THE GREAT EXPANSION

Olivia and Ian here,

O: On Friday January 17th, Ian and myself presented all the rough drafted material we had to the chefs, Kelly, Brenda and (lucky us) the Executive Director of Rockridge, Beth. Included was a budget and list of all plants we were thinking of growing, little information blurbs about each species and the guidebook. It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm and excitement on everyones’ faces when they looked at the work we have done. One Chef, Will, took a look at the amount of plants we were thinking of growing and point blank questioned,  “you’re gonna grow all this?”  we replied, ” yes, yes we are.”

I: Our biggest challenge seems to be balancing expanding and growing more things, while assuring that everything we create is manageable.  Olivia and I will be interning through the spring semester, and we each plan on devoting enough time to take care of anything we create during 2014. We also are creating an informational guide for the community to reference in order to be informed about how to take care of their gardens. The goal is to establish a system that is productive but also low maintenance, consists of plants that are useful to the kitchen, and is set up to succeed. What that means to all of us involved is that when Olivia and I move on to other projects, whoever follows us (ideally more interns from GCC and possibly also the five colleges) have infrastructure in place to work from in order to keep a functional system operating. Rockridge hopes to make strong connections with the agricultural departments with the surrounding schools in order to have consistent internships to manage their gardens.

O: Our breakthrough at the meeting and the most exciting news is that we are approved to expand the garden, that means we can grow more! We now have two more sites in which to work with. One site specifically that Ian and I are psyched to work with is a small triangle where we are thinking of planting a Three Sisters garden of beans, corn and squash. The three women in attendance at the meeting were beyond joyous at this idea. Next steps for this project is designing the expanded area, finalizing where we are going to get seeds and proposing a final budget. Lets get working!!!!!!! Happy January!photo

Warm winter fires

An encouragement to expand is a wonderful thing.

It’s the middle of the winter, and I’m thinking about gardening. I’m thinking about broccoli florets and colorful tomatoes.  I’m thinking of raised beds filled with beautiful annual vegetable crops, and little niches getting occupied by blueberry bushes. I’m thinking about what all that will be like when the snow melts, the grass turns green again, and the deciduous trees are all bearing leaves again. It will be beautiful, there is no doubt about that.

All of that said, what I’m really thinking about right now, is winter. It’s winter. I love winter. Just like I love the spring, in all its beauty, it’s freshness, I love the winter.  I love the way that the cold permeates your skin, into your bones. The way everything slows down, the quiet, the hawk overhead, undeterred. Winter is special, it allows for many things. Our biome has evolved to exist with winter, and its biota is dependant upon it. Many seeds of plants native to the Northeast require a cold dormancy period, in order for them to be viable come springtime. I think I need a cold dormancy period.  Maybe I’m more like a grown up perennial plant.  I’m not quite dormant, I’m already born, just bracing myself for the winter. Taking the time to reflect, time to slow down and think, remember what shoots and roots succeeded where I sent them, what seeds blossomed in what places, which neighbors were easy to work with. Winter is special.

This winter I have been using my time to plan. To do what a plant does, prepare. Olivia Holcomb and I have been working with the wonderful folks at Rockridge Retirement Community to coordinate their raised bed vegetable gardens. They have 15 4×4 beds, that they have grown various annual and perennial plants in. In the fall we cut back and pulled plants, added rich horse manure compost from Full of Grace Farm, and sheet mulched. We met with Kelly and Rachel at Rockridge and the two main chefs there. All this is in preparation for glorious spring when we will be implementing the planting plans that Olivia and I are in the thick of designing.

There are many amazing things about this project, from the simple pieces like tending the garden, to interacting with the wonderful folks at the community, to working with Olivia on something we both love to do. I think right now, however, the thing that excites most, is that not only is there encouragement, but there is a written requirement for expansion. We must grow their growing operation. Thankfully, that is exactly what Olivia and I want to do.

