Saturday, October 10, 2009

Food For Thought

Wow - what a week! I will be so happy to have the American Dietetic Association meeting over. I have been working hard to get ready to go to Denver, where it's SNOWING! Don't you hate how hard you have to work to get ahead before leaving town and then you still have to work extra hard when you return, sigh. Luckily my hotel has internet and maybe I will find time to keep up some and get a blog post out.

I always get excited about this national meeting, as I love to socialize and talk with people from all over the country. This time I am excited about meeting my fellow Hunger and Environmental Nutrition colleagues. I am co-presenting the article on Organic Foods that I co-wrote with Chris McCullum-Gomez. I call Chris one of my organic heros as she is truly a champion for sustainable agriculture and protecting the enviroment and people's health.

Speaking of health, one of my goals for 2010 is to start making or buying more environmentally friendly cleaning products and healthy body care products. I have just spent some time looking at the Environmetal Working Groups Skin Deep web site. They classify and report on tens of thousands of everyday products and give you a rating score on each item's health and safety. I think I average about a score of 4 (on a 0-10 scale)  on my cumulative products. But I was surprised by some of the ratings on items that I thought were more "pure" products. My sister, Susie, has made some homemade cleaning products and I have asked for a basket of these goodies as my holiday gift this year.

Well, I see that Steve already stole my thunder about the new house. But I was so busy this week making 10 batches of croissants, canning apples and finishing work projects that I gave him the opportunity to release the news. We are super excited about this next venture. We are considering it Phase II of the Locavore Makeover Project. The re-making of a house and yard into a nirvana of "In the City, Off the Grid!" While I love this current house and my incredibly great neighbors, I can't garden here - not even in pots! Of course, the idea that I am only moving about 5 houses away is a huge consolation to leaving my neighbors and this charming home. Lucky for us, I have been told we can still attend the block parties! (Everyone on the block is an incredible cook so I know they want me and not just my food; ha ha!)

The new house is functional and needs some work, but it's really the 1/2 acre lot right on West Market Street that we are so excited about. We envision an orchard out front and vegetable gardens in the back (with the chickens.) There are mature muscadine grape vines in two places in the back part of the property and I am excited about tapping those next year. I have never tried wine making, but if I can brew beer, I feel confident I can try my hand at wine.

Our ultimate goal would be to produce enough food to have our own Community Supported Agriculture program with about 3 or 4 other local families. We will intend to blog about the whole experience and let everyone know about how we got started and where we succeed or fail.

Lastly, I read about another food blogger who lives just a couple of streets over. She has some great recipes on her site and I included her on the Blog Roll - look for Mod Meals on Mendenhall. Whew, it's early but I am ready to hit the hay! More news and more work to come. The families are rolling along and everyone is in and out of town and busy with scheduled things, but I know they have been introduced to some new concepts that are sinking in and we'll have a lot to add in the near future!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fall garden preparation and planting - I have been to the mountaintop!

As the acorns plunk and rattle down the roof along with a gentle rain this evening, it's becoming clear that the inevitable change of seasons is at hand. Steve here to share a bit about Fall preparation of the garden and planting and to deliver some other news as well. I'd give myself a handle like "Tiller of Soil" (to go along with Builder of Coops) except that I spent last Saturday at Charlie Headington's excellent workshop on permaculture gardening and learned that tilling is not really the way to go if you want to create a sustainable year round garden to feed yourself and your loved ones - and maybe a couple dozen more folks too if you garden like Charlie does.

Charlie has turned his small lot in the College Hill section of town into a veritable edible Eden over the last ten or so years, complete with vegetables, fruit trees, two ponds (yes, two ponds) and even bees. His garden represents the epitome of the locavore culture. He's growing it all right there in his own back and front yards and the rewards are delicious (he served a tasty lunch as part of the workshop with much of it coming right from his lovely garden).

This is part of what we would like to create with the Locavore Makeover Project as well. We've wanted to garden here at our home ever since we moved from Chapel Hill where we had some amazing success with just a small strip of dirt in our townhouse courtyard. Our lot here, though, is almost 100% shaded during the growing season. What to do? I guess this is the news part. Anne-Marie and I have purchased another home, only a block and a half from our current residence in Sunset Hills, but with twice as much land and lots more sun.

The big plan is to really "go locavore" on this new lot, starting with some bed preparation and limited planting this Fall and, hopefully, expanding like crazy in the Spring, and getting the Tilleys and Richeys involved along the way. Oh, and yes, there is a house on the new lot, too. And we kind of need to sell or rent our existing home (soon!) so we don't bankrupt ourselves in the process, but that's just details, right?

So, if we want to get started on this garden, it sounds like we'd be in for a lot of tilling and turning of soil starting in a couple of weeks when we close on the new house. Not so fast, Charlie would say. At his workshop last weekend he introduced us to the concept of "sheet mulching", a relatively quick and easy way to start your garden beds right on top of your existing soil, even on top of a lawn.

The idea is that you are imitating nature's processes, but intensifying them to quickly create nutrient rich soil and get your garden off to a great start. Yes, there are additives (it's not magic, you know) including pelletized lime for magnesium, green sand for potassium, bone meal for phosphorus, and a nitrogen source like fish meal fertilizer or an organic liquid source that you can dilute, but the steps are easy to follow and the results are much faster than nature would provide unaided. Also involved are layers of newspaper, leaf mold (available from the City for about $20 per pickup truck load if you can haul it yourself), some pine or wheat straw, and, of course, water. I won't go into all the steps right now, but we are excited about trying this approach and introducing it to the families. We will continue to report on our progress as we make it.

