Tag Archives: local food

The First Earth Day . . . and Still Counting

EarthDayGreeleyTribune To mark the 45th anniversary of the first Earth Day in 1970, I participated in a pre-Earth Day program at our local library to promote the Youth of the Earth Festival, a community event organized for the first time last year by the Youth of the Earth Council and Sustainable Revolution Longmont. The free festival this Wednesday at the Boulder County fairgrounds from 4 to 7 PM will include music and dance performances by local schools and youth groups; recycling; storytelling; education about bees, birds, and energy; healthy food prepared by an on-site chef; and games with locally donated prizes. If you don’t live in our area, I hope you’ll find an Earth Day event near you. At the library event, I read my chapter “The First Earth Day . . . and Still Counting” from A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography because I wanted to share the early days of Earth Day with the students involved this year. I created a visual background video to show 1970s Earth Day images, as well as more recent photos from our farm connecting that time to the environment today. In the essay, I talk about planting an apple tree in memory of my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Osborn, in whose class I celebrated the first Earth Day, so I included a visual sequence about growing, picking, and pressing apples for cider on our farm. applebaskets Forty-five years isn’t much time to turn around the ecological problems confronting our planet. In fact, today’s it’s clear that the state of the earth is worse than anyone imagined forty-five years ago. It seems we’re facing a tipping point from which we must push harder for the changes needed to adapt and survive. This is no time to abandon hope. It’s only time to hold hope closer as we work together—finally–toward a more sustainable future.

If the video isn’t embedded below, click here to watch it.

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under ecobiography, memoir, sustainable agriculture

Beans, Onions, Eggs, and a little Spinach: A January Cuisine

onionflats
Our seed order came Saturday, which is always a sign that winter won’t last forever and we’ll be working in the greenhouse again soon. Actually, John and our friend Peter have already started leeks and onions there to transplant in April. With this week’s temps in the high 60s, we’re beginning to think about spring while we wait for the gardens to give again.

What do farmers eat in winter? If we’re eating seasonally and locally—meaning what we’ve put up or still have laying around the farm—our cuisine is more limited than what we eat when the gardens are producing. Still, we’ve got plenty of food to last us through the winter.

Our Stonebridge freezer is full of peppers for stuffing, tomato sauce, applesauce, and berries. We’ve also dried tomatoes and shelled beans for winter use. After the deep cold of the last couple months, a few rows of spinach are coming again in the bluehouse and we’ve just seeded kale in the greenhouse too. The storage room of the barn is full of last season’s carrots and potatoes, late keeper apples from the Western slope, a trug of winter squash, and lots and lots of onions from last fall’s bumper crop.

beansdrying

A couple years ago, John and I got over our fear of pressure cookers and started making our beans that way. What a difference in texture and a good savings in time, as well. We throw in carrots, potatoes and garlic, but never salt because that can toughen the beans. We eat bean soup, freeze some, and eat the rest in burritos or enchiladas with our own salsa. This year we grew black and white Oregon Peregions, large red kidneys, and golden buckskin, all flavorful and filling.

beansperegion

People usually think of onions as the first step in cooking a meal rather than the foundation itself. Onions play a prominent role in lots of our winter dishes, especially when caramelized. Our pizza the other night was heaped with tasty golden onions and they’re also great as the filling in quiche or a layer of lasagna. French onion soup topped with broiled bread and cheese is especially hearty. Salting the onions in the skillet helps them brown more quickly—or at least I like to think it does.

onionsstorage

The longer days at the end of January bring a bonus to our winter meals because that’s when our chickens start to lay again. We don’t light the coop, believing it’s better for the chickens to take a rest. We have to buy a few eggs in the winter, which aren’t at all the same color, freshness, or flavor as our own. So when we get the first egg of the year, we celebrate. Here’s the first three we’ve gathered in 2015.

IMG_1300

I’m especially excited about the lightest egg because it was laid by the Speckled Sussex we raised last season. She’s a gorgeous bird, my favorite all-around variety of chicken. We also raised Americanas for blue eggs, but we haven’t seen any of those yet, except for the eggs our neighbor shared with us last week when her chickens started laying a bit earlier than ours.

IMG_1313

With all this wealth of food, what are we having for dinner? Eggs baked in tomato sauce and spinach, with onion, of course. Saute an onion until golden and then a little spinach until wilted. Add to some chopped tomatoes or tomato sauce, season with ground cumin, sweet or spicy paprika (we dry and grind our own), and salt and pepper. Divide in four oiled ramekins, crack an egg in each, and sprinkle with cheese. Bake 15-20 minutes at 400, until the yolk is set to your desired firmness. Easy, healthy, and good—my ideal of a meal.

