Saturday, August 30, 2008

Heritage Harvest Festival This Saturday Sept 6!!

This coming Saturday is the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello! The event is a day long mix of various tastings, lectures, workshops, and a tour of the Thomas Jefferson Center For Historic Plants. There are several classes on preserving and saving seeds and an old fashioned seed swap. There is still time to register. I went last year and learned a great deal and enjoyed the atmosphere and some good food. If you choose to go you may want to consider setting aside some time at the end of the day for early season apple picking just down the road at Graves Mountain!

Henrico Harvest Fair

Saturday, October 18, 2008
Virginia Cooperative Extension, Henrico Parks and Recreation and the Henrico Master Gardener Association are teaming together to put on the
Henrico Harvest Fair
at Armour House and Gardens at Meadowview
(This is off of Creighton and Clarendon Rd in the east end).
Click on the link above to pre-register at a cost of $10.00 for a day full of class, demonstrations and vendors. You can register at the Fair at 8:30am that morning for $12 with some classes costing additional money. There is a Rain Barrel work shop with a $50 materials fee for example. Speakers include Tom Brinda of Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Art Chadwick of Chadwick's Orchids, And Arborist extraordinaire Joel Koci.
There are lectures on Gardening with Winter Crops, Growing Herbs Indoors, Gardening for Birds and Butterflies and Container Gardening for fall.

Organic Advocacy

One of the best sources of information on U.S. food policy is the Organic Consumers Association Newsletter. Check out this week's issue and find out about what you can do to stop plans to irradiate your lettuce and spinach, the EPA's coverup of their knowledge of the cause of the Colony Collapse Disorder plaguing honeybees, as well as the announcement of the U.S. film debut for The World According to Monsanto among many other fascinating headlines. This is a well organized, generous advocacy group, so if you want to take your food values to the next level, this is a great place to start.

New market to open for 2009 season

The Market Umbrella is excited to announce a new Farmer's Market to open next spring in Bryant Park. This will be an afternoon, weekday market, featuring some of your favorite vendors from the South of the James market. There will also be two 'Holiday Markets' this fall, one in November and one in December. Check out Style Magazine this Wednesday for more details.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Saturdays at South of the James

Okay, so here officially starts my attempt to visit all of the area's Saturday markets and report back. Starting with my neighborhood market, the South of the James Market at 42nd st. in Forest Hill Park I brought along my camera and attempted to capture some shots of this very busy market without capturing anyone unaware in closeup at 8:00am on their Saturday shopping trip! Tricky, seeing as at times the volume of shoppers and vendors at this market can seem a bit over whelming for me so early in the morning. It is always well worth the trip.

The Market opens at 8:00am and as seen here the place is buzzing with early a.m. activity!

Full of produce and meat vendors as well as multiple vendors selling fresh breakfast and lunch items and coffee, people stroll the market shopping, people watching, and walking their dogs.
People shop their favorite vendors most often bringing their own bags. On this day I walked out with my usual pound of coffee, bags of produce and for dinner with my in-laws, we also had two beautiful dessert tarts from Seven Hills Market and a bouquet of flowers from Amy's Organics. One of my favorite purchases this week was two bags of deep purple shelling peas from Bills Produce (That's their booth here on the left)

In addition to several produce and meat vendors, as well as homemade tofu, coffee, fresh baked desserts, honey, preserves, biscotti, (and coming soon homemade chocolates!) there are also many craft vendors. Some, like House of Lukaya sell homemade all natural lotions, scrubs and insect repellents using homegrown herbs. Others sell goats milk soaps, and soy based candles. Although some people seem opposed to such a large number of crafts vendors, I really appreciate vendors like these so long as the focus of local fresh foods is not lost. Adding locally made lotion that uses locally and organically grown herbs can't be a bad addition to the buying local philosophy.
There are also a number of other educational or entertainment elements to the market. Here a super cutie enjoys the pool full of corn. Probably a better use for all that excess inedible corn than car fuel and corn syrup.

This Lawn is Your Lawn

Here is a cute video recommended by RFC friend Laura:

Initially I thought the idea of petitioning the next president to grow a garden at the White House was kind of silly, but some good points are being made here. Sometimes grand gestures are important to influence public mindspace. I would love to see the next president take a more conscientious view of food and agriculture, encouraging the American people to do the same.

The website ( says,

Here are a few things you can do to help:
1) Identify a landscape near you that you think should be "edible-ized". Residents of San Francisco are planting a Victory Garden in front of their town hall. The Governors of Maine and New York are already eating from gardens planted at their official residences. New school gardens are being dug across the country. What about your town, your local schools, and elected official's residence?

