What are you making for supper on this Meatless Monday? Right now we have an abundance of swiss chard, although our other greens have been slow to come in. I substituted chard for kale in this family-favourite salad yesterday, and it was deemed acceptable by the more discerning (aka “picky”) members of the family. So if you have kale or swiss chard handy, here’s the recipe; served with a loaf of fresh bread and cheese, it’s a tasty and easy Monday summer supper. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the transformation of a garden from a barren plot of dirt in April to the abundance of a mid-summer riot of greenery and colour.
Favourite Kale Salad Recipe
Dressing: ½ cup extra virgin fruity olive oil, 3 tbsp red wine vinegar, 1 clove garlic chopped or put through a press, 1/2 tsp salt
To make salad: Toss above with a large bowl of kale, ½ cup chopped oil packed sun dried tomatoes, 1/4 cup cup toasted pine nuts.
And while we’re on the theme of unlikely pairings, check out this video from the U.K., The Edible Bus Stop, which asks the question “what spaces are waiting to be transformed in our communities?
One of the problems in our industrialized, heavily urbanized North American society is the huge disconnect between our food system, and the cycle of life and death that nearly every other generation of humans in the history of our planet has known intimately. As I sit here at my computer this morning I’m reminded quite vividly (and pungently) about how close I am to (some) of my food, as well as the circle of life. First thing this morning I watered my hugel kultur raised beds with the liquid fish compost that my husband Mark has been cooking up for a few weeks in a plastic garbage bucket in the garage. Phew – what a stench! I can’t seem to quite get the smell off my hands, despite scrubbing hard with soap and orange hand scrubber. I had to change, too, because the hem of my pants got a little damp while I was watering and the smell was overwhelming. I’m having flashbacks to my childhood on a prairie farm every time I get a whiff. Here in our corner of northern Ontario we have more access to decomposing fish parts than to livestock manure, so it makes sense to augment the fertility of our garden with a local source of rich organic material. We’ll have to see what our neighbours say, though – be thankful you are reading this in the comfort of your own fish-fertilizer-free home.
And speaking of food (and it is Meat Free Monday) here’s Michael Pollan on why a bunch of carrots costs more than a package of Twinkies:
According to a new report by two genetic engineers, genetically engineered foods are not safe, have not been properly tested and pose a serious threat to human health and the environment.
In GMO Myths and Truths, the scientists refute the claims made by companies that produce genetically modified crops and organisms (GMOs):
“GM crops are promoted on the basis of ambitious claims – that they are safe to eat, environmentally beneficial, increase yields, reduce reliance on pesticides and can help solve world hunger,” said co-author Dr. Michael Antoniou of the King’s College School of Medicine in London, U.K.
*Update: At lunch, my husband suggested I remove the hat I wore in the garden this morning. Which seemed a little random, as it hadn’t been anywhere near the watering can. But I did take it off, and realized it was quite pungent. Apparently anything within 5 feet of an open fish fertilizer bucket will stink to high heaven for quite a while after exposure!
We’re still enjoying the bounty of our summer garden in the form of plenty of fresh tomatoes. I’ve been looking for creative ways to eat/cook with them – even tomato sandwiches, which I love, can become tiresome. I’m not a huge fan of tomato soup generally, but I found a recipe on the Food Network, tweaked it a bit, and really like it. I’ve made it twice in the last week, and am looking forward to having a bowl of leftovers for lunch today.
The secret is to brown the tomatoes before hand. This adds a lovely roasted flavour to the soup. To view the original recipe click here; here is my lower-fat version:
October Tomato Soup
3 lbs tomatoes, halved lengthwise (I used various sizes, from cherry, plum and regular tomatoes. I decreased the grilling time by half for the cherry tomatoes)
4 T olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
pinch of sugar
1 T butter & 2 T Olive oil
4 shallots, chopped
2 T tomato paste
4 cups chicken stock (I used vegetarian bouillon cubes)
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 cup yogurt
1/2 cup milk
3 T basil leaves
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Arrange tomatoes, flesh side up, on 2 wire racks set on sheet trays (I put parchment paper on the cookie sheets the second time, as it was difficult to clean up the first time). Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil, making sure they are well covered. Season with salt, pepper, and sugar.
