Bruschetta – The Multifaceted Topping

“…star of earth, recurrent
and fertile
star,
displays
its convolutions,
its canals,
its remarkable amplitude
and abundance,
no pit,
no husk,
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
its gift
of fiery color
and cool completeness.”
~Pablo Neruda

Is it just me — or do ripe garden tomatoes feel like nature’s apology that summer is almost over? My response is hearty forgiveness! In February I have dreams about tomatoes that actually taste like tomatoes. In September and October my pressure canner seems to run round the clock, my salad plates are deliriously joyful, and I try to be present in the moment – because nothing compares to a juicy tomato fresh off the vine.

If you find yourself with an abundance of tomatoes this recipe will make your taste buds sing. While many traditionalists will say there is only one way to make bruschetta, I say be creative to your heart’s desire. While I love to top a crusty slice of Italian bread, if you are watching your starchy carbs – top a zucchini round, a portabella mushroom cap, spaghetti squash, or add a generous helping to your chicken or fish (either add before baking – or right before serving depending if you want the tomatoes raw or cooked). This recipe also makes a fine addition to a green salad (or layer in a Mason jar salad) or as an add-in to an omelet, crepe, pasta dish, or as a pizza topping. I use Parmesan and mozzarella in this recipe, but over the years have subbed goat cheese or feta as well.

BRUSCHETTA

  • 1 pint of cherry/grape tomatoes quartered (any ripe tomato will do. Grape/cherry tomatoes mean less cutting if you are in a time pinch.)
  • 1/2 cup of chopped Kalamata olives
  • ½ cup of chopped basil (fresh works best)
  • ½ cup of grated parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup of mozzarella cheese (sliced or fresh mozzarella balls also work well)
  • 2 Tablespoons of chopped onion
  • 2 Tablespoons of minced garlic (roasted garlic works well in this recipe)
  • Juice and zest from 1 lemon
  • 2 Tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil

Mix everything together (except for the mozzarella cheese), and if you have time, allow mixture to sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours so the flavors marry (it will keep for several days). 

I like to toast the bread under the broiler for a few minutes (brush with a little olive oil and rub with roasted garlic if you desire). Top bread (or other ingredients) with the mixture (don’t forget to stir well and the drizzle with the flavorful juices), top with mozzarella cheese, and broil for 5 minutes. Enjoy!

If you are serving a large group, you can slice a loaf of bread in half and top each half with the mixture. I have used ready-made garlic bread (in the bakery or freezer section) and it made an indulgent side to a pasta dish!

As summer slips-through our fingers, do not forget to feast on what is fresh and ripe in the garden or farmer’s market. Share your abundance with a co-worker, friend, or neighbor and your heart will be double happy! Make sure you check out the tabs on the top of this page for more healthy and vibrant food ideas. 

 

 

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PICKLES: ONE OF MY FAVORITE FOOD GROUPS

“In a world where news of inhumanity bombards our sensibilities, where grasping for things goes so far beyond our needs, where time is squandered in busyness, it is a pleasure and a privilege to pause for a look at handiwork, to see beauty amidst utility, and to know that craft traditions begun so long ago serve us today.”

–John Wilson

A handful of years ago, when my niece Kristine was in high school, she gave a demonstration speech on how to can dill pickles. After her presentation, when she told me that there were students in her class that did not know that pickles were once cucumbers, I was shocked. Really? How could this happen in a rural community in Upper Michigan where vegetable gardens commonly sprout in backyards? I guess that I took it for granted that others grew up in a household similar to the one in which I was raised. Pre-bread machines my mom always made homemade bread, cake and frosting were whipped up from scratch, macaroni-and-cheese did not come out of a box, and on a weekly basis stock pots of aromatic soup simmered on the stove.

Did we eat junk food and drink soda? Yes. Yet, my mom always made sure our diet was balanced out by home cooked meals and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Even when we spent long, summer days at the beach the slow-cooker was preparing some sort of wholesome, savory dish. Fast food did not exist in our hometown (aside from the seasonal drive-in restaurant) and take-out and dinners at restaurants were rare and special indulgences.