Some folks might see our winter meals as boring; we think of them as an opportunity to use up what we have and ready ourselves for the next season. As I write in A Bushel’s Worth, “The winter wipes clean the slate of last year’s misgivings, knowing spring will offer us a new chance to re-write our dreams.” 2015 will be our 24th season as a CSA. Enthusiastic inquiries are coming in; returning members are happily re-subscribing. John’s built another cold frame; I’ve been sprucing up the Sunflower room and updating our outreach information. We don’t know yet what the season will bring, but we are sure whatever bounty or loss may come, we’ll be sharing it with a wonderful community once again.

house12

10 Comments

Filed under ecobiography, sustainable agriculture

Glean: A Fall Food Journey

IMG_0670

We gleaned the last of the peppers last week before John pulled the tomato and peppers stakes to till the fields. Putting the beds to rest marks the end of another Stonebridge season, one lengthened by unusually warm fall weather this year. But what’s “usual” about weather anymore? The first hard frost fell just before Halloween and after the last Saturday pick for our CSA members. We’ve given tomatoes on the final Saturday before, but always green tomatoes ripened in the greenhouse, not from vines in the field.

I traveled a bit this fall, teaching, lecturing, and reading from my book, A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography. Each time I left the farm, I missed another turn toward fall, returning to trees more golden than just days before. On my return, we slowly emptied the fields of their crops, until only hardy greens like kale and spinach and roots like carrots and rutabagas remained in the warmth of the autumn sun.

IMG_0334

When I travel, I always pay attention to food, searching for meals that offer something delicious and new. I want to experience food in a way I haven’t before. Sometimes, I research restaurants before I go; other times, I depend on serendipity to draw me toward a grand discovery. I traveled this way for decades before I realized that food is one of the markers by which I create, appreciate, and remember my journeys.

Here’s a few memorable meals from the last few weeks in Oregon, Colorado, and Utah:

My sister traveled with me to Oregon this year. Our first meal was from one of the fun food carts that circle an entire city block. Here’s a photo story of my grilled veggie and cheese sandwich–and a local resident sharing the last of it with his flock of friends.

IMG_0114

IMG_0115

IMG_0120

And here’s an exquisite fig tart with chai tea. You can see how much I enjoyed it.

IMG_0153

IMG_0157

On the Oregon coast, my sister and I collaborated on sautéed zucchini & cabbage tacos with fresh salsa and avocado, along with corn on the cob bought just that morning by my mother-in-law at a local farmer’s market. We visited other farmer’s markets along the coast, finding gorgeous Asian pears, gluten-free bread and cookies, and locally caught and canned tuna.

IMG_0175

IMG_0254

On our trip back to Portland, we stopped at our favorite farm in the valley, where we bought hazelnuts to take home.

IMG_0348

Back in Portland, we dined at Prasad, a vegan restaurant in the revitalized Pearl district. I loved the fresh spinach and cilantro topping our “Brahma Bowl” of garam masala veggies and quinoa; the color of the “Rising” beet/carrot/apple/ginger juice; and, of course, the vegan peanut butter cookie!

IMG_0366

I don’t have any food pics for Golden, site of Women Writing the West’s 20th anniversary conference, but I particularly enjoyed the roasted and stacked mushrooms, red peppers, and squash with teriyaki marinade. Ordering vegetarian at a conference is always interesting—if not risky—but this dish was colorful and tasty, too.

Of great loss to Golden is the closing of Golden Natural Foods. After 30-some years of business, the shop is closing its doors. I’m glad I got to visit one last time.

In Salt Lake City, I spoke and read at a Slow Food event as part of Utah’s Book Festival. With a mission of “good, clean, and fair food for everyone,” it’s no surprise Slow Food members throw a great potluck! My only disappointment was being too busy to eat more of it. Highlights were the beautiful roasted beet soup donated by Urban Pioneer Foods; beet cashew butter on delicious crusty bread; arugula, cabbage, and orange salad braided on a plate rather than tossed in a bowl; and zucchini-packed bar cookies as one of many wholesome desserts.

Paying attention to food on my journeys–especially dishes that highlight local cuisines and produce—helps me learn about a region’s people, cultures, and history. Searching out “food hubs” like Portland’s carts, small-town farmer’s markets, and Slow Food gatherings teaches me how local folks create both food traditions and innovations, two sides of the same impulse toward re-centering delicious, safe, and nutritious food in our lives.

