Blue Dragon Apothecary

Blue Dragon Apothecary is helping to bring bring Greenfield MA, and the surrounding towns of the area a space welcoming all people who may be curious about a more natural alternative route regarding medicine.  The apothecary offers consultations at a sliding scale allowing anyone and everyone interested in an opportunity to experience the world of traditional Chinese and Tibetan herbal medicine.  I went into this internship not knowing very much about herbal medicine other than that it had sparked an interest in the past; and while I didn’t learn everything about it, the foundation of knowledge which was built and acquired is invaluable and irreplaceable.

In my time at Blue Dragon Apothecary I learned about numerous herbs and their applications, how to prepare and extract herbal tinctures, and mix accordingly patients herbal tea prescriptions.  In addition to that I learned how to connect with myself  and tap into that which may be weighing me down emotionally.

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What I love about working in this sort of environment is the aspect of trust and community which accompanies it.  Every person who walks through the doors may be different, but possesses an intention similar to both the former and the latter.  The intention to heal themselves, their surrounding family and friends, and their community by reaching out and connecting with something that makes them feel good life.  At least, that is the experience I had.  The positive atmosphere is contagious and each time I worked I would leave having learned something new about myself, the medicine, another person, or simply a reflection of life lightening the load each one of us bears.

New Skills Can Make a Difference

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Angela Roell: explaining “drying” as a method of food preservation.

I recently assisted in a food preservation class for GCC and NELCWIT taught by Angela Roell.  After being a part of this class I have a more thorough understanding of the importance of having these skills.  I see that preserving food can have an impact on increasing food security, having access to adequate amounts of affordable and nutritious food, sovereignty, the right for people to have access to culturally appropriate foods, while reducing food waste.  According to USDA Economic Research Service 49.1 million people in the United States are food insecure.  Food preservation can help this because, one can extend the life of food over the winter when access to healthy food is most difficult. I can see how this skill is going to be especially useful for the women of NELCWIT where many of them are looking to have a fresh start, many with children.  Accessing food when you are food insecure can use up most, if not all your energy especially when you are responsible for children.  By having these skills these women will be able to extend the life of the healthy foods they obtain while saving money.  Therefore their energy may be used for establishing careers, going to school, spending more quality time with their children etc.

The ERS estimated that in 2010 food wasted was 1249 calories per capita per day that is about 141 trillion calories of food wasted in 2010.  As a student and a single mother who has a low income level, I have first-hand experience on how trying to feed my kids healthy food on a regular basis can be extremely challenging.  There are times when I received a paycheck so I would stock up on healthy foods, or the local food bank would be handing out gleaned produce.  The frustrating part was that many of this food would end up going bad before it could be used.  By having knowledge on how to safely preserve food I would be able to stretch the food out much longer, reducing waste, saving money and having a stock of healthy food even when my bank account cannot afford it.

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Food preservation has the best results in flavor and nutrients preserved when the food is local and fresh.  Our instructor, Angela gave the class some very useful tips, one being that by buying produce in bulk one can obtain food at much cheaper prices.  Many farmers markets accept EBT as a form of payment this along with skills obtained in a food preservation class one may not only increase their food security but there will likely be an increase of food sovereignty as well.  When one is limited to EBT and food banks (which are great services) having a choice of what you eat, becomes less important than being able to eat.  Choice of fresh local food during New England winter months is just about, none.  By having a choice of what foods are appropriate for oneself and their families as well as the skills to extend the life of that food, one will have access to the foods of their choice all winter long.

Access to a food preservation class such as this one, is not a complete solution to the issues we face with food security and sovereignty.  After what I have learned I can see that it is a piece of the puzzle.  With more classes like this, many people will be able to increase their food security and choose what foods they serve to their families.  I really hope to see more classes like this one in my community, and to take part in them.  I am honored to have been a part of this course.

