Argus Farm Stop Fundraiser

We have exciting news, Ann Arbor! We have an opportunity to expand to a second neighborhood location!

In under 3 years, we have demonstrated a new way to sell local food that benefits producers, consumers & the wider South-East Michigan community. We believe that the new location will allow us to double our impact and become one of the best local food communities in the country.

Help Argus grow our local food economy! Please consider supporting our mission with a donation of $100.

P.S. The 2nd location in Ann Arbor, to be located at 1200 Packard Road! Just on the other side of downtown.

Details on the project are in the link.....

Back 40 Bee Farm – From Happy Hives to Honey Lattes – Manchester, MI

If you've ever enjoyed a drink with honey at the Argus Farm Stop cafe, you know how sweet Back 40 Bee Farm can be. The honey Argus uses from Back 40 is raw, made in small batches, and bee-friendly, and the farmer, Mike Benedict, wouldn't have it any other way. “I put the bees first,” he explained, as we sat down to talk about the chemical-free practices he uses on his family bee farm.

Mike keeps thirty-five hives on his land in the southwest corner of Washtenaw County, where back roads wind along wetlands and horse farms. He has been keeping bees there since 2001, although he has been interested in beekeeping since he was a kid, when his grandfather kept hives of his own. Now Mike and his wife Kathryn live in an artsy, high-ceiling house they designed themselves, on a property that includes ponds hopping with frogs, gorgeous flowers, and a small vegetable garden. They also keep chickens and hogs as part of their drive toward self-sufficient living, although honey is the only product they sell. Mike also teaches art history and ceramics at Pioneer High School, a job which he seems to love as much as his bees.

Local, raw honey like Mike's is a much different product than the generic honey you might find elsewhere, as raw honey's lack of heating and processing leaves the vitamins, nutrients, and enzymes intact. There may also be evidence that local honey is good for seasonal allergies. (Raw honey is available in two forms, liquid or cream, which both offer health benefits. And if honey ever solidifies, it is easy to gently reheat the honey to a liquid form). Mike said he is glad that Argus customers are staying clear of non-local, generic honey, which often comes from overseas, and may not include much real honey in the product at all.

In contrast, Mike takes pride in knowing exactly what goes into his product. The bees can fly up to two miles in their search for flowers, but they don't have to fly that far on his land, which is rich with wildflowers. While he supports urban beekeeping – which is happily allowed in Ann Arbor – he likes knowing that his bees gather nectar far from pesticides and city air. He explained that the bees have taught him about the local flora, as they seek out different flowers depending on what is blooming at that point in the season. There was one year that the trees flowered early, and the honey from that nectar was crystal-clear. During some summers an abundance of lavender makes the honey especially flavorful, and later in the season, asters and goldenrod often turn the honey darker and richer. These variations are just another tasty advantage to local honey!

Mike seems to know everything there is to know about bees, but he learned the practice by making, as he put it, “lots of mistakes.” Now he is an advocate of raising strong bees, and doesn't use chemicals to save a weak hive, as those substances will end up in the honey and wax and ultimately weaken the bees' immune systems. Instead he prioritizes natural bee health, and aims to raise bees that don't require antibiotics or other medications, unlike many large bee farms.

Another part of Mike's method for healthy bees is breeding his own queens. When a hive loses its queen, due to old age or other factors, the lack of pheromones prompts the hives to feed some larvae royal jelly. Several queens are created, although the first queen to emerge usually kills the other larvae. Instead Mike removes the larvae and is able to harvest additional queens, meaning that he doesn't have to acquire queens from an unknown, outside source. Interestingly, Mike mentioned that many people don't realize that honeybees are a non-native, European species, and that many native bees actually exist, although they are mostly smaller and rarely noticed.

As an advocate for bees, Mike isn't a fan of corporate beekeeping, which involves chemicals, transporting hives, and limiting the gene pool – all practices which produce stressed, weaker bees. (In a rather elegant comparison, the art history teacher side of him likens this damaging “mass production” to Andy Warhol's screen prints, with their systematic reproduction of a single image.) Additionally, the bees used for agriculture have access to only one crop at a time, while a diversity of pollen and nectar makes for a healthier diet.

In Michigan, one major challenge of raising bees is the harsh winters. Bees will not defecate in their hive, so they need one day at least every two months over the winter when the temperature goes over 40 degrees. Then they leave for a “cleansing flight,” which looks, afterward, exactly how you might expect! But it's no laughing matter if the weather stays too cold. Two winters ago, the average hive lost in Michigan was at 90% due to persistent freezing temperatures, although Mike lost only 20% of his hives, thanks to the health of his bee stock.

