Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Your Vote Counts for Food and Farms!

Check out this great breakdown from Farm Aid on where the presidential candidates stand on agricultural and food policy. And, darned if I didn't learn a thing or two myself!

Thanks, Willie!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Cooking from the garden

From the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Website:

Lunchtime Lecture: Holiday Dishes from the Locavore's Garden
Wednesday, November 5, 12 - 1:30 pm

Pick up tips on what organic, sustainably grown produce is available in this area, and learn creative ways to prepare your bounty for your harvest table. Chefs from the Garden’s caterers, Meriwether-Godsey, prepare side dishes suitable for holiday menus or quick meals, emphasizing in-season, local sustainably grown or organic produce. $20 members / $30 non-members includes a light lunch prepared from the recipes presented.

Wine and Cheese Making Event At Manakintowne Farm

Here is the e-mail I received from Manakintowne Farm....

Sunday, Nov. 9 from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m.
Taste the Flavors of Fall and Learn about Artisanal Cheesemaking at Manakintowne Speciality Growers in Powhatan, featuring Gail Hobbs-Page of Caromont Farm and River City Cellars . Enjoy a farmtour (complete with chill-abating bonfires) with growers Jo & Rob Pendergraph, seasonal sampling and fall menu ideas with Peter Markhamof Manakintowne, and goat cheese (6!) tasting and talk with Chef/Cheesemaker Gail Hobbs-Paige of Caromont Farmhttp://www.caromontfarm.com/ <http://www.caromontfarm.com/> -these cheeses are fabulous! --all accompanied by wine pairings selected by River City Cellars. Contact River City Cellars(804.355.1375) http://www.rivercitycellars.com/<http://www.rivercitycellars.com/> for details and to reserve your spot.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Answers for students of my Organic Soils for Kitchen Gardens

On the subject of Urea in fertilizers...
Here is the basics of what I know and what I have learned just in the last 1/2 hour! I'll keep looking in to it.
Urea has an extremely high level of Nitrogen. Urea Fertilizer is 46-0-0 ! It is also extremely water soluble, which makes Nitrogen run off an important issue to consider. In addition if it is not worked into the soil properly it will volatilize on the soils surface releasing ammonia into the air (this ammonia would be more concentrated near the soils surface and disperse with wind and as it rises up with heat).
Here is a North Dakota State University Site about Volatilizing of Urea.
Here is a site discussing the reasons why Urea harms seed and seed germination and how to prevent that.
Here is the link to a garden chat site with a very lengthy discussion of why Urea should not be used. The in the end the voices in this chat point to the salt level in urea that will damage or kill your soils microbial life unless it is used in the most minuscule amounts.... and even then overtime build up could cause problems according these fellows.

And here are several links to university and extension sites about the Use of Urea...

This from Wikipedia...
"Urea can be irritating to skin and eyes. Too high concentrations in the blood can cause damage to organs of the body. Low concentrations of urea such as in urine are not dangerous.
It has been found that urea can cause algal blooms to produce toxins, and urea in runoff from fertilizers may play a role in the increase of toxic blooms.
Repeated or prolonged contact with urea in fertilizer form on the skin may cause dermatitis. The substance also irritates the eyes, the skin, and the respiratory tract. The substance decomposes on heating above melting point, producing toxic gases, and reacts violently with strong oxidants, nitrites, inorganic chlorides, chlorites and perchlorates, causing fire and explosion hazard. Because of the high nitrogen concentration in urea, it is very important to achieve an even spread. The application equipment must be correctly calibrated and properly used. Drilling must not occur on contact with or close to seed, due to the risk of germination damage. Urea dissolves in water for application as a spray or through irrigation systems."
On Related Topics...
The comment about being suspicious about fertilizer numbers over 8, is in reference to the relatively few truly organic or naturally occurring ingredients that would provide such high numbers. Just read the ingredients closely.