2) Sign our "White House Food Garden Petition" which we will deliver to the President-elect this fall along with a diverse collection of heirloom seed packets.

3) Vote for the idea of a food garden on the White House lawn at the website

4) Join this campaign and website. Use this site to share your stories of edible landscapes you're creating, planning, or already eating.

5) Join our Facebook group

You can also put up one of these images on your website or blog:

Flats for Winter Greens

Now is the time to start if you're planning to extend the growing season into the cold months. Recently I acquired and began reading Four Season Harvest, a book about growing throughout the winter by Eliot Coleman, a resident of Maine (!). I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in vegetable gardening. It's a lot easier than I thought to grow fresh produce even when there's snow on the ground!

Two of the key components of the 'four season harvest' are cold frames and vegetables that have already been planted by the time the weather gets cold. With this in mind, I plan to transform the white fence around my median garden into a cold frame using clear plastic and a set of 'lids' that cover the top of the garden. More on this later; for now I'd like to talk about the flats I'm growing on the back porch. For the most part the seeds have been reclining happily in protected part-shade under a pine tree, and since I took this picture, most of them have sprouted. At the moment I'm growing spinach, onions, broccoli raab, broccoli, carrots and beets. All of these are good bets for late fall or winter harvests. More seeds are on the way via Seeds of Change, a wonderful seed site offering organic, open-pollinated seeds.

Even if you don't have the time to build a cold frame, you still have time to plant for a fall harvest -- now is the time to be flatting out greens like lettuce, kale, collards, chard, spinach, arugula and pak choi!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Getting Ready for Winter

With all the cold and rainy weather we've been having, I can't help but remember that summer is coming to an end. With that in mind, it's already time to start preparing for the dark, ominously produce-absent winter months. If you have the freezer space, the RFC recommends starting to freeze peppers, tomatoes, and even onions. Tomatoes need to be de-skinned, peppers need to be de-seeded and onions need to be chopped -- but trust me, it'll be worth it when your only options are either goods that have shipped across the country, or going without.

One thing I've been doing is drying herbs. It's always so much better to use your own than to buy that little glass jar in the spice section. Some folks use a commercial electric dehydrator for this purpose, but my mom informed me that you don't have to use one. Just laying the plant onto paper towels and placing it out of direct sun in good air circulation is enough; it just takes about three times as long. I've had some basil going for a couple of days now and slowly but surely it's drying out. I did have to find a place to put trays of basil for days on end, but since I don't own a dehydrator, this is a great way to put away basil (and other herbs like thyme, oregano and rosemary) for year-round enjoyment! My mom seems to always have herbs drying -- it's easy to set up trays and check them every day. Put the dried herbs in glass mason jars when you're finished and create a lovely spice collection from your own herb garden.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Compost Bin-anza!

As you RFC readers may know, I have been maintaining a small garden in the median of the road where I live. Now, as I am starting to think about the end of growing season '08, I have begun to make plans for garden expansions and forays into sustainability. I want to go beyond growing a few vegetables to throw in with dinner or salads. I decided the next step was to start making my own compost for use in future garden beds. Composting is a great way of 'greening' your day-to-day life, since kitchen waste can be used to feed the soil. It also helps you to close your system of food production and consumption by eliminating the need to bring in soil amendments from external sources.

Since I was also interested in learning more about woodworking, I decided to build a three-section compost bin, which allows for a high degree of productivity (you can have multiple piles going at once) and involves some detailed woodcutting and mathematical planning. RFC friend and neighbor Ron Wood volunteered his backyard for the ultimate location of the composter, and helped me find plans for the design. You can check out the plan we used here.

We set aside a free weekend and headed out to Lowe's. The plans for the composter told us what materials we needed. We decided to modify the design a bit and abandoned the idea of creating a top. Most people, it seems, are able to successfully create compost without covering it. My dad, always helpful, assisted in math calculations and also cut the wood for us. We assembled some parts of the bin with his help, then took everything home, where we would do most of the major construction. Other materials we used besides wood included 'hardware cloth' -- the wire mesh for the sides -- paint and decking screws.

Ron cleared out a likely corner of his yard in preparation, and we started the next step: painting. We were told to use untreated wood, because having chemicals up against your compost is unwise and potentially dangerous since you'll ultimately be spreading it on the ground where you're growing food. So, instead, we had to paint, which seals off the wood and prevents it from rotting as it weathers. Yes, paint also has its share of toxic chemicals, so there's no ideal solution here for preserving wood.

