Asparagus — Durst Organic Growers • Kohlrabi — Full Belly Farm • Oregano — Good Humus Produce • Baby Red Russian Kale — Riverdog Farm • Plus everything in the PeckPeck
Green Garlic & Joi Choi — Full Belly Farm • Batavia Lettuce, Chioggia Beets, Dino Kale & Tokyo Turnips — Riverdog Farm • Albion Strawberries* — T & Y Strawberry Patch •Bite
Asparagus — Durst Organic Growers • Green Garlic & Joi Choi — Full Belly Farm • Batavia Lettuce — Riverdog Farm • Albion Strawberries* — T & Y Strawberry Patch •
Bushel contains listed items [...]
Last Thursday I went to a farmers market where there were no cash boxes and no scales. It was at John Still Elementary School in the Sacramento City Unified School District, one of 42 districts in California participating in a program called California Thursdays.
There were about six other stands featuring locally grown produce, fruit, rice, and even someone making smoothies. At around 8:00am waves of excited kids, arriving one grade at a time, started gathering around, all with their California Thursdays cloth bags ready to be filled. Many of the kids had family members with them and everyone had just been served a California-grown breakfast.
The program was sponsored by the Center for Ecoliteracy, one of several efforts (another notable example is the California Farm to School Network’s Harvest of the Month) bringing fresh and local food to the state’s school kids.
Several volunteer interns turned up and took over the engaging job of talking to the kids about carrots and broccoli, and helping them “shop” at my stand, so I had the opportunity to talk to some of the District and School staff that were helping out. One conversation was with the school social worker and her intern. (Perhaps not the correct job title.) I asked them what kinds of issues they worked on. To me, the kids seemed happy, excited, energetic and full of life, like kids on a field trip. There was a notable dearth of Caucasian faces, lots of dark skin and girls with colorful beads in their braided hair. I was momentarily speechless when the social worker answered that suicide was one of the issues they sometimes addressed, along with kids wearing size 3 shoes when their feet are size 5, or community and family violence. “Vegetables are a foreign concept,” she told me, adding that the kids were “super-resilient.”
Towards the end of the market I met a young man who heads up the school garden at the school, runs a small farmers market in the neighborhood, and juggles several additional community activities. It turned out that he had been to Full Belly Farm as a third grader on a school visit and had also come to the Hoes Down Harvest Festival several times. I was struck by the warmth, dedication and positive outlook of all of the staff that I met. I believe that reading writing and arithmetic are critical tools that help kids get ahead, but the conversations that I had that morning really demonstrated that in situations where a community faces social and economic hardships, food and gardening programs can be pretty important as a healthy foundation for academic learning.
— Judith Redmond
Driving down a residential street in Woodland, on my way from the tax office, I caught a glimpse of red … something…amid the leaves of a large tree and parked my car to have a look. Mulberries! And the tree was a public tree, parked next to a government parking lot. This is the kind of thing that brings joy to a forager. I noted they’d be ripe in about a week. I decided to check two other mulberry trees in similar places.
A man came out of his apartment to watch me. “You like mulberries?” he asked. “Come back in a week and the tree will be covered.”
“No,” I thought to myself. “These berries will be ripe in the next day or so.” I knew I’d have to swing by with my tarp and a pole. For years I picked each berry one at a time. Yikes! I realized belatedly that the only way to harvest mulberries was with a tarp and a stick: spread the tarp under the tree and hit the boughs with a stick. They drop like raindrops.
Mulberries are yummy served fresh in a fruit melange or mixed with cherries in a pie. By themselves, they are not quite tart enough. But their chewy texture and health benefits make them delicious with other fruit. What to do with the abundance? I’ve tried freezing them but they become gunky mush. Yuck. This year I did what they do in Afghanistan: dry them. I will toss them with walnuts for snacking – or try making Nomad Bars.
Nomad bars is the name my friend Asma and I came up with on my last trip to Afghanistan. Talkhun was something I’d heard about often: mulberry cakes made of the pressed berries and ground walnuts. Described as kind of wonder food, I’d never seen it for sale. Yet everyone said it was common “winter food” when nothing fresh was available. Perhaps people made it themselves and it never got to market. That would be like breadfruit…abundant if you had it in your own backyard. My friend Najib began asking at markets. On the way home from Bamyan, we stopped at a dusty shop in a small market town. “Yes, they had it,” the shopkeeper thought. He’d have to look in the back. He came out carrying a dark purple brick wrapped in paper. I bought the entire thing. Asma and I thought we could replicate this recipe – or hire Afghans to make it – and sell it in America as a nutritious power bar. The wrapping would have pictures of camels in a caravan: Nomad Bars. My luggage was so heavy I asked Asma to carry it home for me, but it was confiscated at the airport. Alas.
I finally found it referenced in an old travelers book on Google, and a recipe from a friend’s website:http://www.afghancultureunveiled.com/
Afghan Mulberry and Walnut Snack Bars
Makes 16 small bars
½ lb. dried mulberries
½ lb. walnuts
¼ tsp. Kosher salt
2 tbsp. water
16 walnut halves
Put all of the ingredients in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and puree for 1 to 2 minutes until the ingredients form a thick, smooth, sticky paste.
