Friday, April 29, 2011

Reader Contribution: Visit to Homestead Creamery

Thanks to Casey Freeman, who wrote about her recent trip to the Homestead Creamery- our favorite milk supplier! She says:

As a family, we've been we've been drinking Homestead Creamery milk for a few years now. We've even managed to adapt to hauling around all those glass bottles and listening to them rattling around in the back of the car. The creamy butter is amazing, and we even enjoy the occasional treat of their yummy chocolate milk.

We do have the good fortune of living just a short walk from Sweet 95, our neighborhood ice cream shop which features Homestead Creamery ice cream. That ice cream is so, so good. If you have tried this ice cream you know how exceptional it is, truly creamy and dense, very reminiscent of old fashioned hand churned ice cream. Other than at our neighborhood shop, we have only been able to find it when we visit grandma's house in Roanoke. Needless to say we are big fans, and I've always been happy to know we have such a good, local source for hormone and antibiotic free milk. With two kids under 5, milk is a major consumable around our house.

So during a recent trip to my mom's in Roanoke, I thought it was time for a visit to the source.
Homestead Creamery is located in Burnt Chimney in Franklin County -- about thirty minutes southeast of Roanoke. A beautiful drive through the countryside takes you to the general store and bottling facility of the creamery. We donned hairnets and joined a local school group for a tour of the faculty by the president and farmer, Donnie Montgomery.

Donnie told all about the bottling process, and we watched the milk-
fresh from the farm's morning milking- being bottled as part of the whole, creamline milk. Donnie described the different lines of milk and the different processes associated with each line. We also watched fresh butter being pressed into molds, saw the giant milk holding tanks, and the bottle assembly line (a favorite of my four year old). We also got to see my personal favorite, the ice cream making machines.

After the tour, Donnie welcomed us to nice benches right outside the creamery for a tasting of the delicious milk, whole cream line, strawberry milk, orange milk and the much anticipated chocolate. Delicious!

We piled into the car and continued the tour -- five minutes down the road to one of the two farms that supply the milk to the creamery.

The kids were able to bottle feed a young calf just recently weaned from his mother, and Donnie described the workings of the farm.

100 cows are raised on grass. In the winter months their diet is supplemented with corn and wheat raised on the farm. As we toured the milking building my son was disappointed we couldnt see the cows being milked... until we realized the first milking is at 4am! Donnie walked us through the milking process and the simple but impressively labor intensive process they repeat twice daily.

During my visit I also heard tell of the Homestead milkman who will deliver all of this bounty to your home in the Roanoke area. Sadly this trend hasn't reached Richmond yet. (I'd vote for it!)

For now, I'm happy Homestead's product is as accessible as it is.

We ended the tour with a great sandwich lunch and, of course, tasting of ice cream. The creamery shop has a nice lunch counter and great variety of ice cream flavors, as well as selling their whole line of products, many other local food products, and local meat as well. And I couldn't resist the coconut chocolate chip ice cream, yum!
This visit was a great opportunity for my kids (and for me) to see where our food comes from, who is making it, and how it was produced. It certainly reaffirmed my feelings about the importance of supporting our local food system while giving my family the best products I can. I left an incredible, rewarding day happy to know we help support this local family farm.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Hearty Spring Salad

Photos by the wonderful Alex Wright
A hearty spinach salad with hard boiled egg, roasted carrots and beets and simple vinaigrette

Olive Oil
white vinegar/ with herbs
Dijon mustard
chopped shallots
salt and pepper
Roasted beets and carrots
Toss peeled and quartered beets and carrots with olive oil, salt and pepper
Roast in 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, turning once
Let cool
Add sliced, hard boiled egg and top torn spinach leaves

Monday, April 18, 2011

Erin's Western Adventure, Part 2: Living in Napa

I want to introduce you to some of the most influential people in my life, those whose hard work, faith in their capabilities and ideas, and sense of beauty has created a vibrant life for themselves and all they touch- my aunt and uncle, Cynthia and David.

