Embrace Freshness, Support Local: Thornapple CSA's New Journey Begins!

Mastering No-Till Gardening: Effortless Techniques for Your CSA

June 26, 2024

Table of Contents

Mastering No-Till Gardening: Effortless Techniques for Your CSA

Well folks, we’re officially three weeks into the new year – how are y’all doing on those goals for 2018? My personal mission this year is to be a STUDENT every single day. To hold myself accountable, every night in my journal I write down just ONE thing that I learned that day. It can be as simple as mastering a new recipe, listening to an engaging podcast, or discovering something new about a stranger, a loved one, or even about myself.

It’s never too late to set goals for yourself, so if you’re feeling inspired – I hope you’ll join me in seeing each day as an opportunity to learn something new, and I’d LOVE to hear what you all are learning each day. Let’s hold each other accountable!

Every day, I’m learning from farmers, chefs, line cooks, mothers, fathers, educators, and activists who work tirelessly to make the world a more healthy, resilient, and delicious place. In the new year, I’m excited to share more stories, lessons, and recipes from some of these rockstar men and women who are forging their own path – and they have the muddied boots to prove it.

Case in point: Vera Fabian and Gordon Jenkins, owners of Ten Mothers Farm based in Hillsborough, NC. Their operation is small (13 acres), but mighty, and they use no-till methods to grow insanely beautiful, organic, nutrient-dense vegetables for their CSA members and local restaurants. The now husband-and-wife team first met in 2007 when Vera was a gardening teacher with The Edible Schoolyard, and Gordon was working for Alice Waters at Chez Panisse. Five years later, they packed their bags and trained as apprentices with some of the most respected farmers in the country – from Bob Cannard of Green String Farm in California to Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch of Four Season Farm in Maine, as well as Ken Dawson and Libby Outlaw of Maple Spring Garden in North Carolina. Needless to say, Vera and Gordon are a wealth of knowledge and a breath of fresh air in the world of food, farming, and I’m thrilled to share their “Eat Like a Farmer” interview with you all.

Keep scrolling to read all about Ten Mothers Farm, the kitchen tools and ingredients these farmers can’t live without, and their secrets for cooking seasonal food with bold flavors. PS – Wondering where the name “Ten Mothers Farm” comes from? Vera and Gordon share the story on their website: “There’s an old saying from India that garlic is as good as ten mothers, which to us means that food is medicine, as nourishing and powerful as ten whole mothers. There’s also a fantastic film by Les Blank called ‘Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers.’ And really, we just love garlic!”

Where is your farm located and what do you grow?
Hillsborough, NC. We grow vegetables year-round on ⅓ of an acre. We don’t have a tractor, so we do everything by hand, no-till. Most of what we grow is for our 54 CSA members and for a a few local restaurants. And then we grow plenty for ourselves too.

Walk us through a typical day on your farm and in your kitchen, i.e. what do you eat on a typical day?
Our days are constantly changing depending on the season. This time of year we get up by 4:45, have a good breakfast, and head out to the farm before it gets crazy hot. Breakfast is usually soaked porridge with some hearty combination of yogurt, nuts, jam, sardines (this is Gordon’s secret to everything), and kraut or another ferment.

Tuesdays and Thursdays are harvest and delivery days. Saturdays we do our farm walk, make the fresh list, and write the CSA newsletter, and other days we do everything else. I also work at a nearby farm for refugees from Burma and teach cooking classes for children and grown-ups, so I’m a little all over the place half the time while Gordon holds down the fort.

No matter what, we always make time to cook, even if it’s just tomato sandwiches – that’s what’s for dinner tonight. We got into farming for the food, so it’s always top of mind. Plus, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do as generally happily as we do it without eating really well, so it’s a sensible obsession.

Dinner is usually an armful of vegetables made into something delicious – roasted eggplant with fish sauce vinaigrette, pumpkin coconut curry with greens, sautéed okra with tomatoes – with a grain of some kind (rice, tortillas, grits, buttermilk cornbread). We’ll often put an egg on it or make a frittata, and once or twice a week we’ll splurge and have some meat too. We always make enough food to have leftovers for lunch the next day.

Farming without a tractor makes for very physical work, which means we’re constantly hungry and thinking about food. We spend a ton of time in our kitchen, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

What is your favorite fruit or vegetable to grow, and what’s your go-to method to cook it?
Garlic, because it’s both flavor and medicine, and we named our farm after it. Sweet peppers, not bells, because they’re like candy. Lettuce – I never thought I’d say this, but our lettuce has been so good this year, I’ve never eaten so much salad and now I can’t stop. Also, fresh herbs. We grow a lot of parsley, cilantro, basil, and dill, and we put them in and on everything. We make parsley salad with lemon and anchovies, and pestos out of any combination of herbs. They make everything better.

