Thursday, September 24, 2009

Food for Thought: Are localvores really green?

I'm a big fan of eating local and prefer fresh food from my garden to food harvested last week being sold at the grocery. That being said, Newsweek and a few other publications have been publicizing a new book by James McWilliams, a Texas history professor (not an economist or agricultural expert), that points out that organic gardening does not always make sense and is not always energy efficient. For instance, we use gas to transport manure to our plots and there are simply not always effective organic solutions to viruses and blights, etc. He also points out that it takes more land (read: deforestation) to raise grass fed beef. (However, if you've seen King Corn and have done his research about feed yards, you'll become a vegetarian like Professor McWilliams).

Just food for thought. You can read some comments about McWilliams' new book,
Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly (Little, Brown), at Newsweek, Forbes, and The New York Times.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Peaches to Die For

Last year -- in August -- I discovered the peaches of Legend Hills Orchard at the Bexley Farmer's Market. Eating those peaches was as close to a religious experience you can have outside of a fox hole. My Louisville friend Mary agreed. We each bought our own pecks before heading to the B uckeye game. The next week, I drove all the way to Utica -- and did not stop for ice cream -- just to buy a peck of those peaches and can them. I even saved the pits and tried to grow my own tree this Spring. Why? I put them on my morning oatmeal (or when I'm feeling self-indulgent in the evenings) and ran out before New Year's.

Imagine my horror when I discovered in late July that the Licking County Peach crop had been wiped out with our early Spring and regular frost. I had planned a mid-August peach picking trip for the Stoddart Avenue Gardeners, had invited the youth group from nearby St. Luke's Baptist Church to join us (and planned to invite the lady knitwits from my church) and had to cancel because there were no reasonably local peaches to pick (at $19/bushel -- a bargain). However, Jacquamin Farms -- also at the Bexley Farmer's Market - bought peaches from a farm in Chillecothe that did not lose their peach crop. Beth and I drove down in July, bought a peck and a half and made jam and fuzzy-naval marmalade and canned them. However, although I felt good about buying local, these peaches were not the religious experience I had come to expect. We were also deprived of the whole u-pick experience.

Well, pardon my ignorance, but there are a lot of varieties of peaches. I couldn't even begin to list them all.

On Friday, in my monthly study, the ladies began discussing the peaches and apples they had bought a week earlier at Lynds. I've lived in Central Ohio for almost 15 years and have never been to Lynds. It's hard to believe, but true. I was told these peaches were so good, Joy's husband ate them before she could can them. (Yes, I'm still getting over the shock of the thought of Joy in the kitchen;) These were peaches I simply must have. They assured me that Lynds also sold seconds (i.e., flawed, bruised and older peaches).

On Saturday, I drove and bought a peck of seconds (for $7) and a 1/2 peck (for $8) of their best yellow freestone peaches (as well as a few of those freakishly expensive honeycrisp apples since the girls had been raving about those as well). Oh nirvana. These are amazing peaches. It should be criminal to sell peaches other than these. They cannot be bought at a mere grocery store. They are juicy to a fault and will prompt you to forget every other peach you've ever eaten.

I canned 11 pints of peaches on Saturday and Sunday, froze 1-1/2 quarts of peaches (to use in smooties) and still have 8 peaches left. Oh joy. What to do with them in the brief time I have in the evenings . . . eat them . . . can them . . . freeze them . . . . stare at them . . . . more fuzzy naval marmalade . . . . give two of them to Beth and Mike who are too busy starting at 8-day old Lucy Grace to go to Lynds for themselves? Maybe IcedTea Latte would like one . . . .

Now, unlike other canners, I do not make a sugar syrup for my peaches. I freeze them straight on cookie sheets and put them in freezer bags. For my mason jars, I squeeze a tablespoon of honey into each jar (before filling the nooks and crannies with scalding water from my tea kettle). Processing peaches is a lot like processing tomatoes, except that you have to cut them in half, remove the pits, and then drop them in a bowl of water (where I have previously dissolved a large vitamin C tablet (also known as asorbic acid) which keeps the peaches from turning brown before you eat them).