Finally on Potatoes and Corn as Cleaners....
Phyllis was absolutely right about potatoes. Riding home I remembered reading not only that you should always invest in organic potatoes, but that in fact potatoes are so good at soaking up the chemicals etc. that are in your soil, you should even go so far as try and know your grower and the history of the land in which the potatoes were grown! I believe one reference to this is in Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.
Finally, on the subject of Plants Removing Toxins... I found several interesting sites including this one created to address the need for soil clean up in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Here is a small excerpt...
"Plants are one of the main ways to remove toxins from your yard and to improve soil heath. All plants naturally absorb nutrients from the soil and store them in their roots, shoots, and/or leaves. Some absorb toxins in significant amounts- these are called hyper-accumulators and are most useful in restoring your soil. Certain plants absorb certain toxins. When you know what’s in your soil you can start to plant according to what you want to remove. (A detailed section on how to plant successfully is included later in this handbook.) Because these plants are absorbing toxic substances, throw them in the garbage or treat as toxic waste when they are full-grown. Do not eat plants used to treat soil!
Plants that take in Heavy Metals
Lead :Sunflower, Indian Mustard, Peas, Asiatic dayflower
Arsenic : Indian Mustard, Brake Fern, Lambsquatters
Chromium :Indian Mustard, Spinach, Carrots
Selenium : Indian Mustard
Cadmium :Radish, Indian Mustard, Pea, Corn, Spinach, Carrot
Nickel : Indian Mustard, Spinach, Carrot
Zinc : Indian Mustard, Spinach, Carrot
Copper, Manganese, Iron Spinach, Carrot Mushrooms and Fungi "
No Word yet on Corn, but I'll let you know what I find out, and you please do the same!
Thanks to everyone.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Michael Pollan on NPR

Michael Pollan spoke with Terry Gross on Fresh Air today about food policy, sustainable agriculture, biofuels, and his open letter to the next president of the United States. Check out the audio file of the interview here!

I found it interesting that a main point Pollan made in his article and the interview was to ask the next president to plant a garden on the White House lawn. You may recall our post about the Eat the View campaign for the same cause -- a White House garden. Pollan didn't mention the website or YouTube video at all. Did he come up with the idea separately? Hmm...

Anyway, Michael Pollan always has good things to say, and both the article and interview are worth your time...let us know what you think!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Seafood Watch

I don't think we have yet addressed seafood on this blog. It's true that we're not living on the coast, but fish is available at many Richmond restaurants, and articles like this one tell us we should definitely be eating fish, at least occasionally: rates of heart disease are lower among fish eaters, and most of us have probably heard about the across-the-board benefits of eating omega-3 fatty acids (found in high concentrations in fish). Protection against heart disease, diabetes and cancer, inhibition of early Alzheimer's progression, positive effects on depression and other mental disorders, and other assorted benefits come with occasional fish consumption.

I have avoided buying seafood for some time now because I know overfishing is a huge problem worldwide, and it takes lots of gasoline to ship fish to Richmond from the coast. However, that's not to say I never find occasion to indulge in seafood; with this in mind, I would like to point all our readers to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. This is exactly the kind of guide I've been looking for -- a resource that helps us make more sustainable choices about which fish to eat. Check out the Consumer Guide. This includes printable pocket guides indicating which kinds of fish to eat and which to avoid. There are also some cards you can use to inform local restaurants on seafood concerns. In particular, the Southeast regional guide should definitely be considered next time you go to a nice restaurant: you will be empowered to make better choices for our oceans and the environment.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

October 11-17 Eat Local Challenge Menu

Here, belatedly, is the menu I put together for this past week. (Spelling is one of my great weaknesses. Passing comments from my husband serve as the blackboard's spellcheck and this week he kept any such corrections to himself so I apologize for any mistakes.) There was, as always, some adjustments. The jalapeno dish and the pizza got pushed back into this week. Thursday Night was dinner with our friends Jonah and Liz. Liz went out of her way to accommodate, by heading out to the Wednesday morning market to pick up all the fixings for a tossed salad, as well as zucchinis to grill up, and apples for a honey crisp. I picked up some ground turkey from Ellwood's and the hamburger rolls, as well as chocolates from the Wednesday afternoon market at Lakeside, and some sweet potatoes from Bill's Produce for fries. We toasted with the Horten Norton and had a great meal complete with homemade sweet pickles. I decided not to worry about the ketchup, mustard and partook.

