Sunday, February 28, 2010

Walmart Pursues the Local Food Market- Update

Feb 28, 2010 (Since I originally posted this I have read Joel Salatin's piece in Flavor Magazine on trying to learn lessons from the big box stores. One of his comments... we need an independent store in a high traffic area.. "preferably next to a Walmart." He also talks about the need for an attached dinner or large food processing kitchen to reduce food waste. Check out Joel's thoughts on the subject in the February/March issue of Flavor. I agree with his ideas for moving the sustainable food movement forward. His model, properly executed, could be just the sort of independent support our local food systems need.)

First it was organic produce and now local. It appears that Walmart has been hard at work not only acquiring locally grown foods, but trying to recreate the diverse, small farm system that insured a variety of locally grown foods in the days before Big Ag. Our Friend Anne with the Richmond Area Food System council sent us this article from the Atlantic magazine. Speaking as someone who has set foot in a Walmart exactly once in the last nine years, I have to say I am skeptical about the good that can come of this. Truthfully, my paltry knowledge of Walmart comes strictly from the occasional news story on the radio or television (although there have been quite a lot of those stories for me to hear, and from the anecdotal comments sometimes made by individuals a few decades older than me who have their own sense of how Walmart has changed as a company and changed the world around us.
It seems that Walmarts efforts on the local food front front have the potential to make a world of difference to small farmers trying to find a market for their produce. Perhaps, however, the creation of whole farming communities that depend upon Walmart for their survival is less than ideal. Walmart grew to be know for a long list of negatives including the undoing of many, small and medium sized businesses. The Walmart that so many have come to demonize in part for doing in 'Main street' is the same company that made a name for itself as a major supporter of "Made in the Usa." Walmart became a behemoth, and changed it's purchasing practices. Companies that didn't sell to Walmart found it hard to compete, and many who did found the low prices Walmart demanded forced them to change the way they ran their own businesses. Often this pressure to create goods ever more cheaply forced even Walmart's suppliers out of business.
In the end, it is not just an issue for me of Walmart's own record, but of the potential for one corporate entity to yield so much power over our local food systems. Perhaps this is the answer to some small farmer's prayers, or maybe it's just an easier answer that will prevent the independent creation of local food systems. It seems that a fundamental issue consistently raised about our current food system is a lack of independence for the farmer. It could be very good news if Walmart does become successful in encouraging greater regional diversity, small producers, and efficient distribution of their goods. At the same time my first, uneducated thought is of the potential costs resulting from a local food system overly dependent upon one very large corporate entity. I think I need to do some more research, maybe even go to a Walmart.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

New Books We Recommend : AKA Marion Nestle is Amazing!

New Books we Recommend: AKA Marion Nestle is Amazing!

I've just about finished updating our "Books we Reccomend" section and suddenly had to stop and quickly write a few words about Marion Nestle and her website Food Politics. While we here at the RFC are usually speaking from a position outside of our greater food system, Nestle has been working for decades to improve that system from within. A prolific writer and outlandishly informed and insightful educator on the topic of our food system, Nestle seems to cover all the angles with such enthusiasm and charm it's hard not to sit up and pay attention.
Her book on the pet food industry and what it says about our food system, Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine is on my reading list. A passage from her site states that "The story told in Pet Food Politics demonstrates how food for people, farm animals, and pets is really much the same. We only have one food system. A safety problem in any part of it affects food for all. The pet food recalls should have warned us all that the food safety system needed fixing, and right away. The peanut butter recalls of 2009 show what what happens when such warnings go unheeded."
Nestle's Books include Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health. The website includes reviews of the text from the likes of Julia Child who stated that “In this fascinating book we learn how powerful, intrusive, influential, and invasive big industry is and how alert we must constantly be to prevent it from influencing not only our own personal nutritional choices, but those of our government agencies. Marion Nestle has presented us with a courageous and masterful exposé.”
Even if you don't read her books you should check out her blog. I just picked up more than a few great bits of information in a matter of minutes Including news of chef Jamie Oliver's upcoming T.V. show depicting his attempt to overhaul the food in one notoriously unhealthy West Virgina public School.
Nestle, who is speaking today in D.C. at the USDA also has an updated eddition of her 2003 book Safe Food coming out this spring.

