Farm Crush (Sunday): Kriss Marion + RECIPE: Beans with Cilantro Pesto

This week I’m crushing on a woman who is just. so. cool. Her farm is diverse and beautiful. She is a lovely hostess. She’s got veggies and animals and loves to cook. She’s been farming for 10 years and is learning to prioritize her own needs above those of the farms (because the farm will never stop needing). She’s got so much energy and so much life. She’s crazy smart and she really does it all. (Okay, you’re right. I want to be her a little bit…) I cannot wait for you to learn a little bit about her and her involvement in the upcoming Soil Sisters weekend!

I think the number one reason that I love Kriss Marion of Circle M Farm is because she moved to the country, began a CSA, grew, grew, grew her CSA business, and then down-sized back to only 25 members because she loves to know her members and focus on the people as much as the veggies. I just love that. To encourage members to come out to the farm, Kriss hosts monthly 6-course dinners on the farm for her members (they get tickets when they sign up for their annual membership!). Yes, six courses! Once a month! Ah, that’s just awesome!

I could go on and on about Kriss Marion and her lovely farm, but I won’t. I’ll let her speak for herself. Read on to hear how Kriss got into farming and her involvement with Soil Sisters!

To start Kriss, tell us a little bit about your farm!

Circle M Market Farm is a comically diverse operation on 20 acres in beautiful driftless Wisconsin. Ten acres are wetland/forest that we just look at, and we’re working on the other 10.  4 are in organic veggies, with 1/3 of that in cover crop. The last 6 are rotational pastures for our sheep, goats, steers, hogs, chickens and ducks. NO turkeys. Never again. It’s a really pretty farm, in a valley surrounded by restored prairie and oak hills, so most of what we do circles around bringing people out to the land. We’ve got some great old barns and outbuildings and a sweet little farmhouse we’ve restored.

Can you tell my readers a little bit more about the farm dinners and other types of events and activities you like to do out on the farm?

Our “main” occupation here is growing veggies for our small CSA (we have reduced our membership to 25 down from 150 two years ago) and members-only dinners. While we love the concept of CSA, for us it had become like a grocery store in a parking lot, and two years ago we added field-to-table dinners to our membership in order to connect our people to our place. And now we LOVE it! For me, the size is just perfect. Our monthly dinners are seven-course affairs, served outside and mostly plated, so at 25 I can cook and assemble and still visit with my members a bit.

While the dinners are new, and have proven to be the most effective way to get people out to the country, we’ve always done spring and fall open houses out here. Our Lambs and Lettuces Festival is in late May and the Warm and Wooly Festival is in October. These are open to members, but also to the community, and they’ve been a great way to let our neighbors see what we are doing and maintain their support. At the spring festival this year,  we had a Champagne and Chocolate Tour of our new bed and breakfast rooms and it was wonderful to get our members and neighbors in the house to poke around. Who doesn’t love to do that?

We also teach a lot of classes out here – mostly in woolcraft, but also in gardening, cooking and soapmaking. This attracts a whole different crowd than the food. For years I’ve been teaching in a lot of schools around the area – and I still do – but I am now trying to get more people to come out and take classes on the farm – again, with the goal of connecting people to their rural spaces. My ulterior motive here is that I want people to understand how important it is to preserve such spaces by voting with their money, as well as their democratic power! I LOVE rural places and we won’t have them if we aren’t intentional about supporting and protecting them. Hence, my involvement in the Wisconsin Farmers Union and other community groups.

This is all just incredible! The kind of farm we aspire to be one day! How long have you been doing all of this farming stuff?

We moved here from Chicago 10 years ago. Mostly because my husband grew up rural and wanted to get back. I had no plan at all except that I wanted sheep and a garden. I started by working for other organic farms in the area – Garden to Be in Mount Horeb and Snug Haven in Belleville. I LOVED both places and learned a ton. Neither of those farms were doing CSA when I worked there – both were growing for restaurants – but Scott Williams  and April Yancer of Garden to Be encouraged me to consider CSA because my farm was so pretty. So I started with about 5 neighbors and grew in 5 years to 150 families. But that was SO not my style. I need to know the people I’m growing for or it’s just a job. AND I spend a ton of time on keeping the farm pretty, so I needed to monetize that. So far, members dinners, bed and breakfast and farm classes are looking like the way to go.

How did you become involved with Soil Sisters? Have you been a part of the tour before?

I just started attending the [Green County Women in Agriculture] potlucks. When the tour started, I was on it because I was already in this community of women, but it wasn’t a great fit for me because I don’t have anything to sell to out-of-towners. It has evolved a lot since. [This year], I’m doing two felting classes for the Green Acres workshops, and that makes a lot more sense than a tour for me. I’m so glad we are doing classes now during Soil Sisters!

That’s going to be so much fun! Okay, back to the growing. What are your favorite thing you grow/raise?

Kohlrabi and snap peas. And nasturtiums. And green zebra tomatoes. And yellow squash. And lambs!

If you could give one piece of advice to young farmers who hope to have a very diverse farm & food business one day (hint, hint), what would it be?

Go work at a farm for a year. See a whole season through, ask a lot of questions and THEN make the move. I can’t imagine starting without working on a farm first. Although we did animals totally from scratch. We just asked our farming neighbors a lot of questions! People are awesome. Take advantage of that. And then be generous with advice when it’s your turn. Don’t hoard knowledge! There is room enough for all of us.

Isn’t she great?! Don’t you just want to head out to Blanchardville and learn how to felt from this lovely woman?! I know I do!
 -Leek

P.S. This weekend my Carrot & I had a lovely 4-course dinner out on the farm (in true Kriss fashion)! It was tasty and showcased all the veggies we have on the farm right now! We had a great crowd and it was such a blast (even though it was real hot and down-poured in the middle of our pork chop grilling). More on all this to come. For now, enjoy the recipe from the first course: Mixed Green & Yellow Beans with Snap Peas and Cilantro Pesto!!

BEANS WITH CILANTRO PESTO

I used mixed green and yellow beans with the addition of some snap peas because well, that’s what we had in abundance. You could just use green beans or just use yellow beans or just use peas if you really wanted to. The mix looks pretty but is in no way necessary.

Takes 15 minutes
Makes enough for 4 as a side (or 1-2 as a meal, as it is for me often)

4 cups beans, ends trimmed
1 cup snap peas, ends trimmed, optional
Cilantro Pesto (makes approximately 2/3 of a cup):
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup toasted almonds
1/4 cup parmesan
1 cup cilantro (stems and leaves are fine; it was just about 1 bunch for me)
1 tablespoon lemon juice, fresh if you’ve got it
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

Bring a large pot of water to boil on the stove. Blanche (submerge in boiling water) beans for three minutes. Remove from water and cover with ice cubes or place hot beans in an ice bath to stop the cooking immediately. This will help keep their crispness. Blanche the snap peas for 1 minute, if using. Remove to an ice bath or cover with ice cubes. Strain the beans and peas in a colander and shake a few times to make sure most of the water is removed.
Prepare the pesto by pulsing garlic and almonds in a food processor until very fine. Add cilantro. Pulse until the mixture resembles a course meal. Add lemon juice, salt, red pepper flakes and pepper. Turn the food processor on and slowly add the olive oil. You may need to scrape down the sides of the food processor occasionally.
Add 1/4 cup of cilantro pesto to the cooled and dried beans and peas. Save the rest in the fridge for some other use. Add more salt and/or red pepper flakes to taste. Enjoy!

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