After painting (two coats!) we began putting together the bin. I confess we became a bit lax about taking pictures at this point, because we were focused on finishing. We assembled the 'sides' of the bin first, then attached them to long runners, creating the sectional structure you see in the picture below.

A key aspect of this compost bin is the slatted front -- you can gradually slide slats of wood along guides we built along the front as you build up a bigger and bigger pile of compost.

Making the slats fit right was by far the hardest part of building this composter. When we were almost finished putting it together, it turned out we had made an error when we attached one of the sides. One section was too wide for the slats and one was too narrow. We did some taking-apart and putting-back-together and ended up having to cut .25 inches off most of the slats before we could slide them in. A caution to those who attempt this project: make sure the slats fit before you attach the sides to the crosspieces!

At last, it was time to begin building our compost pile. We laid down a layer of sticks for good air flow at the bottom of the pile.

Then I forked in a good amount of 'mature' compost: old leaves and dried out grass clippings. Ron has a good pile of leaves to draw on in his backyard. Our reference book (How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons) recommended that the pile be composed of 45% mature compost (organic matter further along in the process of decomposition like fallen leaves or straw), 45% immature compost (green matter like fresh grass clippings or pulled weeds) and 10% soil (which already contains some of the microbes you're trying to encourage as you make the pile).

Next I added some bamboo clippings and weeds -- green or 'immature' material.

We created a soil mixture using good compost and some topsoil from elsewhere in the yard and sprinkled it on the top.

The last step: watering! Now it's time to let the compost cook. My dad keeps a big thermometer in his pile so he can track the temperature. You want your compost to get as hot as possible, because this means the compost process is working. We plan to add small layers of kitchen waste and dead leaves as needed, then create another big section of brown, green and soil when we have enough green material to do so. I think the hardest part of building lots of compost is finding enough green. Grass clippings could be great for this.

I highly recommend How to Grow More Vegetables as a reference if you're interested in getting into composting. Jeavons explains how composting works and why you should be doing it in your own backyard. Also, check out for lots of good online info about composting. You don't have to go to the extremes we did to create a compost pile. Just build something that works for you, and go from there. In my opinion, there is no excuse not to compost. Once the pile is set up, maintenance requires only a little time. The results afford huge benefits to the environment, building healthy soil from food and yard refuse that might have gone to waste. Also, we all know industrial agriculture is essentially murdering the soil at an incredible rate, using pesticides and fertilizer that deplete soil health and neglecting to rotate crops. I believe we should do what we can to make new, fresh soil and give back to the earth what we have taken as we grow food to keep ourselves alive.

As an aside, if you would like advice on building the compost bin design we used, feel free to shoot the RFC an email. And don't forget, big gardening and sustainability plans are in the works, so check back soon for more updates!

Come on now, Richmond!

With a great system of natural foods stores and farmer's markets a nearly ubiquitous presence both physically and in the local media, is Richmond heeding the call to eat healthier and from local sources? Apparently not. According to this article in Forbes magazine, Richmond consumers have the second unhealthiest grocery shopping habits in the country. There are, of course, many factors at work, including social influence and perceived cost, but the most surprising influence on eating is simply habit. We tend to buy what we have always bought. That is what I love about food, though. Food is something that we are constantly acquiring, and so can constantly be rethought. Food can help us awaken out of our unconscious habits to something that has a very powerful influence over our health, our economy and our world. We can choose every day to put our influence to work in a positive way, no how matter how small the decision.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Food Bank Appeal

One of the best parts of my job at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is knowing that the crops the children plant in our farm garden will ultimately be harvested by different children and then sent to the Central Virginia Food Bank. The Community Kitchen will then turn our fresh produce into meals for the Kid's Cafe. According to the CVFB website, the Kid's Cafe "is a partnership with established after-school and summer programs in the Richmond Metro area that provide safe places for children to participate in activities designed to enhance educational and social development." Kids are helping feed other kids. My joy and my job is to assist in the planting, to help with watering and finally, to teach children when the food is ready to harvest. Those days, those many joyous harvest days, are my favorite. Those are days of discovery for parent and child, days to exclaim at the marvel of a bee pollinating a bright purple eggplant flower, to taste a red noodle bean, to learn about the shear existence of a Spaghetti Squash. And then, I get to gather up all of these discoveries, and take them to the Central Virginia Food Bank.

Anthony always greets me there. He is happy to see me, and for no selfish reason. He is as excited as I am as the weight appears on the electronic scale- "27 Pounds!" he says- cheerfully impressed with our bounty. I am unreasonably proud.

