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








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 – Website of Author and Fermentation Expert Sandor Ellix Katz – The Eco-Village in Tennessee where I’ll be taking a Permaculture and Fermentation workshop with Sandor Katz and Albert Bates – Preservation and Fermentation right here at GCC! – Mead and Kombucha from Greenfield! – 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 (sugar cycle image) (sugar consumption article)

Low sun, low temperatures

Leaping Frog Farm is a four season farm that eliminates the absence of locally grown greens for any csa member during the long winter.  

In this picture one can see the small “shack” just off to the left from the middle focal point.  In this shack there is a water furnace that is fueled by corn pellets, a form of bio-mass.  The furnace is connected to two mains which are located in the middle and far left hoop tunnels.  The two mains are then connected to as many underground and above surface rubber tubbing is needed. Generally each bed has two tubes, one under and one above.  The heat runs through the tubbing via water. These tubes support all of Leaping Frog Farm’s CSA salad mix and kale.

Due to the highly efficient furnace and the highly efficient bio-mass (corn pellets) it is easy to keep the ground temperature above freezing for a week while only using three to four bags of pellets. Each bag weighs fifty pounds, making it about one-hundred and fifty pounds per seven days. (Note that the size of the hopper is relative to how often it needs to be filled.  This hopper could hold about twelve bags.) The heated water tubes are highly efficient, yet if not monitored while also keeping a close eye on the outside temperatures, it could easily cause problems for the hoop tunnel production. If the outside temperatures are well below freezing, the furnace remains active.  Otherwise the hoop tunnel temperatures do not need much assistance when outdoor temperatures remain around freezing. The passive solar hoop tunnel plus the thermal layering (remay and clear plastic) directly over the crops allow the plants to survive all winter long.

What is Medicine?

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘medicine?’ Most of us, I think pills, antibiotics, patches and syringes. Things we are ‘supposed’ to take in order to get better, to lessen the symptoms or prevent bodily annoyances. Name brands may even come to mind in place of the medicine itself, because we see them advertised on TV and in magazines alongside clothes, soft drinks and electronics and they become little more than impulse buys.
But let’s go back to the definition (from Merriam-Webster):
Medicine (noun):
1. The science or practice of the treatment and prevention of disease.
Medicinal (adjective):
1. Having healing properties.

As complex and difficult as healing can be, I also believe that it can be equally as simple. I believe that anything that heals or prevents dis-ease is medicine. Anything that eases suffering, soothes, comforts, is medicine. And I believe that we (especially here in the US) have become unfamiliar with the most beneficial medicine of all: Food. We, unlike many other countries, have such an abundance of food that we waste a staggering amount each day. All for profit, we synthesize edible products in laboratories and pump them full of artificial flavor to make them taste good. We eat things full of fat, sugar and salt but completely devoid of nutrients. And we swap genes between species, and create crops that can’t survive without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides- and we make ourselves and the land we depend on for survival sick in the process.

To me, medicine truly is the practice and art of treating and preventing dis-ease in all organisms in our natural environment: in humans, in the many species we share our earth with, and in the earth itself. Healing goes so far beyond alleviating symptoms of dis-ease; to heal is to regenerate, reinvigorate and restore. I believe that we are able to do all of these things when we re-learn how and what we can grow locally and naturally. Food grown locally and in season not only tastes better, but is more nutritionally valuable than food grown elsewhere, picked unripe, and shipped thousands of miles to our grocery stores.

We have such a respect for medicine and doctors, understandably, but are barely aware of the people out there growing, tending and harvesting the most crucial elements for our health and well-being: the farmers. We depend on a certain code of ethics from our medical professionals, but it gets a bit murky when we start talking about food. What is ethical when it comes to food production and who decides?
In trying to answer these questions, I found that the “Values of Medical Ethics” apply perfectly to our food system.

The Six Values of Medical Ethics (as applied to food systems and justice).

1) Non-maleficence – “first, do no harm” ( Putting the health and wellbeing of all organisms before profit by reducing dependence on processed foods and allowing indigenous peoples to maintain traditional lands and practices).
2) Beneficence - a practitioner should act in the best interest of the patient. (Regulators and government officials should act in the best interest of all organisms, rather than in the interest of profits).
3) Respect for Persons- the patient -and the person treating the patient- have the right to be treated with dignity. (Those who buy, those who grow, harvest and package our foods here and in other countries, and all animals involved should all be treated with dignity).
4) Truthfulness and Honesty-the concept of informed consent (All people have a right to know how their food is cultivated and processed- including disclosure of ingredients, chemical use/synthetic ingredients, and genetically modified organisms).
5) Justice- concerns the distribution of scarce health resources, and the decision of who gets what treatment -fairness and equality- (All people deserve access to fresh, culturally appropriate, whole foods, regardless of social or financial standing).
6) Respect for autonomy – the patient has the right to refuse or choose their treatment. (All people in all countries should have a say in how their foods are grown and processed, and the collective voice of the people should be given more power than the voice of corproations).

The ways in which we interact with and consume our food has within it the ability to destroy ecosystems, human/nature ralationships and human/human relationships, as well as heal them, bring people together and encourage resilliencey and bounty. When I think of medicine, I envision communities coming together to help each other harvest, forage for wild edibles, grow community gardens and host potlucks. I see neighbors teaching one another how to become more self-sufficient through planting and preserving. I think of all of my friends who have knowledge and skills just waiting to be shared. I remember how much more alive I felt when I learned we could actually do something to reduce the damage and suffering in our world, and that beginning can be as simple as getting to know your farmer.

(For me, that means stopping by the Tuesday or Saturday Market in Northampton, MA!)