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Posts Tagged ‘organic’

072719-Jae-has-healing-plants

When in New York, I like to walk from the Upper West Side to Central Park in the morning. I often walk east on the West 101 Street path that goes past the Frederick Douglass Houses. On the right is a playground and a popular little swimming pool (three feet deep, lifeguards provided), and on the left is a big field for sports and an empty lot converted to a garden.

When the garden fence was open recently, I stopped in and talked to Jae the gardener, whose passion for growing and feeding people is an inspiration.

Jae says she used to overthink food shopping, experiencing a kind of paralysis in the market as she asked herself, Where was this fruit grown? Who grew this vegetable? Were they paid a fair wage? Were pesticides used?

But she found her calling when she started growing her own food. First she helped gardeners by learning to compost, and she is still crazy about the whole idea of composting. “That’s where I come from as a gardener. I love worms!”

A full-time volunteer, Jae is eager to show visitors around the converted tennis-court farm. The garden has been built on top of the court, starting with piles of compost. Although her partner organization, Project EATS, notes the garden is not an official production farm this year, Jae sells some produce in hopes of saving up to hire a Haitian neighbor as a full-time gardener at some point. (“I don’t speak Haitian, he doesn’t speak English, but we both speak Farm.”) She gives half to the partner organization.

Jae has a completely organic approach (no pesticides or herbicides), and she expresses a feeling of awe at how nature works without such interventions. She shows how Mother Nature has let her plants flourish despite the views of “schooled farmers” that there was inadequate sun in that space.

When I told Jae I come to the city to visit my sister, who has cancer, she said my sister should come enjoy the garden’s healing aura and should bless the plants by breathing out carbon dioxide to help them grow.

I left Jae hand-removing squash borer eggs. (“Look how symmetrically they are laid! Isn’t it beautiful?) As beautifully as those eggs are laid, she knows she has to destroy them to protect the squash plants. Follow Jae on Instagram, @growwithjae .

Jae’s partner organization describes its own mission thus: “Social inequalities lead to health inequalities and ill-being in our communities. They affect our access to fresh food, life expectancy, physical and mental well-being, quality of education, employment opportunities. income, and share of public resources. They shape our behavior and expectations, and what we perceive and believe is possible for our communities, our society, and us.

“To achieve its mission of a fair society, Project EATS is a neighborhood-based project that uses art, urban agriculture, partnerships, and social enterprise to sustainably produce and equitably distribute essential resources within and between our communities. Especially those where people live on working class and low-incomes.

“To do this, we bring diverse neighbors together to take agency over the use of land in their neighborhood, provide the infrastructures and support for a community to develop their resources into productive spaces. We share knowledge and skills that support the ability of people to turn these relationships and resources into sustainable social enterprises employing community residents and stimulating local economies.”

Note the happy sunflower, one of several that Jae rejoices in, especially as she was told there was not enough sun to make gardening worthwhile in that space.

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Missing the excitement of the summer Olympics? As these Vermont farmers show, any determined and organized group can have their own “Olympics” and have a lot of fun.

Jessica Rinaldi writes at the Boston Globe, “With the world’s attention focused on the Olympic Games in Brazil, a decidedly different type of competition was held in a small corner of New England, as farmers took to the field for the second annual Farmer Olympics in Vershire, Vt.

“After taking part in warm-up events that included a hay bale toss, the crowd gathered for an opening ceremony where a quartet performed the Olympic theme song on kazoo. When the competition began, 60 farmers sprinted up a hill, empty bins and shovels in hand, for the manure relay. The event was sponsored by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. In the end it was a team from Cedar Circle Farm in East Stepford who took the gold. Their team’s name? Soil’d.

Click here for a terrific collection of photos from the second annual Farmer Olympics.

Photo: Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont
Competing in the Farmer Olympics, Vershire, Vermont.

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Photo: Leigh Vincola, ecoRI News
David Kuma, left, is learning to farm under the tutelage of Ben Torpey.

In this story from Leigh Vincola, an ecoRI News contributor, several good things are happening simultaneously.

“David Kuma set out to grow more of his own food as he learned about industrial agriculture and all of its poisons. His father, a biologist, always had a garden growing up, so an innate knowledge of plants followed his curiosity.

“Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., raised partially in rural Illinois and then in Attleboro, Mass., Kuma understands urban, rural and suburban lifestyles and how plants can fit into each.

“Today, Kuma is one of three participants in the Southside Community Land Trust’s (SCLT) farm apprentice program …  Acknowledging that it has been historically difficult for minority populations to enter into commercial growing, the program’s mission is to provide organic farming experience and education to those who are interested.

