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Episode 51 – Cold Frame Build

10.04.12

I built my first cold frame back in March of 2011. It has undoubtedly changed the way I grow food. I’m now up to 8 frames under lids, with another 6 soon to be built for the 2013 season – the majority for market. This vid is simply a look at how we’re building them now, after much homework in old-school books about how the Dutch and French used to rock this technology, and much debate between Travis and I about the best way to tackle it.

A simple description of the current design: 2×10 back and sides, 2×6 front for the frame on the ground. The lid is a 2×4 back board hinged to the ground frame. 2x2s are then added to the sides and front of the lid, and a space-age corrugated greenhouse plexi is affixed to the top. That’s it. It uses geothermal and solar heat to assist on temperature, and the biggy is the lid itself protects against hail, pounding rain, heavy winds, and frost. And leaf debris, and house sparrows, and neighbourhood cats, and romping children. And snow. I’ve grown greens as early as April and as late as November before without much effort. Now that we’re supplying restaurants, food trucks, caterers, the local culinary school, and the public, it’s time for some effort to extend the season in an energy-passive way and with some volume. I’m not interested in heaters – not just because they’re energy pigs, but because they falsify seasonality, and alter the culture around it. I am however interested in advocating for a re-think about what’s in season, helping sharpen the #yeg pencil around terroir, if you will. There you have it.

Beef Butchery Workshop 2012: The Details

10.02.12

After a successful first go at ‘Pork Butchery Workshop‘, and due to loads of demand, we’re now taking a crack at an inaugural ‘Beef Butchery Workshop‘. In case you’re wondering, I deleted the workshop page from my site because my inbox was getting inundated with inquiries. Still figuring out what to do about that exactly. In the meantime I’m posting details of coming workshops here.

Date: October 20th

Location: Sangudo Custom Meat Packers

THE GAME PLAN

8am. Kill a cow. Then, gut and skin cow, taking the necessary time to harvest and chat beef offal. Speed tour of the layout of the meat shop. We’ll then break down a side of certified organic beef and talk through your cut options with each primal. Eat some beef lunch. Spend the afternoon doing some beef charcuterie preparations, this time courtesy of chef Chad Moss. Then, we shall dine on beef and red wine. The end.

Everybody will go home with a minimum 5lb box of beef goodies – bones for stock, some fun off cuts and offal, etc.

Buy-in for this one’s higher because a head of certified organic beef costs the same as about 10 pigs in this case. That, and quite frankly the food and booze at pig day was largely donated, and we are trying to price this to be a financially sustainable endeavour. To keep costs manageable, we’re doing a price point of $250 for the whole day, meals and booze included, and you go home with the 5 lb box referred to above as a party favour. If you want in on the meat we’re cutting that day, which certainly would be a wise move, we’re going to be dividing a side into 10 equal boxes and you can take home one of those boxes [1/10 of a side of beef] for an additional $100, which is essentially at cost. So $350 w/ a meat share, $250 w/out. Up to you.

This one is a long way to selling out after a couple tweets that it’s going down, so if you want in, you’d better act quick. I’m taking registrations via email: kevinatkevinkossowan.com.

Deal will be the same as before: cash day-of. We’ll hold you to your word on you being there if you’re going to have us reserve a spot for you.

ps. a game butchery workshop is in the works too. november. elk.

Late September Salad Greens

09.20.12

I find I’ve been under-representing how much I’ve dived head first into salad greens production for market with Travis from LACTUCA. It’s been a weekly harvest and seeding gig for the past few months, and I’ve learned loads, about zero of which I’ve documented here. Can’t win them all I guess. I blame spending most every waking hour in the past two weeks either picking or crushing or pressing apples and pears.

Today’s salad going to market is delicate and lovely. The endives are starting to shine, growing robustly and light on the bitter in the cool weather. The varieties that are brown or red are also entering their season – a striking difference in color intensity vs even a few weeks ago in August. Growth has slowed considerably, which is posing some challenges for yield. The spring and summer blossoms are long gone to seed. Cold hardy varieties like spinach, arugula, minutina, and mache are about to have their day again, closing out the growing season that they brought in. The romaines and leaf lettuces that were gorgeous through July-August are now being trumped by the epic scarlet frills and merveille des quatres saisons. What a treat to watch varietal performance evolve through the seasons – the best teacher for how to nail down the best seasonal salad mix possible.

