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Photo courtesy of Daphne Hougard
The story of the Tahoe Food Hub has a lot of moving parts and can be hard to capture in a press interview but Laura Brown with the "The Union" in Nevada City/Grass Valley, CA nailed it! We so appreciate her thoughtful reporting and comprehensive coverage of who we are and what we want to do. Below is an excerpt but for the full story, click here.

An emerging nonprofit group called the Tahoe Food Hub is reaching out to foothill farmers in Western Nevada County in an effort to supply restaurants and natural food stores in the Truckee-Tahoe region with fresh, locally grown produce.

If done well, the project has the potential to reduce the headache of marketing and distribution while securing a steady stream of revenue for local agriculture, say some local farmers.  A food hub aggregates food from regional producers, stores it, markets it and distributes it within a local area, according to the Tahoe Food Hub’s website.

“We’re mirroring a national food system but doing it on a regional level,” said Susie Sutphin, co-executive director of the Tahoe Food Hub.

Food hubs help small-scale producers find new markets, provide local communities with healthy, ecologically grown food and educates consumers about the importance of sustainable agriculture and the positive ripple effect of buying local. Read the whole story here...


 
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Candy Belsse's 5th Grade Class - Truckee Elementary
It might be a little corny, but Whitney Houston pretty much hit it spot on, "Children are our future!" And in keeping with the kids theme of the past few weeks, I wanted to share some pictures from two, recent, kid-driven harvests at the Truckee Community Farm.

Last Friday, twenty-five 5th graders from Truckee Elementary came out to the Growing Dome and in the matter of one hour harvested, weighed, washed and packed 16lbs of greens and rooted vegetables. About 8lbs will be used to make a soup for a cafeteria meal. But the kids got a special surprise for the weekend when they learned they would each be taking home a bag of lettuce greens to share with their families.

Three weeks before that, students from Tahoe Expeditionary Academy in Kings Beach came to do a harvest helping us prepare a food donation for Project Mana, our local hunger relief agency. Not only did the kids harvest 8lbs of veggies but they got to deliver the food to Project Mana taking their field trip to a whole other dimension and demonstrating the connection we all share with food. Check out the video and photo gallery below.

 
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Guest blogger, chef and rad skier...Cody LaPlante
Something I haven't done yet at Food Chronicles is have a guest blogger. Pretty standard stuff for most blogs. Guess I was waiting for just the right contributor! Wait no longer. I would like to introduce my first guest, Cody LaPlante. Cody is 11yrs. old and a great storyteller.

Cody is a member of the Squaw Valley Institute Kid's Club. The club came out to the Growing Dome for an evening tour to learn about the dome and discover cool things about 4-season growing. Everyone got to help Cody harvest veggies that he later used in a seasonal meal prepared for his family. BIG thanks to Carolyn Hamilton who organizes this talented and motivated bunch of kids who are developing a better connection to their food in anticipation of Joel Salatin's visit on Feb. 13th. Here's Cody...

One time my class went to the Growing Dome in Truckee. It was full of vegetables and frogs. I saw a water tank with fish and asked what if was for. Susie said that the fish poop fertilizes the plants in a system called aquaponics. The Dome has solar panels to power the water tank's pump and fans to circulate air. When it gets hot in the Dome the wax on the cooling vents melts and opens the vents so cool air can come in. When the dome starts to cool down the wax hardens and closes the vents. That's cool!  At the Dome we harvested parsley, chard, carrots, one beat, radishes, and spinach leaves.

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Great Basin Community Food Cooperative in Reno is a little market that only sells local, organic foods from farmers around our area. There we got some cabbage and ground beef. The meat was all grass fed from Albaugh Farms in Fallon, Nevada. I visited this farm last fall and we got to see all the cows, sheep, goats, and chickens, and we got to play on the tree swing. The cabbage was from Riverdog Farms in California.

After the LONG process of getting all the food I finally got to make my meal. We made a salad with chard, beat leaves, carrots, and radishes. My favorite part of the salad was the beat leaves! We boiled the beat and sliced it up and put a little vinegar on it. It was really sweet! We added parsley, salt, pepper, and honey from beehives in Sparks, Nevada to the ground beef. Then we cooked it up and made cabbage wraps. It was so good we had it for lunch the next day.

                - Cody LaPlante, 11yrs. old - Truckee, CA

 
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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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There is something about getting a logo that makes things feel legit! Check it out! it comes in purple, green and of course black. We co-branded the logo since the Growing Dome at the Truckee Community Farm will be the pilot for the Dome Raising Project...

What's the Dome Raising Project? The Dome Raising Project (DRP) is a community collaborative between institutional partners and local citizens interested in raising Growing Domes (www.growingspaces.com) for educational and food procurement purposes in the Lake Tahoe region. The DRP organizes the installation, disseminates resources and coordinates the funding of growing domes for Tahoe Truckee schools, hospitals, and municipalities.

