Saturday, December 12, 2009

Food Deserts and Accessible Food Policy

Food Deserts and Accessible Food Policy

Some Americans may think of going to the grocery store to purchase their weekly fruits and vegetables as somewhat of an annoying chore. However, for large parts of the United States (both urban and rural), purchasing fresh food is more of an inaccessible privilege than a nuisance. Imagine a setting in which it is impossible to find a grocery store – or even a bodega with any type of unprocessed food – within miles of where entire communities of people are living. That scenario is a constant reality for some families in low-income families (Lewis 2009); having to live off of unhealthy, processed food is more than just every day life for people and families in these locations, and it's challenging their health without many realistic prospects of change being offered.

Definition and Explanation of Food Deserts
These areas of land without proper access to fresh foods are called “food deserts”. However, not every produce-lacking location falls under this title; the situation has to be more extreme. Jennifer Wehunt states in the Chicago Magazine article “The Food Desert” (2009) that “A cluster of blocks without a corner grocery doesn’t by itself warrant the label; [a food desert is] an entire neighborhood, or a cluster of neighborhoods, without a mainstream grocery store – such as a Jewel, a Treasure Island, or an Aldi [all common Chicago grocery store chains]”. The concept of physical access is one that makes up the biggest issue regarding the existence of food deserts; if people cannot physically get to grocery stores, they will default to what is around them (Lewis 2009). In the case of food deserts, “what's around” means highly processed food and drink. “Day to day, residents must leave their neighborhoods for basics such as raw meat and fresh vegetables” (Wehunt 2009) – and seeing as “an estimated 64,000 households in food deserts don’t have cars” (Extra 2009), sometimes the only way to get groceries is via public transportation, which can be an ugly process and further deter shopping for fresh food.
So why are there locations that do not have grocery stores within a few miles, or at least easy access to them? One answer to this issue lies in the drive of big businesses themselves. Grocery store chains rely on demand for their products, and are priced accordingly for fiscal gain. Even if there is a demand for the food around, a lot of times low-priced produce at chain grocery stores still isn't at a low enough price to be incorporated into a low-income family's dinner on a regular basis, suggesting that another reason food deserts exist besides physical limitations are financial limitations. (Gray 2009)

In many situations grocery stores that are present in food deserts do not accept food stamps; an essential for some families. (Bregel 2009) In Urban Food Deserts Cut Healthy Choices, Emily Bregel (2009) states,

In the five regions of the county with the highest rates of use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or food stamps, nearly 90 percent of the food retailers that accept food stamps are "fringe food" outlets such as gas stations and convenience stores that rarely offer healthy options such as fresh fruit and vegetables, the report from the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies found. Countywide, the figure is 70 percent.

Because larger chain grocery stores often underestimate the buying power of populations with food stamps (Bregel 2009), these stores are often not opened in low-income neighborhoods, thus creating a food desert. The concept of the financial limitations present within food deserts has also influenced the actualization of implementing more locally-owned grocery stores. (Gray 2009)

The amount of people within food deserts isn't small, either. “An estimated 633,000 Chicagoans live in food deserts”, states Chicago's Extra (2009). Out of those 633,000 food desert residents, 109,000 are also single mothers (Wehunt 2009). When considering these statistics, one must also consider ways in which these numbers may or may not be concrete. These numbers may be lacking those who live on the “fringe” of a food desert and may have gone uncounted; also the number of children within these communities are most likely what make up the bulk of the numbers, and because they still have many years to grow up, could prove to perpetuate the effects of a food desert. (Wehunt 2009)

However, even with an undeniable demand for food, when a local grocer decides to open shop in one of these locations, there is no guarantee that they will be able to support themselves or even turn a profit. Steven Gray of TIME Magazine explains that “the supermarket industry suffers from especially tight profit margins and is thus particularly risk-averse, so supermarkets' entry into low-income neighborhoods has been slow.” (2009)

One example given by Gray (2009) is of a locally owned grocery store on the south side of Chicago, IL. Even though the founder/owner Karriem Beyah has been in business for a significant amount of time, he states that he has “not made a profit” on the store so far. Beyah feels that his store is helping to mend the problems presented by food deserts in the south side of Chicago, however, it is clear that one grocery store will not solve this area's lack of fresh food accessibility. (Gray 2009)

Consequences of Food Deserts
A food desert can impact a community in a number of ways, none of which are beneficial to the community itself. In an urban setting, the desert perpetuates itself by driving away the prospects of chain grocery stores. There are a number of factors that make neighborhoods stable, and in many ways, communities in food deserts that lack these factors tend to flounder as a result (Wehunt 2009).

One important question to consider is how the lack of accessible foods impacts the lives and health of the communities inside of these food deserts. It has been found that in communities where food deserts exist, education and implementation of classes regarding food, nutrition, cooking, and eating is extremely low (if it exists at all). (Extra 2009). Natalie Pfister, the Farm Director of Uncommon Ground (a rooftop farm in the north-side neighborhood of Rogers Park, Chicago) states that a lack of knowledge is severely missing from the lives of those living in food deserts - “The questions that we get when we give tours lets me know that the kids in our public school systems are not being taught about food or health in any real way...” (Pfister, N., personal communication, December 10th, 2009)

Obesity is one of the largest side effects of food deserts. It is almost self-explanatory that if there are no affordable, fresh, vegetables around within a reasonable amount of space, people usually will not choose to eat them. Gray explains that “people eat what is convenient and affordable — and if it's fat-heavy fast food, that's what they'll chow down on.” (2009)

Obesity is one of the side effects that is prevalent through both urban food deserts and food deserts in rural parts of America. Joe Savrock from Pennsylvania State University's College of Education states that tn a study conducted by Kai Shaft of Pennsylvania State University's Center on Rural Education and Communities, it is suggested that “Community factors characteristic of some rural areas may make children in those locales more susceptible to obesity”. (2006) Shaft reinforces the bridge between accessibility and food choices - “The food choices that people make are limited to what is available to them,” he said. “In areas where there are limited options for purchasing food from full-scale grocery outlets, research shows that there is a higher risk of overweight and obesity. And that’s what we’re seeing among rural children in Pennsylvania.” (Savrock 2006) Penn State's study also found that there was a significant link between the socioeconomic status of the children and school at large and the amount of obesity cases present within the schools.