DSC_2085

Back at Stonebridge, we ate the last of the gleaned jimmie nardellos, stuffed with Manchego cheese and roasted in the oven for a half or so at 375º. My very last bite paired browned salty cheese with softened sweet red pepper, the finale to an amazing 23rd season.

Soon we’ll dig the last of the leeks, carrots, and other roots for our Thanksgiving shares, to accompany butternut squash, pie pumpkin, onions, garlic, and potatoes. After the fields are cleared, we’ll eat from the greenhouse, barn, and freezer. As we say farewell to this year’s abundance of fresh vegetables, we’ll give thanks for another season on the land.

IMG_0333

We have other good-byes to make soon—losses that aren’t as easy as the tilling of fields. As the season draws toward its inevitable end, we’re reminded to glean what we can, while we can, from experiences, relationships, and connections with each other and the earth. Perhaps farming helps us understand that bounty and loss travel together, leading by turn on this journey called life.

DSC_2150

3 Comments

Filed under ecobiography, memoir, sustainable agriculture

You Could Pickle That!

DSC_1132

My title comes from an episode of Portlandia, the show that spoofs Portland, Oregon’s obsession with all things locally brewed, sipped, and supped. John and I were in Oregon recently, enjoying the local offerings from small-press olive oil to sparkling wine to pears in anything and everything. At the Red Hill café in Dundee, I had a wood-fired pizza with butternut squash puree, caramelized pears, gorgonzola cheese, arugula, and hazelnuts. My only complaint—the nuts weren’t chopped so they kept rolling off the pizza!

DSC_0852

Portland’s where we learn the latest fashion trends. Exceedingly skinny pants are still in, especially for men, and everyone wears something wrapped around their neck for those overcast skies and intermittent drizzle, the kind of precipitation for which umbrellas are irrelevant. Knit caps of woodland creatures with little ears are popular too (I mean with adults, not kids), as are vintage plaid Pendleton skirts and jackets. Judging from the look on the street, rust and moss (organic, of course) are this season’s favorite colors, with some bright pink thrown in for pop. You’ve got to admire a city with a fashion sense like that.

DSC_1134

I picked up some beautiful yarn in Portland to knit a hat for my grandson and a 1960s dress for upcycling someday. But the city wasn’t the only place that inspired my creativity this trip. Long walks on the beach brought the calm I needed to regenerate after a difficult farming season. At one of our favorite beaches, we didn’t see anyone for miles up and down the shore as we walked the wrack line in the breezy mist.

DSC_0996

One morning, I walked to the beach by myself, braving the frigid water of the creek to cross over to a cove where I’ve found perfect sand dollars in the past. No sand dollars this time, but the light and the solitude were just right.

hawkcreek

Before our trip, I’d been reading Keri Smith’s Living Out Loud. I love Smith’s work because, like Portland, it’s hip and irreverent and fun. She challenges readers to try something new in their art or craft, to take risks, and to see old, familiar objects in new, emergent ways. (Check out Keri Smith’s other books, like How to Be An Explorer of the World and This is Not a Book.)

DSC_1146

I always carry a little notebook with me for when inspiration strikes, so on this trip, I jotted down a few ideas of my own to encourage my pearlmoonplenty readers to take some creative risks. I shared the first exercise with a genealogy group to whom I spoke last week and they loved how it opened up their stories. Next time you need a creativity kickstart, try one of these exercises.

1. What’s your bio? How would like to be introduced if you were appearing somewhere? Write a 3- or 4-sentence bio about yourself. Here’s my official bio blurb:

Kayann Short, Ph.D., is a writer, farmer, teacher, and activist at Stonebridge Farm, an organic community-supported farm in the Rocky Mountain foothills, and author of A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography. A former award-winning teacher at the University of Colorado, she has directed memoir and digital storytelling projects with community elders, adult literacy students, and non-profit organizations. Besides growing delicious food and teaching writing at Stonebridge Farm, Short is an advocate for the important place of organic food production and agricultural preservation in a healthy, environmentally sustainable community.

Now that you’ve written the official version, add one more sentence, starting with one of these words:

Secretly,
Surprisingly,
Hopefully,
Regretfully,
Once in a while,

2. Make a list of lists you’d like to make. Some mentioned to me lately are all-time favorite books, teachers’ names, and best friends. Someday, make those lists.

3. If you were a meal, what meal would you be? Describe yourself as a meal and then write another sentence or two about why you are like that meal.

4. Get a pad of mini post-its and walk around your house or somewhere else you love. For each object or space, write three concrete words that describe it and place it on that object or in that space. One of the words must be a verb.