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Watching a demonstration on drying food.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gaining Valuable Skills

I recently completed an internship for GCC and NELCWIT, assisting a food preservation class taught by Angela Roell.  I learned various ways of preserving food including, canning, pickling, lacto-fermentation, freezing and drying.  One of the most valuable take a way’s from this class was food safety.  Many people may avoid preserving their own food due to the hyped up fear of botulism.  After the instruction of this class I now have confidence on how to ensure the food I preserve is safe and how to identify a contamination.  One thing I had never thought of in ensuring food safety was to make sure food is blemish free.  I always thought of canning as a way to utilize food that was undesirable for market, but blemishes mean that break down of the food has already started and undesirable bacteria may be present.  That doesn’t mean that food cannot be used, one can cut away the blemish, or once processed stored in refrigerator and used first.

Another important take away from this class was altering recipes.  The instructor always gave alternatives to use with a recipe and the class had an opportunity to experiment with a recipe.  This is a very important skill to have because one of the reasons one may want to preserve food is to lower their food costs.  What is available for local produce or what is in one’s garden depends on many variables.  Therefore being able to utilize what’s on hand by altering a recipe can be very important when trying to increase ones food security.  This is also useful for food sovereignty, once one understands on what is required to make foods shelf stable they can use cultural appropriate foods that fit the need for their own family.

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One of our classes was dedicated to experimenting with recipes.  We were given a recipe and a table of ingredients.  The assignment was to use what we have learned and to create something new.  I worked in a group with two others our original recipe was, peach oolong jelly.  This recipe called for two cups of sugar and we all agreed we wanted something that wasn’t so sweet.  We substituted honey for sugar 1:1, but found our end results were still too sweet.  Here is the recipe we ended up with:

Strawberry Jasmine Jelly:

  • 1 cup crystalized honey
  • 2 cups water
  • 5 tsp. Jasmine tea
  • 5 cups Strawberries (stemmed)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 4-5 whole cloves
  • 2 TBS powdered pectin
  1. Prepare two 1/2 pint jars and one 1/4 pint jar. In a large pot combine honey and water.
  2. Bring to a simmer until crystalized hoey is dissolved.
  3. Add tea, strawberries, cinnamon and cloves.  Let simmer approximately ten minutes, until flavor intensity taste good to your liking.
  4. Strain liquid through a fine mesh sieve, pressing gently on berries to remove as much liquid as possible.
  5. Return syrup to pot and add pectin.  Bring to a rapid boil and monitor temperature.  When the jelly liquid reaches approximately 220 degrees, it is done.  Scrape off any foam.
  6. Remove pot from heat and pour jelly into prepared jars.  Wipe rims, apply lids and rings and process in a boiling water canner for ten minutes. When time is up, remove jars from canner and let cool on dish towel.
  7. When jars are cool, remove rings and test seal.  Store ay unsealed jars in the refrigerator.  Unopened jars of jelly will keep on the shelf for one year.  ENJOY!

Internship at Sawyer Farm

My name is Monica and I am in the Farm and Food System program here at Greenfield Community College. This past spring semester I had the wonderful opportunity to intern at Sawyer Farm in Worthington, Massachusetts. Run by a husband and wife duo, Lincoln and Hilary, they farm using low impact methods like rotational grazing and horse-powered farming techniques. The farm is a diverse, year round CSA that focuses on providing their members with fresh and local produce, meat, eggs, bread, dairy, and more!

