It’s 7:40 am and there’s heavy traffic as I drive through Natick Town Center. Once I pass the throng of cars waiting to cross Rte 9 and hit the Mass Pike, the town is peaceful. This is the only time that Casey Townsend, Assistant Director at Natick Community Organic Farm, can meet me. His day officially starts at 8:30 am, but by that point, he’ll have already been at the farm for an hour and have started the day’s work.
I had never been to the NCOF before but had bought some of their produce at the farmers market. The week before, a woman at the NCOF table convinced me to buy some kohlrabi despite the fact that I had never tried it before. She told me that I could chop it up, sauté it, and cook it in a frittata. Her son, who often eats kohlrabi right from the ground like an apple, loves it this way. When I got home, I ate a piece of the chopped, raw kohlrabi before adding it to the frittata so I could understand what I was cooking with. It was delightfully crisp with a little sweetness, its flavor somewhere between an apple, a potato and a radish. I immediately fell in love and couldn’t wait to see the bit of earth that this strange purple bulb came from.
The NCOF has chickens, turkeys, goats, pigs and rabbits, large flower gardens and, of course, many rows of lettuce, chard, kohlrabi, squash and other produce. Casey proudly tells me that the farm is a closed loop system: it’s almost completely self-sustainable. They compost everything, including manure from the animals and fallen leaves from the trees. The chickens will devour ants wherever there is an outbreak, and the goats will nicely trim down the grass across the pasture. The staff rotates the beds and the animals every season, which keeps bugs from settling into a particular crop and keeps the pastures evenly fertilized. NCOF is certified organic, and crop rotation plays a huge role in helping to keep it that way. They also practice no till farming, which is exactly what it sounds like. Tilling the earth breaks up and releases nutrients from the soil, so the staff either works exclusively with their hands or uses an old Farmall Cub tractor from 1949. They have solar panels on both greenhouses, a hoop house that grows staple crops all year round, and a hundred chickens and turkeys that they give to different local organizations in Natick during the holiday season.
The NCOF was developed in 1975 as a non-profit organization so that local, at-risk youth could have summer jobs. When Lynda Simkins was hired as Farm Director, she wanted to “teach people about food systems,” Casey tells me. Each summer, kids from elementary, middle, and high school come out to work in the gardens. As the kids learn more about the farm each summer, they progress to the next level of education, and eventually they can join the Apprenticeship Program that lasts year-round. Last summer, the apprentices came up with a program to rent portable “chicken tractors” (small chicken coups) that brought in over $1,000 in revenue.
Our last stop on the farm tour is the kohlrabi row, and I spy the small purple bulbs hiding amongst the bright leafy greens. They look different in the field than they did on the vendor table: each bulb on the table had two big leaves on the top, whereas the bulbs here had at least half a dozen leaves and they were sprouting out from all sides. It reminded me of when I lived with my grandparents when I was a kid. I worked in the garden and ate tomatoes and cucumbers right from the ground. I didn’t care what the vegetables looked like. Farming is a real labor of love, and it’s nice to be reminded of that.
As we pass the cellar on the way out, Casey tells me that I can take one of the bags of produce they’ve collected for the CSA sharers. They have more produce than sharers this year, so he doesn’t mind giving me a bag. He only asks that I let him know how I’ll end up cooking my kohlrabi. I don’t have the heart to tell him that I’m planning on eating them on the car ride home, just like an apple.
Kohlrabi Frittata and Kale Kohlrabi Salad
Makes six servings
Total time: 45 minutes
In my basket:
6 Eggs (from Chestnut Farms, Hardwick MA)
2 Kohlrabi bulbs and leaves (from Natick Community Organic Farm, Natick MA)
6 cups Kale (from Natick Community Organic Farm, Natick MA)
1 cup Garlic Scapes (from Natick Community Organic Farm, Natick MA)
½ cup Atwell’s Gold Cheese (from Narragansett Creamery, Providence RI)
From the pantry:
1 tbsp Greek Yogurt (or other dairy product such as milk)
Salt and Pepper
5 tbsp Olive oil
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- Wash all of the fresh ingredients. Small dice the kohlrabi bulbs, tear the kohlrabi leaves into small pieces. Roughly chop the kale. Cut the scapes into ¼ inch pieces. Grate the cheese.
- Add 1/3 of the diced kohlrabi to a bowl. Drizzle with 1 tbsp of olive oil, the juice of 1 lime, and season well with salt and pepper. Stir to combine, set aside.
- Heat large non-stick pan over medium high until hot, add 2 tbsp olive oil. Add ½ cup of scapes when the oil starts to sizzle, cook for 1 minute. Add remaining diced kohlrabi bulb and all of the leaves, season with salt and pepper. Cook until leaves are wilted and bulb pieces are tender and slightly browned, about 5 minutes.
- While the kohlrabi sautés, crack all eggs into a bowl. Lightly beat to break up the yolks. Stir in yogurt, season with salt and pepper (dairy is optional, though this adds some richness). Set aside.
- When kohlrabi is finished sautéing, transfer to a pie dish for baking. Sprinkle grated cheese evenly over kohlrabi in dish, and then pour the egg mixture over top.
- Place pie dish in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned and the eggs have set.
- While the frittata bakes, heat large non-stick pan over medium high until hot, add 2 tbsp olive oil. Add ½ cup of scapes when the oil starts to sizzle, cook for 1 minute. Add the kale, season with salt and pepper. Cook for 3 minutes, or just until the leaves start to wilt. Transfer to a serving dish when done. Add the marinated kohlrabi just before serving, toss to combine.
- When the frittata is finished baking, cut into 6 wedges and serve each with a helping of the kale salad. Enjoy!
Alice Kathryn Richardson is a new media photojournalist based in Boston, MA. She created The Clean Food Club in 2016, and previously spent two years working on Deserts in the District, a series of short-form documentaries exploring food access and hunger in Washington, DC. She is committed to supporting local and sustainable food businesses by telling their stories with photo and video. Follow her on Twitter @AKR_Pictures.