5. Pick up a newspaper and find a “human interest” story. Imagining yourself as the protagonist of that story, write the backstory behind the story. Include specific details of setting, character, motivation, and action, or, as the radio journalists say, “Take us there.”

6. Create a mini-memory book. Find some legal envelopes (the rectangular 4 by 9.5 inch type) and stack four or five of them on top of each other. On a sewing machine or with a heavy needle and thread, sew a stitching line down the middle of the stack to make a little book. Snip the flaps along both sides of the seam line so that you can lift them. Now you have a place to keep the small things of your life—movie tickets, ideas you’ve jotted down, pages torn from magazines, photographs.

7. The documentary Packed (produced by Angie Burnham) is about the items people took when they evacuated their home during Boulder’s Four Mile Canyon fire. If you had to “evacuate” your memory bank and leave most of the experiences you remember behind, what five memories would you grab as you headed out the door?

“You could pickle that!” means you can make something from practically nothing by applying inventiveness and inspiration. You can pickle any fruit or vegetable—or even hard-boiled eggs! Creativity is all around us when we look at the mundane in innovative ways.  What inspires you?

DSC_1006

8 Comments

Filed under ecobiography, memoir, sustainable agriculture

In Celebration of Local Food

Finally, a cool down. After the hottest August in the last 140 years with temperatures in the high 90s for over three weeks, I walked outside at 6:30 yesterday morning to noticeably cooler air, as if a damp towel had been laid over the farm. We welcomed the cool down as we harvested for four hours, our biggest pick yet of the season—and we haven’t even started on the winter squash. Until the first frost, the garden will be burgeoning and we’ll be running to keep up with it.

Last week we participated in several activities for Local Food Week. I spoke on a “So You Want to Be a Farmer?” panel for Transition Boulder about nurturing community in CSA (I read Red, Red Barn to portray what community looks like at Stonebridge), and our hundred-year-old farm was one of four hosts for a Slow Food Bike-to-Farm Tour. Cyclists sipped our cold mint tea as John showed them around the vineyard and talked about creating a local winemaking culture on this side of the mountains, or Front Range Backyard Viticulture, as we call it.

Bird-netted and protected from raccoons with electric fencing, our vines look great and promise to be heavy enough to justify the purchase of a large crusher-destemmer for our cold-hardy grapes. John’s been teaching classes in planting, pruning, and harvesting grapes and the idea of growing varieties suited to this climate—and discovering what wine grown here tastes like—is catching people’s attention.

Every week is local food week at Stonebridge but this time of year brings its own pleasures. The fall garden is just starting out with small bok choy, turnips, and napa cabbages to pick for the share, while the summer garden is at its height with zukes, cukes, green beans, arugula, basil, dill, cilantro, parsley, chard, kale, onions, garlic, carrots, and beets.

The heirloom tomatoes are ripening fully and the peppers are gorgeous. We gave five varieties of peppers yesterday, from the sweet red skinny Jimmy Nardellos (so delicious stuffed with slivers of Manchego cheese and roasted at 395 for 20 minutes or so) to juicy Red Cheese for slicing to San Ardo Poblanos for stuffing to Hungarian Hot Wax (our favorite to spice up marinara or salsa just a bit) and the hot hots like Serranos, as well as the more prudent sweet green bells.

Even the As You Like table of “cosmetically challenged” freebie vegetables is full—but it’ll be empty by the end of the day because our members know a little scratch and dent doesn’t ruin the vegetable.

Except for yesterday when we were up and outside early for the pick, I’ve started each morning of the last week by slicing something for the dehydrator. We got our Western Slope peaches a week ago so I’ve been drying those in wedges for winter fruit. One day I dried parsley to give as part of our Thanksgiving share, but mainly I’ve been drying paste tomatoes for all our winter and spring pizzas and pastas. I grow four varieties of paste tomatoes—Opalka, Amish Paste, Flame, and Gold Paste—and we’ve come to depend on them for our off-season pantry. One of my favorite things about paring tomatoes is how excited the chickens get about tomato scraps for breakfast!

This week also brought something new to our local food preparation and cuisine: goat milk. A friend gave us some milk from their dairy and another friend shared the additional ingredients and instructions for making chevre, so we got to make a little cheese of our own this week. We used it on a wonderful bruschetta last night by layering arugula, chevre, fresh tomato slices salted and peppered, dried parsley, and a little sprinkled romano on a locally made crusty baguette and baking for 20 minutes at 400. Served with a little white wine, this was local food at its best.

