Blogs for 2013
checkout the archived city farm blog articles to learn about our takes on farm & city life
checkout the archived city farm blog articles to learn about our takes on farm & city life
I love that quiet week between Christmas and New Year’s, where old friends return to their family homes, get their fill of said family, and escape to the local pubs to see friends who have flown in or driven over from across the country. I was talking with one friend about her New Year’s Eve resolutions of years past. She greets a new year similar to those who give something up for lent, seeing if she can, day by day, go a whole year without something that she feels a bit too dependent on.
How do you set intentions and resolutions for a new year? Do you have a hard time keeping them? In 5 Goals That Will Change Your Life More Than a New Year’s Resolution, MindBodyGreen writer Natasha Uspensky notes that it’s important to take the pressure off yourself this year, and set goals that you can meet. Two in particular stood out to me. HUG people. That seems doable – and I generally do greet people with hugs, which, like one’s handshake, tells me all kinds of things about them. (Nervous to meet me yet?)
The other is to eat dark leafy greens every day: “They boost your immunity and lower your risk of disease. To make this step super easy, shoot for having one green salad a day made with at least a full cup of kale, arugula, or spinach.” Or add them to your breakfast eggs. What better than to eat the greens from your own garden? It’s a doable New Year’s Eve resolution, one that you can feel soooo good about. I don’t have a yard to plant in, so I’m going to check out growing kale in a container. Over at Gentle World, Alisa Rutherford-Fortunati has a great list of the various ways to grow kale, a hardy plant that actually thrives in cold climates. As an L.A. girl, I’ll be taking my chances with the fact that it gets a little bitter and tough in heat over 80 degrees. I hear you, kale, I hear you. I’m a 75 degree girl, too.
Per Alisa: “The pot or container must have at least six square inches of space for the plant to grow in. Plant your seeds or starts in the center of the pot, following the same fertilization and depth suggested for garden planting (a good layer of compost, with seeds planted ½ inch deep). Make sure to move kale grown in containers into a partially shaded area when summer arrives.” And check out the City Farm’s watering can to care for your new, growing greens.
What are you resolving for your green and garden ways for 2014? Do you generally keep your New Year’s Resolutions? Tell us in the comments, or over at Twitter: @TheCityFarm & @RebeccaSnavely
(Photos: Kale – GrowThis; Watering Can – TheCityFarm.com)
It’s morning on the farm, and some of the smallest family members are waking up to eat their breakfast in their stalls. Four to a stall, our dwarf horses are so small they have plenty of space to stretch. After they’re groomed and gorgeous, we open the gate, and they wander down to their own corral, where they’ll eat lunch, a delicious meal of watered-down hay. As they make their way back to the stall, one particularly sassy filly, Chiquita, likes to tease the stallion, who has to be kept separate from the mares. She flirts, throwing her rear toward him, as they trot back to their stalls. Drives him nuts.
I’ve loved horses ever since I could remember, riding hunters and jumpers as a child, and having my own when I was 12. Growing up in Los Angeles, I boarded my first horses at Will Rogers State Park. I never intended to own dwarf horses – it’s common for them to have quite a few health problems, and they’re like infants, requiring constant attention, and often special medicine. I started with miniature horses, tiny animals at 29 inches, though compared to the dwarf horses, who are often half that, they seem full-sized!
Showing the miniatures in shows, one trainer gave me a dwarf who needed a great deal of care. I hadn’t yet bought the farm, so I had created a mini-version of a city farm, caring for them in Beverly Hills! It’s not just Rodeo Drive and shiny cars.
Dwarf horses pull at those same heart-strings that all that teeny-tiny animals do (kittens!), but while you might be tempted to breed them, their health issues pull at other, harder heart-strings. We had to do a stem-cell transplant for one, who lived a healthier life, but still died from her heart issues. We’ve had to straighten the legs of one little girl – at 14 inches, she was so small we used tongue depressors as splints. We take good care of them, rescuing others when needed.
Our dwarves and minis are part of The City Farm family, sharing the good life along with our small Zebu cows, ducks and Kunekune pigs, (pronounced “cooney cooney”), who are my pets. Buying the farm in 2009, I’ve learned so much to grow it to where it is today, and I’m so happy to share it with you all. I’d love to connect: share your farm memories with us here in the comments, or via Twitter or Facebook!
