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Volunteering at an Urban Farm

7 Dec
by Deanne

Edging near the top of my bucket list, was an adventure that is completely out of my comfort zone.  I wanted to volunteer at Growing Power, Will Allen’s urban farm in Milwaukee. 

(Photos included in this post are selected from Growing Power’s photobucket.)

 photo 017.jpgYou ask, why did I have such an obscure adventure on my bucket list?  I first heard about Allen’s quest for doing something to improve the access to food in his city when I attended the Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference (SAWG) in 2012.  Since then I have wanted to see a slice of his work first hand.  He sums up what Growing Power is all about with this quote from the organization’s the website:

If people can grow safe, healthy, affordable food, if they have access to land and clean water, this is transformative on every level in a community.  I believe we cannot have healthy communities without a healthy food system.

Twenty years ago, Mr. Allen took an old run down nursery with a few greenhouses in a neighborhood that didn’t have access to fresh food and started growing things.  More than growing food, he has allowed people who visit, volunteer, purchase food, and work there to experience a food system that has been slowly slipping away from our way of life.

 photo 006.jpg

Last Saturday, we (Steve and Deanne) showed up at 10 AM for their weekly free volunteer tour.  The tour lasts thirty minutes and covers the greenhouse operations, soil making operations, and a visit to other areas outside the greenhouses.  Rather than tell you about the tour, I recommend you visit for yourself.  If you are closer to Chicago, Growing Power now has operations there also.  If can’t visit, check out his book The Good Food Revolution. Photo of Good Food Revolution Book Cover

Volunteering at a farm is out of my comfort zone because electronic gadgets are about the only tools I utilize.  After the tour we asked for our assignments and the tour guide suggested we work in one of the greenhouses and empty pots of soil and gravel.  Wheelbarrows and hand shovels showed up just like magic so we could empty pots from one greenhouse by separating the soil into one of the wheelbarrows and the gravel into buckets.  When we finished that chore, we scrubbed the pots clean so they would be ready to use again. 

A sign of strong leadership is when things get done when the leader isn’t around.  The leader attracts people with their strong sense of possibility or vision and then discovers the passion in the people that show up.  Finally the leader, with the help of a team, sets up systems and gets mostly out of the way so the people can shine.  We didn’t see Mr. Allen, but his team had a sense of purpose in their work.

We wished we could have eaten at Growing Power’s MLK Cafe which is in another location.  I see from the website that DeShawn Parker is the chef.  His inspirational life story is told in the book.   It would be my guess that having a cafe in a neighborhood that needs access to food with a chef who grew up in the Growing Power community is an example of the organization’s simple goal playing out: to grow food, to grow minds, and to grow community. 

Have any non-farmers like me ever volunteered at a farm?  If so, it would be great to hear about your experience. 

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Giving Thanks: A Virtual Farm Tour

28 Nov
by Deanne

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

Join me on a virtual tour in honor of the farmers who supply locally grown produce to three of the restaurants we’ve reviewed from California to Arizona and then on to Arkansas. 

The dedication farmers give to their work can not be measured in dollars earned.  For me, it is so easy to lose my connection to the land and forget how hard it is to grow food. So today,  I want to give reverence for the bounty all farmers produce.  For them it is not about preparing for some odd Thursday in November, instead, they just keep giving to us all year long.  Even those of us that live in the cold states, we still get to enjoy apples and root veggies this time of year.

A photo of the garden

Since it is November, let’s start in warm and sunny Napa Valley and take a peek at the garden that grows right outside a restaurant.  This special place has two acres that provide 20 percent of the restaurant’s produce year-round and inspiration for the restaurant’s culinary team.  Francine visited Mustards Grill: Napa Valley, CA  and provided a review.  She snapped the above picture of the garden.

Next, join me as we will  head to Arizona for a look at a family farm that provides a supply of fresh produce for Desert Roots Kitchen:  Tempe, AZ 

I am glad I went on this virtual farm tour because I got a chance to read the blog of from Sunizona Family Farm.  This picture comes from a  blog post about the day a team of three guys harvested over seven tons of spaghetti squash in one day.  Check it out, it is quite impressive!

Photo of Squash HarvestNow let’s travel a little further east to Arkansas where I reviewed The Root – A Local Cafe:Little Rock, AK  

The Root has a whole list of farmers on their website.  For you meat lovers out there who are joining this virtual tour, I selected Falling Sky Farms and a picture from their facebook page that shows the turkeys growing earlier this fall.

