Friday, February 29, 2008

Michael Pollan on TED Talks

TED Talks is an amazing conference held anually in Monterey, where visionaries in the fields of technology, education and design give lectures, sharing their knowledge with attendees and each other. Past speakers have included Al Gore and Jane Goodall, and many other amazing people, scholars and artists alike. I have always thought it would be fantastic to attend this gathering, but tickets sell out a year in advance and they're expensive. However, videos of lectures from past events have been made available on YouTube and the TED Talks website, for those of us who have the interest but not the cash. TED 2008 is currently ongoing, but I am instead going to point you to a lecture from last year's conference -- 'The Omnivore's Next Dilemma' by Michael Pollan. Pollan is the author of books such as The Botany of Desire, The Ominvore's Dilemma, and most recently In Defense of Food (RFC is in the process of reading this one now). He has definitely inspired some of our interest in conscientious eating. Even though I'm a bit late on the uptake, I hope you'll check out the video of his talk:

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Shop in Eco-Friendly Style

If you've been looking closely around town lately, you may have noticed some savvy shoppers carrying a handsome canvas tote that carries its own strong message. Sturdy canvas totes with large bright blue lettering covering one side exclaim "THIS IS AN ANTI-PLASTIC BAG." On the other side of the bag is a brightly colored bird and the words "BAG OF FRESH AIR." These sturdy, 100% recycled cotton totes are being sold by the James River Garden Club as part of their effort to address the serious environmental problem created by the manufacture and accumulation of plastic bags.

Area stores are joining in. Ukrop's has of course been selling their $1.00 recyclable canvas totes since late summer. Val-pack coupons this past summer contained a coupon redeemable for a "Virgina Grown" canvas tote at area farmers' markets. Even Target is slowly getting in on the act with $1.00 vinyl bags for sale that scrunch up into a tiny contained ball. ( However, if you bring your own bag to Target be prepared for clerks who are unprepared. ) The biggest example is of course Ellwood Thompson's, which no longer uses any plastic bags for packing customers groceries. As an alternative, Ellwood Thompson's is offering their own canvas bags for $1.99, as well as the James River Garden Club bags for sale.

This movement is larger than most people know, with whole counties lobbying for the right to ban plastic bags.

The James River Garden Club puts the profits from the sale of their recycled cotton bags towards conservation efforts. The two sided high design bag sells for $8 and a plain version sells for just $1. Each bag includes a card listing some amazing and scary facts about plastic bags. One line informs the buyer that "Plastic bags kill over 100,000 sea turtles and other marine animals every year when they mistake the bags for food." Think jellyfish.

The top of the included card reads, "You are holding a bag full of hope." I'll buy into that. Within the first 10 days that these bags were available, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch, almost 500 bags had sold. This gives me hope.

A woman who I greatly admire who happens to be a part of the James River Garden Club reported that within a matter of weeks they had sold out completely! They had a new order arrive two weeks ago, so don't wait- look for them at Ellwood Thompson's!

UPDATE: Elwood Thompson's was out of the James River Garden Club Bags as of Friday Feb. 29th, but the garden club plans to deliver a new batch of bags this March 1st weekend so keep a look out.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Market Update- February

Did you know that there are several 'renegade' vendors who have been selling throughout the winter at the Byrd House Market? The RFC went two weeks ago, and were happy to see Faith Farms, CCL, the No Wonder Bread man as well as a jewelry vendor holding court by the community gardens. I went back last night because I was in desperate need of some goat cheese. Faith Farms has been selling their free range eggs, hormone free chicken, beef and pork as well as some amazing Amish rolled butter and my favorite goat cheese all winter long. They take orders and deliver every Tuesday. Email them here to place an order or to get market details. You don't have to have an order in however, they always come well stocked to the market. Did I mention that I recommend the goat cheese?