Friday, February 26, 2010

We heart Virginia wine.

Since this is the weekend the Virginia Wine Expo is in town, I thought I'd share a bit about my latest VA wine adventure. I learned most of what I know about wine during my four year stint in Napa, where I worked for the Hess Collection Winery on Mount Veeder. Virginia wine is certainly different than the fat and rich wines of California- but Virginia wine has its own allure. As a fairly new wine growing reigon, we have the benefit of traditional old world styles with new world technology. We also have the added charm of sharing our agricultural land with a variety of crops, thus avoiding the monocultural expectations of a region.

I have written before about Grayhaven Winery in Gum Spring- one of the most fun and generous tasting rooms in the area. Visit their website to see when their next South African Festival is, or take a short drive west to taste their wonderful wines.

Last weekend, I went on a tour of wineries in the Richmond region. Our first stop was Cooper Vineyard in Louisa County, which was having their Mardi Gras party. For $5 we got jambalaya, king cake, and an extensive wine tasting. My favorites were the Cabernet Franc, the St. Stephen's Rose, (of course!) and the Reserve Norton (a grape native to Virginia).

From there, we took a gorgeous drive to Lake Anna Winery, where they have a gorgeous, open tasting room, and a very friendly dog named Bandit.

Both of the friends I was traveling with like wines on the sweeter side, and they each purchased a couple of bottles at Lake Anna. I loved walking the grounds. Yes, that is a bird's nest in the vines!
And we found a sweet heart hidden in a hickory nut.

The RFC is planning a trip around the wineries around the Charlottesville area sometime this spring. I am very excited to see where First Colony and Prince Michel, some of my favorite Virginia wines, are made. I am really looking forward to finding a few new favorites at the Wine Expo this weekend.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Act Now!

Our dear friends at Virginia Cooperative Extension are in trouble. The new state budget would eliminate the funding for Virginia's Viability Specialists and all of the incredible work they do to help create viable farmers markets, food systems and agricultural enterprises. The local food system needs to show that we value the services of the extension office. Please read on, then take action to let your delegate know that you support the folks who work in your local food system.

Here is info from a leader in the Richmond Area Food System who has done the leg work for us...

"The House Appropriations Committee (HAC) created the budget and voted on it (nothing can be done about that now)…they are now sending it along to the full House for acceptance (this is the time to contact any and all House members to object to HB30 Amendment 219)…after the acceptance (can’t see why it wouldn’t get approved by the body) the HAC gets the approved bill back for amendment in conference with the Senate Finance Committee (now through next week is a good time to contact any and all Senators). Those two committees will generate the compromise budget (and amend the language as they see fit) and pass the final compromise budget along to the Governor for acceptance. Once the budget gets out of the compromise process it’s over, unless the Governor sends it back for revision. Contacting the people on the HAC today and tomorrow is best today, however you can. Then move to any and all Delegates you’d like. Here are the folks that need contacting right now… HB 30 Budget Bill.
02/21/10 House: Reported from Appropriations with amendments (15-Y 7-N)

The House of Appropriations Committee proposed budget amendment was offered on Sunday, February 21. The amendment number is Item 219 #2H and is available on line at:

YEAS--Putney, Morgan, Tata, Ingram, May, Sherwood, Cox, M.K., Landes, Jones, O'Bannon, Lingamfelter, Poindexter, Massie, Abbitt, Dance--15. NAYS--Phillips, Scott, J.M., Joannou, Brink, Ware, O., Howell, A.T., BaCote--7. ABSTENTIONS--0. NOT VOTING--0. "

Here is a wonderful example letter that was sent by our friend Anne on the behalf of our viability specialist Jonah Fogel. Feel free to cut and paste when you write your own letter.

