North Star Homestead Farms, LLC

  (Hayward, Wisconsin)
Know your Farmer, Love your Food!
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Eating Well to Outwit Cancer

Cancer has touched every family.  With annual runs and walks, we remember those we have lost to this disease, those who are currently struggling, and those who have overcome the obstacles and stand with us as survivors.  The looming threat of cancer is not an easy or comfortable topic for many of us, in part due to a sense of powerlessness in the face of this scourge.  But what if there was something we could do, every day, to help outwit the wily beast of cancer?  And what if that something was as close as the nearest garden, farm, or market?

Drs. Richard Beliveau and Denis Gingras have recently released an enlightening and illustrative book Foods to Fight Cancer, which offers a roadmap that all of us can follow to improve our odds against contracting or suffering from cancer.  Based on the latest scientific studies, the authors describe the biochemistry behind their suggestions—all of which are based on the right choice of foods.  Decades of research have shown intricate links between diet and at least one third of all types of cancer, which offers hope that proactive food choices can greatly impact personal health with respect to this disease.

We have all heard that “you are what you eat.”  Cancer cells occur naturally in the body, but usually the immune system destroys these mutant cells before they can cause damage.  Making smart eating choices, Beliveau and Gingras say, is the best way to augment and enhance this natural protection and suppression of cancer cell growth. 

As early as the philosopher Hippocrates (460 to 377 BC), who proclaimed “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food!,” healthy diet choices have been a central part of whole-person health.  But the authors of Foods to Fight Cancer note that “The human diet evolved over thousands of years to include the foods most beneficial to our health, but in recent times we have favored a diet that excludes many of these essential foods.  Returning to a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and other important foods is essential to preventing cancer” (43).

The lamentable aspects of the modern Western diet are directly linked with an overabundance of fast, cheap, fatty, and starchy foods currently in the market and on nearly every street corner.  They are easy to access, easy to eat, require no food preparation, and cost relatively little (at the counter a least…has anyone priced out the cost of cancer lately?).  Making healthy diet choices for cancer prevention requires attention and effort, at least at the beginning of one’s initiative.  Once making and keeping these choices becomes part of daily life, the little things like chopping vegetables or picking berries offer their own simple joys.

Here are some great foods (as illustrated in the book) to help your body fight off cancer that you can choose to eat this week, right now.


Brassica Family: cabbage, kale, broccoli, kohlrabi, bok choy, cauliflower.

Lily Family:  onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, scallions.

Solanaceae Family:  tomatoes, peppers, eggplants.


Citrus:  oranges, grapefruits, clementines, pommelos, lemons, limes.

Berries:  strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, elderberries, dewberries, and so much more!

To Add to Dinner

Omega-3:  fish, pasture-raised eggs (naturally higher in Omega-3!), olive oil, nuts, flax seed.

Spice Cabinet:  tumeric—it’s amazing to discover this Indian spice!

Soy:  even if you’re not into tofu, roasted soybeans are a delicious snack.

To Drink

Vino:  red wine, in moderation.

Green Tea:  look for Matcha, Sencha, and Gyokuro varieties.

For Desert

Chocolate:  go for the dark, rather than the milk.

To learn more about the finer points of selecting and whether or not to cook many of these foods to release or retain their essential cancer-fighting properties, Foods to Fight Cancer offers both scientific and very accessible guidelines and helpful ideas to get you started.  Choosing fresh, local foods also unlocks greater health benefits than products which have endured the stress of being shipped long distances.

I know that living and working on the family farm has improved my own health and diet since we moved to the area in 2000.  We were pretty healthy eaters already, but working the land by hand, tending animals and plants, and preparing meals together has given me a deep appreciation for the cycles of nourishment that surround us.  Still, there are some foods that often require a cultivated relationship—crops like kale, eggplant, or kohlrabi.  A new member to our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture share program) may find herself stumped in the face of a novel vegetable.  How do I fix mache?  Google searches are often a great way to explore recipes for preparing foods that are new to you.