Granted, times have changed, but I think that in we need to go back to the way some things were in the past. My mom grew up in a large Finnish-American family with six other siblings, and because finances were lean, they had to learn how to be resourceful. I am thankful that Mom passed this resourcefulness on to me. I am equally thankful to have married a man who wants his children to be raised with these same values.

The next time you are in line at the supermarket, reflect on the choices in your cart (and even other shoppers around you). It is common to hear (and participate) in conversations about how expensive groceries are these days. Yet, when you take a look at what is tossed into grocery carts there often are cheaper alternatives. Think of how many raw potatoes can be purchased for the price of a bag of potato chips. How many bags of dried beans can be purchased for the cost of canned? Compare the cost of individually packaged instant oatmeal versus a tub of old-fashioned oats. While they may be expensive, how many cherries or grapes could a twelve pack of soda purchase?

While I try to keep my grocery cart limited to whole foods, I do confess to convenience food purchases. Though, I try to be more mindful of making our favorite meals by scratch, because not only is it more economical, but more nutritional as well. Plus, I like to believe that when I stretch my grocery dollar I can afford to put more organic offerings on our table – or an extra evening out at a local restaurant.

Not only are some convenience foods easy to make, but cooking from scratch helps us avoid putting chemicals into our bodies. The next time you pick up a can of soup carefully scan the ingredients. How about salad dressing? Can you pronounce the long list of additives and preservatives? If not, you might want to think about making your own.

In addition to dressings, I find that a great way to perk up salads and other meals are pickles. Growing up, pickles were an important food group in our house – as were straight up cucumbers. My grandpa Puskala often served us sliced cucumbers from his garden and vinegar for breakfast (probably because that is all that we wanted to eat). My Grandma Hilda’s canned dill pickles and crock pickles were a family favorite and my mom followed her canning tradition. In fact, my mom is known to can over one hundred quarts of pickles in the fall because she gifts them to people throughout the year. The smell of pickle brine is one of my fondest memories from childhood.

Today I am going to share with you my Grandma’s dill pickle recipe. By August most gardeners are up to their ears in cucumbers and if you do not garden yourself you can find them readily available from a neighbor or the farmer’s market. Pickles are one of the easiest items to can because you only need to use a hot water bath (use a large stock pot that will allow water over the lids) and you do not have to pressure can the jars. My canner/stock pot will prepare 7 quarts at a time.

I like to use one quart wide mouth jars and you will also need lids with bands. Sanitize the jars in the sanitize cycle of your dishwasher or in a pot of boiling water. If you are boiling the jars, boil them for 30-45 minutes and make sure you boil the lids and bands and well (I boil the lids for 5-10 minutes). 

BRINE (bring to a boil when you are ready to can)
2 Quarts of Water
1 Quart of Apple Cider Vinegar
½ Cup of Canning Salt (Make sure that you buy canning salt and not regular table salt)

You will also need:

Dill (fresh and/or dill seed. I recommend fresh dill – but seed will work in a pinch).
Alum Powder (Can be found in the spice and pickling sections and it helps make pickles crunchy)

*Optional for spicy peppers
Garlic cloves
Crushed red peppers (could also use jalapenos or other fresh peppers)

Choose the shape of the pickles that you desire (chips, spears, whole, or thin sandwich slices). I like to can a variety of shapes.

While you are packing your jars, make sure that you bring the water in your canner (large stock pot) to boiling. The water should be over the jars when you place them in the canner.

In the bottom of the jar place ¾ teaspoon of alum powder, a generous helping of dill (stem and all), crushed garlic cloves (I put three per jar), and peppers if you desire a spicy pickle. Then pack the rest of the jar with cucumbers. I recommend placing them in carefully and packing them thoroughly (or else you will have lots of room in the jar).

Once the cucumbers are firmly packed, fill the jar with the boiling brine, leaving about ¾ inch of head room at the top. Put on the lid and tighten the band (firmly – but you do not have to overly tighten).

Place the jars in the canner and TURN OFF the heat and let sit for 25 minutes. My mom taught me that this is the secret to crunchy pickles. If you continue to heat the water, the pickles may end up mushy.