What kitchen tools could you not live without?
A very sharp knife, our big wooden cutting board, and our Thai mortar and pestle. It’s deep and pounds garlic into a paste in seconds.

Name the top three ingredients used most in your kitchen that don’t come from your farm?
Vinegars, lemons, olive oil and other fats, and salt.

Favorite cookbook?
Right now I’m deep into “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” by Samin Nosrat. She’s an incredible teacher and she’s funny. “The Taste of Country Cooking” by Edna Lewis and “The Art of Simple Food” by Alice Waters – these two women are my heroes. And for cooking as a way of life, “An Everlasting Meal” by our friend Tamar Adler.

Do you have go-to methods for preserving your harvests through the year, i.e. jamming, pickling, freezing?
We ferment everything – radish kimchi, kraut, chow-chow, dill pickles, carrot pickles, hot sauce, salsa. We make beet kvass regularly. Otherwise, we make vinegar pickles, and we freeze a ton of tomatoes and sauce.

What advice do you give folks for cooking with your produce, especially when using ingredients they may not be familiar with?
Make a plan that involves a lot of vegetables, and then proceed boldly. How has running a farm influenced your relationships with family, friends, and your local community?
More than ever, we feel how much we need strong relationships. There’s no way this farm would exist without the direct support of so many people. And more than ever, food is how we connect with each other and with our community. Farming is hard, and farming organically in the Southeast is extra hard. At times it can be discouraging, so it’s important to be able to remind ourselves why we’re doing this. Most of the time we’re tired and hungry, and all it takes is sitting down to eat together.

Our social life is pretty much cooking for and with friends, and going to potlucks. This is the life we want – we farm, we cook, we spend all day surrounded by vegetables, we share food with loved ones.

Please share a favorite recipe for a simple, straight-from-the-farm dish that you are craving this season.

Parsley Salad with Lemon and Anchovies

– 1 bunch parsley, washed and dried
– 2 tbsp lemon juice
– 2 tbsp olive oil
– 1-2 anchovies, finely chopped (optional)
– Pinch of salt

1. Wash the lettuce and spin it several times in a salad spinner. Dry greens are the secret to a good salad. If the leaves are wet, even a little, the dressing will run off them and make a watery mess.
2. While the lettuce dries fully, make the dressing. In a mortar & pestle, pound the garlic and anchovy (if using) into a paste. Transfer this paste into a blender and add the lemon juice, vinegar, chopped herbs, a big pinch of salt, and mayo. Blend until creamy. Taste & adjust for salt and vinegar. If too thick, add a little water (not too much).
3. Toss your salad gently with your hands to make sure all the leaves are coated.

Variations: Also delicious over fresh tomatoes, roasted beets, and cucumbers, on chicken, or used as a dip for whatever crunchy vegetable you’ve got.

The end of August brings the start of school and the first glimpses of cooler fall weather, but Starbucks had better hold their freakin’ horses on those Pumpkin Spiced Lattes, because ’tis still the season for TOMATOES and corn, zucchini, melons, okra, and all the things. This is the most back-breaking part of the season for farmers – when days are mostly spent harvesting the heavy fruits of a spring & summer’s worth of hard labor.

With such an abundance flooding the markets, it’s more important than ever to support your local farmers, buy in bulk, and get into the kitchen to preserve these wild & wonderful late summer harvests. Speaking of which, in a few weeks I’ll be posting some tips & recipes for preserving the season’s tomato harvest. But for those of you living in the Santa Barbara area, I’m excited to announce that I’m teaching a hands-on Tomato Preservation Class on Sunday, September 17th. This class is a fundraiser for Veggie Rescue, a local organization that collects excess produce from local farms, farmers markets, & backyards, and distributes it directly to schools and organizations serving those in need at no cost to recipients.

In this 2-hour hands-on class, we’ll tackle several simple & delicious ways to preserve tomatoes – from freezing to slow roasting, quick pickling, and hot water-bath canning. You’ll walk away from this class with tons of new skills, a recipe packet, a belly full of snacks, and a few jars of preserved tomatoes to take home. Here’s the link to more info and tickets – seats are very limited.

Now that I’ve got you all dreaming about tomatoes, it’s time to share a new “Eat Like a Farmer” interview featuring folks who are growing some gosh darn beautiful tomatoes (see Exhibit A, B, and C). This interview is with Ashley and Jason Bartner, the founders of La Tavola Marche, which is an organic farm, inn, and cooking school based in the sun-kissed Italian countryside in the Le Marche region.

For over 10 years, this husband and wife team has been living the dream and sharing the delicious secrets of cucina povera (peasant cooking) with an immersive and hands-on farm-to-table experience for their guests. If any of you are planning a trip to Italy in the near future, I highly recommend checking out La Tavola Marche’s incredible cooking classes – from homemade pasta and sauces to wood-fired pizzas, antipasti, and desserts, and many more.