I also found out that the Lawlers of Faith Farms were featured in Virginia Living magazine, a beautiful monthly periodical. Good news for the farms and the markets!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

RFC Visits Zed Café

Chef Bill Foster of Zed Café is matter-of-fact in his approach to food. With a southern accent and a demeanor of relentless honesty, he told us “Things should taste like what they are.” We had heard a lot about Zed Café’s reputation as a seasonal and ‘responsibly sourced’ restaurant– Tanya Cauthen of the Belmont Butchery mentioned she supplies some of their meat – and we were eager to try some of the cooking and form our own opinions. During our visit, we were privileged to chat with Foster, Zed’s executive chef, and enjoy a wonderful four course meal.

The atmosphere of Zed Café is modern and upscale, with large pieces of art displayed gallery-style in ample wall space. We sat at the bar facing a well-stocked wine rack as we spoke with Foster, who was always candid as he chatted with us on how he obtains his ingredients and the way he cooks. “Fresh and local is the European way,” he said. Foster was trained at the Culinary Institute of America, and has cooked for Richmond restaurants like the Frog and the Redneck and Acacia. It is clear he knows quality when he sees it – or tastes it. And local, fresh produce always tastes better. True, some items must be shipped in from other areas – Foster reminded us of the phrase “When Possible” written inside the menu. Cheeses, olive oil and wine: some things are just better when they are imported from France. He also mentioned the difficulty of getting certain meats and dairy products in quantity from local sources. When necessary, he buys these things from places like Albert’s Organic, a supplier of Ellwood Thompson’s. A complete list of Foster’s sources is listed on the Zed Café website. It is clear that he comes to the cooking style at Zed with a no-nonsense attitude – no matter where it comes from, everything should be the best.

Delicious peach iced tea and Zed's lunch menu.

When I asked Foster if he thought local and seasonal eating was a fad, he replied, “It’s not a fad…it’s moving back from all the fads.” It seemed silly to think of the locavore movement as a ‘fringe group’ as we spoke with Foster. There was a distinct sense that we, as Americans and members of the Richmond community, are just catching up with the rest of the world when we decide not to eat tomatoes and asparagus in February. Foster seemed interested in distancing his restaurant and cooking from buzzwords like ‘organic.’ “Organic doesn’t mean vegetarian,” Foster said, and we agreed that Zed should be seen for what it is – a gourmet restaurant that uses high quality, artisanal ingredients like grass-fed beef, free range poultry and organic produce picked, perhaps, the same day. Foster uses the term ‘clean food.’ Zed Café does feature a nearly gluten-free menu, meaning diners with allergies can order worry-free, and there are also some vegetarian menu items.

We were thrilled when Foster told us of his congenial relationship with Charlie, the owner of Victory Farms, a family-run farm in Hanover that sells produce at several farmer’s markets and runs a high demand CSA. “Charlie and I hang out,” Foster said. He told us he has been to Charlie’s farm to harvest and wash his own produce for the restaurant. We loved the idea of the chef and the farmer working side by side to create great food for consumers like us. Being at the mercy of what people are growing, Foster says, is a good thing. It encourages him to be creative with the ingredients he has on hand, and necessitates a unique, ever-changing menu.

Focaccia and olive oil appetizer.

And, as we had hoped, the food was amazing. Though it’s February, one of the hardest months to find fresh produce, Foster said he has no problems coming up with menu items. We were treated to a custom meal with four courses, all with a distinct winter flair and subtle, pleasing flavors. Beginning with an appetizer of rosemary focaccia and olive oil, we sipped a Savoie and were treated to our first course, duck confit with gnocci, baby carrots, Brussels sprouts and pea shoots. Several of us had never tried duck before, and we agreed it was delicious and nearly as soft as butter. This was followed by a dish of white Alici anchovies over Fourme D’ambert blue cheese (I had to ask Foster to spell that one) and winter kale, all in sun-dried tomato oil and balsamic vinegar. We changed wines here: sticking with white, we moved on to a Chablis, which matched well the saltiness of the anchovies. Throughout, our knowledgeable waitress was kind enough to fill in details on each dish as we dined, lauding the quality ingredients and pulling Foster from the kitchen to spell Fourme D’ambert.

Duck Confit.