When I was 23 and I had finished my term in Americorps, I packed everything I owned in my car, (including Lily the orange cat) and headed west. I didn't know where I would wind up, but when I got to Napa, CA, I thought I had found Eden. The landscape was so beautiful and vibrant and there was food and wine everywhere! So, my family let me set up camp in their garage for few weeks until I found my own place, and it still felt like paradise.

Cynthia and David run Rammed Earth Works, an earth build/ design/ consulting company.
"Rammed earth is a structural wall system built of natural mineral soils compacted in thin layers within sturdy formwork. The strength and durability of the wall results from the densification of a clay, sand, and gravel matrix. The mass of the wall provides superior thermal and acoustic properties."

Rammed Earth buildings and design elements are at once stunning and yet fit so naturally in their surroundings. My aunt and uncle love their work, which is another huge inspiration for my life.

Over the years, Cynthia has taught me nearly everything I know and love about food-about growing it and preparing it, but also about being flexible, generous and welcoming. She can take a walk in the garden with an open mind, and come back with the makings for a beautiful supper. On any given day they could have three or eight or a dozen people coming for dinner, and the table is always elegantly set and the food always thoughtfully prepared. That is how I hope to be- always welcoming the people I am lucky to have in my life to the table.

Fulfilling the idea of an open table doesn't have to be complicated. One night during my visit, we bought beans from Rancho Gordo, an heirloom bean company in Napa and paired them with a simple polenta and tomato sauce- I think there were seven of us that night.

We also made a 'found' salad of miner's lettuce and borage flowers.
So, that is the inspiration of Napa and my family there- being soft and still slightly wild, alive with wide open arms.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Richmond's Femme Foodies

This is awesome! Holton Elementary School has a wonderful Learning Garden project, but they have taken the extra step to teach their students about what happens when their veggies and herbs get to the kitchen. Holton's participation in the 'Chefs Move to Schools' initiative is admirable on its own, but the the program's teachers have also put the lessons, recipes and kids reactions on a website called Femme Foodies! What a great resource for this essential component of food studies- for kids and grownups alike.

The Femme Foodies say:
This blog is intended for students and their family to review what we did in their classroom, to recreate the recipe we did in the class, to encourage other readers to introduce their own kids to more variety of fruit and veggies, to show the community what we can do together to make the youth’s lives better and healthier. It is a collaborative effort; we thank the schools, the students, the parents, the volunteers, the community members who support Femme Foodies effort.
Check it out!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Homemade 'Cadbury' Creme Eggs

Not without Salt  is an incredibly lovely, and fun food blog created by a  Seattle based baker, pastery chef, and now stay at home mom.  Just in time for Easter you can check out her post on homemade creme eggs.  If your not into that, and don't already read her blog, check it out anyways. So lovely I'm jealous.

Businesses for CHICKUNZ Breakfast!

The topic of legalizing backyard hens has been building momentum for the last few years.  There is a great facebook 'club' called CHICKUNZ that allows area residents interested in having laying hens to share their thoughts, and information on the subject.  Now, area business have come together with Lulu's Local Food, to put together a breakfast with Richmond City Council and Henrico's Board of Supervisors to discuss the topic.  An all locally sourced breakfast will be provided thanks to Lulu's Local Food vendors.  The breakfast is  free,  and open to interested business, as well as individuals. 
April 19
9:00 am - 10:30 am  

For more information and to RSVP  Contact Copeland Casati:

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Pocket Guides!!