Obesity has already been presented as somewhat of an “epidemic” among school aged children and food deserts have been presented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as direct causes of this problem. (Gray 2009) However, even though obesity in American youth “increased to 16.3% in 2006, from 5% in 1980”, obesity has been shown to be more prevalent in less privileged socioeconomic communities (such as the ones within food deserts). “Some 28% of non-Hispanic black females between ages 12 and 19 are obese, as are about 20% of Mexican-American females”, whereas “the statistic for non-Hispanic white females in the same age group is 14.5%”(Gray 2009)

Other health problems
Jennifer Wehunt (2009) presents a look at how the lack of fresh food in food deserts could play a huge role not only in external health (obesity, choice of diet, etc.) but also long-term internal factors:

“...among those living in neighborhoods with the worst access to fresh food, ten out of every 1,000 people die from cancer, as opposed to fewer than seven per 1,000 in neighborhoods with the best food availability. The comparison is even bleaker when it comes to deaths from cardiovascular disease: 11 per 1,000 in the hardest-hit neighborhoods, compared with fewer than six per 1,000 among the best off.”

These issues are especially important to think about when considering the extreme lack of health care present within communities with very little socioeconomic privilege (Landsberg & Rock 2008).

National Changes Regarding Food Accessibility
The prevalence of articles and studies published after the year 2000 regarding food deserts and food accessibility suggests that the recognition of food deserts as a social problem is a relatively new concept. Due to the newness of the definition of food deserts, there has not been much legislative action taken in the past. Natalie Pfister believes that “There needs to be better communication and better connection between city government institutions...and small local farms...More funding for these types of programs would be very beneficial, and better legislation around distribution is where it needs to start.” (Personal communication, Dec. 10, 2009) That said, these types of plans might now be a sustained reality instead of a distant hope.

There is currently a bill that was introduced on June 26th, 2009 that directly affects businesses within food deserts. H.R.3100 - Food Desert Oasis Act of 2009 would “grant certain tax benefits” to “qualified food desert businesses” in an effort to encourage them to start/maintain shops offering fresh food within food deserts. (Open Congress 2009) A “food desert business” is a “wholesale or retail business that derives at least 25% of its gross receipts from the sale of fresh fruits and vegetables” - so should the Food Desert Oasis Act pass, there would be a large incentive to solve the problem of food deserts that does not currently exist for these business owners.

Other Changes Regarding Food Accessibility
Many U.S. counties and cities have seen changes in the way that individual families and people have chosen to live their lives in urban and rural situations, as well. In her article for the Denver Post titled “Turning 'Food Desert' Green”, Colleen O'Connor explains how some food-desert communities are turning towards urban farming to solve the problem of the lack of fresh food (2009). O'Connor states that because “there's no access to fresh produce - no nearby grocery store.... the idea of being able to grow and distribute fresh produce in this particular part of town is so encouraging for the residents.” (2009)

However, O'Connor also mentions that zoning within cities may pose a huge problem for those trying to turn part of a food desert into a community garden space; all technology used must be approved through the city council, often posing a delay in the actualization of these gardens and green spaces. (O'Connor 2009) Many urban farmers have found a way around this “hurdle” - growing food on their own roof.

I have had the opportunity to meet with and discuss this issue with two different directors of rooftop farms; Greenpoint Rooftop Farm in Brooklyn, NY ( and Uncommon Ground in Chicago, Illinois ( Both farms offer a farmers market with affordable produce on their building premises, and both have their gardens/farms directly on the roof of their buildings. What this means is if the owner of the building approves of growing food on the roof, then there is no need to involve the city council.
While Uncommon Ground offers educational opportunities for elementary school children in the Rogers Park/Edgewater neighborhood about the science aspect of growing food, Greenpoint Rooftop Farm offers education on farming via volunteer days on almost every Sunday (except winter). Annie Novak, the farm director at Greenpoint Rooftop Farm, also runs a non-profit program for school-aged children called Growing Chefs ( that teaches cooking and DIY-growing skills in order to encourage more demand for local fresh food and education surrounding food.

Extra (2009) quotes farm instructor Melissa Tobias on just how accessible change would be in a food desert with an adequate education on how to grow some of one's own food after explaining ways in which she has been teaching children to grow their own produce:

"Even in a food desert, finding organic, healthy food options can be as convenient as your own back yard. That's the point we are trying to make with the bucket gardens...The students really enjoy planting, tending and cultivating their plants each week. And in the process they learn valuable life skills. And of course, the kids' favorite part - tasting the food they grow themselves."

These farm directors (and farms as a whole) are part of a growing necessity for more fresh food and accessibility. Uncommon Ground and Greenpoint Rooftop Farms have both offered workshops on the basics of how to start gardens even in small spaces like a fire escape; something that would be extremely helpful in introducing more agriculture and fresh-food accessibility to food desert populations.

Future Changes Required and Conclusion
There is no way to over look the present need for action to be taken against eradicating food deserts and the means by which they exist. Because poverty and accessibility are the two main issues from which the other issues discussed (obesity, lack of transportation, lack of policy and legislation) stem, the most changes need to occur within these realms. A large focus regarding education (inside and outside of schools) could make a very large difference in how residents of food deserts not only buy groceries, but impact visibility and awareness as well as influence eating habits as a whole.

“...Exposing kids to where their food comes from helps make a difference not only in how they eat, but also how they view the world around them and how they approach making a difference in that world,” states Pfister. (Personal communication, Dec. 10, 2009) Schafft seconds this notion, explaining how “gaining a better understanding of how community contexts such as food deserts affect public health outcomes is an important step in developing more comprehensive school and community-based interventions to increase the health of rural children.” (Savrock 2006)

Education is not the only way these changes need to be made, however. Visibility is an invaluable resource when it comes to making changes. Pfister also suggests that “[more] gardens will allow an experiential learning to take place within communities in an active way.” (Personal communication, Dec. 10, 2009) More gardens definitely helps residents of any community come together, and with more community cohesion, larger changes can take place.

In the near future, the biggest breakthrough in diminishing and eventually eradicating food deserts would come with passing of H.R.3100 - Food Desert Oasis Act of 2009. Health care changes may also be in order, however H. R. 3100 would be a landmark as far as promoting sustainability not just in gentrified and well-fed parts of the United States, but as a broadcast value. Ideally, with effort from the legislature and community effort backing these changes, the United States could expect to see better education, better nutrition, and fewer food deserts in urban and rural areas countrywide.

Anonymous. (Sep. 23, 2009) An Oasis in Chicago's Food Deserts. Extra. Retrieved from

Bregel, E.. (Aug. 3, 2009) Urban food deserts cut healthy choices. McClatchy-
Tribune Business News. Retrieved from

Gray, Steven. (May 26, 2009). Can America’s Urban Food Deserts Bloom? TIME
Magazine.Retrieved from

H.R.3100 - Food Desert Oasis Act of 2009. Open Congress. Retrieved from

Interview with Natalie Pfister. Uncommon Ground Farm Director. December 10h, 2009.
Landsberg, G., & Rock, M. (2008). Chapter 1-3. In Social policy and social work: The context of social work practice. Pearson.

