Sunday, May 30, 2010

Now in Season

It's Memorial Day Weekend. I love this time of year. It's one of those cross over periods, and in this case it's spring meets summer. Just as this weekend marks the beginning of summer culture so does it so often mark the arrival of some of our favorite summer foods. This week marked my first sighting of sweet red cherries, cucumbers, blueberries, ripe mulberries, and tender green beans. A couple of weeks ago I got my first batch of baby yellow squash from Fertile Crescent. Now those squash are long and lean with beautiful green bands. At the same time there are still mounds of strawberries and asparagus, those bastions of spring. I've been to both the Lakeside Wednesday Market and the South of the James Market this week. That's just two out of over a dozen area markets.

Here's what I got....
Strawberries: Two Quarts for $10, Agriberry
Asparagus: 1Lb for $5, Agriberry
Sweet Cherries: 1 pint $5, Agriberry
Blueberries: 1 pint $5, Agriberry
Yellow Squash: $4 for a pint stuffed upright like little squash soldiers, Fertile Crescent
Snap Peas: $2.50 for a stuffed standard size zippy bag, Thistledown Farm
Radishes: $2.50 for a giant bunch with greens, Fertile-Crescent
Red Cabbage: $2.50 for a mid-sized head, Victory Farm
Carrots: $3.00 for a good sized bunch with greens, Victory Farm
Green beans: $3.00 for a quart, Bill's Produce
Broccoli: $2.50Lb (which came out to $1 for a large head), Bill's Produce
Red Skinned Potatoes: $2-3 a quart ( I've forgotten which), Bill's Produce

Here's some of the other really nice looking produce I saw at the Market this week...
Green Cabbage
Fresh Red Onions
Spring Onions
Lettuces Mixes
Kale, Curly and Tuscan
Sugar Peas
Purple cauliflower
Indian Cucumbers (they are yellow to a brownish green, but taste "just like a cucumber". )
Baby Cucumbers
Bok Choy
Fennel Bulbs (Got these, plus some bulbing fennel plants last week as well)
Beets, red, orange, golden
Garlic scapes

Of course I'm only talking produce here and haven't even started on all the meats, breads, jams, jellies, herbs, pastas, plants etc. That will have to wait till next time. If you've spotted something new at your market let us know. With all the new Markets, and new vendors out there it hard to keep up!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Reports and invitations

I never wanted to be the kind of blogger who started out a post with some excuse about why I have not been writing. But, yes, I am about to do just that. It has been very exciting and rewarding and quite lovely, and I did miss being able to share it with you. First- the spring median garden was a big success- I got to share scads of beautiful lettuce with many friends and neighbors. Clyde only likes to look- too bad he won't eat any.

And really, are there any plants more adorable than peas?

Also, not only was I able to build a new compost system in the children's garden at Lewis Ginter, Tony, the head chef at the Garden, is willing to save as many vegetable scraps and coffee filters as we want to add to our compost! So, we are starting out with two pickups a week, and we'll see how it goes from there. I have realized lately how important it is to combine resources within your community in order to be truly sustainable. Plus, I met some cool folks who work in the Garden Cafe. You can read more about the system on the Lewis Ginter blog, which will post later this week.

I also had the opportunity to teach a class this spring at St. Stephen's based on Michael Pollan's newest book called Food Rules. I teamed up with a nurse practitioner, and we got to share the good news about the benefits of fat, and why it is important to eat with other people, and how our food system has changed. Of course, our last class was a potluck supper- one of the best I have ever had! That class was so much fun, I am already looking forward to teaching it again next year.

Another project I am really excited about is the Farmers' Market at St. Stephen's. We have had four very successful and really fun markets, and are looking forward to a new season in this 'delicious revolution'. Amazing vendors, great local bands and really wonderful energy- it is truly an honor to be a part of such a thing. I am also happy to report that we have been able to share leftover produce from willing vendors such as Frog Bottom Farm and Flores Produce with the food pantry at St. Stephen's. The food pantry gives food to about thirty families a week, and I am thrilled that we are able to work together to everyone's benefit. The Farmers' Market at St. Stpehen's has blossomed into a food ministry that works with many aspects of wellness. What more could we want from our work, except that it deepens that which we know is true?

I hope you all are enjoying your gardens and your suppers and your community. If you are around northside this week, why don't you stop by the median garden and take some lettuce home? It is time to plant the tomatoes!

Compost Tea At The South of The James Market

I've noticed the 'Living Soils' banner attached to a new tent near the front of the South of the James Market this season. I had yet to stop, and check it out, but I am sure now that I will. Victory Farms mentioned this new enterprise in their e-mail so I visited the website to check them out. Five dollars will buy you one gallon. A half gallon is three dollars. So good for your soils, and usually tricky to find, having a quality compost tea available at the South of James would be exciting news indeed.

