December 19, 2008
Earlier this year, Bill Moyers interviewed Michael Pollan on the subject of Food, Health and Agri-business. In this compelling, two part interview Pollan discusses industrialized food, climate change, health care, petroleum costs and more as it relates to plain old food. A few highlight comments:
- Vote with your fork!
- The generation being born today is the first in history to have an shorter life expectancy than their parents.
- Be prepared to cook & declare your independence from processed foods
- Make yourself a producer, put in a garden
- Pollan’s 10′ x 20′ veggie garden produces so much food he has difficulty giving away the extras
- Cheap energy has allowed us to outsource so much of our lives & the time of cheap energy may be coming to an end
- Gardening teaches us we can use our bodies to support our bodies.
- Gardening teaches us we can feed ourselves — if we need to (someday).
- It is empowering to know you are not at the mercy of the supermarket.
Please take some time to watch this segment and learn more about where your food really comes from and how building your own garden will empower your mind, body, and community.
If you’re interested in reading more of Pollan’s writings on food, please visit the Garden Help Garden Store where you will find all of his books — on food and otherwise in the novels, memoirs and more book section. And, if you’re interested in learning how you can put in your own edible garden, please get in touch to schedule a garden coaching session. You’re never too young or too old to start feeding yourself. And, really, it isn’t as difficult or as time consuming as you might think. Once you get started self-sourcing your life, you’ll be hooked for life!
September 15, 2008
September is the season of harvest. Today is the date of our harvest moon. It’s hard to believe summer is nearly gone, but so it is. A week from today is the autumnal equinox! During the harvest season I find myself sharing my garden coaching skills with neighbors. In return, I have the pleasure of sharing in their harvest!
Over the weekend, I celebrated harvest with many of my neighbors. I’m very inclined to work on building relationships within my community, so I don’t hesitate to introduce myself to neighbors I don’t know. And, really, it has paid off. My best friends live next door. We are as close as family (but perhaps we get along better than some families). We share meals together, which means this time of year we put together many fresh harvest potlucks.
On Friday we got together to share a meal and visit together around the the firepit after dark. Bob and I offered to bring fresh, sweet corn from our abundant crops. Just before heading over to dinner, I went into the garden and harvested one ear per person. So, by the time we sat down to eat, our corn had only been off the stalk for about an hour!
When I walked to our neighbor’s for dinner that night, I noticed that their blueberries were laden with ripe fruit. My friends are always generous with their fruit, so I didn’t hesitate to ask if I could pick some. The next day, I hit the bushes with a large bowl in hand and cleaned the bushes. Of course, I took half of the harvest to my friends before heading home to gorge myself on fresh, sweet fruit!
Later that day, while walking the dog, we stopped in on a neighborhood garage sale. One of our alley neighbors saw me and asked if I wanted some apples from her overflowing tree. Each year for the last 3 or 4 she has generously shared her fruit. The next morning, I grabbed the garden cart, a bucket and a ladder to harvest from her tree. First I cleaned up the windfallen fruit from the ground and then I worked on the fruit highest in the tree to save her the effort.
While I was picking, she came out teasing, “Thief! Thief!” We laughed, and she told me the tree had been planted in (probably) the 1930s. When she moved into the house about 20 years ago, she found just a stump that sent up a single shoot. Fortunately for her, the resulting sprout has turned out to be a tree that produces wonderful fruit. She keeps it organically, so there are worms in some, but the fruit is sweet-tart, making for great eating, baking and drying apples!
Later, I paid a visit to another neighbor who lives in a landscape containing almost all edible plants. I knew they had no idea that the strange black berries on their evergreen hedge were actually native huckleberries**. When I asked if they’d mind sharing, they were happy to learn about the bushes and to share the fruit. I spent at least an hour painstakingly removing the tiny, ripe berries from the shrubs. They’re a bit seedy and the skins aren’t as soft as their cultivated blueberry cousins, but the fruit is fantastic!
