Green – Mean – Cuisine
Its 1 pm and already 76º outside. The South is getting their summer early apparently. If you believe in climate change or not it doesn’t change the fact that its unseasonably warm at this time of the year & since the Mayans ended their calendar in 2012, why not take a look at a couple survival tactics, starting right here in your spring/early summer garden – 2012 style. If you are a ‘profesh’ hobby gardener or venturing from the occasional house plant into a more daring territory – the outside, here are a couple ideas.
If you didn’t make it to the ALFI Fruit Tree sales earlier this year (Atlantans), its not too late to pick up a berry, vine or any other fruit tree you might enjoy. I chose a black berry bush since it doesn’t require another bush for cross pollination, ‘just’ bees. So far the plant seems happy.
Pick out a few different soils and see which one work best for your garden environment. I usually go with Farmer D organic compost but in this case I was far from a Whole Foods & thought why not opt for Whitney Gardens instead of Miracle Grow. It reminded me of Whitney Houston but mainly I like to diversify when it comes to buying different brands rather than going for the dominant brand on the market.
Get a bird feeder – with birds currently migrating you might attract a few interesting species. I am a Finch fan & got Finch specific food, the rain has been keeping them away, well & perhaps the shady, hidden location of my garden.
Pick out your favorite plants. What a no-brainer right?! Don’t just select for cooking, this baby lavender can be used in a soothing eye mask or bath water as well.
Don’t be shy or slow – if you see something on the side of the road, pick it up. It’s free or as the saying goes: One man’s trash is another (wo)man’s treasure. How do you think I got this giant orange plastic beaut’?!
Get your grill ready for making your summer even more awesome with your friends and neighbors. In the mean time find a cover to keep the rust away during the rainy season. Be inventive – use what you got & save your hard earned bucks. I used the packaging from a pillow top mattress cover for instance.
Finally, invest in a solar powered outdoor light – it won’t increase your power bill plus gives your garden the 21st century update to go with the ancient knowledge of using coffee grinds & kitchen scraps to fertilize your plants.
~ Live well & Be merry ~
Many Fold Farm is located in Palmetto, Georgia in a beautiful country side with a total of 101 acres, 28 acres of which are dedicated to pasture. Rebecca & Ross Williams have run their farm near Fayetteville for about three years. Mostly East Friesian sheep are making up the herd at Many Fold Farm, along with 80-150 chickens, 150 adult sheep and their 75-80 (and more every day) lambs that get moved to a different field once a day.
The husband & wife team are in full swing of their lambing season at Many Fold Farm. They are getting ready to start a sheep creamery this summer, inevitably kicking the work load up a notch with milking the sheep every two to three hours.
A typical day starts out by feeding the chickens and moving the sheep. Emergency tasks arise as with any business, in this instance a waterline busted in one of the fields & needed to be fixed.
One of their biggest challenges is finding and connecting to the right vet that’s accessible not necessarily in the same area, although preferred but that could even be reached via skype while out on the field.
Farmer Ross Williams went to Warren Wilson College, right outside of Asheville North Carolina, a work college that in addition to class room studies offers 15 hours of work studies out on the farm. Farmer Rebecca’s family has had a garden ever since she can remember and she since then has jumped right in and learned everything she knows out on the field.
The farming system they incorporate can be described as grass based system, with some stacking of different type of life stock in a rotational grass zone. The grazing follows a pattern of disturb and then rest. First disturbing an area by letting sheep graze, followed by a rest period of many weeks or months to help maximize the grass and growing.
Sheep have their very own species specific characteristics and associated prejudices. What some people may mistake as meek or weak, sheep farmers call a timid curiosity. They are quiet animals that are very smart in their own way. Although smart as individuals, Farmer Ross tells me, they are really smart as a whole. Sheep, true hurt animals, operate as a unit when they come together.
What I found most intriguing besides the very calming ambiance produced by the chewing noise of the sheep grazing, is that the milk sheep produce is very rich in property, perfectly suited for certain skin type products and cheeses that I am only imagining to taste as of now. I will certainly check back once the creamery is in place and am looking forward to more Many Fold Farm goodness.
