Every morning I get up before the sun and I'm out in the field by daybreak. I feed the cats and the chickens, and then dive straight into the work of the day, usually starting with seedling transplant. After receiving clear instructions from Michelle, my farm host, I dig small holes in the ground and fill them with baby kale/ beetroot/ lettuce/ spinach. "Grow," I whisper, "you better grow."
The sun starts to beat down by mid-morning. The tasks that follow are varied and range from trellising and weeding to killing stink bugs. It can be backbreaking and positively humbling, and I feel a natural connection with my surroundings. At times, farm manager Missy the cat joins me, and together we chase the runaway chicken back into the coop. Like in the storybooks. Being the only volunteer here, I get plenty of opportunities for imagination and reflection.
I’ve been staying and working on One Acre Farm in Morgan Hill, California, an arrangement made through WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms). It is owned and run by a lovely couple, and they grow an assortment of vegetables, fruits and herbs, a majority of which goes to their CSA (community supported agriculture) members.
Tuesday is my favorite day on the farm because it’s harvest day. There are over twenty varieties of tomato here, and harvesting them takes up a big chunk of the time. I am an absolute failure at pulling carrots out of the ground, but have become quite adept at picking long beans. Ah, long beans. If broccoli was the green nightmare of your childhood, then long beans were mine, and we've long parted ways.
Fortunately, I'm in the land of vine-ripened tomatoes and eggs with deep yellow yolks. Here, long beans or yardlong beans are picked when they are pencil thin and emerald green, ensuring a crisp and tender texture. And they also come in a most striking purple hue. The evening Michelle cooked us a long bean stir-fry changed the vegetable’s standing on my plate. When harvested at the optimum time, long beans are truly enjoyable, even raw, and are nothing like the tough, chewy sticks I remember eating. If you've never had them, Michelle's excellent stir-fry recipe is a good place to start.
Like a good travel story, I bet everyone has a tale to tell about his or her first farm volunteer experience. Mine is one of renewed love for long beans, and a deep, deep appreciation for the earth that gives us life. My time on the farm has been rewarding and enriching, not least because I’m a big fan of vegetables. Speaking of which, I’ve teamed up with an army of food bloggers to develop an e-cookbook focused on vegetables called The Casual Veggie. I say an army because there are 48 of us, and together we’ve amassed 166 recipes.
The recipes in the e-cookbook are categorized by vegetable, and include practical information such as buying guides, prep and storage tips, and nutrition profiles. It will be available on October 19, and I’m pledging to donate part of the proceeds from sales made through Vermilion Roots to a lion conservation project in Africa. I’d like to invite you to the launch party. It’ll be fun. There will be, well, lots of veggies, and I’ll tell you more about the lions in Africa. It’s a date! In the meantime, let me introduce some of the awesome food bloggers who have contributed recipes to The Casual Veggie: scroll down to the end of this post to meet them and talk veggies!
Long Bean Stir-Fry with Tofu and Brown Rice Noodles
This dish was cooked for me by Michelle, my first WWOOF farm host, with long beans grown on her farm in California. It renewed my long-lost love for the striking foot-long vegetable commonly found in Southeast Asian stir-fries, omelettes and curries. Serves 2.
2 + 1 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 block (190g) extra firm tofu, drained and sliced into thick rectangles
225g brown rice noodles
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1.5 inch ginger, chopped
300g long beans, cut crosswise into 1.5 inch pieces
1 medium red or yellow bell pepper, sliced into thin pieces
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup water
1/2 tablespoon sesame seeds
Pinch of salt and pepper
Heat skillet over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons oil. When the oil is hot, arrange tofu on the skillet in a single layer. Pan fry the tofu pieces until brown and crispy on all sides, carefully flipping the tofu two or three times. Transfer to a cooling rack and set aside.
Boil noodles in water for about 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. (Or follow package instructions.) Drain, toss lightly with sesame oil and set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet and sauté garlic and ginger over medium heat until fragrant. Add long beans, bell pepper, soy sauce, water and stir-fry until bell pepper turns soft. Add sesame seeds, and salt and pepper to taste.
Turn off heat. Add noodles and toss everything to combine. Plate and serve warm.
29 veggies, 48 food bloggers, 166 recipes. The Casual Veggie e-cookbook is available on October 19. Part of the proceeds from sales made through Vermilion Roots will be donated to a lion conservation project in Africa. Click on the links below to meet some of the recipe contributors:
A Southern Grace · A Tasty Mess · Cooking Up Clean · Family Food on the Table · Family for Health · Fitful Focus · Haute and Healthy Living · Hola Jalapeno · Jeanie and Lulu's Kitchen · Key Ingredients · Parsley and Pumpkins · Primal Health with Jean · Pumpkin and Peanut Butter · Real Simple Good · Stupid Good · The Delicious Balance · The Weekly Menu · Toaster Oven Love · Treble in the Kitchen · Where is My Spoon? · Will Cook for Friends
Don't forget to join us for the launch party on October 19. Everyone's invited!