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A love for working the soil along with a keen sense of how to build and maintain a thriving business in a very competitive market spells success for these talented and hard-working farmers.
Meet Jill, Carl and Family
In 1997 the Connecticut State Legislature acted on a goal to protect 10 percent of this state’s open land. Legislation was passed that allows for designated private properties to come under state stewardship and be preserved as “open space.” Three important programs were developed under this legislation: The Recreation and National Heritage Trust, which acquires and preserves land for outdoor recreation; The Watershed Lands Matching Grants Program, which acquires land for preservation as watersheds; and the Purchase of Development Rights program (PDR) that provides funding to the Connecticut Department of Agriculture to purchase development rights of farmland and places a permanent restriction on nonagricultural uses of these properties. Many of the towns in Connecticut participate in this program using federal, state, and local funds to purchase these lands. The farmlands that are accepted into the PDR program remain in private ownership and the owners continue to pay local property taxes. In 1998, the first year of the “open space” program, the Department of Agriculture purchased the development rights to 125 farms and preserved more than 18,000 acres of Connecticut’s prime farmland for agricultural use.
This is the story of how one farm in my hometown embraced the “open space” legislation, and with some hard work and sharp management skills on the part of individuals, created a successful business.
The town of Farmington has been active in the “open space” program from the beginning. It purchased two farms, one in 2001 and the other in 2002, acquiring 160 acres of farmland between them. Then in 2007, news that Krell Farm, the town’s largest privately-owned farm, was for sale reached Farmington residents. This land is one of the most attractive and developable parcels in the Farmington Valley and many of us feared that a private developer would buy it and replace this beautiful open space with something less attractive. To prevent such a sale, the town scheduled a voter referendum for January 10, 2008. This was to give voters the opportunity to decide if the town should buy 90 acres of prime farmland from the Krell family. The voters approved the sale and the town purchased 90 of the 98 acres of Krell Farm for $75,000 an acre. This was a bargain when you consider that other less attractive building lots in Farmington were selling for twice that amount.
Krell Farm and its familiar farm stand have been owned by the Krell family since 1922. Over the years this family farm has become a well-known and popular place to purchase high-quality fruits, vegetables, and a variety of other farm-fresh products throughout the year.
After the land purchase, the big question around town was, “What happens next?” This property is mostly fertile farmland, which is one of greatest resources in the Farmington Valley. There was a concern that the operation of the farm would cease, and the fields would lay fallow. But after the sale, the Krell family still retained eight acres of land from the original farm. However, this property was subject to the PDR section of the Open Space legislation which requires that a family member live on the property and work it as a farm. Jill Jarrett, a cousin of the owner, saw the sale of the land as an opportunity. She knew that Krell Farm had been a successful family business for nearly 100 years and she was sure that with the consistent application of a simple business plan, she could continue operating the farm and further enhance its iconic reputation for providing high-quality farm products to Farmington Valley residents. With this in mind, she decided to lease the farm from her cousin and, using her business plan, she is running it to this day.
The first step to achieving her goal was to team up with a long-time friend and professional farmer, Carl Mahannah. Carl’s family owned and operated a successful 100-acre farm in the neighboring town of Bristol. His family still owns a portion of that farm today. Carl is also licensed trapper and experienced hunter. These are valuable skills that could benefit his partnership with Jill because controlling pests is imperative to running a successful farm.
Jill and Carl knew that planting just eight acres of field would not yield sufficient crops to support their business. To secure additional fields for planting, they turned to the town of Farmington, which owns nearly 500 acres of fertile farmland in several locations along the Farmington River, and two fields adjacent to Krell Farm. These fields are all prime farmland that were also acquired through “open space” legislation, and are leased to established growers like Krell for about $35 an acre.
Along with the 16 combined acres owned by the Krell and Mahannah families, Krell Farm now leases an additional 55 acres of prime growing fields from the town. Most of these fields are in an area town residents refer to as “the flats,” which are along the Farmington River This area is one of the most productive growing areas in the valley. The ground along the river is deep Windsor soil, named for one of the oldest towns in Connecticut, famous for growing high-quality tobacco used for the outer wrapping of the world’s finest cigars. This is well-drained, fertile, loamy, sandy soil formed by glacial meltwater and windblown deposits. It is the combination of this soil and the clean water from the Farmington River that makes this area one most productive farming areas in the state. Jill and Carl were now leasing an established farm with an outstanding reputation for producing high-quality fruits and vegetables, grown in the finest soil this state has to offer.
