Homebound

It started with identifying the biggest farming communities in the Northeast, and then it involved road trips, lots of them, through all New England states.  The challenge question: where could we find a farm that could meet the following criteria?

  • 20+ acres
  • of land that is cultivatable for crop production
  • is scenic and inspiring
  • with a home suitable for me, and my parents
  • within a 1 – 2 hour orbit of Boston and Providence
  • affordable, and within budget
  • and not in Trump country, or at least have some diversity and LGBTQ presence

And then with my sister’s family involved in the venture, the property also had to meet these other requirements:

  • potentially zoned for multiple- residencies
  • near high quality elementary schools, middle schools and day care centers
  • near hospitals
  • near job opportunities

And then there were the other economic and geopolitical currents running against us – searching in a region that maintains the highest farm real estate prices in the nation, a bad market year for home buyers, and the ever increasing encroachment of development and the disappearance of farm life and farmland in the Northeast.    We even checked out properties as far out as southern Vermont!

We first put in an offer for a property near Petersborough, New Hampshire.   It was going to be a long stretch away from Providence, but it was so beautiful and I figured it could still be a great place for people from Boston and Providence to come retreat.   We were outbid and lost that property!  Then, we were almost ready to put in an offer in Woodstock, Connecticut.  Only an hour away from both Providence and Boston.

Two years of searching, two years of not knowing your future, and two years of living on the edge.   My 70-year-old parents sold their house and moved in with me at the Berkley property.    It made sense because they were living all alone in northern California.

One of my favorite places is the south coast of Massachusetts, where Westport and Dartmouth brush up against the towns of Tiverton and Little Compton, RI.  A place where red barns and rolling fields stretch out into the deep blue waters of the Atlantic ocean.  Before it was an important farming area for the colonists, it was a sacred home and valued farming area for the Pocassett Indians.  Part of the busy Boston-Providence metropolitan area, it’s almost incredible to see so many open fields and farms still in existence on the south coast.  Still, after doing a bit of research, I concluded that farmland in this area was just going to be too expensive for us.

And then a few things happened that changed everything.

My mom had a frightening health scare.    This made me start thinking about my ability as a single farmer to both be a caretaker and manager of a farm.   It made me stop looking at properties with old or neglected houses – as I started recognizing how important it was to find a warm, comfortable, move-in ready home for my parents.    It made me warm up to the idea of a smaller, more manageable farm.   It also made me think about how important it was to be closer to good hospitals, to people I know, and to community!

Meanwhile, I stumbled upon a small, BEAUUUUUUUTIFUL, 7 acre property on the south coast!   The house was new, and sat on top of a hill that sloped gently into a lake.    A three minute drive to two public beaches.   A half an hour to Providence and only about an hour to Boston.   While small in size, it lay adjacent to other farm properties on three sides – making the idea of leasing extra land very promising.   Zoom out, and there’s farmland all around.   But after running the numbers – it was just too expensive.    I’d be one stressed out farmer trying to sell tomatoes at the market just to pay the monthly mortgage and the high property taxes.

Then a second thing happened.  After speaking with other family farms, non-profit farms, and for-profit farms, I brainstormed the idea of holding the land through an LLC, and selling shares in the ownership of the property, just like I have already been selling CSA vegetable shares.   I emailed friends, family, and CSA members asking if they would invest in this property.   And helped poured in!   I worked with a lawyer to set up an LLC, set up a bank account, and the money came in!   Once we had all our Pekin ducks in line, we put in an all-cash offer for the property, and then we waited.

We are still in the waiting game, as it’s a complicated real estate venture.  But with pro-bono legal assistance from the Conservation Law Foundation, a good realtor, and a solid support team of friends and family – we have a winning strategy.   And on a parallel track, we also asked to sign a 12-month renewable lease agreement so we could move in right away.   And this happened just in time – one week before my sister’s family was moving here from California.   And only three weeks before my Berkley lease was up!

I was going to wait until the place was 100% ours and the sale complete.  But figured I might as well share the joy I feel inside to have finally found a home, a farm, and a place where this vision can truly photosynthesize.   For now, I’ll keep the location private.   Well, suspense is fun!  And it doesn’t quite feel right to make the announcement before it’s all confirmed.   But here’s a hint:

  1. I’m an hour and ten minutes drive to Boston, and 37 minutes to Providence
  2. I’m sandwiched between a fresh water pond and a salt water bay
  3. And I’m a 9-minute drive to the MA/RI border

Stay tuned for an announcement when the sale is complete, and stay tuned in general for a lifetime of adventure, community, social justice, and of course, amazing food.