Roast tomatoes in the middle rack of the oven until tomatoes are brown and tender, about 1 hour (less for smaller tomatoes, as noted above). Cool slightly.
Melt butter in 4-quart saucepan over medium heat, add olive oil. Saute the shallots for 2 minutes, then mix in tomato paste for a few more minutes (I used some of my homemade tomato sauce rather than tomato paste). Add stock and cayenne.
Mix yogurt and milk in medium bowl, then add some of soup base and mix together. Add this mixture to the rest of the mixture in the pot, stir well. (It may appear slightly “curdled” because of the yogurt, but this will disappear when the tomatoes are blended in). Simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the roasted tomatoes to the pan. Puree with an immersion blender (unfortunately mine broke the first time I tried to blend the soup, so I mixed it in a blender. This didn’t work as well with the doubled recipe I made last night, and some soup ended up sprayed around the kitchen out of the top of the blender – very messy!)
Season with salt and pepper. Ladle into serving bowls and garnish generously with fresh basil (don’t miss this step, it really makes the soup special). I used fresh thai basil that we have growing in a pot in our kitchen – deeelicious!
Have you planted a garden yet? If you have – congratulations! You are taking the first steps towards food sustainability and security. If you’re still considering it, this video might make a difference:
Today’s guest blog post features Ellen LaConte. Ms. LaConte is a memoirist, magazine and book editor, and freelance writer who has been published in numerous magazines and trade journals on subjects ranging from organic gardening and alternative technologies to the evolution of consciousness, democracy theory, and complex systems. After three decades of homesteading in Connecticut and Maine, she gardens now on a half-acre in the Yadkin River watershed of the Piedmont bioregion of North Carolina. Ms. LaConte is the author of “Life Rules: Why so much is going wrong everywhere at once and how Life teaches us to fix it”.
Getting Started in the Garden: Thirteen Tips for “Veggie Virgins” and Other Inexperienced Food Growers
Don’t assume lack of space is a deal-breaker. Most of us don’t live on farms. Nor do we have spacious, magazine-worthy backyards. And in the case of city-dwellers, we may not have backyards of any type! That’s okay, says Ellen LaConte, who is something of an outside-the-box thinker when it comes to gardening in smaller or unconventional settings. (In fact, based on her own experiences, she has written articles on turning suburban outdoor spaces into “tiny homestead Edens.”)
In general, LaConte recommends that neighborhood gardening novices start with one of two easy options: the container garden or the raised-bed garden. (A quick Internet search will unearth a plethora of advice, instructions, and details about each.)
Make your bed…raised! A raised-bed garden is one that is built on top of your native soil—in other words, you don’t have to dig into your yard and can build it wherever you want. It can be enclosed by lumber, stone, brick, concrete, or even hay bales, and is filled with whatever type of soil you choose. Advantages include (but are certainly not limited to): improved accessibility (you don’t need to stoop as far to reach your plants), good drainage, fewer weeds, the ability to plant more densely, and improved soil quality. Also, raised-bed gardens heat up more quickly than the native soil, so you’ll be able to plant sooner and you’ll probably enjoy a higher produce yield.
Contain yourself! Did you know that almost any vegetable, and quite a few fruits (such as berries, limes, and melons), can be adapted to growing in a pot? It’s true! So even if you’ve got no yard at all, you can still cultivate a container garden on your balcony, patio, or windowsill. As with a raised-bed garden, container gardens are very accessible and offer you total control over soil quality. Keep in mind a few simple guidelines such as making sure that larger plants are in larger containers and that all have adequate drainage holes, and you’re good to garden!