The United States of Food

So, I know that somewhere someone has talked to me about this Virginia company that ships whole pre-planted raised garden beds to customers in Virgina. The company based in Lanexa Va, (between New Kent and Willamsburg) has a garden starter kit package for non-Virginians. Why this hasn't caught my attention until now I can't imagine. Whole, growing gardens shipped to your yard?!
Started by two guys with interesting and impressive bios... Ivan Fehrenbach, and Shane Emmett , The United States of Food will build, plant, and ship you any of their 'stock' bed designs ranging from a soil filled wine barrel to a 4x8 raised bed. Pine seems to be standard, but you can choose ceder for extra money. Victory Farms has announced that The United States of Food, is now using Victory Farms own compost in their garden soil mix. They will custom build gardens for Restaurants on site as well. If chickens are your thing they can also build you a custom coop. The price for the 4x8 garden is $695. The price of convenience. The website tries to balance this cost by showing you the potential value of the food that could feasibly be produced in the plot over a two year period.
I had questions about what plants are in their selectable planting options. With names like 'The Presidential Plot', and 'The Southern Supper' I couldn't find any sort of actual plant list. Interested? Check out their 'how it works' page. Have questions? If your in the Richmond area you can visit them at the Bryan Park Market on Tuesday Afternoons.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Local Food Symposium- Registration Deadline This Thursday

Wednesday May 26, 20109:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Randolph Farm Extension Pavilion,
Virginia State University4415 River RoadPetersburg, Virginia
The event is free, but you must register by May 20, 2010 by emailing Tracy Downey at or calling 804-524-5611. For more information, please contact Crystal Tyler-Mackey at 804-524-5494 or

Monday, May 17, 2010

Community Viability Specialist Jonah Fogel -This Wednesday At Tricycle Gardens

Jonah Fogel is the Community Viability Specialist for our region. He help start The Richmond Area Food Systems Council. He has played an important role in the development of many a farm, business, lecture series, farmer's market, well you name it and he's knowledge and hard work has likely played role. Check out his lecture this Wednesday May 19th, and put your money towards a good cause at the same time.

From the Tricycle Gardens E-mail........
Ecological Policies for an Ecological Age
Guest: Jonah Fogel-Government policies play an important role in fostering technological innovation and economic growth. How can local, state, and federal policies help encourage sustainable development? How can trade agreements, farm legislation, and transportation policies support green business practices? How do we create a business model that rests firmly on ecological principles, including concern for long-term growth and sustainability? TG Headquarters, 7-9pm $20

Grass-fed Beef at Richmond Arby's?!

My mom told me once that when she was pregnant with me the one thing she would crave and eat all of the time was Arby's roast beef sandwiches. She also assured me that those sandwiches were much different than those made up of the sheeny grey brown sliced meat that were the stuff of my teen years. I grew up on fast food, lots of it. I was a rather sickly kid and was always at the doc. To make it up to me my mom would take me to McDonald's after each visit. In high school I ate breakfast at Burger King or McDonald's everyday with friends before school. For lunch I would eat the Taco Bell they served in the school lunch room (nachos and soft beef tacos!). Every Friday night was pizza night, (Domino's), The Burger King on East Grace was a frequent spot for a quick bit before a show. I could go on.
Finally, after years of living off of pizza and soft pretzels from food trucks in Philly I was so sick I could only think to come home and focus on taking care of myself.

All that information, too much perhaps, leads me to say that I have eaten fast food exactly once in the last 6 years, if you don't count the occasional break down for some take out pizza that happens about twice a year. Oh yeah and those nachos I had at Northside Grill... anyway... I am totally out of the fast food loop. So earlier this week I was surprised when my husband handed me a brown paper napkin from Arby's that read GRASS-FED BEEF in bright green letters. I now realize I am way behind the times as RVA News , and Richmond Times Dispatch have both already reported that as of March 1, 2010 all 19 of the Richmond area Arby's will use all grass-fed beef on all of their sandwiches. Yeah! Go Arby's. So now my husband can enjoy the occasional fast food lunch, and maybe enjoy it a little more. At the same time, grass-fed fast food is still mass produced, fast food. Truly healthy, humanly raised meat doesn't seem possible if it has to be on a scale great enough for Americans to continue to eat it three meals day.
It may seem to some that the switch to grass-fed is an obvious, no brainer of a decision. However, The Restaurant Company, that owns the Richmond area Arby's made a big leap here. They didn't just provide a grass fed option, but changed to grass-fed for all of their sandwiches. Chipotle, has opened the door for fast food venues to opt out of the industrial food model to some degree. However, there is already at least one person who has started a facebook page just to bring back the old conventionally raised beef. The smattering of comments on that page range from the likes of "The beef taste like Grass" to "Perhaps there was a Government takeover of Arby's. The Government seems good at screwing stuff up." Meanwhile, I've been doing Internet searches to try and determine where exactly this grass-fed beef comes from. No luck yet.
Ah well, I say good luck to Arby's, it seems like they've always been a step above and a step ahead, and I for one hope they don't step back.