Line an 8×8-inch baking pan with parchment or wax paper with the paper draping over two sides of the pan so you have something to hold onto when you remove the snack bars.
Put the mulberry/walnut mixture into the pan and firmly press it down evenly over the bottom of the pan. Distribute the walnut halves evenly over the snack bar mixture, gently pressing them into the bars, to make 4 even rows of 4 walnuts.
Refrigerate for an hour to firm up the bars. Using the edges of the wax paper, lift the mixture out of the pan and set it on a cutting surface. Use a sharp knife and cut it into 16 squares with a walnut in the center of each square. Store in a lidded container at room temperature, or the refrigerator if you prefer them cold.
I spent a day in the garden, surrounded by wild animals. Orioles have returned early to feed at my hummingbird feeders. Hummingbirds stare me in the face as I clean the porch.
Last year a strange and unhappy guest posted photos of a dead walnut tree overlooking my porch; she said this was an example of unsightly things up here, along with clothes I was sun-drying on the line. Oh WELL. I have not stopped sun-drying my laundry, but try doing it when guests aren’t here. As for the dead tree: I was about to have it cut down when I noticed a woodpecker had made a new nest in it a couple of weeks ago. She speaks to me if I get too close to the tree when gardening, and I speak back, “I’ll leave your babies alone, don’t worry.” Then I spotted a hole in the base of the tree at ground line. A gopher, I thought, and stuck my hose into it to flood it out. I was surprised when a toad hopped out instead. Toads and frogs are attracted to my water features: ponds and fountains. I have decided to leave that tree alone.
This evening I drove to the old Rumsey Bridge to look for more wildlife. An otter was busy scouting the bottom of the river for food. I loved watching its back legs paddling when it stuck its head down amid the rocks. Two geese swam by. Clouds were red from the sunset over the peaks. Everything was quiet and I was happy.
Dill, King Richard Leeks & Red Beets — Full Belly Farm • Bulls Blood Beets Greens — Riverdog Farm • Plus everything in the PeckPeck
Nantes Carrots — Capay Organic • Sugar Snap Peas — Durst Organic Growers • Bintje New Potatoes, Rainbow Chard, Red Leaf Lettuce & White Spring Onions — Full Belly Farm • Albion Strawberries* — T & Y Strawberry Patch •Bite
Nantes Carrots — Capay Organic • Sugar Snap Peas — Durst Organic Growers • Red Leaf Lettuce & White Spring Onions — Full Belly [...]
We have had a number of inquiries about the water situation and it seems time for a Beet article on water and California’s ongoing drought. There have also been questions about whether one can eat almonds without guilt, when many are pointing fingers at new plantings of permanent crops like almonds as a clear example of what seems to be wrong with the investments being made in farming and the water needed to support that farming.
There is little that is easy or clear when it comes to the debate about water in California. The issue is complex, affects all of us and requires that we begin to plan for both times of abundance and cycles of scarcity. Indeed it will be our response to the common issue of scarcity that will require wisdom, restraint and clear thinking as to how the over-promised resource gets divided and allocated among divergent interests. It is not easy to look at water without entering into the complexities of weather patterns, climate changes, year to year fluctuations, indigenous water resources, cropping patterns and historical use.
This drought brings focus to patterns of resource use and our expectations about extraction and appropriation. Water is moved, piped, channelized and delivered. Historically in California, it has been an incredibly abundant resource. Yet it does not fall evenly on the lands of the state. Some areas are incredibly blessed with water resources, while others rely entirely on the systems that store and deliver water, matching the patterns of land and water use with soil and climate, and forming the fabric of farming in the state.
Things found in abundance tend to be undervalued. Water is a common resource, though it is sometimes treated as a private property. Land values are determined by the availability of water and the value of land changes markedly without water. There has been huge public investment in California’s system to store, move and distribute water to both urban and agricultural regions. That investment has made food cheap and abundant. Water projects drove the bargain that turned desert into productive fields. Those fields without water will again turn to desert.
It takes water to grow food. Though much of the world’s agricultural production is watered with rain, the diversity of amazing foods that are enjoyed from California farms are fed with water that has been either harvested from wells or moved there through investments made over time. California’s rainfall is neither dependable enough nor even enough in its distribution to drive a dependable, diverse agriculture. Full Belly Farm depends upon a combination of surface water, well water and rainfall. Our underground water appears to replenish itself rather quickly depending upon rainfall events. This year’s wet December helped to fill side streams and small seasonal creeks in our area, these directly recharge aquifers and influence well water levels. The contrast between this year and last is remarkable. The timing of rain established grasses in the hillsides that helped with infiltration of the rain into the soil and percolation deep into underground reservoirs. The 20-inches of rain that came from three rain events has improved our farm’s water picture for this year as compared to last.
