Welcome to the Envelope Blog. Here you'll find snippets of information about the farm, as well as whatever whacky topic we might feel like writing about at the moment. There are stories from the farm, gardening tips, instructions for building projects, interesting tidbits, and general silliness. We hope you enjoy. 

Tzedakah Charity Garden

posted Jul 23, 2013, 8:35 AM by Farm Manager   [ updated Oct 3, 2014, 10:50 AM ]

Tzedakah Charity Garden & Gleaning Volunteers Wanted

We are looking for someone to help run an ongoing Tzedakah Charity Garden on the farm. Tzedakah mean's "charity," in Hebrew, and Jewish agricultural tradition includes many forms of giving, such as keeping the corners of your field open for those in need. 

Over the past few years, the farm has been able to donate over 1,000 lbs of produce to those in need by giving it to the Northern Illinois Foodbank. I remember one time while we were bringing produce over, there were so many trucks coming from large grocery stores to donate food that I felt like our efforts weren't needed. Then somebody came to pick up items, saw our veggies and remarked "oooh, fresh stuff!" This helped me realize that fresh, organic produce really is needed and appreciated! 

If you have any interest in helping us to run the charity garden by overseeing planting and organizing volunteers, please get in touch! We also need people to help with maintenance (weeding, planting, harvesting) on an on-going basis, and there are also opportunities for people to help us "glean" by helping us pick up extra crops off the fields for donation. 

Goats in Coats

posted Jan 23, 2013, 2:47 PM by Envelope Farm   [ updated Oct 3, 2014, 10:50 AM by Farm Manager ]

Thought I'd make everyone's day by posting this adorable picture of our farm goats, Miso, Bagel, Wopi, Elvis, Little Cow, and Josie in the sweaters we put on them yesterday. 

Although Alpines do alright in temps down to -30F, we thought with the windchill at -15F, they could do with a bit of extra warmth :) They all got fleece vests with a larger sweater on top. 

MLK Food Justice Weekend at KAM II

posted Jan 23, 2013, 2:22 PM by Envelope Farm   [ updated Oct 3, 2014, 10:50 AM by Farm Manager ]

Thanks to everyone who helped plan and participated in the Martin Luther King Jr. Food Justice and Sustainability Weekend at Kam Isaiah Israel! The event featured many fantastic presenters in fields such as crop diversity, harvesting and cooking with wild yeasts, indoor composting, unusual veggie dishes, Shmita, bee-keeping, sustainable coffee, and chicken care taught by PtEF (I think but can't be sure that we are the first people to bring a live chicken into the library at KAM :) 

And a big thanks to Robert Nevel and everyone at KAM Isaiah Israel for putting together and hosting such a wonderful event!

Perennial Vegetables

posted Jan 9, 2013, 2:19 PM by Envelope Farm   [ updated Oct 3, 2014, 10:50 AM by Farm Manager ]

Asparagus isolated on white backgroundWe are still considering Shmita on the farm, and with Shmita two years away (beginning on Rosh HaShanah 2014) we have a little more time to plan than we previously thought.

Which means, we get to expand our list of edibles that we’ll be putting in, and deepen our plans! It also means that some of my plans for fall sown greens for the following spring won’t work, and that goes for garlic (which is put in in November) as well.

That being said, we wanted to share some resources for anybody looking into Shmita-izing their projects with perennial vegetables by discussing our favorite North American friendly perennial favorites.

Asparagus – plant it this coming spring to harvest by Shmita 2014.

Horseradish – not strictly a vegetable, but still it’ll be great for Passover.

Ground Cherry – these will come back year after year and are so delicious. This is a self-seeding annual.

Strawberries – yes.

Rhubarb – careful with these, the stalks are delicious, but the leaves are always poisonous (after a certain date, you should avoid the stem, too. This is a spring-time vegetable.)

Daylily buds – these are so good, it will be hard not to eat them all (and if you do, you won’t get any beautiful flowers)

Jerusalem artichoke – plant these somewhere where it’s ok if they spread like crazy (some kind of grassy island surrounded by cement might be best), and then harvest the tubers year after year.