Our next course was a house-pulled mozzarella salad, with fresh avocado, pickled red onions, blood oranges and a vanilla bean oil. The sweet, light flavor was a perfect follow-up to the anchovy dish. The final item was edamame cooked “southern baked beans” style (Foster said he used his mother’s recipe) with chorizo sausage and New Orleans style shrimp. The beans were sweet and almost black, and the dish satisfied any craving for a subsequent dessert. In total, the meal was wonderful, and we waved “goodbye” to Foster as he chatted with several other restaurant visitors. Our visit to Zed Café felt a bit like a celebration. We enjoyed great food and a friendly night out with a chef we respect, and we learned a little more about the way seasonal and ‘clean’ cooking fits into the process of really enjoying what we cook and eat.

Honey Love

If you had asked me about honey just over a year ago I would have told you I didn't much care for it. Then one of my beekeeper friends dropped a glass jar of his fresh, local, honey into my hand. Lets just say that my husband and I have ever since teased this beekeeper for his street smart ways. One free jar and he has had a steady customer ever since!
It turns out that this first jar of honey was rich with the nectar from Tulip Poplar pollen. The rich, sweet molasses like flavors of Tulip Poplar honey are amazing and a must try.
Although it's near impossible for a beekeeper to have any honey that's purely based upon the pollen of only one type of flower, a knowledgeable keeper can tell what flowers dominated each batch based on extraction time, color and flavor of the honey, and knowledge of his local fauna.

The benefits of honey are numerous (although it should not be given to infants.) It has strong antibacterial qualities. Studies have shown that a teaspoon of honey taken Before brushing your teeth actually prevents plaque buildup thanks to honey's helpful (and tasty) enzymes. Not to mention that if you have pollen based allergies eating fresh local honey made from the pollens in your area can help provide relief.

If you think you like honey and aren't eating fresh local honey, boy will you bee in for a surprise!
On that first day my husband and I did a taste test, our friends honey versus a store bought brand that we had long ago accepted as, well,..., just honey. First we tasted the local and then the store bought. Simultaneously we came up with a new flavor description for that store honey "Dishwater". It was done, two lovers of local honey had been made, to the greater benefit of ourselves, our local keeper, his bees, and our gardens.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bee Space

Loving food means wanting to know everything about it- which is why we garden and why we cook. When we got the chance to take the 'Beekeeping for Beginners' class at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, Shannon and I were hoping to gain some insight on the mysterious 'Colony Collapse Disorder' affecting beehives all over the country. (Plus I have a thing for older, agrarian men.)

No matter. The important thing to remember is that one out of every three bites of food you take is thanks to bee pollination. (And just remember, corn is wind pollinated. Ahem.) Bees are so important, and so fascinating, I feel compelled to share a bit about what we have learned. Plus, there might be something YOU can do to help them.

I have always loved bees. I thought the very idea of a honey creator was absolutely miraculous. In the library window of my elementary school (John B. Cary- represent...) there was a demonstration beehive. I don't recall that anyone gave us lessons on bees, we were just free to observe them coming and going. The side of the hive attached to the window was clear so we could also watch the workers create their perfectly ordered hexagonal cells and move busily about.

Bees garner my respect because they work. Even though they don't fly at night, they do not sleep. During the winter nights, bees huddle together and flex their wing muscles to generate heat. They will literally work until their wings fall off. Consider these amazing facts:
Bess will visit 2,000,000 flowers to make 1 lb of honey.
They fly 55,000 miles to find those flowers.
The average worker makes 1 ½ tsp of honey in its lifetime.

Good gracious. For these, (and many other reasons) I have a new found respect for these tiny beings.

My favorite new piece of trivia is that eating itself seems to be a social activity for bees. Even though there is always food available from the nectar cells, they often accept food from one another instead. Their interdependence is a gorgeous thing to consider.

Of course, we have all heard about the plight of the bees. Hives are failing without predatory cause. We learned on Saturday that home apiarists have not had the troubles that agribusiness has with the Colony Collapse Disorder. Our speaker, David Fitzgerald, theorized that migratory pollination, (that is carting bees around to pollinate crops) is extremely stressful, and exhausts the workers and disorients the entire hive. Go figure.

It is so important to remember that there are many vital reasons to support local, organic agriculture. Our lives are intimately connected with those that feed us. And that includes the bees.