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is an incredible place to visit.  Education, and preservation, seem to be two of their primary objectives.  To that end they created the Seafood Watch site to help consumers understand which fish were the best to choose when thinking about the health of the species, the environment, and their own.  I posted about this a couple of years back, and included the link on our sidebar, but with so much information who can keep up?  Okay, I got the only eat Wild Alaskan Salmon thing down, but on some others I was dead wrong.   Today I was at the market trolling for fresh fish.  I cam out with some Tilefish, and some Rainbow Trout from South Carolina.  Having never tried Tilefish before I checked it out on the Seafood Watch site and was not entirely happy with what I found out.  Mid-Atlantic Tilefish "good", Southeast (gulf) Tilefish "bad". Tilefish is also listed a fish of concern due mercury contamination so limited consumption is suggested.
Well, with thoughts to the future I found that the MBA Seafood Watch site has a hand dandy printoutable pocket guide for each region of the country. Click here to download the one page pocket guide for the Southeast (that's us).  While your there you can also check out their stash of seafood recipes.

If They Cook It They Will Eat It

Thanks to Jackie for sending us info on  The Lunch Love Community project.  Visit their website to view any number of short films on the efforts made in Berkley to improve the awareness, skills, and health of Berkley school children through food.  Good Stuff.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Turning a grassy backyard into an organic garden - the easy way.

Brother Al was generous enough to write about (and photograph) his experience installing a raised, square foot garden last weekend! Read on...

Let's start with the fact that I am not a gardener, but I want to be. I have a grassy backyard with soil as deep as a microchip and about as healthy as prison lunch. I wanted to plant healthy food to feed my small family but I didn't know how. Should I get my soil tested (what little soil there is)? Should I dig? Should I make raised beds? Where? What to plant? When?

These seem like such basic questions, but I had no answers. There are a zillion books and a gazillion internet articles (now a gazillion and one). Where to start reading? Which one is right? You see, the questions were increasing, answers few and far between, and no garden was happening. I was stuck.

Enter the Sustainable Food Center in Austin. I met them while attending a TEDx event. They brought a live chicken and charts about compost to a technology seminar. Hello - I fell for them quickly. Erin and I had a meeting with them and learned that they do more cool things than a juggling disco troupe. I also learned that they were teaching a "Citizen Gardener" class that advertised in its description it would teach me how to make an organic garden out of a grassy backyard with no previous knowledge required. Were they reading my mind, and how?
I never did figure out how they were reading my mind, but I did find out exactly how to make a garden, and a nice one at that. I though I'd share with you what little of their knowledge I soaked up so that you can do this too. It's easy. I promise.

Several quick points:
1) None of the knowledge here comes from me. It's all kind of open source and taken from a number of places such as a book by Mel Bartholomew called "All New Square Foot Gardening". There are a lot of resources out there to improve upon this blog post (just Google "Square Foot Gardening").

2) What was so cool to me about all of this was that there was an action plan to follow - do this, then this, then this, then eat. Now I am sure there are areas anyone can improve on. And you will surely improve on these ideas. But the basics technique is a quick and very straightforward method to go from lame unhealthy grass to a healthy source of food in a number of easy to follow steps. So let's go.

The idea is to create one or more 4 foot by 4 foot raised beds (about 8-12 inches high) in which you'll do some intensive gardening. You don't need a lot of space! Each 4 foot by 4 foot raised beds is then divided (mentally, not physically) into sixteen square foot areas. Each area is planned out and grown to create a high yield, easy to manage garden. One bed per mouth is a good place to start. I went for two. But remember to start small - this is intense gardening.

Here's my makeshift carpentry area where I cut down the 2 by 12 cedar boards for the raised beds (you can do 2 by 10s no problem and probably even 2 by 8s). Here in Texas we're spoiled with cedar. You can use anything, just make sure it's not treated with gross chemicals that will surely leach into your food.

Then I planned out where the garden would go. In a sunny (and grassy) part of my lawn, I laid down an area of cardboard that is then soaked with water and covered in mulch to prevent weeds and grass from ruining the garden. The cardboard looks kind of ghetto, but it's free, and once covered in mulch no longer looks so ghetto.

Here's the soon-to-be-less-ghetto-looking cardboard weed preventer with a pile of compost I made over the winter in the background. Yum - compost!
The first raised bed is filled with dirt I scavenged from another area of my unhealthy yard combined with compost - mmmmm. I even made a little dainty moveable seat out of the scraps of boards left over from making the raised beds. I copied this from my class. Don't think I'm that clever.