Indeed, beekeeping is a lesson in ceding control to nature. This rainy summer, for example, hasn't been ideal for beekeeping, as the bees need sunshine for their “fly time.” In fact, they have already produced much less honey than by the same time last year. But Mike finds beekeeping rewarding nonetheless, and said that he has “learned so much about life” from the bees. For example, he talked about how the bees put the good of the hive above themselves, and will fly away if they are sick, not wanting to infect their sisters. The more you know, the more the complex workings of a hive seem nothing short of miraculous.

With his enthusiasm for bees, Mike hopes more people will explore backyard beekeeping. But he encourages them not to use chemicals, and to keep more than one hive, because failures are a normal part of beekeeping. He also suggests taking more caution than he does not to get stung – for instance, don't mess with the bees during weird weather or during the evening, and don't breathe on them! But even with a few stings, for the right person the rewards of beekeeping are worth the work.

Mike says he is “honored” that Argus uses his honey – so much honey, in fact, that it sometimes uses up his entire supply! But he isn't trying to make a living from his product, and in fact, he doesn't want to. Expansion would mean more costs, and less of a personal touch with his bees. Plus, he wants the product to be affordable for anyone who wants it, as he hopes more people will experience the health and flavor benefits, while supporting happy bees and pollinated ecosystems. “Local honey is worth the investment,” he said. Take it from someone who knows!

The Land Loom: A Fresh Approach to Salad

When I stopped by to visit Hannah Rose Weber, owner of The Land Loom at Tilian Farm Development Center, she had just put her lettuce into a washing machine – to dry it! She was hard at work filling bags for her CSA, which is better known as “The Salad Club,” and popular with customers looking for a weekly supply of delicious mixed greens, grown with organic practices. A bag might include a mix of lettuce, mustard, pac choi – even arugula or mizuna – and many customers follow the The Land Loom Newsletter, in which Hannah explains the harvest and details the joys and struggles of starting a farm.

Hannah has only lived in Ann Arbor for a couple of years, but she has already made a splash by establishing the only salad CSA in town. She got into the local farm business by working for Sunseed Farm – which used to grow at Tilian – and still works there a few days a week. But The Land Loom is now her main focus, a part-time plan that turned full-time as her business expanded, and now she sells to both individuals and restaurants, as well as at Argus Farm Stop.

While The Land Loom is a new farm, Hannah has been gaining farming experience for years. Much of what she learned came from a 9-month, intensive organic farming training at Michigan State University, where she also first heard about Tilian. Before that, she interned at the CSA where her parents had been members for twenty years, and took on volunteer farming experiences during her travels in Hawaii and Portugal. After her program she managed The Student Organic Farm at MSU, and with The Land Loom she is finally taking the plunge to farm on her own.

But like many young farmers, Hannah didn't take a straight path to farming. In college, she studied photography and creative nonfiction. But she finds that running her own business allows her to put her creative side to good use, and she still uses those skills in creating branding for The Land Loom. She enjoys sending out the weekly newsletter, plus photos, for anyone who would like to know more about what they're eating. It's all about keeping her customers informed, interested, and more connected to the farming process!

Along with a variety of salad greens, Hannah sometimes grows radishes, herbs, flowers, and even cucumbers for the Brinery. But she likes the “scale” of salad, as she is able to hand-manage her crops, working at a more detailed level and paying attention to the preferences of each variety. As she notes in her Newsletter, for example, she has learned that lettuce tastes better when harvested at dawn, and that the mustard plant only keeps getting spicier as it grows. Because she keeps her land organized, growing and quickly harvesting a neat succession of lettuce rows, she can experiment to see what farming practices work best. Farming is a constant learning process, but this can lead to happy surprises, as when she let her radishes over-grow and form radish pods, a crop more often seen in Indian cuisine. Argus Farm Stop was happy to feature this unusual pod, which had a subtle and gratifying spicy flavor. Such tasty experiments are definitely a benefit of individualized, local farms.

Overall, Hannah is grateful for her half-acre at Tilian, where she can farm with less financial risk, and be part of what she calls “a great community.” With Tilian's hoop houses, she is even able to farm during the winter months! While Tilian is an “awesome” arrangement at the moment, she would someday like to put down roots with land of her own, in order to expand her operation, possibly incorporating a farm-to-table restaurant of her own. For now, she is part of a farming community that lets her work toward her dreams. She also noted that she is “so appreciative” of what Argus Farm Stop does for the community. “It's awesome for beginning farmers who are just starting to sell,” she said, explaining that the Farm Stop allows farmers to make more connections in town. It's just one part of a supportive local food network that helps make Ann Arbor such a great place to farm.