Photo of turkeys from Falling Sky Farms

Spring Lambs

11 Mar

by Francine

On Saturday, we took a 30 minute drive to a nearby farm that advertised they had a ‘lambing experience’ from now until mid-April. A photo of a lamb

It’s definitely not uncommon to see sheep in the fields around here, but there’s only a short period of time when you can glimpse little lambs jumping in the fields.

We didn’t find any jumping lambs in the fields at Coombes Farm, but we did find newborn lambs.

And loads of baa-ing ewes…soon to be mama sheep.

A photo of the ewes

Two big barns, with hay-covered pens, were filled with expectant ewes–some would have triplets and some would have twins.

As you walked around, it was possible to see ewes in labour. When we were there, there were no births, but we did see some very recently born little ones.A photo of a newborn lamb

Many of the lambs were sleeping (being born is hard work) or having some milk. 

There was one lamb who was very noisy, friendly and active (see below…this was the only non-blurry photo I could get of the little guy).A photo of a lamb

There were some sheep and three older lambs (can you spot them?) out in the field. They were very curious about us. A photo of curious sheep

I loved visiting this farm! 

It’s hard to believe that spring is nearly here especially because it’s snowing today!

When we visited on Saturday, the grass was green, yellow daffodils were standing tall, the sky was grey and A photo of flowersthe only snow was the dainty snowdrops announcing that spring is almost here.

Have you ever seen the birth of an animal?  Do you know any spring lambs?  I’d love to hear!

PS. Deanne once helped a ewe in labour: reaching in and re-arranging the little legs so that the ewe could deliver the lamb properly. Go Mom!

Bats, Berries, and Burdock Root

25 Feb
by Deanne

Yesterday I returned from my first MOSES Conference. While it might sound like a religious gathering, MOSES is a conference about organic farming. For the last 24 years this conference, held in February in La Crosse, Wisconsin has become an event that many organic farmers set aside as their time to learn and socialize. Francine and I first heard about the conference last year from some of our neighbors who are organic farmers.

mealsMoses

A reflection of what makes organic farming unique, the conference has two elements not easily found in other gatherings: real food and happy people. The food selections included wholesome organic yogurt, juice, fair-trade coffee and chocolate, veggies, meats, cheeses, fresh baked muffins, bars, and breads. I think the people are happy because they work toward a passionate cause:  contributing to a healthy planet.  Many come as families which is a refreshing change from most professional conferences I have attended in the past.  The meals are as enlightening as the workshops due to the conversations that take place.   I heard stories about health epiphanies that brought people to organics and met young people eager to get access to some land so they can farm.

As I buzzed through the trade show on Friday afternoon I encountered a lady wearing a black cape with a plastic bat glued to her cheek. At first I was confused because I thought bats were pests not something essential to a healthy sustainable watershed.Photo of Bat House

 Me: Do you capture bats? (Bats are bad, right?)

Bat Lady: (Pointing to a slim black rectangle) These are bat houses and I make them.

Me: (Catching on to the fact that she thinks bats are beneficial) So you attract bats?

Bat Lady: Bats are an essential part of a healthy environment. They can be an important part of insect-control strategies aimed at reducing pesticide use, thus reducing pesticide contamination of our watersheds. One little brown bat can catch 1,000 mosquito-size insects in an hour!

In a few short minutes I was impressed enough to check out her  website and there I learned more:

Unfortunately, many bat species are declining in numbers at an alarming rate. They are slow to reproduce; most bat species have only one “pup” per year. Bats suffer from habitat loss and human fear based on myths. I have three (3) bat house models, all of which are certified by Bat Conservation International (BCI) — meaning they have passed all the criteria years of research by BCI has determined goes into the success of a bat house.

Would I buy a bat house and should everyone have a bat house? These are worthy questions to be pondered. However, at a conference, things happen fast and pondering comes later.honeyberry

Moving along, I stumbled upon a guy with an open jar of jam giving taste tests of honeyberry jam. He sells the plants and I wondered if growing some on the side of our lot might be possible. Again I was impressed enough to check out his website.  It seems that it is possible to grow these berries in our area.  Should we plant some?  Another point to ponder.

On Saturday, the last day of the conference, I must have been thinking about my self-imposed job of marketing and promoting our business venture. I stopped at Fairshare CSA Coalition’s booth and learned about how they collaboratively market community supported agriculture farms.   I am venturing into a similar project in our area soon. I bought their cookbook and turned to page 40 to find a description of an unusual vegetable called Burdock Root. The book explains:

Gobo (Burdock Root) has been an important vegetable in Japan, cultivated there since the tenth century. The Japanese believe gobo to be a strong blood purifier, a support to healthy liver function, a tonic after sickness, and an aid to arthritis and skin diseases.

It went on to explain that in our culture we see this plant as a weed because it creates those burrs that attach themselves like Velcro to our clothing and our pet’s fur.