Start small. If you bite off more produce than you can chew, you may become overwhelmed and leave your garden to the not-so-tender mercies of nature. If you’re a newbie, choose just a few easy-to-cultivate vegetables, fruits, and herbs, preferably ones that already feature prominently in your diet. You can let yourself gradually catch the gardening bug from there!
Don’t panic: You’ll find the time. Prospective gardeners may be excited by the idea of growing their own fruits and vegetables but daunted by the scope of the project ahead of them. If you’re wondering where you’re going to find the time to cultivate and harvest plants, take a deep breath. After the initial effort of planting and potting is over, your daily garden chores such as watering and weeding will usually be done in 15 to 30 minutes. And when you consider how much time most of us waste in front of the computer or TV, well…the task ahead of you might not be so difficult to fit in after all. (And it’ll certainly be more nourishing!)
“Grow” easy on yourself. The fact is, some types of produce are much hardier and easier to grow than others. Why make your first foray into gardening more difficult than it needs to be by trying to raise plants that are needy? Start with tried-and-true plants like basil, rosemary, blueberries, tomatoes, lettuce, and peppers, for example.
It’s as easy as one, two, TREE. When most people think “gardening,” trees don’t necessarily spring to mind. While it’s true that trees can take longer than tomato plants or berry bushes to yield fruit, the wait is usually well worth it. Consider planting cherry, apple, peach, etc. saplings in your yard. As they grow, these trees will be both beautiful and practical. And the yardless needn’t be left out—remember that fruits such as peaches, plums, figs, lemons, limes, etc. (often available in dwarf varieties) can be grown in pots.
Farm alongside your flowers. Many people whose patios or yards are livened up by colorful flowers have never given a second thought to raising produce. If you’re one of them, consider this: You already have the knowledge and skills to care for plants. So why not plant some tomatoes or cilantro along with those zinnias and pansies?
Grow your own “spice rack.” Many people don’t immediately think of herbs when they hear the word “gardening,” but the truth is that these little plants are generally easy to grow, don’t require much space (think window boxes and small pots), and can really spice up your meals! Plus, with a little advance planning, you can stock your shelf with dried herbs that will last the whole year round.
Practice pollution-free pest control. If you are able to grow and harvest your produce with no unwelcome critters taking a bite or two, consider yourself lucky! The fact is, it’s a good idea to have a pesticide plan in place…but you don’t have to risk polluting your yard or harming beneficial insects in the process. For example, hot pepper sprays, garlic, used dishwater, and even some varieties of plants naturally repel insects and animals alike.
Make it a group effort… Nobody ever said that gardening had to be a solitary activity! For example, you might grab a neighbor (or two or three) and share the hoeing, weeding, and watering chores. And when your labors bear fruit, you can share that as well. (Also, it’s worth noting that gardening doesn’t have to be an adults-only activity. It can be a great bonding experience for families, too—working outside is much healthier than playing a video game or watching TV, and your kids will learn quite a bit in the process.)
…or a community-wide one! If you like the idea of enlisting aid in your cultivation efforts but don’t have the desire or space to “host” a garden yourself, research to see if there are any community gardens in your area. They may charge a fee for participation and might feature plots that are collectively gardened or plots that are allotted to individuals. One thing’s for sure, though—you’ll be able to take advantage of the expertise of your fellow gardeners, and you’ll probably make some new friends in the process!
If you need some guidance, find a 4-H club… Maybe you didn’t leave your 4-H days behind with your adolescence after all! The fact is, 4-H offers programs to its members that focus on plant science. Your local club might be able to give you personalized advice on your fledgling gardening endeavor…and you might find a fulfilling volunteering or mentoring opportunity in the process!
…or hit up the hardware store. Most hardware stores with gardening centers have everything you need to get started—and that doesn’t just include plants and gardening implements (though those are available in spades—pun intended!). Ask employees for advice on everything from which plants grow well in shade to how often to fertilize, and you’ll go home with your questions answered.