Lewis, G. (Sep. 7, 2009) Supermarkets don't grow in urban food desert. McClatchy –
Tribune Business News. Retrieved from

O'Connor, C. (Oct. 18, 2009) Turning Food Desert Green. Denver Post. Retrieved from

Savrock, J. (December 2006)Childhood Obesity in Rural Areas. Penn State College of
Education. Retrieved from

Wehunt, J. (2009). The Food Desert. Chicago Magazine. Retrieved from

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Easy Coconut Milk & Chick Pea Curry

So picture this scenario: you're close to broke and constantly scrounging your cabinets for something that isn't totally boring for dinner. Rice...beans....random spices....ugh, what a bore. You're so sick of the same thing for dinner every night. Wait, did I say "you"? I was actually talking about myself...

Deciding to get creative with canned vegetables is a good idea if you're extremely busy, like Laura and myself. My favorite item to use is canned garbanzo beans, aka chick peas. They are really cheap (even if you buy the organic kind), nutritious and so versatile. Like any bean, these suckers are packed full of protein!

So in an effort to satisfy my (rather constant) craving for Indian food but also having a rather small budget when it comes to eating out (oh graduate school loans, I love you so much...), I obviously consulted one of my cookbooks. This time, I went to Beth Bee's Rabbit Food Cook Book and got inspired by her recipes for curry tofu & peas and chana masala. However, because I didn't have all the ingredients for either one (even substitutions...ugh!), I decided to use what I had to work with to create something of my own!

Chick Pea & Brown Rice Curry with Coconut Milk, Raisins, and Cashews

What you will need (as usual, amounts are totally variable depending on what you like):
-brown rice (totally up to you, homeslice)
-1 can of garbanzo beans/chick peas
-1 can of coconut milk (you won't use the whole can)
-a ton of curry powder
-sea salt (regular iodized salt works too)
-raisins (optional)
-cashews (optional)
-cinnamon (optional)
-cloves (optional)
-chili powder (optional - if you are crazy into spices I bet this would be awesomeeee)

Start your brown rice first. It takes about 30 minutes give/take to cook so that's how long this dish will take to make. Hey, I didn't say it was fast, did i?

While that's cookin' away, get out a pan (non stick is best but whatever is fine). I guess you could use a pot, too, if you plan on using a lot of coconut milk. Put about a tablespoon of olive oil (less if you'd like, but you do need some oil) in the pan and put in allllll the spices you want so that they get hot with the oil. Turn the heat onto medium. DON'T FORGET THIS PART; it makes your dish amazingly more flavorful if you heat the spices with the oil. Oh yeah but leave the salt that for the end.

Once the oil/spices are hot n' making your house smell great, you can add the can of beans. Drain it first and then dump the whole thang in with the spicey oil. Using a wooden spoon or something equivalent to that, mix up the beans in the spices so they are coated nicely and start to look that awesome curried-yellow. Adjust the heat so that you won't burn the spices in the oil, and add more spices if you think you didn't add enough in the first place. .

Stir and stuff on and off for like five minutes or whatever, and then add as much coconut milk as you think you'll want. If you want just a little coconut milk flavor/creaminess, just add a little. If you want your mixture to basically be a sauce with delicious beans, add a lot more. Its totally up to you, but make sure to adjust your spices to be relative to how much coconut milk you put in. (Also, it's worth noting that you don't *have* to use coconut milk. I've made this recipe without it and it's just as tasty! )

Along with the coconut milk, add your raisins and cashews. If you want, that is. Neither of these things are essential for the basic recipe but are SO GOOD if you have them lying around. Another good substitute if you aren't feeling the sweetness of raisins is to use a red onion instead. Very nice savory flavor without the sugar of the raisins.

When you've got all you want added, turn it down to low and let it simmmaaaah. Put the lid on and sit back until your rice is done cooking. And once your rice is done, you know what that means.....

Chow time.

Plate it up and eat!

I can't believe I hated beans when I was younger. Especially with so many great recipes floating around!!! What was I thinking?I hope you enjoy this recipe just as much as I do :)


(Oh yeah and on that note, sorry about the lack of updates, the last month has been absolutely crazy for both of us. Apologies. Also, we are both students (Laura is finishing her undergraduate degree and I am in the throes of grad school midterms) and have not been as active as we'd like to be on this blog. Don't doubt us though, we've been cooking up a storm! In the future I promise a post about the sustainability group I am now a representative of, and also some recipes including the best chocolate chip cookies and granola. So get ready!)

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Morning at Rooftop Farms in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY

Remember how I mentioned that rooftop farm that my roommate had mentioned to me up in Greenpoint (the neighborhood north of Williamsburg - my neighborhood - in Brooklyn)? Well...I found their website, emailed them, and found out that they have volunteer/community days on Sunday mornings! I mentioned in the email that I used to work at a business with a rooftop farm and have experience gardening, and Annie (Annie Novak and Ben Flanner are the two who run the place) had actually heard of Uncommon Ground (my old place of employment in Chicago). 8:30 this morning I jumped on my bike and headed up to Greenpoint in search of the farm.

Found it (the bike ride was short but very sweet)...and WOW was it amazing. I took a ton of pictures and had a good time, even if I wasn't there for the entire volunteer time (every Sunday from 9-4 pm they have volunteers coming and leaving). Here's what we did with some pictures interspersed in there:

-picked and sorted flowers/herbs for sale (me sorting some flowers)

-re-staked tomatoes (yep, that's the Manhattan skyline...)

-helped set-up and hung out around the farmer's market (that's Annie)

-ate cute little ground cherries

-harvested some dino kale, and more things! Here's some glamor shots just for fun:

Basket of carrots

Just-picked peppers

Chard bundles

Compost bins

Rooftop Farms in Greenpoint is different than other farms I've been to because they don't use raised beds and instead plant directly on the rooftop. It was so awesome being able to be on my hands, literally in the dirt with the plants. The rooftop of the building is turned into a farm with 16 beds and rows between them (and around for runoff) made of green roofing material ( The soil used is also part of their own compost mix and a rooftop blend that makes it super light so that it's easily supported on the roof. People in the community are encouraged to bring scraps of their kitchen remnants, biodegradable trash, and even things like pet hair!

Rooftop farms also works with community youth in the Growing Chefs program, to teach urban farming and appreciation of food preparation as a skill.

