Keeping It Green

Maybe I was a little harsh.  My last report on my bi-weekly CSA pick up pointed out the meagerness of some of the offerings.  I’ve been noting all summer the harsh effects of climate change (f/k/a global warming) on home gardeners across the country.  According to an email that I received this week, re-posted below, we are not alone.  Larger local growers, as well, have felt the impact of unpredictable weather this season, which has run the gamut from drought to flooding, and has resulted in various pests brought in on the winds of Irene, blight, rot, increased sick days and low worker morale.  I just wanted to take a minute to say that I do try to give a fair and accurate picture of this – my first – CSA experience, but it doesn’t always capture the whole picture.  This is why I have invited others to tell me their stories, share their experiences, suggest additional alternasources, and, now, why I am forwarding the (very thoughtful) message I received a couple days ago from the organizers of my CSA and the farmers who grow some of the pretty awesome food I’ve been eating this summer.

Recently at a farmers market in Fort Greene, I saw signs from GrowNYC calling for donations to help organic/local farmers whose crops were damaged or wiped out by Hurricane Irene.  Their efforts are still underway.  One of their suggestions for how to help, in addition to direct donations, is to commit to eat locally as much as possible in September (the “locavore challenge”).  I’m encouraging all of you/us to continue this commitment through the end of the year, since it will take more than a month’s effort to help the farmers recover losses from a season screwed up by the environmental mess that we’re in.  Please share your stories here and beyond about what you are doing to participate in an extended locavore challenge (if the Occupy Wall Street protesters aim to make it through the winter, so can we).  Updates ahead on ways I’ve been putting my CSA treats to work.  Please pass along your recipes, suggestions, etc., on where/what/how to advance the local-eating agenda.

Here’s the email….

Chris and Eve have sent an update about the difficulties they’ve experienced this growing season, which I’ve shared below. We’ll be sending everyone an end-of-season survey later on, but if you have any feedback to pass on to the farmer before then, feel free to email the core group at kwtcsa@gmail.com.

Stacy,

On behalf of the KWT CSA core group

From the farmers:


This has been a challenging last couple of months and although we were not wiped out by the hurricane the amount of rain has been a huge issue affecting the quality of many crops.  Not just with organic growers, as conventional farmers in the northeast are experiencing similar challenges and losses.

Under the circumstance we try to stay optimistic about the situation. All seasons are different and rarely are they void of conditions at some time that will have an impact on quality, quantity or diversity.    Farms in the northeast can be impacted by one or more problems like pests, drought, disease, flooding or other issues  outside of the farmers control.   Other farms even 100 miles away may have a totally different growing experience in a season.

I met with Cornell cooperative extension today to seek professional help (as I do throughout the season) regarding three different crop disease issues  and one pest issue tied directly to the wet weather.  They believed the steps that we had taken were sound and accurate given the tools we have under the national organic standards.  I also learned about the vast damage and loss of  crops in our region to conventional farmers who can use chemicals as a tool.  That didn’t make me feel better; I just wished conditions were better.

In conclusion, we are disappointed that we were struck with tomato blight this year,  that we have received almost double our annual rainfall total (most of which in the last month and a half),  that we were hit with damaging hurricane winds and pests and insects that were transported with winds.  What does this mean for crops:

Cracking and rotting of root crops like sweet potatoes, carrots, potatoes and carrots.  Tomato quality and loss due to blight which kills the plant and cracking and rotting due to excessive rain.  This means we have to throw out a lot of produce.  Heavy rain and pooling of water leads to leaf disease on all kale, collards, cabbage, broccoli, head lettuce, beans beets and many more.  In extreme cases plant roots can suffocate leading to the plant wilting to the ground.  That has happened to broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts.  Seedlings that wilt off or get damaged by heavy winds and pounding rains.  Seeding schedules get thrown off because the ground is too wet to work.  Cultivation and weeding schedules are difficult to maintain.  Farm help doesn’t want to work and morale is affected and sick days increase.

These are some of the issues that are a result of the extreme weather we are experiencing.  We don’t like some of the challenges it has created and we feel grateful that it wasn’t worse for us and our csa members.

Thanks,

chris
QUESTION: And you?  What will you do to keep it green?  Go ahead … gimme the dirt!