For more information on beekeeping in Virginia (and interviews with some of the cutest gentlemen ever) check out Angels of Agriculture. For more universal information on the predicament of the honey bee, take a look at the Vanishing Bees Site.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

When Important Things go Pop!

As you know, we here at RFC are all about eating fresh, local and organic foods. I am no purist ( I'm just not there yet), but the term most often used to describe those of us who attempt to eat as local as possible is Locavore. This word got a whole lot of free press this past December when The New Oxford American Dictionary named it their word of the year. As there site explains this word was first coined by four women in the San Francisco Bay area who first challanged the Bay area community in August of 2005 to eat as much as possible sourced within a 100 mile radius of their homes. Since then, the movement has expanded all across the country and beyond, combining with the slow food movement and others.

All publicity may be good publicity, but a recent article in a popular style and shopping magazine may have done a real disservice to the locavore cause. I am all about some pop culture. Well, that's true of some of its many forms. I love a lot of pop music, T.V. and a light hearted commercial rag from time to time. The problem with pop culture is that it glorifies the trival and trivializes all things important. This can be a problem when a lesser known idea or movement is thrust into the pop culure realm.

The article entitled "Eating Locally for Two Weeks," provides some good information to a readership that may not be likely to seek it out on their own. The author really comes accross as though she is genuinely trying to support an eco-friendly movement. Sadly however, the format and context of the piece inside a magazine usally dedicated to the latest in coffee mugs and lighting fixtures, leads the author to obscure or omit any understanding of the fundamental values behind this movement.

Forget that this article is published in the March issue and describes the author at her local up state New York farmers market purchasing heirloom tomatos and "two beautiful eggplants". My real beef is that the author complains that after her first local shoping experience she had spent $60 for only two days provisions. She later complains that in just 10 short days she had spent $325 on groceries (when usually she was only spending $200 before) and put 100 extra miles on her car. What the heck is she buying and where on earth has she been going? I understand that we're talking NY prices, but rather than make this sort of contextual observation, the author states that this "is definitely not a 'we-the-people' movement."

To add insult to injury, she never provides a real working definiting of "locavore", or references for readers to find out more. Instead, she says that from what she can tell "locavores don't have office jobs-they seem to be able to spend all of their time foraging." Alas, I can't do that (nor can most of the country)." That sort of minimizing and narrow- sighted commentary can only hurt when provided for the consumption of a readership who may very well look no further for information on a topic they little understood before reading the author's frivolous and discouraging piece.

I can tell you that in the peak of late summer/ early fall (when the article must have been written), my husband and I always managed to spend less or equal the amount of money we had been spending shopping "conventinally." On average, we would spend $45 -$50 at the market and about the same at the grocery store. It got to the point where some weeks I didn't even have to go to the store, and others my bill would only be about $30. Other weeks, (depending on purchases of jumbo cans of olive oil or laundry soap), were higher. Point is, three meals a day, for seven days, for two people, could range anywhere from $80-$135 per week. Not everything we ate was local, but most of it was.

On the Oxford American Dictionary blog site, an editor for the dictionary is quoted as saying the word Locavore was selected in part because it is "significant in that it brings together eating and ecology in a new way." Well put. I have said that I am no purist when it comes to local eating. I get as much as I can from the markets, local farms and my own garden. Time is always a constraint, however I have enjoyed every moment of the whole 'eating local' experience. I have met dozens of wonderful people I never would have met, made new friends, and tried ( and loved) loads of new foods I never would have before. I have learned more about my food, my health, my surroundings and community, and myself in last several months than I ever thought possible from simply having fun and eating well. And for what it's worth, I got all this goodness on a very tight budget.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

VABF Conference & Trade Show

The Virginia Association for Biological Farming will hold a conference this weekend (Feb 15-16) at the Sheraton Hotel on West Broad. (Visit the website here). The conference promises to focus on "Opportunities in Organic Farming," including lectures with titles like "Grassfed to Finish: Gourmet Quality Beef," "Organic Fruit Production," and "Community Supported Agriculture Panel Discussion." This sounds like a great gathering of folks interested in organic and sustainable agriculture, with speakers coming from Arkansas and Iowa as well as Virginia. Unfortunately, none of us at the RFC are able to attend the conference, as the registration fees are a bit steep. However, the RFC is glad this kind of event will be held in Richmond, and is eager to hear comments and impressions from any readers who were able to attend.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Beat the Cold-Season-Blues through Baking

