Archive for the ‘agriculture’ Category

a weed is a plant out of place

June 15, 2011

Jewelweed, ally against poison ivy.

I love city life. I can step out of my apartment building door and arrive at just about any place I please in as little as 5 minutes, without getting in a car and even without mass transit. For example, there’s a good bodega on my corner with some decent organic products. There’s a delicious ice cream shop about 5o paces away that sells ice cream made from dairy that comes from pasture-raised cows. Up the hill is a museum, and the botanic gardens. And just 2 blocks away is my urban refuge – Prospect Park. I spend much of my time there foraging, wildcrafting tenacious “exotic invasives” (aka, weeds), or just staring at the open sky. But despite all of these spoils, I still long for more. More green, more wilds, more open space.

There’s nothing as restorative as a visit to the country. Just a few miles north of the city there’s this place most city folk call “Upstate” (there’s also the westward land, like rural New Jersey where I’m from). Though real upstate probably doesn’t start technically until you reach the Catskills. And that’s where I found myself last week, and just south of there the weekend before.

wild weed plant ID field trip with Peeka Trenkle

At the end of winter I completed an herbal medicine course with Peeka Trenkle. At that time, very little was growing to ID, so we had to wait for the plants to emerge to have a worthwhile field trip. So Saturday before last, we went traipsing through the woods and fields of Stone Mountain Farm in New Paltz. I’ve been on several plant ID walks, all inspiring and fruitful, and this was no exception. Of the plants I could readily identify there was: plantain (Plantago major & Plantago lanceolata), sassafras, wild geranium/cranesbill (Geranium maculatum), Jack-in-the-pulpit, cleavers (Gallium aparine), jewelweed (Impatiens), burdock (Arctium lappa), violet, Japanese knotweed, mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris – one of my favorites), curly/yellow dock, wild cherry, wild raspberry (Rubus idaeus), viburnum, goldenrod (Solidago sp), red clover (Trifolium pratense), juniper, oak, white pine, wild rose, buttercup, boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), and willow. I was grateful to meet some other plant allies which I hadn’t seen growing in person: wild angelica (Angelica atropurpurea), potentilla, greater celandine (Chelidonium majus), coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), monarda, chicory, yellow sweet clover, milkweed, motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) elder (Sambucus nigra), horsetail (Equisetum arvense), and lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea).

Some of the allies we encountered, plus some of their benefits…

Lesser stitchwort, so named for its ability to relieve a “stitch” or cramp in one’s side.

Elder, before blossoming. Elder protects us from viruses like cold and flu. I’ve heard her berries also make a good wine.

Motherwort, ally during times of anxiety.

Horsetail, the great re-mineralizer, ally for strengthening bones and teeth.

 

farm stay at Newton Farm Cooperative

In the tiny hamlet of West Kill lies a beautifully diverse place called Newton Farm Cooperative. I’m lucky enough to have a friend who’s part of this cooperative, farming the land part time. During the short time we spent there, we created long days full of small adventures. Weeding, sowing, watering, weeding. (What is a weed but a plant out of place?) I arose earlier than usual with the sun shining in the large window next to my bed, the dewy meadow calling me to explore. Barefoot, I wandered, inspecting weeds that I’d later craft into medicines, transfixed by tiny insects, distracted by red wing blackbird calls and the whooshing wing beats of barn swallows. The two resident roosters and mess of hens completed the symphony of bucolic sounds.

My morning view.

Weedin’ and hoein’.

Barn swallow nest.

Dewy daisy.

Yarrow.

We ate well, harvesting a little bit of radish and lettuce from the farm beds, adding in some weeds – wild thyme and wood sorrel – as seasoning. Dinner was al fresco, by fireside (Meg is a skilled firestarter). Once it truly got dark – something that doesn’t happen in the city, unless there’s a blackout – we could see the stars. I saw a meteor fall (a shooting star) and we watched satellites blink across the sky. And then the fireflies came out, fervently flashing to find their mates.

We harvested gallons of spring water from a roadside spot in Hunter (Justin did the heavy lifting), and went strawberry picking at Greig Farm in Red Hook (Meg picked the reddest berries, and not surprisingly harvested the quickest). On the way back to the farm we dropped into the Mountain Brook Inn for a drink and chat with Lyndon, resident of the area for 28 years. He was full of useful tips for enjoying the area.

Just a few strawberries and a couple of drops of mountain fresh spring water.

Red clover. I harvested some and left much for the bees.

Lovely lettuce.

