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One complaint about organics is that it too expensive. I'm not so sure about that...I just made an awesome organic, meal for six people under $35! I'm calling it, sweet potato wrapped chard enchiladas. And was accompanied by a lovely, green salad with slices of blood oranges. I made the dish last Friday after first having it the day before on Thursday. That's how much I loved it...I had to taste it again. and quick! It was that good!

When I handed the clerk my credit card to pay for the ingredients, I thought to myself, "A family of six probably couldn't get out of McDonald's for much cheaper at $5/person." Not only is it price comparable but it is healthier, organic and made in a kitchen hopefully with family and friends laughing and talking as the meal gets assembled. That's exactly what happened on both of my recent cooking occasions. The first occasion was with a group of kids who were learning about one of the fundamental principles to having a sustainable food system...eating seasonally and as locally as possible. The second occasion was with a group of friends that i wanted to share this culinary delight.

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The kids, were the real inspiration! They are part of a program which studies the monthly lecturers hosted by the Squaw Valley Institute. The next speaker is farmer, Joel Salatin! One of Joel's suggestions for re-normalizing society...is to get our hands on our food coming together in community to tell the story of our food and make a wonderful meal which can be shared together.

Want to make this amazing feast? First I have to give props to Aaron at New Moon Natural Foods in Truckee, CA. This incredible combination of flavors and textures is his own creation crafted on the fly when asked to participate in this worthy program. He led a group of 9 kids through the gastro-technical process each taking pride in their contribution later licking the platter clean. Had these children been fed blanched chard leaves with no connection to the meal, they would have probably snubbed their noses. But having all participated in the preparation, they wanted to savor their hard work. Not longer was it wilted green leaves but green pockets with yummy filling. Get cooking in the kitchen and brings lots of people with you!

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SWEET POTATO WRAPPED CHARD ENCHILADAS:

1 bunch         rainbow chard
3 medium       sweet potatoes
2 large           leeks  
1 small           block of parmesan
1 ball              fresh mozzarella
2 cans            crushed tomatoes
1 head           garlic
1 bunch          parsley
1 cup              pine nuts
1 TBSP           sugar
To taste          salt & pepper

Boil and mash the sweet potatoes (optional: add butter and cream). Chop and saute leeks adding them to the mashers. Grate parm into mashers adding salt & pepper to taste. In a large sauce pan, saute whole garlic cloves adding crushed tomatoes. Add in chopped ends of the rainbow chard and parsley. Finish with sugar and salt & pepper to taste. Blanch the chard leaves then wrap them with a large serving spoon full of masher filling. Place in a large casserole dish stacked tight like enchiladas. Pour the tomato sauce over top. Grate mozzarella over top and sprinkle with pine nuts. Bake for 20-30 minutes @ 350°.          

 
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I attended Nevada County's Sustainable Food & Farm Conference this past weekend in Grass Valley, CA and enjoyed an all-star line-up of keynote speakers...Temra Costa - author of Farmer Jane, Will Allen of Growing Power in Milwaukee, topped of with a little Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms, a.k.a. poster boy for sustainable farming practices...otherwise known as the farmer made famous in Michael Pollan's book, Omnivore's Dilemma and the Oscar nominated film, Food, Inc.

Getting to see Joel was just a warm-up for his upcoming lecture at Olympic Valley Lodge in Squaw Valley on Wednesday, February 13th; hosted by Squaw Valley Institute and in support of the Tahoe Food Hub and Slow Food Lake Tahoe. If you live nearby, reserve your tickets today at squawvalleyinstitute.org.

Knowing he was speaking to a choir of sustainable farmers and foodies, Joel handcrafted a new lecture on the fly for his audience of 300. I thought that was pretty thoughtful and it brought everyone to an even more alerted attention when he announced he had new material. He wanted to speak about people's "Fear of Success" and that people are actually less fearful of failure because so many people fail and "what's the harm in trying?" His request was for radical thinkers to take a chance on a passionate idea. As his Dad use to say, "We'll know more in 30-minutes that we do right now." In other words, you won't know if you'll succeed unless you try and trying is the fountain of youth.