In my opinion, post-holiday winter months lend themselves to three things: tea, books, and baking. Not half-way through February I find books lining my car seats and the floor beside my bed, while my little tea pot is permanently stationed beside the sink (I always mean to clean it out, but before I clean anything I have to make a cup of tea). The counter is also cluttered with a giant, tea-grimed mugs (my teeth are tea stained a bit, too. Oh well. Time to switch to Earl Green). This may seem like the behavior of an addict—of the harmless tea-drinking, library haunting variety— but I contend that the Power Three are needed as weapons in the war on the winter blues.

A note on winter blues: there’s a condition called SAD— Seasonal Affective Disorder. Victims show symptoms of depression, and are, indeed, in a sort of depression, the cause of which is thought to be the dark winter weather. Turns out humans need light like plants; cold and dark are lethal to the joy molecules. Wintertime, those of us affected tend to turn a little blue.

After a spring semester in London, I found out I was prone to be down with the SADness. Not that I don’t love winter—the landscape is still lovely, in a quiet way— but January through March I’m better if I get up a little earlier to hear dawn’s bird calls, walk mid-day to soak up sun, cover my desk top with pictures of gardens, and, of course, use my Power Three to encourage my body and soul.

The most important thing about the Three is that they provide warmth, nourishment, and a chance to relax. The tea is always hot (I was born in New England; when I think of tea I think of hot steam rising out of mugs, not Southern porches and tall, water-beaded glasses.) The books I read are all old favorites: the most beloved have been read, re-read, and are even stained from baking goop that spattered out from a mid-read mixing. And the baking projects are all delicious, whether easy or imaginative. Below are two recipes: one crazy and one a steadfast winner. I hope you try them accompanied by a hot drink (Rostovs or Ashland Coffee & Tea has loose leaf Earl Green) and maybe a good book, familiar as an old friend. I know I will.

Easy Peanut Butter Cookies adapted from almost any church cookbook ever

With only four ingredients, these are the easiest cookies you’ll ever make. They also are an all-time favorite of any adult who’s been a child. They can be made with any type of peanut butter: crunchy or smooth, fresh ground from Elwood Thompson or from a giant jar of Jiffy—though beware the added (and perhaps unwanted) ingredient of sugar in most commercial butters. Smucker’s Natural is my choice: it comes in a glass jar, it’s available in Organic and is just more grown up. The butter is a bit grainy, which I like, and the first thing you see is the layer of oil that has separated from the rest of it—which is easily banished by stirring it in and refrigerating the jar, or by pouring it off (I like peanut butter really grainy) and using in Thai cooking.

1 cup peanut butter
1 cup sugar (I’ve skimped on the sugar before, and still enjoyed the result, or substituted half a cup of honey for the same amount of sugar)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg

A little flour for rolling.

Stir together all ingredients except flour. With flour covered hands, roll dough into inch round balls (they get bigger). Lay them out on a cookie sheet and lightly press each one twice with a fork to make a criss-cross design on top. Bake at 325 degrees for 10 minutes.

Tart fruit scones with Chocolate Coating from my own experimenting

This recipe is original. One dark night I was longing for scones with my tea (I think I was reading something British), and most of all, chocolate. This is the result. I always miss the fruit of summer, and when what I’ve frozen from last harvest is gone or freezer-burned, dried fruit is my last resort. I made these scones with the remains of a bag of dried Bing cherries from Trader Joe’s (Richmond, when, oh, when will you get a Trader Joe’s?). I did not include any sugar in the recipe, because I intended to coat the scones in chocolate. Next time, I’m going to use fresh cranberries, and I will add some sugar to the “tart” scones to balance the sour red fruit.