Last week, the canned food bins of the CVFB were appallingly empty. This week, they were reasonably full. I asked Anthony if people had responded to the numerous news programs which highlighted the plight of the empty bins. He told me that the CVFB had spent $30,000 of its own money to restock the shelves because, of course, people still have to eat.

This year, the CVFB has spent $80,000 to feed central Virginia. Upon hearing that, I made a plan to host a canned food drive at my work. I am encouraging people to look in their pantries for food they do not think they will use- I know I have some. That way, we do not have to shop for food, we can simply give what we do not need. If you would like to help, you can look here, or email the Richmond Food Collective for ideas.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Alice Waters Video

Click here to check out a video of Alice Waters talking about farmer's markets and the Chez Panisse Foundation’s Edible Schoolyard project, which, according to the website, "provides urban public school students with a one-acre organic garden and a kitchen classroom." In the video, Alice says, "We have to teach people about where their food comes from," and I admire her for taking action to make this happen. I was reminded of what the folks at Tricycle Gardens are doing with their youth programs. Just yesterday, children from the Neighborhood Resource Center community garden were present at the Byrd House Market to sell the produce they have been growing this season. It's great to hear about all these efforts to educate young folks on the importance of seasonal, local, organic -- what I like to call 'mindful' -- eating. Definitely, we can start with our own kids by bringing them to the farmer's markets. Alice says, "I think that the farmer's market movement is the most important way of educating people in this country about food, about sustainability, about biodiversity." I agree. See you there!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

For those of you who are interested in supporting area farmer's markets, here is a delicious event upcoming out in Goochland:


The Goochland Farmers Market is holding it’s Second Annual Pie & Cake Auction on Saturday, August 16th. The live auction will be held at the Farmers Market on the grounds of Grace Episcopal Church, 2955 River Road West, Goochland.


Donate any Homemade Pie, Cake or Quiche (Pies must have a crust)

No Squirt Can Whipped Crème (it melts)!

Drop off at Grace Church Parish House between 8:00-10:00am.

Auctioneer Frankie Carter will begin the LIVE Auction at 10:00am.

Bid on Your Favorite Pie or Cake

Donate or Buy a Pie or Cake

All proceeds to benefit the Goochland Farmers Market!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Summer Bounty

This garden update has been a long time in coming. I started a new part-time job in July, and I have been really busy working for Amy's Garden! You can see me now every Saturday at the South of the James market in Forest Hill Park selling organic produce and cut flowers.

I've certainly gained a new perspective on my own small garden in the median -- after seeing Amy's farm out in Charles City, my plot seems tiny! Still, I've managed to harvest a good variety of veggies, including Cherokee Purple and Yellow Pear tomatoes, Thai hot peppers, and several varieties of sweet pepper. It's great to see everything finally ripening, the fruits of my long-ago labor in early May. I also love how the colors of summer vegetables match the heat of August in reds and yellows.

I admit I should have staked the tomatoes (they're an unruly mass) and my peppers occasionally suffer from blossom end rot. No garden is perfect, but this one, in my opinion, has done quite well. I hope my 'summer bounty' photo above will inspire readers of the RFC to grow their own gardens in upcoming seasons -- it's a thrill to eat what you have grown yourself!

Plans are upcoming for major improvements on the median garden. Check back here for more updates and (hopefully) pictures of newly planted fall greens!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

NY Times Op Ed Piece by Farm Boy on Animal Cruelty

Okay, Thank You to my wonderful Uncle for forwarding me this beautifully written opinion piece from the NY Times. For anyone interested in the issue of animal rights and industrial farm practices please check it out.

Ellwood Thompsons Book Club

It has come to my attention (thank you Kirsten) that ET is now hosting a book club that will meet every other month. After perusing their vast book list it seems as though most of the books to be discussed are about local and organic eating, and such. One good title... Mad Sheep: the true story behind the U.S.D.A.'s war on a Family Farm by Linda Faillace. For more information and to see this amazing book list click here.

Eat Local Challenge

As Erin was saying August is a great time for anyone sticking their toe in the "local waters" to just jump right in!! With so much abundance at the local farmers markets your grocery store list could easily and tastily be reduced to just a handful of items. Even locally roasted coffee, is available at the South of the James Market... (or the Forest Hill Ukrops). Okay, so jump right in!

