the farm

Leaving Frog Bottom

Posted by Lisa on November 14, 2012
autumn, Frog Bottom Farm recommends, Richmond, the family, the farm / 12 Comments

Big news tonight. After many many months of number crunching, brainstorming, research, heartache, hope, and deliberation, we have decided to leave Frog Bottom. Ali has accepted a farm manager position at Keith’s Farm, a certified organic vegetable operation about 65 miles west of New York City. He and the crew will tend to vegetables on about the same acreage as we do here at Frog Bottom and sell them at the Union Square Greenmarket in NYC.

We considered all kinds of changes in hopes of keeping our farm: more pigs, more chickens, a bigger CSA, a smaller CSA and more markets, renting land for beef cattle, even starting a micro-dairy. But in the end, the smaller changes to our model didn’t seem big enough, and the bigger changes seemed too risky. Our vision for our family has always been to earn a living wage from full time farming, without supplementing with off-farm income, and we just couldn’t find a way to do that here.

This was a very, very difficult decision for us to make. When we bought our farm, we certainly intended to be here for the long haul. It probably goes without saying that we love this land – its gentle hills, the Eastern red cedars and black locusts and sycamores and wild persimmons of our windbreaks, the tiny south creek and the bigger west creek, the hawks and woodpeckers and cardinals that keep watch as we hoe carrots, plants beets, pick cucumbers, squoosh potato beetles, wash eggs, scratch a pig snout, wipe sweat from our eyes.

We also love this part of Virginia. With its warm summers and mild winters, it has a fantastic climate for growing vegetables. It is strange indeed to think of a summer without homegrown okra or a fall without homegrown sweet potatoes – things that don’t grow well up north. But we’ll adjust to that, we hope – we hear we’ll be able to grow greens all year long in New York, and at least half this farm family is excited about parsnips.

What is stranger and much sadder to think about is farming without y’all. It has been our honor and delight to get to know our market customers and colleagues and our CSA hosts and members over the last four years. You taught us how to make a mean caponata, and you joined us for a crazy pickling party when the cucumbers threatened to take us over last year, and you made us pickled eggs and hot sauce. You told your friends about us. You wrote about us on your blogs, and you invited us on your radio programs, and you shared our food with your neighbors. You welcomed us into your schools, your churches, your driveways, your front yards. You watched us grow from an earnest family of two to a young family of three. Every Wednesday and every Saturday, you made us love our work all over again.

There are some really wonderful things happening around local, seasonal foods in Central Virginia. Please support them as much as you are able.

A few more details, and then some photos from what has been one of the most pleasant, stunning falls in our recent memory.

We’re here through the winter — at least through March, and probably into April. Come find us every other Wednesday 4pm-7pm at the Farmers Market at St. Stephen’s, every other Saturday 10-noon at the South of the James winter market at the Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts, and at the special pre-Thanksgiving Carytown holiday market this Sunday, November 18, from 11 to 3. We anticipate having carrots, sweet potatoes, several kinds of greens, occasional other vegetables, pork, and eggs. We’ll have all the exact dates up on our farmers market page soon.

For sustainably grown produce from small family farms in the Richmond area, we recommend without reservation our friends at Tomten Farm, Crumptown Farm, and Broadfork Farm.

Finally, if you’re ever in New York City on a Saturday between late May and Christmas, please come on over to Union Square and say hi to Ali. It will make his day.

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I really really REALLY love kabocha squash.

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It’s good to be busy.

Posted by Lisa on August 03, 2012
Frog Bottom Farm recommends, summer, the crew, the family, the farm / 2 Comments

Vegetables love the sun and so it’s no coincidence that during the year’s hottest weeks, we really begin to feel the heat as well. It’s good to be busy.