2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
3 tablespoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cold butter 1
1/2 cups milk
¾ - 1 cup chopped dried cherries (or whatever is left in the Trader Joe bag) You can also used dried cranberries (like Craisins). I like the idea of scones made with red fruit. It’s nearing Valentine’s day, and we all need a little red in our lives.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Sift together wheat and all-purpose flours, baking powder, and salt (Sifting helps distribute the baking powder, which is the rising agent, equally through the gluten portion, which is the flour). Cut butter into dry ingredients until it resembles fine crumbs (chop the butter a little before sticking the pieces in the dry mix, to aid the process of cutting in the butter). Mix in the milk and dried cherries carefully, until just blended (once you add liquid to the rising agent and gluten, you don’t want to be too rough). Plop heaping spoonfuls of the dough onto a cookie sheet, spaced apart a little. (You can form the dough into a ball and roll it out to a half an inch thick and cut out round shaped scones, but I never bother. You’re coating the ugly things in chocolate, anyway.) Bake in preheated oven until risen and golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Take them out of the oven to cool while you whip up the chocolate coating.

Chocolate Coating:

Take some chocolate—milk, dark, 70% cocao, baking, old Hershey Truffle Kisses or whatever you find in the bottom of the candy drawer (hey, winter nights, I get desperate)— and put them in a microwave-able bowl. Add a touch of vegetable oil. Put it the microwave for 20 seconds or until the chocolates’ melted. Gently stir the oil into the melted goodness, so your final product is a bit more creamier than just plain melted chocolate would be. Only a little oil or butter is necessary for this. Microwave in short increments (from 5 to 30 seconds) until the chocolate is spreadable and lovely, then smear over the cooling scones.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Shannon's Baked Whole Chicken

Finally, here is my (actually my father's) recipe for baking a chicken. I personally find this method safer for the less experienced cook since there is less risk of the chicken drying out than in pure roasting. This is great surrounded by halved potatos and onions(or quartered depending on the size of your bird) with carrots, parsnips or other winter veggies.
I bought two whole chickens at brookview farms and prepared both this way. I'd like to say they both came out great, but sadly the first chicken was done cooking half way through a movie we were watching and we made the mistake of letting it sit atop the stove inside the roasting pan for a full hour after removing it from the oven. Do not do this. The bird was of course still cooking inside the hot pan and became rather chewy. After the effort and money that goes into the meal it's best to eat it when it's ready!

1-2 cups of white semi-dry to dry wine
1.5 cups chicken broth
Little water (1/2 cup)
1 Lemon (or an orange if that's what you've got)
2tblsp butter ( or olive oil)
Thyme, Marjoram, Kosher Salt, Fresh Ground Pepper

Those Liquid ratios can be tinkered around with. Last week I made it only using Home made stock because I had plenty of that and no open white wine. The amounts on those liquids are also assuming about a 4.5 pound bird. So you might need less...or maybe more since the bigger bird would actually raise the liquid level. Basically you only want 1.5-2 inches of liquid in the bottom of your pan.
Okay ....
1. Clean out the bird. Make sure nothing is being stored in the cavity, pull it and either freeze it for stock or toss it if you find anything wrapped in there. Rinse the whole bird inside and out really well under the tap. (and in the case of the chickens from Brookview farm you'll want to chop off the neck first as well)
2. Salt and pepper the inside of the cavity really well
3. Roll your citrus on the counter under the palm of your hand to loosen the juices and then Pierce the fruit all over with a fork. Put this up inside the cavity. This is the point when you will be putting the chicken in your roasting pan. Place it breast side DOWN to let all of the juices run down into the breast meat. If you have any twine tie the legs (that are now facing up) together just above the end bones. If no twine don't worry about it.
4. Squeeze lemon juice (the real deal or from a bottle) all over the chicken. Then pour your wine over the chicken and into the pan... ditto the broth.
5. I use butter... Take your fat and massage the chicken like you love it, working the butter all over the skin till it's nicely coated.
6. Toss a nice sprinkle of salt and pepper and your herbs all along the top of the chicken.
7. Peal and quarter (if you had a bigger bird I'd say halve) your potatoes, and onions. Chop your carrots and what have you. Place them all around the bird along the sides of the pan so that they are in some liquid ideally. Cook at 350 for about 20min per pound... some people say less but lets be safe and keep the lid on until the last minutes to brown the skin if you like. I never eat the skin anyway so when it's just for us I don't remove the lid just to keep it extra juicy.' Plus I cook it upside down.
8. Your chicken is done when the meat under the legg is nolonger red and 180 degrees on a meat thermometer is good and safe. I've also read 165 degrees, but my meat thermometer says 180 for chicken so I am sticking with that for now.
9. LET the chicken sit in the pan for a good 10 minutes before you start to carve into it. And remember to flip it over after you've fished out your veggies in order to carve off the breast meat. Happy Roasting. Shannon.