Welsh Onions – a perennial bunching onion variety that can be ordered from Oikos (see below).

Wine Cap Mushroom – these edible fungi can be inoculated into the straw or wood chip mulch in your garden, and provide a perennial harvest.

Sea Kale – according to Restoration Seeds, this one takes two years to come to maturity, but is a good substitute for collards and kale. And, it’s perennial.

Dock – a perennial alternative to swiss chard / spinach. Haven’t tried it yet, but it’s a definite on my list.

Broad-Leaf French Sorrel – another leafy choice, apparently it’s a spreader, so it’s best to put it somewhere it can roam. As it grows in part shade where little else does, this shouldn’t be too tricky. (Sorrel does contain oxalic acid, similarly to spinach, so eat in moderation)

Egyptian Walking Onion – plants itself!

Burdock Root – These grow wild, but you can plant them, too. They are common in Asian groceries.

Dandelion Root & Leaf & Flower – The roots make a delicious tea, can be added to soups, and the leaves (although very bitter) are quite good for you. Make sure you get these from a lawn that has not been treated from pesticides!

Red Clover Flowers – these are sweat and yummy, and make a beautiful salad topper.

These are just a few of the plants we are thinking of putting in our Shmita garden. In the way that the first couple could harvest from Gan Eden, so may we too with our own permaculture landscapes! The following websites offer great information (and seeds) for those looking for more information on perennial plants: Oikos Nursery & Restoration Seeds

What is Shmita? An excerpt from Hazon's page.

posted Dec 30, 2012, 9:52 AM by Envelope Farm   [ updated Oct 3, 2014, 10:50 AM by Farm Manager ]

Shmita – Release

" Shmita is the Biblically mandated ‘Sabbatical Year’ of rest and release, when agriculture and commerce were simultaneously re-adjusted to enable a more equitable, just and healthy society, economy and environment. During this period of time, debts would be forgiven, agricultural land would lie fallow, private land holdings would become open to the commons, and staples such as food storage and perennial harvests would be redistributed and accessible to all. The central message is that the Shmita paradigm structured all economic and agricultural activity so that it served the wellbeing of citizens and society, not the other way around."

From Hazon at: http://www.hazon.org/resource/shmita-project/

The above was taken from Hazon's page on Shmita, and the full page can be read here. Hazon is a wonderful, international Jewish food & sustainability organization, and they offer a tremendous amount of resources online, plus wonderful experiences like the Hazon Food Conference, which the farm attended and presented at this December. Visit their page to learn more about the Shmita year, and maybe sign up for one of their cross country bike rides while you're at it. 

Preparing for Shmita

posted Dec 30, 2012, 9:42 AM by Envelope Farm   [ updated Oct 3, 2014, 10:50 AM by Farm Manager ]

springIn preparing for the Shmita, we are laying the foundation for an Edenic world


The Shmita year has the possibility of being one of the most revolutionary and profoundly Jewish ethical experiences because it serves as a foundation to synthesize so many of the values that we hold as important in our daily life. It has the transformative power of turning these values, which we aspire to, into real direct action that can change our mind frame, our relationship to the earth, and our relationship to each other.

Shmita, like Shabbat, has the power to be a consciousness changing experience. It presents us with an opportunity to change our acquisitional mind-frame, and to experience peace. We invite you to join us as we begin our preparations for Shmita, 2014, on our farm. Although we’ve started late (it’s the 6th year already!) and we’re not in Israel, we think that the project has so many important aspects that we’re opting in to see what we can accomplish.

Shmita means, among many things, a commitment to the earth. It also means, by virtue of the sabbatical year, a commitment to learning, connecting with others, and treating ourselves with care. The list of preparations below taken wholly illuminates some of the ways in which observing and preparing for Shmita could enable us to see ourselves and our relationship to the earth in a new light.

A switch to more Shmita like thinking might help us to combat global climate change, social injustice, and hunger issues. The cultural implications are dramatic and far reaching. 