Our goal is to be efficient with each drop of water, but also to operate with a year-round water use strategy. We see the wintertime focus on rain fed crops that cover our ground and provide for water infiltration and soil carbon buildup that will better hold water in the soil. We are doing far more mulching than in the past – of trees, vines, and row crops – helping to slow the loss of water through evaporation out of the soil. We are using far more plastic mulch over the vegetable beds to retain the water that we do apply, and we are using drip and micro sprinklers to increase water use efficiency by 50% or more. We are strategizing to reduce tillage because we know that tillage results in a loss of soil moisture and releases CO2. We are figuring out how to change our patterns of production.
In terms of the question about almonds, we have 30 acres, an older orchard that we are turning into a more productive block. Our almonds fit into our plan to have crop to market regionally year round. When compared to other proteins it may be a reasonable use of water, especially when rainfall is factored into our total water budget for the orchard.
Yes, Almonds, walnuts and pistachios use plenty of water and farmers are planting them up because of the worldwide demand for the healthy proteins in nuts. Farmers make decisions based on their best guess of profitability in the short and long run. Unfortunately, agriculture that is making a profit attracts a lot of investor capital and non-farm entities that bid up farmland prices sink deep wells and exacerbate water scarcity by seeing permanent crops as an investment. Pension funds, hedge funds, insurance companies, and investor groups are all involved in the gold rush to nuts and they have the capital to put many new acres of historically un-irrigated land into production, with wells that tap into deep levels of water. This may be a fast race to the bottom and completely unsustainable. In my opinion, many of their farming practices focus solely on the crop yield and very little on integrating regenerative practices.
All farmers are trying to adjust to a new water reality. For some, this drought has been an absolute tragedy. Others are drilling and praying. Farmers do need help to adapt. Part of adapting is to recognize that the way we treat our soil is tied to the outcomes around water. It is a challenging opportunity to move toward more sustainable resource use and all of us are involved in meeting that challenge.
I must have become fond of foraging on my first date with my husband. I had met him only weeks before, when hunting for a garage where I could park my motorcycle. This was in San Francisco; my landlady had complained of my parking the cycle in her garage, and David had a garage he was willing to rent. It wasn’t long before he stopped charging me rent and we began dating. That is a story we loved telling our children. Anyhow, for our first date he invited me to an event he thought would be different and possibly exciting: a display of wild mushrooms gathered by the San Francisco Mycological society. After two hours peering at mushrooms, we felt we knew enough to hunt our own so we drove to the Presidio to look for blewitts under Eucalyptus trees. We found some and cooked them that evening for dinner. Incredible that we weren’t poisoned by our lack of knowledge. Instead, a lifelong interest in collecting mushrooms, edible or just beautiful, began.
But I always had trouble finding morels. I did find one once, improbably, while waiting for a ride at Disneyland. It was growing under a bench. And another one, single, growing under a tree at SF Community college where I was taking land surveying classes so that I could join archaeology expeditions as a mapper. Both times, people asked me what I held in my hand and I lied to lead them astray, “Oh, it’s a poisonous mushroom. Interesting, though, isn’t it?”
So, yesterday I joined a group led by a commercial mushroom hunter. We drove high into the Sierra mountains along a snaky road to spots where fires had charred – but not completely burned – cypress stands. Although I was on time, I was the last to arrive for the carpools in a local Safeway market and discovered they had been joking about my name, wondering if I was related to the British Camilla. Then I asked for a moment so I could jump into the Safeway and grab a Starbucks Coffee. I was the oldest member of the group by several decades, except for the leader Patrick, who had long gray hair pulled into a pony tail. He warned us there would be plenty of hiking. Were we all up for it?
Once we began collecting, Patrick made a number of wisecracks at my expense: “You can’t find mushrooms carrying a coffee cup!”, “You have to LOOK to find the morels, Camilla. You might have to get on your hands and knees.”; and when I had difficulty finding any, he pulled some out of his pocket and handed them to me saying, “We knew you would be the last to find any, so I saved these for you.”
I laughed because I was indeed having trouble finding morels but on the next stop I caught up with them, finding more than anyone else. The wisecracks stopped. When we parted for the day, Patrick came over to me and remarked, “I’m really glad you came, Camilla! You were a real trooper.” I looked at him quizzically and he repeated, “You were a real trooper!” Something about me, I realized with a jolt, had given Patrick the feeling that I would be a wet blanket on the trip. What was it? My age? My coffee? My name, linked with an unpopular British woman? All I could think of to say was, “You don’t even know me.” Did I have to wear a resume on my shirt to win his respect? Should I have told him about my frequent trail runs, my stints in wild Afghanistan, the fact that I would be stopping on the way home to climb into a tree to gather wild mulberries? Maybe I should visit a plastic surgeon after all, so that my face kept better pace with my spirit. Yikes.
I will dry the morels and use them as garnishes on breakfast plates for appreciative guests who don’t mind wild mushrooms. The mulberries I already served this morning, tossed with strawberries and pomegranates from my yard.