Thank you to my dearest friends, and a big shout out to the friends and family members who invested their money to make this happen!

Keep your fingers crossed and wish us luck!

Kohei

coffee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Land Update! 5.2.2018

Searching for Land in a Post-Farm Era

An update on our search for Farmland

 

 

Since farmland is slim pickings these days, we are doing whatever we can to nail the right property.  Drawing a two hour radius from Boston, we decided to drive through and explore small farm communities ourselves, rather than wait to see which properties may pop up through real estate websites like Zillow.  And searching for farmland is different than it was, say, 15 years ago.  Welcome Google Maps in satellite view!  It’s revolutionized anyone’s ability to spot where farms, clusters of farms, and farming communities are located.Enter a caption

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Notice the flow patterns etched into the fields from years of erosion – this land here is unbuildable as it is a flood plain of the CT river.

 

 

 

Our strategy is basic – we collect addresses along the way, enter the info into an excel sheet, and coordinate a mailing campaign where we literally ask owners if their land is available or if they know of available land.  We thought we might even door knock on a few farms that we find particularly beautiful, of course skipping the ones with a “don’t tread on me” flag.

We first explored southeastern MA in towns like Westport and Rehoboth – where landing a farm close to where we are now would make the transition so much easier, and I’d be able to maintain a lot of the local connections I’ve already made.  Westport is my dream location; just down the road from Providence, but also with a direct route to Boston.  A surprising number of farms dot the landscape with the sea breeze providing for a cool summer.  The coastal waters that are still relatively warm in the Fall help moderate and delay the onslaught of winter, extending the fall growing season.  Not to mention, the ocean and one of the best beaches in New England!  We also checked out Tiverton, Little Compton, and Middletown – and as beautiful as these coastal RI communities are, I didn’t even bother to send out letters, already fearful of the extraordinary high real estate prices.

 

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Voluntown, CT

Then we discovered Connecticut!   Poor Connecticut.  Rhode Islanders think she is either too far away, or that she is only good for passing through to New York.  But northeastern CT is about an hour to both Boston AND Providence!  And the region is known as “the last green valley” because it is the last swath of countryside left between Boston and New York City – 77% of its area is forests and farms!  In towns like Woodstock, Putnam, and Canterbury, big red barns and old farm houses sit peacefully on gently steeped rolling hills.   The different levels of elevation and expansive fields provide those long distant views we don’t often get in Southeastern MA or RI unless we go to the ocean.   We collected about 130 farm addresses.

 

 

Next, we went out west to the Pioneer Valley of western MA, from Amherst all the way up to the VT and NH border.  The Connecticut River is massive and its flood plains are vast, and it’s the reason why the soil is so rich here – thanks to over 10,000 years of this river dumping rich minerals and nutrients into its flood plains.  This could be my ocean, should I have to live so far inland.  There are many cool things about this valley.   The hills are larger and can actually be called small mountains, as they are connected to the Berkshire mountain range.   Five prestigious liberal arts colleges provide a youthful boost to the local economy.  Holyoke and Springfield are the closest urban centers, with Hartford just 30 minutes southward.

 

 

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Overall, we discovered 12 prominent farming communities within a 2 hour radius from Boston

While the region is very white, it’s definitely not Trump country, plus there is Holyoke!   Holyoke is the most Puerto Rican city in the mainland, as Boricuas constitute about half of the city’s population and over 80% of its public school students.  After the Trump administration’s castigation and abandonment of Puerto Rico, the city and its schools are now being tested with the influx of our newest American refugees.  It’s a cool city, built during and for the industrial revolution, almost like a giant city factory, with canals, mills, and streets crisscrossing in an orderly coordinate plane; very different than other New England industrial cities like Worcester or Lowell or Providence, that have city centers with mills that follow meandering rivers, and then streets that web and spiral outwards.   Holyoke is soon set to become carbon neutral, as it nears making 100% of its energy from hydro-electric power.