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Lately, we are …

spending lots of time taking water to the chickens and pigs :: eating as many tomatoes as possible (we love them on sandwiches with homemade mayo, slow-roasted and tossed into a frittata, braised with the summer’s first okra, in ratatouille, and eaten out of hand while our ALMOST! THREE! year old digs and digs and digs) :: washing eggs (more and more every week) :: eating outside almost every night (and putting our bug spray to work!) :: happily banging elbows around our ever-messy kitchen island on the nights when the mosquitoes are just too fierce :: honing our pie skills with peaches from our family tree and dreaming of a small orchard for the farm :: hoping it’s not too late to order this year’s batch of Cornish Rocks :: basking in the ease of several weeks now with no poison ivy rash :: absorbed in a new read :: feeling humbled, challenged, and reassured as we learn that even the children of farmers are particular and strong-willed eaters as they stretch and grow :: delighting in all the noises the pigs make, and in how fast they can move :: smiling as our market tables grow more bountiful each week :: watching the pollinators all around us and wishing we’d planted more sunflowers :: bookmarking lots of recipes :: digging just a little deeper in our knowledge of the wild edibles and medicinals on our farm, like purslane and chicory and plantain and chickweed and burdock, and feeling quite in awe of all we have yet to learn :: hoping hard for a bountiful crop of storage vegetables :: picking, washing, sorting, loading, delivering :: sleeping hard :: feeling grateful

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We would love to hear some of the things filling your midsummer days. Leave a note in the comments if you like!

(Turns out we did a similar photo-heavy post around this time last year. Have a look!)

How to be cool as a cucumber

Posted by Lisa on July 02, 2012
CSA, cucumbers, farmers markets, Frog Bottom Farm recommends, recipes, the farm, Vegetables A-Z / Comments Off on How to be cool as a cucumber

The heat these days has us thinking of summers past, and of the ways we dream up to feel a little cooler. This year, as every year, we are grateful for the creeks on the farm,  for family-friendly local businesses with air conditioning, and for neighbors with pools. And thank goodness so many of the vegetables growing right now taste so good with little to no preparation! It’s nature’s remarkable gift.

To help y’all stay cool, and to celebrate the beginning of our cucumber season, we’re reposting a piece we wrote almost three years ago. Read on to learn about our four varieties and to get some recipe ideas — cucumber salad, pickles, even a cocktail!

Sometimes, the only way to beat the heat is to embrace it.

We’re talking trips to the river, dinner outside at the picnic table, burgers and squash and corn on the grill, peach juice dripping down your arms, sweet tea and margaritas, the ice cream truck, ceiling fans, sprinklers, naps. And cucumbers!

Here at Frog Bottom we grow four kinds, enough to help you stay cool for a few weeks at least. We often sample the different varieties at market. If you’re a member of our CSA, be sure to try all the varieties before the season is through. The strange bumpy ones (see below) are our favorite.

About Cucumbers

Cucumbers are a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, which also includes summer squash, zucchini, watermelons, muskmelons, gourds, winter squash and pumpkins. Cucumbers originated in India and have been cultivated by humans for at least three thousand years, and possibly much, much longer – carbon dating places some seeds found near the Burma/Thailand border as being from 7750 BC! It’s said that the ancient Romans soaked their cucumber seeds in honeyed wine before planting them, in an effort to combat their fabled bitterness. In the Book of Numbers, the Israelites complain during their long exodus from Egypt: “Remember how in Egypt we had fish for the asking, cucumbers and watermelons, leeks and onions and garlic. Now our appetite is gone.”

Cucumbers spread slowly to Northern Europe, where the climate was not particularly suited to growing them, but they were readily adopted by native North American Indians when seeds were first brought by the Spanish conquistadors. Throughout the 1500s European trappers, hunters, and traders bartered with North American tribes for their fresh vegetables and fruits, including cucumbers. Letters from people who visited colonial New England in the 1600s praised the cucumbers and other kitchen garden vegetables there as being bigger and better than what could be grown in England at the same time.

One thing is certain: throughout all these millennia of cultivation, the bitterness has been almost entirely bred out of cucumbers. At Frog Bottom, we’re very careful to pick them while they’re still young – crisp and sweet. Their high water content and mild taste are what make them so refreshing on these hot, sticky summer days.

We grow four varieties here at the farm.