“Kuma is partnered with Ben Torpey at Scratch Farm, a small-scale, chemical-free operation at Urban Edge Farm. Urban Edge is a state-owned, 50-acre piece of land managed by SCLT, where seven separate farms grow and share resources. The farm was established to give new farmers access to land and a community to learn from. As part of his paid apprenticeship, Kuma spends a full day on the farm two days a week and is learning a lot quickly. …

“From transplanting and cover crops to solarizing and low-till cultivation, Kuma is learning what it takes to run a small-scale farm naturally. His eyes have been opened to the importance of soil health.

“ ‘There’s a lot more to it than putting seeds in the ground,’ he said.

“For Torpey, having an apprentice is rewarding.

“ ‘Dave comes with a intuitive sense of plant biology and his curiosity reminds me that what we’re doing is fun,’ Torpey said. ‘It encourages me to experiment with new things.’ ” More here.

Don’t they both look happy? Nature can do that to you.

Photo: Scratch Farm

 

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Looking through a pile of magazines recently, I found a 2011 newspaper article I had cut out about Hardwick, Vermont. It’s about reinventing the local culture around food and food-related businesses.

Dirk Van Susteren wrote at the Boston Globe, “If there were a ‘Locavore Capital of America’ one would expect it to be in sunny California or perhaps somewhere in the heartland … But, surprisingly, in rocky northern New England, just 45 miles from the Canadian border, is a place that could contend for that honor: Hardwick, a former quarrying town that until recently knew more pain than promise.

“In recent years Hardwick, population 3,200, located along a tumbling stretch of the Lamoille River, has seen a half-dozen innovative agricultural enterprises crop up, many with mission statements including such words as ‘community-based,’ ‘sustainable,’ and ‘organic.’

“The town, always a bit scruffy, and with a high jobless rate, might be on a green trajectory. And people are taking notice.

“Among the new operations here or in nearby towns: Jasper Hill Farm, which makes artisanal cheeses and provides aging, distribution, and marketing services to local cheesemakers; High Mowing Seed Co., an organic seed business, whose owner likes traveling around the country to tell the Hardwick farm and food story; Highfields Center for Composting, a soil-making business that collects its raw materials from restaurants, farms, and schools; Pete’s Greens, a CSA (community-support ed agriculture) farm that grows organic vegetables in gardens and greenhouses; and, finally, Vermont Soy, a tofu and soymilk producer.

“The area also has dozens of small-scale producers, from orchardists to maple sugarmakers. Their products sell at farm stands, at the summer farmers’ market, and at Buffalo Mountain Food Co-op and Cafe, a landmark in its 36th year. …

“Monty Fischer, the executive director of the Center for an Agricultural Economy, the nonprofit organization that helped spur these farm efforts, has kept count. ‘People from 40 states and 40 countries have come to ask about our agricultural cluster,’ he reports, from his downtown office.”

Read about the 2011 federal grant for the Vermont Food Venture Center, an incubator facility, the organic North Hardwick Dairy, where sunflowers are grown as a value-added crop, mead maker Caledonia Spirits, and more here.

And if anyone has been up there recently, I sure would love to know if the food culture is still going strong.

Photo: Wikipedia
North Main St., Hardwick, Vermont

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The radio show Living on Earth is a font of useful and interesting environmental knowledge.

In a recent show, host Steve Curwood spoke with “agronomist Frank Forcella about how he modified the common sand blaster to simultaneously fertilize and weed food crops.”

Curwood introduces the topic thus, “If you’ve ever weeded a garden, you know it’s a backbreaking job, and if you have row upon row of crops, it’s, well, it’s easier to use herbicides. But then the crop is not organic. Enter a team of soil scientists for the U.S. Department of Agriculture who harnessed a common tool of the building trades to blast away those unwanted weeds without chemicals. Joining me to explain this breakthrough is Frank Forcella. He’s an agronomist with the USDA’s North Central Soil Conservation Research Laboratory.”

Forcella then tells Curwood how he got the idea. “One of my hobbies here in Minnesota is growing apricots, and 2007 happened to be a wonderful year for apricot production in Minnesota.

“We ended up with about a five gallon bucket worth of apricot pits, and I was wondering what can we do with apricot pits. One of the things you can do with them is to grind them up and use then as a grit in sandblasters, and I was talking about that with one of the fellows who works with me, Dean Peterson, on our way out to our field plots. Both of us work on weeds, and we had more or less simultaneously had the idea, ‘I wonder if you could use sandblasters to kill weeds.’ Initially we thought that had to be the dumbest idea in the world, but it was one of those ideas we just couldn’t get out of our heads.”

Read how a dumb idea led to a great invention here.

Photo: Frank Forcella
The four-row grit applicator in action, driven by Charles Hennen.

