Healthy variety for family meals

Published 3:30 pm Friday, July 15, 2011

University of Wisconsin-Madison interns Kristin Krueger, Kaye Abitz and Amelia Mutter wash bunches of just-harvested arugula before bagging the spicy lettuce for Community Supported Agriculture program participants, who will pick up the fresh produce in Chicago just a few short hours from the time it was picked in the field. Photo by Kathie Hempel

“Kids who grow up on farms, who have gardens and plant seeds, nurturing them into plants that bear fruit they then pick for the family meals, just don’t turn their noses up on everything green on their plates.”

The first thing one notices when speaking with Jesse Rosenbluth about food and farming is his enthusiastic passion. The farm manager of Granor Farm is not just a farmer, but an eloquent teacher with a touch of philosopher thrown in for good measure.

And he’s right. Children and adults alike will rush to be first in line to try the latest concoction announced by McDonald’s or KFC, but how many of us will line up for the latest crop of mache or mizuna?

OK, I had never heard of them either. Each is a different variety of green grown on the farm. Mizuna is a feathery, delicate salad green that originated in Japan that you may have even enjoyed before if you have ever made a salad using the salad-green mix known as mesclun.

According to the website glossary of, mache is also known as field salad, field lettuce, lamb’s lettuce and corn salad. “Native to Europe, corn salad has nothing to do with corn … but it is used in salads. The narrow, dark green leaves of this plant are tender and have a tangy, nutlike flavor. In addition to being used as a salad green, corn salad (mache) can also be steamed and served as a vegetable.”

The article also states that “it’s considered a ‘gourmet’ green and is therefore expensive and hard to find.”

Not so for you and I. Granor Farm can supply this “gourmet green” and much more to visitors of the retail location or those who participate in their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program on a regular basis.

Granor Farm is located on 25 acres at 3480 Warren Woods Rd., just outside the town of Three Oaks. A visit to its website at educates consumers in what it means to be an environmentally focused modern farm.

“Strong believers in feeding the soil, not the plant, we continually strive to develop contemporary techniques, while mindful of traditional practices, to improve the health of our farm land,” it says.

Rosenbluth not only believes in operating a solid business, but brings to the operation his passion for “learning on the job” and a commitment to the land he lives on and the community he lives in. A former member of AmeriCorps in Portland, Ore., he participated in a watershed council and education program after graduating from Kenyon College with majors in biology and English.

One of the first things one notices at the farm is a sign proudly declaring, “This farm is environmentally verifed.”

“We use cutting-edge technology combined with common sense biological farming,” Rosenbluth explains. “We avoid creating a mono culture of crops by alternating what is planted through crop rotations. We choose green manures over chemicals to create a sustainable and dynamic farming system. I am very grateful to our neighbors, more conventional farmers, who have been super supportive and have helped us … they are valuable partners.”

The fact that Rosenbluth finds ways for the farm to be sustainably economical is no doubt appreciated by Granor Farms’ founders, Rob Buono and Liz Cicchelli. Buono grew up in the lake country farming communities of Minnesota, while Cicchelli’s family balanced downtown Chicago city living with summers at a small cottage in Union Pier. In 2008 they purchased the 10 acres on which they planted the first crops, managed by Rosenbluth, in 2009. An additional 15 acres were purchased recently.

Although the farm has a strategic field design based on the rotation of nine crops — sweet corn; potatoes; vine crops; root crops, like beets and radishes; beans; tomatoes; peas; Brassica crops such as broccoli and cauliflower; and fallow in the form of cover crops such as soy, red clover, orchard grass and rye — these are interspersed with a number of herbs and other plantings bringing the combined offering of the farm to more than 45 different edible market-ready products for you and your family to enjoy.

Granor Farm’s CSA program is extensive, with 80 subscribers to date who pick up weekly or bi-weekly bins of the farm’s produce either at the farm itself or at one of the other seven locations, four of which are in Chicago.

Chicago clientele appreciate that the vegetables they prepare that evening were picked early that morning and arrived at their pickup location within approximately four hours of leaving the farm.