Here’s a pickler:

It’s called a pickler because it’s the perfect length for a canning jar, but this is a great all-around pickle for salads as well. In the bins at market and at CSA pick-ups, you can distinguish the picklers by their short, plump shape and their slightly bumpy skin.

This one, just slightly longer and smoother than the pickler and with slightly tapered ends, is our American slicer:

It’s another versatile cucumber, great on salads and sandwiches or just eaten out of hand.

This is a European burpless:

It’s very long and fairly thin, with smooth skin on the outside and almost no seeds inside. Very tasty!

Our favorite is the Asian cucumber:

It’s the ugly duckling of the bunch, with its wrinkled bumpy skin and funny shape, but what it lacks in classic beauty it more than makes up for with its crisp, sweet flavor. Try one!

Storing Cucumbers

We don’t wax our cucumbers – which means you don’t need to peel them! It also means they won’t keep as long as some store-bought varieties. Stick them in the crisper drawer of your fridge as soon as possible after buying them. Leave them there for up to a week but use them as soon as you can.

Preparing Cucumbers

We’ve chosen non-bitter varieties and we pick them young. So at our house, we never salt the cucumbers and rarely peel or seed them. It seems a waste of time and flavor when there are so many good things to do with them! We love them as a snack right out in the field while we’re picking. And of course they’re wonderful sliced or diced and added to salads and sandwiches. But we like them so much – and we’ve had such a bumper crop these last two weeks – that we love to dress them up a bit too.  Here are some of our old favorites, and a couple new approaches.

Ali’s Cucumber Salad

We make some variation on this salad two or three times a week during cucumber season. Don’t be afraid to play around with ingredients and quantities. It’s wonderful with wedges of fresh tomato and corn sliced right off the cob, both available at farmers markets now!

Several cucumbers (2 Asian or European, 3 American, or 4 picklers), chopped or sliced
3-4 scallions (minced) or half an onion (coarsely diced)
Handful basil leaves, chopped or torn
Handful feta or goat cheese, crumbled
Juice of half a lemon or a few glugs of your favorite vinegar
A few glugs extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Chow down!

Serves two with leftovers. Easily doubled.

Fridge Pickles

If, like me, you have been meaning to make your own pickles for what seems like a decade now, I am here to tell you: Get up from your computer this very instant and go to your kitchen! It takes about nine minutes! You make a simple brine of water, vinegar, and salt. Then you pour that over cucumbers, garlic, and herbs. Leave the jars alone for a few days, and voila! Pickles! I made them for the first time just last week, using this recipe from Donalyn Ketchum, and they are, in a word, perfect. Crunchy, garlicky, and just sour enough, I can’t stop reaching for them. These pickles aren’t canned, so they need to be stored in the fridge. They’ll keep at least a couple months there, but I doubt they’ll last that long! Also, you can use just about any herb. I meant to use dill but saw, as the brine was coming to a boil, that my dill had gone slimy. So I used fresh thyme instead. Yum!

Gordon’s Cup

If your work day has been relentless and nobody likes what you made for dinner and the A/C is broken, here’s what you need to do: make yourself a Gordon’s Cup. Cucumbers, lime, simple syrup, gin, and a pinch of salt: really, how can you go wrong? You’ll have to plan ahead just a little bit, to make and then cool the simple syrup, but that’s very easy. Make some now and it’ll last you through many of these drinks! Oh, and don’t skip the salt. Just a tiny pinch is really delicious. This recipe from Molly Wizenberg has everything you need to know.

Sautéed Cucumbers

The truth is, we haven’t tried this yet. I’m really eager to know if any of y’all have! Larousse Gastronomique includes several variations. Mark Bittman, author of the accessible, encouraging, and comprehensive How to Cook Everything, and writer of the weekly The Minimalist column in The New York Times, notes that a cucumber is “a vegetable that is rarely cooked but ought to be – at least occasionally.” He suggests a simple sauté of butter, onions, and cucumbers, finished with cream or yogurt and a handful of chopped dill. It’s next on our list; has anyone tried this?