Grumpy Gardeners – CSA Pick Up #3

Here is the third installment of my CSA update…

The quick and dirty is that, as promised, the stash is getting meatier as the season wears on.  With the exception of some consistently sad-looking arugula and flowers that look like they were imported from the corner store, the wares continue generally to be top notch.  (Note: the goods need to be eaten fast.  I had some canteloupe with blueberries this a.m. that were from the pick up last Wednesday – so eight days in the fridge – and while they hadn’t gone bad, they didn’t have that oomph I’m used t0.)  That said, I find myself leaving the community garden each time feeling like I’ve just made a trip to the local soup kitchen, where I’m the one getting soup.

Here’s you in my shoes, at a typical CSA shares pick-up: You enter the community gardens, usually about 15 minutes after they’ve opened for pick-up (I believe scheduled pick-up time is 4-8 p.m.).  You’re probably one of only two groups of people picking up their shares.  You’ve come fully stocked and responsible, bags and cartons in tow, to save the farmers some much needed containers.  It’s off to a good start, as a fairly peppy lady ticks your name off a list and  sends you in the direction of the tables, arranged in a U-shape.  Your path is to circle around these tables, taking from each of the crates and bins.  On the other side of the table are several people.  From three to five people mill about, evidently on the provider (not purchaser) side, but it’s not clear who they are.  Out of curiosity I asked one day and found out that some of the people are from “CSA” (this is kind of confusing because I thought that “community supported agriculture” consisted just of the farmers and whoever agreed to provide the pick-up site, but there’s a larger organization behind it that I don’t know much about).  Some of the people, I believe, are from the garden that provides the site for the pick up.  It’s not clear who’s from where, and how many where’s there are.  The first visit I made at the beginning of the summer, I arrived several hours early by mistake and was fortunate enough to meet the farmer himself.  Since then, however, I haven’t seen any of the farmers, and haven’t gotten very good answers to the questions I’ve had about where the produce is from (while most of it is from the Garden of Eve, which is the farm associated with my CSA, usually they supplement with fruits/vegetables, etc. from other places).

Starting at the beginning of the u-shaped table, you have various vegetables, most of them green (e.g., lots of squash, usually several kinds of leafy greens such as arugula and kale), sometimes you’ll get lucky and they’ve thrown in some beets.  A piece of paper taped to the front of the bin tells you how much you’re entitled to take (for example, 2 lbs. of squash is typical, or it may specify 1 large or 2 small).  They have a scale there so you can weigh it yourself.  Strangely, they make sure to repeat what’s on the prominently displayed label in front of you, as if you might try to sneak an extra cuke or zuchinni past them.  Rounding the table, there are usually some herbs such as basil or dill.  Again, a piece of paper tells you how much you can take.  The last time I was there, a woman behind the table said that even though it said five stalks, most of them were pretty big and probably counted as two or three stalks each.  She said this as I was putting the first stalk of basil in my bag.  The eyes follow you as you round the corner and are allowed to pick from a selection of flowers (my CSA shares include eggs and flowers – not all do).  Each selection you make is carefully watched by the small crowd on the other side of the table.  They don’t talk.  They just watch.

Although it’s far from hostile, the whole experience is infused with a mildly unfriendly vibe that just isn’t what you expect of farmers and local eaters in general.  [Yes, I refuse to use the word “locavores.”  It makes me think of people eating their neighbors.  Not good eats.]  I think it’s a great alternative to the traditional grocery store, and I’m glad it’s there.  It’s closer than the nearest farmers markets, and so we’ve come to rely on it as a primary source of food this summer.  However, I have several gripes.  First, there seem to be way too many people than are needed to get the job done.  Second, they don’t have name tags and they don’t introduce themselves.  And, third, they are often unable to answer fairly basic questions about how the food was grown, and where it’s from (as mentioned above, this is with respect to the few foods that are not from the Garden of Eve and which appear to have been brought in when GoE’s supply is low or to add variety).  Every so often, there will be someone there who can help with a suggestion on how to cook the food, but they seem to have been instructed to keep the chit-chat to a minimum, and not to smile too much either, and definitely NOT to engage anyone else in conversation.  In truth, the people working the stand seem more like they’re doing community service in orange suits than helping people who paid good (yes, very good) money to get fresh fruits and vegetables that another person/s worked hard (yes, very hard) to grow.