Flower of Plantago lanceolata.

Something for the bees to build on.

Before we reluctantly left for home, Ron stopped by with his delicious dark chocolate-covered frozen fruit Trop Pops for us to sample. Then Sarah and I walked down to the creek to dip our feet in. Next time, we declared, we’ll come here to sun on the rocks, maybe bring some inner tubes and float around.

In contrast to the plentiful spaciousness around us, the four of us crowded into my jam-packed Prius (which I affectionately call “Turtleboat rollerskate”) full with our bounty of fresh eggs, buckets of strawberries, gallons of Catskill mountain spring water, plus all we brought with us. It was as if we were trying to take back to the city all we could of this country retreat. Taking our time, we savored as much of the countryside as possible before returning to urban life. First, a stop at Grandmere Yvonne’s for her homemade paté, rillette, jams, mustards, and vinegars to take home. I especially enjoyed hearing how the venison paté I was buying was made with a deer that was struck by a car right in front of Yvonne’s home. The cop on the scene butchered the fallen creature, taking half for himself and giving half to Yvonne. Next we scored $1 clothing items at the Tibetan thrift shop in Kingston (the checkout lady says, “this is a dollar, is that alright?”). The last detour was to New Paltz for a picnic lunch of tasty leftovers, afterwards picking up chocolates from The Cheese Plate (where I’d been doing the same thing just the week before after the plant ID trip).

Though our stay was only two and a half days, I returned feeling restored in some deep way. Resting my eyes on the open, living & verdant world versus the cluttered, hard & constructed one in which I live cleared my mind and gave my heart a space to open into. Having just read Stephen Harrod Buhner’s The Secret Teachings of Plants gave me a newfound perspective and helped keep me present to the pulse of life around me. I plan on returning to Newton Farm soon.

 

composting in tight quarters

October 7, 2010

Do you feel a pang of guilt every time you throw away food scraps? Are you looking for a way to have a positive impact on your local ecology? Do you want to create rich, healthy soil to nurture your garden, houseplants, or street trees? Are you curious about composting, but don’t know where to start?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, sign up for Composting in Tight Quarters, a workshop I’ll be teaching at the New York Botanical Garden’s midtown campus. You’ll learn about the various ways you can create black gold from food scraps and yard waste. You’ll walk away with a better understanding of the methods city dwellers use to create compost both indoors and out.

Composting in Tight Quarters
Saturday, October 23
3pm to 5pm
NYBG Midtown Center
20 West 44th Street (5th & 6th Aves)
Manhattan

Sign up here!

our future, our food

May 11, 2010

Curious about growing food in the city? Want to know more about the strong community focus of gardening in an urban setting?

Next Wednesday, May 19 from 6 to 7pm at the Manhattan location of the New York Botanical Garden…

Our Future, Our Food: The Role of Community Gardens in Urban Agriculture

Presented by urban farmer Karen Washington, the lecture inspires growers and consumers to use gardening as a tool to educate and enrich their local communities.

Karen Washington is a garden advocate and community activist who for 25 years has been helping people cultivate healthier foods and neighborhoods in the Bronx, in part through a City Farms market that she launched. She’s also a member of the New York Botanical Garden’s Board.

Register with the New York Botanical Gardens at their new site: nybg.org/AdultEd with class code 104GAR 805 Section B or call 800.322.NYBG (6924) for more information.

• 104GAR 805 Section B: Wednesday, May 19, 6–7 p.m., Manhattan (20 West 44th Street, Midtown)

what’s going on?

May 10, 2010

Yeah, I know. This blog has been very quiet. But that’s only because my life hasn’t been. A lot more doing and a little less documenting. So here, in a nutshell, is a rundown of some of the good stuff I’ve been up to.

Growing Power

If you haven’t heard of Will Allen or his magical agricultural oasis in Milwaukee called Growing Power yet, you must not be paying attention to the sustainable urban agriculture movement. Oh wait, according to Will it’s not a movement, it’s now a revolution! My understanding of revolutions is that they are loud… can’t you hear the roar, the passion in Will’s voice?

We went to one of his Growing From the Ground Up weekend workshops a few weeks back. I just got around to uploading the pictures. Check ’em out!

