Happy Spring to everyone! We hope everyone has been safe and well. It was a long, transitional and arduous 2020, and we’re slowly starting to see some glimmer of hope in this new year. We’ve had some new Avenue 33 Farm followers, and thought it would be nice to give a quick re-introduction of who we are. Hello! We are Ali Greer and Eric Tomassini and we run Avenue 33 Farm, an urban hillside farm in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles (here’s a link to our about section).
Growing food has always been important to us. Over the years it has been a way for us to connect with people and build community as we moved place to place. While this year has been difficult, a bright spot for us has been being able to continue to connect with people over produce. We've been hard at work, tending and growing the farm with our frequent farmhands Jess Nizar & Angie Park, and we are looking forward to resuming volunteer days and tours at some point this year!
We’d also like to share some of the things that have inspired us this month:
- Soul Fire Farm: You can listen to a cool podcast about the farm here. We have been doing a lot of dreaming about the future of the farm and took a workshop with Soul Fire Farm that was really helpful.
- Born a Criminal by Trevor Noah, it’s funny and informative
- Tending the Wild by M. Kat Anderson. Interesting read on how the original caretakers of this land tended to their plants.
- Ted Lasso (on AppleTV). We could all use some Ted in our lives!
We are happy and excited to connect with you today, just after Spring Equinox (also widely known as vernal equinox) this past Saturday. Spring Equinox marks the start of Spring in our northern half of the globe. After today, the northern hemisphere begins to tilt more towards the sun, resulting in increasing daylight hours and warming temperatures, which means more time to tend and prepare for the season ahead.
Spring marks a transition into a new season,— a growing season. One that represents rebirth, rejuvenation, renewal, resurrection and regrowth, across many cultures across the globe. Here, in the states, our holiday celebrations are rarely marked by the changing of seasons, but in many cultures and communities around the world rooted in agriculture, it is an important time marked by festivities and long practiced rituals. We, too, think it’s important to recognize and celebrate this seasonal transition. It’s a time to give thanks, celebrate and be reminded of the connection we have to the earth. A time to show gratitude.
Here are some interesting spring rituals and seasonal traditions that have we have heard along our journey:
In Russia, Тетёрки/tetyorki are large ceremonial rye dough cookies baked for spring equinox in the northern part of Russia (which coincides with the church holiday of the Day of the Forty Martyrs). They were given to children who looked through them at the spring sun. Тетёрки are symbolic,— they are often shaped round, symbolizing the emerging sun, with intricate loops, patterns, grids that might represent flowers, nature, birds, etc. The origin of the name Тетёрки is connected with Spring, as the time of birds’ love songs.
In Japan, 杉玉/Sugidama (Cedar ball) is an artifact that truly represents the passage of time and seasons. A green sugidama is hung at the entrance of a sake brewery in November or December, right after the first sake from the new rice harvest. Several months later (around spring), when the sugidama has changed colors from green to brown, it indicates to the customers that the sake has been aged enough to be ready for drinking. A beautiful representation of a passage of seasons.
In Mexico, thousands of people head northeast to Teotihuacán for Spring Equinox dressed in white garbs to stand at the top of the Pyramid of the Sun with arms outstretched facing the sun. Some come to follow the footsteps of their ancestors, in asking the gods for energy and health on this day. Others climb the 360 steps of the pyramid that allows them to be closer to the energy of the cosmos during the spring equinox.
How We’re Preparing for Spring
Starting Summer Crops: Many tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are all being pampered by us during these cold nights. They will be planted later this month as the days get longer and the soil gets warmer.
Testing out Soil : Summer is a big season for the farm, so we get a soil test each Spring so that we can evaluate the chemistry of our soil. It ensures that we have all of the nutrients we need in the right proportions for sweet and healthy summer crops that can thrive in our hot dry summer.
Weed Whacking the Farm (Spring is the season for this): Since we have not gotten much rain this year the grass grows slower and it is less work… we would rather it rain.
Home Tips: Prepare Your Garden Bed & Soil
We have a pretty simple way of starting our beds on the farm. Since each space is different, it is impossible to give a magic formula that always works, but this is a good foundation that will build towards success. On the farm, when we are starting a bed from scratch, we:
Broad-fork the bed to loosen the soil so that we can easily weed. You can use a garden fork or shovel for a smaller space. We don’t want to invert the soil, —just get some oxygen down into the ground & loosen it up. With a garden fork or shovel, stick it in the ground and pull it back just until the soil cracks on the surface, don’t overdo it.
Add 2 inches of compost to the bed as well as a high-calcium fertilizer (look on the back of the box), we like Down to Earth Organic fertilizers, their Bio-Live or Vegan Mix are good mixes that are similar to the mix that we make on the farm. On the front of the box are 3 numbers. This is the percent of the fertilizer that is Nitrogen - Phosphorus - Potassium (N-P-K), the three major plant nutrients. For the Bio-Live fertilizer, the numbers are 5-4-2. If the first number of the fertilizer is 5 (the nitrogen content), you can add up to 4lbs of the fertilizer per 100 square feet. If the first number is 10, then the fertilizer is 10% Nitrogen and has twice the amount of Nitrogen that the Bio-Live would have, —you could add up to 2lbs per 100 square feet.
Note: We also add Gypsum to give some extra calcium, but don’t add too much! For 100 square feet, we add ¼lb.
Broad fork again to open up some cracks in the soil that allows the amendments to work their way down.