The Quiche became a fritatta, the Lentils for the soup were not local... but the onions, chicken broth, rosemary, sage, and the Asian greens I put in right before serving all were. And the cornmeal is Patrick Henry brand from the mill in Ashland.
The cream came from Yoder Dairy via Elwoods, the Shiitake mushrooms came from Fertile Crescent, the red peppers from my yard and Amy's organics, The chicken from Avery Branch Farm, the poblanos, and sweet potatoes were from bills produce, the onions, I'd chopped and frozen from either Victory or Bills, the arugula and spinach from Victory, and finally the black beans were canned and although I need to use them up they never did get opened. The tomato sauce is made with about 6 tomatoes from my garden and for pizza sauce I add one can of paste (the smallest size they sell). I know the paste is cheating, but until I find the time or the tomatoes to cook down into a sauce thick enough to put on a pizza crust, this is how it is.

On the subject of cheating...Tuesday night was a big one. After spending all day digging and tilling, I came home and put up 6 quarts of tomatoes and helped my husband put up 3 quarts of pickles. When we finished a little past 7:00, having done nothing but can, and with no dinner started I caved in and we shared a meal of chicken sausages he'd bought at Ukrops. We did have these with our own peppers, and green beans from the market. Lunches all week were leftovers... and the yummy homemade yogurt my mother in law made for me! I like to eat this with honey and apples, or with hot sweet potatoes.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Farm to School Conference Details

This just in from our friends at Henrico County Extension:

Cultivating Virginia's Farm to School Program: A Conference for Farmers, School Nutrition Directors & Interested Citizens

When: December 10, 2008

Where: University of Virginia, Darden School of Business, Charlottesville, 100 Darden Blvd, 22903

Time: 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM

RSVP is required! Please register with the Northern District Office at (540) 341-7961 or mcbenson@vt.edu.

Cost to Attend: $20

Send to: Virginia Cooperative Extension Northern District Office C/O Farm to School Conference P.O. Box 701 Warrenton VA 20188

Please make checks payable to VCE- Northern District

Farm to school brings healthy food from local farms to school children nationwide. These programs connect schools with local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing health and nutrition education opportunities that will last a lifetime, and supporting local small farmers.

The specific purpose of this educational conference is to 1) learn how farm to school is coordinated across the United States, 2) provide a review of Task Force findings and current local efforts, 3) learn about potential model farm to school programs for Virginia, and 4) explore how Virginia can more effectively link its schools, farming and food systems together to improve the economic viability of agriculture and health and nutrition of Virginia's youth

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Eat Local Weekly Dinner Menu for Mid- October

Meal 1
Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Tart
End of summer salad
Ginger Ice Cream

Meal 2
Stir Fry with Broccoli Rabe and Japanese Eggplant

Meal 3
Cavanna Pasta with Yoder Dairy Cream sauce, wilted spinach and Shiitakes

Meal 4
Tofu 'steak' sandwiches
Spinach, Beet and Walnut salad
Pound Cake with Peach Honey

Meal 5
Frittata with Potatoes, peppers, garlic, squash and goat cheese feta
Toast with Amish roll Butter

