Monday, April 25, 2011

Bluegrass Food Summit shares non-profit food stories

Nonprofit initiatives that have a mission to help people improve their lives cannot ignore the role of food in that equation. At the Bluegrass Food Summit several nonprofit leaders shared what they are doing to help people reach food sufficiency as well as to work toward wholeness in other ways.

One story came from David Cook of Berea College who is leading Grow Appalachia. This initiative began after John Paul DeJoria, founder of John Paul Mitchel Systems, contacted the college and offered money to help people in central Appalachia increase their food security. Cook identified four organizations that were willing to work with families who wanted to grow food to feed themselves. The idea was that if families received the tools, seeds and training to raise a garden, they could do it.

The first-year participants proved that to be true. This year, the project is expanding to include three additional sites. “We have hungry people in Central Appalachia in one of the richest biodiversity regions in the country,” Cook says, “This is the most direct approach to food security.”

For some families, food isn’t the only are of life in which they are insecure. Their very safety is at risk. These are the kinds of people the Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program (BDVP) serves. While helping women and their children heal from violence and gain independence, they’ve also launched a farm initiative on 40 acres.

Jessica Ballard is the farmer leading the effort. “The single most empowering thing in my life is my connection with the earth,” she says. As a violence survivor and an AmeriCorps volunteer, Ballard wants to help those at BDVP find that same connection. Although weeding is certainly part of having a farm, she wants them to discover that farm work isn’t only drudgery, there’s also joy in planting, watching something grow, nurturing it and then enjoying the harvest. These activities can provide avenues to nutrition, physical activity, serenity, learning and sharing while building self-confidence.

Chrysalis House, a program for women recovering from substance abuse, is also empowering women through food. Sheila Taluskie, director of God’s Closet, Inc., found it frustrating that she could help the women at Chrysalis House gain job skills but because of their criminal records and the current economy they couldn’t always find employment. Her answer? Create employment for them. That’s when Purple Lunch Box, a catering service, was born.

Dazurae Blankenship manages the program and worked with the Purple Lunch Box staff and local technical school students to prepare lunch for the summit from local foods. The Purple Lunchbox strives to use as much local food products as possible. The business accepts food donations from local sources and welcomes business that can help them grow.

Another nonprofit initiative is called Faith Feeds. Erica Horn spoke about this initiative which connects gardeners and farmers who have excess produce with organizations that can provide it to people in need. The “gleaning” happens at the Lexington Farmers Market, Reed Valley Orchard and through those who come forward to donate. This work has become so successful that Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear has suggested it be used as a model for the entire state.

I’m involved with my own nonprofit effort at The Nest—Center for Women, Children & Families in Lexington where I’m the Communications Director. We have a child care center where families provide lunch, which is typically something like a can of ravioli. We provide fresh fruits and vegetables as a supplement, as well as a snack. Since most of the children will say their food comes from the store, we want to grow a garden with them so they can see what it means for food to come from the earth. We’re hoping for donations of gardening tools, seeds and plants for our small plot that we’ll be planting in May.

Nonprofits play a vital role in our society today. Perhaps these initiatives can inspire others to consider the role food can play in meeting their mission.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Bluegrass Local Food Summit considers how we feed ourselves

“If the earth is sacred then every spot on the earth is sacred and that means Kentucky is sacred.”

So began Jim Embry as he introduced participants in the Bluegrass Local Food Summit to the subject of the day on Thursday, April 21. He talked about how in our Commonwealth we also need to create “common health.” That, he said, begins with what happens below the grass with the worms, nematodes, etc.

Embry pointed to our current food system in the United States as one factor in the poor health of the population. Because of the food we eat and the far-reaching influences of how that food is produced, the health of our people and our earth is in jeopardy.

Throughout the upcoming week I’ll share highlights from the conference. Today I want to begin with information from Michael Bomford of Kentucky State University who followed Embry. Bomford posed the question: What does it take to feed ourselves as we do now? He looked at a 2010 study called Energy Use in the U.S. Food System and demonstrated its findings without the scientific language that would lose someone like me.