Hartford County, where Krell Farm is located, includes the Farmington Valley. The county contains 29 towns with more than 900 farms, producing crops on 54,000 acres of fertile farmland. The average farm size is about 60 acres. With all of these farms located in such a small area, a resident of the Farmington Valley can get into his or her car and drive in any direction during the spring, summer, or fall seasons and find an open farm stand before driving five miles.
Many states, including Connecticut, have developed “buy local” programs to support farmers who are selling their products directly to consumers. A growing percentage of Connecticut farmers with farm stands report increased sales that are a direct result of this “buy local” initiative.
During the early season I made several tours of the greenhouses with both Jill and Carl. During these tours they share details of how they make all of this happen.
THE KRELL FARM TEAM
Four generations of family support has contributed to the success of this farm.
More to come
In my following post, I will talk about how hanging around two talented farming professionals has made me a better gardener.
My Small Garden
On a warm, early spring day, fifteen years ago, I started digging a 3-foot-deep trench to lay a 4-inch drain pipe in an effort to correct a problem of water collecting around the foundation of my house when it rained. My wife, Tricia, noticed that this small strip of ground was the only spot on the property that got all-day sun. She suggested that since I was doing so much digging, I could widen the trench a little, fill it with enriched soil and start a small garden. She said, “With a little planning, a small garden in that spot could be very productive.”
While living in Boston years ago, I became an avid viewer of a popular gardening show aired on Public Television and hosted by master gardener Jim Crockett, and later hosted by Bob Thomson. Both Crockett and Thomson wrote detailed and informative books on gardening titled Crockett’s Victory Garden and The New Victory Garden, respectively. My wife and I were apartment dwellers while living in Boston and had no chance of starting a garden, but I bought and read both books, hoping that some day I would be able use this knowledge.
This laborious trench was my opportunity to start my first garden. After laying the pipe, I started working on the garden. Using my copies of the Victory Garden books as guides, the garden was ready for an initial planting by June of that year. The planting space measures a mere 90 square feet, but it has proven adequate for my purposes. Every year my garden produces plenty of fresh vegetables that I can harvest and serve fresh and I have plenty left to can and freeze for meals during the cold months.
One of our favorite summer side dishes is the vegetable tart featured in this post. The crust that I use for this tart is the only constant in the formula. The filling depends on what the garden is offering at the time. I made the tart featured in this post this past Sunday, after filling the basket shown below with whatever was available.
For this tart I used the eggplant, zucchini and some of the tomatoes. I pickled the okra and dried the cayenne peppers.
Mountain Fresh Tomatoes: These disease-resistant, firm and flavorful tomatoes are a standard in my garden. They are delicious eaten fresh and are great for canning.
Sweet Basil and Globe Eggplant — Two key ingredients in this tart
Below is my first successful attempt at producing this tart. I filled it with the same cheese mixture as the one featured here, but used part of an abundant crop of tomatoes as the only vegetable/fruit.
The latest version
Fresh Tomato, Eggplant and Zucchini Tart
Dough for the tart shell
I have used both masa harina and regular corn flour to make this crust. However, I prefer the masa harina because the process used to make it mellows the corn flavor, which, in my opinion, allows the flavor of the fresh vegetables to stand out more.
1½ cups (7½ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup masa harina or corn flour
½ tsp. kosher salt
4 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, diced into ¼-inch cubes
¾ cup fresh corn kernels or frozen corn, thawed (divided and remainder used in filling)
1 tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
2 tbsp. fresh goat cheese at room temperature
1 tbsp. cream cheese at room temperature
Combine the flour, masa harina and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse two or three times until combined, add the butter and pulse until the mix resembles a coarse meal. Transfer this mix to a suitable size bowl and set aside. Do not wash the processor bowl.
Combine ½ cup of corn, lemon juice, lemon zest, goat cheese and cream cheese in the bowl of food processor and process until smooth.
Return the flour mixture to the processor bowl and pulse several times until the dough starts to come together. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula and distribute the dough evenly around the blade. Continue to pulse until the dough comes completely together, about 5 or 6 quick pulses. Transfer the dough to a well-floured work surface and press into 8-inch round disk. Wrap the disk in plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.
1 pound fresh ripe tomatoes, cut into ¼-inch slices
1 pound fresh zucchini squash, sliced crosswise into ¼-inch thick pieces
1 pound fresh medium-size eggplant (cut crosswise into ¼-inch slices)
2 tsp. vegetable oil
½ cup shredded fresh basil (divided)
½ cup shredded Italian fontina cheese
1 tbsp. fresh oregano, minced
4 tbsp. fresh bread crumbs (divided)
½ tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
¼ cup crumbled fresh goat cheese
1 large egg, lightly beaten with ½ tsp. of olive oil
Place an oven rack in the middle position in the oven, and place a pizza stone or a large cookie sheet, reversed, on the rack. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit one hour before the baking the tart.