 

 

Next we wanted to get a sense of the landscape and farms that exist in the center of Massachusetts, to the west of Worcester.  Imagine me sitting at a lone farm stand in the center of Massachusetts!!   The rest of my life spent somewhere in the suburbs of Worcester!!   I eventually got over any prejudice or misconceptions I had about central Mass when I realized that I had not really ever been there.  Back up on my Google maps spaceship, I identified quite a bit of farmland in towns such as in Hardwick, New Braintree, and Brookfield.   We were pleasantly surprised to see houses and towns in good condition – for example, we did not see a single abandoned house throughout out trip.  And this was definitely farm country!   The hills were less broad and more unpredictable than CT’s rolling hills, but this bumpy and hilly, and sometimes rugged, terrain create some awesome ledges, tiny valleys, divots, and corridors.  The forests here are dense and impressive.  This forest system provides much of the headwater for both the Connecticut and Merrimack rivers, and acts as a giant purification system for the Quabbin reservoir, one of the largest unfiltered water supplies in the United States.   Some farms that sit on top of a small hill or on the slope of a small valley not only come with a beautiful view but also a tranquil sense of privacy, as the surrounding tall trees of the dense forest provide the perfect air, noise, and privacy screen.  You definitely feel like you’re in your own private valley!  Okay, central Mass, now I see you!!

Check out this short video that shows the results of our study. 

The research question is: If we were to choose a region, which region has a good amount of farmland, is relatively affordable, within 2 hours of Boston, is not too isolated, has a scenic inspiring landscape, and offers opportunities for education and work for my family (mother, father, sister, sister-in-law, niece)?

 

And some reflections about our New England farm road trip:

 

  • Most farms have transformed in order to survive. It’s somewhat been a trip down history lane – visiting farms that used to be thriving dairy operations and have now transformed into whatever it takes to stay afloat – whether that be starting gravel or construction businesses, subdividing and selling off lots to development, offering horse riding lessons or running a bed and breakfast.
  • Farmland is scarce. Like when I go on Google maps and note that a town has a lot of farmland and is worth visiting, I’m really only talking about maybe 5 to 10 farms that have more than 15 acres of field space.   Many farms have been purchased by hobby farmers and retirees, or those who want the good ole farm life without having to depend on the act of farming for income.   They often have an agreement with a hay farmer so that their land can be considered in agricultural use and qualify for a major tax reduction.  Other beautiful tracts of land have been put into land conservation, and of course this is like a bitter sweet experience – as I’m happy that the land is preserved, but of course jealous that I cannot access it.
  • Much of the remaining farmland is not directly being used for food production – Many farms with sizeable fields grow hay, and then they sell their bales to the smaller farms which run horse riding businesses. And not that I have a secret vengeance against  hay production or privileged little white girls and their ponies, but this land is not growing what we know we need most – access to healthy food!  Other farms that grow hay or corn are growing it to sell to beef or remaining dairy operations.   These hay, beef, and horse farms account for about 50% of farmed acres in Massachusetts.[1]  But a) they are not being used to directly grow consumable food, b) beef operations are not that efficient or ecologically friendly, and c) hay and corn are most commonly grown in a way that does not cultivate and build healthy soil.   Other farms sit abandoned, and I often imagine an extended family not on good terms, or just not ready to come together to let go of its sentimental value, or maybe they’re waiting for the moment with their grandfather passes to come to any decision.
  •  The competition to buy farmland is present – and farmland real estate prices are higher in New England than any other region in the country. In 2010, the top most expensive farm real estate states were Rhode Island (at $13,600 per acre), New Jersey, Massachusetts, and then Connecticut (at $11,500 per acre), with New Hampshire coming in at # 10.[2]  When farmland is up for sale, we know who our competitors are.  Aside from other farmers, conservation groups are buying up farmland in order to preserve land from development.   Early retirees are buying farms.   Rich professionals who can work from home and who may want their children to experience farm life are buying farms.   Our bid to start an organic, community-based, social justice-driven, multiple-generation farming project was outbid by a couple seeking out a place for retirement.   What do you guess they will be farming?    Yes, hay or corn, or subcontracting another farmer to grow hay or corn. And probably the most significant pressure comes from commercial developers who are seeking to cash in by transforming a farm into luxurious residences with great views in bucolic farm-like setting.
  • [1] USDA 2012 Agricultural Census as presented by UMASS Amherst: Center for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment.    https://ag.umass.edu/

    [2] Ibid.

 

Week 14: Watermelon & Fennel

Week 14: Watermelon & Fennel

I’ve been checking out two potential sites for Movement Ground Farm.  One is up and over the border in New Hampshire, while the other is right over the border in Connecticut.   One puts me a little too far away from Providence, and the other too far away from Boston.   But both are beautiful, and I’m beginning to piece together a multi-dimensional pro and con analysis of these two properties, while continuing to look for more that may pop up.

lyndeborough

100+ acre property in Lyndeborough, NH that comes with a lake and a view of the hills!