Check out Rooftop Farms in Greenpoint, Brooklyn just past Franklin on Eagle Street (heading towards the water), and at their website (which includes links to lots of good literature about them!) -

Also check out the website for Growing Chefs -

All in all, I will definitely be going back and working on this farm as many times as I can. I loved my day there, met many great people, and hope for many more gorgeous days on the farm!


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Meal Medly

I've been at home in Waukesha, WI this past week at my parents' house regrouping before I head off to school again. Since all of my high-school pals have already left, I've had pretty free evenings, and have been cooking a lot of dinners entirely from scratch (and oil-free for my dad, which has been a creative challenge). I've been seeing how many different ways I can dress an excess of zucchini, tomatoes, and flour. I don't remember enough of what I did to write a bunch of recipes, but here's a few that I at least remembered to take pictures of:

Whole wheat gnocchi with garden tomato sauce and reduced balsamic
Shredded zucchini with cilantro spinach pesto
Red leaf salad with raspberry vinagrette

Tofu "caprese" pizza
Zucchini and winter squash pizza

Potato and summer squash soup
Tomato stuffed with snowpeas and salad beans with reduced balsamic and pesto
Whole wheat caraway bread

Whole wheat pita with coriander chutney and hummus
Winter Squash and chickpea falafel
Pea and potato curry
Braising greens with tomato and garlic

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Spinach Spaghetti with Heirloom Tomato and Summer Squash Sauce

This recipe was inspired by the vegetables I bought at the Park Slope Green Market last Saturday! I came home with an extremely large summer squash, a beautiful yellow heirloom tomato, a large red pepper, a bundle of carrots, tons of green beans, and a few other needless to say, I am going to have a few things to cook with this week :)

Yesterday for lunch I made something pretty bombtastic that all of you need to try because it is SO ridiculously easy, and SO ridiculously healthy. After going through my cabinets and deciding that I really was hankerin' for a pasta dish (I feel like I've been eating brown rice for weeks), I whipped one up. Here we go!!!

Spinach Spaghetti with Heirloom Tomato and Summer Squash Sauce

-1 serving of Hodgson Mill Whole-Wheat Spinach Spaghetti Noodles
-1 TBSP extra virgin olive oil (optional)
-1/4 yellow heirloom tomato (I would tell you what variety it was, but I have no idea. tasted rather sweet.)
-1/2 of a small/average (or 1/4 of a large) sized green summer squash/zucchini
-as many little grape tomatoes as your heart desires to make it as red as you want.
...and that's it!

First, start your pasta-water heating up in a saucepan. Get that going and then get out and wash off all your veggies.

Dice the summer squash first, and start it heating on medium/low in a saucepan with the TBSP of olive oil (if you are making this optional, you can put the squash in there with a tiny bit of water to get things steaming). While that is going, dice up the heirloom tomato and throw that in. Cover the saucepan while you are quartering the grape tomatoes; this will take a little longer than the other veggies (because they are small and annoying to cut), so the other veggies can cook and break down a little while you're getting these babies cut up.

Put your noodles in and turn the water down; these noodles cook in about 7 or 8 minutes (sometimes faster!) so stay by the stove. When you are about 2 minutes away from draining the noodles, stir your veggie sauce and put in the grape tomatoes. The heirlooms should have broken down to make it more stew-y, and now the red will add vibrant color!

Drain your noodles, add basil/oregano/whatever you like (I added basil, oregano, some black pepper, and some salt) to taste to the sauce and simmer for the remainder of the time it takes you to prep the noodles on a plate or in a bowl, and then devour with glee!!!

Delish. Enjoy.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Park Slope Green Market

So I am house sitting for my cousin who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. This is not my neighborhood, but I am very familiar with it because I used to live with her a few summers ago. So today on a walk around Grand Army Plaza, I walked into the Park Slope Green Market! Here's some pics I took today:


Garlic & Potatoes





Greenpoint Green-ness

So after talking to one of my roommates today about rooftop farms, he showed me this article in New York Magazine. The Greenpoint location of Rooftop Farms is only a bus ride away for me! When I go and visit, expect an update about this place soon after :)


Friday, August 28, 2009

Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture

This past month or so I've been spending a couple evenings a week out at the Sustain Mizzou Research Farm (part of the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture).


I met Adam Saunders, CCUA's Director, at the Food, Inc. showing and discussion panel held at the Ragtag in July, and was excited to hear about efforts to bring sustainable urban farming, which is exeriencing a huge boom in other parts of the country, to central Missouri. Upon hearing they needed some help, I volunteered to come out and be an occasional farmbum (aka, plant some stuff and eat lots of their produce).


Maria was most often around when I was there. She's a Mizzou student helping run the garden in the summer, and she eventually wants to open a pet shop/vegan bakery downtown. I thought this was an awesome plan.


The garden is cute and studenty, with bicycle-wheel fences, wooden trellises and bean poles, and of course:


Requisite puppies.


Marigolds and various other flowers are planted on the ends of the established beds to discourage pests, encourage pollination, and add some color to the swaths of summer green.


Some of the goodies I hauled home early in the summer: carrots, leek, cucumber, lemon squash, tomatoes, and mustard seed.

My last day of working in the garden was this wednesday, which also happened to be the first day of the class/lab that the garden teaches for Mizzou students, so I spent the afternoon collecting seeds and meeting some really interesting people. It's the little activities like these, the involvements and connections I've finally begun to build in the Columbia sustainability and food advocacy scene, that make me sad to uproot and move, again. I'm getting to the point where I'd really like to be able to be one of the movers and shakers of the place I'm in, instead of just on the peripherals as a 'helper'.

Though I suppose I can try that back in Northfield, as this will be my third year in Farm House, which I will be co-managing. I have learned a lot of great things this summer and I really want to transfer all of my built up energy into something worthwhile. Of course, my senior comprehensive project may end up sucking the life out of me, but I'll remain optimistic for the time being. ;)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pease excuse my absence (and bad jokes!)

So as Laura said, I up and left Chicago for New York City (tear!!!) and now I live in Brooklyn. Things are getting set up and organized still, so that's why I haven't been posting very much...not to mention I haven't been cooking the most epic of dinners upon moving in quite yet. I plan to have some pictures of this insane curry I made the other day up soon, though.

In the mean time, I came across a cute little picture I forgot to post!

This is from my last day of work at Uncommon Ground; a freshly harvested little pea pod. It was so sweet and delicious; I'm glad I documented it before savoring each of those little peas with closed eyes.

If you want to read about Uncommon Ground's rooftop farm, here is their blog - maintained by the lovely Natalie Pfister.