After 25 minutes remove the jars and let sit until they seal (this may take up to 24 hours). While it is frustrating if you have a jar, or two, that does not seal. You can refrigerate these pickles and give them a couple of weeks to “pickle” and eat them within the month. In the same way, if you do not want to can the pickles you can make crock pickles using this brine and let them sit in the refrigerator in a large jar(s) or a bowl or crock.

If you love pickles as much as I do, you have to try my grandmother’s recipe. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to leave a comment here, send me an email, or stop by my Facebook page.

Imagine this winter, when you pop open a jar of pickles and remember a steamy summer day when your kitchen was filled with the fragrance of dill. These pickles may remind you of your childhood and like me, you may appreciate the old-fashioned. I would wear a dress over jeans any day, I love the word ice-box, and I believe in setting a beautiful table. I believe that food made with love, and attention to detail, tastes better. Give these pickles a try and let me know what you think!

My husband created a canning station for me on our front porch for those sultry summer days when our house doesn’t need the extra warmth.

Here is a video that my stepdaughter Avalon made last summer when I taught her how to make pickles! Isn’t she the cutest?

 

 

His & Her Breakfast: Overnight Oatmeal

“But once in a while, you pick the right thing, the exact best thing. Every day, the moment you open your eyes and pull off your blankets, that’s what you hope for. The sunshine on your face,warm enough to make you heart sing.”
― Sarah Ockler

If you have been following my blog for the past five years, you know that I am a fierce lover of summer. No, it is not because I am a teacher (though I do appreciate the time to recharge). Summer to me means not feeling guilty when there are dishes on the counter (and when a pack of paper plates gets thrown into our shopping cart). It means adding more perennials to our landscape, the sound of kids shrieking with glee from the pool as I weed the strawberry patch, and a hot night ending with fireflies and a thick slab of juicy watermelon with fresh mint from the garden and scoop of mango and coconut sorbet.

Of course in my mind’s eye, when June comes I plan to make the most of every moment. This year was no exception, trust me, I had so many DIY projects on my list that my husband mastered the stink eye (okay, he already had it down). However, when school ends, and my routine is thrown off kilter, I sometimes falter with productivity. That is why I try to keep up on grocery shopping, meal planning, and keeping daily rituals.

The biggest fib that I tell myself when summer comes is that things are going to slow down. Okay, maybe when it comes to grading papers and lesson planning, but summer is fleeting and there are places to be, people to entertain, and project-upon-project to complete.

This summer for my family means ice time to build hockey skills for the kids, an epic road trip into the mountains of Montana, starting an addition on our 125+ year old log home, and my husband getting used to his new position of K9 Officer. Not to mention tending to our massive gardens, canning, raising animals, and all the things that owning a farm entails.

While cooking is my passion, I admit that sometimes when I am immersed into a summer project, preparing a meal is the last thing on my mind. Therefore, I like to keep things simple in the summer. I always make sure to send my husband off to work with breakfast, but as one cup of coffee turns into two, I sometimes have to remind myself that it is important that I have something healthy to eat as well. This is where refrigerator oatmeal comes into the morning. Last year, I shared a few recipes for this simple breakfast idea. Refrigerator oats get a lot of traffic on my blog and it is one recipe that people tell me that they “keep meaning to try.” Well, in case that is you, here is your reminder. If you are busy, this is one meal that will honestly be life changing. It certainly has been for the Waldos.

This oatmeal is consumed cold (think yogurt and fruit parfait). I know it sounds strange to not cook the oatmeal, but it softens and takes on a pleasing texture in the refrigerator. I use wide-mouthed one-pint mason jars and you can prepare them a few days in advance. The glass jars keep the ingredients fresh, are easy to wash, I always have them on hand, and make the oatmeal visually appealing. They are so easy to prepare that if I did not prep on Sunday, I can throw them together each night when I take care of the dinner dishes.

My husband’s morning routine rotates between refrigerator oats or a green smoothie (kale, spinach, banana, peanut butter, chocolate protein powder, and milk). While I enjoy the refrigerator oats too, I like mine a little more tart than he does. Therefore, I make a few variations on mine, but the basic recipe is the same.

