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Christmas Eve harvest @ Truckee Community Farm
As we gather together this happy day and celebrate with a cornucopia of holiday foods, we should pause and assess the seasonality of our winter plates.

Are there eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, berries, or beans at your table? These are warm-weather, summer crops. To help build a sustainable food system, we have a responsibility to be aware of non-seasonal foods. If we don't buy them, then grocery stores won't stock them helping them focus on seasonal foods which are often accessible within  regions 150-250 miles away versus 1500 miles.

Yesterday, the Growing Dome at the Truckee Community Farm produced an 8lb harvest of leafy greens: arugula, curly kale, Siberian kale, Swiss chard, butterleaf lettuce and romaine lettuce.

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The aftermath - neatly trimmed rows of greens
Outside was four feet of snow with more in the forecast. Inside, the Growing Dome was busy raising winter veggies keeping them warm like an incubator does for its baby chicks. Other winter crops will soon come into harvest like spinach and mache and a variety of rooted vegetables such as beets, turnips, radishes, carrots, leeks, garlic and potatoes.

Tis' the season to be merry both in our hearts and in our stomachs! Keep the warmth in your thoughts and the cool-hearty foods on your plates.

 
No, I'm not talking about climate change but rather keeping your crops warm during winter. We are just beginning our 4th season here at the Truckee Community Farm's Growing Dome and last night, November 11th, marked our first truly cold night of the season at 5°F! Watch the videos to see how the Growing Dome's natural heating system is able to keep the inside just above freezing on such a cold night. We used floating row covers to help the soil retain as much heat as possible overnight especially for the sprouts and seedlings that are still getting established. But once they are more mature, the Growing Dome will stay warm enough that they won't be needed. I'm as excited for growing veggies as I am for skiing this winter season! Check back soon for a progress report.
 
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I was sitting on the back stoop at friend's BBQ the other night typewritering through an ear of corn. I commented on how much I love corn-on-the-cob. Others nodded in agreement mumbling words of happiness through kernel laced grins.

Then it occurred to me...We don't mind respecting the seasonality of sweet corn anticipating it's summer on a stick flavor in July & August; so why do we expect to see tomatoes in January or Asparagus in October? We don't expect to see a ears of corn piled high in December.

The irony is...corn is one of the world's largest commodity crops and is available all year-long in the processed form yet we dance and sing at its arrival each summer like a long lost friend. Granted, corn for eating and corn for high fructose corn syrup are different varieties, but the principle is the same...we know how to respect seasonality so why can't we do this across the board for all fruits and vegetables?

Want a few more fun facts...sweet corn has more sugar than starch and must be eaten rather soon after harvest before all that sugar turns to starch. Corn for processed food is made from a tasteless field variety like "Yellow Dent Corn" which has more starch than sugar and must be processed in order to be edible..

 
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After a long day of presentations, we were rewarded with a stimulating class on coffee cupping - similar to wine tasting but for coffee (click on the image to the left for a video). Can't say I'm really any better at detecting the "flavor profile," as they say, but I learned a lot about coffee in the process which debunked a few myths...

1. Dark roasts typically have less acidity while lighter roasts have more since they retain more of their natural flavors.

2. Hence, darker roasts mask the flavor more making it harder to notice the different notes of the bean., i.e. fruity, herby, etc.. When they say "Charbucks," it basically means that Starbucks has really dark coffee; some may even say burnt. By not allowing more of the coffee's natural flavors to show through, Starbucks can obtain the uniformity they need across the globe for quality control..

3. If you ask the barista for a full-body coffee, it doesn't necessarily mean you are asking for a dark roast. Body refers to the weight or viscosity of a coffee. Our Master Cupper, Sarah Crosby-Baker of Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting, compared "body" to the difference you feel when you drink whole milk vs.skim milk...one is thicker than the other on your tongue.

4. Kona coffee is not more expensive because its exotic or any more special. It's because it is grown on US soil where workers have to be paid a fair wage and be covered for workman's comp and payroll taxes. Sounds like what the fair-trade model is trying to do for coffee grown in developing countries. If more people knew that, they would understand the concept of fair trade a bit better.

5. Just like there is seasonality within fruits and vegetables there is seasonality with coffee. Just because coffee is grown in a temporal climate doesn't mean it can grow year-round. Some roasters are starting to pay more attention to this cycle and only offer certain regional varieties when they are in season. The typical harvest for Mexico and Central America is b/w Oct-Dec. bringing those beans to market by March or April. If stored properly, raw beans can last in cool storage but better when it is fresh.

A bit more on the coffee we tried...A large part of the Community Agroecology Network's (CAN) model is their fair trade coffee program where they work with small-scale coffee farmer cooperatives in Mexico and Central America. Unlike some fair trade brands, CAN along with other coffee cooperatives like Cooperative Coffees, cut out even more middle men traveling straight from grower to roaster. It develops long-term relationships with community based partners and ensures a fair price for the coffee farmer. CAN's innovative approach involves UCSC students and researches who nurture this international network and its commitment to building sustainable rural livelihoods. What they bring back is a story about the coffee, the people and the project. Instead of a nutrition table, there is a "sustainability facts" label telling you about the coffee's origin as well as the social and economic factors of the region. You can order CAN coffee online, click here!

Will leave you with one last, fun act...If you didn't know (I didn't), Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee - true story. The story goes that a shepherd noticed his goats were acting a little zanny after eating a certain berry. He figured the berry must have some intoxicating properties and processed the bean into a drinkable substance...presto chango, coffee!

 
While on the subject of Supermarkets...it reminds me of something I concluded while reading Michael Pollan's book, Omnivore’s Dilemma. It became evident that supermarket perpetuate a lot of what's wrong in our food system...not eating in season. Yes, there are a lot of things wrong with our food system like corn/soy subsidies, the giant agrichemical corporations, monocultures etc..But supermarkets make us believe that we can have whatever we want whenever we want it. As a result, it fuels a system that requires food traveling long miles so we can have asparagus in the fall and tomatoes in February. We are so accustom to this luxury that we forget that fruits and vegetables are not available all the time. Not only does this occurrence  increase a food's carbon footprint but it pushes local suppliers out of the game because they can't compete on price and year-round availability. Supermarkets don't want to work with a gazallion suppliers so they work with just a few and when those few say you can have tomatoes in February, they say, "Sure!" And the cycles continues. Ideally, it would be great if we could get back to more localized, privately-owned grocers who could manage the seasons and work with more local suppliers. So in addition to becoming a farmer, another career opportunity would be opening a market where farmers could sell their goods year round instead of  just once a week at the farmer's market.