Friday, September 28, 2012

Preserving Garden Bounty for Easy Winter Pleasures

As the evenings get longer and cooler, I turn from weeding and watering to putting up my Garden.  In other words, I’m canning, pickling, cooking and freezing until all hours of the night most evenings to keep up with the harvest.   The drought and fire hoses were tough on my beans this year and the bugs got most of our squash, but we’ve had a respectable amount of tomatoes and an abundance of peppers, eggplants and cucumbers.  I’ve also made lots of non-traditional jams and jellies (i.e., no berries).   

Some of my friends have asked where I get these recipes and instructions.  My first cookbook for this adventure, is Ball’s Blue Book of Preserving, which has hundreds of ideas and instructions for canning, freezing and drying garden produce.  It costs less than $7 and can be found online, at Lowe’s and at Wal-Mart.   Then, there is National Center for Home Food Preservation website at the University of Georgia.   This also has hundreds of recipes and tips.   They sell the 350-recipe cookbook for $15.00, but virtually all of the recipes are available for free online if you’re willing to take the time to search and print.   In addition, there is the ever-reliable Martha Stewart website because Ms. Martha also cans, pickles and jellies.   For the rest, I turn to my ridiculous collection of cookbooks for recipes, which I then can or freeze (based on instructions from Ball’s and UGA).

Tomatoes. I can most of them to use in recipes (like chili, bolognase, black bean and tomato soup, stews, jambalaya, casseroles and sauces) over the winter.  I’ve vowed to never buy another can of tomatoes for the rest of my able-bodied life.  I don’t put salt in my tomatoes and so they are necessarily healthier than what you can buy.  I don’t like to freeze them because I’m too impatient to wait for them to thaw when I’ve decided to cook.   Then, like most people, I also make and can salsa.  I also make a variety of sauces, such as Raphael (with artichoke hearts) and Puttanesca (from the Silver Palette), Arrabiata, creole sauce (for shrimp creole) and roasted tomato.   There’s nothing easier in the winter than opening a jar of a spicy sauce and throwing it over pasta when you don’t feel like cooking.

Cucumbers.  Like many people, I make kosher dill pickles.  However, there are only so many a girl can eat in a year, so I decided to experiment this year with bread and butter pickles.  I like Martha’s recipe the best. (Her secret:  Toss them with salt and ice cubes and leave them in a collander in the refrigerator for 3 hours before rinsing them well to ensure the chips and slices remain crispy).   I doubt they last until Thanksgiving, because they are an easy low-calorie snack food. 
Peppers.  In my humble opinion, the UGA website has the best collection of recipes.  I’ve marinated and canned my Greek peppers. I freeze or pickle jalapenos.  I roast and freeze pablanos and red bell peppers.  I’ve smoked and dried Pablano/Ancho, red and green chiles and red jalapeno/chipotle peppers.  I freeze green bell peppers for winter recipes or put them in creole sauce (above).  I’ve made three different sauces from my Coyote CafĂ© cookbook (i.e., hot red pepper sauce, smoked tomato and jalapeno sauce (for fish and eggs) and rancheros sauce to put on eggs in the morning).  Two weeks ago at the suggestion of my high school buddy, Michelle, I made a pepper jelly, which was freakishly easy and quite tasty.  This weekend, I’m going to make and can taco/burrito sauce.  My cousins make their own ketchup, but I already have an abundance of Heinz in my pantry.  I’ve considered making my own adobo sauce to preserve some chipotle peppers, but I think I’ll just keep them in airtight jars.

(To smoke peppers without buying all of the proper equipment or moving to New Mexico, I start early in the morning and put soaked wood chips in my metal smoker box or in an old disposable aluminum pie pan. Add a fire starter, a hot charcoal brickette or get them smoking with my gas grill.   Turn off the heat and leave the peppers in there for 8-16 hours after plugging the big holes.  Finish drying them in the oven or toaster oven overnight at 170 degrees.  There are lots of websites to help you with this project if you are interested).

Eggplant.  Eggplant is tricky.  You have to cook it in a recipe first.  I make stuffed eggplant from The Moosewood Cookbook and freeze it.  I also make eggplant scallopini sauce (heavy on the marsala and tomatoes) from the Moosewood Cookbook and can it.  This weekend, I’m going to make and freeze a tomato smothered eggplant sauce from Lidia’s website.  In the past, I’ve also frozen slices of roasted marinated eggplant as well.   Then, there’s always baba ghanoush, which rarely lasts more than two days in my refrigerator.
Greens.  Greens can also be cooked and frozen or canned, but I haven’t made that leap yet.  Kale and chard handle mild winters so well (especially in a cold frame or low tunnel), that I keep growing my plants as long as possible and just cook it fresh out of the Garden.