*1/3 cup of old fashioned oats (quick cooking oats don’t hold up as well)
*1/3 cup of milk (you can substitute almond, coconut, or any non-dairy milk)
*1/3 cup of Greek yogurt (Greek yogurt often has more protein)

Add the above ingredients into the jar and stir well. Top with sliced fruit and/or berries (fresh or frozen), nuts, or any other toppings that you want to add.

For my husband’s jar I use a ½ a heaping cup of oatmeal and Greek Gods flavored yogurt. My preference is plain Greek yogurt (Fage is my favorite brand) and I add a couple of teaspoons of honey and lemon juice and zest.

The two varieties I am sharing today have the following:

HIS

½ cup of old fashioned oats
1/3 cup of milk
1/3 cup of black cherry Greek yogurt
½ teaspoon of cinnamon (stirred into the oatmeal, milk, and yogurt)
2 Tablespoons of blueberry pie filling
Almonds (I purchased cinnamon almonds from the our new Meijer supermarket)
Fresh blueberries
Raspberries

HER’S

1/3 cup of old fashioned oats
1/3 cup of milk
1/3 cup of plain fat free Greek yogurt
Lemon Zest
1 Tablespoon of lemon juice
2 teaspoons honey
Fresh blueberries
Fresh raspberries (in the winter frozen raspberries work well – I add them frozen and the juice seeps through the jar beautifully.)

The flavor combinations for refrigerator oatmeal are endless. They are so easy to throw together that you customize them to fit each family member. You can make them healthy, or indulgent, and they are easy to grab and go for work, school, gym, or the beach.

I hope you are having a productive summer and are finding time to relax at the beach, at a local eatery or brewery, or on your own porch. Cheers to summer and all the gorgeous plans that it offers up!

It took three years, but the poppies I planted are finally blooming.

The bees love the lupine on our pond mound.

The pond that John started last summer is coming around nicely.

 

GREEK FRITTATA – CASUAL, YET ELEGANT, ONE PAN BRUNCH

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”
― Confucius

As we slide into June, I cannot help thinking of growth. As a high school teacher I reflect on the strides my students have made in their growth mindset, and as a parent I cannot believe how much my own kids have learned and changed over the year. June is a time of development. The landscape becomes blissfully green and I love watching the flowers on homestead open and omit an energy of possibility and wonder.

Bleeding Hearts

It is fair to say that I am enamored with flowers. However, my husband John and I have struck a deal. He is not allowed to buy me bouquets of flowers as a gift during the year. While that may sound like a strange request from a woman who has an affinity for flowers, I make up for it in the spring and summer. It is during this time that we purchase bulbs, bushes, plants, and trees to add to our property. I am not sure if John believes it to be a gift or a curse (since he has to be more creative in his gift giving – though my birthday and our anniversary both fall in June), but I think he would agree it is pure joy to watch the transformation in our backyard each year.

Our bees love the lupine

 

In addition to finding joy in the simplicity of learning lessons from nature, we love to grow our own food. Since late April we have been harvesting greens from our hoop house for salads and smoothies. In fact, one of my favorite phrases is, “Would you like me to go gather fresh spinach for breakfast/lunch/dinner?”

In June I love the luxury of being able to make time for breakfast. On weekends we make quite an event of breaking our fast and are known to have a hearty feast in the morning. We find that a meal with staying power is important to fuel all of our farm projects. Then a light afternoon snack carries us to an early dinner.

Since we have our own hens, I have become quite creative with egg dishes. This frittata that I am sharing with you makes a fine breakfast, brunch, or lunch. Add a lovely green salad, a loaf of crusty bread, and it can even make its way onto the dinner table. Part of the beauty of it is that it can be prepared in one pan and is full of vegetables. Since the ingredients are ones that we always have in the house, it is a staple in our household.