Mix the top couple of inches well so that the amendments are evenly mixed. For a small space just use your hands or a rake. We like getting our hands in there. It’s good for the brain and it's a good way to get a feel for the soil. Is it dry? Sticky? What kind of bugs are there? Is it hard to break apart in your hand? Does it clump together? We always take the time to get our hands dirty and get a feel for the ground.
Now the bed is ready to be planted. We like to water newly planted beds with compost extract. Compost extract is really easy to make. The goal is to take nice compost, here in Los Angeles we recommend getting nice compost from LA Compost. For a 5 gallon bucket, use 1 qt of compost. Fill the bucket with water, put the compost in a mesh bag (paint strainer bags are cheap and easy) and massage the compost for a minute. The goal is to get the soil organisms off of the compost and into the water. Let it sit for 15 minutes and it is good to go!
- Dip your plants in the compost extract before planting, then water the plants with the compost extract, if you are transplanting. The compost extract can be diluted if you want to water any other plants in your yard as well.
Spring Plant Highlight: Green Garlic
We want to showcase a plant we love every month. This month, we introduce to you the almighty green garlic! Green garlic is a young garlic plant which is harvested before it grows into a mature bulb (it can resemble a scallion). Its taste is warming, flavorful and pungent,— and it's been known to provide great medicinal benefits (ie: immunity system booster, aids in digestion, improved circulation, etc.) across many cultures. It’s also one of the first season plants to pop up in farmer’s markets, so keep an eye out.
We planted this Basque garlic variety in November of 2020, there’s a couple reasons for this. Firstly, garlic cloves need a cold period to trigger the bulb development and secondly, fall planting also gives time for the garlic to set roots before winter. They’re finally ready to be harvested for our vegetable boxes as we enter Spring (yay!). There’s plenty you can do with this green garlic, but below, you’ll find a delicious recipe by Jess Nizar (of Skid Row Coffee & Ave 33 farm’s awesome farmhand)
Recipe by Jess Nizar: Kecap Sambal Style Chili Oil w/Green Garlic
Growing up, no matter what was for dinner, we always had a hot and sweet condiment on our kitchen table. In some families, this could be “ketchup” or “tabasco” on the dinner table,— but more often in my Chinese-Indonesian family, it was a bottle of Kokita brand Kecap Sambal.We dipped everything in it. Kecap Sambal is a dark molasses, sweet soy sauce with a kick of heat from fried birds-eye chiles and shallots. I have many memories of my Opa (my grandfather) asking one of his grandkids to get the Sambal during dinner, which meant the flavor wasn’t to his liking and he needed some of that sweet sweet hot stuff.
These days, I’m really fond of using chile pasilla to make sichuan style chili oil,— it has a raisin-ey sweet and sticky quality. I found if you add some kecap manis to the chili oil at the end, it tastes just like the sambal of my childhood.
Now that Spring has arrived, and you’re looking for a way to use green garlic, making chili oil is a great way to take advantage of using the entire plant. From root to tip, the entire plant is packed with flavor more delicate than regular garlic and more similar to scallions. I use the roots and any stems that are yellowing, dry or wilty to flavor our oil along with other aromatics and spices. And use the rest of the tender white and green stalk to gently cook/fry with the chiles.
This result is a sambal-like chili oil that is smokey, sweet, fatty, with a nice touch of heat. When I’m lazy, I simply sauté greens with it (so easy and tasty). You can also add it to your morning oatmeal, or eat it with a bowl of rice and egg. Packs a flavor to everything you eat! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Here’s how you can make this at home:
- 3 pieces of green garlic (or 5 cloves of regular garlic minced)
- 1.5 cups (50g) of whatever dried chile you have (I use 2 pasilla/25g), 5 puya/10g), and 20 chile de arbol/15g)
- 1.5 cups high heat oil (ie: grape-seed, vegetable, peanut oil, etc.)
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 3 pieces of star anise
- 1TB sichuan peppercorn
- 1 inch piece of ginger
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1TB Kecap Manis (sweet soy sauce)
Prepare the green garlic and chiles
Slice the root end of the green garlic and wash thoroughly to rid of any dirt. Bundle any dry, wilty or yellowing ends and set them aside.
Slice the rest of your green garlic and put it in a heat-proof bowl.
Remove stems of the chiles (if you’re using larger chiles like chile pasilla, remove the seeds as they are hard & won’t soften w/the addition of heat).
Tear or rough chop chiles & place in the bowl w/the sliced green garlic.
Create the infused oil
Add the oil, green garlic roots and bundled ends, cinnamon sticks, star anise, sichuan peppercorn, and ginger to a pot and gently bring up the heat to medium low (200 degrees), cooking for 20 minutes. Turn the ginger and green garlic bits often to avoid burning. If they start to look a color any deeper than golden brown, remove them.
Chili Oil Time
After 20 minutes and your oil is infused with the aromatics and spices, crank up the heat to medium. Don’t leave the stove or walk away. As soon as you hear the spices pop (or the temp reaches 225 degrees) take it off the heat. With a strainer over your bowl of garlic and chiles, pour the hot oil over leaving the aromatics behind in the strainer. It’s going to bubble a lot, but will quickly subside. Stir stir stir to make sure the oil coats all the garlic and chiles. Let cool.
Once cooled, add the entire mixture to the food processor and blend until all the large pieces are broken down, almost forming a paste.
Add the salt and kecap manis and stir to combine.
Enjoy and store in the refrigerator for up to 10 days!
Thank you friends for reading through. Here’s the link you can use to see what’s available and order for the week at all times. We hope to continue sending out a newsletter every month. Always happy to hear your thoughts, suggestions on what you’d like for us to share, and what questions you might want to have answered.
Avenue 33 Farms