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Richmond 'zine Fest

Natalie and I just got teaching a class of sorts on Urban Gardening. The focus of the class was to be how to garden even if you have no yard of your own. We gave some sources for community gardening and contact information if someone was interested in gardening in the median strip outside their home. I was supposed to cover soils, composting and bed preparation on top of soil mixes for containers, and Natalie was to also to cover plant selection. Yikes! Too much for our 1 hour slot....I had to get to basics like "What is NPK" etc.
Anyway.... as usual I tried to fit too much in and thus left stuff out!
Here are a few things I should have mentioned, but didn't as I got a little flustered...
1. The Richmond City Extension does not do soil testing, but they do have a range of adult education classes that are worth looking into. Their website says they have an Urban Gardening program Here is the link to the nec. contact information.
2. If you use a laundry hamper or trashcan full of holes as a movable compost bin on your deck or patio, you'll want to put a large pot tray underneath it to catch "runoff" (that is the juices from all that rotting stuff!) According the Brooklyn Botanic Garden this liquid can then be emptied out over your plants and soils like a "compost tea". If you don't know about compost tea that could be a whole 'nother class.
3. Don't forget... gardening of all kinds particularly vegetable gardening fills an important roll in the community. Your own gardening enterprises will lead you to meet new people as you seek out help and answers to questions. You will have food that you have grown yourself to share with others, either by preparing it for them, handing it to them over the fence, or taking it to your local food bank.
Thanks to everyone who ventured in to hear us talk about dirt, and thanks to the organizers at the Richmond 'Zine Fest for asking us to participate.

Oh yes and one of the participants in the class said that the Richmond Food Bank has an abundance of compostable material just waiting for someone to turn it into soil. Contact the Richmond Food Bank to check on this if you are interested.

4H Apples, Peanuts, and Honey Fundraiser!

Went onto Henrico County Extension Website to find some info to help me out with my worm bin, and I found this great fund raiser.... http://www.co.henrico.va.us/extension/4h/fundraisers.html

Enjoy the tastiness and feel good about helping out 4-H!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Closing the Food Gap

Last week, we headed to UVA to hear a lecture by Mark Winne, food activist and author of the book Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty. Winne pointed out that the vast differences in diet and food available to different populations in the United States reflects the country's huge economic and social disparities. "Food is emblematic," says Winne's website, "of a promise fulfilled for some but falling ever so short for many."

Winne read several stories straight from his book. I was inspired by his analysis of the public transportation in Hartford, CT (where he has spent quite some time advocating for a more equal food distribution system), where he showed that circuitous bus routes contributed to serious diet difficulties for those who had to rely on it for transportation to grocery stores. One woman's weekly trip to the grocery store took three hours round-trip, and she could only take home those items she could carry. In this story and others, Winne emphasized the importance of understanding the interconnectedness of food and diet with every aspect of daily life.

As Shannon mentioned, another Winne term was "Food Deserts" -- places, both urban and rural, where people are required to travel long distances to obtain food. There are currently at least 800 counties in the United States where 100% of the population are required to travel at least 10 miles to reach a grocery store. Many chain grocery stores have moved out of urban areas and into the suburbs, following populations with money to spend.

Those who simply cannot afford to buy food or travel to distant stores often turn to food banks. These are important resources for those who are hungry and in need; but, Winne cautions, we should be working to eliminate the need for these emergency sources of food. He said people often become 'too complacent' in their confidence that they are doing good, without looking at the source of the problem they are solving. "Shouldn't we be thinking about how to empower people to feed themselves?" said Winne. Just in Connecticut, Winne says, the number of food banks went from 4 to 400 during the Reagan administration, illustrating how food difficulties come hand-in-hand with economic ones.

Another concern is the quality of food provided through food banks: how is it produced, distributed and cooked? Winne reminds us to ask if farm workers themselves are paid a living wage -- if not, they themselves will be forced to patronize the food banks they are supplying!

I came out of this lecture motivated to help efforts to make local, organic, whole foods available to everyone in the community. Winne mentioned it's important not to just "preach to the choir," but reach out and try to make a difference in poor communities and those without easy access to resources we may take for granted, such as the farmer's market or our new Whole Foods. When I asked him to comment on blogging and internet use as a means of food activism, he said he believed blogs to be a valuable resource, as long as they are written intelligently and strive to reach out to the community at large. Whether it is through blogging, interacting with the community or volunteering, it is definitely important for us to work to 'close the food gap,' making food available to everyone.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Urban Deserts watch out!