 

 

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140 acre property in Voluntown, CT that also used to be an old campgrounds back in the 1970s.

 

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Laurence helping us with duck processing and Anim helping with the havest during the busy duck processing week.

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Matt and Lucas resting after a long day of work, and Puma who just got up from a nap agrees that its about time to rest as well!

 

This Week’s Menu

green lettuce head

watermelon

d’avignon or red radishes

edamame

fennel

Tia To or Vietnamese shiso

 

Recipe Ideas

ducktortilla

5 Spice Duck with Quick Pickled Daikon, Shiso on a Tortilla

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Duck yakitori with pumpkin, shiso, and daikon salad with plum dipping sauce

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Slow roasted duck with olive gravy and garlic-fennel confit

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Lemony radish and fennel salad

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Warm buttered radish and edamame salad

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Soy and sesame edamame

fennel.watermelon

Watermelon & Fennel Salad with Honey Lime Vinagrette

 

Everybody is Cooking Duck!

looks like we got some chefs among us

 

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Pekin duck on a paleo scallion pancake by Keith & Dulari

 

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Pekin duck by David Jenkin’s mom’s boyfriend’s family recipe!

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Peking style Pekin duck by Anna Cheung

 

20989047_797358933779356_1303605511091660938_oDouble duck by Farmer Kohei

Cooked standing up for a crispier skin by Susan & Wesley Wright

 

Duck, Duck, Melon…?

August 15, 2017

Week 11

0730170805b_HDRScreen Shot 2017-08-17 at 6.38.57 AM[Our Pekin, or Peking, ducks happily frolicking around the farm.  Who wouldn’t like that?]


 

Duck, Melons, & Yard Long Beans

Judy here again!  It’s been a little busy at the farm.. what with the decision to process our own birds by way of a mobile processing unit!  Rather than sending them to a USDA approved facility to process and package our free range feathered friends, we decided to go through the process ourselves!  Which means training on equipment & health codes, certification, licensing, fees, tests, renting a mobile processing unit, etc.  It is quite an ordeal!  But it sure does give you a level of appreciation for the work to get the meat on your plate, as well as the produce.

 

Duck

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Since Farmer Kohei and company are preoccupied with making sure our duck friends are treated and processed well… I’m tasked with making sure YOU’LL be able to enjoy it.  So if you haven’t cooked with duck before, you’re in for a tasty end product!  We hope you can love your duck as much as we’ve loved raising the ducks.

What to know about duck:
a) it tends to have a more “gamey”, dark meat flavor than its chicken friend, but can be oh-so-good.
b) the skin is a little thicker and more full of oils compared to chicken, but a lot will be rendered out in the cooking process.  This excess duck fat can be reserved and used for other cooking needs!  Try roasting veggies with it, flavoring mashed potatoes, using it in vinaigrettes, etc..  It freezes well, so you can go find some more ways to use duck fat.
c) it can be tasty!  Try it!

 

Recipe Ideas

Peking Duck Style
IMG_7776
(courtesy of SeriousEats.com)
No need to make the extras, unless you really want to, but definitely try your duck cooked in this manner.  Farmer Kohei has cooked it this way before and loved the taste!

 

Spiced Slow-roasted Duck
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(courtesy of BBC GoodFood.com)
Another way to roast a whole duck.  Similar to pork, duck can be paired with a lightly sweet sauce like apple sauce, as in this recipe, or for a more Asian twist, try hoisin sauce or a sweetened tamarind sauce. (Keep in mind this recipe is British, so you’ll have to convert to Fahrenheit and the metric system.)

 

How to Cut Up a Whole Duck


(courtesy of MapleLeafFarms.com)
Don’t want to have to use up a whole duck for one meal?  Try breaking it down into parts and make sausage, or use the different parts in separate recipes. This site also has tips and recipes to cook duck breast and duck legs.

 


 

Bittermelon

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[photo courtesy of SpecialtyProduce.com]

 

Not familiar with the bittermelon?  Don’t be discouraged or scared off by this green, bumpy gourd.  It is also called bitter melon, bitter gourd, bitter squash, karela, or balsam pear.  As its name claims, it is, indeed, bitter.  But the bitter taste, according to many cultures, holds quite a few medicinal and nutritional properties (i.e. being good for blood circulation and lowering blood pressure–but consult with a doctor if trying to treat these issues); according to some (and SpecialtyProduce.com), “it is rich in iron, contains twice the beta-carotene of broccoli, twice the calcium of spinach, and twice the potassium of banana.”  Try it raw in juice form (a customer at the Farmer’s Market claimed that’s the only way she’s consumed it!), or cook it in soups, stir-frys, or pickle it.

