Imperfect Action + RECIPE: Roasted Beet Salad

Last Saturday there was a snowstorm in Wisconsin– a short-lived but altogether unexpected spring “blizzard” where temperatures dropped as low as 26 degrees and four inches of very heavy snow fell on our farm.

As vegetable farmers in an already unpredictable weather locale (Wisconsin is well-known for forty-degree swings in the spring and fall) in a now more erratic climate changing world, extreme weather events and irregular weather patterns are becoming a part of our regular reality. And finally, seven years into this farming lifestyle, we’re learning not to complain about weather nearly as much as we used to.

We’ve begun to realize that in the end, Mother Nature is never cooperative or always cooperative depending on how you look at things, and there is nothing useful that comes from panicking. There is only action and mitigation. Coping with the weather is simply a part of the profession we choose.

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So when the forecast stated that 3-8 inches of snow was going to fall on April 27th after two near perfect weeks of sunny skies, days in the sixties and evenings well above freezing, my Carrot moved forward swiftly.

He did some Google research about all the crops we had in the ground– the kale, broccoli and cabbage already under floating row cover; the onions, scallions, lettuce and spinach that were completely exposed; the garlic we had boldly decided not too mulch last fall and was already a foot above the ground; the peas that were just beginning to germinate– and what temperatures they could tolerate. He texted a couple other farmers in our area to see what they were doing. He relied on his instincts and experience farming on our little north-facing slope with its own unique micro-climate to guide his action. He studied the forecast determining that the two hours of temperatures well below freezing weren’t enough to do much serious damage.

So despite the scary forecast, we essentially decided to do nothing. My Carrot covered our two beds of lettuce knowing they’d be a little happier under row cover than they would be exposed. He decided the onions, the scallions and the garlic would be fine; the peas, freshly germinated were a little concerning, but he believed the heavy snow would insulate them from the short-lived cold temperatures. For a moment he considered uncovering our brassica crops, slightly worried that the weight of the snow would tear our new sheets of expensive row cover, but ultimately concluded that the rare chance of that happening didn’t outweigh the agony of uncovering eighteen beds in 20-mph winds.

In other words, we didn’t race around the farm as we have always done in the past, doing and undoing things perplexed by the forecast and equally stymied by an inability to know what was right. Instead, the day before the “blizzard” I headed to work in Madison and my Carrot and our employee Zoe spent six hours weeding our second-year asparagus beds; a task I can honestly say I never thought we would get to. When the storm came, we spent a beautiful relaxing Saturday cleaning the house and watching movies.

This type of strong, decisive action is relatively new for us.

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After six years of farming together, agonizing and debating each other on what was the “correct” move to make at every junction, I have finally learn to let go. I trusted that my Carrot with all his inherent knowledge and incredible instincts would make the best decision possible. And even if the row cover tore (it didn’t) or the peas died beneath a bed of snow (they didn’t), we would simply problem solve together and find a path forward without judgment or resentment because in farming and in life, there is never a perfect answer. There is no perfect decision. And with my trust, my Carrot found himself able to think more clearly and able to decide more unequivocally.

In the end, everything weathered the storm just fine. Our cold frame collapsed from the weight of the snow– something we hadn’t even considered. My Carrot rebuilt it. All the baby seedlings inside survived. Our action was imperfect– as it always is And everything was fine– as it always will be.

In love and patience and abundant gratitude for all of life’s lessons,
Your Leek

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ROASTED BEET SALAD
This recipe reprinted with permission from FairShare CSA Coalition‘s legendary From Asparagus to Zucchini 3rd edition cookbook. Recipe credit to Jenny Bonde and Rink DaVee of Shooting Star Farm.

Takes 1 hour, mostly inactive
Serves 2-4

6-8 small beets (I used two large, quartered)
1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for beets, divided
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup pecans (I used 1 whole cup because I’m obsessed with toasted nuts on my salads)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup white wine vinegar (apple cider, champagne or rice wine vinegar would also work just fine)
4 cups baby salad greens
1/2 small bottle onion or sweet onion, thinly sliced (I used a mixture of scallions and chives because it’s what I had on hand from my own fields)
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese

  1. Heat outdoor or indoor grill. Place beets on heavy foil; drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap tightly; grill until beets can be easily pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes. You can also roast your foil packets in a 400-degree oven for 30-45 minutes. 
  2. Meanwhile, toast pecans in a dry pan on the grill (or stove top), tossing frequently. Once toasted, finely chop the nuts.
  3. When beets are cooled a bit, use a paper towel to remove the peel, stems and tails. Cut beets into quarters.
  4. Combine mustard and vinegar in a bowl. Whisk in olive oil until thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Toss salad greens in a bowl with a little dressing. Portion the greens onto 2-4 plates. Top with beets, onions, blue cheese, and pecans. Drizzle with as much more dressing as you like.

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