More informative and interesting entries soon, I promise!

much love from the BK,

Monday, August 17, 2009

Are organic vegetables healthier?

I apologize for the lack of updates! Leanne has recently made a big move and is surely busy as a bee (though I wouldn't mind hearing about/drooling over delicious vegan tales from the Big Apple, hinthint), and since I'm leaving Columbia in just over a week, I've been scrambling to take advantage of as much of the town and people here as I can before I ship out.

Kristin Jones, one of our readers, commented asking what we thought of the study done by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine that organic vegetables are no healthier than those grown conventionally.

Studies of food "health" focus on the numbers of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) found in plants. Different growing conditions can have an effect on these concentrations. Maintaining high soil quality is essential to this. Other factors include preventing overcrowding from weeds and other crops (thinning), adequate sunshine and water, pest management, and fertilizing.

Fertilizing can be done with organic (in the scientific sense) materials such as manure, compost, fish, and other ammendments, or with synthetic nitrogen and phosphorus. The second approach is indicative of a focus more on the macronutrient quality of the vegetable, or total yield (the amount of starches, sugars, protien, and fats produced). It lacks the diversity and complexity of other smaller, diverse nutrients present in materials like manure and compost that are essential to developing a rich soil and consequently nutrient-rich plants. However, other factors such as not tilling and nurturing colonies of beneficial fungi and microbial life is also essential for soil health.

In this way, I would generally consider organic practices to be superior to conventional ones for producing quality vegetables -- the system is more complex. However, the biggest factors affecting vegetable micronutrient density can be managed poorly or well in either a certified organic or conventional system. Many certified farms use extensive tilling as a way to control weeds in the absence of chemical herbicides. This can lead to compaction of the soil and disruption of structure and microbes that can be formed and maintained in a no-till system. Organic methods are not the be-all and end-all of good farm and soil management, and one can as easily produce a sad-looking apple from an organic orchard as a conventional one, depending on the differences in management style.

However, this study does acknowledge that there are, generally, differences between organic and conventional produce -- just not ones considered significant enough to affect the general nutritional value of the produce. The Times Online quotes Dr. Dangour, who headed the study:

There is more phosphorus in organic food. Phosphorus is an important mineral but it is available in everything we eat and is not important for public health. Acidity is also higher in organic produce but acidity is about taste and sensory perception and makes no difference at all for health.

A small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist between organically and conventionally produced crops and livestock but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance.

Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally-produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority.

They clarify, however, that the study did not (and did not intend to) investigate agricultural residues (pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides) on produce, or compare their quality of taste. There have been other inconclusive studies on taste, but my reaction to this study basically boils down to several points:

1) Nutrient content is controlled by two factors: environment (growing methods) and DNA. By nature of just being a vegetable, it's going to contain a certain amount of nutrients. However, soil quality and nutrient availability also affect the resulting micronutrient content of what is grown. Nutrient-dense plants can be grown in either a conventional or organic environment, if the other relevant factors are managed correctly. Nonetheless, it does seem that (small) organic certified farms generally take a healthier approach to farm management than conventional ones, if only for the fact that the certification puts them in the realm of thinking about things like soil quality and general sustainability.

2) Buying organic isn't about the nutrient content. While there are some people who live and die by the claim that their organic tomato has more Vit. C than a conventional one, this isn't the reason that most people who buy organic make the choices that they do. It's about being one step closer to knowing what happened to your food -- was it sprayed with synthetic pesticides? Was it genetically modified? The idea behind organic is that you should be able to answer these questions about your food.

3) Organic is a label, not a guarantee. Organic vegetables will not cure your cancer. They will not make your lame dog get up and dance. They will not do the Moon Walk across your counter in colorful veggie-extacy. Please refer to my earlier post if need be. However, endorsing this label does send a message, especially to the conventional industry -- that people are not satisfied with their current relationship with food, and are willing to pay and support farmers to see a change in the way the system operates. The same can be said of the local (and slow) food movements, which bring you directly in contact with the source of your food. You can tell your farmer exactly what you think and want from them.

4) The study isn't questioning the merits of organic methods, nor it is even claiming that there aren't taste or nutritional differences between organically grown vegetables and conventional ones (see above quote). It is simply saying that for the average consumer, you are not loosing out on vital amounts of nutrients by buying conventional produce instead of organic. Perhaps the motivation behind this whole ordeal is to validate that people can improve their diets to contain healthier foods without necessarily spending the extra bucks?*

Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association, admitted that he was disappointed by the conclusions but said that he was confident that consumers would make their own minds up. (emphasis mine)

This pretty much sums it up. Regardless of this publication, you have the mental capacities to make your own decisions about what is and isn't important to you in the food you buy. What will this study do, then? Maybe attempt to end catty remarks from suburban soccer moms who are absolutely horrified that someone without financial means might feed their child a conventionally grown carrot* or not shell out for a morally superior onsie, ohmigod don't you love your children?!?!? However, it seems to me that supporters of the organic movement are already pretty aware that their purchasing choices are about supporting the kind of agriculture they want to, avoiding bioaccumulation of possibly harmful residues, or any number of other factors that go into the decision outside of micronutrient content.

If you're someone who acknowledges that health -- for yourself, the planet, and the agricultural industry -- is not dictated only by what % RDA Calcium your spinach has per serving, this study at least shouldn't prevent you from buying organic.

*Though there are plenty of ways to make organic "affordable" for anyone, that's a topic worthy of its own post.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Chickpea Amaranth Hot Salad and Cinnamon Dusted Peach

It occured to me recently that cooking amaranth grain and greens together would be a fun way to combine two very nutritionally different parts of the same plant. Unfortunately Chert Hollow has finished their last week of the greens, so I had to substitute, but I like to think it's the thought that counts?

I enjoyed this meal with local fresh ingredients for dinner a few nights ago (forgive the muddy photo).

Chickpea Amaranth Hot Salad and Cinnamon Dusted Peach

2/3 cup Chickpeas
1/8 cup Amaranth Grain (feel free to use more, this was all I had left)
1 cup Amaranth Greens (I used a mustard greens mix since I didn't have any)
4 Cherry Tomatoes
1 tbsp. Grapeseed Oil
5 leaves Basil
1/2 tbsp. Sage
1/2 clove Garlic
1 tsp Balsamic Vinegar (don't use a lot or the flavor can overwhelm the sage)
Salt to taste
Black Pepper to taste

For dry beans, soak overnight and simmer in water for approximately 1 hr or until tender; canned beans need only be rinsed. Amaranth should be simmered in two times its volume of water for ~15 minutes, or until the water has been absorbed and the grains are tender (texture similar to quinoa). Be careful not to overcook amaranth, as the tiny grains can get mushy and really just become a dinner party-pooper. Sautee the greens, cooked chickpeas, oil, balsamic, garlic, and sage together for ~5 minutes or until wilted. Pile cooked amaranth on top. Add sliced tomatoes and chopped basil at the end, and sprinkle salt and pepper over the stacked salad, and enjoy!