Herbs.  I've already blogged about preserving herbs.  I generally freeze my basil, parsley and cilantro.  I also dry basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, fennel and dill.  Two weeks ago, I made and froze an ice-cube tray of traditional basil pesto (with pine nuts).  The last few years, I've substituted walnuts for pine nuts in my pesto.  This weekend, I'm going to try a new recipe for basil-pistacchio pesto.    I've also trimmed some basil branches, put them in water until they spouted roots and planted them in pots to keep in windows and below grow lights.  However, I will admit to keeping a rather chilly house in the winter and the plants never seem to thrive in low light and 57 degree nights. 

Fruit.  You already know that I freeze berries, can peaches and make jam.  Last year, I made and canned apple sauce, too.  This year, I expanded to canning apples so that I could make an apple pie and cranberry-apple crisp with a snap of the fingers without having to spend hours peeling fruit. 
Stocks.  The best time to make chicken, turkey and beef stock is after the nights turn reliably cold (i.e., below 40 degrees).  That is because you have the bones stewing on the stove all day.  Then, because it's not safe to put a large and hot stew pot in your refrigerator (because it will raise the temperature), you put it outside in the cold night air.  This will chill the stock and cause the fat to rise to the top.  Then, the next morning, you skim the fat off, bring it back to a boil and can it (if you still have enough empty mason jars leftover after canning your garden produce.  If not, you can freeze the stock to throw into slow cooker recipes).   Why would you do this?  Again, to avoid putting salt in your stock, to imagine life as a pioneer and to save yourself a small fortune. 

Canning is easier than it sounds and there are only four major downsides to canning your own food.  First, canning is time consuming, particularly, if like me, you can your food in small batches as you harvest it.  It goes much faster if you simply buy your produce in bulk at a farmer's market or at Lynd's and then can a product en masse for one day.    Second, it really heats up your kitchen, which is very uncomfortable in July and August.  Third, you'll need to devote a lot of hefty shelf space in your basement pantry to storing your canned good and to storing empty jars.  Fourth, it can be very dangerous if you get sloppy.  You have to be careful not to open a pressure cooker before the pressure recedes or to operate it at all if it is dry.  You also need to be sure that the jar seals work properly and that you cook the food properly to avoid food poisoning.  (My aunt assures me that botulism is a very unpleasant way to die).
Cooking aside, the SACG is still open and growing.  Our second-season crops seem to be coming in nicely and we hope to have quite the Thanksgiving harvest when we finally close for the season on November 10.  Everyone is invited to come help us clean up the Garden for the winter, harvest our Fall produce (to deliver to Faith Mission or LSS) and to partake of our hearty  refreshments.   If you cannot wait until November 10, you can come tomorrow and help us stain our grandma raised beds (to protect them from the weather) and to weed and harvest for the LSS food pantry.

Well.  Enough typing.  Back to the kitchen.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Volunteer Management Workshop Series

Hands On Central Ohio is offering a series of workshops on volunteer recruitment and management which could be helpful to community gardens.

Volunteer Management Series

"Participants who complete the series will receive a HandsOn Central Ohio Volunteer Management Certificate. The cost is $200 for the series (strongly recommended)."

The traditional concept of volunteerism has significantly changed over the past few years. Like other institutions volunteering is influenced by cultural shifts. Those who experience flexibility in the workplace expect flexibility in their volunteer involvement. Within this changing environment the role of volunteer management has also changed. This series will emphasize strategic volunteer engagement and reflect the philosophy and practice of collaborative volunteer engagement. The series includes the impact of social media, connecting to the corporate community and how to engage skilled and pro bono volunteers that is at the forefront of the biggest paradigm shift in volunteerism in our time. The objective of this revised series is to provide volunteer managers, administrators, supervisors and coordinators with up to date techniques and best practices for developing and engaging a successful volunteer staff within any agency's service programs. Upon completion of this series participants will take with them a comprehensive manual of the six sessions plus samples of the documents, forms and itemized procedures necessary to have a successful volunteer engagement program.

Understanding Volunteerism

Session 1 Participants will learn current trends and many definitions of a volunteer. You will examine the shifts and emerging patterns in volunteering and the impact of technology in engaging volunteers. As an example of micro-volunteering you will hear the story of Jacob Colker who enables smartphone users to be volunteers by donating spare minutes to nonprofits. To highlight corporate philanthropy you will view a Deloitte video, pioneers of venture philanthropy, how skill based volunteerism is making a difference in communities. This session will define the basis for agency readiness, characteristics of organizations that effectively engage volunteers and professional ethics in engaging volunteers.

Presenter: Beth Eck, Vice President of Training and Volunteer Services, HandsOn Central Ohio
Cost: $40
Time: 8:30 am - 12:00 noon
Date: October 2, 2012

Create a Plan for Your Volunteer Program

Session 2 This session will build a solid foundation for the successful management of your volunteer engagement program. Rebeccah Verhoff, Director, Community Engagement, HandsOn Central Ohio, will introduce HandsOn's new volunteer involvement framework. She will provide information on volunteer leader's training and how to utilize HandsOn Network Connect, Volunteer Central Ohio, that will increase the volunteer capacity of your organization. You will discover the many elements of a successful volunteer program, benefits and challenges of a volunteer program. Discussion will center on the importance of a volunteer purpose statement and its relationship to your organization’s mission. You will create a purpose statement for your program. Participants will examine methods to assess their agency's volunteer needs and determine appropriate volunteer roles that include the use of an integrated volunteer staff. Through hands on practice you will learn how to create captivating volunteer position descriptions. As “volunteer” does not mean “free” a discussion will center on how to advocate for the resources needed to develop and sustain a program. Participants will draft a budget for their volunteer program. Attendees will leave this session keenly understanding the importance of building a strong agency foundation for a volunteer staff.