Preparing for Shmita on the farm could look like:

Increasing the practice of cultivating perennial food producing gardens, and eating wild foods

  • Planting and tending perennial edibles gardens
  • Planting fruits,  nuts and berry bushes to prepare for the Shmita to come
  • Learn about and practice foraging
  • Set up perennial food sources for our animals to eat

Experimenting with planting the year before:  

  • Carrots, beets, garlic, melons
  • Dump heaps (a method of piling up old melons, etc. and seeing what grows next year)
  • Volunteer encouragement (covering seeds from tomatoes that happen to be on the ground with soil
  • Fall seeding lettuce, spinach, arugula, kale, turnips, radishes, peas, etc.
  • Covering fall seeded crops in winter
  • Fertilizing the soil in fall with manure, and other sources of nutrition

Increase our awareness of, and commitment to, the health of the land and the plants and animals that live on it.

  • By exploring long-term fertility experiments
  • By exploring our relationship to land, plants, and animals through text study and discussion.
  • By spending more time in nature, observing and participating rather than extracting

Plan, plant, harvest, and then dry, freeze, sauce, can, pickle, and generally put up crops grown in 2013 for consumption in 2014.

  • Grow extra root crops for preserving, canning, pickling, etc.
  • Grow winter crops with excellent storage, such as butternut squash and certain types of onions, garlic, peanuts, sweet potatoes, etc.
  • Build a large array of solar dehydrators on the field to create a steady stream of dried tomato, tomatillo, ground cherry, pepper, eggplant, kale chips, and others.

Prepare spiritually with a Shmita Chevurah, which meets regularly to explore the meaning of Shmita.

  • Discuss relevant: texts, films, and outside organizations
  • Learn to preserve food, and prepare those crops there will be an abundance of during the Shmita year.

Learn about and conduct outreach on Food Justice issues, including the Farm Bill.

  • Through petitions
  • Through workshops
  • Through partnering with other organizations
  • Through making resources available.  

The above list is one that we came up with as realistic possibilities for Pushing the Envelope Farm. Just putting it together made me consider the project that we work on in a new way, and many of the things on the list are things we've been thinking about doing for a long time. When put in the context of Shmita, seeing all of them together makes their value more apparent. 

Kate and Elan, Pushing the Envelope Farm

Thanksgiving Food for Thought

posted Nov 28, 2012, 1:08 PM by Envelope Farm   [ updated Oct 3, 2014, 10:50 AM by Farm Manager ]

Autumn LeavesThanksgiving and the Harvest

At Thanksgiving we celebrate the abundance of the harvest, the end of the agricultural season and the entering of the winter cycle. During the previous summer, we’ve worked in partnership with the land to yield abundance before a season of scarcity.

For many of us, the harvest will come from our gardens, as well as our agricultural fields. But what does a partnership with the land really mean, at its best?

Thanksgiving is celebrated as a day of a meeting of cultures, between Native American and Europeans.  In this light,we thought it might be interesting to look at pre-European land management practices as they relate to stewardship and being guardians of the earth.

Tending and Tilling the Native American Way

When the first European settlers arrived in North America, they likely thought they were looking upon open, wild land. It has since, however, come to be understood that the land was already being managed by the Native Americans who lived here.

While the American ethic of land management tends to be that wild spaces should be left wild, and cultivated places should be cultivated, the management of whole tracks of land by the Native Americans was more a mixture of the two.

For example, we can look at selective burning, where large areas of prairie but also forest were burned to remove underbrush and to make the forest more park like. Early European settlers compared the appearance of American forests to their parks of large trees that touched canopy to canopy with open space underneath. While this practice certainly made the forests more attractive for humans, it also aided other wild species.

Prescribed burns actually assist in building wild life abundance through creating flushes of food for a wide variety of creatures. Many animals and plants rely on a certain stage of development in the forest to thrive, and natural as well as prescribed burns are one way of ensuring this state. Forest burns were similar to prairie burns, which helped to favor the grasses and plants that could support large populations of game.

Native cultures also practiced seed saving, selective plant breeding, and wild gardening. For example, the pawpaw tree, America’s largest native fruit, was thought to be planted throughout a wide variety of areas.

In the practices described above, an intimate knowledge of several aspects of nature would be utilized into making a management choice that could benefit people, animals, and the ecosystem as a whole. And so a sense of place in working with the land is important to create the successes that we depend on.

