Sunchokes: A Little-Known Native Tuber

While harvesting potatoes this week, we came across bunches of tuberous-looking roots in the same area. Turns out, we had ended up with a second harvest that day: sunchokes (aka Jerusalem artichokes). I had never heard of the weird looking roots, but was surprised to find out that the were the roots of the sunflower-like plants that had sprung up in the potato plots that summer.

The flowers, probably familiar to some of you, look like this.

That day, we also took a trip to Campus Club to celebrate the end of the season wrap-up with a tasty lunch. And what did we find there? Sunchoke bisque. Now that we knew the tubers could be made into something that delicious, it was almost more fun continuing to harvest them after lunch. We went back to harvesting with a little more enthusiasm than before.

Our tubers are a little on the skinny side since they had to compete
with potatoes, but they were still prolific in number!

But what are sunchokes anyway? I certainly hadn't heard much about them before harvesting them. so I did some searching to find out a little more about them.
Turns out, even though they also have the name "Jerusalem artichoke", sunchokes are native to North America and have no relation to Jerusalem. They also are in no way related to artichokes and are a member of the Asteraceae family. There are many theories about the name which can be found on the Wikipedia page here. "Sunchoke" is most likely derived from the combination of the words "sunflower artichoke". They are raised for their tubers, which contain 10% protein and lots of carbohydrates. If they're stored for any amount of time, the carbohydrate inulin, which makes up about 76% of the tuber, will be converted into fructose. Fructose is better tolerated by those who are type 2 diabetic and for this reason, sunchokes are promoted as a healthy choice for those living with that condition.

This plant was first widely cultivated by Native Americans, and was brought back to France by French explorer Samuel de Champlain. The French became particularly fond of the vegetable around the turn of the 19th century. It was voted "best soup vegetable" in the 2002 Nice Festival for the Heritage of the French Cuisine. In their raw form, they have a similar consistency as potatoes, but a slightly nuttier flavor. They're often used as soup thickening agents or sliced thin for salad. It should be noted that they also often have the same affect as eating too many beans (if you get what I mean), but seem to be better if cooked first. A recipe for a Roasted Sunchoke Bisque can be found here. 

This plant also was involved with a pyramid scheme in the 1980s where farmers were assured that the plant would soon appear on the commodities market even though there was little market for it at the time. The only profits that were made were by the first few levels of distribution, and many of the farms that had planted large amounts of the crop were ruined. Despite this, sunchokes have started to be seen in menus and grocery stores around the country. They've also become popular for foragers who know the tuber's potential better than your average gardener. 

Hope you enjoyed our little uncommon vegetable lesson for the day! If you're ever out and about and see "sunchokes" at your local co-op or grocery store, give them a try!

Fall on the Farm

Fall is known for colors. Most think of the colors of changing in the form of leaves, but fall on the farm definitely means an incredible array of colors in our produce. I've found myself taking more and more pictures of our beautiful produce in the past few weeks and thought I'd share some with you. 







If you'd like to come out and enjoy the beautiful colors of our farm and the beautiful weather we've been having, our farm will be having a Crop Mob this coming Saturday the 27th, from 10am-2pm. Come out for an hour or the whole time, whatever works best for you schedule. You'll be helping us pick our produce and have a really good time getting to know us and the other volunteers that come out. We will also be feeding you lunch! We've already had one successful Crop Mob and we wanted to do it again. We hope you join us. You can find the event to RSVP to on Facebook at this link.

Our most recent crop mob helped with our tomato crop!
Happy Fall everyone!

This Week at Cornercopia: Ground Cherries and Tractor Fun

We had a ton of ground cherries at our farmers market stands today and we got of questions about what they are and what you do with them. Ground cherries are not actually cherries, but are a relation of the tomatillo. But instead of being similar to a tomato like the tomatillo is, ground cherries are sweeter and more like a berry and are best when used like one. Courtney was given an excellent and easy to make recipe for Ground Cherry Chai Preserves (over at the Cheese and Champagne blog) by one of our dedicated St. Paul market customers, Jean. This preserve makes a great spread to pair with cheese, crackers and other items for dinner parties, holiday parties or just to fulfill your snacking needs. Take note that this recipe is not intended for water bath canning, and the site does link to another recipe that is appropriate if you would like to do so. The recipe itself only has four ingredients and takes around one hour to prepare since a good amount of simmering over low heat is required.

Ground Cherries: The tomatillo's sweeter cousin.

The other fun part of our week is the shiny new walk-behind tractor that was delivered to the farm. The model allows different attachments to be purchased and switched out, meaning that it's a good, multi-use machine. Our farm has the flail mower attachment and the power harrow attachment. The flail mower is much more powerful than the regular lawn mower we've been using in between our rows and to cut down large areas of tall grass and weeds. It also cuts much closer to the ground, keeping weeds away for longer. Our power harrow attachment also makes preparing beds for planting a lot easier.
But of course, new toys don't come without their hiccups. During our first tests with the flail mower, we managed to run over a hose and the owners manual (CD included was chopped to bits as well). Makes for a good story though.
We can't forget to thank everyone that made it possible for our farm to purchase the tractor: the Campus Club, University Dining Service, Honest Tea and all of our amazing customers!

Courtney using the tractor with the power harrow attachment. 

Graham using the flail mower attachment.

View of the underside of the flail mower.

Our second round of broiler chickens are already set for processing next week after spending their short lives out in the chicken tractors. Unlike last time, we moved some of the chicken tractors out to our newest field near Cleveland Ave. Our chickens help raise the soil fertility in the fields that we move them around in, so those fields are getting a healthy dose of chicken poo which will be incorporated into the soil so it's nice and nutrient rich for crops grown on it next summer.