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Joel Salatin and his kids: Daniel and Sheri.
Joel outlined the FIVE R's of being an entrepreneur:
1. Risk...gotta be willing to take a chance
2. Renegade...be an original thinker
3. Reliant...reliant on oneself and not dependent
4. Ruckus...get rowdy and stir things up
5. Rigorous...its going to be hard work but stay focused and unwavering.

Putting the "FIVE R's" in the context of agriculture, Joel made it seem pretty cut and dry, "If you want to become a farmer...be a farmer." And proceeded to discuss the 5 WAYS TO SCALE-UP TO SUCCESS and "be a farmer."

1. How do I get land?...Joel expressed there is a lot of land out there and you don't need to necessarily own it encouraging aspiring farmers to approach landowners with farmable land which can be leased. And with 50% of the farmers about to retire, the market is about to become flooded with food producing acres so we need to connect young farmers with aging farmers.

2. Be a people person!...Being a farmer is a pastoral life but it doesn't mean necessarily an introverted, unsocial life. To be a successful farmer, you can't be afraid of people because growing food is about growing community and you need to cultivate the relationships with your neighbors just as much as your crops because they are your market.

3. Management...Not everyone is the best manager but to be successful, you can't be afraid to try. The only way to be successful is to become a manager so you can grow your business but also so you can have a "life" and do other things versus never leaving your farm because you have no one else to do it. Joel's suggestion, "Hire your first person right after you go crazy!" I think we all know what he's talking about there, haha!

4. Regulations!...With success comes regulations whether it be workmen's comp or grower certifications. They can seem daunting but resources are available to make it easier. Don't let regulations be an impediment to success because it's just another hurdle like learning to farm.

5. Business...You're in business to be successful so get set up for success. Have an action plan no matter how simple it is and strive for those goals.

From the mouth of Joel!

 
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My Tiny Home, all 400sft of it!
I've been waiting for the one-year anniversary of one of my most favorites posts so I could rerun it. Ironically, just in the last week, it has been getting lots of views. The post, entitled, "Social Security,"  originally ran on January 29, 2012 (I'm early by one week). Soon after it ran, I moved into a tiny home where I continue to reside...I live on the same property as the Growing Dome that I manage learning everyday about the trials and tribulations of 4-season gardening. I love my little shelter. It's like my own fort or playhouse but really...it is just practice for when I build one of my very own and start saving for my "Social Security." The complete story has been reposted below.

I handed the postmaster my yellow slip and he returned with a package from Amazon. I hadn't ordered anything so while he processed my other mail, I opened the box to find the book, Tiny Homes, Simple Shelter. I started flipping through it and was immediately enthralled turning the book so the postman could see the color glossy images of the cutest small homes, I'd ever seen. Some were made from earth, mud and other natural materials sourced on site. While others were made out of recycled scraps, repurposed materials, backyard sheds as well as old trailers, buses and gypsy wagons.

On the drive home, I was wondering how this book came to be in my possession. Perhaps it was from a publisher for whom I was doing a book review and they had sent me the book by mistake. It would have been such a coincidence to send this book, of all books, to me...I've had a fascination with cottages for as long as I can remember starting when I was eleven years old with Julie Andrews' book, Mandy. The reply from the publisher read, "no, they had not sent me the book," I rustled through the box that was now in the recycling bin to find a wee slip of paper that said, "From your brother-in-law, Mike." A smile grew across my face. So cool! I had forgotten our conversation from a few months earlier where I had told him how I wanted to build a simple, 500 sq. ft. cabin on a lovely piece of land and call it home. He, however, had remembered our chat and when he saw this book, sent it along for inspiration. Those are the best presents of all!

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Later that week, I was attending the first day of a permaculture course with Northern Nevada Permaculture and Urban Roots Garden Classrooms in Reno. The whole premise of permaculture is to create land-use systems which utilize resources in a sustainable way. Nature is permanent agriculture so in permaculture you are basically mimicking nature's design to grow food,  harness energy and live in connection to place. It is more than sustainable it is regenerative because a large part of permaculture is stacking functions which create cycles to reuse energy like the sun and water. 