Rooftop Farming

Intense sunlight, high winds, and an elevator for access doesn't sound like the ideal farming environment, but for several years now many individuals around the country and around the world have been making it work. The spiritual, environmental, and economic rewards reaped seem to make it all worth while. The natural world will find these oasis and even lend a helping hand, as rooftop farmers have discovered that birds can introduce earthworms and other soil organisms. My Coworker recently sent me this interesting story from the NY Times about a for profit group in NY City that is starting their second large scale roof top farm. Called Brooklyn Grange the group raised funds through donations to meet the cost of launching the project. You can click here to go directly to their website for pics and information about the group and their philosophy. You can click here to check out pics and story line from their first 6000 sq ft. The site for City Farmer has a good collection of articles about different Rooftop Farming enterprises. Add in some rooftop beekeeping, and you've got a close to complete package. Good inspiration for Richmond. Check it out.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Makin' Strawberry Jam

I am making jam right now. Strawberry jam to be exact. I have been looking forward to this day ever since last spring when my friends Casey and Ned made the most amazing strawberry jam in the whole wide world. They called it spoon jam because you can just eat it right out of the jar. Or if you are more civilized, put it on pancakes and ice cream and, I am sure, the pedestrian peanut butter and jelly more than once. The jam was nothing short of amazing- complex and flavorful and bright and unlike anything I had ever tasted. I knew that as crazy as the spring always is for me, I needed to take some time and learn to make their spoon jam. If I didn't, I knew I would miss the magic and regret it all year. So here we are, eating chinese takeout and boiling, boiling, boiling away.

I wanted to bring you a recipe- I really did. This is not so much how it happens. We started around 5pm culling 6 flats of freshly picked, gorgeous strawberries.

We put the berries in pots on the stove, adding sugar- not very much to start- well, approximately 4 cups of sugar to 10 quarts of strawberries. When the pink foam subsided, (an important detail to remember) we added about 2 tsps of salt, 1 tsp of vanilla and 1 lemon- juice and zest to each pot.
Toward the end of the night, we started adding herbs like lavender and all kinds of mint to the jars for fun. Some jars were given the benefit of cardamom and cloves. A couple have rose water because I am currently a little obsessed with the combination- it might be the shared redness, I am not sure. I have no idea what the end result will be once it comes time to eat- immeasurable for sure- but I know it will be really fun to open the jars and remember this night.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Three Cheers to the Full Scale Return of the Richmond Markets!

I just wanted to jump in quickly and say how nice it's been to return to the markets. The first day was a bit like a party, with so many old friends and neighbors out together. This week I was surprised by the fantastic bounty out there. One of my absolute favorite vendors, Fertile Crescent Farm, had a beautiful stand with salad greens, loads of strawberries, kale, onions, and more. They even had pints of baby yellow squash!! I walked away with so much healthy, beautiful food including broccoli from two different vendors, radishes, beets, and spinach.
For my mother's day brunch contribution I am making a simple side of strawberries with local honey and fresh pineapple mint. (This is my untested plan anyway.) I bought two types of mint plants from A Thyme to Plant herb farm.

I also talked with the folks at Blanchards Coffee. I love their 'Dark as Dark' and knew I could always get it from the special bulk bins at the Forest Hill Ukrops. Now that Martin's has officially moved in the Blanchards Coffee has been relegated to bags on the bottom shelf of the coffee isle. Hard to find even when your looking. However, the person I spoke with at Blanchards tells me that they should have some form of bulk bins back in the bakery section of the Forest Hill Martin's in a few weeks time.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Day trip, Part 2-Wine!

The Charlottesville area has so many wineries- we could not simply look at a map to choose which ones to visit on our day trip, so we just started driving up Route 20, we soon saw a sign for Jefferson Vineyards, and thought we'd stop in.

The bar was crowded, but our hostess was very helpful, and did not make us feel like she was too busy to answer any questions we had about the wine. I bought a bottle of the 2009 Monticello Pinot Gris.