“Over the mysteries of female life there is drawn a veil best left undisturbed,” quoth John Brooke to Laurie, in the movie “Little Women.”
Every Christmas, to get into the holiday mood, I watch the movie “Little Women,” and pull back that veil to reveal Jo, Meg, Beth, Amy, and Marmee’s life in Concord. I go “a wassailing” down the lane to take Christmas breakfast to the Hummels, I hold my breath as Jo and Teddy hold a rail to a flailing Amy to rescue her from the freezing water. I (figuratively) paint on a mustache and become one of the sisters, reenacting Jo’s writing, playing scandalous scenes in the attic of the Orchard House, reading excerpts from the Pickwick Society paper, “baring our souls and telling the most appalling secrets.”
This year, as my friend and I sipped gluhwein and watched “Little Women” by the twinkle light of the trimmed tree, I paused when Amy read Beth’s contribution to the paper, “The History of the Squash.”
“Why Beth!” Amy exclaimed, “This isn’t a story! It’s a recipe.” Beth sighs, “I never know what to write.”
I laughed, and first said, “That’s something I would write!”
And then, “Huh. I wonder, what is the history of the squash?”
According to the Library of Congress (LOC), the word “squash” comes from the Narragansett Native American word askutasquash, which means “eaten raw or uncooked.” Their shells likely used as bowls, the gourds are some of the oldest vegetables we still eat (though not raw), having been traced back some 10,000 years in places in Mexico.
Also reported by the LOC, “Northeastern Native American tribes grew pumpkins, yellow crooknecks, patty pans, Boston marrows (perhaps the oldest squash in America still sold), and turbans. Southern tribes raised winter crooknecks, cushaws, and green and white striped sweet potato squashes. Native Americans roasted or boiled the squashes and pumpkins and preserved the flesh as conserves in syrup. They also ate the young shoots, leaves, flowers, and seeds.”
So Beth, writing away in that cold attic during the long, snowy Massachusetts winter, could have written a powerful story of the history of the squash: one about the Native Americans in her neck of the woods, and the European settlers who quickly adapted and adopted squash as a winter staple.
Do you grow squash in your garden? It’s a seasonal vegetable, and though it has a tough-looking skin, it has a sensitive side, and, per the Old Farmer’s Almanac, can be susceptible to frost and heat damage. Visit the Almanac to learn about starting your seeds indoors, and transplanting them into your garden soil when it has reached 55 – 60 degrees. Winter squash is a vine, and will need a little more room to grow.
What’s your favorite squash recipe for the winter? Sometimes it’s as simple as a bowl of butternut squash soup on a cold night, with a hunk of crusty bread and glass of wine. Bon Appetit has yummy recipes online here. Tell us your favorite! Leave a note here, or tweet at @TheCityFarm & @RebeccaSnavely.
(And who’s going to curl up with the bowl of soup and a copy of “Little Women?”)
(Photo: IMDB, IndyWeek.com)
Christmas is rich with traditions: from whether you buy, cut down, or resurrect a plastic tree, to the time that you put it in its place and open a box of holiday cheer to deck your halls. According to our GROW blog writer, Rebecca, the tree has to wait until at least December 9th. Her parents told her it was to ensure her birthday cake was not confused with holiday cookies, and to separate the two celebrations, but she has a sneaking suspicion it was the fact that her birthdays ended up in attempted human- pyramids made up of tumbling pre-teen girls. A tree wouldn’t stand a chance.
We asked you to share beloved Christmas traditions via the book of Face. As almost all our families were immigrants to the U.S. at some point, many traditions have the flavor of another culture. One friend’s mother bakes stolen, a German bread with dried/candied fruit and homemade vanilla sugar. Another told us of tamales and Champurrado, a Mexican hot chocolate thickened with corn dough. Check out Judy’s latest COOK blog post for holiday cookie party how-tos and recipes!
What traditions are meaningful for you? Are they old and time-honored like the stocking you’ve hung on the fireplace for over 30 years? Or newly crafted, from sharing the holidays with new friends or loved ones? Take a look at TLC to learn about Christmas traditions around the globe. Are there any you want to bring home to your holiday celebrations? In Spain, “tambourines, gourd rattles, castanets, and miniature guitars are offered for sale to enliven the singing and dancing in the streets. Children go from house to house reciting verses or singing carols for sweets, toys, or small instruments.”
