Blogs for February, 2014
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
Raise of hands (click of the mouse in the comment section): Who is a fan of Amy Poehler’s character Leslie Knope in Parks & Rec? I have to admit to only watching sporadically, but I love the idea of a woman so devoted to her community that she is personally picking slugs off a complaining neighbor’s sidewalk.
Living in the sprawl of Los Angeles, it’s easy to forget that there are people out there who foresee a greener, cleaner, pedestrian and park-friendly city. Known as a concrete jungle, L.A. is slowly growing greener – through the creation of parklets, former parking spots transformed into café seating for reading, eating, or meeting friends, or equipped with workout gear and places to play foosball or chess, as well as the 50 Parks Initiative, that aims to green the city after the destruction of the recession, reclaiming abandoned and foreclosed places as green spaces.
Surrounding yourself with beauty can actually make us healthier. In Krista Tippet’s “On Being” interview with Esther Sternberg, she explores how “architects are working with scientists to imbue the spaces we move through — the sights, sounds, and smells of them — with active healing properties.”
Ms. Sternberg, whose books include Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well Being and The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health & Emotions, references a well-controlled study by environmental psychologist Robert Ulrich, of hospitalized patients, that “even with all these controls where the single variable that differed between patients was the view out the window, what he found was that the patients with a view of a grove of trees left hospital on average a day sooner, needed less pain medication, and had fewer negative nurse’s notes than patients who had a view of a brick wall.”
Knowing that, how can we stop staring at brick walls, and make our city a healthier and happier place to live? According to the L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks, “The keys to the successful implementation of this initiative are; (1) the establishment of local partnerships; (2) the use of a community driven design process; and, (3) the strict use of low maintenance design standards. Each new park created through this initiative will be developed through an incremental process as resources, and funding are identified and secured.”
Want to add more green, community, and life to your part of the city? Contact your councilperson, and ask what you can do. A city is alive, showing the soul of the people who live there. We may not be willing to de-slug our neighbor’s sidewalk, but I have faith there’s a little Lesley Knope in all of us.
(Photo: Los Angeles Parklets, The Architect’s Newspaper Blog)
I am a huge fan of recipes that can be made in advance. When I have friends over, I want to be able to enjoy my time with them. So I try to prepare as much in advance as I can. I’m going to share with you one of my favorite hors d’oeuvre recipes. It can be made a day ahead. Just cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Take it out of the fridge 30 minutes before serving so it can soften. This never fails to get rave reviews. Enjoy!
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 (8-oz) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 lb. Smoked trout, skin discarded and fish chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
Stir together shallot, lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt, then beat in cream cheese, trout, and ½ teaspoon pepper with a spoon until combined well. Stir in chives.
Serve with crackers. It can also be used as a filling for Belgian endive leaves.
They both hit the glass window at the same time, and fell with a soft thud, two little hummingbird bodies stilled mid-flirtatious-flight. Horrified that their mating ritual had resulted in coma conditions, I watched as my mother opened the sliding door and knelt over the tiny birds. They’re alive, she proclaimed, and created a sugar water mix to nurse them back to flight, when they woke from their love-stupor.
It was the first time I’d seen the teeny birds up close, and I was enraptured. As a child, I’d believed the old wives tale that hummingbirds never stopped whirring about. (I wasn’t one to lean towards the logical.) As an adult, I’ve carefully cleaned and filled with sugar-water the feeders at a friend’s house, sitting and enjoying the bitty-birds as they perch on the plastic ledge, dipping their beaks into the fake-flowers.
I love the image of the birds so much, I stock up and give away greeting cards that baffle my friends (but, they reply, I’m not technically getting married / having a baby / honoring a dead pet) from Papyrus, simply for their logo, the round sticker with the image of the bird, and the reminder they include: “Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy and celebration.”
Papyrus’s site continues to explain that, “Hummingbirds open our eyes to the wonder of the world and inspire us to open our hearts to loved ones and friends. Like a hummingbird, we aspire to hover and to savor each moment as it passes, embrace all that life has to offer and to celebrate the joy of everyday. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.”
Want to bring more awareness, presence and hummingbirds to your backyard, sans sugar water? Plant bright flowers that will draw them in. Hummingbirds do not have a great sense of smell, and beeline for color. The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests you choose reds and oranges, and create a habitat that will give them shade, shelter, food, and security. Their list includes petunia, foxglove, lily, and something called soapwort, which I HAD to look up.