For those of you who would like a little extra guidance or want to make a firm commitment to push themselves along, the Eat Local Challenge has been encouraging people to commit to eating locally one month at time for years now. They have just launched their October 2008 Eat Local Challenge and I have signed On!! They provide guidelines like creating a firm "exceptions" list. They encourage participants to start now in order to do a little preparation to make sure a month of eating local in October is as tasty and enjoyable as possible and they give you advice on how to prepare. Their Site can provide you with all kinds of information, a local food search database.... and the registration form.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Happy National Farmers Market Week!

It is Farmers Market Week, and I have been searching for ways to celebrate. Here is what I have found:

A chance to show off your favorite local food and your cooking talent- on film! The Virginia Department of Agriculture is sponsoring a video contest to see what you eat and where you get it. Check out this link for details. The winner gets $200 in Virginia Grown goods!

This article on eating locally was posted by the Center for Rural Culture. It has loads of great info on farmers markets, events and the benefits of local eating.

Of course, you have many chances to support YOUR neighborhood market this week. As Shannon and I were saying last night, August is a great time to get into eating well in your own backyard. As for my own celebration, I plan on eating gazpacho for lunch and my very favorite corn cakes with Natalie's salsa for dinner. Oh, yeah- and peach cobbler for dessert. Oh, yeah.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Learn to Can with the Vegetarian Society!

This came today from Lois at the Vegetarian Society:

Canning Class! by VSR member Sandra Davenport

The class will be on Saturday, Aug.23 from 10am-1pm. Each person needs to bring veggies to can. The following are good ones to can: snap beans, tomatoes, butter beans, squash, succotash (butter beans, tomatoes, & corn combined). Bring enough to make 4 cups for a quart of veggies, plan to make about 3 quarts. Everything else will be supplied. The address is 7513 Wentworth Ave. and phone number is 266-0217. No charge!

Brookview and Goochland Market

Just a quick word to express my sympathy for Brookview farms who suffered a hit this past week when their main pork and beef freezer failed them. Their e-mail sounded of high spirits and focused on all the products they still have to offer post meltdown, but all the same this has to be a very frustrating and financially trying experience.
I would also like to say that I have been meaning to get to the Goochland Saturday Market for a solid year now and have yet to find or "make" the time. Fuel being what it is, and so many great markets so near to my home and work I just haven't made the trip. However, a good friend of ours is there every week selling homemade all natural bug repellent (I've tried this and it really works), lotions, scrubs and such and by all accounts I've heard people seem to love this market.
If any of you reading this have visited or even frequent the Goochland Farmers Market please feel free to post a comment about your market experience west of the city.

Also still trying to get to Ashland FM.....

Saturday, August 2, 2008

August 2 At the Market

So August is here and yes it's hot and humid, but all that steady warmth brings us so many delicious fruits of the season. I just got back from an early morning trip to the South of the James Market and was once again bowled over by all that bounty! Of course, this time of year if your like me and have a garden of your own, and friends and family with gardens of their own, there are probably certain vegetational treats that you've got covered (or are covering your counter tops.) Even so, there is variety enough at the market to round out your personal store of zucchinis, yellow squash and tomatoes.
Here is what I got at the market today ...
8 nice size beets $2.00
Quart of red potatoes $2.00
1 Cantaloupe $2.00
1 Large Eggplant $2.00
1 Quart greenbeans $2.00
Semolina Baguette $2.00
Rosemary and Onion Focaccia $4.00
Pint of Tomatillos $2.00
Pint of Shitake Mushrooms $3.00?
Creamy Golden Potatoes (quart) $4.00
Sweet Red Peppers $1.00 each
Blackberries, 2pints for $5.00
Fresh Eggs, a dozen free range for $4.00
Cranberry Beans, about a quart, $3.00
White Onions, quart, $3.00
1 Amazing almond flour based Tart, $5.00 (Joel at Seven Hills, lured me in with a free sample)
Ham biscuits for the hubby $1.00 each
Breakfast Sausage links $6.00
Honey $3.50?

All of these items came from Faith Farm, Fertile Crescent Farm, Bills Produce, Victory Farm, Seven Hills Market, No Wonder Bread, and the blackberries... I don't remember the name of the farm, but this was all she was selling... (sorry, Erin can you remember?)

Other good stuff I saw there... lemon cucumbers, english and pickling cucumbers, A woman buying a whole bushel of tomatos, Fresh Made Tofu for $2.50!, Eggplant Parm Sandwhich for $5.00, Okra, Corn, garlic, herbs, cookies, cake, kale, mixed quarts of several tomato varieties, a new vendor with some nice home made hard Cheeses, and tons more!