The first couple visits I either didn’t notice the grumbly atmosphere or was too happy about getting a great variety of good, fresh food to pay it any mind.  This last time, however, I brought my partner and afterward was asked, sarcasm unbridled, “are they always that cheery?”  I finally had to admit that it was not just my imagination and that, at least when they’re standing there, these are not happy people, for whatever reason – time of day, punishing heat (granted, they all stand underneath a tent as we “shoppers” stand outside it in the sun to collect our goods), or some other unseen but definitely felt politics boiling beneath the surface.  It’s exhausting each time I go there to try to get a conversation going about gardening or food or any topic for that matter.  It’s a bit of a buzz kill on what should be a rather peppy experience.  I tend to get there early enough, usually within the first hour scheduled for pick up, so it shouldn’t be that they’ve been there too long.  Besides, this is all about gardening … from the food coming in from Garden of Eve to the pick up being hosted at the community gardens.  It’s about good food and perky plants, for pete’s sake.  Who brought in the dark cloud?

Bringing home my stash after visits like this (where my efforts to engage are met with little more than grunts and curious stares) reminds me of one of the better pieces of advice I gave my (now grown) daughter: don’t eat the food of a pissed-off cook.  People whose hands are on food should never transfer crappy energy.  The warning was solid advice, for more reasons than one.

Mystery Mushroom Poopy Plant Alien Invading Ruthless Abductor

So this is what I saw upon opening my eyes after several days of nothing.  I was in the yard, inspecting the mysterious beast that had been the object of my obsession since I first saw it, when the next thing I knew, I was passing out.  I fell to the ground, and all the rest is black.  I can’t remember it.  I don’t know what happened, or where I was.  All I remember is wearing an ill-fitting wig, swimming through some post-apocalyptic swampy water, briefly visiting the Vatican only to be quietly shooed away from the gates, then finally landing in an interview with a very severe suit-bound woman.  I couldn’t put the words right to satisfy her questions and the next thing I knew, here I was lying on the ground, face to … uh, face with my weird little plant.  It was whispering something to me when with a “poof” it suddenly disappeared.  Now you know, I’ve been doing daily posts since I started this blog almost two months ago.  My recent lapse (by a day?  two??) had nothing to do with my mother’s visit, or her insistence of cleaning my house and my following her cleaning up after her, putting things back from where she moved them, or any of that stuff.  (She left this morning, shortly after I came to in the back yard).  You all do know, don’t you, that it would take nothing short of being abducted by random, wild, scary mystery mushrooms to make me miss a day of checking in with you.  Heeeeeyyy, wait a minute.  It’s all starting to come back to me …
 

QUESTION: please send pics of a plant you want to ID.  This one remains a mystery.  Potent, though.

This Week My Honey”s Lavender

Ah, New York, my sweet.  What’s not to love?

My partner started making ice cream this summer (poor me, right?).  The first stash from the CSA had some lovely lavender that constituted the flowers portion of our pick up.  All I had to do was stick it in the fridge instead of a vase, and the next thing I knew, voila, dessert!  This last visit to the CSA landed me some gorgeous deep purple blueberries now in the icebox waiting for the fairy dairymother to whisk them away.  So many reason to love New York this week.

But with some good news comes some bad.  Heard in the media-stream this week is that grocery stores are pushing back on consumers’ increased use of coupons with greater restrictions on coupon use.  The whole CSA experience, while a wonderful experience, may still not be the best value for folks looking to disrupt their regular food sourcing.  I’m still wanting to do a comparison of the options, from the traditional grocery store to home gardens to farmers markets and foraging.  While I can understand a company’s need to plug the bucket, so to speak, now might not be the best time to kick the consumer where it counts, considering that our flirtation with alternasourcing seems to be deepening into a more serious relationship.  Grocery stores may have even more competition ahead from innovations to their traditional model by store owners starting to think outside the box (Austin is expected to have the first packaging-free grocery store in the near future).