Master Composter Certification

Soil is the basis of life on earth. Without its nutrients and hard-working microorganisms, plants would not grow, we would all quickly starve. In the city, we’ve got some pretty horrendous soil. Poisoned with petrochemicals and heavy metals, compacted, often just dead. Compost brings life back to the soil. I’m having a great time learning all about decomposition, soil organisms, and all of the challenges city composters put up with in the Master Composter training through the NYC Compost Project in Brooklyn (at the lovely Brooklyn Botanic Garden). I’ve met some really cool, passionate people in the class who all love to geek-out on all things compost.

Rich compost from the Lower East Side Ecology Center site

Fellow Master Composters dig in and get dirty

In the next few weeks, I’ll be working with a classmate on some fun compost-related projects in order to fulfill our community outreach hours. And then there’s the Masters of Succession presence at the Figment Festival happening in the middle of June. Learn more about that here.

The Work Office (TWO)

These days I’ve got compost on the brain. So I’ve poured this love for black gold into creative expression.

The Work Office (TWO) is a project put together by Katarina Jerenic (aka Katsie) and Naomi Miller that mimics the Works Progress Administration’s (WPA) role in employing artists and other public workers around the time of the Great Depression. I worked for TWO last week in order to promote a new event – Compost Awareness Week – via mixed media poster made from upcycled and natural materials. You can visit the work at 156 William St (corner of Ann St) until next Thursday, May 20 (hours here).

Herbal Medicine Making

Wednesday nights are spent with Robin Rose Bennett at the Open Center making herbal tinctures, decoctions, and infusions. It’s a joy to make medicine with my own two hands while singing with my classmates and putting ‘good energy’ into our jars of botanical concoctions.

My growing herbal medicine collection

queens gets its first food co-op

April 19, 2010

When you’re living near THE infamous food co-op in Brooklyn (you know the one) and around the corner from one of the best farmers markets in town, and new CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture outfits) are popping up all around, it’s easy to forget that some boroughs are less fortunate when it comes to having access to local farm-fresh food.

One such borough, Queens, is about to get their due. The Queens Harvest Co-op in Sunnyside is about to break through the great food for a great price barrier that (most of) Queens has been experiencing. Their plan is to open in the Fall of 2011 (I know, a long time to wait – but you know it’ll be worth it!), and if you want to learn more about their plans, check out the Queens Green Drinks event next Monday, April 26th. Details below:

Monday, April 26th
6:30 to 9pm

Claret
4602 Skillman Ave
Sunnyside, Queens

Queens Green Drinks
Hosted by Queens Harvest Food Co-op in Sunnyside!

The Queens Harvest Food Co-op is a new community driven venture into the world of fresh, high-quality food at affordable prices. They will be a member-owned and controlled market that puts community before profits. Anticipated opening in the Queens Plaza area in 2011. Please come and meet the members of the Queens Harvest Food Co-op on April 26th at Claret and/or go to www.queensharvestcoop.com for more information!

Learn more about this meetup on Facebook.

farming brooklyn – youth edition

December 21, 2009

BK Farmyards – the decentralized urban farming network (that also happens to have been founded by my friend Stacey) – is kickstarting a youth farm in Crown Heights. The thing is, they need a little help from their friends.

Would you like to help city kids learn about the amazing world of growing food? You can. Visit the BK Farmyards Kickstarter page and give (generously) – you may even be rewarded for it.*

*If you…

Pledge $20 or more

A big thank you for your support on Twitter, http://www.bkfarmyards.com, and our newsletter

Pledge $50 or more

A stylish, reusable grocery bag crafted by bk farmyards and made from all recycled materials. We’ll include a satchel of aromatic cooking herbs from one of our farms.

Pledge $100 or more

Adopt a Chick! You will receive postcards from one of our hens over the course of the year. Watch how fast they grow and know that you made fresh eggs available for the neighborhood.

Pledge $500 or more

Dinner for 2 in a New York City restaurant that features local organic produce. We know some great chefs: your taste buds will love you forever! Prior to meal, we will inquire about your dietary requests.

Pledge $1,000 or more

You and a friend will tour New York City’s urban agriculture scene with one of our farmers for a day. Take a behind the scenes look at urban farmers day-to-day life and discover some hidden treasures throughout he city.

Pledge $2,500 or more

Do you want to develop your own farmyard? Enjoy our consultation services for a growing season. Send us photos of your yard as well as your dietary preferences, and we will draw up a crop plan for you along with a schedule for starting seeds. During the season, consult with us about any pest or disease concerns in your new farmyard: we will give you information about pest cycles you should be aware of for your crops. We will also provide consultation to improve your soil health: your crops are only as healthy as your soil!

a gift of goat

December 3, 2009

If you’ve been following my blog over the past year and half you might know that I have a thing for goats. I don’t know what it is about them – the way they sound, their disposition, the way they can climb up to high places – I just think they’re great.Goat235X235

So I was psyched to get one for my birthday from my bf’s sister and brother-in-law. Yes, it’s another post about what I got for my birthday. I guess I’m feeling reflective and grateful.