The very definition of the verb (to) coexist is to exist together or at the same time; also to live in peace with each other especially as a matter of policy. Our local food system coexists next to the dominant industrialized food production system in part as a matter of policy. This becomes especially apparent as I pass traditional livestock farm land, some of which has been foreclosed on or is for sale, on my way to Darby Farms in Good Hope, Georgia. The weather is beautiful, with temperatures again in the upper 60s. I couldn’t have wished for a better day. In the driveway, I am greeted by a couple of chickens and a curious black cat. Daniel Dover, owner and operator of Darby Farms is close to follow.
The farm is in its last weeks of off-season with preparations taking place for the 9 month on-cycle starting at the end of February/ beginning of March, Daniel Dover explains. He uses the three months off to adapt his malleable farming system and also to switch into a different mode. “Everything has its season”, Daniel tells me,” pastured poultry has its season really at the beginning of March.” The months prior, the weather is simply too crazy for laying hens. The fluctuations of temperatures and conditions stress them out. They tend to eat more without gaining much weight.
A lot of people may mistake farming for a constant overload of strenuous work. Darby Farms does run on a management intensive farming system but with more flexibility and a less rigid approach. He moves animals, trailers, fencing, composts you name it all for good reason, to not cause environmental damage and to diversify the land. Rotation of different species on the land is much like rotating different crops. Diversification simply helps keep the land fertile. Whereas, conventional farmers work day in and day out because they don’t feel like they have any other choice, locked in by loans for up to 30 years in some cases. Some commercial farmers have committed suicide due to the industrial farming standards, loan entrapment, or upgrades demanded by for instance the poultry industry that will cost them their contracts if avoided. Others bulldoze down their farms and sell off the scrap metal, once the loans have been repaid. Daniel Dover fittingly describes it as a system of indentured servitude; not a system anyone wants to particularly participate in but farmers just don’t know any other way to run their farms. Ironically most of these industrial farmers can’t make enough money farming, forcing them to go into construction or other fields to make up the difference. In short, it doesn’t make any sense.
Daniel says, his farming style is more productive per acre than any industrial farm, due to him running multiple species over the same amount of land. Rather than focusing on efficiency and regarding human costs, including health insurance, as an adjustable variable, Daniel Dover doesn’t regard anything on his farm as a single use but multiple use application. He intentionally goes below market demand to ensure that he doesn’t sit on stock pile of goods in his freezers. Big AG. on the other hand constantly over produces , forcing them to go into other markets, shipping meat goods to China inevitably clouding the real cost of making meat.
A fellow farmer stops by during my visit. He raises next to chickens also cubbies of quail, hardly ever seen in the wild anymore, especially not as a cubby. The two farmers’ exchange of ideas and resourceful approaches seem to amplify once they start talking. I hope to come back to visit the cubby of quail and learn more about the species and its farmer. At this point a few of my previous conceived notions have been thrown out of the window. The farm including deep litter compost, meat compost, the animals and ground they live on smell earthy and natural to me. Farming seems ultimately rewarding, joyful and connected to the land, animals and people, keeping one intellectually engaged by having to find solutions and adaptability to problems that are sure to arise.
At the end I post the question “If you could envision anything for the future of the American Food System, what would that look like?” Daniel Dover swiftly replies: “Decentralization, spreading out the food system into the regions & the regions feeding themselves, not only would that create a greater more robust economy, we would have traceability on food borne illnesses.”
On my way back to Atlanta countless of semi-trucks are passing me by. I am too quickly reminded of the more powerful agricultural industry. The only difference is now I know there is room for other farming methods to not just make a viable living with but that enrich our bodies and communities – that coexist.
H&F Bread Co. runs a 24 hours operation involving scaling and measuring ingredients for making the bread dough.
This is one of their two industrial ovens that helps create the deliciousness called H&F Bread Co.
Here is the baker loading the ciabatta dough onto the trays for another round of baking. H&F in its current location only houses two ovens, hence the 24 hour work cycle.
A constant buzzing of work.