According to Wikipedia, soapwort, or Saponaria, is a genus of flowering plants in the pink family, Caryophyllaceae. They are native to Europe and Asia, and are commonly known as soapworts. They are herbaceous perennials and annuals, some with woody bases. The flowers are abundant, five-petalled and usually in shades of pink or white. (You’ll want to choose the deep pink, for your olfactory-challenged hummingbird friends.)
Gardening Know How shares that “the plant makes a good addition to empty beds, woodland edges, or rock gardens. Soapwort seeds can be started indoors in late winter with young transplants set out in the garden after the last frost in spring. Otherwise, they can be sown directly in the garden in spring. Germination takes about three weeks, give or take.”
With spring just around the corner, will you plan to plant soapwort in your garden? It also grows well in containers, for those of us concrete-bound city dwellers. And a bonus: it was named “soapwort” as it works as a detergent! Checkout The Herb Gardener for tips on how to use your Saponaria inside, from a gentle cleanser for your quilts, to a facial cleanser or shampoo!
As I write this, it’s a lovely sunny day in late January, the clouds rolling away from the hills that surround Los Angeles. Clouds of disappointment, I named them, begrudgingly admiring their beauty while cursing them for dashing our drought-induced hopes for rain. Instead, they lightly sprinkled the city of Angels, causing drivers to panic at Water Falling from the SKY, but doing little to alleviate the driest year on record.
Governor Brown has asked Californians to voluntarily cut back on water use by 20%. I chopped my hair into a pixie cut, thus reducing my shower-time. You’re welcome, Mother Earth. But, I don’t know. It still feels like I should do more. So I’m going to ask YOU to. To plant drought-resistant cacti.
“The cactus of the high desert is a small grubby, obscure and humble vegetable associated with cattle dung and overgrazing, interesting only when you tangle with it the wrong way. Yet from this nest of thorns, this snare of hooks and fiery spines, is born once each year a splendid flower. It is unpluckable and except to an insect almost unapproachable, yet soft, lovely, sweet, desirable, exemplifying better than the rose among thorns the unity of opposites.” – Edward Abbey, “Desert Solitaire”
But the cactus need not be just an unapproachable plant, as Modern Farmer points out in their piece on the prickly pear, asking the most popular question of the decade, is this the new kale? The pads (nopales) are used to make nopalitos, an okra-like dish often added to tacos and scrambled eggs in Mexico. I remember my first experience of the prickly pear fruit: borne to my taste buds via a delicious, bright pink margarita. And the fruit isn’t limited to Mexico and California. Modern Farmer’s Sam Brasch, notes that, “according to a study by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, Ethiopia, Morocco, South Africa, Peru, Argentina and Chile all have significant acreage devoted tonopales for either human consumption or as livestock feed,” and parts of Italy love the fruit so much, the country comes in second only to Mexico in cactus fruit production.
Locavores love the plant for the same reason Governor Brown would probably agree with me that you grow it – it requires very little water to thrive. And it’s good for you, as Brasch notes: “Health conscious lovers of nopales point to the vast amounts of vitamin C, antioxidants and fiber in the plant. Studies also seem to indicate nopales as an effective treatment for diabetes and hangovers.” (Which is handy, as the hangover likely came from drinking that margarita made from the fruit of the plant.)
Walking in Southern California, one sees so many succulents – they’re beautiful, and good for the eco-conscious gardener, but beware before you harvest them, and listen to Baloo’s wisdom, as sung to Mowgli in The Jungle Book:
“Now when you pick a pawpaw
Or a prickly pear
And you prick a raw paw
Next time beware
Don’t pick the prickly pear by the paw
When you pick a pear
Try to use the claw”
Or else? Watch out. A friend accidentally used his paw when he saw the ripe fruit on our walk to a restaurant, and spent the rest of the night avoiding handshakes and pulling tiny prickles from his fingers.
Visit Mother Earth News to learn how to start your own prickly pear patch from just a few cuttings, and Modern Farmer’s tips on how to eat your prickly pear. Do you already have cacti in your home or garden? What are your favorite recipes when you harvest the fruit? Leave a note in the comments, or tell us on Twitter: @TheCityFarm & @RebeccaSnavely
If you’re starting a drought resistant yard or garden, check out my previous post on persimmon trees, too!
(Photo – The Spanish Gardener)