…or make friends at a farmer’s market. Chances are, there’s one near you…and who better to ask for tips and tricks than your fellow citizens who have already learned to garden successfully? This is also a good venue at which to learn about community gardens and group efforts. And bonus: You might be able to set up a booth yourself sooner than you think!
Today’s guest blog post is written by Ellen LaConte. Ms. LaConte is a memoirist, magazine and book editor, and freelance writer who has been published in numerous magazines and trade journals on subjects ranging from organic gardening and alternative technologies to the evolution of consciousness, democracy theory, and complex systems. After three decades of homesteading in Connecticut and Maine, she gardens now on a half-acre in the Yadkin River watershed of the Piedmont bioregion of North Carolina. Ms. LaConte is author of “Life Rules: Why so much is going wrong everywhere at once and how Life teaches us to fix it”.
Garden for Your Life: Five Exciting Reasons—and One Downright Scary One—You Should Learn to Grow Food This Year
Spring has sprung…and if you’re looking for a good way to “go green” this year, here’s a suggestion. Don’t stop at planting a tree, attending a rally, or giving to your favorite conservation fund. Instead, make 2011 the year you move beyond symbolic gestures and engage with the Earth in the most primal, profound, and productive way possible: by learning to grow your own food.
It’s interesting to me that people work so hard to acquire the skills we need to make a living, yet most of us neglect the most basic, essential, and valuable skill of all: the ability to feed ourselves. We depend almost totally on other people to provide the nourishment that keeps us alive.
When you ponder the implications—especially in an economy that seems to be hanging on by a thread—you can see it doesn’t make a lot of sense. For this reason and many others, I’d love to see more people commemorate Earth Day by vowing to experience firsthand the miracle of growing food.
Plenty of people dabble in gardening, of course. A survey by the Garden Writers Association revealed that 38 percent of Americans grew some of their own vegetables in 2009, a number that reflected a growing percentage of under-40s, many of whom dragged or coaxed their kids to get down and dirty, too. And apparently something like 37 percent of food gardeners aim to expand their gardens this year.
While these aren’t bad numbers, I would rather see that 38 percent reverse itself into 83 percent. Growing your own food, brings with it a huge variety of benefits. Even if you discount the ever-more-plausible specter of economic collapse (more on this later), it’s hard to deny the gifts that gardening brings to your life:
1. It’s a source of fresh, delicious, wholesome food. Guess what most people list as their first and primary reason for growing some of their own food? That’s right: the food itself. Fresher, healthier, tastier—especially if it’s grown organically, without toxic chemicals—homegrown food is just closer to what food is supposed to be about. It doesn’t just keep you alive; it makes life worth living. And it keeps your body as happy as your taste buds.
What’s especially pleasing is that so many young people still have a taste for fresh and homegrown, for live and soil-born, hand-harvested and heirloom. Contrary to what modern taste mavens have written, the young haven’t all gone over to the artificial strawberry-flavored column.
2. It helps us get mo’ satisfaction. Seventy-one percent of young people, and at least that many older vegetable gardeners, spend hours on their hands and knees in proximity to earthworms and ants because they get some kind of satisfaction out of it. Part of that satisfaction is doubtless chalked up to tasty food and bragging rights. But a large part of it is owed to the ancient, unshakeable, bred-in-the-bone sense of competence and self-reliance that comes from providing for yourself and your loved ones and friends something that you and they absolutely need.
These are feelings most Americans have lost since they’ve come to depend on “the economy” to supply them with food. They are bone-deep feelings we share not just with those hearty, self-reliant colonial Americans we’re so proud to trace ourselves back to but also with the first humans that figured out that maybe if they left those apple seeds where they lay, maybe scuffed a little dirt over them or scattered a handful of those self-sown wheat seeds where the light and soil were better, why, darn, miracles would happen over which they had some control. On-demand food, 10,000 B.C.-style.