The three vegetables that are the heart of this filling contain a lot of excess water. Most of this water must be removed before final assembly and baking. If not, the heat of the oven will extract this excess water from these vegetables and be soaked up by the pastry shell, making it dense and wet. Salt causes each of these vegetables to release water. We will be sauteing the zucchini and the eggplant before incorporating them into the tart, and this extra step helps these vegetables saute and brown rather than stew in their own juices.
Place the zucchini slices in a colander and sprinkle them with 1 tsp. of non-iodized salt. Set the colander over a suitable size bowl until about 1/3 of a cup of water drains from the zucchini. This will take about 30 minutes. Rinse the zucchini with cold water and dry on a double layer of paper towels.
Repeat the above process with the eggplant but do not rinse, just place the eggplant on paper towels to dry.
Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer on a triple layer of paper towels and sprinkle with 1 tsp. of salt and let them drain for about 15 minutes. Remove any residual moisture by gently blotting the tomatoes with another layer of paper towels.
In a 12-inch, heavy bottom, non-stick skillet heat 1 tsp. of vegetable oil over medium high heat until it just begins to smoke. Add the zucchini and saute, stirring constantly, until it just begins to brown. Place it on a layer of paper towels and set it aside.
NOTE: Like a stir-fry this step uses a hot pan to just sear and brown the vegetables, not cook them through.
Repeat the above process with the eggplant.
Combine ¼ cup of fresh basil, fontina cheese and fresh oregano, and set it aside.
Combine 2 tbsp. of the fresh bread crumbs with the ½ tsp. kosher salt, and set it aside.
Remove the crust dough from the refrigerator, place it on a well-floured piece of parchment paper and roll it into a 14-inch circle. Carefully transfer the rolled dough and the parchment paper to the back of a large cookie sheet. If you are lucky enough to own a pizza paddle, this task will be easier.
Arrange the cheese mixture on the rolled-out crust, leaving 1½-inch space at the border.
Sprinkle the fresh bread crumb and salt mixture evenly over the cheese.
Arrange the zucchini and eggplant in a way that you find appealing over the cheese and sprinkle with the remaining breadcrumbs.
Arrange the tomatoes in overlapping slices over the bread crumbs, and sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup of corn.
Fold the edges of the dough toward the the center of the tart, pleating and sealing.
Brush the tart shell with the egg wash mixture and place it on the pizza stone or reversed cookie sheet, in the oven to bake for 15 minutes. Open the oven and carefully top the tart with the remaining goat cheese, and continue to bake for 3o minutes, or until the crust is a rich brown. Let the tart rest for 15 minutes before serving.
Huli-Huli Chicken — A unique Hawaiian fast food (sort of )
In 1955, a Hawaiian chicken farmer named Ernie Morgado served barbequed chicken glazed with his mother’s homemade teriyaki sauce at a local farmers’ gathering. This chicken soon became one of those great “only-in-Hawaii” popular foods. The chicken was such a hit that Ernie soon found himself in great demand at fundraisers and other events. He hired crews and launched a catering business using specially designed barbeque grills mounted on trucks called “huli wagons” that held the chicken between two grates. This system allowed the chickens to be turned frequently so they would cook evenly. When the chickens were ready to turn, the workers would yell, “Huli” (“turn” in Hawaiian).
In 1958, Morgado registered his sauce with The Territory of Hawaii and named it Huli-Huli. Street vendors selling BBQ chicken by that name all but disappeared after Morgado asserted his rights to the trademark, and started marketing bottled sauce under that name. When my daughter, Sarah, was vacationing in Hawaii a few years ago, she and her traveling companion, Heather, caught the scent of some great-smelling smoke while walking along a beach. They followed the smoke to a large roadside grill selling barbequed chicken. It wasn’t called Huli-Huli chicken, but the vendor assured her that it was the same chicken using his customized recipe.
When Sarah came home she brought a bottle of Huli-Huli sauce that she bought from Amazon, handed it to me and said, “You have to make this chicken; it’s great.” During the months that followed, I experimented with the concept, using the bottled sauce and several recipes that I found online. Unfortunately, brushing any sauce on chicken while it’s cooking adds little flavor and increases the possibility of burning. It isn’t practical to repeatedly turn a chicken being cooked on a charcoal grill. Even the high-end gas grills with electric rotisseries don’t work when you try cooking a chicken using a recipe like this one. However, if you make the cooking surface modifications that I suggest here, you can prepare this recipe using whole or split chicken or chicken pieces. I have cooked the three cuts several times each with predictable results.