Here’s the recipe he used as he filled a container with enough oil to feed one person for a day:
2 1/4 cups of crude oil for what goes into the farming system—fertilizer, pesticides, running equipment, etc.
3 ¾ cups to process that food
1 cup for food packaging
2/3 cup for transporting that food to our stores
2 ¼ cups to operate the stores
2 cups to operate restaurants and food services
4 ½ cups for kitchen energy use in our homes

That comes to just over a gallon of crude oil to feed one person for one day.

There were two initial reactions I heard most commonly from audience members. The first was that we assumed it required much more energy to transport the food. The second was that we had no idea our kitchens used that much energy.

Of course, many individuals require less crude oil to eat daily. Anyone who who gardens, buys foods locally, rarely eats at restaurants, eats whole foods rather than extremely processed foods, buys in bulk and adopts other habits doesn’t have the same impact. Nonetheless, for those of us who think we’re doing well, it’s certainly challenging to consider how we can do better, especially when we realize that this energy use is only 15 percent or so of the total energy we use per capita in the U.S.

It’s quite sobering, yet on this Good Friday and Earth Day, it’s especially appropriate to consider what truly is sacred.

Monday, April 18, 2011

First harvests

We’ve finally made it. We’ve gotten through the end of winter to welcome the schizophrenic days of early spring when we don’t know if we’ll wake up to sunshine, storms or a frosty lawn. What we do know, however, is that it’s time for rhubarb and asparagus.

We harvested our first rhubarb about 10 days ago. I made pie and fruit crisp with it and also experimented with a savory side dish for Saturday night’s supper. I chopped the rhubarb then sautéed it in butter with a little salt. It tasted lip-puckering tart so I sprinkled on just a small finger-full of brown sugar to tame it, but not so much that it tasted like dessert. The final product was easier to eat with a spoon than a fork and it proved to be a nice accompaniment to the meal.

Rhubarb provides vitamin C and calcium. In addition, this fruit contains ferulic acid, an important phytonutrient. Just as phytonutrients protect the plants they come from, they also help protect from disease those who consume them.

The rhubarb in our garden grows happily with little care. When I pass by the raised bed where it grows, I pull up the weeds that poke up through the mulch surrounding our two rhubarb plants. When seed pods appear at the top of a stalk, I pull off that stalk. And before bringing the rhubarb inside, I discard the leaves, which are unsafe to eat.

I foresee more rhubarb experimentation in the next month as the rhubarb flourishes while we wait for more asparagus to cut. We had our first steamed asparagus yesterday—just enough for the two of us. Here’s to hoping the asparagus grows happily this week so we have enough for Easter Sunday dinner.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Grow a cutting garden

When we first moved into our house nearly 10 years ago, our friend Lucy was moving out of her home. That’s why she gave us several perennial plants. She had tended them so lovingly that she couldn’t bear to leave them behind. So we began our garden with:
Bee Balm
Holly Hocks
Coral Bells

Although I had been raising an organic vegetable garden or a few years, flowers were new to me. So we dug up a circle in the front yard big enough for everything and I turned it into our Marian garden, a family tradition I wanted to continue. Before I planted I had to look up each plant to see how large it would grow and where I should put it.

Although the poppies and bee balm only lived one year, and Jim unknowingly cut the down the clematis so it’s likely gone, everything else thrived and spread. That’s one of the beauties of perennial flowers intended for your region.

However, all of these flowers aren’t ideal for cutting and one of my favorite things to do to get an outdoors break on a hard work day is to cut flowers and arrange them in a vase to place somewhere in the house. Luckily, other friends also shared flowers. Jim brought lilac bushes from his old house. His sisters gave us irises, day lilies, phlox and peonies. Another friend gave us Asiatic lilies (plus our raspberries that have proliferated). A co-worker passed on some columbines that now cover half of a front garden and my parents gave us daisies, lilies of the valley and a flowering cactus. All of these plants are still growing, although some better than others depending on how the light in our garden has shifted due to dying and growing trees.