In the overfilled barn yesterday, one of our members stopped to thank me for my guest editorial that appeared in several of our local papers this week against the growing of Genetically Modified crops on Boulder’s Open Space. I appreciated her gratitude because it shows that people are paying attention to the issue. John and I attended the community comment session this week and, although the vast majority of speakers listed compelling reasons to ban GMOs on Open Space, I don’t think that’s what the commissioners will decide. They’re too worried about managing weeds on county land and too near-sighted to make the necessary changes at this point. We’ll see.

For now, we’ll rejoice in the plenitude of local, organic food as we turn the corner from summer to fall and the overlap of vegetables that fills the barn with thoughts of simple meals prepared in celebration of taste.

2 Comments

Filed under ecobiography, sustainable agriculture

Feel Good Spring

I’ve been cleaning up the perennial flowers on this spring equinox day, trying, as I do every year, to dig the grass out of the beds. Town gardeners always wonder why this is such a chore here on the farm because they’re imagining the type of grass that’s grown in yards, grass with relatively short root systems that trowels up without much effort.

But out here, we’ve got prairie rhizome grass running through the soil with roots to 10 feet deep. Of all the plants that live at Stonebridge, prairie grass is the one that most defines Stonebridge for me. Whenever we cultivate flowers, herbs, vegetables, or fruits, we uncover a vast web of fibrous grass roots as deep as we can dig.

One species in particular, Bromus Inernis, commonly called Smooth Brome Grass, is a tall prairie grass that likes to invade my perennial beds, its slender stalk arching from the weight of seed heads bronzed in the July heat. Smooth Brome was introduced from Eurasia in the 1880s and I can’t help but respect the endurance of this grass in inhabiting our arid region.

Growing perennials is somewhat foolhardy in this situation because there’s no getting the grass out permanently. In fact, “permanent” is a word that describes the grass, not our ability to control it. From rhizome grass I have learned that the true meaning of “grassroots” is found below the surface in the tenacious weaving of many into one, as well as in its indomitable persistence. We may manage to clear out grass on the surface of the garden, but that interwoven root structure will survive, sending up new blades one day when we’ve got our backs turned. Still, each spring our efforts pay off for a short while and we’ve learned to live with the inevitability of the grass’s return.

As I was weeding, I was thinking about a talk John and I joined on local food last night with a group interested in building their local food shed in a small town northeast of us. The night was hosted by some good friends who run a successful energy efficiency business and have turned their own yard into a veritable farmyard with chickens, compost bins, and gardens. Their town has a small farmer’s market and a locally owned grocery store whose owner is interested in doing more with local food, but both could use more support. Our friends are planning gardens outside their business office with dreams of a CSA down the road. I was excited to hear all the great ideas from the participants and I’m hopeful that small towns and neighborhoods like this can bring together their constituents in creating new kinds of food systems.

I said to our friend that local food is a “feel good” issue but I didn’t mean that in a derogatory way, as if food were a superficial issue or that people are drawn to it for their own benefit only. Instead, I think feeling good is where we need to start because what’s coming—peak oil, increased environmental degradation, and even struggles within agriculture itself over chemicals, GMOs, and ownership of production—is going to be weighty. So why not start with something that can be controlled to some extent at the local level and that does make us actually feel good—that is, eating food? We can also feel good when we grow it, prepare it, preserve it, and share it. Maybe this work will strengthen us for the other less feel good battles ahead.

The United Nations just released a report called Agro-Ecology and the Right to Food. The article I read cites Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food and author of the report, in a press release detailing the solutions to our current agriculture problems: “We won’t solve hunger and stop climate change with industrial farming on large plantations. The solution lies in supporting small-scale farmers’ knowledge and experimentation, and in raising incomes of smallholders so as to contribute to rural development.”

I like the term “agro-ecology” because it acknowledges that food is best grown in individual ecosystems, not in homogenous industrialized fields that use chemical inputs like gasoline and pesticides in an attempt to outdo nature. I also think the term acknowledges that the people who eat the food are part of a food system’s ecology. That doesn’t mean farmers in one area can’t share information and even seeds with farmers in another, but rather that the control of our agricultural resources must belong to everyone who eats, not just corporations or the governments carrying out their interests.

Our farm’s slogan is “When the community feeds itself, the land and the people prosper” and a major part of the work we do is advocating for local control of food and preservation of local agricultural land. By returning to the interwoven grassroots that connect us through our human right to safe, healthy, and affordable food, together we can figure out how to feel good about what we’re eating.



1 Comment

Filed under sustainable agriculture