GREEK FRITTATA FOR TWO

*5 eggs
*1/4 cup of cream or milk
*2 Medium Yukon Gold Potatoes (I like to use Yukon Gold because they are mild tasting and have softer flesh so they do not take long to cook)
*1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
*1/4 cup chopped onion
*1-2 cloves chopped garlic
*2 Tablespoons lemon juice
*3 Tablespoons olive oil
*1 teaspoon oregano
*¼ cup grape or cherry tomatoes cut in ½ (could use sundried tomatoes)
*¼ cup kalamata olives
*¼ cup feta cheese
*½ cup of spinach
*Salt and pepper to taste

Scrub the potatoes well (I leave the peelings on) and cut into small cubes. Place in a glass bowl and microwave for a few minutes to speed up the cooking time. Using an oven safe pan (a well seasoned cast iron pan works great) add the potatoes, 1 Tablespoon of olive oil, garlic, onion, and mushrooms. Sautee over medium heat for 3-5 minutes (add the lemon juice, oregano, and a pinch of salt and pepper in the last minute of sautéing). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Beat the eggs with the milk or cream and add another pinch of salt and pepper. Add the other 2 Tablespoons of oil to pan with potatoes and make sure the bottom is coated (so the frittata does not stick). Pour over the eggs. While cooking on low heat for a couple of minutes (to cook the bottom of the frittata) add the spinach, kalamata olives, tomatoes, and feta.

Put the pan in the stove and bake for 7-10 minutes. If the eggs are still runny on the top you can finish in the broiler (You can add parmesan shavings before broiling to add a golden brown color).

Remove from the oven and allow to set for a few minutes. Serve with bacon, sausage, toast or an English muffin. Fresh summer berries and Greek yogurt makes a great side to this dish.

This frittata is versatile and is also wonderful with fresh asparagus, peppery arugala, goat cheese, snips of chive from the garden, and even grated or thin slices of zucchini.

I hope that June finds you healthy, happy, and ready to tackle summer with zeal. Our family has plenty of exciting plans to help us grow as a family and individuals – including youth theatre, hockey camp(s), a home addition, and epic camping trip across the county. While you are enjoying your summer, make sure you check out my recipes on the tabs at the top of the page for plenty of healthy recipes to help fuel your activities!

Lentil Sloppy Joes – Prepare a Healthy & Hearty Meal with Pantry Staples

“The deep roots never doubt spring will come.”
― Mary Rubin

If your household is anything like ours, May is an exciting and hectic time. The kids and I are finishing up with school and my husband always has extra training and projects to finish at work. In addition, in the spring our farm chores start to pick up momentum and in the hustle and bustle of life, meal planning and grocery shopping often get pushed to the side. It is times like these that make it necessary to do an inventory of what is available in the house and make some magic happen the kitchen.

Thankfully, I am great at stocking up on pantry staples. There is a running joke in our house that when the zombies attack – the Waldos will not starve. My step-son Lukas loves to tell the story of the time that John and I got home from our honeymoon in Alaska. I declared to everyone that I HAD to go grocery shopping because we had “no food in the house.” Needless to say, four days later (without grocery shopping) I managed to feed our family of four (plus Grandpa) three meals a day (including snacks and dessert). I guess that is one of the benefits of being a teacher – we are always planning ahead. Even when we do not realize that we are.

Another challenge with a whirlwind schedule is making sure that the food we consume has health benefits. When in a time crunch it is easy to grab heavily processed meals that are void of nutrition. That is one of the reasons that I believe in keeping a well-stocked kitchen. I almost always have the ingredients on hand for the recipe that I am going to share with you today.

Sloppy Joes were a childhood favorite in my house, but this “grown up” version is much healthier. The lentils have staying power and are filling and you can serve in a variety of ways. You can serve it on buns, in pita pockets, or open faced on a piece of artesian bread. I like to toast the bread and sprinkle with with dill pickles. If you are trying to watch your bread intake it is fabulous served over romaine leaves or even as a topping for sautéed cabbage or zucchini. I have shared this recipe before and since I have received a lot of feedback on it, I believe it is worthy of sharing again!