Gardening Classes at WBCH

According to Richmond community blog Oregon Hill, a variety of gardening classes are being taught at the William Byrd Community House this spring. All classes are reasonably priced and developed by John Wise, an experienced and knowledgeable Richmond gardener. Please view this post for more details, and don't hesitate to sign up. We have heard you can maintain a community gardening plot at the WBCH, and it is also the location of the well-known Byrd House Market -- what a great place to learn about growing your own food!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

RFC Visits Brookview Farm

You probably noticed follow up posts by Shannon and Erin for our visit to Brookview Farm, an organic beef cattle farm in Manakin-Sabot, VA. Brookview specializes in grass-fed beef, but you can also buy pork, chicken, eggs, honey and natural cosmetics at their weekly farm market, open from 9AM-1PM every Saturday. Though a couple weeks late in coming, here are my summary and pictures from the trip.

Brookview Farm is easy to find. Take Patterson Avenue west out of the city and keep going. City quickly fades into rolling fields and rows of trees, punctuated by wooden fences and the occasional home. Brookview is on Dover road, a long uphill drive leading to wide cow pastures (occupants grazing in the distance) and a line of cozy white houses. We had chosen a cold day for our visit, and the fields looked winter brown, imbued with an invitingly pastoral sense of calm. We pulled into a small parking lot next to an old-fashioned compost truck and followed a small stone path to the one-story white building that was the Brookview farm market.
The Brookview Farm Market.

Inside, we found exactly what we had been looking for. Two young women assisted a steady flow of customers, ringing them up or pulling dark red, packaged portions of meat out of various refrigerators. On one side was a big chest freezer labeled “hamburgers and roasts.” A look inside revealed a wide selection of pre-made hamburger patties, cuts of meat for roasting, and ground beef. Another upright refrigerator held everything else, including whole chickens, eggs and pork. Everything was cleanly packaged and had an air of professionalism, and despite the farm market’s small size, there was an amazing amount of meat available to buy. Eggs, however, were a different story. We had been told over the phone to “show up early” if we wanted any, and every egg had been sold by the time we left the market that Saturday. One customer kindly said he’d “go without” instead of taking the last dozen from a woman who sadly mentioned she had come just for the eggs.

The market 'menu.'

While I shopped, Sandy Fisher, the owner of Brookview Farm, appeared inside the building and began slipping recipes to my RFC companions. By the time I noticed them chatting, he had already bestowed upon us a veritable stack of instructions for how to cook meat. We ended up speaking with Fisher for a long time, talking about grass and compost as well as meat. He encouraged us to improve the composting practices in our own gardens, and was even happy to provide us with a copy of BioCycle, a monthly composting journal. “A lot of my customers are foreign, or originally from the north,” Fisher told us, and we wondered along with him where the neighbors were.

A wealth of meat in the 'Hamburger and Roasts' freezer.

Fisher’s wife, Rossie, entered the market building after a few minutes and joined in on the conversation, which turned to the finicky habits of chickens. The dearth of eggs was explained: “If things aren’t just right, they won’t lay,” Rossie told us. This Saturday was a bit cold. We could expect a greater yield when the weather warms up.

Fisher seemed both excited and frustrated in his position as a certified organic farmer. He overwhelmed us with information about the health benefits of grass-fed beef and the pros of supporting local agriculture. Beside the door to the market, we had noticed a table with piles of fliers for things like a sustainable agriculture course at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, a bumper sticker from the American Farmland Trust declaring “No Farms, No Food,” and a booklet entitled “Great News About Grass.” Fisher gave us all these things and more, and he seemed bursting with a desire to educate. I was interested to learn he had spent time on a cattle ranch in Columbia, after doing service in the Peace Corps.