The Growing Dome is what we grow in at the Truckee Community Farm. It is a 4-season growing structure appropriate for colder climates. They are designed and manufactured by Growing Spaces in Pagosa Springs, CO. They harness Tahoe’s 280+ days of sunlight helping an otherwise non-food producing region become more food secure and begin to create a more regional food system.

The Dome Raising Project is focused on “raising” domes, RAISING awareness for good nutrition and RAISING an understanding for eco-literacy, and RAISING healthy, sustainable grown food in our food insecure region. By raising domes, we raise a deeper connection and respect for our food and our human ecosystem. The DRP will be one of four programs under the newly established non-profit, the Tahoe Food Hub. The Tahoe Food Hub is focused on building a regional food system with producers within 150-miles which includes exploring ways to grow food locally using climate appropriate growing structures like the Growing Dome.

A network of Tahoe domes makes a regional statement and encourages all in the Tahoe Basin to think more consciously about where their food comes from. By working together versus independently, each project site will be more successful sharing funding, resources, curriculum and most of all passion.

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Integral to the DRP is the connection a community shares with food. Hospitals serve as dietary role models and schools serve as system-based learning centers to help our next, planetary stewards make the connection between good nutrition, health and an equitable food system.

The DRP’s first campaign...is to help the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District and Tahoe Forest Health System install Growing Domes at area institutions for educational and therapy purposes as well as to provide locally, grown food to their cafeterias.

In order for a Growing Dome to get built at schools and hospitals in Tahoe, it needs to meet the heavy snow load requirements of Tahoe. Growing Spaces has been working diligently over the past five months to engineer a "Sierra Dome" just for our region." To put it in perspective...the standard Growing Dome is built for 65psf (pounds per square foot) ground snow load. In 25 years of manufacturing, Growing Spaces has only had to modify the dome up to 95psf. That is until Tahoe came along. The Sierra Dome's base model will be designed to withstand 205psf ground snow load. That's how we roll in Tahoe! Contact us if you are interested in learning more about Growing Domes and/or the Dome Raising Project by using my contact page.

 
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The recent issue of Edible Reno-Tahoe just came out. I have an article in there about how the Growing Dome got its start and how one was lucky enough to land in Tahoe so I could be its farm manager. Here is the intro but for the whole article, click here.

As community members across the country become more focused on their food security (not only as a way to improve access to ecologically grown food, but also to improve their local economy), they must evaluate their foodshed. Discerning local food enthusiasts should look at where their food is sourced but, more importantly, how food can be grown in their region.

Thanks to special growing structures and four-season growing methods, even those living in mountain climates now can grow food. These special growing structures aren't just ordinary greenhouses; they are geodesic dome-shaped greenhouses manufactured by Udgar and Puja Parsons of Growing Spaces in Pagosa Springs, Colo.
For the complete article, please visit Edible Reno-Tahoe.


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IN OTHER NEWS...me and my business partner, Eve McEneaney, filed the Articles of Incorporation for the Tahoe Food Hub last week. In order to expedite the process, we drove to Sacramento to file in person. We could have mailed it in, but filing in person made for a much more momentous occasion. It was an exciting day putting us one step closer to helping build a regional food system for Lake Tahoe.

 
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When I first came up with the "foodlust" concept, I tried to visualize what it might look like in a logo. I kept visioning this debonair, swashbuckling gentleman dipping a leek raptured by its earthly wonder. Foodlust is after all "a deep respect for food" and if consumed with foodlust, we would cradle the bounty of mother nature in awe and amazement at what she provides. We would not take our food for granted, expect it to be cheap, super-size everything, and let it go to waste.

I had a friend draw up this picture in my mind and I've included it here along with my interpretive tribute to foodlust.

This past week, I harvested my first leeks! It took five months but who's counting. It was worth the wait! They weren't the fattest leeks I'd ever seen but they had lovely, long white shanks! I learned this trick of long-white shanks from 4-season gardener, Eliot Coleman...when your leek seedlings are 10" tall, you loosen them from the ground trimming roots and tops and then transplant them into 9" holes. In his book, Winter Harvest Handbook, he says, " If you have never grown leeks this way before, you may find it hard to believe that it will work - but it does!" And it did!

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Volunteers and clients from Project Mana's food distribution in Truckee, CA.
Along with the leeks, was a whopping 56lb. harvest! It was our biggest yet. Like most of our harvests, 70% or more is donated to our local hunger relief agency, Project Mana. It was an incredible day and a big celebration! Over the past month, a traveler named Terry from Wyoming, had come out to the growing dome every week to volunteer. For his hard work, I would load him up with an arm full of veggies to share with his fellow travelers at the local hostel. He humored me by taking the photos of me with the leeks.

The following is a photo essay over the last week. My friend Daphne Hougard, who is a professional photographer, came down for the 56lb pickin'. She took the one of me with the carrots and the gorgeous one of the dome's interior at sunrise! Enjoy the harvest!

