Tag Archives: sustainability

A Visit to Moonstone Farm

21 Jun
by Deanne

A few years before we owned a restaurant, I facilitated a business meeting at a coffee shop called Java River in Montevideo, MN. After the meeting, the client encouraged me to come downstairs and enjoy lunch. I learned that the coffee shop served locally raised grass fed beef from a farm called Moonstone.

I’m not sure why that random fact stuck in my mind, but perhaps it’s because Steve‘s always been interested in feeding cattle on grass because during his previous career as a cattle buyer he’d grown a little uncomfortable with the way the cattle business has boomed and grown.

Recently I remembered Moonstone and when I looked up the farm I discovered that they have a “farm stay” element to their business, which is modeled after the owners’ experience with agritourism in Europe.

The time seemed right for us to go and learn more about their operation. We learned that they have interns, something we’d like to consider incorporating into our growing and evolving restaurant operation.

A photo of our breakfastOur accommodation was a very sweet one room cottage that has been re-purposed from its former life as a brooder house. Our breakfast was a great display of their farm’s abundance. We had elderberries on our melons, farm fresh eggs, and pear juice from last year’s harvest.

After breakfast we took a walk through the woods with one of the owners, Audrey, who is a student and teacher of holistic management and permaculture design.  She showed us the progress they are making in transforming a patch of forest on their land to an edible and sustainable forest.

Before we left we stopped in their farm store and picked up some items that will soon be showing up in our FarmerChef recipes.

Have you ever stayed at a farm for a short get away or vacation?


Raised Beds

17 Apr
by Deanne

A photo of the raised bed constructionSince Steve constructed raised beds last summer, I’ve been noticing more and more of them next to restaurants, in home gardens and even in River Cottage episodes.  Their popularity made me wonder, what’s the draw to constructing raised beds?  Since I’m not the gardener of the family, I turned to internet research to find out more.

Raised beds are like big square wooden sandboxes with no bottoms…forgive my crude simile, avid gardeners.  The raised bed is filled with soil that is often more nutrient rich than the native soil of the area.  When it’s time to plant, the plants are placed much closer to one another. This is done so that as they grow they form a dense ecosystem in which it is harder for weeds to grow.  When it comes time for getting rid of the inevitable weeds, the gardener can do so without trampling or compacting the roots of the growing plants, which is something that often happens in a traditional row garden bed.

A photo of the planning sketchSteve decided to implement raised beds after reading about Square Foot Gardening.  He chose to make the raised beds 4′ by 4′ and to construct them out of 2′ by 12′ untreated lumber so as to not contaminate the soil with any chemicals.  So far the raised beds have allowed for easy planting, tending and picking since all the plants are easily within reach.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall writes about the ease in which raised beds can be prepared for the next growing season in The River Cottage Year, “If you can avoid soil compacting for the whole growing season, and keep the bed relatively weed-free, then the only digging necessary in preparation for the next season is to mix in a hefty does of well rotted compost or animal muck.” About a month ago, Steve mixed in some animal muck courtesy of some local horses…it should nicely nourish the soil for this year’s planting.

Have you noticed raised beds in your area?  Are you a raised bed gardener or considering becoming one?

Southern SAWG Conference 2012: Little Rock, Arkansas

21 Feb
by Deanne

 When Steve and I worked for corporations, we often attended conferences, each in our own professional areas: me in training and development and Steve in production agriculture or beef production. I like conferences because I enjoy networking with others in my field. Steve didn’t really like them because he would have rather been at home with me and the kids(…what a nice guy.)

Now that we have a new profession and we’re working together, we decided to make the first week of our winter vacation a learning vacation by driving to Little Rock, Arkansas to attend a sustainable farming conference. We had hoped to attend a pre-conference session by a somewhat famous urban farmer from Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Will Allen. Unfortunately his hands-on session was sold out.

A photo of me helping in a school gardenInstead of putting our hands in the soil and learning about worms, we went on a tour of two community/school gardens near Little Rock. We put our backs into it and learned how to make a French Intensive row for planting at a school that is part of the Delta Garden Study with FoodCorps and the Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

 Steve did attend Will Allens breakout session and was impressed with his energy and passion for being able to take any surface, even asphalt, and grow things.  His ability to grow food anywhere relates to his ability to make excellent compost. This session made us wonder if we could grow crops on our parking lot.

During the two day conference Steve was drawn to attend sessions focused on the operations of growing food. I was drawn like a magnet to sessions based on food access, food hubs, and restaurant/farm partnerships. So even though we were together, we went our separate ways.

A map of the confernce attendees

We have noticed before that when we go to conferences we feel a bit overwhelmed at the time and don’t really feel like we learn anything new. I think it comes from being introverts. We both need time by ourselves to process information.

Now that we have been home for about a month, we can say that what we gained most is a commitment and new-found confidence about the steps were are taking to transform our business from a traditional restaurant into a food establishment that strives to educate as well and feed our hungry customers.


The White House Kitchen Garden

30 Dec

This article has some great information about the First Lady’s garden and its somewhat-recently installed hoop houses.

This garden is every cook/gardener’s dream…there are fresh ingredients year round (thanks to the hoop houses), a third of the harvest is donated to a local food bank and it provides an outdoor classroom to help kids and (and adults) understand the importance and simplicity of growing their own food.

Have you ever grown anything in a hoop house? It sounds like an excellent way to keep cool weather crops on your plate all winter long.

Menu Trends for 2012

13 Dec

A photo of chickensGood news for those of us who hope for real local food when we eat out…

Last week, The National Restaurant Association surveyed 1800 chefs to determine the top trends in the restaurant industry for the upcoming year. A major trend identified for 2012 is local and sustainable food: yeah for real local food! 