Conversion from Huli wagon to Weber grill
After suffering several unpleasant chicken grilling events and graduating from grilling hamburgers, hotdogs and steaks over charcoal to barbequing larger meat cuts like spare ribs, whole chickens, pork, beef and lamb roasts, I knew that changes to the grill and to my cooking methods would be necessary, especially with this recipe.
Cooking chicken directly over burning charcoal, even turning it frequently, results in severely burned and charred flesh. After cooking this chicken a couple of times this way, I decided to switch to a method using indirect heat. The photo below shows a modified two-level charcoal setup that I now use when barbequing a whole or split chicken.
The high temperature generated by burning charcoal in a confined space like a kettle grill will (if not managed) dry out and burn most foods. In order to prevent drying and to infuse the chicken with more flavor, I decided to first soak the chicken in a flavored brine for several hours. To give my chicken a seasoned-to-the-bone-flavor, I added soaked mesquite wood chips to the fire just before placing the chicken on the grill. Mesquite is not a recommended wood for smoking foods for more than one hour. After an hour, the smoke turns food bitter. However, it works well with this quick-cooking recipe. Finally, for flavor consistency, I also duplicated some of the ingredients in the glaze that were used in the brine. The glaze is then reduced to about ½ cup and brushed on after the chicken has been transferred to a serving dish.
This sauce is not readily available in many parts of the country. I don’t think that buying it is necessary, because there are many interesting recipes for this sauce available.
Chili garlic sauce and mirin (a sweet Japanese cooking wine) can be purchased in most large supermarkets that have an ethnic grocery section. The warm heat of the chili sauce and the subtle sweetness of the mirin add complementing flavors to the glaze.
I have prepared this recipe using split chicken halves and whole split chicken. Also, chicken can be cooked skin side up or down depending on which presentation you prefer.
Skin side up
Skin side down imparts a classic grill mark.
RECIPE FOR HULI-HULI CHICKEN
Chicken and brine ingredients
1 whole split chicken
1 quart cold water
1½ cups soy sauce
4 medium cloves fresh garlic, pressed through a garlic press
1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
Glaze for ingredients
2 six-ounce cans pineapple juice
3 Tbsp. packed light brown sugar
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
3 Tbsp. ketchup
3 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
4 medium cloves fresh garlic, pressed through a garlic press
2 Tbsp. peeled fresh ginger (grated)
1½ tsp. garlic chili sauce
1 Tbsp. mirin
For the grill
90 charcoal briquettes
1 large half-size (9-inch x 12-inch x 2-inch deep) disposable aluminum pan
2 cups mesquite wood chips (soaked for 1 hour)
pair of long handled tongs
small dish with a paper towel coated with vegetable oil
Combine the brine ingredients, add the split chickens and refrigerate for minimum of 4 to a maximum of 8 hours.
Wrap the wood chips in a suitable size piece of aluminum foil. Cut several vent holes in the top and bottom of the package and soak in warm water for one hour.
Prepare the glaze
Combine glaze ingredients in a small saucepan. Simmer over medium low heat, stirring periodically, until the glaze is reduced to about ½ cup. This will take about 25 minutes. Cover the glaze and set it aside.
Remove the chicken from the brine and dry it with paper towels.
Set up the grill and start cooking
Open the bottom vent holes of the grill halfway.
Light the briquettes in a chimney starter and let them burn until they are lightly coated with a thin layer of ash. This usually takes about 10 minutes. Empty the contents of the starter onto half of the grill.
Place the aluminum pan to the now empty side of the grill.
Put the cooking grate in place, cover the grill with the lid, and heat the cooking grate for about 5 minutes.
Using a pot holder, carefully lift the grate just enough to place the soaked wood chips on the coals.
Using the tongs, coat the grate with the vegetable oil-soaked paper towel.
Arrange the chicken, skin side up or down, over the aluminum pan with the legs closest to the coals. Cover the grill with the vent holes open and over the chicken.
Cook the chicken for 30 minutes, and until the thigh meat registers 125° F. Remove the lid and turn the chicken. Replace the lid and continue cooking until the breast meat reaches 155° F and the thigh meat reaches 175° F.
Remove the chicken from the grill and let it rest for 5 minutes. While the chicken is resting, heat the glaze.
Portion the chicken to your liking, brush each piece with the warmed glaze and serve.
I admit that this recipe is a busy one but if dry grilled chicken coated with charred BBQ sauce is getting old, give this recipe a try. You will be glad that you did.
Chicken parts — cooked and glazed