On the outskirts of the East side of Atlanta lays the popular Hipster landmark the Starlight Drive In; once passed, the eye meets billboards, gas stations and neighborhoods sprawling of a main road. Inconspicuously tugged away in the midst of a sleepy neighborhood are 18 acres of goat country – white Saanen dairy goat ‘country’ to be exact.
It’s a dreary day when I pull up to Decimal Place Farm. I know I am at the right place when I see a line of white goats standing on the higher ground looking towards me. Nestled at the end of a cul da sec Mary Rigdon has appropriately named her farm Decimal Place Farm. She walks swiftly towards the car and directs me to the gate that leads to the goats and milking facility. I notice the acres of land surrounding us as the car slowly follows behind her steps in the mud.
Mary has been a dairy goat farmer for over 20 years and the land in Conley, Georgia for 17 years in her possession. It took patience and perseverance to acquire this land. Once she owned it, a milking facility had to be built and the right dairy equipment needed to be purchased. The process required assessing her resources critically, understanding how power lines were laid out & addressing functionality by getting the goats in and out of the buildings most efficiently. All of which she accomplished by using the means she had. In a time of credit defaults Mary’s sensible approach makes her somewhat of a modern day hero.
Her goats are having babies during the first few months of the year and I get a brief look into just how busy she gets. Mary is feeding the babies and checking on the becoming mothers periodically, meanwhile the rest of the herd still has to be milked. The days have a rhythm. She takes me outside to one of the grasing areas, while telling me how her lifestyle approach may be more of what people are talking about now and farm life is seeping into the mainstream but she has been living this way since the early 80s. She explains that in order to build the herd and utilize the land fencing had to be done. Grazing plots, comprised of clover, rye grass, a nitrogen fixing grass mix were created for limit grazing spans also called mammoth grazing. Mary tiled a few rows of soil for crop mob to come in and finish the sowing for new grazing plots. Crop Mob will also fix one of her fences and help get debris out of the creek.
Crop Mob, an initiative of young farmers and land enthusiasts, come together to help local farmers with a variety of projects around their farm. It builds the type of community interaction less reliant on monetary exchange. Being outside and learning some hands on farming know how, derived from years of experience, are plenty of reward for getting your hands dirty. At the end of each crop mob-tastic work day a dinner is shared between all the volunteers and farmers.
At the end of our excursion through the 18 acres of Decimal Place Farm, she hands me back my seven month old, that’s been carefully observing everything from her arms. She tells me about groups of children coming to the farm to learn about dairy goats, land preservation, gardening and making a living in this manner. When I ask her if she could envision anything for the future of the American food system, what would that look like, she takes time to think before answering. In her point of view we all receive the same amount of hours in the day. What we do with them is up to us & ultimately defines who we are. She questions peoples ingenuity or lack thereof. When a neighbor gives you grits in exchange for some of your goods, you learn how versatile that item can be. Furthermore, she adds she doesn’t like okra or rather the way most people in the south cook it but its an awfully space conducive and high yield type of vegetable. Therefore, she researched how to prepare Okra resulting in a dish sans a slightly gooey texture and utilizes its properties on her farm.
Did I mention just how delicious Decimal Place Farm goat cheese is? Seriously, you can’t go wrong with trying some of the creative flavors (i.e. amaretto orange chevre, pecan craison chevre, and cracked peppercorn chevre) either at a local health food stores such as Rainbow Grocery Market or Pine Street Market. During the summer time, Decimal Place Farm chevre, tuma or cheddar style goat cheeses can be located at the East Atlanta Farmers Market, Peachtree Road Market and Grant Park Farmers Market.
~ Enjoy, live well & be kind to one another
C.H. – Real Time Farms Winter Food Warrior, 2012
Every mother will tell you sleeping in is like a gift from God & the runner up well that’s coffee. In a week filled with WIC appointments, Farmers Markets visits & tax preparations discovering the deliciously wholesome Blue Donkey Iced Coffee made my week. It’s the little things they say & ‘they’ are right!