Natalie is doing a post about the great lecture we travel to see last Monday at UVA. The topic... Shrinking the "Food Gap" (that is the gap in availability of nutritious and fresh food, or even just plain old food period, between individuals in lower income communities and those individuals living in middle and upper class areas). A portion of this discussion centered around "Food Deserts" large areas, usually urban, where no grocery stores or food markets exist and people are forced to travel long distances to find food. If you have to take the bus and it takes over an hour, how often can you get fresh greens and dairy home safely? If you can only carry a few bags on the bus how do you buy bulk items to save money?
Anyhoo Natalie will have more, but for now here is a link to the William Byrd House Market site and their congrats to Will Allen a man waging war on food deserts and winning! http://www.byrdhousemarket.blogspot.com/

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Meal Plan for Early October

So real quick here is my meal plan for this week. I will try to come back later and give recipes, sources, and 'cheats' (such as the new potatoes from North Carolina) if I can find the time.

Meal 1
Homemade pizza with homemade sauce, Roasted Red Peppers, garlic,basil, Mozzarella, and olives.
Spaghetti Squash with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, onion, zucchini, sweet pepper, and cherry tomatoes.
Arugula salad with homemade balsamic vinaigrette and focaccia from "No Wonder" bread.

Meal 2
Homemade soup with chicken stock, potatoes, parsley, kale, carrots, garlic, onions and maybe some chicken.
Grilled cheese and tomato sandwich
Baked apples with honey

Meal 3
Scalloped New Potatoes with chives and garlic
Salmon with Herb butter over mustard greens
Steamed green beans

Meal 4
Swiss chard and goat cheese frittata with green onion
Sweet potato baked fries
figs with honey

Meal 5
Fried Eggplant with homemade marinara sauce
Baked spinach and feta mushrooms
Roasted Red pepper on crusty white bread
arugula salad

Thoughts on Meat, Money and the Market

As My October Eat Local Challenge has got me thinking even more about what I eat than usual I realize that a lot has changed in our eating habits over the last year and a half. My husband ( a former "Meat Tribe" member in his younger days) always insisted upon meat as part of every meal. Now, however, he is often accepting of 3 or more meals a week meat free.

Good thing, considering the prices we pay for farmer's market meats. We payed $17 for a 4lb chicken at Faith Farm yesterday, and $11 for a 2.2Lb chicken at CCL. We agonize over this. I think to myself, okay we get one main meal. Even the little bird leaves a thigh and a leg for lunch the next day, and then all that remains makes an excellent stock for a soup that will be another dinner and multiple lunches. Still, I thought, can I really do this forever.... what are we going without to pay for this?

I am a former vegetarian. I believe that ALL of God's creatures should be treated with respect, even reverence, especially if we are taking their life to feed our own. For me eating pastured poultry, and buying pastured beef for my husband is as much about the life of the animal as it is about all the nutritional benefits or lack of antibiotics etc. Still, at $17 for a chicken I start to feel self indulgent.
Then last night my husband and I watched this film called BARAKA. It is a beautiful film, an artistic vision of a documentary perhaps, made entirely of footage of our beautiful natural world juxtaposed with footage of our man made world. One portion of this starts with adorable little fluffy yellow chicks riding down a conveyor belt. "What is this?" I thought apprehensively... "Where are they going?"
These little chicks are piled on top of one another, tiny eyes looking around trying to grasp their surroundings are shot with some force down a shoot, dropping distances that seem 'unsafe', falling in piles on top of one another, trying to find a way to upright themselves before they are shot through more shoots slamming into stainless steel plates, bouncing off again and down another shoot. I think surely by now they must be dead. Then you see a woman grabbing the chicks up one by one, performing some task in quick motion, and thoughtlessly (because how else could you do this and preserve your mental health) tossing each limp, but living little body by it's tiny wing into another stainless steal plate to bounce off and down another shoot to be grabbed by another woman who holds it by its neck and forces its tiny beak up against a hot metal that burns the end of it's beak off, the little bird gasping, before its tossed back onto the pile, stuffed in a cage and left to sit out the rest of it's life in a putrid laying house.