A vendor at the Columbia Farmer's Market has started selling "chemical-free" peaches, and man are they delicious. The dessert is pretty straightforward. Slice one ripe, juicy peach and sprinkle cinnamon over it. Yum.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Thoughts on Food, Inc. and The Omnivore's Dilemma

So, I've been awash in the world of food activism lately. About four years behind the curve, I finally sat down and powered through The Omnivore's Dilemma, essentially finishing it just in time for the opening of Food Inc. downtown at The Ragtag this past week. Since some of my likes and dislikes paralleled between the two, I thought I'd reflect on both.

The Movie:
I thought the film was well-done. I would say I enjoyed it, but only insomuch as one can enjoy a movie highlighting all of the wrongs of an industrial food system. Most of the hot-button food-advocate issues were presented and commentated on through narration, images, and interviews. Even as someone well-acquainted with the problems at hand, seeing this movie was beneficial. It brought powerful imagery and stories of both farmers and low-income workers tied up in the system -- things that middle to upper class white food crusaders theoretically care about but don't actually encounter on any regular basis. It drove home a point for me, at least, that even if I can get my own food and live my own life relatively out from under Monsanto's shadow, there is still a world of work that could be done to better the situations of others.

I also appreciated the fact that it called attention to the growing organic industry, and thought that it portrayed that side of things in an accurate and informative light.

I found some of the CGI sequences to be a little corny at times (computer-cows being conveyed toward a factory amid ominous music, thunder clouds, and mysterious men in suits walking through fields) which might be off-putting to someone who came into this film with views differing from the general target audience's. Also, there was nary a vegetable to be seen or heard of throughout the film (corn is a grain, after all). This was a somewhat disappointing, as I feel it pigeon holes what people consider to be food into the categories of animals and corn, two things which are already pretty absent from my own conception of food. A sustainable meat farmer (Joel Salatin) and dairy were featured, but no alternative veggie operations made it to the screen.

Perhaps the corniest and most unnecessary part of the movie was the very end, after the screen blacks out and a series of white and green text tells you how to live your life. It just seemed a little insulting to the intelligence of the audience. Buy local foods? Really? I thought the very last words and image would have been a more elegant closing, where Indiana Corn Farmer Troy Rush emphasizes that to make a change, “People have got to start demanding good, wholesome food of us and we’ll deliver, I promise you.”

The Book:
Having just read Pollan's book lead me to draw some interesting parallels. Joel Salatin is featured prominently in The Omnivore's Dilemma, painted by Pollan as some sort of all-knowing, nature nurturing, wise farming fellow who had it down to a perfectly executed art. It read a little like a fairy-tale heaven man-crush of sustainable meat and land stewardship. While I'm sure a good portion of Pollan's admiration for Salatin's operation is well earned, getting to see Salatin on film was an interesting contrast. He definitely has some crazy-eyes going on, and to see that his farm looked like any other well-managed one with healthy animals helped remove him from the impossible pedestal Pollan seemed to put him on.

Obviously, the book discusses many of the same concerns regarding industrial food as the film does, to its credit. I enjoyed the history of corn that Pollan takes his time spelling out in the beginning of the book. It starts strong, and continues this way, providing a good chunk of facts regarding meat, corn, and subsidies for them (and consequences thereof).

That is, until I got to the section regarding vegetarianism. He does bring up a significant portion of the issues surrounding people's choice not to eat animals or their products, but ultimately manages to retain a nice, aloof and condescending attitude about it. His brief stint as a vegetarian was entered into most reluctantly, and his description of it in the end as an effective, but naive escape route from dealing with the moral dilemma of animal death kind of rubbed me the wrong way. But this is a battle I constantly find myself entrenched in -- the meat eaters think I'm nutso for not wanting to eat animals, but the other vegans think I'm nutso for not thinking that other people eating animals (within parameters) is wrong. He seemed to imply that veg*ism is caused by thinking about your food, but ultimately not thinking hard enough, or you'd come back around to sustainable meat.

I didn't really know what to think of the hunting/gathering portion of his book for "his meal" in the end, either. Again, he barely mentions vegetables, only noting that they are from his kitchen garden, while spending chapter upon chapter describing the painstaking efforts he put into hunting wild pig and mushrooms. It was an interesting read, and very informative about the labors one goes through to find their own food. I would have happily enjoyed it as a separate piece of writing, but it seems kind of self-indulgent and not terribly related to the tone and purpose of the first half of the book. It's great that you pulled your own pig's guts out, Pollan, but remind me where the social commentary and discussion of the food system disappeared to?

I'll never know, because it never came back. Unlike the movie, the book could have benefited from a clearer take-home message. It ends with him describing the meal he foraged and cooked for his friends sitting around his living room, drinking expensive wine and reflecting on the fact that though it was fun, he wouldn't do it every day and still appreciates the fact that he can buy soup-stock in a can. All I can say is, WTF? Perhaps I need to read his follow up, In Defense of Food, but the ending just seemed so (albeit unintentionally) culinary elitist/social classist, city-boy-has-his-country-fun-but-returns-home.

Which is not to say I didn't like the book. I liked the book a lot. I could see myself perhaps having a less critical view of it if it had come along earlier in my quest for food information, as Schlosser's Fast Food Nation had. I would definitely recommend it as a read for anyone interested in food (or not, might learn something), regardless of your current situation. I learned things and have taken away some good though-provoking points from it, but I wouldn't exactly call it my bible.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Another Chert Hollow Adventure

I spent another weekend at Chert Hollow Farm, and came home with a bounty of pole beans and pictures to share.


Saturday morning is market-time, meaning that while Eric went into town early to sell the last week's goods, Joanna and I got a late start (at 7:30 AM). The geese were particularly wary of me this morning.


We then went about the business of planting. We planted a bed in alternating chinese cabbage (some of which will be bound for sour kraut) and red onion. The Market Garden is right by the house (with the half-constructed shed), making it easy to access. It is in the shade for a good part of the morning, making it cool, easy working.


We did some weeding in the garden before heading out to the field. We were clearing out beds that had previously held several varieties of potatoes, and now offered prime space for some late-season and fall crops.


Joanna decided on beets, which I was all too happy to oblige. We planted five different varieties. While unrealistic, I can still dream that maybe a few of these will be ready (or need to be tested) before I head back to Wisconsin at the end of August. I found the shape of the seeds to be fastinating, as well as large and nice to work with while planting.