With warm winter fires and flowers blooming in mind, I say cheers, enjoy yourselves.     Ian Walton

Beyond the gardens, there is a lot of space to expand.

Beyond the gardens, there is a lot of space to expand.

My favorite things

My short experience at Just Roots for the fall semester was so incredible.  I witnessed many vegetables I had never seen before and I experienced many sensations I previously missed in this lifetime.  I am glad to have them now! Here are some of my favorite things:

Touching the soft yet particulate dirt on your hands as you pull up a big fat beet from the land.

Hearing the rain pitter patter on the plastic sides of the greenhouse while you are warm and dry and planting lavender.

Seeing a little bit of a potato hidden in the upturned soil as you search the rows for potatoes that were missed during harvest

Tasting a fresh slice of watermelon radish for the first time WAHOO

And Smelling the sweet strong earthy smell of a carrot plucked from the ground is just perfectly divine.  Ain’t nothin like it!

 

seeing these fractal patterns in this sacred veggie are a trip!

seeing these fractal patterns in this sacred veggie are a trip!

MMMM the smell of garlic! pungent and sound, keep the vampires and disease away!

MMMM the smell of garlic! pungent and sound, keep the vampires and disease away!

bathing broccoli beauties!

bathing broccoli beauties!

wash that kale! no one likes chewing gritty leaf, but a cold crispy dip will do the trick!

wash that kale! no one likes chewing gritty leaf, but a cold crispy dip will do the trick!

misty morning view

misty morning view

beans in the forefront

beans in the forefront

Getting started at Just Roots

My first day at Just Roots farm came on a late September morning.  I awoke to the dark morning excited for the day ahead-the sun was just peeking through the misty morning sky as I drove to the farm.  I had no idea what to expect as I had no farm experience what so ever. I  was grateful for the opportunity to finally be able to get my hands in the dirt after a few semesters of taking classes for the Farm and Food Systems major.

I drove down Glenbrook drive and there was the big red barn of Just Roots farm. I parked and walked down the gravel driveway to the fields behind the greenhouses. The air was chilly and the grass was wet.  I found David, Just Roots head farmer, harvesting some little white crispy looking radish things. Hopefully by the end of this internship I’ll be able to tell what they are!!

Over the course of the day I harvested purple beans and washed the day’s harvest to be sent out to the CSA and to be sold whole sale to Greenfield’s Market.  Who knew that there was such thing as purple beans! I did not-until today.  My fingers were freezing as I picked the beans from their dewey homes but the fresh air and wonderful sites around me kept me content. They hung gracefully off of their stalks and before I knew it my bucket was full of these long and luscious legumes.  The deep rich purple skins are truly magical. I will have to test it out for myself but apparently they do not stay purple once you cook em.  The amount of beautiful diverse funky vegetables that is kept from the public for the sake of the industrial ag industry must be enormous!

just roots

ROCK RIDGE RETIREMENT

 

 

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Fall 2013: Here lay the current garden at the Northampton Rockridge Retirement Community. They have fifteen beds with an array of different community planted and donated herbs and flowers. Most of the beds are vacant, they were once planted with annual vegetable produce. Ian Walton and I are tasked with recreating a low maintence , high production annual and possible perennial vegetable garden to be utilized by the chefs, residents and visitors of the community. We just recently put the garden to bed using, a lasagna composting layering technique where we first took out all dead/ annual/ unwanted plants, dead headed them and cleared them from the bed. Then proceeded to place compost from a local horse farm donated and free! After that we placed cardboard and hay on to beds to provide an insulating layer. The idea behind this layering technique is to boost the organic matter and contain the soil within the beds over winter. imageThis is mid process. photo Here is what it looks like after all hay is finally dispersed.

Stone Soup Cafe

My Summer internship at Stone Soup Cafe has been going really well. For those of you who don’t know, Stone Soup Cafe is a community cafe in Greenfield, MA that functions on a pay-what-you-can model, inviting anyone who can afford to make a donation for their meal to do so, and those who cannot afford to are still able to eat. We all eat a as local-as-possible meal that is lovingly prepared by volunteers…together as people.