Which reminds me. I want to go caroling with Amy Poehler. Click here for hilarious Christmas cheer.
When you do hang your stockings? Is there a special ornament for the top of the tree? Does your dog or cat get a gift? Do your Christmas lights blind the neighbors? Is there a certain movie you must watch or it’s simply not Christmas? Do you attend a church or celebrate winter solstice? We’d love to know! Share your stories here or tag @TheCityFarm on Facebook or Twitter!
(Photos: Santa’s Cookies Message Plate Set, Santa’s Choice Stocking Kit, City Farm Exclusives Bundle, Paw Prints Holiday Stocking)
In England where I grew up, the European Robin (much different from the American Robin) is always associated with Christmas. Featured on many Christmas cards is a beautiful friendly bird.
I remember seeing the bird around the garden in the winter months. Watching my Dad work on the garden, the Robin would often find its way to the handle of a shovel, stuck in the ground , just as my Dad had left it – looking for the warmth of the wooden handle left by my Dads hands shoveling away at the land.
I took this rather shaky picture at my parents house a few years back. I was sitting in the living room and took this with a zoom lens through the window – that’s why it’s a little blurry. Still, you can see the beauty of this Christmas bird.
I celebrated my 38th birthday on Sunday with a host plant sale and lepidopterology party. I know –38, practically mid-life. Time to tone down the wild/party girl craziness!
My friend, knowing of my personal blog titled “The Butterfly Effect,” invited me to the Machine Project’s event, Los Angeles: City Of Butterflies — Host Plant Sale & Lepidopterology Party. We stepped inside the small storefront, recently transformed into a serene garden shop from the Machine Project’s odd and oft-disturbing 99-cent store (artfully altered boxes of hair dye or cleaning solutions featuring crazy clowns or vampire-eyes). A bright, colorful butterfly chart greeted us, as did Ann Hadlock, the host and believer in all things butterfly, bio-diverse and eco-earth-saving, and larval. Ann introduced us to plants we could buy to create our own butterfly-corner in our gardens, describing how each one is a host to a different species.
I felt like a little girl on a field trip, learning how butterflies have sensors in their feet that they use to “taste” the plant and know whether it’s the right one on which to lay eggs, so the caterpillar will have food to munch and grow, cocoon, and become another beautiful butterfly. I bought a small Deerweed (Acmispon glaber), on sale from The Theodore Payne Foundation, co-host of the City of Butterflies event. It will live in a container on my front stoop, soaking in the full sun it needs to slowly grow into a host for the Bramble Hairstreak, Avalon Hairstreak, Acmon Blue and Silvery Blue butterflies.
Why butterflies for my birthday outing?
Madeleine L’engle introduced me to the chaos theory and concept of “The Butterfly Effect” in her book, A Stone for a Pillow: “If a butterfly winging over the fields around Crosswicks should be hurt, the effect would be felt in galaxies thousands of light years away. The interrelationship of all Creation is sensitive in a way we are just beginning to understand. If a butterfly is hurt, we are hurt. If the bell tolls, it tolls for us.”
As the Fractal Foundation notes about the Chaos Theory: “This effect grants the power to cause a hurricane in China to a butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico. It may take a very long time, but the connection is real. If the butterfly had not flapped its wings at just the right point in space/time, the hurricane would not have happened. A more rigorous way to express this is that small changes in the initial conditions lead to drastic changes in the results.” –FractalFoundation.org
I love the connectedness the butterfly effect reminds me of – that even a small action on my part may make a wildly important change in the world. Offering a hand to someone who needs it, a meal to someone who is hungry, directions to a befuddled tourist, or planting a packet of seeds so that the butterflies don’t die off.
And that is Ann Hadlock’s goal, to grow more space for butterflies to flourish, so they can nourish the balance of our ecosystem. Working with Alan Sonfist, an environmental artist who is the creative mind behind an indigenous forest in NYC: “Time Landscapes,” in Greenwich Village, Ann was inspired to ask the question: What can people do to create biodiversity locally?
“Butterflies are the perfect ambassador,” she told us. “Everybody loves them.”