Find Hannah's Salad Mix at Argus Farm Stop! Plus, if you're interested in joining her Salad Club, or reading her Newsletter, contact her by email ([email protected]) or find her on Facebook.

-- Post by Rose Miller

Radicle Roots Community Farm: Heirloom Veggies Delivered by Bicycle

When Ryan Padgett decided to return to Michigan to farm, he chose Ann Arbor, and Tilian Farm Development Center, for their placement in a strong local food network. Other farmers were quick to welcome him, and customers in the area didn't need to be educated on the benefits of organic food. Plus, as Tilian's only full-time farmer, he needed more land than he could find at other incubator sites. Since coming to Ann Arbor in March he has worked hard to build Radicle Roots, literally breaking sod in order to grow his crops.

Now his garden is a mix of heirloom veggies, which he grows and harvests himself, then delivers – by bicycle! – to Argus Farm Stop and the Ypsi Farmers Market. Among other crops, he pointed out kohlrabi, broccoli, pac choy, cabbage, kale, butterball potatoes, watermelon, ground cherries, and a kind of warted squash grown since before the Pilgrims arrived. He chooses specific varieties of each vegetable, prioritizing heirloom strains that are either over fifty years old, or types that have been growing in Michigan, and thus are suited to the climate. Often he looks for the beautiful, unusual varieties that no one else is growing – “dragon's tongue” waxbeans, anyone? – and almost all of his plants are heirloom or open-pollinated, meaning they are bred for flavor, rather than shipping hardiness.

“A lot of people would probably be embarrassed by this field,” Ryan said, standing barefoot in his garden, and gazing over all weeds he doesn't have time to pull. But he takes a certain a certain joy in seeing it all “just come together,” as if by magic. He revels in the messiness, which to him represents the diversity and health of his crops, all grown with organic practices. “There is a method to the madness,” he said, pointing out, for example, the nitrogen-fixing beans planted next to the squash. He explained companion-planting, gesturing toward pest-resistance groupings of plant “friends,” such as peppers, carrots, and tomatoes, or brassica, beans, and tomatoes. He also plants nasturtiums and marigolds at the end of the row, to deter rabbits. This mix of vegetables also provides backup if any one crop fails, although so far, it looks like his plants are coming in strong.

The field may have a disheveled charm, but don't be fooled: Ryan is an knowledgeable farmer, thanks to several years of experience working and managing farms in California. There he took volunteer and paid positions on everything from homesteads to huge monoculture farms, and his own gardening philosophies arose from those experiences. Now he wants to put the “community” back into “Community Support Agriculture,” by involving members in his farm. He said didn't realize that farming would also mean educating the public on healthy farming practices, and even teaching customers about unfamiliar vegetables. “I've met kids who didn't know tomatoes grow on a plant,” he said. He would love to have CSA members and volunteers visit the garden, which he believes would go a long way in fostering appreciation for local farms.

At the moment, Ryan is still growing his customer base, although his bicycle deliveries and carefully-labeled heirloom varieties have certainly caught some eyes. He is grateful for Argus Farm Stop, which he said is a major part of his current business. Unlike the hours spent at a farmer's market, at the Farm Stop he can “just deliver and go” (after buying some chocolate chip cookies). But at the moment he only has three CSA members, and is trying to stay hopeful that he can continue farming in the years to come. He works to feed the community, but it is hard to make a living doing it. “It's up to the community,” he said. “We need to change the perception of value for food.” He referenced government-subsidized corn, soybeans, and wheat – “Cheap food isn't really cheap!” – in contrast to the intensity of his own investment in his vegetables. He might easily work 10-12 hour days, 7 days a week, spending hours in each plant, including preparation, tilling, potting, seeds, and watering.

So why farm at all? “I have a passion for it,” he says. “I don't know what else I would be doing.” He spends his days outside, getting his hands dirty, and he loves it. “I'm never upset that I'm here.” With a little luck, and community investment, he will be able to farm at Tilian for years to come.

You can always find Ryan's produce at Argus Farm Stop! And if you're interested in joining Ryan's CSA, sign up on email ([email protected]), or Facebook, or just stop by the farm and say hi!