A shelf of honey, skin care products and Brookview logo items.

As we left the farm market, carrying piles of meat, eggs and honey, we waved at Bunny, an Indian Red Brahma with surprisingly long ears. “We’ll come back,” we said. It was worth visiting Brookview just for the drive – a calming rural route beside pastures and quiet houses. But the true value in our trip to Brookview was in reminding ourselves of the connection between our food and the farms it comes from. Brookview is a place where you can meet the farmers and see where the animals you plan to eat have lived, allowing you to draw your own conclusions about the quality of the meat and the morality of the farming practices. As a tentative meat eater, I felt confident I could trust in the quality of the ground beef and pork sausage I bought at the market. We hope you will head out to Brookview next Saturday and take the time to judge for yourself.

Bunny takes a break from eating.

RFC Visits the Environmental Film Festival

I am excited.

As mentioned in an earlier post, the RFC was in attendance today (represented by me, Natalie) at Richmond's first Environmental Film Festival. I was able to see a wonderful film entitled "Planet Earth: Into the Wilderness," as well as part of a documentary about a bicyclist movement in San Francisco (and around the country) called Critical Mass. However, the most exciting part of the day was listening to a speech by Ralph Nader, who came all the way to Richmond to speak to us about civic action, corporations, and the possibilities of change through exerting influence on the U.S. Congress. Needless to say, I was quite inspired by his call to action. Nader suggested people start their own Congress "watchdog groups," imparting his heartfelt belief that the pursuit of justice can be fun, because it is a means to the achievement of real human liberty. Another point was the need to assert the dominance of the American people over enormous corporations which are simply out of control. However, the most important part of the speech, in my opinion, was Nader's emphasis on inspiration being only one part of the process of change; the real key being perspiration, a continued expenditure of effort and the willingness to keep working until you see success. Nader demanded for us to go out and do something, to assert our role as American citizens and members of a "democracy."

What does this mean for us, members of a local food community and advocates for sustainable agriculture and local economy? Keep eating! Keep supporting the farmers you trust and the small businesses around town like the Belmont Butchery (read our post on the Butchery here). Don't shop at big grocery stores just because it's easy. We at the RFC (and Ralph Nader, we hope!) are there with you, continuing to work towards a change in the way the world sees food and agriculture.

At the end of the speech, Nader signed his newest book, The Good Fight. I have yet to read this book, but it promises to be a "call to awareness and action that will captivate readers of all political stripes." I chatted with Nader for roughly 60 seconds as he signed my book "To Natalie, For Justice," and he told me about a restaurant in D.C. called Busboys and Poets, which includes a dining room, a bookstore, and a 'performance space.' He seemed excited because the restaurant has been "packed," hopefully bringing people together to eat, read, and exchange ideas. Nader certainly seemed receptive when I opined that food is a great way to build local communities. Everyone loves to eat, right? In any case, I was certainly interested to go on an "RFC Travels" venture up to DC to check out a restaurant endorsed by Ralph Nader, and it was an amazing opportunity to speak with him.

In conclusion, the film festival and the Ralph Nader talk were well worthwhile. I hope some of the other members of our food community were also able to make it out to the Byrd theater today, or have a bit of time tomorrow to listen to the other speakers. Environmentalism and the need for civic action are a big part of what motivates me as a consumer and a member of the Richmond community, and I believe I am not alone. I'll close this post the same way Nader closed his speech, with an 'ancient Chinese proverb:' "To know, and not to do, is not to know."

Friday, February 1, 2008

Garden Update- February

Argh. So, the bad news is that my dad planted his lettuce and snow peas without me. The good news is that he took my advice and ordered his seeds from the Seed Savers Exchange. Anyway- it is time to plant, and that is always good news.

Trellises waiting for climbing peas

Also, Lewis Ginter is hosting the Horticulture magazine Symposium this Saturday. Of course, the RFC will represent, and we will report back. There will be several lectures on organic gardening (is there any other kind?) which we will be happy to share.