Over the weekend, I continued to pull tomatoes out of the garden, pick corn for pasta salads and pinch back basil to use fresh and to freeze. The harvest is abundant this time of year. I know that soon my fresh options will be much less interesting. Chard, lettuce, kale, evergreen herbs, cabbage, and peas are starting to kick in for the cool weather, so fresh foods will still be available. I’ve started germinating some fava beans to plant in a couple of beds that need their soil rejuvenated…more on that later…But, the big harvest season is on the wane. I intend to enjoy it for all it’s worth!
In addition to drying about 2 dozen apples yesterday, I also made a bisquit-style apple cobbler. I’ve decided that it makes a better breakfast than a dessert…maybe that’s because I was more hungry this morning when I ate it than I was last night. Decide for yourself. Here’s the recipe (adapted from Fanny Farmer Cookbook):
- 12 T. Butter, melted
- 3 cups peeled and sliced fresh apples
- 1 T. chopped, crystalized ginger
- dash cinnamon
- dash salt
- 2/3 cup raw sugar (I use raw because I like the crunchy texture it imparts)
- 1/2 cup 1/2 and 1/2 (or milk)
- 1 egg
- 1 1/2 cup flour
- 2 t. baking powder
Preheat oven to 350F. Pour 4 T butter into deep pie plate and spread to grease the pan. Toss apples and ginger together. Arrange sliced apple/ginger combination in pan. Sprinkle dash of salt, cinnamon and 1/4 cup of sugar over apples.
Pour remaining butter into mixing bowl. Beat in half and half and egg. Combine remaining dry ingredients in small bowl then beat into wet mixture. Drop in clumps over apples to completely cover.
Bake at 350F for about 40 minutes until toothpick comes out clean. (Check to be sure top doesn’t burn; cover with foil if it gets too brown).
(**Just a quick note: If you don’t know what a plant is, don’t assume you can eat the fruit. There are many evergreen shrubs out there with little black berries this time of year. If you aren’t 100% sure that something is what you think it is, don’t take the risk of poisoning yourself by eating it.)
August 22, 2008
Today’s headlines were pretty depressing…local trees have been poisoned with herbicide, mostly likely by a human who thinks s/he deserves to see some water in a lake more than the trees deserve to have life. Then I read that the FDA has okayed irradiating spinach and lettuce to reduce bacterial outbreaks.
I’ve got to wonder if the bacterial outbreaks really couldn’t be controlled through better growing practices rather than adding another step to processing the food. In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan illustrated that irradiating beef could be avoided by just feeding the cattle their natural diet briefly before slaughtering them. So, maybe by growing crops in a more natural environment they’d be stronger and able to withstand these infections? I’m not sure, and I do know that even home gardeners can cook up some nasty bugs…bacteria…fungi…etc…on their crops, but really people have been growing their own for as long as people have been cultivating food, and we’ve made it this long. Do we really need something applied at the end of the growing process to extend the shelf-life of our greens and make them look prettier? I have to wonder if the erradiation isn’t really just an easy-out to avoid changing what may be chemical-dependent growing practices.
I’m curious about the entire process and freely admit I don’t have all the answers…maybe that’s what scares me most. Each time humans start using another man-made/controlled process to control nature — whether to kill a tree in the name of a view or to mass produce the perfect-looking lettuce head — it seems we take one step further down the road in damaging our planet and ourselves.
As for me, this latest news is one more reason to get my little lettuce starts into the garden right away and my greenhouse (without erradiation equipment) cleaned up and ready to feed me this winter. And, it makes me just a little happier that I picked out a pair of tree-hugger winter boots yesterday. Oboz is committed to planting a tree for each pair purchased. Perhaps my new shoes will help re-tree to mitigate others de-treeing.
August 14, 2008
Today I read that researchers are listening to the noises plants make to determine what kind of pollution they’re putting up with. Basically, the type of soundwave the plant puts out tells the scientists if there is a pollution issue going on and what kind of pollution is at hand.