Ann is in the middle of making a documentary to introduce more people to the world of her bio-ambassadors. She is also advocating to turn a 90-acre landfill in L.A.’s Griffith Park into a pollinator and native plant sanctuary.
Growing up in Oregon, we spent at least one week at a family camp on the northern coast of Oregon – a place of mildewing cabins, lines of campers and tents, a small lake that seemed huge and teeming with potential dangers and discoveries, and the cold coastline, where one only dips a foot in to feel the freezing water. A quiet kid who liked to read, I took breaks from my books to bundle in a sweatshirt and walk the beach, to scan the shoreline for shiny agates and smooth shells. One summer surprised me with daily discoveries of butterflies and ladybugs on the wet sand, near the breaking waves. Concerned they wouldn’t survive, I picked them up ever-so-gently, placed them on a paper plate, and returned with them to our small camper, determined that they should be my pets.
I don’t remember how long they lived indoors, but I doubt it was more than a day. I may have blocked the memory of their death, knowing I had a hand in their demise. But now, when I see butterflies, I’m reminded of their fragility as well as their power, and the connectedness and responsibility we have toward each other.
“Recognizing the chaotic, fractal nature of our world can give us new insight, power, and wisdom. For example, by understanding the complex, chaotic dynamics of the atmosphere, a balloon pilot can “steer” a balloon to a desired location. By understanding that our ecosystems, our social systems, and our economic systems are interconnected, we can hope to avoid actions which may end up being detrimental to our long-term well-being.” ~FractalFoundation.org
Follow Ann Hadlock’s work here, visit the Theodore Payne Foundation to find out about wildflowers and native plants here, and consider planting a butterfly garden in part of your world. You never know what the flutter of a wing will do.
I’m so excited to share my first blog with you!! If you read my bio you would know that one of my favorite hobbies is baking. I made a Lemon Cake with lemon glaze. It was really fun to make and I wish that everyone could have tasted it with me! My mom helped me make it, and she was my personal photographer. I like baking because it helps me relax. Usually, I bake for other people, not just for myself. This cake didn’t need decorating, but that is my favorite part when I bake….well, I do enjoy eating it, too!
The directions came with this yummy cake mix, which can be ordered from www.thecityfarm.com. As you can see from my pictures and videos, it was easy to make, with just a few ingredients: the mix, butter, lemon, eggs, and water. If you bake this, I would love for you to leave a comment and let me know if you had fun making it and eating it.
I grew up star-gazing, bundling up in blankets to watch the Leonid meteor shower on a clear November night, trying to name each shooting star in alphabetical order before I was silenced, surrounded by too many streaking stars to keep count. I always wanted to see my home, planet Earth, from space. Even though, while reading L’engle and Lewis’ time and space trilogies, I longed to live on another planet, a career as a rocket scientist seemed out of reach. I was never really keen on science, numbers, or math. Or, for that matter, eating freeze-dried food meal after meal.
But we’re living in the future! NASA is going to grow greens on the moon, in the scientific hopes that space-dwellers can get their greens locally. According to the salt, NPR’s foodie blog, NASA “plans to grow cress, turnips and basil on the moon. And to protect the plants from the harsh cosmic radiation and the moon’s lack of atmosphere, NASA researchers will be sending them off inside a seriously high-tech terrarium.”
The terrarium is approximately the size of a coffee canister, and until it makes its way to the moon in 2015, the agency is testing the growth process. Using your kids. In addition to NASA’s lab testing process, they hope classrooms across the country will join in the fun, sparking kids’ imaginations as they grow greens in their own containers, and imagine grazing on local salads and gazing back at their home planet.
You may not be able to eat moon turnips any time soon, but you can join the challenge to grow your own on earth! NASA’s Website lists how to get involved, and if you’re a teacher, some ideas for lesson plans. And if you’d rather try your green-thumb at growing turnips in a regular container, check out the guide on SFGate – you can harvest the turnip greens as soon as the plants are 4 to 6 inches tall, and the turnips when the roots are 2 – 3 inches in diameter.
If dreaming of space-gardening makes you want to be more adventurous in eating, how about a new recipe? The Old Farmer’s Almanac features a turnip crème brulee. If you try it, or decide to join the NASA challenge – you must tell me how it tastes, and send photos of your space garden: @RebeccaSnavely and @TheCityFarm.