Unlike last year and even this July, I managed to avoid turning my kitchen into a haven for fruit flies. I left the peck of seconds outside on the patio table (because it was not too hot). I also tossed the pits in my trash can and the skins into my compost pile as soon as the jars began boiling.

As for my hopes of starting a peach orchard at the SACG, my peach pits never sprouted (even if my lease permitted it). Bummer. I guess I could try again with this new batch. Mary, however, had more luck. She won a raffle at a church bazaar in Louisville. The prize was from an urban farming group which plants fruit trees in people's yards and then lets them keep a portion of the fruit ( -- nice of them --) while the rest goes to sustain their urban farms and food pantries. Last I heard, she was considering a peach tree. Note to Mary: make sure it's a yellow freestone peach tree.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

SACG and Bexley Gardeners Attended GTG Awards Ceremony and Harvest Festival.

Last week, Barb, Barb’s sister, Betty, Joe and I attended the Growing to Green Awards Ceremony and Harvest Celebration at Franklin Park Conservatory. We were joined at our table by Betsy Johnson from the ACGA and a FPC volunteer. Barb has attended in past years and explained to us in advance the importance of bringing a substantial side dish since there would be a lot of people there who forgot to bring food. City BBQ catered and all of the food was delicious.

Before the ceremony began, Joe, Betty and I toured the new community garden campus that had opened the prior evening.

Bless his heart, the Mayor wanted us to nominate the Bexley Garden. I nominated the SACG for an award (because I need the money to build more raised beds along Cherry Street and to convert the SACG to a non-profit and won’t qualify for any grants since I am not a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization). Of course, I had no realistic expectations that the SACG would win an award because I’m not blind to the fact that when I make our weekly 12 or so pound produce donations to the LSS Choice Food Pantry and/or Faith Mission I often follow a 90 pound donation from the Four Seasons Farm. I figured that one of the Four Season Farm gardens or one of the twelve new gardens in the University District (which has been working with youth groups to establish urban farmers’ markets) would be prohibitive favorites.

Jim King from the Scotts Miracle Gro Company was the keynote speaker for the evening. He talked about his gardening experience from his youth and how Scotts was the market leader in every country in which they conducted business.

The awards:

Neighborhood Improvement Project of the Year. This $250 award (sponsored by GreenScapes Landscape Company) was to be awarded to the park, gateway, streetscape, school, or other community beautification project which did the most to benefit the surrounding community. It was awarded to Family Life St. Vincent de Paul Pantry Garden on Livingston Avenue. Most of us know this as the community garden at Christ the King Church – which received the Outstanding Community Garden of the Year last year in 2008. Its representative (probably Marjorie) explained how unexpected it was to receive another award in only the Garden’s third year of existence. She explained that the Garden had received a ten cubic yard mountain of top soil last year and it had become an eyesore because it was so tall and they did not know what to do with it. In the Spring, they decided to create flower beds surrounding the Garden and as they began to plant, neighbors spontaneously brought them seedlings and divided plants from their own gardens. See Christ The King Church Has Community Garden on Livingston Avenue near Bexley.

Education Garden of the Year. This $500 award (sponsored by the Hinson Family Trust) was to be awarded to the top garden at a school or other organization that utilizes garden projects for educational purposes. It was awarded to theYWCA Family Center Growing Home Community Garden on Harvey Court. Some people may know this as the successor to the Interfaith Hospitality Network. The representative explained that she had been hired to coordinate the gardening program even though she had no prior experience in gardening. She created five different edible gardens with a theme based on different geographic cultures. There was an asian garden, hispanic garden, african garden, etc. She would work with the children to explain about different foods grown and eaten in various parts of the world. The children – a different group of which circulates every 90 days – helped her plant, harvest and cook the food. Earlier in 2009, Scotts had awarded $2500 to the YWCA to establish this garden.

Paul B. Redman Youth Leadership Award. This $250 award (sponsored by the FPC Women’s Board) was given to an outstanding youth gardener (18 years or younger) to further his/her education and interest in gardening, or to make improvements in his/her community garden. It was awarded to Sedrick Dessin of the Highland Community Garden. His nomination explained that he helped a lot with planting and making zucchini bread. He was very, very cute.