"February 23, 2010
Dear Ms. McQuinn,
I am writing you regarding the section in the House’s proposed budget that would eliminate Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Community Viability program.
I understand and sympathize with the difficult position that Virginia’s legislators have been put in due to fiscal constraints. That said I would like to express to you how much Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Community Viability program has meant to me.
I am a resident of the City of Richmond and a staff transportation planner for the Richmond Area MPO. I am also, outside of my job, a founding member and facilitator of the Richmond Area Food System Council (RAFSC) (, a not-for-profit, ad-hoc community group focused on strengthening the area’s local food system. The group is made up of consumers, producers, market managers, retailers, restaurateurs, and nutrition advocates, among others. As a planner, I am focused on our local food system’s ability to strengthen our local economy, affect land use and protect our environment. The Richmond Area Food System Council has been extremely well-received and needed by our community, urban and rural alike.
The only full-time, paid support that our group has had since our creation in 2007 has been from Dr. Jonah Fogel, a Community Viability Specialist from VCE’s Community Viability program. His consistent, objective support has been invaluable to our group’s success, and the affiliation with VCE has lent credibility and notoriety that we would never have had otherwise.
Dr. Fogel has been available to me and other members of RAFSC over the past years and has constantly provided research assistance, advice, meeting space and technical support. His objective attitude and careful approach has lent a gravity and professional quality to our efforts.
It is my belief that if the Community Viability program is eliminated, our group will suffer greatly, both from Dr. Fogel’s absence and from the lack of affiliation with VCE.
Please do everything in your power to keep funding for this important program. Your efforts will not go unnoticed by your constituents. "

You can find your delegate's contact information here.

Please take a moment and contact your Representatives and ask them not to support a bill that would cut funding for this invaluable resource.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Recipe: Pasta with fresh Oyster Mushrooms and Chevre Cream sauce or, Love thy Neighbor

I feel so lucky to live in such close proximity to friends- especially during vast and seemingly eternal snowstorms. During the last bank of 'weather', and all of its disappointing cancellations, I was lucky enough to live within walking distance of my friend Susan. She and I would cobble together suppers from whatever we had in our respective pantries. Here is one of my favorite recipes from this past pile of storms, linguini with fresh oyster mushrooms and goat cheese cream sauce.

The bulk of ingredients in this recipe were sourced locally, from Fall Line Farms vendors.

1 Pound Bombolini Black Pepper Linguini

4 TBS butter (divided)
2 TBS flour
1 1/2 cups of milk
4 oz Night Sky chevre with herbs or plain
Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 pound Dave and Dee's fresh oyster mushrooms, torn into bite size pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced

Minced Parsley to taste- fresh or dried

Cook pasta according to package directions. While the water is boiling, make sauce. In saute pan, melt 2 TBS butter over medium heat. Add garlic and mushrooms, toss to coat with butter. Cook until mushrooms are soft. Melt 2TBS of butter in a medium saucepan, and sprinkle in flour to toast to make a roux. Pour in milk, whisking all the time. When these three ingredients are incorporated, stir in cheese. Add salt and pepper, and dried herbs if you are using plain goat cheese, Combine mushrooms with sauce, add salt and pepper, and toss with pasta. Top with parsley.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Matt's Ploblano Chicken and Cornbread

Perhaps I need to think of a better name for this dish, one that conveys the truly amazing flavor and completely satisfying mix of ingredients my husband created when he first made this a couple of years ago. At the end of summer we had more plobano peppers, tomatoes and garlic than we knew what to do with. I also had a couple of bags of Patrick Henry corn meal left over from thanksgiving. The result was an all in one entree of black beans, onions, pulled dark chicken meat, and tomatoes sauteed in chicken fat and piled atop freshly baked cornbread that has been made with roasted ploblanos tossed into the batter. Our favorite sharp cheddar was grated over top, and the whole mess was placed back in the oven till the cheese was nicely melted. Pursuing the strictly virtuous goals of frugality, making do, waste not, and all that my husband created a sinfully delicious meal.

When he made this dish I had just finished reading Nina Plank's writing on schmaltz a.k.a. "chicken fat." We didn't make our own schmaltz, we just saved the fat from the brined and baked chicken we'd eaten a couple of nights before. It's the chicken fat that makes this meal so delicious without a doubt, but the fire roasted ploblanos and oven roasted garlic don't hurt either.
This meal has never quit tasted so good as it did that first last summer night, but that seems often to be the way. None the less, if your like us and you've put up tomatoes and frozen bags of roasted peppers this dish makes a wonderful tribute to warm days ahead in the midst of snow covered ground and gray skies above. Enjoy!