Bittermelon is a pale green color while young, and when ripe, can turn into an orange-red color.  It is a plant widely grown in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and South America.  Try searching for some recipe ideas across those food genres!  Here’s a few recipes to give you an idea of its versatility, if you don’t mind getting a little bitter :).

Pro tip: if you want to decrease some of its bitterness bite, slice thinly, place in a strainer and sprinkle with salt until all pieces are covered, let sit for about 15 minutes.  Then rinse off salt with water, and squeeze out excess water from bitter melon pieces until mostly dry. Repeat rinsing step as necessary until salt is completely washed off.

 

Vietnamese-style Sautéed Bitter Melon with Pork Belly & Egg
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(courtesy of Tasty Desu’s Blog)
I’d recommend adding a little seasoning to this dish to add some oomph–i.e. a teaspoon or so of fish sauce and sugar.  This can be made vegetarian by omitting the pork, and adding another sort of flavor by way of dashes of soy sauce and sugar.

 

Southeast Asian-style Stuffed Bitter Melon Soup
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(courtesy of HungryHuy.com)
This recipe from HungryHuy.com leans towards Vietnamese cuisine, but is very similar to one my Cambodian mom makes.  You could probably find similar pork-stuffed bitter melon soup recipes across some Southeast Asian cuisines.  In these soups, it certainly tastes better the next day (some of the bitterness calms down and flavors are enhanced)!  Do some tasty experimenting, and see which soup recipes you like best!

 

Bitter Melon Juice with Apple & Lemon Water
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(courtesy of China Sichuan Food)

 

A South Asian-inspired Bitter Melon Stir Fry
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(courtesy of Ma Recipes Blog)
I recommend trying this recipe, and then adding a twist to it with a little tomato paste or tomato sauce.  Yum!

 

A Caribbean Bitter Melon & Salted Fish Stir Fry
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(courtesy of CaribbeanPot.com)

 


 

Fuzzy Melon

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[photo courtesy of New Roots for Refugees Blog]

 

Fuzzy melon, also known as mo qua, or hairy gourd looks similar to a zucchini.

 

Week 10: August 1, 2017

August 1, 2017 – Week 10

CSA Menu

Green tomatoes

Fresh red onions

New potatoes

Jalapenos

(Eggplants, Peppers, Cukes, Cherry tomatoes)

 

Farm Update

We are gearing up for D-Day…duck processing day!    It’s already been quite a trip getting all the necessary licenses, board approvals, water tests, and trainings.   And since this is the first time we are actually processing birds ourselves (and ducks are one of the trickiest poultry to process), this is going to be quite a learning experience.    Other than that, things are going well at the Movement Aviary Farm!

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Pekin ducklings have become giants and probably already weigh 5 Lbs!

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Our Americana chicks have been living in a small A-frame up near the house and will now be moved into the back fields to join the flock of layers.

0801170950a (1)After growing up on pasture, the female quails have been moved into laying pens, where their eggs roll out – making them easy to collect and perfectly clean.

Our goslings now own this farm!    Want something, ask them!    Here they are showing off their under water swimming skills.

And our 4-week old turkeys arrived yesterday!    Since they lived indoors their wholes lives, they love it here!!

 

Recipe Ideas

chutney

Green Tomato Chutney by http://indianhealthyrecipes.com/

 

Thai Hot and Sour Green Tomato Stir Fry by https://culinariaeugenius.wordpress.com

Pickled Green Tomatoes

Pickled Green Tomatoes by Love and Olive Oil

Veasna’s Lime and Beef Green Tomato Salad on Food.com

 

 

Slow-roasted green tomato soup with caramelized onions, dark leafy greens and herbed oil and garlic cream. Naturally gluten-free, and vegan.

Roasted green tomato soup with herbed oil and garlic cream by With Food and Love

Lacto-Fermented Green Tomato Pickles

Lacto fermented green tomato pickles by culturesforhealth.com

Green Tomato Pizza - Photo: Diana Rattray

Green tomato pizza on the spruce.com

 

…and finally

FRIED GREEN TOMATOES!   by onegreenplanet.org