Tilian Farm Development Center – Supporting Beginning Farmers Just Outside of Town – Ann Arbor, MI

This is the first part of a series on Tilian farms! Be sure to check out Radicle Roots Community Farm and The Land Loom.

When I arrived at the Tilian Farm Development Center, the farmers were in the midst of a minor crisis. Although the skies that morning were blue and beautiful, the night before had brought five inches of rain to already soaked ground, and parts of the fields were flooded. Ryan Padgett, the farmer behind Radicle Roots Community Farm, was worried that he'd lost half the crops in the hoop house – all that work for nothing. Stefanie T. Stauffer, PhD. – manager at Tilian since August – was more upbeat, joking about all the shorebirds already wading in the new “Lake Tilian.”

Let me put your mind at ease – Ryan ended up borrowing a water pump, and most of his crops are fine. But the incident was a reminder that farming is risky, which is part of what makes Tilian such a valuable home for beginning farmers. Tilian is an “incubator" farm, which means that its 44 acres of township-owned, conserved farm land are divided between a collective of small farmers, who rent the land and hoophouses for 2-3 years at a time, often as a kind of “stepping stone” toward buying their own land.

Thanks to Stefanie's recruiting efforts, there are eleven farmers growing this year – up from two last year – which is the most that have ever grown here, and perhaps evidence that Tilian's farming model is catching on. (Argus producers Green Things Farm and Seeley Farm also used to grow at Tilian, before moving on to their own land). Rather than making prohibitively expensive and risky investments on their own, these farmers can enjoy Tilian's shared resources, including grant-funded tractors and other equipment. Ryan explained that while a hoop house might cost $10,000 to purchase on his own, at Tilian he can simply rent some space, without the up-front costs.

Although Tilian is just a few miles outside of Ann Arbor, and visitors are always welcome, the farm is something of a hidden gem. Tilian has been protected farmland, owned by Ann Arbor, since 2011, and began as just a 14-acre incubator farm. The collective recently came under the management of Michigan Food and Farming Systems (MFFS), a membership-based nonprofit that manages three other similar incubator farms in the state, and has worked since 1998 to provide resources to beginning and underserved farmers. With this new management came a fresh, evolving vision for Tilian's future, and the farm's mission now is to grow as a productive and educational community space: they hope to host tours, hold farming workshops, and even have farm-to-table events. Stefanie explained that the farm plans to add a fruit and veggie stand on-site this summer, to encourage community members to stop by the farm. The hope is that these ventures will also be profitable enough to keep Tilian more self-sufficiently operational.

Because Tilian is going through a transitional period, it's an exciting time to be a farmer there. This plot of farmland – which may unfortunately may soon be surrounded on all sides by subdivisions, further proving its value – manages to support diverse fruit and veggie crops, along with egg and meat chickens, bees, aquaponics, and even a vermiculture system installed through a community partnership with Starr Valley Farms. Soon there may even be livestock! As a unique part of the Ann Arbor greenbelt, and a vital resource for beginning farmers, Tilian is a community venture worth supporting.

I took the time to talk to two of the farmers at Tilian – Ryan Padgett from Radicle Roots Community Farm, and Hannah Rose Weber from The Land Loom. Read more on the Argus Blog! And follow the Tilian Farm Development Center on Facebook.

Want to visit? Tilian Farm Development Center is located at 4400 Pontiac Trail, Ann Arbor MI.

-- Post by Rose Miller

Fresh This Week: Weird and Wonderful Kohlrabi

I'll admit it: I like to eat what's familiar. When I'm in the produce section, I pick up what I recognize, and I'm sure many of our customers do too! But that means missing out on a world of new tastes, so I decided to do some research on some of the “weirder” vegetables available at Argus. This week I brought home some purple kohlrabi from Hand-Sown Farm, a versatile, colorful, and healthy choice!

Gorgeous purple kohlrabi on the shelves at Argus.

Gorgeous purple kohlrabi on the shelves at Argus.

Kohlrabi: The Purple Octopus of the Garden

Definitely a weird-looking veggie, the kohlrabi inspires comparisons: a spiky hot-air balloon, an octopus. But don't be worried – the flavor is actually familiar and mild, like a sweeter broccoli stem or cabbage. This isn't a surprise, as like these veggies the kohlrabi is also a member of the brassica genus, and the round part that looks like a root is actually the selectively-bred stem. This veggie may look intimidating, but kohlrabi are healthy, tasty, and easier to use than you might think!