Another great thing that sheet mulching does is that it creates a great environment for worms that are already living in the soil below. Having built and populated a worm box myself over last winter, I can attest to the wonderful work worms do turning one's garbage into wonderful rich soil. Worm castings (their poop, essentially) make a fantastic natural fertilizer and they love leaf mold almost as much as they do your table scraps. They naturally aerate the soil, turn rotting food waste into wonderful compost, and generally can be a gardener's best friend. (By the way, a great local source for worms and more information about worms is Betsy Buhrman at Betsy Lou Worms. She can be found at Greensboro's Curb Market most any Saturday). And while worms "work" the soil, they do it much more naturally and productively than does mechanical tilling. Tilling releases nitrogen much faster than is desirable, kills otherwise helpful soil micro-organisms rapidly as they are exposed to the air and it also exposes previously dormant weed seeds allowing them to flourish more readily. 

There's much more to it all than this little taste, but it's late and I think I said I was going to talk about planting, too. I guess that will be next time after we start experimenting with tenting and cold frames to try to start some winter plants. Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Report from the Scott's

We had friends over for dinner Friday night to celebrate the end of one of two of my huge work projects. My guests had asked if they could bring anything for dinner and I said bring the dessert. My friend replied that they would be sure to bring something sealed in plastic and processed and I said, in that case make sure it has colored sprinkles too. So in all seriousness I was in peals of laughter when they pulled Mini Moon Pies with sprinkles out of the bag!! Luckily they also brought some Ghirardelli brownies doctored with my favorite additions: dried raspberries and white chocolate chunks - YUM!

For those of you not familiar with our Southern Classic Moon Pie - it is basically two round graham crackers with a layer of marshmellow fluff substance in the middle and then the whole thing is dipped in chocolate. They are one of my Dad's favorites of days gone by. Steve leans heavily towards his childhood favorite from the Northeast, something called a TastyKake. My weakness in this "grocery aisle of the past" was Little Debbie Swiss Rolls. Of course, my absolute weakness to this day is doughnuts - I can't even have them in the house. What is your favorite snack from days of old and has it changed since then? (The Moon Pie certainly has!)

We did pull out one of the moon pies because my daughter, Charlotte, has a weakness for sprinkled anything. But generally she pulls the sprinkles off of whatever the product is and just eats those. But my philosophy of eating states that no food is taboo. If I bring it in the house it is fair game that Charlotte can eat it. Hence, I stock the house with fresher foods, only rarely have frozen (though organic) french fries, and no chicken nuggets. If they are not here I can say that's not a choice for a meal or snack - period, end of discussion. We adults must be in charge of the food decisions in our own homes.

But I have always allowed Charlotte to eat what she wants and when and how much. We have had home made organic ice cream for dinner, spaghetti with ketchup for breakfast and a fair amount of peanut butter with dark chocolate chips as a snack favorite, but in general, she is a kid who would rather have organic milk and carrots than cake, cookies or juice. At Halloween and Valentines I let her open every single candy and eat what she wants. Without fail, because her palate is not used to these foods and because a lot of them don't really taste good, she will taste one after another and discard 95% of them. 

Taste re-education is, in my opinion, the slowest part of the process of converting to locavorism. It happens in waves and when you least expect it. Eventually the processed food you've eaten in the past becomes distasteful and you notice more of the chemical nature of ready-made foods. You notice the funky aftertastes that don't happen when you eat whole foods prepared in classic ways.

So dinner last night was a local meatloaf (half beef and half mild pork saugage from Bradds Family Farms) made with our eggs, organic carrots and garlic, Italian Reggiano Parmesan, fresh parsley, Quaker oatmeal, organic local milk and some McComick dried sage - it was a Mark Bittman recipe. I made mashed potatoes from local potatoes and butter and Daisy sour cream (I prefer the organic sour cream but it doesn't last as long as the conventional and between that recent complaint and my forgetting to specifically write organic on the list it was Daisy that Steve bought - see? even we forget sometimes!) The great thing about local organic potatoes is that you can eat the skins without worrying about pesticide residues and this is where some of the best nutirents are found. My other side dish was fried green tomatoes. Outside my building at work there is a volunteer/rogue tomato plant that grew by the loading dock and no one was harvesting any of the tomatoes so I went along and picked the remaining 9 small to medium green tomatoes and fried them up with organic rice flour and my favorite Jane's Krazy Mixed Up Seasoned Salt. These were a tasty dumpster treat!!


Speaking of road food, I was driving through the Starmount neighborhood yesterday and a woman was collecting and giving away black walnuts. They look like giant green tennis balls and smell wonderfully citrusy. They require some special handling to gain the tasty treat inside and I will document this later and give you the scoop on my other free food find!

This weekend we got our first bag of Winter Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) goodies from our buddies at Handance Farm. We recieved arugula, a mixed baby greens assortment, a pint of cherry sized tomatoes, 1 pound of peppers, 1 1/2 pound of eggplant (which I can fry in the leftover fried green tomato olive oil I have left on the stove today!), 3/4 pound of yellow squash and about 4 good sized shitake mushrooms. The winter farm shares is only a 4 week program, but well worth it when you have a severe withdrawl from all the summer harvest glories!

Now, a new work week is to begin and I have another doozy of a week. I have this other big project to finish. I am getting ready to go to Denver for the National American Dietetic Association meeting where I am doing a talk on the Organic Foods article I wrote over the summer. And I have some other big news coming up that I will hold out on for now. It will be my reward for getting through this week! All this work stuff hit at the right time. All of the families, mine included, are crazy busy with other pre-planned October activites. So, everyone is absorbing the impact of what we have learned so far and we will be planning for a much more active November, although October holds some fun stuff yet!