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And you? What are y’all doing with cucumbers this summer? At market and at CSA pick-ups, people have told us about cucumber soup and tzatziki. We’d love it if you’d post those recipes – and everything else you’re making with cucumbers – right here in the comments section.

A pig update

Posted by Lisa on October 21, 2011
pigs, the farm / 3 Comments

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If you are in our CSA, chat with us at market, or follow us on Facebook, you know that we raised pigs for the first time this year.  We’ve been growing vegetables for six years now, after first working for other farmers for several years, and vegetables are what we know best.  But over the last couple years we’ve started to give a lot of thought to what makes a farm truly sustainable: How do we take gentle and considerate care of our land, our soil, the pollinators, our water supply, and our own health so that none will be depleted? How can we be sure our business survives? How do we get done what needs to get done on the farm every day and continue to thrive as a family?

These are questions we ask ourselves over and over again, and they were at the very fore when we decided to raise pigs (and also our large flock of pastured laying hens) this year. Historically, most farms had both crops and livestock – not only for the full diet that could provide for farming families but because, carefully managed, this is a system that can improve soil fertility while weakening weed and insect pest pressure and minimizing waste. We feel we have a lot to learn from traditional approaches to farming.

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We bought a litter of ten piglets back in June from a local homesteader.  All summer long and into the fall they’ve ranged on about two acres of pasture and woods, with plenty of space to forage and lots of shade.

Having these pigs has been a real joy for us.  They are easy and interesting, and they love to eat spoiled melons and other leftover or unsalable produce.  Some of their land is quite bottomy – slow to dry out and difficult to plant in vegetables, but perfect for these mud lovers.  Their pasture also includes a small field we farmed for two seasons and they’ve rooted that up completely.  We’re keeping our fingers crossed and hoping to see a lot less yellow nutsedge – by far our worst weed problem here – next year.  The pigs also eat a grain ration made of conventional corn, oats, and soybeans, to which we we add an organic kelp-based mineral supplement made by Fertrell as well as extra calcium.

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The pigs have thrived in their four months here on the farm – they are big, shiny, and active. As long as sales go well we’ll continue to raise pigs next season and beyond.

We’ll be sending four pigs to Matkins Meats in North Carolina next week and the rest in late November. We hope that those of you who eat pork will strongly consider buying yours from us.

We’re taking pre-orders through this weekend and you can pay on delivery at your regular CSA location or market; this is your best bet if you want specific cuts.  We’ll also have cuts available for sale at market.  See our price list here.

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In the meantime (photos from late summer and early autumn)

It’s been way too long since we posted here. We hope to get some good stuff up quite soon. In the meantime, have a peek – or a long leisurely look, really! – at late summer and early autumn here at Frog Bottom. Click on any photo to see it bigger, if you like.

A sip to drink

Maternal instinct

Green stuff for the fall

Okra

Happy pollinator

Squash pick

Potluck tents

Farm tour

Meeting and feeding the pigs

Layers on pasture

How to hold a chicken

Eat these eggs!

Cabbage and crew

Washing kale

Beets to the truck

Coming soon: Soup! A cookbook giveaway! Our plans for 2012! Thanks for your patience.

Weekend Links (on a weekend!)

beet seedlings

We’re still mad for summer vegetables, but these tiny beet seedlings in the greenhouse also have us daydreaming about early fall.

Let’s get right to it, shall we?

It’s a Can-a-Rama! The folks at Canning Across America hope you’ll keep the momentum from National Can-It-Forward Day going all week long with home canning parties.

Simple Bites has a slew of great posts on food preserving. Canning 101: The Basics is a great place to start.