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Daphne Hougard Collection
 
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Our first corn!
As I inspected our small crop of corn in the growing dome today, I found one lone ear infested with aphids. The crop is almost ready to harvest so I thought I would take a peak and make sure the little buggers hadn't damaged the corn. As I slowly peeled back the husk to reveal the ear, I felt a little like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory unwrapping to find the golden ticket. Would my hard work be rewarded with a healthy ear of corn??

Lucky for me, it was stellar! I'm a little biased but it was the most beautiful ear of corn I've ever seen. I felt a little guilty as I revered this work of art thinking of my comrades in the Midwest suffering from the drought and entire corn crop failures.

Conventional farmers with "big ag" contracts are protected with crop insurance. The same can't be said for small specialty-crop farms especially organic farms. They aren't eligible for these benefits leaving them to take the hit. For CSA farmers, they can at least lean on their members for a type of "crop insurance." In these desperate times, CSA members are learning firsthand what it means to share the risk with the men and women who grow their food.

As I've been following the drought, I couldn't help but wonder, "how are the organic farms holding up?" Are they doing better? And are conventional growers starting to see the pitfalls of their farming methods which deplete the soil making them more vulnerable to drought? I haven't been able to find a report documenting this just yet but I did find an article by one of my favorite food & farming writers, Tom Philpott. I was glad to see he was asking the same questions. And while the results aren't in for 2012, studies have been done which prove that organic crops have higher yields than conventional crops during times of drought and heavy rain. Why?

Organics fields are high in organic matter. The organic matter is a result of regular composting, diverse crop rotations and cover crops. It feeds the soil and in the process stores atmospheric carbon. Carbon rich soil is able to retain moisture helping soil to be more resilient during drought years. During heavy rains, carbon high soil can manage water better so it can filter through the soil versus not being able to penetrate hard, nutrient deficient soil which leads to flooded fields.

It isn't surprising then to learn that organically managed soil is a great way to sequester carbon and mitigate climate change. When carbon is in the soil it is not in the atmosphere. Conventional crops can't say the same. The soil food web which creates the environment to sequester this carbon is destroyed when treated with synthetic chemicals.

My hope is that the 2012 drought will be taken into consideration during the final stages of the 2012 Farm Bill creating incentives to help conventional farms transition to organic and in the process transfer some of the crop insurance over to the farms making the switch in order to protect  their efforts.

 
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I had the fortune of attending a gardening workshop this past weekend in Pagosa Springs, CO where the Growing Domes are manufactured. It was wonderful to meet the designers of this amazing 4-season growing structure and fellow dome owners. When Udgar and Puja Parsons brought their business, Growing Spaces, to Pagosa Springs 17 years ago, they were the first dome. Now there are over 80 in the greater Pagosa area making it the mecca for geodesic greenhouses. It is more than just an impressive number, it demonstrates a mountain community' self-reliance and ability to grow their own food year-round.

Leading the workshop was permaculturist, Jerome Ostenowski with the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute in Basalt, CO. Jerome had us up and out of our chairs in under an hour digging in the dirt and planting tropical plants of banana and papaya in Growing Spaces newest dome demo. These "Growing Spaces" are so amazing that you can grow tropical plants in the mountain climates!

Before the trees went in the ground, we had to "make the bed" using a fascinating and simplistic method called "sheet mulching." Some people call it a "lasagna bed" because you create a soil profile by layering a combination of organic materials alternating layers between browns (carbon) and greens (nitrogen). There are different theories on what ingredients you can use. Some allow newspaper and cardboard as a brown, carbon source. But for this exercise, we are going to keep it strictly organic. Sheet mulching is not only fun and easy but reduces the cost of buying a whole truckload of gardening soil. Many of the items can be sourced from your own yard (grass clippings, green manure) or acquired for FREE from local sources (composted manure and straw).

Above is a diagram I wrote in my notebook as the layers went into the bed. You can see how you start with a bulky carbon source on the bottom and begin stacking 3-4" layers repeating the process every 4-5 layers till the bed is full. Give the stacking a good soak every four layers too. Get rev up the mA few tips:
  1. Composted manure - composted manure means it is mature livestock poop and has been sitting for at least 3-years. It ensures that all the weed seeds have died and other bacterias have as well. You can find this locally from a farm. Try and get horse or chicken manure. And if unsuccessful, you can buy bags of chicken manure at a local plant nursery.
  2. Grass clippings - use clean grass clippings without a lot of other debris and that has not been treated with synthetic, chemical fertilizers
  3. Green Manure - this is yard and garden trimmings. It could be tall grasses from the side yard or discarded plant residue from the garden. Just be sure to not grab grasses that have gone to seed.
  4. Worms - you can order worms online or buy locally at a nursery. Best to get composting red worms versus earthworms. 
  5. Soil/compost - Buy good organic soil or compost versus native soil but native soil is fine too because it will be so well amended with all the other ingredients.
Next time you go to build a raised, garden bed, give sheet mulching a try and give your wallet a rest!