For us this meal is the result of a three day process.... don't let that scare you.. each day has it's own rewards. We have baked chicken the first night, pull the chicken and make stock the second night, and prepare this dinner the third night. Reserve about 1/2 cup of the stock for this recipe and use the rest as you like, freezing for soups to be made later etc.
Watch out for salt! If your like me you automatically add some salt while sauteing, however, if you've brined your chicken the fat from the drippings will be salty and no salt should be added to the topping.
1. Place one head of garlic, wrapped in foil if you don't have a crock, in oven to roast. This takes about 30 minutes at 35o. Remove from oven and let cool.
2. 2 Ploblano peppers roasted, pealed and chopped : Make cornbread following the instructions. We use whole milk and an egg. Mix the chopped ploblanos into the batter and bake in a flat 8x8 cake pan.
3. While cornbread cools place about 1tbsp chicken fat in skillet over med-high heat.
4. Once fat has liquefied add one medium onion diced and saute for about 2 minutes.
5. Add the pulled dark meat from the chicken (it should be about 1 cup), and add 5 cloves of roasted garlic by simply squeezing out the softened center of each clove into the pan. Cook for about 1 minute more. Add little bits of chicken stock as needed to create a moist sauce.
6. Add about 10oz of black beans, drained and rinsed. Cook 1 minute.
7. Add one small tomato, chopped, making sure there is a little sauce down at the bottom. Remove from heat once thoroughly mixed and tomatoes just heated.
8. Cut cornbread in half. Then cut half into 2 wedges. Cut each wedge in half on the horizontal so as to have two flat wedges. For each serving lay the 2 thinner cornbread wedges together on a piece of foil or in an individual oven to table baking dish, to create a sort of flat cornbread circle. Divide topping and juices evenly across cornbread and top with grated sharp cheddar (about 1/4 cup per serving). Place in oven at 350 and baked just until cheese is fully melted.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Your Carbon Footprint

Measuring the carbon footprint of a product, company, country, or even of an individual is just one way to gauge its impact upon the environment. More recently, those calculations have been an effective way to showcase the need for change, or improvement of existing practices. One short article in The Guardian highlights the impact these calculations can have on corporate practices, as well as the complexities of figuring just how much weight these figures should be given when we look at the larger picture and take other important measures into account.

Our friend Jonah sent us the link to an interesting site that allows you to figure the carbon created by anything from your last dinner party to that new pair of kicks you just had delivered. The site, called simply SourceMap, enables producers and consumers to create maps of the supply chains involved in any sort of everyday products. Taking the dinner party as an example you could map everything from the spot where each product was grown, to it's transport to the grocery store or farmers market, your travel to pick up the ingredients, and even the travel of all of your dinner guest. If this all sounds like to much for you then you can simply check out the results posted by corporations like Levi, or organic milk producers. Click Here to check it out.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Growers Workshop Has Been Rescheduled Again

Some of you have e-mailed us wondering about the Center for Rural Cultures Grower's Workshop that was to be held this weekend. Due to snow here and north of us, where multiple speakers are flying in from, the Grower's Workshop that had been rescheduled for this weekend has been postponed once again.
Fifth Annual Growers Workshop
RESCHEDULED AGAIN for Saturday, March 13, 2010 from 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM (ET)
Location: J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College Western Campus1801 Dickenson Road Goochland, VA 23063
The e-mail sent out states that "Hopefully this will be good news for most of you. If for some reason you cannot attend in march, please email us at: and we will be happy to issue a prompt refund."
Perhaps this opens up an opportunity for other of you?

Winter Food Co-op at Goochland Farmer's Market

I am about a week behind on passing along this information, but the Goochland Farmer's Market Winter Food Co-op that runs through April 30 has cut it's registration fee for those who join after February 1st. This Co-Op is part of the Lulu's Local Foods Website run by Molly Harris.
To register go to For the Goochland Co-Op you can place an order via the website each week starting on Wednesday evenings and can add to your order through Sunday morning. This Co-Op group offers two pick up sites within Goochland on Tuesday afternoons.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Annual Ladies' Night Out This Thursday on Lakeside Ave. and Williamsburg Market This Saturday!