Is this a surprise to anyone who works with plants or has read The Secret Life of Plants? In the early 1970s this book brought the idea of human emotion and talk having impact on the plants around them. Some say that it is this book that got housewives talking to their houseplant companions, encouraging them to grow through positive reinforcement.
I’ll confess I talk to my plants. Sometimes I tell them to quit growing into my paths. Other times I thank them for yielding up a beautiful salad before I chop the head to the ground. And, at other times I beg them to forgive me for my poor efforts at transplanting them, which, on occassion puts them under stress.
So, is this next study on plant “talk” going to give the home gardener more tools for successful gardening? Will it eventually yield tools that allow us to test our soil for toxic pollutants? I’m not sure. But as the climate continues to change and plants must adapt, we will be able to look to them (or rather listen to them) for indications that we might otherwise miss.
August 02, 2008
As my regular readers know, I spent part of my childhood running around in the wild hills of Northern California. I spent a lot of time exploring redwoods near my home. I even had one tree that my sister and I called a horse. The poor thing had to endure the both of us bouncing away on one of its lower limbs. I’m sure my mom, Marki on the right, was yelling at us all the time to leave the poor tree alone. Fortunately, we never broke the limb. And, come to think of it, the tree may have been a Calocedrus decurrens rather than a Sequoia sempervirens. At 8 yrs old I wasn’t taking notes.
In any case, the point is, I grew up around these big, old amazing trees. When I’d ride my pony around town, I’d see logging truck after logging truck filled with cut trees cruising to the mills. We had a belief that you could make a wish when you saw one of these trucks and it would come true. I wish I’d wished the trucks would disappear. Frankly, there were too many opportunities to wish on these trucks in the 70s. Fortunately, some of the groves are protected and in more recent years explorers have been seeking out remaining old groves and exploring the amazing worlds within them.
Since taking up a professional career working with people working with plants, I have continued to study trees. I’ve taken classes with some amazing certified arborists, ancient tree rescuers such as Dr. Olaf Ribeiro, and plain ole plant geeks like Arthur Lee Jacobsen. But, I’ve never sat for the ISA exams. I’ve definitely thought about it, but each time I’ve considered it, I realize I know so very little relative to the big picture. I have enormous respect for trees or more specifically for ancient trees. These suckers have been around for hundreds of years in many cases. So, I cower in awe when I encounter them, and as much as I advocate for them and continue to learn about them, I realize I’m nowhere near ready to take an exam that will certify me as knowledgable enough to become their designated caretakers. I leave that to others and respect them greatly for their work.
In my work truck I have a postcard from one of the shops along Hwy 101 in the Redwood forests along “The Avenue of the Giants”. The postcard has a cross-section photo of a large, old redwood that fell in 1987. The growth rings are intact and markers were inserted at various points indicating human history. At its center is a marker indicating when it began growing — 1148 A.D. The signing of the Magna Carta is another marker at 1215. I keep this postcard as a reminder that regardless of what happens in my day, in the big picture its probably pretty insignificant. What is significant is that I try to do the right thing like the 1919 marker for when the Save the Redwoods League was founded (unfortunately far too late to save most of the redwoods that had been growing for hundreds of years before clear cutting began.)
Recently, I picked up a copy of Richard Preston’s The Wild Trees. In this book he explores the people who explore big trees. He introduces us to the people who explore the ground, looking to find the world’s largest tree among the California Redwoods. He shares the stories of those who decided to climb and study the forests within the forests of these big trees (and other big trees around the world).
If you’re interested in learning more about big trees or if you are just looking for a good read that will keep you on the edge of your seat (or tree limb for that matter), definitely pick this book up. I couldn’t put it down. Now that I’ve finished it, I find myself looking up into canopies even more. Noticing the sway of trees and wondering if the Doug Firs declining in our area are actually going to withstand the tip dieback and send out new leaders, soaring to the heavens for years and years to come.