(Photo: Turnips – LamberJules.com, Earth Viewed from Moon – The Guardian)
My mom’s green thumb made our DIY holiday decorating easy: go out to the garden with a pair of shears, cut a variety of greens and berries, de-spider, and arrange in vase. Done.
The smell of indoor evergreens is one of my favorite parts of Christmas. Living in a wee studio apartment, I’m limited, but inspired by adding green where I can, like this tree-in-a-wine-crate from Inspiration & Design.
Sunset Magazine’s December issue features “Gift Wrap From the Garden,” a gorgeous way to use your garden greens to add a bit of personality to your gift-giving. The piece highlights Midnight Blossom, a Seattle floral shop, and the magic they create there. Besides adding bits of your garden to your gifts, there are suggestions for unique wreaths made of willow tips, eucalyptus, and tillandsias, for a centerpiece or to hang on a wall or door. And I love the look of little jars of dusty miller foliage and berries to place settings.
If you don’t have a garden full of wintry greens, go for wandering walk. NPR featured a site that maps all the places to forage for food in your area; perhaps you can find some low-hanging / growing greens to spruce up your dinner party, too! It makes for a lovely late fall / early winter outing: your favorite hat, warm gloves, and boots on, a bright wool scarf wound around your neck, your cheeks aglow from the wintry wind. The fact that your eyes are bright with the focus of the hunt and that you’re carrying a pair of shears won’t scare a soul, I’m sure.
Check out Sunset Magazine and Midnight Blossom for inspiration. What garden greens will you bring inside for your holiday décor? Tweet your photos to us @RebeccaSnavely and @TheCityFarm!
(Photo credits: Inspiration & Design, Sunset Magazine)
The holiday season has a special place in our hearts and home. Whether you are hosting a houseful of family & friends or enjoying some time for yourself, our Holiday Lookbook has something for everyone on your list. From serving trays to salt & pepper sets to unbelievable brownie mixes, flip through the pages to shop our favorite products of the season!
With Thanksgiving on Thursday, I paused to wonder just where some of those traditional foods hail from, how they’re grown, what it takes to get them from farm to table to MY BELLY. And realized I often have no idea where the food I’m eating comes from.
I housesit for friends who posted a small “mindfulness reminder” image on their refrigerator. It reminds you to begin with an empty plate, recognizing it will be filled with precious food. Some of the next steps include contemplating your food: This plate of food, so fragrant and appetizing, also contains much suffering. Then, beginning to eat: With the first taste, I promise to offer joy. With the second, I promise to help relieve the suffering of others. With the third, I promise to see others’ joy as my own. With the fourth, I promise to learn the way of non-attachment and equanimity. (From Thich Nhat Hanh, Present Moment, Wonderful Moment)
Such basic steps slow you down, and remind you that food comes from a specific place and often a specific someone, and that it nourishes both body AND soul, especially on a day like Thanksgiving, set aside to gather with loved ones. An added bonus is the extra enjoyment and savoring of the taste of your food, as this New York Times piece reminds us.
The cranberry is one of the three native fruits to North America, introduced to the European settlers by the Native Americans. According to cranberries.org, the name was derived from the similarity of the spring blossoms to a Sandhill crane. Mariners carried the berries on board to prevent scurvy on their sea voyages.
Does your scurvy-free Thanksgiving table feature fresh, chunky cranberries, or do they still jiggle slightly, showing the rings of the can, having just slithered out onto the plate? Though, according to The Farmer’s Almanac, cranberries “favor acidic soil …. [and] also like sand, which is why they call places like Cape Cod, Massachusetts, home,” it is possible to grow your own! A ground-cover plant, a small, personal crop of cranberries doesn’t require the bogs often seen for mass production, but they do like a cool climate. And they’re rarely grown from seed, so if you’re not one to wait long, choose a 3-year-old cutting that will yield a crop right away. Check out GardeningBlog.net for tips on replacing your soil with the kind cranberries will thrive in.
Even if you don’t choose to plant your own, that’s no reason not to know where it hailed from. You don’t have to get as detailed as the “Portlandia” chicken episode and visit your nearby bog, but, in accordance with a day of giving thanks, and honoring the journey your food takes to your table, it’s not a bad thing to know how your cranberry grows.
