It’s Autumn over here, the season of shrinkage, it pulls us indoors, wants us to sit still, take note, to give thanks. It’s been a particularly intense time for me; I’m back at work, as well as having grad studies staring up again. I find myself constantly out of time, running on auto-pilot, with my body reacting to the stress this involves. Outside, the red, orange and burnt yellow canopy is disappearing, and as the earth slowly freezes, it’s also time to collect the last of the garden spoils. I have Jerusalem artichokes (beautiful in a soup with some roasted garlic), chard (great for chips, see below), bunches of herbs (made into salted herbs, great in almost everything) and then some green tomatoes for pickle and chutney. Yet although it’s a time for endings, at farmer’s markets across North America its harvest time, which to me is the most wonderful time at these markets.
Last weekend, it was our last summer market at the Val David market in the Laurentides. As my neighbour and I filled our baskets with harvest bounty that we could freeze, pickle or can for the long winter months ahead, our sausage-eating children were affronted by a strange costumed lady who looked like she had just climbed out of an Enid Blyton story.
“We’re having a harvest party tomorrow, there will be games and prizes, and all sorts of wonderful things to see and do, tell your parents they must bring you.”
The strange character was from La Ferme Morgan, whose stand is a regular at the Val Morin summer markets, and from who I have often bought organic vegetables as well as meat and poultry.
Harvests parties or festivals have been run since pagan times, and today, many religious festivals are still based on the same premise, i.e. the celebration and giving thanks to the maturity of local crops. A harvest party is typically celebrated on the Harvest Moon (not just a Neil Young song), or the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox and usually involves decorating a house or village with harvest fruits and vegetables, sharing of food, and of course a lot of other merriment of the romantic and liquid varieties.
La Ferme Morgan is situated in Weir, about an hour North of Montreal and the farm rears organic beef, chickens, turkey, ducks, as well as band of amourous wild boars. The Morgan Farm prides itself on going ‘beyond organic’ whereby its grass-fed beef are not ‘fattened up by grains’ and ‘by treating our animals and birds with as much compassion, calm and love as possible.’
As some of Canada’s largest producers of beef were reeling from an E.coli outbreak this week, I did some research on the grass vs. grain debate, remembering my father’s moo-cows also happily grazing on the green stuff. But the sad thing is, most of the beef you buy in the supermarket these days has been raised for only short periods on grass (which is natural to them) and then ‘finished off’ in enclosed feeding areas where they are practically force fed with grain, which encourages rapid growth, yet also disease like E. coli. Grass-fed cattle, on the other hand, mature in the spring, when foliage is fresh, full of seeds and nutrients, and these are the animals which produce a healthy and tasty product. Furthermore, grass-fed beef also has more nutrients; more Vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids. Cows that live outside in the fresh air benefit from clean water and space to roam. Also; animals who are allowed to be rotated in pastures preserve the natural biodiversity, improve soil quality, as well as minimize waste-management issues that occur with animal feedlots. The other benefit from eating grass-fed beef is of course the taste; when they eat from the good earth, we can taste it.
It was soon lunch and the kids wanted corn on the cob. As we sat down to eat, what was interesting is how very different this corn was from the usual stuff; it was lighter in color, the kernels were almost misshapen, and the taste was purer, more earthen, sweeter – delicious.
As we walked around the gardens, and met some more of the story-book type characters at La Ferme Morgan, I couldn’t help but notice that there was no sense of supervision, nor noticeable ‘boss man’ or ‘boss lady’ telling people what to do. Instead, there was some 20 or so staff, or volunteers, each seeming to be well aware of their task at hand, and each working quite contently at what they were doing. I learned later that whilst the farm is run by the support of two farm stewards, the farm functions as a co-op with some 10 or so people sharing house and work together. Even though there were many visitors to be fed, kids to be entertained, activities to be planned, nobody seemed rushed or stressed, instead we were greeted and served in the friendliest manner, with smiles and good cheer.
Later that week, I had been at my Chinese acupuncturist who had asked me, “So where do you eat during the day?’ ‘At my desk mostly.’ ‘How long it take you to eat lunch?’ Oh about five minutes’. He was mortified, and then went on to explain that there was no way I was absorbing the necessary nutrients eating like that, that I was making myself sick, and that I had to remember that food was our true medicine, and also that each meal time had to be approached with appreciation, active consciousness. Over the last few days, I made some changes: I’m taking the time, eating simpler, with awareness, and am surprised how quickly I was able to feel better.
I thought back to the philosophy at La Ferme Morgan, and thought, if they can treat the earth and their animal folk with love and compassion, then I too, can treat my body the same.
Kale and Butternut Squash Harvest Soup
A bunch of kale
1 Butternut squash
1 liter of good quality vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
A little butter
Boil the kale until tender, do the same with the butternut squash but in a different saucepan. Put the two in a blender along with the stock, and then transfer it back in a saucepan and heat until boiling. Turn heat down to a simmer, and stir through the butter, season with salt, pepper and a little cream.
A bunch of kale
A few tablespoons of good quality olive oil
Lightly oil a flat baking tray
Tear the kale in small, bite-sized pieces and then put on baking tray
Season with sea salt (you can also add some red pepper flakes, or turmeric)
Sprinkle with some olive oil (do not drench)
Bake on high heat for about 10 minutes, or until crispy
Curl up with a good book and blanket and enjoy.