The meal is made possible by local volunteers, farms, and various vendors who donate their time, efforts, produce, products and love. We thrive as a community without barriers created by economic differences. No one goes hungry. There’s usually live music, as well as an assortment of wellness offerings throughout the year from places like Greenfield Community Acupuncture. Delicious produce and other products are provided by places like Just RootsAtlas FarmFranklin County Community CooperativeKatalyst KombuchaFoster’s Market, and The Barn.

Lovingly prepared, local and organic when possible. Photo: Shannon Dry

I’ve met a lot of amazing people and continue to feel part of a community of incredible people here in Greenfield and Franklin county. It feels great to be a part of an organization that is not only doing wonderful things to fight hunger in our community, but also encouraging and setting examples for communities across the U.S.

Radishes donated by Just Roots in Greenfield. Photo: Shannon Dry

I’ve had the pleasure of doing various activities for the cafe, including working in the kitchen on Saturdays and prepping for the meal throughout the week. I meet weekly with the cafe’s coordinator, Ari Pliskin, to discuss internship goals and projects. I’ve enjoyed writing blog posts, a weekly e-newsletter, and assisting with outreach. I’ve even gotten to experience a leadership role in the kitchen as head chef, which was an awesome experience and something that I never thought that I’d have the courage to do. Stone Soup Cafe is a wonderful, encouraging, and loving environment that I hope all of you will have the pleasure of being a part of in any way that you can. As a volunteer, the next Stone Soup intern, or as a cafe patron at a weekly meal…your presence matters.

 

Counter-Culture: Transformation Through Fermentation

I have been trying to write this post for weeks, which is why I saved it for my last post. There is so, so much to be said about fermentation- the history of it, the benefits and risks, the extremely varied creations and recipes, and the list goes on and on- how could I pack all that in to a short blog post? I can’t! But that’s ok, because some lovely people have researched and experimented and put all of their findings into some of the best books I have ever laid my hands on. Please find them listed in the resources at the bottom of this post.

What I can tell you is that fermentation gives us wonderfully yeasty breads, cheeses, yogurt, tofu, meats, and a wide variety of wine and beer. It can make foods more digestible, allow better access to nutrients and, as in the case of taro, can even neutralize toxicity. But there was a time (before microscopes existed) when people believed that the mold appearing on their meat, bread or fruit was a product of “spontaneous generation,” unexpected spoilage caused by mischievous gods, magic or demons.

In 1858, German scientist Rudolf Virchow luanched a great controversy by arguing that 1. Every cell comes from a preexisting cell and 2. There is no spontaneous generation of cells. In response, the Paris Academy of Sciences offered a prize to anyone who could prove or disprove spontaneous generation. Two short years later, French scientist Louis Pasteur disproved “spontaneous generation” by sealing boiled (and thereby sterilized) water in a swan-necked flask, discovering the liquid inside remained sterile indefinitely, as long as it was kept sealed off from microorganisms from the air. Solid proof that the catalysts for fermentation don’t just spontaneously appear out of the ether. Through these studies, pasteurization was born. Heating foods to a certain temperature kills off any bacteria that may cause harm, true, but any beneficial bacteria is destroyed in the process too. Overly pasteurized food is consumable, but is it good for us? Or does it allow for a huge flaw in our food system? For example: as long as we can pasteurize all the dangerous bacteria away, what does it matter that our dairy cattle are fed inappropriate food that leads to infected digestive tracts and pus in their milk (which is now seriously lacking in the good bacteria now, too)?

It is important to know that not all microbes are beneficial- some make food unhealthy or unappetizing (although what is“delicious” vs “unappetizing” is highly subjective) – but when you provide the microbes you want with the right environment they flourish, and you reap the benefits. Educate yourself by finding a knowledgeable mentor, crack open a book, or head to a workshop (like the unbelievable workshops I’m attending this summer; one here at GCC and one in Tennessee (again, check out the links below)!