During my internship we would begin and end everyday with the barn chores. This included, but was not limited to, collecting eggs, watering, feeding and bedding the animals (they raise cows, goats, pigs and chickens along with a team of three horses for farm work). The rest of the day would consist of various tasks. On Fridays, which is the pick-up day for their members, we would spend time prepping the farm store. This involved tasks like cleaning eggs, and sorting, cleaning and stocking vegetables. While working in the farm store I was able to learn about several vegetables I hadn’t previously known about, like daikon radishes and celeriac and I learned that daikon radishes can be used as a cover crop to help alleviate soil compaction. I was also able to learn a lot about the veggies you can preserve in cold storage and how to properly store them. In late March we were able to harvest some spinach, kale, and micro-greens from the greenhouse (this was an exciting thing to do in early spring!). Back in April we were able to dig up and store a lot of parsnip that they allowed to over-winter and we have also recently been able to do a native harvest of a type of wild onion known as ramps. I think it is great that they are able to provide their members with creative and unique options especially at this time of year! It has been awesome being able to work on their member pick-up days and learning some of the work that it takes to run a productive farm and small business. On my other days at the farm we would usually be working on larger tasks that needed to get done, such as, transplanting in the greenhouse, rearranging the barn to accommodate new or more animals, setting up and rotating pasture fences, and working with the horses. It was a lot of fun working in the greenhouse, especially early in the season when it was still pretty cold. I have never had the chance to work in a greenhouse so it was great getting that firsthand experience in seeing how beneficial they are to getting an early start on the growing season.

Another thing that I really enjoyed learning was working with the horses. I’ve never worked with horses before or ever really been around horses so they were definitely a little intimidating at first but I soon became pretty comfortable around them. I was able to learn how to harness the horses and the commands they use to guide the horses. At first I had a hard time using a stern enough voice to get them to listen to me but as I got more comfortable with them and what I was doing it became easier. One of the most exciting things that happened at the farm was when one their cows gave birth to twins, which I learned is a pretty rare occurrence! I unfortunately left a few hours before she ended up delivering, but it was a nice surprise coming back later in the week to two healthy baby calves! I’m so grateful for the time I was able to spend at Sawyer Farm; I was able to learn so much more than I thought I could in such a short amount of time. Hilary and Lincoln have been great teachers and amazing people to work with. They have both been able to teach me so much, not only about growing food in a sustainable fashion but also ways to live a better, healthy and wholesome life. I would recommend this farm to anyone seeking a great learning and life experience!

Genesis

My name is Rachael.  I am brand new to the Farm and Food System program at GCC, but certainly not new to GCC.  This is my first blog, ever.

I feel the best way I can track my journey is to summarize how I ended up where I am now.   For several years now I have been struggling with being a single mom and dealing with PTSD.  I am a survivor of violence and rape, with the help of NELCWIT, I haven’t had to feel completely alone, not that I didn’t feel it from time to time.  I have had a difficult time caring for my children with limited hours of availability because cost of after school care is too expensive. Also being under educated Limits the jobs available to me.    I knew that my potential was being neglected so I vowed to do whatever I could to improve my family’s and my situation.  I enrolled in GCC in pursuit of a nursing degree, an honorable job with good pay and job security.  I excelled academically, but still had an empty feeling.  Between school, work, raising two kids, coaching their sports team, going to counseling, I was busy enough, but I was lost.

I am at heart a child of nature, so whenever I could I was hiking, snowshoeing, hydro climbing (don’t ask) or doing anything that involved being outside.   I only found true inner peace when I was connected with nature.  I always had to have lots of plants in my home and always had to have a garden.  Even when I lived in an apartment building with no yard, I had huge pots growing veggies near every sunny window.  Anything I read, that wasn’t school related, had to do with gardening, nature or farming.  But, I didn’t put the pieces together until one semester when I was one credit short to meet the terms of my financial aid.  I chose a class that simply fit my schedule that unknowingly would change everything.   The class was, Mushroom Cultivation and Foraging.   Not only did I learn a ton about mushrooms (yes, I am currently growing shiitakes at home). But, opened up the idea that nature is all connected, in this class through mycelium networking.  This got me thinking about all the other ways nature connects, forms intricate symbiotic relationships, and webs into a great cycle.  The idea was magnificent and really spoke to me, but I was shaken by the fact that humans are breaking these cycles and killing the beautiful system that sustains us.  We simply take, but do not give.  So, I am motivated now not by the need to have a job that makes a decent wage, but the need to spiritually connect with nature and others and gain the tools necessary to do my part in leading us (human beings) to a better sustainable future.