I have 8 4′X8′ sheets of corrugated greenhouse plexi arriving this week to top next season’s additional 8 production frames. Demand continues to be heavy, and we’re doing what we can to max out production for the 2013 year. What a project. Urban ag rocks.

Pears. Edmonton Pears.

09.20.12

Pears rank in my top 3 favorite fruits, for sure. Like with wines, I’m a sucker for the floral, high-toned aromatics. Problem is, until this year my only real source of pears was from the Okanagan. I knew there were pears around here, I just hadn’t seen or tasted any that made me think a realistic replacement to the Okanagan hook-up was in my back yard. Last year I had a spot in the lineup to pick the tree in these photos, but then headed to Normandy and missed my chance.

The pears in this photo are in Edmonton. That’s cool bit #1. Second cool bit is a mature tree yields hundreds of pounds of fruit. Not a 20lb box. Think 300lb box. Unlike an apple they’re hard at harvest and can drop to the ground and still be useful in storage. And the best bit is that there are many a pear tree tucked around Edmonton whose owners are happy to share their abundance of fruit. These ones are Ure. I’ve tried Early Gold [which I planted in my yard this year], Federovsk, and some unknown variety that’s easily as large as a Bartlett, which you might have spotted on my instagram feed, and if you know what it is please do tell.

What to do with hundreds of pounds of pears? Perry, or pear cider, for one. Secondly, it blends beautifully with apple juice. To my surprise, the pear juice we’re pressing isn’t pasty and pulpy like the commercial ones you buy – I really dislike that mouthfeel, which keeps me away from pear juices generally. We’re eating them out of hand as they ripen, will peel, cook and freeze some. May can some, although I try to avoid canning. Whatever the case, the following year will be marked by an abundance of pears.

My garage is filled with bins and tubs upon bins and tubs of ripening pears for the first time in my life. It’s glorious.

ARSAN’s Biointensive Farm & Eco-Village Projects

09.12.12

This summer I spent a lot of time doing video production work for Alberta Agriculture & Rural Development & a related project [partially funded by AARD] called ‘Think Local Market’ – a municipal and provincial initiative that provides rural producers access to an online sales and marketing environment. All told, I think I wrapped 16 videos related to those two projects in the past couple months – which to be honest accounts for some of the lack of generating my own content through the summer months. I wanted to share some of those vids here because 1) the content is completely on-topic and 2) it’s my blog now, isn’t it.

This one’s about two projects initiated by ARSAN, which in turn was funded by AARD. I’m particularly fond of their resolve to demonstrate how much biodiversity can be grown intensively with minimal resources – kind of my gig here at home. Their eco-village is a particularly interesting initiative too, as I know there are folks out there who would be keen to live in the kind of community Brian talks about in the video. More details on these projects at www.arsan.ca.

Arsan’s Biointensive Farm & Eco Village from Kevin Kossowan on Vimeo.

Episode 50 – Pork Butchery Workshop V1.0

09.09.12

Jeff Senger of Sangudo Custom Meats

If only 2002 Kevin knew this was coming in 2012. 10 years ago I lived in a condo, fondling my tattered copy of ‘Charcuterie’, longing for an opportunity to get my hands on a whole hog to do even just a few of the myriad of possible delicious preparations pork offered – many of which you can do at home but money can’t otherwise buy. But I had no space to do it. I had nobody to show me the way. I’d never met a pork farmer who I could ask to hook me up. In the spring of 2008, I had moved into our current home, and the previous winters’ pent up porcine desires meant its garage was pre-destined to witness many a pig butchering. 4 years on, many sides and porkventures later, and after a few pints of beer with Jeff Senger tossing around the idea, here we are putting on a pig butchery workshop. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no master at breaking down a side – but mastery was not the objective here. Instead my hope was to give folks that were in a position I recall all too well a crack at breaking the ice. To give them a shot at seeing pig go from live on the hoof to wrapped and packed in the freezer, largely by their own hand. Pig Butchery 101, down and dirty.

Huge thanks to Jeff Senger and Allan Suddaby for putting their heart into it and sharing their expertise throughout the day. An equally huge thanks to those who came, who took the leap. I think it was a day all involved will remember for a long, long time. And yes, we’re talking about maybe doing more. Maybe even a beef butchery workshop. Maybe.