My husband and I looked at one another and nodded. This is why we spend $17 for a chicken, even if it means chicken is only once every 7-10 days and not lunch and dinner nearly everyday as it is for most Americans. The other 'unnecessaries' we go with out...cable t.v., a land line phone, far fewer dinners out, or ordering food in. It's worth it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Ukrops talking Local

So I shop at Ukrops Grocery. I am happy to shop at Ukrops. They are big in this area, but they are of this area. They are a family owned local business weather you like them or not. If I have to chose between giving my food dollars to Ukrops, Kroger, or Food Lion etc. Il always choose Ukrops. Then there is Elwood Thompsons. They are more expensive, what do you expect. They are smaller, in the city, and have always catered to a smaller, more niche market carrying all sorts of items that others never carry. I have had some great shoping experiences at Elwoods lately due to a combination of nice local foods selection and great service... Surprise!
Now we introduce Whole Foods. Whole Foods has been actively pursuing the local produce market, with representives showing up at farmers markets talking to vendors about selling whole sale as well as donating 5% of their opening day sales to The Center for Rural Culture. They also are or will be having a farmers market outside of their store in short pump.
I have still not made it out to Whole Foods... I admit I am afraid of short pump...especially grocery shopping that involves police directed traffic. However, they do carry one of my all time favorites... Stapleton's Honey... in bulk (at least for the time being). They also carry a nice selection of seafood from the Chesapeake Bay as well as locally grown produce.
Last year Ukrops suddenly stepped up the local food selection and publicity for their local products... Remember their "Meet your Farmer" days? Anyway to my point... perhaps it's the presence of Whole Foods, but Ukrops is once again trying to lure some locavores to their stores after a summer seriously deficient in local produce items. Based on their website I wouldn't say they are stepping it up exactly, but they are making a special point to advertise Locally grown Asian pears and apples and pumpkins... Worth reading the couple of paragraphs they have written about these items.. apparently all of there pumpkins and many of their gourdsa are grown right off of Laburnum ave.
Elwood Thompsons sells a wide variety of locally grown produce, cheeses, meats, honey, and Yoder Dairy milks and heavy whipping cream.

Eat Local Challenge, Day 1 (A confession)

Shannon and I signed up for the Eat Local Challenge, where we solemnly pledge to eat foods grown and produced within a hundred miles of where we live. No problem, I thought (a bit smugly I now realize). I mean- I work at a farmer's market. I do the minute amount which is the remainder of my shopping mostly at Ellwood Thompson's. Yet today, the first day of my declared locavore-ism, I ate exactly nothing that was grown and produced within a hundred miles of where I live. Not one thing.

I had prepared poorly, not to mention that fate was not really on this locavore's side today. The idea that I had not put the conscious thought that IS local eating into my pledge occured to me last night as I was looking at the spread of the cocktail party I was attending. Tomorrow, I thought, I won't be able to eat any of this. Tomorrow, I thought, I might become a pain in the butt. What about the leftovers that were hiding out in my fridge- milk and yoghurt, not to mention my curried cous- cous salad, the pizza I bought in a moment of weakness, the endless array of cheeses that always seduce their way into my cart, the bottle of Argentinian Malbec? What was gong to happen to them? Did I throw them out in solidarity and commitment?

I was discussing this with Massey, a fellow Pollan fan at the party, and today received this pep talk via email:
He says:
I was thinking about your transition to your 100 mile diet today. I think you HAVE to eat the left-overs and other perishables you already have that are from greater than 100 miles away. It would be really wasteful, inefficient, and unsustainable to not eat the perishables simply in the name of strictly adhering to the fuel and producer conscious 100 mile diet.

So, thanks for your grace. Oh, and while we are at it, one more thing. The fair is in town and that means at least one thing- Elephant Ears. Yep, I had one today- in celebration and, perhaps really as my last hurrah. I swear.

(BTW, fried dough goes really well with Malbec...)