North Star Homestead Farms, LLC

  (Hayward, Wisconsin)
Know your Farmer, Love your Food!
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Eating Foods with Character

I know, I know, I know from working at the Cable farmer’s market since 2001 that you are on a hunt for the perfect tomato.  Red, round, shiny…and without one single blemish.  We’ve been taught from our years of shopping at grocery stores that perfect food is what we should desire and expect.  But our experience of local foods can be so much more!

If you’ve ever kept your own garden, then you will know that raising such uniform, non-blemished foods comparable to what is in the commercial market is neither easy nor reasonable.  Sometimes cucumbers get a curl at the end (due to the lack of full pollination), or a vole took a bite out of your zucchini, or your tomato has a little sun scorch on the top.  These are all simply natural parts of keeping a garden in harmony with nature, where pests are not systematically and chemically obliterated or crops drip-fed a slurry of hollow nutrients manufactured in a former ammunitions plant.  I mention the latter because the rise in NPK (nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus) fertilizers came after WWII, when the manufacturers of bombs for the war effort found that their same ingredients could be turned into spreadable formulas for agribusiness.  A little scary?

So, let’s turn around the idea of eating perfect food to eating foods with character.  I like the thought of “character” because it implies a uniqueness—a definitive sense of place, heritage, and direct link with the people who grew it.  Foods with character have a story, are often heirloom and ancient varieties, and are less common and more delightful to discover than commercially grown stock.  Here are a few key thoughts for embracing foods with character.

Flavor.  Sometimes, the more interesting heirloom tomatoes are as ugly as sin, but what hides beneath that purple-green sheath with its lumps and lopsided bumps is absolutely exquisite.  When browsing at the farmer’s market, ask your farmer what the different varieties are and what they taste like.  Sometimes there may even be samples available.  While we have all been trained to shop for the eye-candy food, the real reward of eating foods with character is their robust, luscious flavor.  The first thing that often happens to roses when they are hybrid for longer stems or better shipping qualities is that they lose their pungent fragrance (ever smelled a wild rose?).  Likewise, often the first sacrifice in selecting foods for better uniformity and packability is the loss in flavor.  Learn to embrace foods that look a little different on the outside in exchange for discovering something truly magical on the inside.

ColorEat more color is one of the best things any of us can do for our health—and by that I don’t mean eat more foods with fake coloring in them.  When embarking on purchasing Swiss Chard, choose a rainbow chard with stems that are yellow, purple, red, and green, instead of the traditional ones with white stems.  Adding more color to your plate is not only visually pleasing, but the properties of those colors often carry cancer-fighting elements or important vitamins for healthy nutrition.  Choose foods rich in color, like beets (and be sure to lightly steam and eat the greens too!), carrots, and eggplants.  Why worry if that carrot lists a bit to one side; it probably had to grow around a rock in the soil.  It will still taste just as sweet and crunchy as its straighter bunch companions.

Heirlooms.  Now, I do agree that sometimes in northern climates, you have to raise hybrids.  But the more we can support heirloom varieties (heirlooms being strains of crop that have been cultivated for a very long time), the more biodiversity we are encouraging for the planet as a whole.  If only one type of green pepper was raised everywhere in this country because it always produced a perfect green pepper, what would happen if a blight specific to that variety struck?  Supporting biodiversity by purchasing heirloom varieties of foods is an essential “voting with your dollar” practice worth embracing.  Besides, each one offers a unique eating experience.

In the world of livestock, heirlooms are called “heritage breeds.”  I raise a heritage breed of turkeys called Jersey Buff, which are cinnamon colored.  Sleeker than a traditional Giant White turkey, they dress out smaller than and not as broad-breasted as their standard alternative.  While a Giant White turkey offers that Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving presentation, Jersey Buff turkeys pasture much better, have significantly fewer leg troubles, and offer a wonderfully rich flavor and texture.  There are also amazing varieties of heritage chickens, pigs, cows, sheep, and so much more!  Why stick with an agribusiness standard when so many exciting choices abound?

If your mouth isn’t watering yet for a flavorful, colorful, heirloom food with character, here is a recipe to set you on the hunt—not for the perfect tomato, but for an experience all of its own.

Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta

6 meaty tomatoes, preferably a mix of red, yellow, and pink varieties, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

¼ cup olive oil

2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

¼ cup fresh basil, stems removed and chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

1 loaf crusty bread

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat broiler in the oven.  In a large bowl, combine the chopped tomatoes with the garlic, oil, vinegar, basil, salt and pepper.  Allow mixture to stand for 10 minutes.  Cut crusty bread into ¾ inch slices.  Arrange slices on a baking sheet in a single layer.  Broil 1 to 2 minutes or until slightly browned.  Divide tomato mixture on top of the bread slices and top each with some of the cheese.  Broil for 5 minutes or until the cheese melts.  Serve immediately.

So, grab your market basket, embrace a bit of curiosity, and try some new foods with character this week.  We’re still picking our heirloom tomatoes, so maybe I’ll see you down on the farm sometime.

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


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.


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