For today, meet Cranberry Bob. Modern Farmer interviewed this cranberry farmer from Vermont, to learn more about Bob’s bogs. A family business, his wife and three kids all help pack the berries, and they deliver them around the state, exhausting themselves by the end of the holiday season, having produced over 20,000 pounds of cranberries. (The story features a recipe for a Winter Pudding with Caramalized Cranberries that you might want to add to your holiday menu.)
What’s your favorite way to prepare cranberries? Do you practice mindfulness at meals? Have you noticed a difference in dining when you do? Leave us a note here, or on Twitter – @RebeccaSnavely and @TheCityFarm.
(Photo: Modern Farmer)
Thanksgiving is almost here, despite the strains of canned Christmas music in stores across the country, rushing us toward December. Don’t let big box stores steal a day of thankfulness and gratitude! It’s the best time of the year for time-honored traditions that often don’t cost a thing.
A recent request for off-beat Thanksgiving traditions revealed some unexpected traditions: an American married to a Scotsman now celebrates St. Andrew’s Day as well, with a bit of haggis added to her Thanksgiving Day menu. One friend’s family chooses a “theme” for Turkey day, and the clan comes in costume, whether it be Greek gods, football players, or garden flowers (and a gnome). And then there’s the friend whose grandmother “dresses” the turkey in a bikini, a la Amelia Bedelia, that delightfully literal children’s book heroine:
“Amelia Bedelia is Mr. and Mrs. Roger’s new maid, and she has a big list of things to do while they are away. But they sure do ask her to do strange things! The list says to dust the furniture, draw the drapes, and dress the turkey. And Amelia Bedelia does just that: she carefully sprinkles dust all over the furniture; she takes out a pad of paper and draws a beautiful picture of the drapes; and she wastes no time taking out a needle and thread and making a nice little suit to dress the turkey with.” (Exodus Books)
Grandma’s turkey-bikini (turkini?) must add a touch of scandal when one requests the breast meat. Does your family have any unlikely traditions to celebrate Thanksgiving? Have you incorporated any other countries’ customs into your day?
With southern California’s sunny Novembers, it’s often an outdoor meal. It’s always fun to burn the booze and butter with a morning walk or a game of flag football (or does your family go for the full tackle?). If you live where it’s already rainy or even snowing, what indoor games are your favorites? Is the TV tuned in to the Macy’s Parade? Do you, grown adult, actually prefer sitting at the kid’s table, where you can really dig in to your pumpkin pie?
If you’re growing a winter garden, have you harvested anything to add fresh farm-to-table bites to your menu? According to Bon Appétit, one thing you don’t want fresh your garden is a puree of your own pumpkin for that classic pie. The magazine’s site highlights common mistakes to avoid for each course of your meal.
The Thanksgiving dinner is the most important part of my day, so I don’t want electronics distracting from what is important, tasting and sharing the delicious meal! There’s a strict no TV, iPads, games or phones rule. And no kids’ table, I enjoy eating and talking with everyone!
Take a look at a few authors’ Thanksgiving traditions over at Real Simple, from Garrison Keillor’s prayers to the music accompanying Allegra Goodman’s memories.
What stories shape your Thanksgiving celebrations? I’d love to know some of your traditions! Do you make / grow your own decorations? Is there a family recipe that must be on the table? Do you donate to the food bank? Or take a moment at the table to share what you’re thankful for? Leave a note in the comment section, or tell us on Twitter @TheCityFarm.
This year, I’m especially thankful for the new City Farm community that we’re growing here, together. Have a lovely, warm Thanksgiving.
(Photos: Exodus Books and Delight for the Eyes)
I was buckling into my seat, bound for Kosovo. It was the morning of my 30th birthday, and I was going to live for three months in a foreign country, where I didn’t speak the language or have the ability to digest their local foods, made almost entirely of gluten. I was THRILLED. I was living my wanderlust dream. My seat-mate decided takeoff was the perfect time to talk potatoes.
“I bet you guessed the potato originated Ireland?” he chuckled. I murmured that, indeed, I had NEVER given passing thought about where the potato originated, and looked more closely for my escape route, the one the flight attendant promised me would be lit in case of emergency. It was not lit.