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Here’s an update on the Wooly Pig farmers I blogged about in 2012. (See that here.) At that time, they were raising chickens in Connecticut. They have since joined forces with other young farmers and are now part of the Letterbox Farm Collective in Hudson, New York. If you have Facebook, that’s the best place to see their photos and learn what they are up to. (Click here.)

From the Letterbox Farm About page: “We are a group of people growing meals and medicine on shared land in the Hudson Valley. We take our time and listen.”

If you don’t have Facebook, you might enjoy the pictures at a Turnquist Photography post called “Young Farmers of the Hudson Valley.”

The photographer writes, “We were recently contacted by Chronogram Magazine, a tremendous monthly publication circulated in and around the Hudson Valley based out of Kingston, NY. They asked that we photograph some young farmers local to the Hudson area for an article being written for their September issue. … It was a true honor to be considered for this assignment, especially after meeting these amazing people who UNDERSTAND what it means to eat responsibly.

“My first stop was just outside of the Hudson city limits to Letterbox Farm Collective.” (Turnquist photos here.)

Letterbox farmer Nichki’s Aunt Sandra sent me a photo of a spring farmers market that the collective attended in Rhinebeck. I’m told they can hardly keep up with the demand from restaurants for duck eggs, rabbits, and quail.

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The Globe has a good story today on Whole Foods, which hired an urban farming company to grow an anticipated 10,000 pounds of food per year on the roof of its Lynnfield, Massachusetts, store.

Erin Ailworth writes, “The soon-to-open Whole Foods Market in Lynnfield will offer its customers something the company says no other major grocery chain has offered before: ‘rooftop produce,’ picked from a field atop the store. …

“Whole Foods and its contractors say the commercial roof garden is an experiment that, if it succeeds, could encourage other grocers to do the same, boosting efforts to expand rooftop gardening. Such gardens not only insulate buildings, lowering heating and cooling costs, but also decrease storm-water runoff, which can overwhelm sewer systems and carry pollutants into waterways.

“And they yield fruits and vegetables that do not need to be trucked or flown, cutting transportation costs and emissions, including of greenhouse gases. The rooftop produce — a tiny fraction of Whole Foods’ inventory — will be sold in the Lynnfield store or used in its prepared foods.

“A green roof, however, is not cheap. It can cost up to 60 percent more than a traditional roof, according to the Sustainable Cities Institute, a program of the National League of Cities. …

“Whole Foods began thinking about the project three or four years ago, [Robert Donnelly of Whole Foods] said, and at first planned to build a basic green roof — essentially, a lawn atop the store. Then the company came across Green City Growers and Recover Green Roofs, two Somerville companies that partnered on a 4,000-square-foot garden above the Ledge Kitchen & Drinks restaurant in Dorchester. (That garden provides about 75 percent of the veggies and herbs served at the Ledge.)

“Whole Foods’ plans quickly became more ambitious as company officials realized the 45,000-square-foot roof (nearly an acre) provided plenty of space for farming.” More. There’s also a fun video at the Globe site showing the construction of the roof farm.

Suzanne’s Mom’s Blog had another roof garden post here; a post about Glide Memorial’s roof garden here; and a related entry about the Guardian Environment Network, here.

Photo: David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
Workers dumped soil into containers on the Lynnfield Whole Foods roof, which was reinforced to bear the extra weight.

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This post’s for my daughter-in-law, who not only loves to cook but is also pretty savvy about healthful eating. I should know. I had a yummy something with orzo and mushrooms for Tofu Tuesday at my son’s house last night.

Today’s story from the NY Times is on the expanded distribution goals of a company with inventive food options currently popular with celebrities.

And, as Stephanie Strom writes, the offerings are not just for vegans.

“Organic Avenue, the tiny purveyor of high-end juices, fresh salads and specialty foods like cashew scallion cream cheese and Thai collard wraps, has hired a new chief executive with the goal of turning its new owner’s dreams of a national chain into reality.

“Martin Bates … will take charge of Organic Avenue in June. …

“ ‘I drink green juices and have done for the last year or so, but living the life of a vegan is not for me. I think there are lots of other people like me out there.’ …

“We want to grow this business around helping people who want food that’s better for them,” [investor Jonathan] Grayer said. ‘That doesn’t mean they have to be vegan. They certainly don’t have to favor raw. They don’t even have to be organic; they just have to want to be healthier.’ ”

Bates, who turned around the Pret a Manger chain, said that he is up for the challenge.

“Perhaps tellingly, he said his favorite Organic Avenue product was Dragon’s Breath, a juice that incorporates ginger, lemon and cayenne pepper. ‘Caution,’ the company’s Web site warns. ‘This shot is not for the faint at heart!’ ” More.

We are into dragons around here. I’ll have to see if I am brave enough to drink Dragon’s Breath.