Changing individual habits, including food choices, seldom happen overnight.  But as we continue to learn from each other, opting for a homemade kale and sausage soup rather than the burger can become an act of empowerment rather than personal denial.  At Farmstead Creamery & Café, one of our goals is to have education be an important part of our initiative.  As we brainstorm interesting possibilities for this autumn and winter, one of our ideas has been to host a workshop (or series of workshops) focused on building greater health before and after cancer.  If such an opportunity interests you, feel free to give us a shout!

Ready to get started with some of these cancer-fighting foods?  Here is a recipe to give a few a try.

Kale Chips

1 bunch kale, deveined and torn into bite-sized pieces

Olive oil, enough to coat

Sea Salt

Fresh ground black pepper

Toss kale pieces in olive oil, salt, and pepper (to taste).  Spread evenly on a baking sheet and place in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Flip kale using a spatula part way through cooking.  Enjoy hot or cold!

Here’s to the best of health for you and your family!  See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is part owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café.



In Praise of Pollinators

The hot days of summer beg of a crisp, cold slice of crimson watermelon—the sugary juices seeping between your fingers and running down your chin.  But this refreshing delight would not be possible without a good bit of help from some of our insect friends.  Now, I know that there are plenty of pesky bugs bothering us this summer, from the whining mosquitoes that lay in wait at the edge of the field to the stinging wasps that attack during the family picnic.  Still, there are many insects whom, without, we would literally be unable to survive.

In order to grow that delectable watermelon, the male and female flowers of the parent plant needed several visits (approximately one visit per seed) from a pollinating insect in order to form a fruit.  Insufficient pollination results in stunted, misshapen fruits…or no fruit at all.  In fact, one third of all the foods we eat require insect pollination.  Wild pollinators, including bumble bees, butterflies, blue orchard bees, hummingbirds, and many more, serve as excellent carriers of pollen as they search for the sweet nectar inside the flowers.  But the workhorses of agricultural pollinators are honeybees.

I learned the art and science of beekeeping from an elderly gentleman I met at the Cable Farmer’s Market.  We have shared adjacent vending positions for the last 12 years.  Now nearly ninety, Mr. Rowe works his hives with his children and grandchildren—spinning honey and stories of dismay at finding that his mother had given away his original few hives while he was serving in WWII.  Now, he has traveled the world to attend special conventions for beekeepers and helped start a regional program to mentor new upstarts in the occupation.  This same program was how I began my journey keeping bees, about 10 years ago.

It takes a unique soul to embrace the care and keeping of stinging insects.  Beautiful, intricate, and socially complex insects, yes…but stinging nonetheless.  The sweet and tangy homestead honey harvested each fall serves as compensation for any summer pricks in defense of the hive, but the real payback comes in the garden.  On our farm, the honeybees serve as the pollination task force, nearly doubling our harvest of insect-pollinated crops in the first year we kept bees.  These include strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, apples, summer and winter squashes, peppers, eggplants, green beans, peas, and even the tomatoes growing in our high tunnels (hoop house greenhouses).

Honeybees visit flowers to collect both nectar and pollen.  These two are mixed together by nurse bees to make what is commonly known as “bee bread”—an essential food for the growing larvae in the hive.  In the process of collecting these foods in the field, the worker bees stuff pollen onto the sides of their back legs until a fully loaded bee looks like she is wearing bright orange cargo pants.  During the dandelion bloom, the whole entrance of the hive will become stained a light yellow from all the pollen-laden bodies busily passing back and forth.  Flowers make extra pollen, hoping for just such a fuzzy bee visit, in which some of the pollen powder from one flower will be rubbed off onto the next.  This essential process of crop fertilization allows us to enjoy the rich bounty of fruits and vegetables that grace our tables each year.

But you need not become a beekeeper to lend a helping hand to native and honeybee pollinators.  Perhaps the best thing anyone can do is to stop spraying pesticides or herbicides that are harmful to bees.  This includes the spraying of lawns and flowers, as well as gardens and crops.  There are plenty of organic and bee-safe options available on the market today, including neem oil and insecticidal soaps, both of which are harmless to bees.  Planting flowers is another excellent option, especially native wildflowers like bee balm, columbines, and white Dutch clover.  Planting such a pollinator-friendly flower garden near your vegetable garden can encourage natural pollinators to discover your crops and lend a helping hand—well, wing.