Food for Thought

So for this Thanksgiving Day, I will be thankful not only for the food and family in front of me, but also for the thousands of years of collaboration between people, plants, and animals that made the array of food before me possible.

I will also make a commitment to trying to pay more attention to those aspects of nature which may not be able to take care of themselves, or that could flourish with better management, and try to concentrate more on my tending as well as my tilling.


Happy Holidays,

The Farm Team at Pushing the Envelope

Upcoming Gardening Workshops

posted Nov 16, 2012, 8:15 AM by Farm Manager   [ updated Oct 3, 2014, 10:50 AM ]

Garden Planning for 2013

organic vegetable field - kohlrabi / german turnipWe're offering an informal session on how to plan for next year's veggie crop. It may seem early, but with the time to start your starts only a few months away, it can be nice to have a jump on the season. We'll cover ground preparation, long term planning, planting calendars, variety selection and, if there's interest, edible perennial plants (raspberries, blackberries, service berry, etc.) There will also be a Q&A so come with your questions handy.

Where: Pushing the Envelope Farm
When: Sunday, December 16 at 2pm.
Cost: Free (donations welcome). 
Rsvp: Genevafarm@gmail.com

Seed Starting Demo and Q&A

New Tomato Plant 1
Starting your own seedlings isn't all that tricky, and it's a fun and rewarding way to grow your own veggies. What's more, if you save and then start your own seeds, it gives you a wonderful feeling of independence! So for all of those seed starters old and new, come on out and learn (or brush up on) your seed starting technique. We'll also have supplies for sale for anybody who wants to set up at home. This session is being done early enough in the year for those who want to come to learn and then still have time to start their own crops for the spring planting.  

Where: Pushing the Envelope Farm
When: Sunday, January 13 at 2pm.
Cost: Free (donations welcome). 
Rsvp: Genevafarm@gmail.com

Elgin Co-op Community Food Tasting Tonight

posted Nov 13, 2012, 10:10 AM by Envelope Farm   [ updated Oct 3, 2014, 10:50 AM by Farm Manager ]

candyEveryone is invited to join us in Elgin tonight for a look into Elgin's up and coming new community co-op. The event will feature local food tastings, and you'll get a chance to see what will be available at the store. We'll be bringing some delicious micro-greens. The event is free, and is taking place at the Elgin Community Recreational Center in the Kimball-Heritage Ballroom. Doors open around 6:15pm. Hope to see you there!

Where: Elgin Recreational Center in the Kimball-Heritage Ballroom.
When: 6:15pm, Tuesday Nov 13 (tonight)
What: Explore the food that will be available at Elgin's new community health co-op.  

Seed Sovereignty, Tikkun Olam, and Gardening at Home

posted Nov 12, 2012, 3:09 PM by Envelope Farm   [ updated Oct 3, 2014, 10:50 AM by Farm Manager ]

pumpkinAnd God said: "Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree that has seed-yielding fruit — to you it shall be for food."   Gen. 1:29

This month at the farm, we've been thinking a lot about what it means to be food independent. There was a talk at the Great Lakes Bioneers by Dr. Vandana Shiva. She’s a remarkable woman who has received the alternate Noble Peace Prize (the Right Livelihood Award) and the award that caught my attention, a Lennon ONO grant for peace. The below is from the promo for the talk:

“Corporations like Monsanto have created a seed emergency – an emergency through patents on seeds, seed monopolies, bio-piracy, genetic engineering and creation of non -renewable sterile seeds. Seed monopolies have pushed 250,000 farmers to commit suicide in India. After contaminating farmer’s seeds and crops, Monsanto sues farmers “for stealing their gene”, putting the polluter pays principle on its head, and making it the polluter gets paid principle.” She has created the  Global movement on Seed Freedom to "stop the corporate hijack of seed."

Dr. Shiva encourages everyone to grow at home as a way of protecting the diversity of seed on the planet, and nature's ability to reproduce itself. She also sees it as a way of protecting people's access to healthy, affordable, and sustainable food. Certainly, seed sovereignty and growing at home tie in to TIkkun Olam. 

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