Oh, and yes, the book reinforced for me how little I know. It helped me learn more and reminded me of the one time I put on a tree saddle and did a bit of climbing — as curious as I am about the canopy its unlikely I’ll ever be a big climber. The 8-yr old tree monkey I was is no more. Of course, never say never…
July 25, 2008
Recently my pre-teen niece came to visit. She’s always been a picky eater, and as she approaches her teen years she’s at least tasting some new things. She never likes the new things, but at least she’s giving into my pleas to, “Come on…just one little bite. You don’t have to eat it if you don’t like it.” Rather than continuing to be frustrated with her phoo-phoo’ing of all the amazing flavors of the culinary world, I’ve started taking a different perspective of her situation.
As a kid I was willing to eat just about anything. That’s probably why I ballooned into a chubby teen when puberty hit. There were a few things I never enjoyed –okra, brussel sprouts, and beets come to mind. So, unlike my niece, I didn’t have much food discovery left to me when I grew up. I’d already experienced so many of the foods out there. And, as a foodie, I crave finding new tastes.
I was thrilled about eight years ago when I tasted a beet that I actually kind of liked. I’d always thought they tasted like sweet dirt, and, well, I guess I still think that. But, my adult pallet now craves that flavor! I’ve even had a few pickled okra in my adult years that don’t totally gross me out. The brussel sprouts, well, as much as those cute little buttery bundles look good, they just don’t work for me. So, sadly, my “to be discovered” list is still quite small.
Yes, I recognize that there are loads of foods around the world I’ve never tried. I’m not about to go dig up grubs in the garden just to see what those taste like, and I try to eat locally, so I’m not going to import a lot of crazy fruit from south america just to make my tongue happy. So, back to my diverse, but pretty regular diet. (Anyone else get sick of their own cooking now & again?)
Last weekend I was visiting our local farmer’s market and stopped at an herb booth. The vendor was offering herbal sodas and herbal teas. I ordered a nettle tea that looked and tasted like swamp water, but I know the stuff is amazing for me, and it was pretty refreshing. She also had a fresh, leafy green for sale on her table.
“What’s this?” I asked.
Turns out it was sorrel. She had me tear a piece off to taste. Wow! What a tangy, lemony plant. Now, its not a “sweet lemon” like lemon grass, lemon balm or lemon verbena. Its more of a “tangy-tart lemon” like the “lemon weed clover” I used to munch on as a kid in northern California. (Sorry folks, don’t know the name of the lemon weed.)
I ended up plunking down $4 for a small bunch of sorrel. She told me that its incredibly easy to grow, and it comes back after being cut to the ground. So, I knew getting a few plants was likely to be my next step. I certainly wasn’t going to pay that kind of price for a vegetable I could grow & likely couldn’t kill.
Sorrel is a member of the Rumex genus. If you’re familiar with Dock weed, you’ll quickly realize why she said cutting the plant to the ground won’t kill it. These suckers are tough! It’s important to tip out flowers to keep the sorrel from bolting and going to seed. And, leaves can be harvested, as needed throughout the season.
Today, I spent $3.49 on a 4″ pot containing 3 sorrel plants. The Herbfarm Cookbook indicates that 3 plants are sufficient for the average kitchen. Now I just need to find the right spot for them in my garden.
If you’re wondering what I did with the cut sorrel I bought at the farmer’s market, well I experimented. I tore up a few leaves into green salad and enjoyed the raw tanginess. I sauted several and cooked them into a tart with gruyere cheese, carmelized Walla-Walla spring onions, and fresh morel mushrooms. And, I used the last bit tossed with new potatoes roasted in foil on the grill. All were amazing!
If you haven’t enjoyed sorrel, consider grabbing a bunch at your farmer’s market. And, if you’ve got a picky eater at home, rather than get upset at what they’re missing, be envious of all the great opportunities coming to their tongue in the future!
And, if you’re just getting into gardening with herbs, read more about them in my earlier post, Herbs in the Garden — Some Thoughts.