Photo: Michael Falco for The New York Times
Organic Avenue, which caters to a celebrity-studded clientele, hopes to appeal to a range of healthy eaters

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Photograph: http://americanflatbread.com/lareau-farm. Lareau Farm is home to American Flatbread in Waitsfield, Vermont.

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A few of my readers will see “Waitsfield, Vermont” and think “skiing.” That’s because they were skiing there a couple weeks ago.

But this post is about the man who launched American Flatbread in Waitsfield in 1985, franchising his restaurant concept in other states and using his business success as a platform to advocate for the environment and other causes.

“In the fall of 1979,” writes Mike Ives for the Christian Science Monitor, “George Schenk stuffed all his worldly possessions into his pickup truck and moved from upstate New York to central Vermont. After settling in the sleepy ski town of Waitsfield, he began working as a dishwasher, freelance photographer, and live-in baby sitter.

“He also apprenticed at local restaurants and learned from chefs who were cooking in ways that emphasized local and regional ingredients. By 1985, Mr. Schenk was selling his own ‘flatbread,’ a variation on the brick oven-style pizza he’d eaten as a teenager, topped with Vermont produce.

“Serving nutritious food, he realized, was a good way to promote the kind of community values he’d absorbed in his Connecticut childhood and the ecological principles he’d embraced in his previous careers as a farmer and forester. …

” ‘I felt as though the environmental dimension of food needed a voice,’ Schenk recalls.

“Today, American Flatbread operates three popular Vermont locations, exports frozen pizzas nationwide, and is franchising its restaurant concept in other states.

“But profit isn’t Schenk’s only priority: For more than two decades he has donated thousands of his flatbreads to the poor and sick. He’s also held an average of eight benefit bakes each year to raise money for those in need.”

Although his political views and “civil disobedience” actions have often raised hackles, the people who know him best defend him.

“They insist his commitment to his employees and community is sincere and unwavering,” writes Ives. ” ‘I don’t always agree with George, but I always appreciate him,’ says Amy Shollenberger, former executive director of Rural Vermont, a nonprofit farm advocacy group. ‘He loves everybody, wears his heart on his sleeve — and walks his talk.’ ”

Read more.

Brian Mohr/EmberPhoto
George Schenk founded American Flatbread pizza as a way to showcase local produce and advocate for both community and global causes.

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My friend’s great niece doesn’t come from professional farmers, but the gardening gene goes back at least to her Italian great grandfather. Now, having graduated from a liberal arts college and worked for various park services, she is — like a surprising number of young people today — going into farming.

At a farm blog, she describes raising organic chickens in Connecticut.

“Hi! Nichki and Laz from The Wooly Pig here, taking over the Barberry Hill Farm blog for an entry!

“We are young aspiring CT farmers who were lucky enough to meet Kelly and Kingsley last March and over the past several months they have become our good friends and farming mentors. This fall, the Goddards have been so kind as to lend us their pasture and their expertise so that we can raise our very first batch of chickens for our community.

“Our birds are pasture raised, which means they are brought up outdoors with plenty of access to fresh vegetation, open air, and sunlight.

“They are fed a strictly organic diet — an added cost for us that we feel is a worthwhile investment in our customers’ health. …

“We can’t thank our customers enough for supporting local, sustainable agriculture. Your good decisions help build strong, healthy communities right here in Connecticut. …

“For more information on our chickens, please contact us by email at TheWoolyPig@gmail.com.”

Read the engaging Barberry Hill Farm blog here. And if you live near Madison, Connecticut, get your chickens from The Wooly Pig

Photograph from http://www.barberryhillfarm.com.

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Alice Feiring has an interesting story in Newsweek.

She writes that Kazi Anis Ahmed of Bangladesh, the 41-year-old cofounder and president of a company called Teatulia, was getting his doctorate in comparative literature when his father suggested expanding the family media and construction business into tea farming. The location he had in mind was the barren northwest of the country, not far from India’s tea-growing region.

Kazi Anis Ahmed liked the idea but felt strongly that any farm of his should be organic. Additionally, says Feiring, the family’s “mission was to provide jobs to the region. …

“The lack of agricultural tradition proved a blessing because the land was virginal, not ravaged by the government-supported, synthetic-fertilizer-dominated ‘Green Revolution.’ After reading the poetic One Straw Revolution by the master Japanese farmer, Masanobu Fukuoka, Ahmed went one step beyond organic and tried to do low-intervention farming.

“The tea garden functions on minimal irrigation. They installed a plethora of plants next to the tea plants to feed and aerate the soil. What now exists is a breathtaking vision. The barren area has been transformed into an Eden with a resurgence of wildlife never seen before — recently, a pair of monkeys was spotted. The animals had not been seen in the area for decades.”

Read more at the Daily Beast. (Thanks for alerting me to this lovely story, Asakiyume.)

Photograph: Habibul Haque, Teatulia

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