Cob Oven Bread

09.07.12

I’m not sure quite what to say about the fact that I’ve had this lovely oven for months now, and today was the first time I actually intentionally baked bread. In my defense, I shall say: pizza, roast and braised meats, pies, loaves, deep frying, and smoked bacon. It’s interesting that a lot of folks think wood oven and think ‘bread’, yet it took me so long to get to it. It speaks to the over-performing-versatility of the thing. I know many of your are convinced, and I tip my hat to those of you who either have built one since I built mine, or are going to, due to my constant prodding. It makes me deeply content to know a few cob ovens adorn our city that didn’t before, simply because I shared my experience with mine.

For a guy who’s far from obsessed with perfecting bread, I’m pretty pleased with this one. Overnight ferment of 50% Gold Forest Grains’ hard whole wheat. About 80% hydration. That’s all there is to say about it. It’s bread. Baked in a wood oven. The one thing I did that some would scorn is I baked it with the last of a fire in the back, with the door open. Most would pull coals and close the door for more even heat and a higher humidity bake. That would have removed the pleasure of watching it and turning it as I saw fit. Really solid oven spring, nice toast. Now to get to eating it.

Slugs

08.25.12

This is not a complaint. Every time I feel like I want to complain about this year’s inundation of slugs, I consider what my yard was like before when it was an expanse of lawn, with zero life in or near it. Or I think about the west coast with their huge slugs the size of your index finger – these look big, but only because of a 100mm lens. And I’ll take biodiversity over convenience. I ran into a friend who farms veg organically who described slugs as an urban problem – in a cultivated field there’s too much soil for them to cross before they arrive at a plant. In cities there’s lots of habitat. A con to urban ag perhaps? A manageable one, if so.

These things are seedling mowers. It took me a while to figure out that the house sparrows kind of nip and shred seedlings once about an inch tall, but slugs will make baby seedlings a few days old disappear. I had a patch of beautiful seedlings, went on holidays, came back and they had vanished. So I declared war. I tried the beer trap thing, but failed epicly, so I resorted to good, old-fashioned picking. With tongs, because you only have to try to scrub slug slime off your hands once before figuring out that’s something worth avoiding. It’s kind of like the goopiness of nasty fish slime with the tenacity of evergreen sap. Picked a hundred or so a day the first few, then it dropped into the dozens, until a week or two in I’m only finding a couple every morning. I can live with those numbers. I also can live with getting used to bugs. These things grossed me out before. Now my 5 year old and I hunt them in the morning like they’re easter eggs. Well. Kind of like that.

Episode 49 – Rge Rd 135

08.22.12

Last year’s Rge Rd 135 farm-to-table epic at Nature’s Green Acres [Episode 19] is still engraved into the minds of everyone that had the pleasure of being involved, making me more than slightly trepdatious at the prospect of trying to duplicate, nevermind top that farm-to-table extravaganza. But as far as I see it, they pulled it off.

Maybe I’m biased. It was a menu heavy on grass fed free-range meats, fresh garden veg and a splash of wild foods, all cooked on fire. I’m into that kind of thing. It also was the true maiden voyage of the 2nd cob oven build of the year, the first being mine. Add a lucky card-draw on the weather [again], a crew that busted their butts to make it happen, a few bottles of wine, a farm tour, and a few beautiful dishes for a large crew of happy guests – what’s not to like? The cob oven performed fabulously, I’ll add. It was a joy to watch it shed the last of its moisture from the build, get insanely hot, and cook some beautiful food. I wish I’d shot a video about the build, but was soaked to squishy-socks-in-my-shoes-stage and muddy as all heck.

This event is a labour of love, and for that I adore it.

Episode 48 – The Carbon Farmer

08.20.12

I’ve been on a lot of farms in the past few years, but none quite like this. On my way up to Manning for a variety of shoots related to another project Brad had a role in contracting me for, we made a stop to take a look at their operation. On that same drive I had passed many a chunk of bush being pushed down by cats hired by farmers upping the scale game. And here these guys were, planting trees. I adore the guts it takes to do something this outside the box. Although the basic premise is simple: farm carbon, Brad’s way too smart to leave it at that. Planting trees provides opportunities to sell carbon credits and ‘farm’ wild foods. And reminicent of a conversation I’d had with a Chateauneuf du Pape producer a few years back about how the wine industry had matured and been pushed by competition such that they were pulling vines on land that was marginal for that use and probably shouldn’t have been planted in the first place – here’s Brad doing the same in my back yard. Well, his back yard. And it’s heritage grains and trees, not grapes. Okay, weak example, but talk about diversification – selling carbon credits to industry, land rehabilitation, growing organic heritage grains, and niche wild food. Folks must think he’s crazy. Wonder how many years before some start to follow.