Friday, May 25, 2012

What a difference a year makes

Everything in the garden is different this year.

A relatively dry winter - except for a sopping wet March - means that cool weather things are fading fast.  I found one bud on the peas - they put out like crazy, and don't appear to be bouncing back to bloom some more, even though the weather has been a little cooler the last couple of weeks.

On the other hand, I got overly enthusiastic and started my tomatoes inside too early, aided by a better insulated greenhouse window and a new heating mat.  So - I put them in the ground early.  And three varieties - the Rutgers, the Orange King, and the cherry - have set fruit!  I may have tomatoes in July (if we don't get lots of June gloom) instead of a few teasers in August and no real production until Labor Day like last year.

I've gotten a few reports from those with whom I shared my plants, too, and they are pleased.  I might become a hero, when, alas, it is really just our very variable weather.

I'm having to water a couple of areas that need some digging so I can plant my pole beans.   The only plants left on the potting bench at home are winter squash - to go in within the week - and the eggplant, which will go in when the garlic comes out - and that will probably be early this year, too.  It's looking fat and fine.  

The sage garden I planted around our sign is coming along and beginning to look pretty good.   But the best photo I took yesterday is of the tricolor culinary sage in my plot.  Between the sign planting and my plot I now have nine (9) species and/or varieties of perennial sage.   I must be craving sagacity.

climate change on the farm

I don't listen to the News Hour on PBS much anymore, because their bias seems obvious, sponsored as they are by agrichemical companies telling lies.   But this item caught my attention:

They want to hear from farmers about how they are experiencing and adapting to climate change.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Valuable pictures

The Union of Concerned Scientists Plant the Plate infographic is pretty nifty.  You can download it here, though I have pasted it in below.

It explains how we might grow enough fruit and vegetables in this country to meet the needs of people for good health.

I thought it was just Sonoma County where we had so little acreage in fruit and vegetables.   Not so - it's just that our mono-crop is grapes, not wheat or corn or soy or rice.  And, of course, the grapes are not eaten as fruit!

The story in pictures.  That last frame identifies where our Farm Bill advocacy needs to be.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The results are in

I'm looking at a couple of recent surveys today.

One, by the International Food Information Council,, surveyed 1000 Americans (not so international) on their shopping, eating and exercise habits.  Many are trying to lose weight, many find gathering and understanding nutritional information difficult.

What did surprise me was the percentage (about 2/3) who had considered sustainability in their food choices in the past year.   Turns out, though, that sustainability loses to other factors when push comes to shove.
Taste and price drive actual choices.
(% Rating 4 to 5 on 5-point scale, from “No impact” to “A great impact”)

Taste  87%
Price  73%
Healthfulness  61%
Convenience  53%
Sustainability  35%
Healthfulness and sustainability increase in importance for older folks (65 and up).

Another interesting factoid is that most people wrongly estimate the number of calories they need, with almost half under estimating.   Then why are we all so fat?   Is it because we also underestimate portion sizes?   The survey didn't give any clues to this, but maybe there are some in the full report, which I will read soon.

The recent Kellogg foundation survey
says just what the link above indicates.  Three quarters of us agree with the idea of doubling SNAP or CalFresh value at farmers' markets.  93% of us think it's important that all have equal access to fresh produce.

And consider this from the press release:

Nearly 90 percent of those surveyed said they would pay $1.50 more each month for produce to guarantee fair wages for the people picking fruits and vegetables. According to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, such a raise would increase the pay of a farmworker making $10,000 a year to $14,000, which would be above the poverty line.
Americans also support their local growers. More than 80 percent strongly or partly agreed that Washington, D.C., should shift its support toward smaller, local fruit and vegetable farmers and away from large farm businesses. Nearly 90 percent strongly or partly agreed they would pay more for produce if that money stayed in the community.
Who did they survey, I wonder?   And where are all these people who are so interested in food system justice?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Napa Valley of Milk?

I get the Organic Valley spam blast.   It used to occasionally have coupons, but now you have to do Facebook tricks to get coupons, and I refuse to have commercial interactions on FB.   Sometimes it had recipes.   Now it's mostly promo.   Still, they are a co-op, which is a good thing.