I already feel a fire igniting my spirit forward, only in the first two weeks of starting school in a new field.  I am not sure on where I will be lead, but I am positive this path will lead me to my potential and to a place where I am meant to make a difference.

 

Just Roots more than farming

New discoveries. There are many types of weeds you can eat, such as dandelions and chick weed. I ate a lot of chick weed while we were weeding, it tastes like spinach. Ground cherries, before this I have never even heard of one, but, they are one of the most amazing things I have ever tasted and will from now on be a staple in my garden. There are well over 200 species of kale, so far my favorite is dino kale. The spots on potatoes mean different things, such as; blight, Rhizoctonia Canker, tubers….Aaron explained a lot to me, and I still don’t understand it all. I also tasted Kuri squash, and delicata squash for the first time and they are delicious! Watermelon radishes were also a first for me, I brought some home and pickled them, and I will say they smelled bad once pickled but, taste amazing, they were a big hit at our family holiday party.
A good amount of the things I learned during my internship was not just about farming. There is a beautiful connection that happened with the fellow interns I worked with. Just by being there we already knew that we shared similar passions and goals. There was never any “small talk.” We shared very meaningful conversations of spirituality, life and our planet, the importance of ritual, being thankful, making connections and healing. We shared with each other our own journeys and how it brought us all to cross paths. We spent time brainstorming on ways to improve our communities, food system, our own health and mental well-being. I knew I would learn about farming, but I was surprised on how much I learned about myself and my own passions. I have always been kind of a “lone-wolf’ and kept many things to myself. After spending time with these amazing people I find that my passions and faith have been re-ignited.

Although the fall semester was very busy for me. Being a working single mom and a full time student I was apprehensive about taking on an internship. I am so glad I did. Some days I did feel crunched for time, but, in the end the whole experience was completely worth it. I met some great people, I learned a lot and I re-discovered my own spirituality and passions. Thank you Just Roots for letting me be a part of your amazing organization.

Just Roots Internship

The fragrance of earth and fresh air. A large red barn on a hill surrounded by fields of colorful and aromatic produce. The buzzing of insects, and the enchanting songs of the birds. A slight breeze blows in my face and I can smell thyme and sage. The moment I got out of my car on the first day of my internship I knew Just Roots had a great experience waiting for me.

My first task at Just Roots was harvesting potatoes. This involves, loosening the soil with a pitchfork and turning the soil over by hand to collect the potatoes without damaging them. Little did I know on the first day that I would soon become quite familiar and efficient at harvesting potatoes. (Note: Always wear gloves while harvesting potatoes, there are rocks and ones knuckles will hit those rocks, many times.)

I learned many things from both Aaron and Bill. They are very hardworking and always willing to share knowledge. One can fantasize about a picture perfect day on a farm and the satisfaction of the labor with the sun on your back and the breeze in your face. Taking part of a wholesome way of life and the production of the best quality of food. It is easy to forget that running a farm is hard work. I observed many the tasks Bill and Aaron complete every day and their work is astounding. Planning spring planting, planting, harvesting, washing, assigning tasks, time management, making sure CSA orders are filled, on time and as freshly picked as possible, teaching, planning and hosting fundraiser events and more… Not all days are that picture perfect day either, even if it’s a cold rainy miserable day they are out there working hard and enthusiastically getting the job done. Many times during our lunch break Aaron and Bill spent it working in the office. I didn’t have the pleasure of having many conversations with them as they had much work to do. I will say that I very much admire both Bill and Aaron. They both are very knowledgeable and passionate about a wholesome way of life and organic farming. They both are more than happy to share their passion, and I am thankful for everything I learned from them this fall.

