Monday, August 31, 2009

Michelle is my hero

Michelle Obama and White House Chief Chef Sam Kass tell the story of the White House vegetable garden in this 7-minute video. I guarantee it will make you smile.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Farmer Obama

President Obama says he wants to set up a farmer's market just outside the White House to sell produce from Michelle's garden and give local farmers a venue for selling their food. How cool is that?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Harvesting angst

This is something most every vegetable gardener can relate to, I imagine. Right around now is the time when everything ripens at once. I find myself feeling vaguely oppressed by all the bounty in my garden, even while I revel in it. I recently joined a social network called, and posted a comment that talked about feeling rich when I contemplate my abundant tomatoes (sorry, folks back east).

When it comes to food, I do feel rich. I feel lucky to have land to grow food on. We had friends over for dinner twice last weekend and I loved feeding them meals that were more than 60% homegrown. But I also feel kinda crazed when I look at everything ripening at once. I can only eat so much in a day, and my sweetie can eat even less, owing to her Crohn's disease, which limits her veggie consumption. I've been donating extra food to a local pantry, but what I really want is to stretch the calendar, extend the growing season, so that I can enjoy all this bounty for more than just 6 weeks a year.

Last week Portland Tuv Ha'Aretz hosted a canning and jam making workshop, so I learned the basics of food preservation, and that's one way to extend my harvest. But there's nothing like the taste of a freshly-picked tomato or cucumber. Of course, by the time I start hankering for fresh tomatoes in December and January, I'll be eating the beets and parsnips I planted earlier this month...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Does sustainable food stack up?

Heard this earlier today on NPR's Talk of the Nation. An interesting discussion, worth listening to.

Friday, August 14, 2009

There was a hot time in the old town last night

Last night I went to hear Joel Salatin, of Polyface Farms in Virginia, speak at a benefit for the Hollywood Farmer's Market. Salatin is featured in Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and more recently in the film Food, Inc. (BTW, if you haven't seen the film, go, this minute, and take everyone you know, even if you have to drag them kicking and screaming).

Salatin is a self-described "Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist-farmer," which gives you some idea of his philosophies and approaches to, well, just about everything. His talk was based on food safety and how governmental approaches to it are not only not making our food safer, but are also marginalizing and criminalizing small farmers who raise animals on a non-industrial scale. In other words, farmers who raise pasture-fed beef, pork and poultry, in numbers that are appropriate to what their land can handle, and whose animals are slaughtered locally (sometimes on the farms themselves) and as humanely as possible.

I didn't go to Salatin's lecture expecting to learn anything new; I've read several of his books, including Everything I Want to Do is Illegal, and I also know a bit about this subject from other sources and from my work in the food sustainability world. I went to the lecture to experience Salatin himself (I also hoped it might be a potential networking opportunity, which didn't turn out to be the case, but I did bump into a couple folks I knew). And he was definitely worth the price of admission.

Salatin is, among other things, an entertaining writer, with a love of language that pays homage to his Southern roots. In person he is even more so. I felt like I was in a tent camp revival meeting gettin' some old time religion. He exhorted, he roared, his energy couldn't be contained on the small stage, he overwhelmed the levels on the rather feeble amplification system he was using (that's the radio geek in me coming out, that I would notice such a technical thing). It was a pleasure to hear him trace back the history of our attitudes towards food safety, going back to Pasteur and germ theory (Salatin's redux on Pasteur's approach is that germs are out to get us, so we have to destroy them before they destroy us).

Instead, as Salatin pointed out, we should be focussing our energies on creating environments where these killer bacteria, such as salmonella, E-coli, campylobacter, listeria, etc. etc. can't thrive. In other words, outlaw feedlots and other concentrated animal raising operations that feed animals things they were never supposed to eat and that make them sick (corn, in the case of cows), force animals to live hip deep in their own feces, with no access to the outside (in the case of factory poultry) and no ability to move about freely. If the USDA outlawed these kinds of operations, the proliferation and spread of these dangerous germs would be drastically reduced and our food would be measurably safer. That, along with the myriad ways government bureaucracy sets up obstacles for small farmers who want to raise animals sustainably and in a manner designed for their maximum health (not to mention ours), was the gist of Salatin's talk.