This past Saturday Blue Donkey Iced Coffee held a tasting at Urban Cannibals, a bodega grocery store run by a beautiful couple, the two self-proclaimed head cannibals Doria Roberts & Calavino Donati. The place is charming. You can pick up your CSA via Destiny Organics & Riverview Farms there, along with a quick bite to eat and other local items anything from candles to cleaning supplies. A one stop ‘loconomy’ shop.
Honestly, in this day & age I judge businesses by their online presence. Thankfully Urban Cannibals is on top of their social media game. It was their facebook page that alerted me to check out how delicious Blue Donkey Iced Coffee truly is. The tasting had me convinced as soon as the creamy, lightly coffee flavored & just enough sweetened substance hit my tongue. Blue Donkey’s products are simple. Three ingredients, coffee, milk & sugar – carefully sourced. Arabia coffee beans are roasted in a small-batch roaster at the company’s facility, combined with Sparkman’s milk and a little sugar – voila.
You can currently find them at Urban Cannibals and Candler Park Market. Surely it won’t be long until they’ll be right under your nose at farmers markets, co-ops & natural food stores. I am not going to tell you what to do or anything but in twitter terms:
Blue Donkey > insert can of popular soda.
live well & be kind to one another
C.H. – Real Time Food Warrior, Winter 2012
Do you ever walk past a vacant building & think about what else it could be? Surely, in the post housing bubble apocalypse we call today, vacant buildings aren’t hard to come by. Why not just tear them down & use the land differently – like growing food? In order for land to be reverted to arable land, the process due to having to expel mercury, sulfates etc., the byproducts of constructing & maintaining a building, requires extensive and expensive solutions. As a matter of fact fertile soils take thousands of years, requiring a combination of climate, geology, biology and a smidgen of luck.
I attributed my vision of a hydroponic farm land in form of vertical inner city farms housed in old Macy’s buildings or Ford plants, more to the heavy duty Science Fiction & Fantasy influence my grandpa and mom put me through as a child. As it turns out, thinking outside of the box couldn’t be more timely, even if it puts the thinker right back into one. The box more specifically a shipping container and the visionaries: the entrepreneurs of PodPonics.
PodPonics came into existence in 2010, Matt Liotta, founder and CEO of the company tells me. The motivation behind the endeavor: to create pesticide free, locally grown lettuce that laughs at the carbon footprint comparison to California grown lettuce not to mention its incredible freshness, texture and taste. Don’t be fooled by labels mentioning fresh. PodPonics will have the first bite of lettuce savoring in your mouth within hours after harvest. The only way to get fresher than that is grassing on an edible wall perhaps?! What originally started out as a couple of shipping containers on Ponce de Leon has now grown into a total of 16 containers, located near Hartsfield International Airport.
Matt’s done his research & knows his main competitor well. Conventionally grown California lettuce produces eleven and a half tons per acre versus 989 tons per acre that PodPonics patent pending systems can bring forth. In a test market Whole Foods priced PodPonics Spring Mix at $3.49 per bag, a lucrative slot between $3 priced California lettuce and the $4 organic brand. It’s hard to imagine our local stores without hydroponically grown goods from here on out. The benefits are too stark to miss. Hydroponics applications can be highly controlled & independent from climate changes. While tied to the grit PodPonics has figured out how to run operations with off-peak energy. Simultaneously, the minimal amount of space it takes to grow a vast amount of crops has attractive implications for highly populated dense urban areas.
There was one realization amongst many standing out from my visit at PodPonics. As beautiful as a traditionally set farm is, as beautiful and serene can a perfectly acclimated shipping container be in its very own zen filled way, housing NFT systems filled with crisp green lettuce with skinny T5 bulbs illuminating a future of farming quite possibly.
The weather’s been good to us this week, yet again. The land must’ve loved the warming sun enabling plenty of photosynthesis. Thankfully, the year’s mild Georgia Winter helped provide a more consistent vegetable supply to local stores as well as growers at farmers markets.
This past Monday on a misty foggy evening I paid the local new grocery store a visit, this time however, for different business than usual. Boxcar Grocer was throwing a big opening celebration & everyone from Food Artisans to Politicians seemed to be present. What a perfect way to start the internship & getting the word out about Real Time Farms. People were receptive, enthusiastic and grateful. I can’t help but notice the enthusiasm the local food movement is enjoying vibrating through the various fabrics of society. We all know as a collective there is a task at hand.