Nate is a farmhand at Just Roots, it was a pleasure to work with him. Nate is dedicated, hardworking and a natural leader. With every task that I worked with Nate on, I learned something. As we harvested tomatillos he explained to me how they grow a husk (which I called, “a little bag”) and the fruit grows inside. When they are ready to pick you can either see them bursting through the husk or they feel really full inside “the bag.” He was willing to share with me the mistakes he made when he first started at Just Roots so I could avoid making the same ones. I enjoyed talking with Nate and even though I never felt “rushed” working with him, there was always a sense of, “staying on task.” I am very pleased to have met him, he is a bright young man with a bright future ahead of him. Just Roots made a great move by adding Nate to the farm.

National Farmers Union Conference on Cooperatives

Hello, my name is Jon Shina, and I am currently a Farm and Food Systems Major at Greenfield Community College, and I am also currently employed at Franklin Community Cooperative. It’s been a long road that has lead me to being both back in school and working at a member owned cooperative grocery store. Back in 2008, I was living in Brooklyn trying to make it as an artist and working full time as a mover. One of my coworkers at the time was a raw foodist, and one day he invited me over to have a juice from his juicer. I was blown away by this juicer (the omega masticating juicer if you’re curious), and I quickly got one as a surprise present for my birthday from my girlfriend Shannon. It was so exciting, and we rushed down to the nearest market, and bought all the random fruits that you could imagine. After juicing random concoctions for a few weeks, our friend Deanna told us about organic food, and sent us a video of an interview with Michael Pollan to watch. That 1 hour long video was the beginning of the beginning! Shortly after our viewing, we bought a copy of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which lead us to countless other books on topics like food and food systems, billions of hours of food docs on Netflix, weekly visits to farmers markets, and becoming members for the first time at a food Coop in Brooklyn. And finally, our passion for healthy food, food justice, and stewardship for the environment took us out of Brooklyn, and brought us to rural Western Massachusetts, where Shannon and I are now both back in school learning about everything food related. So it has been a fascinating 7 years of learning about where food comes from, and the food system’s impact on global/national markets and the environment. I had an amazing eye opening experience being at the Nation Farmers
Union 2015 Conference on Cooperatives! I wasn’t really even sure what I was attending, or what I was going to learn. I tried to have no expectations except for the fact that Minneapolis is the Mecca of Coops. The conference was an immense learning experience, and all of the speakers were poignant and they all really drove home the benefits of the cooperative business model. BUT, the real amazing experience for me was meeting all of the other college students from states that I have never been to in the Midwest! I met kids from North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, and many other states. The majority of students that I met grew up on farms, usually large scale ones, and they where all attending college for some sort of Agriculture Management. I need to be perfectly honest here, I kind of stuck out like a sore thumb at the conference. I am a 33 year old student who grew up in a suburb of Boston where there was maybe one farm in my town which was probably inactive and more used for a tax exemption rather than producing anything. Then, for the majority of my adult life, I lived in cities during a time when urban farming didn’t even exist yet, nor did I know where my food came from, and I was living in Food deserts, and totally oblivious to what was happening to the environment around me. Jeez, I only started gardening two summers ago! Needless to say, my life experiences have been very different from, say, my roommate Chris during the conference who was only 19, grew up raising livestock, and has barely left North Dakota. This was my takeaway from the conference, meeting young farmers and the children of farmers who own large scale farms like the ones that I initially read about in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. No longer where these farmers just an abstract character in some book or Food Doc, but instead these where real people, with different life experiences, backgrounds, and knowledge then me, and here we were having very long and meaningful conversations about growing food, and the food system that we all live in. I personally would categorize myself more in the Permaculture background of gardening and farming, although I still very much consider myself an amateur. That being said, I had numerous great discussions with various conventional farmers, who again, tend to land in the hundreds to thousands of acres. Our conversations were very interesting, with both sides explaining their views on the subject on hand. All conversations were very polite and engaging, with no one side arguing for whose philosophy was better. It was truly a learning experience, and I now have a very good understanding of who these farmers are and what they stand for. And that is my eye opening take away from the NFU 2015 Conference on Cooperatives.