In addition to all of that, we bought hostas for the shade garden, black-eyes Susans (like the coneflower, it's ideal in Kentucky) numerous herbs, six rose bushes and a few annuals. Depending on the time of the year, that usually gives me a choice of one to a few flowers to cut for an arrangement. I prefer to use flowers with a tall, strong stem. At this time of year, that makes lilacs ideal. Yesterday I mixed them with a few sprigs from a redbud tree.

When cutting flowers to bring inside, remember to cut on an angle and strip the stem of leaves that will be below the water line. Mix the height of the flowers and add sugar to the water. If the flowers can live inside for several days, take them out on day two or three, trim the bottoms and put in fresh water to prolong their life.

I’m still searching for more flowers that are good for cutting. Now my question is—when I find them, where will I put them?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

What a difference a week makes

You might feel overrun by work. You might be tired from caring for your family. Maybe you just feel like as everything in nature is blooming so is everything in your life and it’s hard to keep up. But don’t forget to go outside every day to see how the world is changing.

Spring is truly a time of wonder. Just a week ago I shot a few photos to put on the blog. Today I noticed the phlox in our Marian garden is in full bloom, with tulips in their full glory in front of them. The peas in the garden have really shot up. Three sprigs of asparagus are almost ready to cut. I will cut rhubarb today. And the pretty pink blooms on the peach tree have nearly been overtaken by baby-sized green leaves.

I went for an afternoon walk and passed a lilac bush in full bloom. I’m so thankful for the breeze that blew its sweet scent directly to me. Aah, the beauty!

It’s been such a hectic week that it would have been easy for me not to see all of this. My green house has been my savior. Because I need to go out and check the temperature in there to decide if I need to raise the flap, I have to walk through the yard. Just a few steps remind me that I need to be out there not only for practical reasons, but also because nature is so full of wonder that my life would be lacking if I didn’t allow myself the time to enjoy it.

Even if it’s raining, go outside today. What do you see? What do you smell? What is so tempting you that you have to touch it? Are the birds singing? The bees buzzing? I had to chase a bee out of my car yesterday, but I couldn’t get mad. We’re all in this in together and without the bees, we wouldn’t have honey.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Gardening by the moon

Yesterday I went to a presentation about gardening by the moon. I’ve heard many people say the “old-timers” always used the signs of the moon to plant by but I didn’t know what it meant. It sounded sort of mystical and maybe superstitious. And I didn’t know if I had the time to garden by the moon since I work full time and make time to garden on sunny days when I don’t have an overwhelming number of deadlines. However, the presentation convinced me I need to give it a try.

Science has proven that the moon has a strong pull on the Earth’s water. So, during a full moon and a new moon, ocean tides rise. That, however, isn’t the only result of the moon’s pull. Water from deep in our soil also rises. That means that if you plant seeds during the full moon and new moon, you’ll see better germination. At least that’s the theory.

There are also specific gardening tasks to do during the other phases of the moon. I’m still studying all of this to more fully understand it. However, results are not the only reason to try this method. It sounds like a wonderful way to be more aware of what’s happening in the universe. Perhaps it will encourage me to look up into the skies more often.

Since I don’t have a Farmer’s Almanac I’m ordering a calendar from a that the presenter referred to repeatedly. I’m so excited to get started that I asked for priority shipping.

Have you used the moon to dictate your gardening habits? If you’ve learned something, please comments and share. And I’ll be updating my adventure as I move along.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A tour through the yard garden

I've been blog-lazy this week but I did manage to take my camera out into yesterday's alternately sunny and gray day to capture what's growing in our yard. Here's what I found.
The peach blossoms make me smile. I hope we don't get a hard freeze that could damage them.

The rhubarb looks promising.

The flowers in the Marian garden are beginning to bloom.

The herbs, including this oregano, are looking happy.

Aah, the garlic. It's so nice to see it return year after year.

And yes, the greenhouse. It's small but it's so nice to walk into its warmth on a cool day.