Finally on Friday afternoon I got the chance to interview South African native, local dietician & fellow food warrior Jess Avasthi. Both of us baby in tow, soaking up some sun on a bench in urban agriculture heaven called Truly Living Well Farm.
Jess whom I met one week prior at the annual Fruit Tree Sale put on by ALFI (Atlanta Local Food Initiative) found out about RTF via comfood, a listserve linking individuals together interested in community food security. She has a strong passion for good, delicious food that’s accessible. Other factors that compelled her to the internship include getting people to realize how to source the right foods and simply that everyone deserves good food.
[The reason food transparency is so important,] she continues, is next to food being a basic need, a form of medicine, & because we have to eat everyday it’s only fair that we know where it comes from, who makes a profit off of it. “We’d like to think it to be fair, just and balanced” she says, a pause ensues “It’s a consumer’s right” she continues, both of us knowing that’s the goal of the sum of our herein efforts.
When quizzed about what her favorite food documentary is, food inc. may seem like a rather obvious choice but the movie’s relevance resonates in so many different ‘food documentaries’ today. Jess finds the bold, brave statement portrayed of the current food system a double edged sword. On one side we enjoy the fresh options that are created. On the other hand the documentary illuminates the strain that’s being put on the rest of the planet via big AG.
The East Atlanta Farmers Market, Sun in my Belly and the former Dynamic Dish are amongst her Atlanta favorite spots. As a new mom, however, you tend to focus more on immediate at home choices. I am curious to know how her food philosophy is reflected in her baby’s diet. She emphasizes next to making her own baby food from local organic produce that exposing him to the land is an experience she wants to pass on as it was part of her own upbringing. It’s no small feat to dream up a childhood with strong ties to the land in an urban setting. Places like Truly Living Well Farm make these dreams real & that’s only the beginning of what we can do.
As we are embarking on the journey as food warriors we agree on current urban agriculture needing more policy in place, positively impacting every grower. Jess illuminates the potential Atlanta/ Georgia has to become agricultural leader in the South East & a local food movement summed up in three words: Blossoming – Essential – Accessible.
A few years ago I received a life changing gift that reacquainted me with man’s earlier ways of travel. The experience has opened me up to an underground urban commuting network of many different people of diverse backgrounds. From those who do it for fun to those who do it for work there is one common interest, arriving to ones desired destination safely. On my journey I discovered the joy of cycling.
The bicycle has been around since the early 1800s, with concepts dating back to the 1400s. I was introduced to the bicycle in 1985. My first bike, equipped with training wheels, was enough to make it to the stop sign. When I received a bicycle as a gift a few years back, I was thinking traffic filled streets & stop lights. Since then I have made cycling my preferred method of travel. Cars, buses, trains & planes are good, but don’t forget the bicycle.
I have met fellow cyclist that have been the most earth conscious & encouraging group of people who fuel my joy of the commute. Other cyclists stick out amongst the cars & usually a common courtesy of acknowledgement occurs. The experience of the ride, even in traffic jams does not irritate the cyclist, so engaging in communication with a fellow two-wheeler comes naturally & usually without irritation. I remember seeing a cyclist stopped to eat from a fig tree at one time. Figs being one of my favorite fruits I had to taste one. A fresh fruit tree that has mostly gone unnoticed in the urban environment put a smile on my face. Local food sources seemed to flower, thrive & flourish in my path. Another aspect of cycling that fueled my joy is the local food experience. Literally!
One of the main things that will keep anyone safe from stumbling is awareness. Being fully aware of the moment & all the occurrences within any given moment is a form of meditation. For me, cycling is meditation in motion. In urban environments you may find potholes or local food fresh on a tree or vine even. Powered by the intent to enjoy the commute, I usually avoid harm & arrive to my destination in the same feeling of joy I acquired from the journey. Maybe you are inspired to join me in the joy of cycling. I highly recommend reintroducing this form of travel to yourself & others. You will be surprised at how “ecoficient” it is. Safe travels.