For the last few years the shops on Lakeside Avenue have gotten together to host a Ladies' Night Out. Various shops open their doors past their usual business hours and offer samples of their baked goods, and even sometimes champagne! I have friends from the area who go every year and always have a really nice time.
Chocolate Cravings on Lakeside sent out a reminder about the event and say that their shop is participating. From the e-mail...
Ladies' Night Out on Lakeside Avenue
Thursday, February 11th 5:00 - 900 pm
"Chocolate Cravings will be open Thursday night celebrating Ladies' Night Out on Lakeside Avenue. Come and sample chocolate treats and buy some treats for your special valentine! Other shops on Lakeside Avenue will be open. Look for the balloons from participating shops.
Where & When 6929 Lakeside Avenue Richmond, Virginia 23228
5:00PM - 9:00PM
Williamsburg Farmers Market Saturday, February 13th 8:30 am - 12:30 pm Merchants Square The Williamsburg Farmers Market will start back this Saturday for its Winter Markets. We will be have our regular chocolate treats such as barks, brownies, and pots de creme in addition to Valentine treats. We hope to see you there!"

Saturday, February 6, 2010

On Herbs and Winter

For my work I have to, or I should say 'get to', research medicinal plants. There are so many herbs that are not only wonderful for flavoring our foods, but hold important healing benefits. Herbs season meats, soups, salads, and sandwiches. They are so important to grain and potato dishes. They are the basis of many sauces, and countless beneficial teas. This just hints at their culinary value.
Herbs are invaluable to making other important foods delicious enough to entice us time and again. This value may be surpassed by their tremendous nutritional and medicinal benefits. This week I attended the VNLA Short Course. This annual symposium is always full of great information, but this year it seemed particularly rewarding. One great talk was from Nicole Schermerhorn of A Thyme to Plant herb farm. She really got us thinking about the importance of herbs in the winter diet. Until the recent advent of the twelve month, continuously stocked, virtually seasonless, grocery store produce section, winter hardy herbs provided important nutrients for a more limited diet.
Nicole discussed approximately 15 different herbs, and hit the highlights of their culinary, medicinal, and nutritional value. Parsley was one of the heavy hitters. Known as a breath freshener, Nicole also pointed out it is high in vitamins A and C. According to Nicole's research "one cup of minced fresh parsley contains more beta-carotene than a large carrot, almost twice as much vitamin C as an orange, more calcium than a cup of milk, and 3 times as much iron as one (3oz) serving of liver. A quarter cup covers on third of the DV for vitamin C and 100% the DV for vitamin K..." This seems so amazing, but the more I read about medicinal plants the more I'm am struck by the nutritional and healing powers of winter crops. Take the brassicas for instance, the kale, collards, and cabbages that are still available through my winter CSA. Cabbages have so many amazing benefits. If you'd like to take a quick look at them Ms Martha Stewart just included a beautiful piece on them in her January issue. Click here to check it out.
As for the parsley, I grow it year round, and Nicole described her parsley poking up through the snow this past week. Although it is winter hardy, it is also a biennial so you do have to plant it every year. In additional to all their direct benefits to us so many of the herbs are also an important farmscaping plants drawing beneficial insects and helping to repel those unwanted ones.
If your spending these snowy days planning your garden and you haven't already made a place for lots of herbs I encourage you to make room for them. On top of all of their benefits they also tend to be so easy to grow and tend. If you don't have a garden keep some in pots in a sunny spot by the door, or add them to your shopping bag next time your at market.

For tons more information on herbs visit the Thyme to Plant website at Lavender Fields (its the same spot). Best of all take a trip out to the farm. It is near Richmond, just off of Woodman Rd. It is beautiful and has so many great enticements... lavender ice cream, blue ribbon honey from the hives kept on the farm, all organically grown herbs and expert advice.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Michael Pollan, Oprah, Food Inc., Chipotle, And More