Of course, I couldn’t have a goat in my Brooklyn apartment, and I don’t own a patch of land in the country to keep one. This four-legged friend will be going to a family who really needs her. Through Heifer International, anyone can purchase a goat (or other farm animal) that will be symbolic for one person and real for another.

According to Heifer:

Goats Are Great for Families

The gift of a dairy goat represents a lasting, meaningful way for you to help a little boy or girl on the other side of the world.

Goats can thrive in extreme climates and on poor, dry land by eating grass and leaves. The gift of a dairy goat can supply a family with up to several quarts of nutritious milk a day – a ton of milk a year. Extra milk can be sold or used to make cheese, butter or yogurt. Families learn to use goat manure to fertilize gardens.

Goats often have two or three kids a year making it easy for Heifer recipients to pass on the gift of a goat to another family in need. This great investment allows our partners to lift themselves out of poverty by starting small dairies that earn money for food, health care and education.

Boy-Wearing-Traditional-Dell-Standing-Next-to-Baby-Goat-Mongolia-Photographic-Print-C12454834

Gifts from Heifer or similar organizations make great holiday presents – especially for the people in your life who don’t want or need any ‘things.’ Here are some other great orgs that offer symbolic gifts:

Oxfam Unwrapped

mosquito nets, books, baby chicks, soap

World Wildlife Fund

threatened & endangered species like polar bears, snow leopards, monarch butterflies

Conservation International

protect an acre of rainforest

Nature Conservancy

plant a tree, adopt an acre, adopt a jaguar

New York Restoration Project

buy an NYC tree

World Neighbors

provide seeds, help prevent AIDS, provide gender equity training

green books campaign: the raw milk revolution

November 10, 2009

This review is part of the Green Books campaign. Today 100 bloggers are reviewing 100 great books printed in an environmentally friendly way. Our goal is to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books. This campaign is organized by Eco-Libris, a a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.

The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights
by David E. Gumpert
(with foreword by Joel Salatin)
Chelsea Green Publishing
Printed on recycled paper

What do government regulators have against raw milk?

The Raw Milk Revolution is an exploration of this and other relevant questions in a time when the entire industrialized food system is coming into question.

Based on his blog, The Complete Patient, David Gumpert provides a reasonable, balanced, and straightforward account of the pros and cons of raw milk consumption and the legal constraints placed on its production.

The book provides historic context of the dairy industry, from about the time of the Industrial Revolution to more recent regulatory history regarding food safety. It balances past events with the current trend toward consuming raw dairy, explaining both the purported risks and benefits of the product that comes unadulterated from the cow (or goat or sheep).

A taste of the past
Pasteurization was a response to the increasingly deplorable conditions and industrialization of dairy farming. As dairy operations crowded into cities and were coupled with distilleries for “efficient” use of grain (as cow feed, something cows do not naturally eat), cows became sicker, farms became a breeding ground for pathogens.

An emotionally charged debate
But is the method of pasteurization – slow on the uptake at the turn of the century, yet widely used today – still valid? Is it making us safer? The answer is somewhat unclear. The rates of raw-milk–related illness are debatable, depending on who you ask. According to some groups, like [grass-fed] raw-milk advocates the Weston A. Price Foundation, the rates are inflated, while state and federal agencies argue that raw milk carries an inherent risk to health. As do parents of children who may have become seriously ill from it.

Raw milk is outlawed in 28 out of 50 states. But the incidence of other food-borne illnesses is just as high, if not higher, than that of raw milk. Even pasteurized milk carries some risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the highest rates of listeria illness are due to deli meat. If deli meat is 10 times more likely to expose you to listeria illness than raw milk, why isn’t it restricted or outlawed?

Another question I kept asking is: Why can’t we just put a label on raw milk and let consumers decide whether they want to take the supposed risk? Or more to the point, why don’t consumers have the right to choose their foods, raw or treated?

A question of rights
Joel Salatin, now famous farmer of Polyface Farms in Virginia, posits in the foreword,

The only reason the right to food choice was not guaranteed in the Bill of Rights is because the Founders of America could not have envisioned a day when selling a glass of raw milk or homemade pickles to a neighbor would be outlawed. At the time, such a thought was as strange as levitation.

