One of the most challenging things about eating locally grown foods is the prep time for meals. I’ve often felt that we have too many options in our food system and we end up overwhelmed and just order takeout instead. With busy days here on the farm, I've learned to embrace that a meal doesn't have to be elaborate or take hours to prepare. A benefit of eating seasonally grown foods is that real food fills you up and leaves you satisfied.
To keep my family nourished between meals I'm known to have fresh, healthy snacks available at all times. Folks we know will often stop in just to grab a healthy small bite to eat so they don't splurge on fast food later.
These bowls of snacks especially get us through the busy holiday months. Hard-boiled eggs, Sweetgrass-brand granola and fresh apples are our staples. We also keep high-quality protein bars on hand. This helps us keep the sugar cravings at bay and make it to the next meal (which is always around the corner).If you were to visit my kitchen you’d likely see at least one or two of these snacks ready for hungry mouths as they walk by:
Hard Boiled Eggs
I've found that setting good habits and intentions in December helps us start the new year well. When we as a family eat better, we feel better. When we feel better, we do better and are more kind. Kindness brings joy to life.
As we work alongside our children to harvest and store the winter squash, I am annually reminded to be thankful that our children have grown into another year. I am grateful for a hard-earned barn full of food to feed ourselves and our farm members. These squash become our winter bread and butter, money in the bank if other crops fail. The reality is that times are more modern, more comfortable even, and we aren't entirely dependent on the fall harvest for survival. In the short time we have before the rains, the winter squash harvest provides a lesson and reminder to remain genuinely thankful in times of plenty.
The Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato Squash, an heirloom variety, can be eaten with the skin on, making preparation time a breeze.
Simply slice squash in sections, drizzle with honey, and sprinkle nuts and cranberries on top.
Bake in the oven at 350° for 20-30 minutes.
Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato Squash
½ Squash per person
Salt to taste
Winter squash is also a staple for our farm members during winter months. It’s a nutritious, healthier starch option that is shelf stable for months and delicious roasted, sautéed, stewed, mashed or pureed. Our favorites are butternut, acorn and Hubbard. Spaghetti squash is an excellent low-carb option for those who want to replace pasta. An older farmer introduced us to the easiest winter squash variety: Thelma Sanders sweet potato squash (not a sweet potato) is like an acorn with a very thin skin. Just one cup of cubed squash far exceeds the daily dose of vitamin A, an important nutrient needed for healthy skin and eyes. They are perfect for a quick dinner or side option because you do not even have to peel them.
In 2009 Nathan and I accepted the Eat Local Challenge, a
nationwide campaign that aimed to encourage households
to commit to as much local food as possible. Some folks
committed to a meal a week or even a day. Being an all or
nothing kind of gal, I went all in for every meal for a month.
That quickly became every meal for the summer and fall. As
winter approached I wanted to continue, but, at the time, there
were no winter markets and, in fact, very few options for locally,
seasonally grown produce.
When Community Farmers Market opened their year-round
doors in 2011, we finally found ourselves in a haven of winter
options at the same time we as farmers started extending our
season. A staple on the seasonally-sourced winter menu is
cooked greens. Nathan learned how to grow as many different
varieties as possible and, out of necessity, I've learned how to
Even today people are surprised by what can be grown here
on Kentucky farms during winter months. That's made us find
ourselves as much in the business of educating as we are in
the selling of food. Not only are we educating our community
through farm tours and educational opportunities, but also
teaching our children, farm members’ children, and friends the
practical skills of planting, harvesting and feeding themselves.
”I’ve been working at NMA since I was 14, and it has changed my
life for the better. Working with fresh produce has inspired me to
eat healthier and pursue a degree in Culinary Arts.”
- Kenzie Crowe
Kenzie and her sister Laila have worked here on the farm once
a week for four years. Nathan and I often talk about how
important it is to be handing down these skills of growing food
year round, and we are thankful we've been able to extend
that opportunity to young people and beginning farmers like
our friends Jordan, Jackson, Avery, and Arlo Rolett at Think
Little Farm. As a society, we enjoy the benefits of grocery store
availability, but as we found in our own journey, we also need
the people close to home who know how to grow food
One of my favorite meals is Eggs in Purgatory, also known
as shakshuka. It’s a meal based on frugality, making use
of what's in season. This simple recipe is a peasant’s
recipe, referenced in many Civil War-era cookbooks
and still easy on the pocketbook today. What makes
it so unique is the vibrant and bold flavors that come
with extended cooking time. Nutritious vegetables and
added protein from the eggs makes it a well-rounded,
When I'm invited to share My Kentucky Food Story
publicly, I enjoy preparing this dish while I'm speaking.
There's something classically simple about that dish that
leaves those watching it being prepared then tasting it,
empowered to go home and cook a good meal.