-- Post by Rose Miller

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: Pattypan Squash, A Delicious Little UFO

Argus offers several summer squashes, but perhaps the “weirdest,” and probably the cutest, is the pattypan squash, also known as a scallop squash, the “flying saucer,” or even a sunburst, granny, custard marrow, or button squash. No matter what you call it, this colorful ridged veggie makes a healthy, seasonal addition to your meals. Right now we offer patty pans from Kuntry Gardens, Tantre Farm, and Uriel's Splendor, with more on their way.

Summer squash originated from the region between Mexico and Guatemala, and is related to other squash, along with cucumber and melon. Like its relatives it grows fast and abundant, and home gardeners may find themselves overwhelmed by the bounty. The name “pattypan” comes from the French word pâtisson, for a cake made in a scalloped mold. The shape may be unusual, but don't worry – you don't have to peel it!

When choosing a pattypan, remember that the smaller ones, between 2-3 inches in diameter, are often more tender. Be gentle with your squash, as they are more delicate than they look – but they do keep well in the fridge, unwashed and in plastic or an airtight container, for almost a week.

Pattypan squash is a versatile and healthy item to incorporate into your summer meals. The skin softens with cooking, and is actually the most nutrient-dense part. With 2.5 grams of fiber per cup, this veggie is also rich in antioxidants, including carotenoids, which support eye health. Summer squash contains pectin, along with zinc and magnesium, which evidence shows may have benefits for your blood sugar. Other benefits include B-vitamins such as folate, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins A and C. Basically, this is your ordinary summer superfood!

This squash is a great addition to many light summer dishes, and can be easily thrown on the grill during a cookout. Simply steaming this veggie is considered the best way to retain its antioxidant benefits. You may find that it cooks like a fleshier zucchini or yellow squash, and can be used much the same way.

Looking for a simple recipe? Try a healthy saute! Bring three tablespoons of broth or water to boil in a skillet, then add sliced squash, cover the skillet, and cook on medium heat for 1.5 minutes on each side. After that, add a dash of salt and pepper and eat. Or throw the cooked squash on top of a salad, or add to a pasta dish – this is a versatile food!

Another favorite is stuffed squash – and its shape makes the pattypan especially well suited to this method. Simply cut off the stem end to make a “hat,” then cut a thin slice off the bottom of the squash, so that it sits evenly in the baking pan. Use a spoon to hollow out the body, being careful not to reach the bottom. Don't throw away the insides – these can be cooked and added to the stuffing! For this stuffing, throw oil, onion, garlic, the squash insides, and anything else you might want to add – meat, grains, other veggies, or cheese – into a skillet. For serving suggestions, see the links below! Once cooked enough to soften and combine, add this mixture back into the squashes, then cover them with foil and bake in a 400-degree oven for 30 minutes.

Pattypan squash stuffed with sausage and cheese
Pattypan squash stuffed with quinoa and corn

Or, try a mixture based on what we have at Argus! Tomatoes and mushrooms, spinach and feta, ground beef and onion – these are all currently available at the Farm Stop. Remember you can cook this mixture in broth, experiment with spices, and, if nothing else – top with cheese!

Try this Kale-and-Quinoa Stuffed Squash from Tasty Eats at Home! 

Summer Stuffed Patty Pans
Serves 3 as a main dish, 6 as an appetizer

6 small patty pan squash
knob of coconut oil or ghee
1 medium red onion
1 clove garlic
1 Tbsp. caraway seeds
1 cup shelled green peas
2 cups chopped kale
1 cup cooked quinoa (or other whole grain)
½ cup crumbled goat or sheep feta (optional)
sea salt & pepper

1. Cut around the stem of the patty pans to create a lid. Next, scoop out the inside flesh, leaving a ½” rim around the top to hold the lid in place. Reserve the flesh and roughly chop, set aside. Rub the inside and outside of each squash with a little olive oil, coconut oil or ghee (to prevent drying out in the oven). If you cannot get the squash to sit evenly, slice off a little of the bottom to create a flat surface (be careful not to cut too deeply and create a hole in the bottom.
2. Heat a knob of coconut oil or ghee in a large skillet. Add the onion and a few pinches of salt, cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add minced garlic and caraway seeds, and cook for another couple minutes. Next add the peas and squash, then the kale a minute later, folding occasionally until the kale is slightly wilted. Remove from heat, stir in the cooked quinoa and crumbled feta. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
3. Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C. Fill each patty pan with the vegetable mixture and place the individual lid on top of each squash. Arrange the patty pans in a baking dish with a little water in the bottom. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the squash is soft and cooked through.
4. Serve with any leftover filling, and a drizzle of good quality olive oil. Enjoy!

-- Post by Rose Miller