Otherwise, harvesting is starting to become a more common chore as more and more crops start putting out fruit. The tomatoes are finally ripening, the cucumbers are still going strong and our winter squashes are starting to get fruit as well. The melon vines still only just have flowers, but we're hoping to see fruit from those sometime in September. As always, if you're interested in coming out to volunteer at the farm or bringing a group out to visit, send us an email at umsof@umn.edu.

Look at those lovely heirlooms!

National Zucchini Day


Happy National Zucchini Day, everyone! Yet another one of those I-didn't-know-there-was-a-day-for-that days that we might as well celebrate, especially since we've had zucchini at our farmers market stands for the past few weeks. We thought it might be fun to share some zucchini-related facts and a recipe for all you zucchini lovers out there.

Zucchini Fun Facts
1. Botanically, zucchini is considered a fruit because it's the swollen ovary of the zucchini flower.

2. The name for zucchini is derived from the Italian word "zucchina" meaning "small pumpkin/squash". Zucchinis as we know them today were also developed in Italy, after being brought over from the Americas.

3. Many other countries typically harvest zucchinis when they are still very small, around the size of a finger. This is especially common in South Africa.

4. Zucchini are low in calories and have useful amounts of Vitamin A, folate and potassium.

5. Zucchini flowers are considered a delicacy at vegetable markets since they're hard to store and transport. Picking them for culinary use before they can start to produce fruit can often help the over-abundance many gardeners experience with zucchini.

(Facts taken from the zucchini Wikipedia page.)

Zucchini bread is one incredibly popular use for zucchini, especially when you have an overabundance of them. Shredded zucchini, one of the components, also freezes well, making it easy to shred a large amount and then keep it for later zucchini bread baking. Here's a recipe for easy zucchini bread if you don't have one to try:

Mom's Zucchini Bread
(Makes 2 loaves)

Ingredients
-3 Cups all-purpose flour
-1 teaspoon salt
-1 teaspoon baking soda
-1 teaspoon baking powder
-3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
-3 eggs
-1 cup vegetable oil
-2 & 1/4 cups white sugar
-3 teaspoons vanilla extract
-2 cups grated zucchini
-1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Instructions
1. Grease and flour two 8 x 4 inch pans. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
2. Sift flour, salt, baking powder, soda, and cinnamon together in a bowl.
3. Beat eggs, oil, vanilla, and sugar together in a large bowl. Add sifted ingredients to the creamed mixture, and beat well. Stir in zucchini and nuts until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pans.
4. Bake for 40 to 60 minutes, or until tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack for 20 minutes. Remove bread from pan, and completely cool.


Taken from allrecipes.com. (Link here)

Chicken Q&A With Wayne Martin



While Cornercopia's main business is growing fresh, organic produce, the farm also keeps a flock of chickens on the farm during the summer months. To give you an introduction to our wonderful feathered friends, I got to ask Wayne Martin, the Assistant Extension Professor that works with Cornercopia on our chicken project, a few questions.


1. What is your University position and how does it translate to what you do at Cornercopia?
I am with University of Minnesota Extension. My position title is Assistant Extension Professor, Alternative Livestock Systems. I tend to work with smaller scale farmers, and with all domesticated species, though mainly I provide information and education on poultry, sheep, lambs, pigs, and to some extent, cattle.

It makes sense for me to be involved with Cornercopia chicken production, to provide some knowledge and guidance, and it fits well with the type of work I do around the state. Interest in organic chicken production is gradually increasing, so it's good to be gaining knowledge on how to do so. 

2. What is/are the reason(s) Cornercopia keeps chickens?
Artificial fertilizers are not approved for use on certified organic farm ground, so producers must use other alternatives, which come from either plant or animal sources. Chickens provide high quality manure fertilizer for the crops raised on the Student Organic Farm.

The birds are also raised to give students and community members exposure to animals raised on organic land. We hold workshops during the summer to teach participants how to raise broilers in a pasture setting.

3. What kind of chickens does Cornercopia keep? Will the next round of chickens be a different type?
We typically have broilers, or meat chickens, either Cornish X or Red Rangers. We have had layers for egg production in the past, but no longer do so.

4. Can you describe the "chicken tractors" that the chickens live in and how has the housing for the chickens developed over the years?
“Chicken tractors” are simply portable huts that the birds live in during the time they are on the pasture. Our huts are tall enough to walk inside, and support feeders and waterers hanging from the ceiling. They have wheels to help make moving them easier, given that is done on a daily basis. The huts protect the birds from predators and also give them some protection during stormy weather.

5. What are the general duties of the chicken interns and what are the learning outcomes of the jobs they do?
The student interns are taught to take care of the birds from the time they arrive as day-old chicks, until they are ready for processing. They learn to properly feed and water the birds, and to observe the birds for signs of any illness that might affect the flock. They learn every aspect of good poultry husbandry.

...turns into this guy.
Interns are with our chickens from when this little guy...






















6. What is your favorite part about working with the Cornercopia chickens?
There are many things I enjoy about working with the chickens at Cornercopia. First of all, it’s great to be outside on a beautiful Minnesota summer day. Can’t beat that. Then there is always something new to learn about working with animals. A lot of creativity has gone in to problem solving with the birds, and with designing feeders and huts. Finally, it’s wonderful to work with such interested and interesting students. They are always a great group of eager learners, full of energy and good ideas. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds as well. It’s very easy to get involved with and spend a lot of time at the Student Organic Farm!

Lindsay, who was one of the chicken interns last summer, holds
one of our broilers.