Eggs in Purgatory
Olive oil or butter
Squash & zucchini
Salt & pepper to taste
In a cast iron skillet, heat olive oil or butter. Vegetables
are added in layers, left in large chunks making it very
simple. Onions first then squash, zucchini, peppers and
tomatoes. Reduce everything down to a thick sauce.
Last, eggs are cracked and dropped into the hot sauce
and cooked to preference. We like to leave the egg yolks
at least a little runny. The most important investment in
this dish is the time you must allow for the vegetables
to build on one another.
Our farm-to-school partnership had begun when we were
selling watermelon to the Bowling Green City schools several
years before, so that seemed like the perfect place to start. We
were invited to attend the school’s Back to School Bash, give
out samples of watermelon and get to know the community. It
was an exciting time as we shared the wide variety of fruits and
vegetables grown on our farm. When school starts, watermelons
are one of the first items on the menu in the school cafeteria. It
is the perfect way for kids to quench their thirst and replenish
electrolytes during the summer heat.
One of the first things we noticed after moving to Allen County
in 2014 was that the school system here was already doing an
excellent job including fruits and vegetables on the menu in
their lunchrooms. They were also sourcing some of those items
through local farmers. After connecting to professionals working
at the extension office, health department and school systems,
we were excited to jump in and get involved any way we could.
We grew our first plot of watermelon with friends with whom
we worshiped. The funds would benefit our friends Justin and
Ashley who were serving in Honduras. After the side of the
road sales weren’t as successful as we had hoped, the food
service director for the Bowling Green City schools offered to
purchase them. Having been on the other side helping farmers
connect farm to school, we found ourselves with an excellent
opportunity to continue supplying the school with fresh food.
Watermelon is an excellent crop for farmers interested in
wholesale because it can be pushed to the end of the season
and has a longer shelf life after harvest. Many of the other
favorite fruits and vegetables—like sweet corn, tomatoes, and
peppers—are less predictable and more challenging to fit into
the school calendar.
Thankfully, both the Bowling Green City and Allen County
schools have worked with us to creatively introduce the
vegetables that are grown year-round on our farm. Many of
the beautiful watercolors you see in this book were painted by
our friends Jenna and Dacia for our farm-to-school projects. It’s
been an excellent way for our farm to promote and expand the
nutritious greens and roots grown during fall, winter and spring
months across Kentucky.
Did you know that America’s first commercial winery was in
Kentucky? Jean Jacques Dufour purchased land on the Kentucky
River in 1798 and formed the Kentucky Vineyard Society. In
1803, Dufour’s first vintage went to Thomas Jefferson.
The heirloom tomato is easily Nathan's favorite crop to grow,
but there will always be a special place in our hearts for the
vineyard. When Nathan and I decided to take the plunge
into full-time farming, we were blessed to have a transitional
opportunity as Nathan was contracted to plant the vineyard at
the Western Kentucky University farm.
We had also planted a small vineyard on our two acres in
Bowling Green a few years before, and they were starting to
fruit. Nathan would leave some of the low lying branches so
the kids could pick them right off the vine. One of my favorite
memories is sitting outside on a blanket with Lilah and Adaline
while Elizabeth brought us grapes from the vine, one at a time.
Our bodies were hydrated and nourished from each of those
There's something sacred and meaningful about the pruning
away of branches--the symbolic cutting away of those things
that no longer serve us so we can experience something even
”I am the true vine, and My Father is the keeper of the vineyard. My
Father examines every branch in Me and cuts away those who do
not bear fruit. He leaves those bearing fruit and carefully prunes
them so that they will bear more fruit.” John 15:1-2
Moving farms was that kind of pruning for us, leaving behind
our beginnings in order to embrace possibility. And of course,
we started over with a new vineyard--the first thing Nathan
planted--and he made sure to leave low lying branches, this
time for Adaline and Sterling. We focus on table grapes that will
soon be in production for our farm members, schools, sales at
Community Farmers Market and for HOTEL INC.
Nathan's favorite table grape varieties:
Reliance, Jupiter, Mars, Neptune, Vanessa
heir·loom: an old, non-hybrid type of plant that is still available
because individual people have continued to grow it for many years.
When I became a work-at-home mom, Nathan and I needed a
way to help make ends meet. He had become very passionate
about heirloom tomatoes, and there wasn't anyone growing
them locally at the time. Taking our first farming risk, he ordered
seeds, prepared the beds, sowed the plants and waited. Our
first crop was beautiful. Dozens of varieties of vibrantly colored,
interestingly named, misshapen tomatoes. He received mixed
reviews in that first year, and the consensus was that they were
some “ugly tomatoes,” but he would encourage people just to
They quickly became a favorite, and Nathan became known
as the heirloom tomato man, (You know you've made it once
the customers and other market vendors call you by what you
sell!). Our beautiful logo obviously depicts the importance of the
heirloom tomato in our early success as farmers. During summer
months, every meal includes at least a slice of these flavorful
tomatoes. The vitamin C and potassium we get from tomatoes
help keep our hearts healthy and our blood pressure low.