Even if you can’t make it all the way to Italy, you can keep up with La Tavola Marche via their drool-worthy Instagram account, awesome videos, and super fun podcast. Big thanks to Ashley for taking the time to take part in this interview series – keep reading for the full interview.

Where is your farm located and what do you grow?
We have a farm inn and cooking school deep in Le Marche in the Italian countryside. We grow a lot – our main crops are hundreds of tomatoes in 12 heirloom varieties, potatoes, onions (red, white & Tropea), as well as dozens of salads, beans, tons of peppers, pumpkins, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, melons – I’m sure I’m forgetting something.

Walk us through a typical day on your farm and in your kitchen, i.e. what do you eat on a typical day?
A typical day starts at 5:30am with a big cappuccino, then Jason heads to the garden to water all by hand and picks crates of ripe veggies daily while I water the flowers, prepare breakfast for the guests, and let the hens out of their coop. By 10am our morning chores are done and we either prepare for a lunch cooking class or plan the dinner menu. After lunch, usually during the summer, it’s a big salad of cucumbers, onions, & tomatoes still warm from the sun – we take a power nap and prep the kitchen for what’s cooking that night. If we have an afternoon/dinner cooking class, we start by taking the guests straight to the garden to collect the ingredients for dinner and return to the kitchen with baskets overflowing.

A typical summer menu, with all the produce coming from our garden (even the eggs for the pasta are from our hens), the only things not local are the lentils (which are locally grown), anchovies from Sicily, and the meat from our neighbors’ farm.

What is your favorite fruit or vegetable to grow, and what’s your go-to method to cook it?
The tomatoes of course are amazing, but it’s our onions I can’t get enough of – especially the oblong Tropea onions that are sweet enough to eat like an apple. Besides thinly sliced in salads, my favourite way to eat them is “Verdure Gratinate” – baked with breadcrumbs. I know it sounds ridiculously simple and it is – but it’s my favorite.

What kitchen tools could you not live without?
Hand scrubber – Jason’s hands are always a mess after the garden and stained black from the tomatoes. But I’m not the cook – Jason is, and his favorite kitchen tools are his Falk Copper pots and pans.

Name the top three ingredients used most in your kitchen that don’t come from your farm?
Pork, pork, pork – I think we need to get pigs!

Favorite cookbook?
For Italian food, “The Silver Spoon”. For old American comfort food, “The Joy of Cooking”.

Do you have go-to methods for preserving your harvests through the year, i.e. jamming, pickling, freezing?
We preserve/jar hundreds of kilos of tomatoes each summer, as well as pickle our peppers, beans, and onions. We jam our plums when they grow, as well as apple sauces/preserves in the autumn. We braid our garlic and onions, and I have learned the old-school Italian tradition of making liquors as well, and will preserve our cherries, walnuts, and wild plums in homemade after-dinner drinks. The only thing we freeze are cherry tomatoes and thick slices of peppers to use in stews over the winter.

What advice do you give folks for cooking with your produce, especially when using ingredients they may not be familiar with?
“If it grows together, it goes together.”

How has running a farm influenced your relationships with family, friends, and your local community?
Yes, having a garden has connected us to the land, culture, and people of this area more than anything we have done. We are foreigners in a very foreign land, and by honoring their traditions and way of living, we have…

Please share a favorite recipe for a simple, straight-from-the-farm dish that you are craving this summer.
A favorite way to keep veggies a bit longer into the season is a quick pickle – that great briny flavor with a crunch without the wait of a month or more for a proper pickle. A dish of these puckery peppers makes a perfect antipasti/appetizer through the fall. I love adding a heaping spoonful to my plate with grilled sausages or dunked into a Bloody Mary while watching football.

July has arrived with a fiercely hot, dry, and dusty force here in Santa Barbara, and I have a feeling that most of you are sweating right along with me. Alas, with the summer heat comes some gosh darn delicious abundance from the earth, and it’s a season I look forward to all year long.

Southern California’s growing season tends to be ahead of schedule compared to the Midwest/East Coast, and our local farmers markets are already bursting with vibrant colors and plump fruits – tomatoes, zucchini, corn, beans, peaches. Zucchini – did I mention zucchini? Though we’re based on the West Coast, I love following the farm journeys via the wonders of Instagram of fellow farmer comrades from all over the States.

There’s one lady farmer in particular that has been an incredibly supportive and joyful farming friend from afar – and that’s Eva Moss Green, owner & farmer of Heartstrong Farm in Staley, NC. Eva and her husband Patrick are in the first official growing season

About Us

Thornapple CSA: A community-driven initiative championing sustainable agriculture. We connect members with fresh, organic produce, celebrating the bond between land and community.

Follow On

Subscrive Our Newsletter
To Get More Updates

© 2023 Thornapplecsa.com. All Rights Reserved