3. We’re up for downtime, and digging in the dirt supplies it in (pun alert!) spades. Gardening’s hard work. It takes concentration and focus. But for most Americans, the break from artificial lighting and air, plastic plants, a chair that may or may not be ergonomic, multitasking, 24/7/365 exposure to interruption, and other demands is more like a vacation than work. Sixty percent of the young vegetable gardeners in the Garden Writers Association survey said that’s why they gardened: It relaxed them.
When you’re in the garden, you’re working on plant and wind and sun and rain time, not clock time. If you let yourself be fully present to what the garden needs from you, you’re automatically attuned to Life’s more leisurely time frames, not the customary frenetic human ones.
4. It’s a spiritual thing. The original sacred texts of most of the great spiritual traditions begin in or refer to some sort of garden. Most of the world’s spiritual teachers have taught us how we should live in the world and with each other by using gardening metaphors and parables. So is it any wonder that for many, the garden, even one created in pots huddled on a patio on the fifteenth floor above an urban street, triggers a spontaneous, instinctive connection with that larger Life within which we have our lives and that ineffable Source of all that is, which makes new life arise out of something as unprepossessing as a seed?
Gardening makes us partners in the ongoing Creation. Like other forms of what feels like playing and praying at the same time, gardening is something that can be done alone. Its depths and pleasures are, however, amplified greatly by being shared.
Where I live in the Bible-belt south, it would be safe to say “the family that breaks clay together, stays together.”
5. It keeps us fit and healthy.Bend and stretch, bend and stretch. No doubt about it, gardening is one of the best ways to get and stay fit even before it offers up bounties of food that, if we eat them instead of what we pick up on the way home or have in a box in the cupboard or bag in the freezer, amplify fitness. Whole muscle groups you didn’t know you had get worked out at least seasonally in the process of digging, turning, hoeing, raking, sowing, weeding.
“Infamous twentieth century homesteader, vegetarian, and gardener Helen Nearing liked to say “gardening is an adult sport.” It’s also an aerobic and isotonic one. And, since she didn’t have children, she couldn’t have known that they take to gardening like doctors to golf courses, too.
6. And last—but certainly not least!—it might someday save your life. Here, without a doubt, is the most compelling reason of all to get proficient at growing your own food. As I explain in my book Life Rules, the entire global economy is too big not to fail. Dwindling resources, climate instability, skyrocketing prices, and other red flags point to a future in which the cheap, abundant, and readily available food we currently enjoy may no longer be there for us.
As hard as it is for most Americans to imagine, there may come a day when grocery store shelves are bare. If and when that day comes, the ability to grow your own food will no longer be a hobby but a survival skill.
Even if the worst doesn’t happen (I fervently hope we’ll get on top of our converging problems so that it doesn’t), a society that’s not disconnected from its food production is a healthier one in general. And when you consider how easy it really is to grow fruits and veggies—in backyards, on vacant lots, in community gardens, and in patio pots—there’s certainly no reason not to.
Gardening well takes skill, but seeds, soil, earthworms, more billions of soil microbes than you can count (if you don’t kill ’em with inorganic chemicals), rain, and sun do most of the work. The food is built into the seed and is called out of the seed by the other five. To take charge of our food supply again, we just need 83 instead of 38 percent of Americans to bring seeds into contact with them, love ’em a little, and wait.
Sounds like a good way to get up close and personal with our particular places on Earth this spring.
Every year, in the United States, $54 billion worth of food is thrown away. Ninety-eight percent of the food ends up in landfills instead of compost bins. What does this have to do with climate change?
Global climate change is connected to both how our food is grown and what happens to it when we send it to the landfill. Of course, in many parts of the world no food at all is wasted. But in the industrialized world, we have become a “throw away” society, and that includes food. Landfills produce methane, which is a much more powerful greenhouse gas that carbon dioxide. According to the EPA, landfills are the second–largest human-related source of methane in the U.S., accounting for 23 percent of all methane emissions in 2007. Methane is generated in landfills and open dumps as waste decomposes under anaerobic (without oxygen) conditions.