Nathan's Favorite varieties:
Black From Tula, Black Krim, Brandywine, Favorite, Cherokee
Purple, Chocolate Stripe, Delicious, Dixie Gold, German
Johnson, Indische Fleisch, Israel, Marianna's Peace, Mexico,
Old German, Pineapple, Potato Leaf White, Prudence Purple,
Richardson, St. Ivy, Super Choice, Tidwell
Heirloom Tomato Growing tips:
-We plant tomatoes, along with other summer crops, the first full
week in May. Seeds are started 10 weeks before in a greenhouse.
-The number one growing issue for tomatoes is blight. Selecting
seeds and varieties from a reputable source is important. A hot
water bath for seeds can help, as well. A natural fungicide, like
copper, can be used as needed, just make certain to apply during
cooler evenings to prevent burning.
-We follow our May planting with a second June crop in order to extend the season.
In 2010 my friend Dana and I co-created monthly circles for families called BabyNet Community. At one of our very first meetings, we encouraged people to bring their favorite, kid-friendly snacks. The power of watching someone else eat healthy foods (and enjoy it) was apparent. Moms were so excited to see their kids eating peppers, squash, and zucchini.
What helped make those healthy snacks a hit was Dana’s homemade ranch dressing. It's a staple in our home, and our farm members are always excited to receive it in their share. To this day, anywhere we do veggie sampling, we still offer it with a side of this tasty ranch. It's famous.
Dana’s homemade ranch recipe:
1 cup Duke’s mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream or buttermilk
½ teaspoon each, dried
Parsley, Chives, Onion, Garlic
¼ teaspoon dill weed
Salt and pepper to taste
Something as simple as having a delicious dip or dressing can go a long way for encouraging people to try a new veggie. Around our house, it's helped me get a quick lunch of cut-up vegetables and ranch on the table in just a few minutes. It's also a fast and delicious favorite when we attend gatherings and want to make use of all the veggies in the fridge.
As we transitioned to sourcing more of our protein from local farmers we knew that someday we would be raising our own. Fortunately, we had been offered the advice to slowly phase into protein once we became more established as full-time fruits and vegetable farmers. It's proved to be useful advice.
We raise about 24 hogs and 600 chickens here on the farm to feed about a dozen households and ourselves. We are in the process of adding in beef cattle and eggs as well. Until then, we can work with neighboring farms to source what isn't raised here.
Good quality protein is such an essential part of a healthy diet. Thankfully, fats are getting less of a bad rap and folks are realizing that they make you healthy, happy and I believe, wise. The Weston A. Price and Sally Fallon’s Nourishing traditions are a great place to begin if you want to incorporate more healthy fats and animal proteins into your diet.
Bone broth is a staple with proteins as is steak, pork chops and roasted chicken as a quick and easy dinner plan. We use the crockpot or Dutch oven to make roast beef or pork shoulder at least one day a week. Organ meats such as liver and hearts and chicken feet are also growing in good old-fashioned popularity as we recognize their nutritional value.
Roast with Veggies
3-5 pound roast
1 quart bone Broth
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a Dutch oven (or the crockpot if that's easier). Place on low heat for 6-8 hours.
In 2009 Nathan and I took the “eat local challenge,” a nationwide campaign that aimed to encourage households to commit to as much local food as possible. Some folks committed to a meal a week or even a day. Being an all or nothing kind of gal, I went all in, every meal for a month. That quickly became every meal for the summer until fall. As winter approached I wanted to continue, but, at the time, there were no winter markets and in fact very few options for locally, seasonally grown produce.
When Community Farmers Market opened their year-round doors in 2011, we found ourselves in a haven of winter options just as we as farmers started extending our season. A staple on the seasonally sourced winter menu is cooked greens.
Nathan learned how to grow as many different varieties as possible and out of necessity I've learned how to cook them. I love surprising folks with my favorite mustard green recipe because it quickly becomes one of their favorites too.
Sautéed Mustard Greens
Mustard greens (several large handfuls)
Salt to taste
Brown bacon in skillet removing bacon once crisp (I often use bacon fat from the morning’s breakfast), then sauté onion in the same pan. Wilt as many greens as will fit in your pot or pan over the hot grease and onion. Add bacon back in as garnish and drizzle with your favorite balsamic vinegar. We love the fig balsamic from Stuarto’s Olive Oil Company (locations in Bowling Green and Lexington, KY,).