Indeed, what good is the freedom to own guns, worship, or assemble if we don’t have the freedom to eat the proper fuel to energize us to shoot, pray, and preach? Is not freedom to choose our food at least as fundamental a right as the freedom to worship?

Due to the current laws regarding the sale of raw milk, people who choose to produce it are putting themselves at risk of government crackdown in order to fulfill a growing demand. Something is compelling consumers to, in many cases, cross state lines to obtain raw milk. Often, these consumers are pregnant women and mothers. Why are people putting themselves and their families at risk of breaking the law in order to potentially put themselves at risk of illness?

Having tasted raw milk and, unknowingly, carrying it over state lines illegally, The Raw Milk Revolution left me wanting to take the risk again, maybe in order to prove that the benefits are worth the risks.

I think I now have more questions than answers regarding the raw milk debate, but perhaps this is the point – to keep the questions coming with regard to food and our right to choose what we consider healthful to eat.

For more on the raw milk debate, visit The Complete Patient.

Founded in 2007, Eco-Libris is a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. To achieve this goal Eco-Libris is working with book readers, publishers, authors, bookstores and others in the book industry worldwide. Until now Eco-Libris balanced out over 110,000 books, which results in more than 120,000 new trees planted with its planting partners in developing countries.

milkweed and stinky piglets

September 30, 2009

Rainy days have their benefits. The first, most obvious benefit is the replenishment of available water for plant, animal, and human use. The second is that rain keeps people from enjoying outdoor activities. Why is that a benefit? Well, if you’re visiting Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture and want to go on a vegetable tour, you may just be the only one on the tour on account of rain. And being the only ones (bf & I) on the tour last Sunday, we got special attention. Or at least that’s how it seemed to me.

We went on a whim, despite the rain and forecast for more of it throughout the day. Looking at the clock, we realized we’d have just enough time to grab a bite from the cafe and go on the two o’clock tour. So up we went, to Pocantico Hills, just north of Tarrytown. It’s lovely up there, just an hour’s drive from Brooklyn, the leaves along the Saw Mill Parkway just starting to change into their autumnal habits. Here are some of the magical things we encountered on our tour of the educational, experimental, sustainable agricultural center:


A tasty lunch at the cafe


What’s on today?


Selling the bounty at the farm market


Asclepias gomphocarpus, a type of milkweed, attracts butterflies


Happy bees on past-peak artichokes in the dooryard garden. These delicious thistles are apparently difficult to grow in the Northeast, but Stone Barns is figuring out how.


Go ahead, try one! Stone Barns encourages sampling


Super-juicy Asian pears growing in the main field are an experiment. A very tasty experiment.


Self-seeding sunflowers take over where the arugula leaves off


Purple brussel sprouts in the field…


…and yummy purple mustard greens in the greenhouse


The expansive greenhouse allows 4-season farming


Seedlings in custom compost are kept warm through water-filled, compost-heated tubes


Hoop houses on tracks also extend the seasons


Four kinds of compost are cultivated at Stone Barns


Berkshire pigs, right home in the forest mud


Hey little piggy


Sorry, we’re too busy to look at your camera


Oh, hello there. These pigs sure are cute, but they were also a little stinky.

Stone Barns is a magical place where everything is grown for a reason, everything is harvested, nothing is sprayed with pesticides or grown in artificial fertilizers. And everything is repurposed, from food scraps to plastic tarps. You can visit Stone Barns for a tour, to volunteer, or to enjoy an 8-course meal at the amazing Blue Hill restaurant.

This Saturday, October 3, is their 6th Annual Harvest Festival. Get your tickets here.

Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture
630 Bedford Road
Pocantico Hills, NY
914.366.6200

fresh: the film

September 22, 2009

If you didn’t get your fill from Food, Inc., Fresh looks like it takes the story of sustainable agriculture one step further. Featuring Will Allen (Growing Power), Michael Pollan (the man who needs no introduction), and Joel Salatin (Polyface Farms), Fresh looks at the solutions to the problems of our current food system.

Fresh will be screening at BAM, Tuesday, October 6, 7pm, followed by a panel discussion moderated by Gabrielle Langholtz (Editor of Edible Brooklyn) with the director/producer, Ana Sofia Joanes, plus Reverend Jackson of Brooklyn Rescue Mission, David Shea of Applewood Restaurant, and Letitia James, District 35 – Council Member.

Check out the official site.