So, if you have a fridge full of leftovers, don’t let them go to waste! In our house, we love leftovers for lunch, but if you’re not that keen on having what you had last night for supper again the next day, freeze a single-serving container to enjoy for a future hassle-free lunch. And, of course, compost food scraps if you can – everything but meat and dairy. In our corner of the world, people sometimes are opposed to composting because they’re concerned that compost piles attract bears and other wild animals. All I can say is, we have been composting our food scraps for 10 years without a bear ever going near our bin (I did see a mouse once, though).
Here’s a video about food waste and how to avoid it:
We all have to eat, but the choices we make on how to do that have a huge impact on the environment. The average piece of food in the US travels over 1000 miles (1600 kilometres) from farm to plate; I’m sure here in Canada it’s about the same. Ways to change this are to grow your own, to go to farmer’s markets, or to buy local as much as you can. There’s a cumulatively huge reduction in pollution and energy as more and more people make these choices. So, join the movement!
Today is Meatless Monday, and for supper my family and I are going to enjoy a salad made from lettuce from our garden and tomatoes from the farmer’s market, as well as corn on the cob and homemade bread. Yum – the taste of summer!
I’ve mentioned “Meatless Mondays” before, a campaign to increase people’s health and decrease their carbon footprint at the same time. As today is Monday, and I have a lot of things on my “plate”, I have a smorgasbord of offerings today for readers rather than my own posting. Hope you enjoy them, and have a great day!
Earth Hour is 8:30 pm., Saturday March 27, 2010.
In 2009 hundreds of millions of people around the world showed their support by turning off their lights for one hour.
Earth Hour 2010 will continue to be a global call to action to every individual, every business and every community. A call to stand up, to show leadership and be responsible for our future. Click here to go to EarthHour.org to find out more and pledge your support.
Hurdle Passed to Create North America’s Largest Urban Farm in Richmond, B.C. (from 100MileDiet.org)
Two years ago it seemed hopeless; only one city councillor, pioneer farmer descendent Harlold Steves, voted to save the 136-acre parcel in the heart of urban Richmond, B.C., for agricultural purposes. Thanks to the dogged work of the Garden City Lands Coalition, two major hurdles have been passed, moving them toward their vision of creating the largest urban farm in North America. It would include a teaching centre, food bank and local-foods restaurant, covering all the economic and cultural bases in the movement to spread good food to everyone. Here’s how the battle played….click on 100MileDiet.org for more.
The U.S. just experienced its coldest winter in 25 years, according to the National Climatic Data Center. The winter period December – February was the 18th coldest winter in the contiguous U.S. over the past 115 years, and the coldest since 1984 – 1985. It was also a wet winter, ranking 19th wettest…The only state much above average was Maine, which had its 3rd warmest winter. As I discussed earlier this week, this winter’s cold weather over the U.S. is largely due to the Arctic Oscillation/North Atlantic Oscillation, which assumed its most extreme negative configuration since record keeping began in 1950. El Niño helped keep things cool from Texas to the Southeastern U.S., as well….Canada had its warmest winter on record, 4.0°C (7.2°F) above average, according to Environment Canada. The previous record was 3.9°C above average, set in 2005-2006. Canada also experienced its driest winter on record this year, with precipitation 22.0% below normal…David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada, warned of potential “horrific” water shortages, insect infestations, and wildfires this summer due to the warm, dry winter. Phillips blamed the warm winter weather on El Niño and the severe loss of arctic sea ice last fall. The winter season in Canada has warmed, on average, by 2.5°C (4.5°F) over the past 63 years...Click here to read the entire post, and see the weather charts, at Masters’ WunderBlog.
And a video, Wanted: David and Charles Koch, Climate Criminals, via Creative Greenius, who says:
If you think those of us fighting climate change are going to go easy on the guilty criminals who destroy our atmosphere for profit… Think again.