Here's the first 4 foot by 4 foot bed placed on the watered cardboard. In the background there's more compost I got from the Sustainable Food Center. Theirs is so much more delicious looking than mine...

Leveled out the second bed, and spread mulch around the first.

Tied up some string to level the two beds with each other (yes I'm that annoying), and spread mulch around both beds. Call up your local tree service - I got all the mulch I could use (which is a lot) all for free.

Each bed is divided into sixteen squares - here a little string helps out with the visualization. Then each square is planned out
according to how large each plant gets and how many of each plant can be fitted in a single square. Some plants, like tomatoes, are one per square. Other plants, like radishes, carrots, garlic, and spinach, can have six, nine, or even sixteen plants per square foot. Wow! Make sure you plant short plants towards the South and tall plants towards the North so that the tall ones don't shadow the short ones. Flip that if you're in Australia.

Then the plants go in the dirt! Some of these were transplants, and others I started from seed. There are tomatoes, basil, several kinds of chard, hot chili peppers, bell peppers, cucumbers, spinach, radishes, potatoes and I even have a square left for carrots. And that's only one bed! You can also plant flowers, especially ones that bad bugs and deer and annoying rodents don't like.
And there you go! I even made a little journal where I made grids and notes and dated entries. But if you're not a nerd you don't have to do that. Most important is getting a garden going and having fun.

I'll follow up through the growing seasons with some updates. I hope this can inspire others to begin growing healthy food instead of weedy grass! Thanks to all who were involved in teaching me this great technique. I had a blast and look forward to more growing - and eating.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Interesting query on Richmond Community Garden Initiative

We got an email from a reader who is new to Richmond, wondering how to get in on one of the new city designated community garden plots. She writes:
From what I understand on the website it seems that a group first needs to apply to manage a site and then individual gardeners must apply for a plot with the managing group (right?).

I thought I'd ask if you know of any groups that have applied to the Parkwood or Leigh street gardens. I'd LOVE a plot....just need to make the right connections!

The reader contacted the city to clarify the process, and here is what she found out:

The website will say who has permitted out the property and a contact number for that garden once it’s all been approved…right where you look at them now. Its all automated with is good because it probably would get out of hand with all the requests! We’ve got a group interested and working on permitting the Parkwood site.

So, if you would like to have a plot in one of the new city gardens, act fast!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange Sues Monsanto

Just reading over the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange page thinking of spring and such, and found this rather amazing news....
"Fighting for our Rights
Southern Exposure is joining the fight against Monsanto in a critical suit that argues that Monsanto cannot sue farmers when their organic crops are contaminated by genetically modified seeds. We are collaborating as a part of OSGATA (Organic Seed and Trade Association) and as an individual plaintiff along with several dozen other seed companies and organizations to bring Monsanto to the stand. You can read this press release that has been posted by the Public Patent Foundation. We will send out a special newsletter soon with more details. We hope you will support us in this landmark lawsuit to protect our rights as gardeners, farmers, and Americans seeking a safe future for our food and families."
Click on Their Link to read more.

New Community Gardens in the city!

'Tis spring, and we are so grateful to spend time outside, digging in the dirt if we are lucky. This has been an exciting week for community gardens in RVA. The Tricycle Gardens farm stand is now open at 2107 Jefferson Ave from 4-6 pm every Tuesday and Thursday with lots of spring veggies from their urban farm.

And, last Monday the Richmond Grows Gardens Initiative passed. This program of the city’s Green Richmond aims:
  • To support the sustainability goals for the city of Richmond: improve the quality of life for residents, create a healthy environment and enhance economic development and job creation opportunities;
  • To increase the public’s understanding of the value of community gardens and the need for community gardens in the city;
  • To encourage and facilitate local urban agriculture which increases access to fresh, nutritional food for residents-particularly those in underserved communities; and
  • To transform vacant and underutilized city parcels into productive gardens.
Way to go, Richmond!