We flew 9 hours to Heathrow together, the Potato Man and I. I learned that the potato actually originated in Peru, indigenous to the Andes, which PotatoGoodness.com confirms. The Inca Indians cultivated potatoes around 8,000 BC to 5,000 BC, and only in the 1500s were they introduced to Europe. Sir Walter Raleigh introduced them to Ireland in 1589.
I wish I hadn’t been so absorbed with the launch of my 30s, that I hadn’t simply been envisioning my seat-mate as Mr. Potato Head, and popping out his mouth so he’d leave me in silence. That I might have paid closer attention to what the Potato Man had to say, and why he so badly wanted to say it. People who are passionate about what might seem mundane often reveal fascinating lessons in conversation, gems of wisdom even they didn’t know they had.
Take the potato, for instance. There is an International Potato Center blog that highlights potato farms all over the world that are helping to ease hunger. There are debates on cold storage, and, of course, Monsanto’s role in genetically modifying the vegetable. When a disease swept over the potato crop in 1840s Ireland, they experienced what is known as the Irish Potato Famine, destroying families and communities. Understanding Evolution over at Berkeley reminds us that “because Ireland was so dependent on the potato, one in eight Irish people died of starvation in three years during the Irish potato famine.” The site discusses the dangers of a crop with a low genetic variation that can lead to such disaster.
Check out this episode of Al Jazeera’s “earthrise,” and travel with Russell Beard to Peru, where “a meeting of old knowledge and new science is safeguarding the future of the world’s favorite vegetable,” see the world’s largest collection of potatoes, and witness a local festival celebrating the potato in the Sacred Valley of the Andes.
And a typical American eats 127 pounds of them each year or about one spud per day, according to The Saturday Evening Post.
So. The Solanum tuberosum. It’s NOT as boring a subject as I first thought my potato-prattling seat-mate to be. And they taste far yummier straight from your backyard than the store shelf. Will you plant potatoes in your garden? If you live where the ground freezes, the Farmer’s Almanac recommends you plant the seeds zero to two weeks after the last spring frost. Organic Gardening offers seven ways to plant your potatoes, from hilled rows in the ground to containers and grow bags.
How will you grow yours? How will you prepare them for Thanksgiving? And, will you pay more attention to the mudane story-teller buckled up beside you on your next flight? Tell us in the comments or on Twitter: @TheCityFarm and @RebeccaSnavely.
(Photo: Mr. Potato Head slims down, c/o TIME; Growing Red, White & Blue Potatoes – Saturday Evening Post)
One of my favorite traditions during the holidays is to go around the table…each person taking a turn talking about something for which they are thankful. There are often surprises with this little exercise. It gives family and friends an opportunity to learn something about each other.
Of course, the other great thing about the holiodays is the meal. Although some people perpetually search for the new and improved, I find comfort in the familiarity of the food being served. Years ago I bought a cookbook called, “The Presidents’ Own White House Cookbook.” Inside I found a wonderful traditional pumpkin pie recipe which I make every year. Here it is for you to try. Hope you like it…and I wish you a Happy Holidays season!
White House Pumpkin Pie
1 partially baked 10-inch crust
1 1/4 cups sugar
5 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. flour
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/3 tsp. ginger
1 (1 lb.) can pumpkin
3 cups milk
1 1/4 tsp. vanilla
1 Tbsp. molasses
2 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. melted butter
Line the unbaked pie crust with brown paper to come up above the sides. Fill the center with uncooked rice or beans (something to weight it down) and bake the crust for 15 minutes at 375ᵒ. Meanwhile blend the sugar, flour, salt, allspice and ginger. Stir in the pumpkin and beat in the eggs. Blend the milk and vanilla thoroughly into the mixture and stir in the molasses and melted butter. Remove the paper and rice from the pie shell and pour in the pumpkin filling. Bake at 375ᵒ for about 40 minutes, until the custard is set.
It was New York in the fall, colorful leaves beginning to drift down to the sidewalks. We had just walked under the gingko tree outside my friend’s Brooklyn row house. It was like the scene in the movie “Clue,” when Mrs. White enters the manse, sniffs the air, and, as her host Wadsworth had been tracking dog poo around on his shoes, she checks her own. I sniffed my friends’ apartment, grabbed the handrail of the stairs, and carefully lifted a boot. The smell wafted upwards, the smushed ginkgo seed pods clung to my sole, and reeeeeeked.