Community Garden of the Year. This $500 award (sponsored by The Scotts-Miracle Gro Company) was to be awarded to the top neighborhood gardening project for beautification and/or food production. It was awarded to the Hilltop Highland Community Garden (at the intersection of Highland Avenue and Floral Avenue). Dan Downing (the Garden's leader) explained that this had been a true grass roots movement that began in response to the City closing the area recreational center. Like the SACG, they are located on an abandonned lot, but unlike the SACG, Dan rented heavy equipment to dig out the endless supply of construction debris. They hope to put a similar garden on every block in the Hilltop area. As mentioned below, Jim King spontaneously jumped up and increased the amount of the award by $2500 in product and funds from Scotts Miracle-Gro. (Scotts had earlier in 2009 awarded $2800 to Friends of the Hilltop to support community gardens through the Columbus Foundation grant application process which began in October 2008). They brought a large and joyful contingent with them to the awards ceremony.

Community Gardener of the Year. This $250 award for the community gardening project (sponsored by Chase Bank) was to be awarded on account of a person who is exceptionally dedicated to his/her neighborhood garden and/or the movement of community gardening in central Ohio. It was awarded to Kelly Hern of the Upper Arlington Lutheran Church Community Garden, which is on Mill Run Drive in Hilliard. The nomination explained that the Upper Arlington Lutheran Church Garden had donated approximately 1700 pounds of produce to area food banks. That’s a lot of zucchini and a lot of trips to the pantry. I figured that was probably 150 pounds of produce donated each week. Jim Smith was so moved that he jumped up and offered her $25 in product and funds from Scotts Miracle-Gro. (We know he meant more than that and he got up later and clarified that he meant $2500). Scotts had earlier in 2009 awarded the Upper Arlington Lutheran Church $2500 to establish its community garden to support the Hilliard Free Summer Lunch program and provide hunger relief programs for the Hilltop area.

Of course, I’m sinfully envious of the enormous Upper Arlington Lutheran Church, and its three campuses, large tract of vacant land on Mill Run in Hilliard, their large number of volunteers, their insurance coverage and how they did not have to constantly dig out an endless amount of construction debris. (Of course, I don't have to worry about deer, either). It’s hard for a suburban garden to win one of these awards.

The program had been scheduled to run from 6-9, but really only lasted from 6:30 until 8:30. We left behind a produce donation for the Plant a Row Program and took an herb seed packet donated by Foertmeyer and Sons Greenhouses.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Franklin Park Conservatory Opens Its New Community Garden Campus

The Dispatch reported this morning that the Franklin Park Conservatory opened its new community garden campus last night and has activities planned all weekend. Tonight is the Growing to Green Harvest Celebration and Awards Ceremony. Tomorrow is a field-to-table fundraising dinner (which is sold out). There will be classes and seminars, etc. on Saturday and Sunday as listed in the Dispatch.
Be sure to check out those water spickets in my pictures. We can only dream of those in Bexley:)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Community Garden Soil Testing by OSU Chem Student

Rebecca mentioned to me about ten days ago that the Bexley Garden could get a free soil test from someone in the OSU Chemistry Department. We will definitely need this as we expand the Garden eastward. (We've had some soil testing already as reflected in a June posting here). Today, the Columbus Community Garden blog featured free soil testing for Columbus community gardens by an OSU Chemistry student. A coincidence? I don't know. But, here's more information about this student's great project. (I hope that she's getting classroom credit for this): OSU student garden soil testing website.

Soil testing is extremely important. Lead in particular can infect root crops (like my onions and potatoes) as well as herbs, spinach and lettuce. Fruit crops (like beans, tomatoes, watermelon, strawberries, etc.) are less at risk. A community garden in Buffalo, NY which had been in operation for more than 20 years discovered to its horror this summer that its soil had unhealthy levels of lead.