I didn't agree with everything Salatin said. He's a true libertarian as far as his contempt for anything governmental is concerned, and he believes the free market and capitalism are a sufficient corrective to industrial food abuses (He cited Upton Sinclair's The Jungle as an example; after it was published in 1906, sales of meat products dropped by 50%). I'm way too much of a socialist to ever buy into that point of view, and my contempt for capitalism is almost as deep as Salatin's is for government. But it was great to sit in a room with like-minded folks (many of them young farmers) and share a sense of purpose, to renew our individual and collective commitments to raising, buying. eating and advocating for good (and I mean in every sense of the word) food. And it was balm to my spirit to hear Salatin describe that commitment as "noble and righteous." Amen to that.

Tomato porn

I harvested our first heirloom tomato on Wednesday, a colossal and supremely ugly Brandywine. Of course, as every heirloom grower knows, the uglier the tomato, the better it tastes. I don't think the pictures do it justice, in terms of how large it actually was (I served it to friends in a salad for dinner, and two days later am still finishing it), but here you go:

Needless to say, I hope, it was fantastic. I feel for all those folks in the NE whose tomatoes have been destroyed by blight this summer. I hope you can glean some vicarious enjoyment from this one.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Garden report

Today we sowed beets and parsnips, in anticipation of autumn and winter. It's hard to look ahead to cooler temps right now, as we continue into our second week of 90+ degree days (earlier this week it was 106, an almost unheard-of temperature for Portland. It was so hot that I went to bed in a soaking wet shirt and turned the fan on; it was the only way to stay cool enough to sleep). Those of you who think it rains all the time here, think again.

It is HOT. And DRY. Our greens, what's left of them, are pretty wilted and bitter, despite my efforts to water regularly. They just can't stand these extreme temps. Our tomatoes, on the other hand, are loving life right now, and will be sweeter and generally more flavorful when they ripen. We're already eating our Sungolds (we came back from our annual pilgrimage to the Metolius River on July 10 to find a couple already ripe even then), and today we harvested our first Early Girls, which I will have for lunch, along with some of our basil. All I need is to learn how to make homemade mozzarella (I'm told it's not hard) and I can serve a Caprese salad (see below) made entirely of homegrown and homemade stuff.

We have begun harvesting our summer squashes and cukes. A few days ago I took about 10lbs. of pattypans and zukes to the local emergency food pantry; we're at the point where every day yields a few more, and we can't eat them fast enough to keep up. The cukes are deliciously crisp and cold and crunchy. I have resolved to keep up with the watering (I do it all by hand, although I dream of a drip irrigation system someday) so they stay sweet and juicy.

Here are some garden pics:

Sweetie made the bean trellis from some dead bike frames and wheels. The day after she put it up she got up early (around 5:30) and found some idiot trying to steal the frame (one of them used to be a high end desirable bike before it cracked), and she told him he was an idiot for trying to steal a dead frame. He slunk off, humiliated. It was a great moment.

What's doing well this year:

The Copra onions we planted are coming along well, and I look forward to having a great supply for storage this winter.

I put the basil in our main patch (you can see it in front of one of our tomatoes), where it gets full sun all day, instead of in the herb beds next to the house, where it only got half-day sun. It's flourishing.


Summer squashes


Potatoes (we assume, since we haven't dug them up yet, but the plants look good). We planted blue and Yukon golds this year.

What's not doing so well:

The acorn squash we put in doesn't seem to be doing well; it blossoms, but then the blossoms just dry up and die without producing any squashes. I planted this with the intention of giving all the squashes to a food pantry, so it's not a huge loss for me personally, but I'm puzzled by it. Any ideas?

The bush beans we put in were devoured by slugs, and the second round of bush beans we put in to replace the first wave didn't fare much better. The scarlet runners also got eaten a bit, but managed to recover somewhat, although we have fewer plants than we'd hoped.

All you gardeners out there, if you have suggestions for future forays into winter squash and bush beans, please send them along. If you are growing your own, hope your garden is faring well this summer.