Today's blast touted their new Grassmilk, from Humboldt County.  I quote:

The Napa Valley of MilkLike single-vineyard wines or artisanal chocolate, the taste of Grassmilk is a result of where the cows live and what they eat: The Northern California coastal plain. Giant redwoods stand sentinel between the Pacific Ocean and the lush pastures where Grassmilk cows dine. 

and I'm thinking perhaps the Sonoma Valley of cheese?  except we are pretty cheese-y ourselves, with pastured cows - and so are Del Norte and Marin.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Silent Spring

Not that kind of silent spring - but my spring silence on this blog.   Apparently I've been so busy with my own food system that I haven't posted anything here.

For Earth Day I repackaged cucumber and zucchini seeds and gave them away at church.  I also had about 25 plants I had started from seed.   Mostly tomatoes, but a few peppers and herbs, too.   The idea is that people will bring some of their yield, and then we'll have a canning class or two.   A learning opportunity, moving forward the tradition of preserving among members of our congregation as some of the oldsters die.  We'll also  generate some goods for the annual sale around Thanksgiving.    One of our members is taking a master preserving class in another county, and we are looking for the appropriate equipment for the parish kitchen.

I've also been busy in the garden.   The greens that wintered over are bolting and coming out.   Today's task is to haul them to a spot at the edge of the garden where I will begin a new compost pile.  Tomatoes and peppers are beginning to go in.  Meanwhile I am harvesting artichokes, peas, leaf lettuce and baby turnips.

My artichoke has been quite prolific.   I've steamed a lot, and had one for lunch most days.  I gave a lot away, but now am down to the babies.  These last small ones for this year will be stripped down and sauteed rather than steamed.   I must say, though, that the plant is a space hog, and kind of a snail Hilton, so it may come out next year and be replaced by other perennials, perhaps with an intervening planting of legumes.  

At home I still have more peppers and eggplant in the nursery.  Squashes are sprouting.   There are spots for several winter squash in my plot; the summer squash, eggplant, and additional peppers will go in when the peas are spent and the garlic is harvested.  Oh - and I'm going to get some new poles for pole beans - 3 teepees this year, both green and shell.

Sometimes I marvel at how much goes on in my little plot.    

Tomato Longings - May food of the month

Here's what I wrote for Trinity's newsletter this month:

I don’t know about you, but once the tomato plants are ready to go in the ground, I start salivating for a vine-ripened tomato.   I have to keep reminding myself, though, that it’s usually sometime in July, or in cool summers even later, before I get one from my own Sonoma County garden.   And it’s summer’s end before my picking basket feels the full weight of seasonal bounty.  

When I looked in my freezer and cupboard a few days ago, I realized supplies were low from last summer’s preserving.  This is the season when I sometimes turn to canned tomatoes; and we can assume that our hungry neighbors do, too.

So - May’s food of the month is CANNED TOMATOES & TOMATO SAUCE.

What’s in a can?  Well, it’s sometimes hard to tell, but it is often true that the flavor of canned tomatoes is better than the out of season tomatoes on sale at this time of year.  They have been bred to endure long bumpy trips and gassed into redness.

Did you know you can boost the flavor of canned whole tomatoes by roasting them, just as you would fresh?  Drain a couple of 28 ounces cans, reserving the liquid for another use if you like.  Put the tomatoes in a roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil.  Roast at 375 degrees for 40 minutes or more, until they begin to darken and shrink some.   These are great for soups, stews and sauces.

Reading the labels will tell us if the tomatoes inside the can were grown organically, and how much salt has been added: but it’s tricky to tell where the tomatoes were grown.  Labels tell the country of origin, and where the distributor is located, but not where produce comes from. We can make a guess, though, because 94% of canned tomatoes from the USA are from California. Our own UC Davis leads the way in commercial tomato production research.  

The other thing labels don’t reveal is how the workers who tended the tomatoes and picked them and got them into the can were treated and compensated.   Some of the worst cases of abuse of agricultural workers in this country have occurred in tomato fields.   Activists are working toward domestic standards for Fair Trade, to parallel those we have internationally for coffee, tea, cocoa, and other crops.   Stay tuned.