Why, then, would you plant a ginkgo? According to the elegantly entitled HuffPo article “Ginkgo Trees that ‘Smell like Vomit,’” “unlike most tree species common in the U.S., the ginkgo is dioecious, meaning trees are male or female. Female ginkgoes produce the troublesome seeds, which are covered in a fleshy coating that contains butyric acid, also found in rancid butter.”
You might be wondering, why would I plant a “rancid butter” tree in my backyard? Because you could plant it along your NEIGHBOR’S fence, in honor of their dog that won’t stop barking!
I KID! But ginkgos are gorgeous, and the stench only lasts so long in the fall season, whereas the tree itself is a living fossil which dates back over 270 million years ago. Native to China, the tree is so hardy it withstands smog and atomic bombs: Four ginkgo trees withstood the atomic bombs in Hiroshima, Japan, and still stand today. You’ve got to give this tree props, and possibly a place in your yard. If you can’t stand the smell, plant the male, as the city of Santa Monica has done. But if you can handle a little stinkin’ nature, the female tree is truly beautiful.
Houzz.com has some helpful tips for choosing where to plant your Ginkgo. As they grow over 100 feet, it’s wise to consider where you’ll want this ancient tree to set down its roots. Don’t count it out if you don’t have a yard: Big Plant Nursery notes that they do very well in a pot or container.
What do you think? Will you take a chance on a ginkgo? Tell us, or share photos with us on Twitter: @TheCityFarm & @RebeccaSnavely.
(Photo credit: Ginkgo & row house by Rebecca Snavely, yellow fall ginkgo by John Hagan.)
The apple is a weighty fruit – from the confusing origins of what could be called an apple (up until the 17th century, all fruit, excluding berries, but including nuts, were deemed “apples,”) to its role in the DOWNFALL of HUMANITY. Thanks, tree of knowledge of good & evil. Did you know that a man’s “Adam’s apple” is thusly called from a story that the forbidden fruit lodged in his larynx?
And according to Irish folklore, if a woman peels an apple in one continuous ribbon and tosses it behind her shoulder, she will see the initials of her future husband in the shape of the rind. (It’s like the organic version of girls playing M.A.S.H.)
As if determining a lifelong mate wasn’t enough pressure on the fruit, it’s assumed that Isaac Newton formed his theory of universal gravitation of the moon toward the Earth after observing an apple fall from a tree. So next time you’re out at an apple orchard, pay attention to passing brilliance.
The apple. It’s got a lot going on. I started thinking about it last week, on Halloween, remembering a childhood filled with fall fairs hosted at our church, the basement barely transformed by hanging orange and red paper leaves, kids taking off plastic masks to bob for shiny red apples in a galvanized tin tub. Based on photographic evidence of my disgusted look, I clearly found a communal pot of kid-spit unhygienic. (I’m still hunting for that old photo.) But when it comes to fall and apples, I most clearly remember my school field trips to a local orchard in Eugene, where we were allowed to climb the wooden ladders to choose our favorite right off the tree.
It’s hard for me to say goodbye to October and embrace the shorter days of November. But thankfully, apples are still in season, making an easier transition into darker evenings spent at home when they’re filled with the smells of baking apples, in crisps, in pies, in crumbles… Better Homes & Gardens Magazine gives a basic tutorial on how to prep apples, and which ones are best to bake. Their recipes make my mouth water, especially baked apples with feta and thyme. What’s your favorite fall recipe for your apples?
And if you want to grow your own, so you can pick fruit straight from the tree, check out The Old Farmer’s Almanac, full of tips on soil conditions, where to plant, and what variety to buy for your region. If you live in the chilly north or central parts of the States, you’ll want to plant in the spring, but if your weather is moist and warm, fall planting can work as well.
Tell us your apple stories and share recipes on Twitter @TheCityFarm & @RebeccaSnavely.
And ‘fess up. Who just peeled an apple and tossed it over her shoulder?
(Photo credit: Top: Northeast Flavor, Bottom: Jillie of All Trades)