So if you haven't heard, Michael Pollan has written a new book , Food Rules. I didn't write about this sooner assuming that for those of you who are already reading this blog Food Rules ( a condensed, simply and smartly stated set of rules based on his two previous books) would perhaps be old news.
However, this new book is getting a lot of press, valuable press for those who care about the health of our food system. This week Pollans new book received good press in a NY Times article that was apparently one of the most e-mailed articles from The Times. You can read the article Here. Last Thursday Pollan appeared on Oprah to discuss the basic tenets of Food Rules. The episode started with a seen from the film Food Inc. that featured Michael Pollan among other important players like Joel Salatin. Oprah implored to her viewers to watch the film, read Pollan's book, and make up their own mind. To that end Oprah offered a discount through Amazon for anyone who would like to purchase the DVD of Food Inc. A Code given at gives you a discounted price of $9.99. Just click Here to read all about this episode and then scroll down to the Food Inc. on DVD" link. It's on Amazon with out the link for $10.16 at this time. If you think you know all about Pollan and Food Inc. already, you might be interested in the portion of this episode that featured the founder of Chipotle discussing his efforts to use fresh, local produce as well as meat that is more humanly raised.

Year Round CSA Delivers to Northern Neck and More

Olin-Fox Farms Inc. is a collection of small farms in the Reedville area. There local harvest page states that they supply organic, natural, and sustainably grown fruits and vegetables. Olin-Fox has spring, summer, Fall, and winter CSAs as well as an additional fruit share that is included this year in the summer CSA. They deliver to the Northern Neck of Virginia, Reedville, Kilmarnock, Whitestone, Lottsburg, Tappahannock, Northern VA, Stafford, Annandale/Springfield, Alexandria And Now Occoquan / Woodbridge. According to my friend who called to look into joining for this summer, the CSA,with delivery to Tappahannock, and fruit included will cost $450 plus tax for 9 weeks. Their local harvest page was updated in late December and states that they also are interested in offering shares in exchange for help with deliveries etc. You can view their page at

Sandor Katz of Wild Fermentation Wants Your Imput

Katz's book Wild Fermentation has tuned a great many of us, including our own Natalie, on to the benefits of creating and enjoying fermented foods. Katz has sent out an e-mail to his subscribers asking for input, photos and information for his upcoming book. If you are interested in fermentation and pursue it on your own perhaps you would like to send your images or information to Katz. He writes that he is seeking...
"IMAGES: This book will feature more graphics, so I am on the lookout. Specifically, I am seeking:ART depicting fermentation themes or using fermented materials;MICROSCOPY of fermented foods and the organisms that make them;QUALITY PHOTOS of ferments, either homemade, or in indigenous contexts.
SMALL-SCALE PRODUCERS: This book will include a chapter with information pertaining to starting fermentation-related business enterprises.
BEER-MAKER-MALTERS: Anyone out there malting their own barley? Or using wild fermentation for beermaking? If you do, or if you know any, please do be in touch. I am also on the lookout for folks who ferment POI, FUFU, GARI, SORGHUM BEER, CHANG, or other ferments not covered in Wild Fermentation."
E-mail Sandor Katz at

A Call For Papers From the JAFSCD

The Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development has issued a Call for Papers. They sent this information to the RFC to pass along...
"JAFSCD welcomes articles at any time on any subject related to the development aspects of agriculture and food systems.
At this time they are specifically seeking papers on
Best Practices in Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture Development
JAFSCD welcomes research or policy briefs, and case studies (up to 2,500 words) and full articles (up to 8,500 words) on best community-development practices related to:Urban livestock management and regulation Urban market gardening and backyard gardening Marketing and value-adding Waste management and reuse Urban farming by immigrant or other special populations Farming on the fringe
Deadline: June 5, 2010 (The deadline may be extended with permission of the publisher.) Briefs, case studies, and articles should focus on illustrative programs or projects, survey results, literature reviews, and public policy that are related to — but not limited to — land-use planning and regulation, health ordinances or their implementation, training and educational programs, marketing systems or value chains, partnership development, systems approaches, issues of scale, and farm-neighbor relations. We are particularly interested in holistic approaches that combine community and economic development with environmental protection.
More background on this topic is at

Berry Production and Marketing Conference

For those of you out there who are interested in producing berries, particularly for sale you may be interested in the Third Annual Virginia Berry Production and Marketing Conference that will take place on March 11, 2010 at Virginia State University, Petersburg, Virginia. For further information about this conference, please contact Carol Streetman,