In my kitchen right now, in various stages of ferment, I have bright pink sauerkraut (made with purple cabbage!), ginger beer, ginger-rhubarb shrub (a fizzy colonial-era fruit juice concoction), Lemon Balm T’ej (an Ethiopian style honey wine), easter egg radishes, kimchi and an enzyme cleaner made from citrus peels. I will soon have strawberry wine, a folk- recipe root-beer, sumac and citrus sodas, pickled veggies and who knows what else. With the right resources and an open mind, you can do the same. It’s easier to jump in to the (relatively) unknown with a friend, though, so gather up some willing companions, grab one of the books listed below, and get to it! By creating nutritious, flavorful food in your own kitchen, you are freeing yourself from the capitalist food system we are all a part of, even if only a little bit. And by sharing this knowledge with anyone who will listen, you are transforming your kitchen in to a petri dish where you and your neighbors act as the catalysts that begin a revolution, and transform your world along with your food.

If you’re ready to start a Counter- Culture movement, check out these resources:“Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Live-Culture Foods” By Sandor Katz – For the beginner or experienced.
“Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers: The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation” By Stephen Harrod Buhner
“The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World” By Sandor Katz – Less how-to and more history and troubleshooting
www.wildfermentation.com – Website of Author and Fermentation Expert Sandor Ellix Katz
www.thefarm.org – The Eco-Village in Tennessee where I’ll be taking a Permaculture and Fermentation workshop with Sandor Katz and Albert Bates
http://www.gcc.mass.edu/farmandfoodsystems/classes/ – Preservation and Fermentation right here at GCC!
www.greenriverambrosia.com – Mead and Kombucha from Greenfield!
www.realpickles.com – fermented veggies from Greenfield!

Springtime in the Valley (a mini-post).

What I meant to be a post on ‘Spring Cleaning,’ has morphed into something else altogether…

I have the great fortune to be writing this at one of my many weekly visits to the Farmers Market. It is a chilly June afternoon, one more gray, drizzly day in a line of many others. Even though the thunderstorms still threaten to let loose I am surrounded by old and new friends, and their children and companions. I am visited over and and over again by the tiny little daughter of a friend, her face streaked with the first strawberry juice of the season. Friends chat each other up and ask for advice from the farmers. We sit, or stroll around in this little cove, held by the new greenery and by the gentle, endless fiddle music. Later on, the hoard of children here will all stand together and sing folk songs, and help each other with the words- without fussing- you can’t tell me that’s not an amazing feat. But it happens, I’ve seen it!

The amazing thing about going to the market is that no matter what is happening outside of this moment- what struggles we are enduring at work or home or school- we are all, undeniably, lifted out of the gloom and made to feel a bit better. The Farmers Market is another form of “Food as Medicine” made real. It’s a tangible, touchable, and magical thing. The very act of visiting the market is nourishing and healing and extends in little tendrils out in to the rest of your life if you let it. You can try a new vegetable or plant start, learn or pass on a new recipe, run in to someone you’ve been missing, play with the neighborhood kids, start a relationship with your farmers or just sit and watch it all, as I am doing today, and know that just by being here, you are healing, even if you didn’t realize you needed it.

** the images at the top of this post are both advertising the Tuesday Market behind Thornes Marketplace, and were done by local artists.

Exploring the Food System of Greenfield

When this Internship began I had no idea what I was doing.  I’m sure many of you can relate to that same feeling of stepping into a world of the unknown, on a mission to create something you cannot see yet.  Looking back now I see how much I have learned and grown from this semester’s intern experience.

Olivia, Ginevra, and I became a team, led and guided by the amazing Evelyn Lane, with Abrah Dresdale always there for us when we needed her support and knowledge.  Together we experienced many new things, we put ourselves out there humbly to the public of Greenfield as messengers to deliver what past terms of the Food Systems course here at GCC have worked hard to represent.  The recommendations that the students formed were to be compiled into one document to rule them all…no not to rule them all but just consolidated into a readable and attractive zine-like space that is accessible to the public of Greenfield.