Here are the ten upcoming trends, along with some photos taken during our culinary travel adventures.

Photo of apples1. Locally sourced meats and seafood

2. Locally grown produce

3. Healthful kids’ meals

4. Hyper-local items (food grown very locally: the restaurant’s own garden/farm or a community garden)

5. Sustainability as a culinary theme

6. Children’s nutrition as a culinary theme

7. Gluten-free/food allergy-conscious itemsPhoto of hyper local salad

8. Locally produced wine and beer

9. Sustainable seafood

10. Whole grain items in kids’ mealsPhoto of local distillery

Which trend are you most looking forward to? 

(Francine is looking forward to grass fed, locally raised meat and Deanne is looking forward to fresh, in season berries.)

Have you noticed any of these trends in your area or in your adventures?A photo of Vermont's Fresh Network

Food Day 2011

24 Oct
by Deanne

Food Day 2011Today we celebrated Food Day. According the information on their website, Food Day “seeks to bring together Americans from all walks of life—parents, teachers, and students; health professionals, community organizers, and local officials; chefs, school lunch providers, and eaters of all stripes—to push for healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way.”  The goal is to “create thousands of events in homes, schools, churches, farmers markets, city halls, and state capitals.”

Our restaurant was closed today, but Francine and I ate at a locally sourced coffee house for lunch, shopped at a local food co-op and then came home to harvest some lettuce from the raised beds for dinner. We were inspired by this Chopped Salad recipe by Jaime Oliver. He invited us to get creative. We did! We chopped up some green tomatoes from our two bucketfuls as well as a green pepper that another gardening customer gave us and a few Roma tomatoes from another gardener.  (We’re thankful that we know so many gardeners!)

How about you, did you do anything to celebrate Food Day?

Wise Acre Eatery: Minneapolis, MN

19 Oct
by Deanne

Wise Acre Eatery: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Steve and I visited Tangletown Gardens, a garden center in Minneapolis, this summer.  Their website states, “We’ve created an oasis that is tranquil, yet intoxicating — a place of inspirationA photo of Wise Acre Eatery's Patio every day of the year.”  We agree, the garden center was lush and expertly designed.  We also read on their website that they had recently opened a restaurant, so we walked over to Wise Acre Eatery.

It was a hot weekday afternoon and Wise Acre was open and bustling. As we walked towards the restaurant, I noticed the neatly planted flowers and large pots overflowing with colorful blooms. The property used to be a gas station.  Its former life is noticeable in the two open glass garage doors, which allow diners to spill out onto the patio and enjoy the MN summer sun.

Review:  (See Real Local Cooking’s criteria.)A photo of the Wise Acre salad
Localness: 4.5

This restaurant sources its ingredients from its own farm in Plato, MN, which is about 45 miles from Minneapolis (directions to the farm are provided on their website). What we read about the restaurant before visiting matched the food and atmosphere we encountered. You can find menus on their website, which is always nice so that you can think about what you’d like to try before visiting.  Although they don’t mention that they serve seasonal fare, a quick glance at the online lunch menu lists items like a Shades of Autumn salad, which isn’t something that was offered when I visited in July.

Flavor: 3

The two items we ordered, the Wise Acre: a salad with smoked sausage and a Deli sandwich served with wild rice slaw and kwik pickles, sounded appealing on the menu but didn’t wow us as we ate them.  The ingredients were top notch, but we didn’t feel that they were used in creative and flavorful ways.  Since the restaurant recently opened, there is much room for growth and improvement in this area. (As restaurant owners, we know it can take time.)

Pleasant surprise: YESA photo of our Dessert

Dessert was our surprise. We don’t always order dessert but since it was my birthday we celebrated by sharing a lovely little treat of frozen vanilla custard with a rhubarb caramel topping. It was just the right kind of sweet and was served in a clear glass dish.

Also the restroom was pleasant. I know it might sound odd, but ever since I was a little girl, I’ve enjoyed visiting restaurant restrooms. Restrooms can tell you whether the owners or managers care about keeping the place clean and tidy. At Wise Acre, there were fluffy white terry cloth towels rolled up in an interesting wooden bowl. This may or may not be more sustainable than paper towels. Perhaps I should consult that book I paged through awhile back, How Bad Are Bananas?: the Carbon Footprint of Everything by Mike Berners-Lee.

Comfort + Coziness =the C factor: 5

This place had a number of interesting touches. I liked how the sandwich was wrapped in paper and tied up with string. I also liked seeing milk in glass bottles for sale in the display case as we walked in. ThoseA photo of Sandwich and Slaw kinds of things  make me feel comfortable.  On top of that, the host was very friendly and welcoming.

However, when thinking sustainable restaurant practices, a paper-wrapped deli sandwich that is not being taken out may not be the ideal presentation.

Overall Rating: 12.5+

If you ever travel to Minneapolis, you probably won’t stumble upon this restaurant and garden center because they are in a residential neighborhood, not near hotels or major businesses attractions; however, they are worth seeking out with your GPS. They aren’t too far from the airport, so if you have a few hours to spend before catching your flight, you could enjoy a seasonal meal in a comfortable restaurant and then wander across the street to explore Tangletown Gardens. Their website states that they are open all winter.  It would be wonderful to visit the lush garden center when the Minnesota winter serves up chilliness, with a side of white and gray for a solid 5 months.  (Although once again referring to How Bad Are Bananas?, greenhouses and flights have very high footprints [*sigh*…things are complicated and highly intertwined in today’s world]…but for all you banana lovers, you may be glad to know that bananas aren’t too bad after all, according to the book.)

Have you visited Wise Acre? We’d love to hear about your experience.  What things make you feel comfortable+cozy when dining out?

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