For Mother’s day 2016, I asked for a raised garden. The last few years, I found success in growing herbs and peppers in pots out front of my house. So, I thought I would try my hand on a small garden.
I did pretty well, my garden yielded a ton of cucumbers, hot and sweet peppers, heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, oregano, marjoram, sage, parsley, and basil. I had enough basil to supply all of Little Italy. Check out the fresh veggie platter I made using our bounty last summer. Click here!
When I was throwing around ideas for the blog, I thought of a few posts using some of the veggies and herbs I would grow this year. However, I wouldn’t have much to write about until mid to late summer. Then I thought about the Red Top Farm, a local farm that opened up about 5 years ago. They have tunnel structured grow houses and turn out produce all year long. I also liked the idea about reporting on the food in our community. See the post about our local Food Network celebrity, Mr. Terry Tuttle (click here).
So, I reached out to the owners of the Farm, VK and Mike Shay, and set up a meeting. VK is the farmer and she was the person I was going to interview for the post. I met with VK in early March. Her grow houses were in full bloom and most of the salad greens were ready for harvesting.
The flowering bok choy was about to seed because of the unusually warm March weather but the carrots were still too young for picking. We love her Winter carrots. You can’t find carrots that taste like these in a grocery store.
The produce was simply beautiful. We walked through the houses and she picked off some samples for us to eat. We munched on the most tender kale, butter crunch lettuce, and spinach. I ended up leaving with a huge bag full of Tuscan kale. It is by far the most pleasant tasting of all the kale. Later in this post, you will find the recipe for how I served the Tuscan kale for Sunday night dinner (click here for another Sunday dinner post).
VK is an interesting person to listen to. Her enthusiasm and knowledge about farming had me wanting to hurry home and plan my garden for this year. She explained how she keeps the produce warm in the winter. She called the agrabon covers, “The plants pajamas.”(click here for a visual of agrabon covers)
The weather plays a large roll in her day to day farming duties. Since VK uses two 21x 48 foot “high tunnel” metal frame structures with a 6 mm plastic covering. Inside the larger tunnel structures are rows of “low tunnels” for the lines of produce.
A traditional green house is automatically climate controlled. VK is the climate control for her houses. She regulates the temperature by opening up the sides of the tunnel structures and turning on the fans to create air circulation. This cools off the inside of the structure on sunny days. The temperature inside the tunnels can be 20-30 degrees warmer than the outside air temperature.
When the temperature drops in the evening, the plant’s “pajama” coverings keep them warm on cold nights. VK continuously covers and uncovers the low tunnels to keep the plants from overheating during the sunny daylight hours and warm after the sun goes down. She is hyper aware of the weather. VK has to know when it is sunny or cloudy and is mindful of the temperature changes throughout the day. Her various tasks keep the tunnels at the optimum temperature and maximize air circulation.
This particular parcel of land VK bought at auction is low lying and water is a constant issue. There is no slope to the land and there is either too much water or too little. The land is mostly clay and silt loam. This type of dirt has terrible drainage and the water just rests on top of the land. This is one reason she chose to start her farm with the tunnel structure houses. She embraced the lowest, worst part of her land to build up these large raised beds. She receives soil twice a year to raise the beds.
The rest of her farm land is currently covered in rye and clovers. She is working on changing the land from a hard unusable clay to a more palatable soil for produce. VK turns over the clover and rye every year using her modest farming tools. Her efforts are paying off and the soil is becoming more amiable. VK has a vision of expanding her farm and our community is looking forward to it.
Red Top Farm is the home of 2 rescue donkeys, chickens, and two of the sweetest labrador retrievers. VK has been kicking around the idea of buying meat chickens for their own consumption. Although, you can swing by and pick up some farm fresh eggs. Their chickens lay lovely eggs with super bright yellow yolks.
In a previous life, VK worked for HP in the high tech industry working with government agencies around the world. She worked on some heavy duty programs such as the Genome Project. She took early retirement and bought this 13 acre farm at auction. Fun fact, to classify as a farm you must have at least 10 acres of land. It’s been five years since VK and Mike have started there farming adventure and the community looks forward to many more years to come.
VK is on a committee of farmers in Anne Arundel County to develop a plan for Agri-toursim (click here). It has been several years but progress is being made to pass laws for farmers to open up their land for tourists to come and visit.
Currently, VK has a farm stand open open on the weekends during the summer months. She is selling farm produce from Red Top Farm and other local farmers, local honey and locally grown eggs. During the winter months, the high tunnel produce is sold to local caters and local restaurants such as Pirates Cove and Skippers Pier. The high tunnels are open for U-pick on the weekends for local customers to harvest fresh greens.
The trick is to look for the OPEN sign and also there will be notice on our “soon to be released” web site and FaceBook page.
SAUTEED TUSCAN KALE
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 shallot, chopped
1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
Large amount of Tuscan kale or any kale. Get more than you think you will need, kale cooks down tremendously.
1/4 cup of shredded parmigiano reggiano
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat a large pan to medium high heat to melt the butter and olive oil together. Toss in the shallots and the hot pepper flakes. Stir those around for about a minute or two then dump in the cleaned, chopped kale. If you don’t think you have room in the pan, let the kale cook down a little then add more. Sautee the kale for a few more minutes then sprinkle on the cheese.
It is really as simple as that. Serve the kale as a side for a meat and potatoes dish or pile up a heaping bowl full and eat it all by itself.
I could have eaten the whole batch of kale myself. I have had dreams of this kale. Anyone who knows me understands that I have no problem forgoing my veggies. This kale was scrumptious and I want to thank VK of the Red Top Farm for turning out some fantastic produce.