The first month of our journey, my vision was blurry, I had no clue what was to come!  We ventured out to the Greenfield Winter Farmer’s market to hunt and gather what people thought of the food system here in GF.  It was scary and exhilarating to go up to people and ask them about their experience with buying and eating local food.  Thankfully most of the people were very open to sharing their thoughts.  Many people were filled with excitement that young folk here in Greenfield were invested in the future of Greenfield. In that one morning that we spent together our group dynamic transformed into a strong bond. After that milestone I gained much confidence in the work that we were beginning.   And yes…it was just the beginning.  I look forward to seeing our work become available  to be used as a resource in building a sustainable Master Plan for the city of Greenfield! Keep your eyes open!

Getting our caffeine fix

It’s early so Ginevra and I order coffee at the Greenfield Winter Farmer’s Market…Old School style!! Yummy!

Sweeter Than Sugar

Maple sugaring season may have passed, but it is never too late to talk about all the benefits of ditching sugar for something a little sweeter to your health. Cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup are equally detrimental. Neither cane sugar or corn syrup come with any sort of protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants or fiber. They are in essence empty calories, meaning we make ourselves feel full when we eat them but we don’t give our bodies the nutrients they need to function at their best. Or, even worse, because we crave sweets, we eat more than we need which potentially leads to obesity (especially in children) and the health issues associated with it, like diabetes. Sugary cereals, energy drinks, candies and as a hidden ingredients in breads or crackers can all lead to over-consumption of sugar. It is estimated by the FDA that the average American consumes between 76 and 100 lbs of excess sugar per year (that’s per person folks!). And this number doesn’t include sugars from natural foods, as in honey or fruit.

Not to worry, though, mother nature provides us with a few sweeteners that we can feel good about eating, and some of them are even local. You can reach for raw honey, brown rice syrup, agave nectar, molasses and maple syrup. If you’re lucky (and live in the northern regions) you can even make your own. I had the pleasure of doing just that this past season and would like to share the process with you here. What I share with you here is local wisdom gathered at backyard sugaring workshops, at farmer’s market workshops and from my friend Ben, whose family owns Intervale Farm in Westhampton, MA. This won’t be full-on instructional, because I don’t think I’ve learned enough to provide that- just a quick re-cap of my sugaring adventures. I will list some resources at the end of the post for those interested.

Answers to some frequently asked questions:
-It takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup (see why it’s so expensive?)
-Tap trees when it is beginning to warm up during the day but is still freezing at night. Otherwise, the sap that has risen to the tops of the trees won’t run back down for you to catch (approximately mid February- the end of March).
-Tapping does not hurt the tree when done properly.
-If the taps are left in too long (more than 6-8 weeks), the tree will begin to heal over them.
-Ideally, sap collecting buckets are checked daily for fullness and cleanliness.
-Sap may be a little yellow, but it should not be milky. If it is, dump it in your compost pile.
-Ice may form in your buckets or storage tanks- this is great! Sap doesn’t freeze, water does. –Any frozen water is water you don’t have to boil- just toss it, being sure you don’t toss any of the unfrozen sap.
-Never boil sap in your house- there is WAY too much steam- remember, you are evaporating the water out of the sap, and it has to go somewhere!
-Syrup is graded based on color: Grade A is lighter, milder, takes less energy and time to make, and is more expensive. Grade B is darker and richer, takes more energy and time to make, but is (confusingly) cheaper.
-Maple syrup keeps indefinitely when stored properly- in a cool, dark place.

Books on Sugaring:
“Backyard Sugarin’: A Complete How-To Guide” by Rink Mann and Daniel Wolf
“Sugaring Time” Kathryn Lasky and Christopher G. Night

Www.foodsensitivechildren.com (sugar cycle image)
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/27/business/us-cuts-estimate-of-sugar-intake-of-typical-american.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 (sugar consumption article)