Also, I was so excited to see the Backyard Farmers yesterday, helping the students and faculty of St. Catherine's school install a new community and teaching garden right on Grove Avenue!

Lots of folks got in on the act digging beds, putting raised bed frames together and building compost bins. It was a beautiful sight indeed.

Relay Foods for Richmond!

Okay, it's about time, or rather well beyond time that we talk about Relay Foods. I have been hoping to use them myself before writing about them. Between online market memberships, and visits to area markets it just hasn't happened.
Relay started out in Charlottesville, and began operating in Richmond about a year ago.
By now I have heard from a few people who have used this on-line food market All have loved it for the convenience, selection, and reasonable cost. There is no membership fee, vendors pay the administrative cost. I have mixed feelings about that, hoping the benefits of greater reach make it worth the added cost for vendors. When it comes to vendors, Relay offers products from an amazing collection of local farms, small local food producers, larger grocery stores, gourmet shops, specialty shops, and even wine and beer shops. They mix big corporate products with fresh local ones.
You can order as many, or few times as you like, and choose pick up or home delivery per-order. Home delivery is scheduled once a week by zip code. Delivery cost between twelve dollars for a one time request and works its way down to a seven dollar a week fee for a one year commitment. Pickup is, of course, free.
There do seem to be a lot of great things about Relay's set up. One of my favorites is the flexibility in pick up locations. You can order multiple times per week if you need to using different pick up locations each time. There are over a dozen locations all over town from Rockets Landing, to Innsbrook and Mechanicsville. Two different locations in The Fan, and two in the Libbie Ave. area, as well as ones in Church Hill, Bon Air, Stony Point, and Down Town. Also great, you can place stuff in your shopping cart and leave your cart open for days, adding items as you need to. You can keep adding stuff right up until midnight the night before your pickup or delivery date.
Some of my favorite shopping options in the mix include J. Emerson Wines, Blanchard's Coffee, Carpe Donut!!, Gearharts' Chocolates, Planet Earth Diversified, Harmony Hill Farm, Sausage Craft, Polyface Farm, Night Sky Farm, and Mountain View Farm. Okay, writing this post has motivated me. I'm going to order from Relay, and I'll let you know how it goes. If any of you out there are using them let us know what you think! I wouldn't want On-line shopping to ever take the place of the real contact and sense of community created by shopping at farmers markets. But, not everyone is going to go to farmers markets, or go out of their way to reach that speciality shop all the time. If online markets like Relay, the Online Market at St. Stephen's and Lulu's Local Foods, make it possible for more small farms and small business to find an audience and succeed then I'm all for it.
To check out their pretty fantastic website click Here.

Friday, April 1, 2011

New Farm Market At Tuckahoe Plantation Starting This Sunday April 3!

This just in.... There is a new Farm Market starting up this Sunday April 3 at Tuckahoe Plantation. It will run every Sunday from Noon till 4:00pm. The backbone of this new market is the newly formed Tuckahoe Plantation Livestock, the result of Simply Abundant ( where we always get our heritage turkey for thanksgiving), and Daniel of Tuckahoe Plantation combining their livestock operations. They will be offering grass fed beef, pasture raised lamb, free range eggs, pasture raised rabbit, pasture raised chicken, wool and yarn. The Farm market will offer fresh produce and other items in addition to the Tuckahoe Plantation products as the growing season gets underway. Live music, and a tour will help mark this opening day. Check out their beautiful website for more information on their products, internship opportunities and special events.

Chesterfield Towne Center Farmer's Market Opens Today at 9am

Just a reminder... the Chesterfield Farmer's Market starts today, Friday April 1! Among others, Steve and Chris Ault will be there with "pork, stewing hens and lots of eggs." This new market is located at Chesterfield Towne Center. Use the Huegenot Rd. entrance near Macys.