As for me, I will continue to report on my CSA experience, and hope that someone takes me up on my invitation to compare theirs (looking for someone signed up in the City with a different CSA, and someone from outside NY – maybe one of my Madison friends?).  (I am doing the full half-share, which means I pick up a full share – vegetables, fruit, eggs, flowers – every other week @ $550 for 24 weeks, which works out to be about $45.00 every pick-up, but would like to do a comparison with anyone doing a CSA this summer, regardless of what you’re signed up for).  I’m also looking to hear more on another …

QUESTION: how have your food collection and sourcing habits changed?  What percentage of your meals comes from sources other than the traditional grocery store?  Are you getting any staples from your garden?  Of the home gardeners, do many of you can to make your stash last after the season’s over?  How many of you are keeping the garden going indoors over the winter?  What have you got growing indoors after season?  Anyone else out there who’s getting their groceries outside the box?  Of those who forage, would you say that you’ve incorporated the wild edibles onto your every day plate?   With apologies to any skin-thinned freegans, have we got any garbage eaters out there?  Any other urban foraging?  Anything I’m leaving out?   Go ahead …  gimme the dirt!

CSA Update and Request for Proposals

Twas yummy.  I put the CSA goods to work tonight.  Flatbush Co-op provided the chicken (farm-raised, and all the other good stuff) and lemon but the other part of that dish, the rosemary came just a couple steps from my door, and my favorite farmers from Garden of Eve in Riverhead, NY, grew the zuchini, yellow squash, bok choy and sugar snap peas that created the side accompaniment.  They also harvested half the red leaf lettuce for the salad (the rest came from apple boxes in the backyard), as well as the radishes I sliced for the side.  And the thyme that peppered the honey mustard vinaigrette was plucked from a container out front.   My mom is visiting from Wisconsin.  She’s been coming to visit on and off for the twelve years I’ve been living here and now that I’m older, we tend to spend more time catching up here in my cozy corner of Brooklyn rather than running the city streets and getting ourselves kicked out of bars (yes, that really happened).  So tonight we opted for a late dinner topped off with a bottle of Gruner Veltliner from this strange little wine store I passed after leaving the co-op.

My mom has lupus, and I try to be especially mindful of what we’re eating when she’s here.  There’s a lupus diet I’m loosely familiar with, one that I think would boost the health of probably anyone, whether or not they suffer from a disease.  It recommends cutting out the whites: flour, sugar, wheat, rice.  So tonight we opted for brown rice (which is my usual fare anyway).  And when she asked me to pick up a loaf of bread, I chose spelt.  (I still haven’t pointed this out to her and, since I’ve not yet heard any complaint, I’m assuming the switch has gone unnoticed).  But back to gardening…

I’m not planning on introducing much new to my garden.  At the beginning of the season, my front yard was nearly unadorned, with just a few mature hostas forming a border to the side of the front yard.  It now boasts those same hostas, spread out so that the border outlines the front of the yard where it’s interspersed with day lilies from Wisconsin.  Just beyond that is my native plant garden (the black-eyed susan bloomed!!!), along with some pumpkins and wild ginger that are really beginning to feel at home.  I also have a couple container plants going – my own cucumbers in a homemade self-watering container are ecstatic – just had to build a trellis for them to scale, and a new hosta that was a birthday present from a dear friend is starting to settle in, and has her own perfect little spot in the partial sun.  And on and on.  All that said, I still have a little room and a teensy bit of energy left for maybe one more newbie.  I’m definitely more inclined at this point to add something that can join a party in my tummy later, and if it’s native and can keep working through the winter, all the better.  As for container or ground, I could do either but would probably lean more toward container.  There’s plenty of sun-estate left, so that’s not an issue.  Bet you can guess my

QUESTION: what should be the final addition to my garden this summer?  What are you growing right now that has made you the most happy?  The most full?  What have you got going that you might not grow again?  Who’s your superstar and who will be chopped?  It’s okay.  Not every plant is for every person , and I’m sure they know that or they wouldn’t ever wilt on us.  You won’t hurt their feelings.  You can tell me.  Go ahead … gimme the dirt!