Lentil Sloppy Joes

LENTIL SLOPPY JOES

  • 2 cups lentils (If you want to get fancy you can purchase red lentils in bulk at the Marquette co-op)
  • 5 cups of water
  • 1 cup of chopped onion
  • 1 cup of chopped green bell pepper
  • 1 cup of chopped celery
  • 2 cloves of garlic (minced)
  • 6 ounces of tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1 Tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon worcestershiresauce
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes(or more)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • *Optional ~ hot sauce(to taste)

Directions:

  1. Saute the onion, celery, garlic, and bell pepper until soft (5-10 minutes)
  2. Add in the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 60 minutes. Stir often and you may have to add more water as it cooks.
  3. You may want to add more spices/vinegar/mustard based on your taste. Sometimes I like to add extra hot sauce and an extra splash of vinegar right before serving.
  4. Makes Seven Cups. If you do not want such a large batch you can use the same amount of ingredients but reduce the lentils to one cup and only add 2 1/2 cups of water. I like to make a large batch so we have leftovers. Sometimes I freeze in individual containers for grab-and-go lunches.

I hope that your spring plans are in full swing and that you can find solace and healthy comfort in your kitchen. I find that when my calendar gets full it is deeply satisfying to know that I am still managing to feed my family nutritious meals that help fuel our time commitments. So fill out that shopping list with kitchen staples, buy fresh produce and wholesome ingredients, and fill your refrigerator and deep freeze with meals that are simple and satisfying. I hope that you add this recipe to your menu. If you do, please take a  moment and  let me know what you think.

Spring Fever is an Understatement

“Snow was falling,
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
than prettiness.”
― Mary Oliver

April 16, 2017 on the left.
April 16, 2018 on the right. Last year we were planting blueberry bushes and this year the bushes are buried under several feet of snow. There are 10+ foot snowdrifts in our pasture.

Meesha is a bundle of energy!

Snow days in April are not unusual in the UP of Michigan. However, that does not soften the blow. As John and I discussed yesterday, April snow storms usually torment us AFTER the majority of our snow has already melted and it is gone within a couple of days. However, over the past couple of days we received over THIRTY inches of snow ON TOP of the snow lingering from the winter.

While it is depressing and feels like a setback to our growing season, the kids were thrilled to have two snow days off of school (this teacher did not complain 😉 ) and the weather outlook for the next couple of weeks looks hopeful. We should be seeing temperatures close to the 50s by the weekend and into next week. That means that it should be close to 100 in the hoop house.

Speaking of the hoop house: check out these photos of John, Avalon, and Lukas digging it out yesterday after the storm.
The dogs were in their glory and were exhausted last night after a spirited frolic in the snow!

Gentle Ollie taking a break. He LOVES the snow.

Remi our faithful protector is not sure what to think.

Giant April snow banks!

Avalon and I took advantage of our snow days to create a new video for our YouTube channel. As you can tell from the video, this new medium is a little awkward for me, but Avalon is a natural! In this video we share a few of the things that we “cannot live without”. It was a blast to film it together and we hope to be able to create more content about our farm, recipes, and DIY projects.

Please make sure to subscribe to our Channel: Superior Maple Grove Farm and leave us a comment to let us know you were there and what kind of videos you would like us post!

I hope that your spring is going well and that you are excited about gardening. I will post updates as we get our seedlings planted in the hoop house. I also promise to post more healthy recipes to help you put your homegrown, or farmer’s market produce, to great use. Thank you for following our adventures. If you are in the snow belt like we are – stay warm, stay safe, and hold on tight — spring is near! ❤

Launching Our Family YouTube Channel

I have exciting news, the Waldos are making plans for the summer. My family has made a commitment to join me in blogging. In addition, we are going to start vlogging together. After receiving many questions about our farm projects, we thought creating a YouTube channel would be a great way to share and log our progress. It will add a layer Produce with Amy and serve as a time capsule for our projects. Our hope is to help others who want to grow their own food, be resourceful, and learn with us on this journey to maximize our health and productivity. We are enlisting our community to help us move forward with our creativity. Thank you! 

Today we made our first video to launch our family YouTube channel, Superior Maple Grove Farm. We hope to post our DIY projects and our farm adventures. From creating an eco-system for bees, building ponds, growing food in a high tunnel/hoop house, and raising chickens – our hope for this channel is to share our challenges, victories, and dreams for the future. Of course I will continue to make recipes and we will make sure to address Avalon and Lukas’ interests as well.

We believe in reciprocal education and hope our viewers learn something from us and we hope to learn from you. Thank you for watching! The Waldos – Amy, John, Avalon and Lukas. ❤

Subscribe to our channel here: Superior Maple Grove Farm