We’ve been on a lacto-fermentation kick here in the Frog Bottom kitchen – lately, with vegetables.  Famous lacto-fermented foods include yogurt, sourdough, sauerkraut, and kimchi.  Lacto-fermented vegetables use a simple brine of water and salt (and sometimes whey) – no vinegar – to encourage good bacteria to preserve the food.  We may write more about this at some point, so for now I’ll just say I love how fast and easy this is! A few minutes chopping, a few minutes stuffing a jar, and then just a few days of waiting for all that good bacteria to do its work.  No giant pots of boiling water, no hours at the stove – the salsa you see below took me about 20 minutes to prepare, and that was mainly because of all the chopping.  Cucumber pickles and okra pickles each took under 10 minutes.  Read a bit more, and find the salsa recipe we used, at Lacto-Fermentation: an Easier, Healthier, and More Sustainable Way to Preserve.

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Check out this fun infographic on home gardening!

Tired of pesto and Caprese salads? Wait — not possible.  But, we think you should try these basil cookies anyway.

Here are five awesome tomato soup recipes.  Make ‘em now or freeze some of the incredible tomato bounty and try them when the first fall chill creeps in.

(Did you know freezing tomatoes can be as simple as waiting until they’re dead ripe and then throwing them whole into a Ziploc bag and stashing them in the freezer? A quick blanching/peeling/seeding will make them a bit easier to work with come thawing time, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed, seriously, just throw them into the freezer whole.)

From the pen and kitchen of the ever-reliable Mark Bittman: 101 Simple Salads for the Season.  More fantastic and fast summer fare!

Umm, how fun does Lucky Peach look? It’s a new food journal published by the McSweeney’s folks. Have a look here.

And finally, we loved this essay about processing peaches and the way the long slog through a bushel of seconds can be a kind of meditation.

More to come later in the week! We’ve heard from a number of you that you need some help with okra, and with the mad bounty of eggplant, so that’s where we’ll start.

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later, ladies

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Weekend Links is a regular feature here on the farm blog: a weekly(ish) list of articles, recipes, and other resources that have been inspiring and amusing us of late. A tasty smorgasbord for brain and belly!

(These were nearly) Weekend Links

Eggplant pick

Heather picks okra while some of the new chickens have a look.

Our fields and fridge are full of vegetables – and eggs! – and we’re feeling mighty inspired these days!  Just a taste of what we’ve been reading and cooking:

Did you know this coming Saturday, August 13, is the first annual National Can-It-Forward Day? The folks at Canning Across America, along with Jarden Home Brands (they’re the ones who make Ball jars and other canning products), are encouraging everyone to gather with family and friends at home canning parties to learn the basics of canning.  One of the coolest resources they’re offering is a day-long live stream of several how-to canning demos (mixed berry jam, kosher dills, tomatoes in their own juice, more!) happening at Seattle’s Pike Place Market.  See the live stream schedule and find the link here.

The August 2011 Bon Appétit had a fun article about an LA canning party. The recipes for dilly beans, pickled beets with star anise, tomato jam, and zucchini dill pickles are all on our list to try this summer!

And this recipe for onion jam has been tempting us for weeks.  Just onions, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, and butter!  I could do that today!  We think it would be especially delicious on pizza, topped with just about anything else that’s in season right now.

(We should point out the turn-the-jar-upside-down method of sealing is no longer recommended; we’ll probably just make one jar for the fridge and another for the freezer, but here are two good resources for safe canning guidelines.)

We’ve made this heavenly tomato & cheddar pie twice in as many weeks. It does require a little planning: the biscuit dough for the crust needs to chill for an hour, and the tomatoes need to drain for 30 minutes.  But otherwise it comes together quite easily.  And the crust is quite forgiving.  The second time we made it we didn’t use quite enough flour, and the dough seemed a sticky and hopeless mess as we eased it into the pie pan.  But it baked up beautifully, and didn’t get soggy even after a day in the fridge.   And seriously: tomatoes, mayonnaise, cheese, biscuit crust? Do we need to say more?  Make it! Any of the tomatoes you’ve been getting in your shares or at market will work great.

We haven’t tried it yet, but CSA members Yajaira and Domenick independently told us we also had to make this heirloom tomato pie.

And while we’re on the subject of tomatoes: how delicious does Tyler Florence’s Roasted Tomato Soup look?  Thanks to CSA member Tracy for this one.