CSA members buy into the farm by providing enough money in early spring to meet a farm’s operating expenses in exchange for a portion of the farm’s weekly produce. Over a 20-week growing season, the crops received will reflect the nature of the farm itself. If the growing season has been delayed, some crops may not be readily available and members may find they are eating cold weather crops for longer than usual, however, they have the assurance that everything received is off the local farm, grown in season and fresh to their tables.

Granor Farm offers two share options: 20 weekly deliveries from June to October for $700 or 10 bi-weekly deliveries at $360. While an individual family’s consumption can vary, it is generally considered that the three-fourths bushel bin is sufficient for a family of four, although Rosenbluth says he knows of individuals who feel they could eat more of the flavorful harvest.

Rosenbluth does not expect that everyone will be accustomed to all the varieties he offers, but he is committed to “removing the mystic” of some of the less familiar foods. With the more familiar red leaf lettuce, one will find arugula, mache and mizuna. Along with the beets, carrots, parsnips, onions, radishes and rutabagas, members will come to appreciate the joi choy, kale and collard greens that may not have previously been part of their diet.

Recipes are supplied with each delivery and more are available online through the farm’s website link to its Facebook page where patrons and readers are invited to add their own favorite dish to the mix.

Rosenbluth is not out to create a world of organic only vegetarians. His mission is to have families adding tasty variety to their meals with simple additions like incorporating garlic scapes into an omelet or trying kale chips with a sandwich or as a snack.

I know … what is a garlic scape? I can tell you what Rosenbluth told me — “It is the seed bulbs of garlic and the early stems clipped to be treated like chives” — but why not amaze yourself with the 691,000 results that Google will offer up in 0.13 seconds? The wealth of recipes available with such a simple search takes away any excuse not to try these foods and as a bonus will educate you on the marvelous health benefits of the various produce.

For those who want a more hands on experience with their food, Granor Farm offers several programs to accommodate.

Guest farmers, both children and adults are invited to visit the farm to learn more about its practices and to help “work the land.” This is in perfect harmony with Rosenbluth’s assertion that children who plant the seed and actually harvest the crop are less likely to turn their noses up when “a hunk of green stuff” shows up on their plate. He points out that getting a child to willingly eat a salad is a win all ways round.

During my visit Pat Mullins of LOCAL in New Buffalo, featured in an earlier column, was the guest farmer of the day. He insists Rosenbluth keeps him sane by allowing him to come out and “play in the dirt.” For his part Rosenbluth is grateful for Mullins sharing his experience in retail selling which he supports by making Granor Farm produce available at LOCAL. This style of farming is all about forming solid win-win partnerships.

Farm Camp is offered in July and August to young children ages 5-12. They get to participate in the daily farming activities with a strong emphasis on “field to table cooking.” It is run by Rosenbluth’s mother, an early education teacher in Chicago herself, who was astonished when she asked a class of  3- to 4-year-olds where they thought eggs came from.

Answers were thoughtful.

“From eggplants?”

“From cows?”

“They are the holes from Swiss cheese.”

“Maybe they are nuts?”

Amusing as their innocent answers may be, it is somehow very sad that these children have no idea that chickens lay eggs.

For students of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the farm offers yearly internships. This year four young women bunk in the loft above the barn.

Annie Wilhelm, from a small farming community in Minnesota, studies political science, global security and the Middle East. Kristin Krueger, a landscape architecture student, specializing in urban agriculture, is enjoying getting the agriculture portion of her studies first hand. Amelia Mutter, originally from Virginia, laughs as she explains “battling” chickens who “fly the coop” and then have to be wooed back home. Faye Abitz, a biology student from Appleton, Wis., determined that the tractor will be conquered by summer’s end.

I invite you to learn more about this farm that doubles as an institution of ground-up learning by visiting its website for more information on Granor Farm and all it has to offer. Better still, explore the farm in person. Like me, I am sure you will be impressed by the experience, the people and the produce.

As the summer season comes to full fruition, hours at the on-site farm stand are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday through Saturday; it is closed Monday.

Rosenbluth assures me it is not too late to sign up for the remaining weeks of the CSA program and you even get an environmentally friendly bag in which to carry home your produce.