For lunch, we picked an ear of sweet corn for testing. The verdict: delicious! But still needing a couple more days to fully flesh out the kernels at the ends. Chert Hollow currently isn't growing any sweet corn for market, since sweet corn in the midwest goes for such deflated prices that small, organic operations like theirs can't compete or even recoup their costs on the crop. This bed will make a nice personal stash, if the coons continue to stay away.


I forgot to photograph the rest of our lunch, but we spent some more time in the morning weeding in the field and garden. One of my favorite field crops of their is the sweet sorghum, which is the midwest equilvalent of sugar cane. The stalks are sweet and can be cut and chewed for a treat, or pressed and boiled down into a syrup. It additionally produces a seed head in the fall, and the sorghum grain can be ground up and used as a flour or meal for baking and cooking.


One of the great features of sorghum is how hardy it is. Joanna described the growing process as planting it in the ground and barely touching it since. It grows very tall, which means that it need not compete with weeds underneath for sunlight, and is more drought-resistant than other crops. I love walking through the towering rows. They remind me of being 7 years old, when everything was so much taller than I was, and corn mazes in summer and fall were like big jungles to navigate.


Eric came home in the afternoon bearing some delicious finds: an Uprise Bakery baguette and two enormous, ripe cantaloupe melons from another local farmer. The cantaloupe made a sweet chilled soup, with some fresh peach salsa to dress it up. Combined with some Kohlrabi-slaw and a dipping plate of reduced balsamic and olive oil, it made for a delicious summer meal.


We went for a night walk after dinner, and found some interesting biology to investigate. With the help of google and an insect song CD, we got so far as identifying this guy as some sort of Katydid.


We also found a frog on the porch! My favorite part of frogs is probably their toes, which are like little sticky bubbles allowing them to adhere to essentially any surface.


On sunday we did some more weeding and harvesting, picking a hefty crop of Fin de Bagnol, Soy, and Pole beans. The cool weather this summer has been a boon to the bean crops (and bean lovers such as myself). For lunch we cooked some fresh edamame, made a white-bean salad, and gladly continued consuming more fruit soup and bread from the night before.

I went home that afternoon. All in all, another fabulous farm adventure.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rant: This is why you're fat dot com

There aren't a whole lot of things that really get under my skin enough to straight-up crazy-style rant about, but this blog that I recently stumbled across is one of them.

It isn't just because it focuses almost exclusively on animal products, or an additional emphasis on corn-based ingredients, or the weird flavor mixures that amount to what could be considered culinary sacrelige, or even the downright gross pictures; most of all, it's the idea that this is centered entirely around the idea of pure consumption, eating as much as possible for no reason other than we "can" (which is totally debatable) and viewing food as cheap entertainment without acknlowedging its costs.

I'll be the first to admit that I enjoy a piece of chocolate. And I know that there are various environmental and social consequences even for this seemingly small action (though I try to stick to locally processed and fair trade items). I love a dessert that has had a lot of love, time, care, and quality ingredients put into it. Half of the enjoyment is knowing that it's a treat, something that you can't just pull out of the cabinet and microwave for 30 seconds every day.

This is why you're fat doesn't apologize for itself in any way. The entries don't have any regard to the quality or flavor of the items involved, the care put into them, or even the real enjoyment that you get out of any given bite of the food presented. The enjoyment is derived entirely from the immense quantity or absurdity of the caloric density of these foods at any cost; which is usually not a lot financially, as they're mostly based on items heavily subsidized by the government specifically in order to make these feats of food-like-substance not only possible for the average american, but cheaper than their real conterparts.

I know there's a whole camp of people just itching to tell me, "if you don't like it, don't look". Believe me, I wish I could. I'm not protesting this blog's right to existence -- if someone has something to say, they have a right to say it (or photograph it, etc.). It just frustrates me that this type of food culture, so detrimental to what I want to support and be informed about, is pervasive enough that this kind of publication has a substantial following and therefore reason for being.

Food, Inc. is coming out here next week, and there's a special showing at the Ragtag in downtown Columbia followed by a sustainable food discussion panel which I'm planning to attend, so I'll probably write more on this subject then (hopefully with a more level head).

P.S. I could write a whole book about the fucked up social implications of the title of the blog too, but I might spontaneously combust. Want to take that one, Leanne?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

California Beet Salad

I love me a fresh salad for lunch, and this past week my culinary creations have mostly centered around beets. I'm a woman obsessed. Especially just sliced up raw, I swear to god I will eat beets with anything, anytime, anywhere. As the last of my beet supply came to an end this afternoon, I decided to bid it farewell with this salad, which is full of light, flavorful veggies that make it tasty without being overwhelming.

California Beet Salad

Beet greens, 3 large leaves
Fennel, 1 stalk (not head)
Tofu, 1/3 cup (or tempeh, even tastier)
Avocado, 1/2 fruit
Beet root, 1/2 small or 1/4 large
Tomato, 1/2 fruit
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Basil to taste
Oregano to taste
Vinegar to taste

Tear or chop the beet greens into large pieces, and then steam until slightly wilted (~5min). Lay on a serving plate. Cube tofu, add to plate. Cube (or slice) avocado and add to plate. Thinly slice beet root, fennel, and tomato, and layer accordingly. Take the fennel greens from the top of the stalk and put then in the center or sprinkle on top for added flavor/prettiness. Finally, drizzle vinegar (I used rice, but balsamic or apple cider would be tasty too) over the salad and sprinkle your preference of spices and salt on top.

Viola, a beautiful and delicious layer salad. Makes a perfect lunch with a slice of home-made bread.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Brunch with Erica!

As a somewhat new tradition, three of my girlfriends and I go out to brunch on Sundays. This started pretty much directly after I stopped working Sunday brunches at my job, thus leaving me free to enjoy them instead of stress over them. Erica, Stacey, Kristen, and I picked out some really great places to eat, including Lula, Yolk, Meli, and many others.

One Sunday, however, Kristen and Stacey couldn't make it (they were moving from their old apartment into a new one, faaancyyy!), so Erica and I decided to just have brunch together at her place. Since Erica and I both adore cooking/baking, and even have discussed opening shop together sometime in the future, needless to say we had an amazing brunch.