This week, as you take time to discover and observe wild and honeybee pollinators in your area, try taking a sip from this delicious summer recipe I collected while serving as the 2006 Wisconsin Honey Queen.

Creamy Tropical Smoothie

1 cup orange juice

2 cups pineapple chunks, drained

1 banana, coarsely chopped

¼ cup milk

2 Tbs. local honey

4 ice cubes

Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth and creamy.  Serve immediately or chilled. 

With your sweet and fruity drink in hand, let us toast the efforts of all those busy pollinators this summer.  You call already start to see the fruits of their labor, and we hope to see you down at the farm sometime.  We just might have some honeycomb fresh out of the beehives.

Laura Berlage is part owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café.


Rhubarb Ruminations

The cravings start in February, on those days when the teasing inklings of spring melt the snows around the base of the maple trees.  Rhubarb.  In late March (or into April), when the first nubbins of leaves push through the mountains of compost that were heaped atop the patch last fall, the itch for a piece of fresh rhubarb pie is almost unbearable.  Sometimes, I succumb and pull out a bag of chopped ruby and emerald stems from the freezer and reach for the sugar, flour, butter, and speckled brown eggs from my clucking hens outside.

Rhubarb is the promise after the end of a long winter; an anomaly of crisp, tart stems sporting inedible leaves.  Grandparents tell of walking through Mother’s garden with a bowl of sugar in one hand and a newly pulled stem of rhubarb in the other.  Dip, crunch, dip, crunch…I can see their childish smiling faces smeared with hints of crimson and sugar crystals.  It seems like it will be forever until the first strawberries ripen.  But in this moment, the mix of tang and sweet are simply perfect.

Preparing rhubarb is part of a longstanding Northern tradition, with rhubarb and strawberry commonly wedded as jams or in desserts.  But at our farm, spring hails the beginning of the fresh fruit season, marked by Grandma’s beloved rhubarb custard pie.  Passed from mother to daughter in the German farming tradition, the crinkle-crispy top belies the richness in textures below; the tart tanginess of the ruby jewels softened by a melting scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.  Perfect heaven for a hardworking farm girl.

For the many gardeners I encounter at the farmer’s market, growing rhubarb is either feast or famine.  For some, their patches are taking over their yards, one end of the house, or looming like forbidding jungles in their memories of visiting Grandpa’s farm in the summertime.  For others, countless attempts to establish these hearty perennials have been all for naught, much to their lingering disappointment.  Rhubarb holds its own secrets, keeping itself much to itself.  Unless it goes to seed, at which time my honeybees are quite happy to share an intimate acquaintance.

A pound of rhubarb stalks, wrapped in a colorful ribbon, makes a wonderful gift to a friend or neighbor.  Fresh foods are the best presents because they keep on giving in your memory—as they are washed, prepared, and shared with others.  Rhubarb crisp over a steaming cup of rich coffee or aromatic tea makes for great conversations and memories.  If you are one of those poor souls whose attempts at growing rhubarb have been thwarted, there may still be one last chance for a stroll through the farmer’s market or a quick stop at your local farm to snag a late-season handful of long, slender stems.  If you do happen to have some rhubarb handy, here is a lovely way to treat yourself on a warm summer’s day. 

Rhubarb Sauce

½ pound rhubarb, chopped into ¼ inch slices

A little water

Local honey

Cinnamon to taste

Nutmeg to taste

Cook down the chopped rhubarb and water in a saucepan, stirring now and then to keep from scorching.  When the rhubarb chunks are soft and making a red liquid, add the honey (the amount you choose will depend on how tart you like your sauce), along with a good dash of cinnamon and nutmeg.  Stir and cook until fairly thick though still pourable.  Serve warm on ice cream or over homemade pancakes or French toast. 

Already reaching for some rhubarb or itching to go a-picking?  Take some time this week to share your memories and ruminations on the simple joys of rhubarb, and we hope to see you down at the farm sometime.  We just might have some rhubarb custard pie fresh out of the oven.

Laura Berlage is part owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café.

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