Kohlrabi is definitely an under-appreciated veggie. Like all the brassicas it has many health benefits, including phytochemicals that have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects. It's high in dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin A, and calcium, and has more vitamin C than oranges!

It's possible the kohlrabi dates back to ancient Roman times – in the 1st century A.D., Pliny the Elder wrote about a “Corinthian turnip.” More recently, the word “kohlrabi” comes from two German words meaning “cabbage” and “turnip.” While popular in German-speaking countries, as well as in some northern Indian cuisine, kohlrabi is not a major crop in the U.S., so your best bet is usually to look for it at a local farmers' market like Argus.

Kohlrabi: not as colorful on the inside, but still delicious.

Kohlrabi: not as colorful on the inside, but still delicious.

When choosing a kohlrabi, both the green and purple varieties are delicious, although the purple can be slightly sweeter, and both are green on the inside. The smaller bulbs can be sweeter and more tender, although keep in mind that you have to peel off the top layers, which is best done with a paring knife. (Although in Poland, they eat the most tender specimens raw and unskinned like apples.) Don't throw out those greens, either – those can be steamed or sauteed the way you might use beet greens or collards!

One of the challenges of using kohlrabi is actually its versatility, as the mild, pleasant flavor makes it suitable for a wide range of dishes. What to choose? You can slice, cube, or grate the bulb, and you can use the flesh both raw and cooked. You can try crisp, slightly spicy raw kohlrabi with dip, or grate it into salads. The health benefits may be especially good for raw kohlrabi, but the flesh takes on a sweeter flavor and creamy texture when cooked. You can think of it as a carrot or potato: throw kohlrabi into a vegetable soup, roast it with beets, or steam and blend it into "mashed potatoes" with some cauliflower and butter. Plus, steamed kohlrabi can be throw into just about anything, including pasta dishes and stir fries. It absorbs other spices well, but you can also let its own sweet flavor shine through!

Kohlrabi and patty pan squash, fried together. Yum!

Kohlrabi and patty pan squash, fried together. Yum!

Feeling overwhelmed by options? Start with a simple recipe! Try cubing three peeled kohlrabi, then cook in plenty of butter over medium heat, for about 15 minutes, until the flesh is “al dente.” Add a tablespoon of sage and a pinch of salt – the result is a creamy, delicious side dish!

Another easy possibility is kohlrabi “fries.” Dip slices of kohlrabi into a mixture of flour, salt, pepper, and any other spice you like – curry, cayenne, garlic. Place these slices, uncrowded, on an oiled skillet over medium-low heat, and cook on both sides until golden-brown.

Another favorite is savory kohlrabi pancakes! This might be the way to get kids to try this new veggie. (Recipe from Grace Communications Foundation).

Kohlrabi Pancakes

Ingredients:

4 small purple or green kohlrabi, peeled and trimmed
1 small onion, very finely chopped or grated on the large holes of a box grater
1 small green chili, ribs and seeds removed, finely chopped or 1⁄4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (optional)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1⁄4 cup (or more) all-purpose flour
1⁄2 teaspoon ground coriander or ginger
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Method:

1. Grate the peeled and trimmed kohlrabi on the large holes of a box grater. Wrap the grated kohlrabi in a clean dishtowel and squeeze until most of the excess moisture has been removed.

2. In a medium bowl, mix the shredded kohlrabi, chopped or grated onion, optional chilies or chili flakes, beaten egg, flour, coriander and salt and pepper to taste. Mix until just combined. Add additional flour by the teaspoon if batter seems too wet (mixture should be somewhat firm).

3. In a large, heavy frying pan, heat the extra virgin olive oil and the butter over medium-high heat until the butter stops foaming. Add ladlefuls of the pancake batter (about 1⁄3 of a cup at a time) to the pan, gently pressing down on the cakes with the back of a spatula. Cook kohlrabi pancakes until crispy and golden brown on each side.

4. Drain on paper towels and serve with sour cream, crème fraîche, yogurt or applesauce.

Makes 4 generously sized pancakes.

-- Post by Rose Miller

Sources
http://www.gracelinks.org/485/real-food-right-now-and-how-to-cook-it-kohlrabi
http://www.\vegparadise.com/highestperch24.html
http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/jul/06/good-for-you-kohlrabi
http://www.thepaleomom.com/2012/11/butter-poached-kohlrabi.html
http://www.thekitchn.com/top-five-ways-to-prepare-kohlr-60321