We’re longtime fans of Mark Bittman.  We pull his How to Cook Everything down from the kitchen bookshelf at least weekly, often more.  The How to Cook Everything app is pretty great too!  For close to fifteen years he wrote a cooking column for the New York Times called The Minimalist.  We’ll admit to feeling a twinge of disappointment this winter when he decided to write less about cooking and more about food politics.  Certainly the systems of food production and distribution in this country are damaged, and we appreciate compelling writing from folks who can help us think about how we might begin to fix things.  But there are many people writing eloquently about these issues; fewer writers have Bittman’s skill for making home cooking seem simple, fun, and approachable.  So we were really delighted by one recent op-ed: “Make Food Choices Simple: Cook.”  In it, he argues we should cook more and eat out less – because it’s cheaper, because we have more control where the food comes from, and because it tastes better.  He writes:

When I cook, though, everything seems to go right. I shop an average of every two weeks in a supermarket, and make a couple of trips a week to smaller stores. I’m aware that my choices are mostly imperfect, but I rarely conclude that I should make a burger and fries for dinner or provide a pound per person of prison-raised pork served with fruit from 10,000 miles away, followed by a cake full of sugar and artificial ingredients. Yet, for the most part, that describes restaurant food.

Also fantastic?  “101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less,” a Minimalist column from 2007.  Loaded with awesome ideas for no-fuss summer cooking.

Oh! We’ve posted our favorite ratatouille recipe before, but it bears reminding — early August is definitely ratatouille time in Central Virginia!

That does it for this week!  We’ll be back this weekend with more tasty links.  And we hope to post later this week about two delicious vegetables that we know can be intimidating: okra and eggplant.

We’ll wrap things up with some more recent images from the farm. (Click on any to see ’em big!)

Howdy

Curing onions

Bean blossom

Planting collards and kale

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Still no name

Harvesting okra

Nest boxes

Okra blossom

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Weekend Links is a (soon-to-be!) regular feature here on the farm blog: a weekly(ish) list of articles, recipes, and other resources that have been inspiring and amusing us of late. A tasty smorgasbord for brain and belly!

It happens every year

Posted by Lisa on July 29, 2011
autumn, broccoli, cabbage, collards, CSA, greenhouse, greens, kale, summer, the crew, the farm / Comments Off on It happens every year

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On days like this one, when our shirts are soaked through by 9am, it’s a real challenge to remember what it feels like to pull on socks, to see our breath in the morning air while we pick cabbage, to frost-proof the outdoor spigots before going to bed.

But it happens every year, and yesterday we started preparing. It was a long, hot, deeply satisfying afternoon: Ali and the crew filled thirty-two 300-foot rows with 2000 collard plants, 3000 kale plants, and 4000 broccoli plants.  As the sun dipped below the horizon we watered them well, to prepare them for today’s triple digits.  Tomorrow: 3000 cabbage plants.

We’ll do it all again in late August for generation two.

We’ll tend to them all with sweat and care, and we hope all these numbers translate into bountiful autumn CSA shares and market tables, with enough remaining for a possible winter CSA or winter market.

Ali often remarks that getting in a full planting is one of the most exciting things that happens on the farm. You start with long expanses of bare ground, a greenhouse full of seedlings, and a hefty dose of determination. You spend a whole bunch of hours moving back and forth, back and forth, planting, sweating, joking, planting, stopping for water, planting some more.  And then you slowly uncurl and stretch your back and shoulders and there it is in the setting sun: a field full of promise.

Midsummer

Posted by Lisa on July 27, 2011
beans, chickens, goats, onions, pigs, summer, the crew, the farm, tomatoes / Comments Off on Midsummer

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Just photos today. Back soon with some recipes and links!

Friday evening harvest

Posted by Lisa on July 01, 2011
summer, the crew, the farm / 2 Comments

Long golden days, these.

1 July - chard

1 July - Eric Heather chard

1 July - Arlo Ali Basher beets

1 July - harvest camaraderie

1 July - harvest sunset