The City of Bexley had the Bexley Garden soil tested in April and May. I also sent soil samples from the Bexley and Stoddart Gardens to the University of Amherst in Massachusetts in June. See Garden Soil Test Results. However, that test did not test for arsenic.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Vegetable Frittata: A Weekend Harvest Breakfast

Since it’s a holiday, I decided to make something special for breakfast which incorporated a lot of the harvest sitting in my refrigerator (and some herbs from the garden and onions from the onion cellar):


2 eggs
A few sprinkles of salt
½ cup milk
4 sliced mushrooms
½ cup diced zucchini
1 diced small red bell pepper
1 teaspoon minced garlic
A few sprigs of stripped thyme
1 chopped scallion (or half of a tiny white onion)
1 chopped small potato
A few generous squirts of lemon juice
¼ cup of shredded parmesan cheese (on sale this week at Kroger)

1. In a personal omelet pan, sauté over medium high heat the mushrooms, zucchini, potato, garlic, thyme, garlic, and onion in the lemon juice until the vegetables are tender and the liquid has been absorbed or evaporated.

2. While the vegees are sautéing, mix the eggs, milk and salt in a large cereal bowl. Set aside. Preheat the broiler on your oven. (You can step away from the kitchen for a few seconds).

3. Scrape the vegees into the egg mixture and stir in the parmesan cheese.

4. Spray the omelet pan with nonstick vegetable coating. Pour the egg/vege mixture into the pan and turn the heat down to medium. Cook for about two minutes (i.e., until the m mixture begins to separate from the side of the pan. The top will still be uncooked and runny.).

5. Remove the pan from the stove and put it in the oven under the broiler. (Not too close unless you’re in a hurry and plan to watch it like a hawk). Cook until evenly brown.

6. Remove from the broiler and slide a rubber spatula around the underside of the frittata to loosen. I cut mine into four pieces, but then ate two of them. I save the second half for tomorrow’s breakfast (or you can serve it to the rest of your household).

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Freeze Marinated and Grilled Excess Vegetables For a Gloomy Winter Day

This weekend my bell peppers finally started to turn red. Barb has warned me that this is also a sign that the pepper is about to rot off the plant (and I discovered she wasn’t wrong). So, I’ve even started to take half-red peppers and let them turn red while sitting in a bowl of tomatoes in my kitchin. If you don’t catch the pepper just as it turns red in its entirely, chances are it will be too late for you to eat it. I’ve already lost a few peppers this season because I didn’t notice it until too late. (We also have the problem at Stoddart of nocturnal visitors stealing our green bell peppers before they turn red or yellow).

In any event, I’m writing this as an excuse to post a marinade for grilled vegetables. My friend IcedLatte has been begging me to post the recipe and I can refuse her nothing. There is a story behind this recipe, however. The Montrose School in Bexley held a fundraiser a few years ago and neighborhood kids always hit up the gardening-fool for sales of all types because I obviously am not going to buy things from children of my own. One of the things I bought was Backyard Entertaining, which is cookbook for all things grilled. Lots of nifty recipes. You all should buy one if a Bexley student hits you up this Fall.

Anyway, this is the recipe for Grilled Vegetables al Fresco:

2 large red bell peppers
2 medium zucchini
1 large eggplant

2/3 cup white wine vinegar
½ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons minced ginger (although I often cheat with ginger powder)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 large cloves minced garlic
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce

Seed and cut the peppers into quarters. Cut the zucchini into ¼ inch strips. Slice eggplant into ¼ inch rounds.

Combine the marinade ingredients in a 13x9 baking dish.

Place the veges in the marinade and toss well.

Cover and refrigerate for 2-24 hours. (I’ve sometimes marinated them even longer than that.).

Turn occasionally.

Gill the vegetables at least 4 minutes each side. You can also broil them, but I’ve never tried that.

The marinade keeps for subsequent rounds.

The best part: once they’ve cooled, you can freeze the leftover grilled veges and they will taste almost as good when you reheat them months from now. Especially roasted red peppers. Of course, I rarely have leftovers when I serve these to guests. (I won’t tell you how many IcedLatte had when she visited).

You can visit IcedLatte’s blog at