People are a part of nature so in permaculture, they live in more ecological structures. When our instructor started flipping through examples of "tiny homes, simple shelters," I was even more amazed by the timing of this book in my life.

For a long time now, I've realized my life choices may never make me millions and I will more than likely have to work well past retirement age. But my life choices could be my social security! And a small, energy efficient, sustainably sourced, off-the-grid home could not only provide me a simpler life in later years but be kind to the environment as well. These homes are as beautiful as they are unique and their ingenuity is intoxicating. We talk about reducing our carbon footprint. Perhaps it starts with literally reducing the footprint upon which we live. The costs associated with eco-homes can be expensive but when scaled for smaller structures and when supplemented with natural cycles to capture energy, it can be affordable. Granted, not everyone is going to move to the country and go Daniel Boone but it does give pause for reflection. But for me, my financial future just got a whole lot brighter with this as a possibility.

 
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Recently, I was asked to be a guest blogger for Handpicked Nation, an authentic food & farm site. I wandered around in a field of possible stories and settled on one of my hot new topics...the realization that  CSA doesn't stand for a "weekly box of veggies" but rather "community supported agriculture." And what does it mean to help farmers get their food to market before it gets to your fork. Below is an excerpt from the article and for the complete article click here.

“Farm-to-Table” has recently become a buzzy catchphrase. It has done a wonderful job of promoting the harvests of small-scale farms and helping people conceptualize a local food system. But before food can go from farm-to-table, it has to get to market. And that can be a huge step for a lot of small-scale farmers.

Many farmers have great business and marketing skills but all lack time; the time to get their food to market. It takes a lot of energy and money to cultivate and maintain retail relationships, develop and disseminate promotional materials for direct-to-consumer programs, not to mention the travel required to attend farmers’ markets. Infrastructure needs to be established to help small-scale farmers get over this hurdle. And food hubs provide this opportunity. They not only help farmers get over the farm-to-market hurdle but help the sustainable food movement get over the proverbial Big Ag hurdle.

For the complete article go to Handpicked Nation...


 
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For every action there is a reaction. But I think we forget this sometimes. Or, is it because something doesn't get talked about or reported, that we don't think critically about all the repercussions. As is the case with fracking for natural gas...Fracking: the water-intensive, carcinogen-laden practice of unlocking deep reservoirs of fossil fuels in the earth's crust. Films, books and articles have exposed what fracking can do to the water, air, land and people living near these drilling sites. One thing is missing from this line-up, our food!

On December 17th, Elizabeth Royte, published an article in The Nation entitled, "What the Frack is in Our Food?" It pointed out the obvious, or perhaps not so obvious...the action of injecting high-powered chemicals into the earth creates a negative reaction that ripples well past the water and people it directly impacts but one that extends throughout the food chain. If you didn't think fracking affects you because it isn't in your backyard (yet), look no further than the food on your plate (queue the Pyscho movie tune, ehehehehe).

The national conversation on natural gas is dominated by the energy independence it can provide the United States. It's like an ostrich with its head in the sand. If it can't see the water it is contaminating, the environmental degradation it is causing and the people and livestock it is making sick and killing, then it is happening. Well, its happening. We say we are addicted to oil & gas, but we have to remember that addiction kills.

There are conflicting reports whether the Volatile Organic Compounds found in fracking fluids such as benzene can  accumulate in animals and plants. The reason so little is known is because not enough research has been completed to evaluate the long term effects of these chemicals and how they move through the food chain. But there is definitely enough evidence by the number of illnesses diagnosed in the people who drink the water and inhale the air around fracking wells as well as the number of dead cows and farm animals living in close proximity.

In the article, Elizabet reported, "The World Wildlife Fund identified 632 chemicals used in 
natural-gas production. More than 75 percent of them, could affect sensory organs and the respiratory and 
gastrointestinal systems; 40 to 50 percent have potential impacts on the kidneys and on the nervous, immune and 
cardiovascular systems; 37 percent act on the hormone system; and 25 percent are linked with cancer or mutations."

If we want to believe that these chemicals aren't working their way up the food chain, then we might as well stick our head back in the sand.