FromAsparagustoZucchini

Burdock root stood out to me in much the same way the bat information stood out: We tend to dismiss things that might actually be beneficial and in this case, tasty. There are several recipes that I might need to try after a trip to an Asian market to pick up this interesting root.

How about you…Would you ever buy a bat house? Has anyone out there heard of honeyberries or burdock root?

We Break For Farm Shops

25 Nov
by DeannePhoto of Wall Quote at Farm Shop

Remember when we first heard about farm shops?   Francine wrote about the Village Greens Farm Shop in June.  My first visit to a real UK style Farm Shop and Tea Room was on day one of our 13 day trip to visit her earlier this month.

Steve and I arrived in Edinburgh on a Tuesday morning and Francine, Scott, and Luke  met us at the airport.  After a quick visit to the dramatic Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park, they drove us 17 miles south to Whitmuir Farm. Photo One of Whitmuir Farms

We loved eating a wholesome meal in their organic restaurant and tea room and then we bundled up for a self-guided tour of the farm. Photo of Farm Shop Produce  It didn’t take long to get a little Scotland mud on shoes.

After a wander around the farm we shopped in the store and settled back into the tea room for a pudding with another round of tea before we started our drive to our bed and breakfast. For those who live in the US, a pudding is more than just the smooth creamy stuff we eat.  It is more like a rich baked dessert.

The next farm shop we found was on day four of our trip.  We discovered  it as we were driving toward Barnard Castle just outside of the Yorkshire Dales park. 

Photo of Sheep on a Roof

Scott, being an agile driver, quickly turned the car around so we could check to see if we really did see sheep on a roof. The sheep were on the green roof of  Cross Lanes Organic Farm.  They also had a cafe but unfortunately we weren’t hungry yet.  So we just purchased a few items in the store and took lots of pictures.

Photo of Cross Lanes Organic Farm Shop

The third farm shop we visited was called Manor FarmA photo of Manor FarmSince it was Sunday we ordered roast beef dinners.  The food was outstanding and after our meal we meandered around until we found a barn.  Inside there were pigs who played a game of chase the pumpkin after an employee tossed them one.

A photo of pigs playing pumpkin

Have you ever visited a farm shop?   Each one is unique and special because they are real farms which make them even more fun to discover.   If I visit the UK again, I’d plan the whole trip around Farm Shops.

Quick Garden Tour: Early October

8 Oct
by Deanne

Photo of October Garden Tour

In the spirit of our summer-long monthly garden tours, I took a picture the other morning that says a lot about the state of our garden.

Photo Seven Sheets of Tomatoes

Today, Steve decided to bring all the tomatoes inside. Now we have seven baking sheets of tomatoes spread out in various stages of ripeness.

Last year green tomato time didn’t happen until the end of the month. 

Hmm…I wonder if I should make Rescue Me Pie again this year?

Or how about muffins with green tomatoes?

Hmmm….I think I remember Francine mentioning that she made a Green Tomato Soup.

How is your garden doing? Do you have any green tomatoes?

Our Pick Your Own Adventure

6 Oct
by Francine

I’m familiar with pick your own strawberries and pick your own apples, but pick your own kohlrabi and broccoli (!!?) sign me up!  Two weekends ago, we spent an entire afternoon at Garson’s PYO Farm, with 30+ crops you have to drive around to the different fields, but once we found the fields we got lost in rows of sweetcorn, jumped over pumpkins and spent a very long time in the raspberry bushes (there were SO many!!). 

Here’s some photos of what we discovered.  We plan to visit again this weekend to get some more apples and, of course, some pumpkins.  Hopefully next growing season we can rely only on pick your own for all of our produce needs.

A photo of kohlrabiMassive kohlrabi just waiting to be turning into some fresh Kohlslaw.

a photo of the applesSo many tasty English apples.

a photo of pumpkins

A patchwork of pumpkins.

a photo of cabbageThe purple cabbage was very tender.  I made some tasty slaws.  There was also broccoli for picking.  I picked a few bouquets and turned it into an American favourite…broccoli slaw!!

a photo of squashLook what I found…an ambercup squash. I wrote about this squash last fall in my series on squash.

a photo of runner beansI discovered a new bean…the runner bean.  As you can see runner beans are very long, you can eat the same way you standard green beans, cut up, steamed and tossed in butter.  But I decided to cut ours thinly and add to coleslaw for more crunch.

a photo of raspberriesI’d probably still be in the raspberry patch stuffing my face if it was up to me.

A photo of a sunflowerCute bees.

Have you picked your own everything?  Are you still harvesting from your own garden? I’d love to hear.