Shannon aays: The Jefferson Winery was our first of what turned out to be four very different wine tasting experiences. The Jefferson is a popular winery for the large body of people who are just out to drink wine and hang out on a nice day. Our first sight was of a stretch limousine parked right outside the deck seating. A bridal shower group all in brightly colored dresses, shoes on, and off were bouncing about between the deck and the limo. We sought refuge indoors at the long tasting bar only to find it packed. After waiting politely for a few moments I gave up and had to pull a Saturday night bar scene shimmy, squeezing in sideways to get one shoulder into the bar space right at the sliding bar space used for loading in cases and allowing the staff entrance in and out. The man working behind the tasting bar ignored us completely, but we were quickly rescued by a really great woman who managed to make the whole rest of our experience a real pleasure despite the couple with their 4 small and understandably bored children who came up along side of us for a tasting. For a cost of $5 we each were given a decent size pour (when talking tasting) of 10 different wines. The tasting covered everything from dry whites and reds to dessert wine. Since I am part of the large body of people who just want to enjoy some wine and a nice day and Erin was driving, I drank every bit. The family quickly disembarked and our host had only us to tend to. She spent a good deal of time explaining (mostly to me since Erin actually knows some stuff) the differences in their wines, stainless steal vs. oak barrels etc. She pointed out the 2008 Petit Verdot should peak in 2011 (two years after it's release). This lead to a discussion in which she stated that virtually all American wines are made for instant gratification, meaning they don't age well so buy and drink up! We liked the 08 Petit Verdot, the '07 Mertiage, and Erin liked Pinot Gris. Our "free" wine glasses in hand we headed out.
We continued down (up?) Route 20, and found ourselves at
First Colony Winery. To get here take a turn off of 20 and onto a small residential street that winds around past a good number of small country homes. Just as you think you really may have taken a wrong turn a sign appears pointing onward. Here we found only two other cars in the lot, and a charming landscape. The farily large main room has a small tasting bar towards the back where we found two couples finishing up their tasting. Erin and I quickly found ourselves completely along with the whole of winery and it's two staff members. Erin cut out early on this one saving her taste buds for greater things down the road. I, however stayed on for the 3 dry whites and the 4 reds, that included the 2006 Tannat. To the Tannat I actually had to say... Whoa! The Tannat is apparently a grape with very thick skins and there for a very high level of tannins. In Virginia this grape is usually blended with other red grapes like the Cabernet Franc to give it a fuller body. I skipped most of their semi-sweet and sweet wines I believe the tasting cost $8 and 12 wines were offered for tasting. If you buy three bottles the cost of the tasting is waved. I did just that and walked out with the '07 Rose, the 07 Cab. Franc, and the 07 Cab. Sauvignon. This last one has a fruity rich flavor that ends with a chocolaty finish. It tasted quite good to me who knows close to nothing about wine.

Just a bit up a hidden dirt road in the back of First Colony is Virginia Wineworks- home of Micheal Shaps wines, and wines sold under the Virginia Wineworks label. The Virginia Wineworks seems to be a hidden gem of a spot. Micheal Shaps actually makes the wine for a number of other wineries in the area. The Virginia Wineworks label is his sort of "everyday" label. Those carrying the 'Micheal Shaps' label are his higher end wines and they will run you between $32 to $50 a bottle. Our third winery was another varied experience. We arrived at the back of warehouse loading dock area. Harvesting crates stacked high next to us, a large metal rolling door was three quarters of the way up revealing shining steal machinery. We must of looked uncertain and the lone woman standing outside gave us a wide, friendly wave to let us know we were indeed in the right spot.

Erin says: We walked into the warehouse, resting wine in barrels to our left, harvest and bottling machinery to our left, and had the best time with some fantastic wines and our very knowlegable and generous hostess. I was so struck by their use of native yeast in the initial fermentation and the complexity of the single varietals that I bought two bottles of wine that cost over $35. I am now the proud owner of a Michael Shaps Viognier and 2007 Cabernet Franc. (What now?) Michael Shaps consults with many wineries in the area, and his expertise is evident in his wines. I also bought two of the Virginia Wineworks label wines, a Rose and the VA Wineworks Red,which are made with purchased grapes, and sell for under $20. This winery is really fun if you want to learn more about how great wine is made.

We had to leave eventually, so we headed back to highway 20 toward the Kluge Estate. All of the surrounding land to this winery is breathtakingly gorgeous.
At Kluge, you can either sit outside in a peaceful grove with your flight of six wines, which always includes their amazing sparkling wine, or at the bar inside. We elected to stay inside, (ostensibly to learn something from the woman pouring our wine, but it was pretty late in the day for anything resembling education) and our bar quickly filled up with fellow travelers on the wine road. We learned a lot about the Kluges, (did you know the estate is for sale?) laughed a lot and enjoyed some very fine wines. The Albemarle flight is $15, which is refunded if you join the wine club. I swear, this sounded like a really good idea at the time...

We had a blast checking out the gorgeous Charlottesville countryside, and found some amazing VA wines to boot. Let us know if you have any VA wineries you recommend- we'd love to go again!