What I Do Right, Wrong and Delusionally

Three Things I’ve Learned I Can Live Without and The Earth Is Better For It:

– my car

– foreign fruit

– blood diamonds

Three Things My Descendants Will Just Have To Hate Me For:

– flushing too much

– my Post-its addiction

– my Kindle resistance

Three Things I Think I Do Right That Probably Just Fucks Things Up

– buying and using Foodtown reusable bags made of polpropylene

recycling

– blogging

Rising Food Prices: Don’t Have a Catniption – Stick That Grocery Bill Where the Sun Don’t Shine

Hi all you fellow revelers,
I had a GREAT time on the wild edibles tour in Prospect Park, Brooklyn on Saturday with Wildman Steve Brill (who, btw, prefers to be called, simply, Wildman … when you have a criminal record concerning eating dandelions, who’s gonna call you anything else?).  That aside, I also met some great folks and fellow gardeners, including Ralph, who posted this comment today.  I’m still working with the Word Press format and trying to figure out, among other things, how to not have all these great comments hidden.  Until then, I thought I’d excerpt some of it here, including some comments on culinary herbs and an inventive way to stick it  da man (and cut your grocery bill by a scallion) …
Ralph ⋅  JUNE 19, 2011 AT 10:10 AM  …. I restarted gardening a few years back starting with containers and slowly reclaimed about a third of my back yard to plant. The rest is just doing it’s own thing for now. Most of what I’ve been able to use from the yard so far is herbs. Basil, mint, scallions/ bunching onions, sage, catnip, arugula, parsley, red clover, and oregano which is still too small to use. About all I’ve used them for is to add into salads. Small strawberries which survived outside through the winter go into salads which give a nice little burst of flavor in your mouth.

The scallions I started from seeds last year came back after being outside all winter. The ones inside grew all winter long on a window sill. A few of the outside ones grew flowers this year and I got some seeds from them. A quick way to get a few growing without the seeds is buy a bunch of organic scallions in the store. Pick a bunch with the largest roots still on that look healthy. Cut the tops off so you have the roots and bulb with about an inch or two of stalk to stick out of the soil when you plant them. You can plant them close together since they grow straight up. Within a couple days you will be able to see the growth, and soon after a new shoot will appear. I use the shoots rather than pulling up the whole thing to use the bulbs. I cut the largest shoots off the ones with the most shoots and they just keep growing back. I believe that like onions they help keep bugs away too. For a dollar or so invested you can have fresh scallions for over a year.

  • Hey, thanks for posting that. There’s a lot of good information in here I’m planning on putting quickly to use. A couple follow up questions: how did you come to find out about catnip? I saw somewhere recently that humans may like it too but I never considered eating kitty food before.  Doesn’t it make them high?  You know that leads me, of course, to the question … how’s the taste on a scale of 1 to 11?  How did you decide to start growing catnip?  Is it a cat magnet? (I have a neighbor cat that likes to saunter through my herbs when my dog is either away on a date (she has a lively social life) or when she’s in the basement being lazy.  I’ve been wondering how to keep the feline away – maybe distract her with some kitty cannabis?).

    Second question: what a great idea for the scallions! Where do you do your grocery shopping? Is there a market (super or green) you’d recommend for this kind of thing?

    Last question/comment: hope you don’t mind I find this useful enough I want to share with more folks — I’m making it my daily comment and inviting some feedback on the above and the following ….

    QUESTION: what other ways do we know of to extend the usefulness of groceries purchased in a supermarket, green market, CSA, or other? In other words, does anyone have more suggestions to add to Ralph’s excellent suggestions for getting the most of your scallions? What are some other ways to keep the grocery list, bill and god-awful end of the day visits short?  Hey, maybe we could use the bill for compost!!  Think that’s soy-based dye they’re using?  Go ahead … gimme the dirt!

Just Thinking Bout My Dad

and how when we were little he would lead us in raking leaves, or splitting wood, or some other way he’d show he cared about the earth and everything in it.  thanks Dad.

QUESTION: what memories do you have of you and your pops doing earthy things?

My Stash

20110618-093119.jpg

Been foraging today, and have plans for much yumminess tomorrow. Took the Wildman Steve Brill tour in Prospect Park today, and getting ready for Father’s Day dinner tomorrow. In addition to smoked beef ribs my partner will be preparing, I’ll be composing an herb and wild mustard greens salad.

QUESTION: have you ever prepared a dish using wild edibles? Any favorites?  Suggestions?  What to dos?  What nots?