, according to Becka Warren at Vital Communities, who helped establish FarmRaisers in our region, it’s the very last school in the Upper Valley to keep the program going.

So why does Canaan bother?

It’s not a big fundraiser for the PTA—the school earned $600 for the 25 shares community members purchased this fall—but money isn’t the goal anyway, says PTA Secretary Hillary Gillies.

“The PTA loves it because it promotes local farms and foods and healthy eating,” says Canaan parent Kristen DeLeault, who for the past four years has coordinated the program. Kristen has worked hard to find partner farms—past partners Blue Ox Farm in Enfield and Autumn Harvest Farm in Grafton unfortunately went out of business. This year she coordinated a plan with Fairlee-based Root 5 Farm to personally pick up the FarmRaiser shares at their normal CSA pickup location in Lebanon and deliver them to Canaan Elementary. Her persistence and commitment have made the program possible.

“There aren’t many big farms nearby in New Hampshire that can sustain what we were hoping for,” Kristen says. “It’s not as local as we’d like, but it’s still in the Upper Valley.”

For Root 5 Farm, co-owner Danielle Allen says, the program just broke even financially. But it still made good business sense. “It was a great way to move product, especially in the fall when we have big harvests,” she said. “And we got exposure to a whole new set of customers without the farm having to do a lot of legwork.”

“It’s a lovely collaboration. It brings an awareness of farms and healthy food in our communities,” Danielle says. “It has all the good feels.”

“Canaan Elementary School continues to inspire us with its creative thinking about fundraising that is delicious, healthy, and local,” says Becka. “We love seeing the FarmRaiser continue all these years, and we hope other area schools consider whether it might work for their communities. It shows that eating local can take root at the earliest age (pun intended)!”

As a parent and FarmRaiser participant, I love that I can support my PTA and a local farm business all while getting something healthy and delicious for my family in exchange. My kids always look forward to FarmRaiser pickup day—and while they enjoy their fresh, local Kale Chips, I get to indulge in some delicious and simple Curried Carrot and Coconut Soup!

Want to start a FarmRaiser in your school? Get started with our online resources.

Celebrate Farm to School Month With Our Fall Farm to School Forum

Meet Your Local Farm to School Network!

The Upper Valley Farm to School Network invites you to gather in your region to build local connections with peers and Farm to School practitioners, and access resources. Find support for your efforts to strengthen the work in your area. The gathering is FREE but please register. Yummy local food will be served!

Wednesday October 30th
4:30-7:00 pm
Willing Hands, 198 Church St, Norwich, VT 05055

Join Vital Communities for other events in our Fall Food & Farm Event Series.

Find other Farm to School fall Gatherings in Vermont.

From the State House to the Farm House

Calling all Vermont Farmers!

You’re invited to the second annual From the State House to the Farmhouse event on

Sunday September 22nd from 1-4 pm

and talk one-on-one with your legislators and influence policy.

Across the state legislators are invited to tour 14 host farms to celebrate the innovation and dedication of Vermont farmers while hearing directly from you about the challenges you face and the opportunities you are excited about. We hope the day is for sharing and listening as we work together to support a thriving ag economy and maintain a bright future for farming in Vermont!

RSVPs really appreciated: nancy@vitalcommunities.org

 

Two Upper Valley farms are hosting events on September 22: Richardson Farm in Hartland and Howling Wolf Farm in Randolph. Take advantage of this opportunity to join other farmers and talk with your state legislators and let your voice be heard.

This is a private event only open to farmers and legislators. Please RSVP to nancy@vitalcommunities.org  so the host farm can prepare.

Food Hub Forum for Farmers February 6!

Join Vital Communities and Food Connects
Wednesday February 6 from 4-6 pm
at Piecemeal Pie in White River Junction
for a forum to learn about how you can
expand your market access with a food hub.
This forum is free and open to all farmers and growers
and will include delicious snacks and beer.

Food Connects, a Brattleboro-based nonprofit food hub, is expanding into the Upper Valley in 2019 and is now seeking Upper Valley producer partners who want to be part of this growth. We are thrilled about this expansion and looking forward to sharing the opportunities it can bring to Upper Valley farmers.  Paul Harlow of Harlow Farm will share his experience using Food Connects and you will learn the specifics about being a Food Connects producer.

There will be time to connect with each other and have all your questions about Food Connects answered, while enjoying amazing Piecemeal Pie food and drink.

RSVP (appreciated but not required to attend) and questions to Nancy LaRowe  (Nancy@VitalCommunities.org)

 

Whole Farm Planning Group

Starting or running a farm business can be all-consuming, with tyranny of the urgent monopolizing your days, leaving little time to think about the big picture, review goals, or plan successful management strategies. Every farm is unique. With holistic management techniques, you can manage that uniqueness effectively to improve the health of your farm, your community, and the land.

I have been farming for almost 20 years. My experience includes starting and run a farm for 10 years, selling that business, and starting a new farm on newly purchased and conserved land.  This past year I have been practicing and utilizing the tools of holistic management, and it has  made such a difference in how I think about my new farm and how it integrates into my life. By having a values-based decision-making framework that considers social, economic, and environmental impacts, I can manage toward my goals and the farm and life I want.

I want to share this framework for success with prospective, new, or established farmers, which is why I am coordinating a Whole Farm Planning Group. The Group will be a cohort of five farms interested in learning and applying the tools of holistic management to their lives. We will meet four times a year (not during the growing season) to develop goals, share lessons and challenges, with most of the work being self-directed. I will share holistic management tools and support you as you develop your whole farm plan. You will work independently on developing a holistic goal, resource inventory, vision, land plan, and financial plan throughout the year. This project is free thanks to funding from the High Meadows Food & Farm Fund.

This “class” is great for beginning farmers as these management strategies will help you succeed. This work is also valuable if you already have a farm business and would like to learn new skills or strategies for improving your business. The sessions will begin this winter and continue into next winter. The five farms will be chosen with an application process. Applications are due by December 1.

Whole Farm Planning Group short application here.

2018 Farmer Celebration Mixer

Join us to celebrate the work we did together in 2018!

Do your chores early, leave the spreadsheets behind, and come share some beer, crepes, and farm chat with fellow farmers as we celebrate the successful 2018 season.

Monday, November 12
5-7 pm
Skinny Pancake, Hanover, NH
Free snacks and beer

In 2018, working together, we moved toward an Upper Valley food hub, we collaborated to strengthen farmers’ markets, we rocked the best Flavors of the Valley ever, and much more. Join in an end of season  celebration!!

Come learn about the shared farm/food facility progress we made with a SARE Partnership grant that is concluding, the wholesale aggregation and distribution pilot launching with Food Connects in 2019, and the Upper Valley Farmers’ Market Collaborative projects that we will be continuing in 2019. Come hear all about it and share your farms’ successes and challenges.

RSVP here!

Share the Facebook event with your farmer friends!

Questions? Nancy@VitalCommunities.org

 

Thanks to Northeast SARE and Skinny Pancake for supporting this event!

sare-northeast cropped    UVcreperieBanner-page-001

1 2 3 6