Here are two pictures from our glorious meal (I suggest clicking them to view the full-sized deliciousness):

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it really was as good as it seems. What you are seeing here is real proof that Erica and I don't mess around with brunch. And yes, Erica's place really is that cute :)

Erica baked that lovely strawberry rhubarb coffee cake, and together we made a vegetarian fritata out of eggs (this one was mostly egg whites but with a few whole eggs as well), goat cheese, basil, a million spices and seasonings, asparagus spears, tomato, onions, and other fabulous things. I don't have an exact recipe for the fritata because we didn't really use a I'm sure any fritata recipe you wanted to use is just fine! Get creative with ingredients...we used asparagus because it was looking *so good* that week! Also, we cut up/sauteed rainbow baby potatoes and seasoned them with rosemary and a little sea salt.

The coffee cake was the best I've ever had, ever...regardless of the fact that it was totally gluten-free! I swear she has magic that she bakes into her creations. Erica discusses the recipe in her blog:
Un Petit Oiseau.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Weekend of Harvest at Chert Hollow Farm

As a government employee, I was given holiday leave for the friday of 4th of July weekend, which is pretty great. But, you know what they say about idle hands -- and I was certainly getting the itch to do some real work after a week of computer-laden data processing. One of my co-workers has since left the USGS and taken up full-time organic farming with her husband, and I was invited to come stay the weekend with them as I have before, an offer I can't refuse.

Chert Hollow Farm is owned by Eric and Joanna Reuter, about a 25-minute drive outside of downtown Columbia. They are their own only two employees; farming, homesteading, and practicing land stewardship on their property. A local paper, the Missourian, did an informative profile of their farm, called Living Off the Land.

I arrived at the farm on Thursday evening, just as Eric and Joanna were finishing up their work for the day in the front garden. In the summer, it's light until well into the evening, allowing a long work day and often a late dinner. During a walk to reacquaint me with the place, we discovered that the Yukon Gold potatoes were nearly bursting out and ready to be eaten, and decided to harvest some amaranth greens for a taste testing. Using only seasonal produce sourced right from the garden, we prepared a tasty vegan meal and weren't long to bed.

Morning at Chert Hollow begins at around 6:30am, with breakfast and rounds to take care of the animals. They keep small flocks of heritidge breed geese, chickens, ducks, and goats. One of their goats recently had two kids, whose ranbunctiousness was not deterred even in the early hours.

Garlic the goat being milked. While they don't have the numbers of animals or facilities neccesary to sell any of their animals products, it is enough to contribute to their other livestock's diet (the milk from this morning was fed to the new chicks) and help keep the farm a more closed resource cycle. The goats are kept in a rotating pasture that helps keep weeds and invasive species to a minimum, while providing dairy (and occasionally meat, with male kids). They sometimes work in conjunction with Goatsbeard Farm, breeding, buying, and learning about goat care from them.

Chickens, geese, and ducks all devour scraps and compost from the kitchen and garden, in turn providing eggs. All of the animals can contribute to manure for eventual garden fertilizing use. Now, you're probably wondering where I'm going to go all vegan crazy and talk about how terrible animals are. Well, you're out of luck. Chert Hollow manages their animals in a way that I wish more farms would -- as a supplementary part of their homesteading cycle, in small well cared for numbers. Does this mean I will eat their goat yogurt? No, but that's a personal decision/preference, and a topic for another (probably lengthy) post in the near future.

By this time, the sun had come up and it was time to get to work in the garden. Since it was friday, that meant it was harvest day. Chert Hollow sells most of their produce at the The Columbia Farmer's Market on saturday mornings, along with occasional purchases by local restaurants and groceries such as Sycamore, Main Squeeze Cafe, and The Root Cellar, who are interested in serving local, seasonal, or organic food.

This morning we worked harvesting sweet onions and kohlrabi for market, garlic for drying, and scallions for Sycamore. Using planks from cedars they cleared from their future orchard, the Reuters have begun constructing a work shed right beside the front garden to serve a variety of functions including storage, cleaning, and work space. With half of the roof up, some of the garlic can be hung to dry there, and sometimes tickle the heads of those working at the sinks cleaning other produce (I spent a good portion of the morning swatting at imaginary bugs on my head).

In Missouri, the afternoons can get pretty sweltering. In order to survive the heat, Eric and Joanna often taken a portion of the afternoon off to rest, do indoor work that their business requires (taxes, USDA paperwork, etc), eat lunch, and catch up on relevant news and literature about farming. I took a fabulous nap, and we headed back to work the field when it had started to cloud over.

We harvested and thinned two different varieties of amaranth greens for sale at market, and sewed buckwheat in empty beds. Instead of using hay for mulch, on this day we raked up the grass clippings that were laying around from mowing around the field and lightly covered the buckwheat beds.

The weather report predicted evening rain, so we decided to stop work at around 6 to take an exploration hike through the un-farmed portion of the Chert Hollow property. The place is aptly named for the bountiful chert lenses and layers -- both Joanna and Eric have Master's degrees in geology (Joanna went to undergrad at the same school as me, and Eric and I have incidentally shared a professor), and so they enjoy documenting the history and earth processes of their land.

I, of course, enjoy getting to geek out along with them on beautiful hikes along the ridges and cutbacks. We encountered some crazy geomorphology, mississippian carbonate fossils, old cisterns (from the farm that existed in the 20's), tiny fish, and some wild gooseberries that made for a perfect mid-hike snack.

After our hike we were all thoroughly tired and hungry, so we called it an evening and collected some veggies and herbs to make dinner. Using swiss chard, zucchini, snow peas, garlic, onions, fennel, dill, and kohlrabi greens, we put together some pretty tasty vegan pizzas that I regret not photographing (I'm pretty terrible at remembering to take pictures, if you haven't noticed by now).

It rained that evening and into saturday morning. Eric took the harvest to market while Joanna and I got to catch some extra z's. Because of the weather, we weren't able to do much work, just inventory the garden and field beds and photodocument changes. Also, we squished a lot of squash bug eggs (fingers = nature's pesticide) and ate one blueberry each from their new bushes this year, which sported a whopping total of four (very typical of first-year berries).

I left just after lunch in order to avoid being flooded in for the rest of the night. They sent me home with some onions, zucchini and garlic which will serve me well during the coming week. It was a wonderful retreat from cluttered Columbia city life and a great opportunity to learn more about farming, Eric and Joanna are always great about answering my numerous questions and explaining the philosophies and mechanics behind everything that they do at Chert Hollow.

Overall, it was an experience which I plan on repeating a few more times this summer, and reccomend to anyone with an interested in farming/gardening and a friend or contact who could help you out.

Fresh, Local Links:

Chert Hollow Farm (Website) (Blog)
The Missourian: Living Off the Land
Goatsbeard Farm
Columbia Farmer's Market
The Root Cellar
Main Squeeze Cafe (Website) (Blog)