Presenter: Beth Eck, Vice President of Training and Volunteer Services, HandsOn Central Ohio Rebeccah Verhoff, Director, Community Engagement, HandsOn Central Ohio
Cost: $40
Time: 8:30 am - 12:00 noon
Date: October 9, 2012

Policies and Procedures

Session 3 Policies and procedures are the nuts and bolts of a volunteer program. The value of risk management is covered throughout the series but is a particular focus in this session. At the beginning of this session each participant will complete an at-risk survey of their volunteer program. Participants will learn the significance of developing operational guidelines, standards and procedures including guidelines for dismissal. The importance of the need for a volunteer policies and procedures manual will be covered. Volunteer screening is one of the most important components of your volunteer program. Stephanie Sparrow Hughes, Mentoring Center of Central Ohio, will lead a discussion on screening volunteers. Participants will do a risk assessment of their newly created position description. Included in this session you will learn about risk management planning, strategies and liability reduction. The importance of systematic record keeping will be addressed. Presenter: Beth Eck, Vice President of Training and Volunteer Services, HandsOn Central Ohio Stephanie Sparrow Hughes, Manager/Operations & Buckeye Mentoring Hub, Mentoring Center of Central Ohio
Cost: $40
Time: 8:30 am - 12:00 noon
Date: October 16, 2012

Recruitment Strategies for Building Diversity in Your Volunteer Program

Session 4 The importance of a position description for purposes of recruitment and placement will be reinforced. Cultivating diversity in volunteering means a varied body of volunteers and selection of roles volunteers can carry out. Achieving diversity is an essential element in your recruitment plan. Does your volunteer force represent the community you serve? Does your organization make all volunteers feel welcome? Volunteers from different ages and backgrounds are motivated and retained by different approaches and techniques. Participants will develop strategies for recruiting traditional volunteers, Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, youth and persons with disabilities. Steps for developing and implementing a targeted recruitment strategy will be discussed. You will craft a volunteer recruitment message. A panel of community leaders will provide a discussion on how to recruit and sustain multi-cultural volunteers.
Presenter: Beth Eck, Vice President of Training and Volunteer Services, HandsOn Central Ohio, Eva Atunga, Information Specialist, HandsOn Central Ohio
Cost: $40
Time: 8:30 am - 12:00 noon
Date: October 23, 2012

Social Networking, Interviewing, Orientation, Placement and Recognition

Session 5 Social networking outreaches to a broader range of volunteers in less time. Staff from HandsOn's volunteer engagement department will lead a discussion on integrating Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn into your program. The use of the social media serves as a means to maximize your efforts in recruiting, utilizing, communicating and acknowledging volunteers. Matching potential volunteers to positions is critically important to volunteer sustainability and the success of your program. You will practice effective interviewing techniques that screen and determine proper placements. Conducting a thorough orientation and training will be review. Acknowledgement of volunteers needs to be tailored to the volunteer’s motivation. Students will develop a strategic recognition plan for their volunteers.

Presenter: Beth Eck, Vice President of Training and Volunteer Services, HandsOn Central Ohio, Rebeccah Verhoff, Director Community Engagement, HandsOn Central Ohio
Cost: $40
Time: 8:30 am - 12:00 noon
Date: October 30, 2012

Supervision, Evaluate Your Volunteer Program and Best Volunteer Management Practices from the Field

Session 6 Supervising and supporting volunteers for maximum performance will be covered. Also included is managing transitions. difficult volunteers and learning how to redirect and dismiss volunteers. Participants will examine the necessity for thorough and well-planned evaluation tools that assess the volunteer’s progress as well as your volunteer program. The series ends with conversation and best practice tips from several central Ohio “veteran” administrators of volunteers.

Presenter: Beth Eck, Vice President of Training and Volunteer Services, HandsOn Central Ohio Shryiell Owens, Director, Foster Grandparent Program, HandsOn Central Ohio
Cost: $40
Time: 8:30 am - 12:00 noon
Date: November 13, 2012


If you are interested in any or all of these workshops, you can register online.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Prepare Yourself for the 12th Precinct Tire Round Up

Community Liaison Officer Kalous has arranged for a dumped tire round up for the 12th Precinct (which includes the Stoddart, Olde Towne East, and greater Franklin Park neighborhoods).  Liberty Tire has generously agreed to take these littered tires off our hands (and out of our alleys) if we bring them on Saturday, October 13, 2012 to the vacant lot at Main and Kelton next to Churchs Fried Chicken between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.

As many of you know, some people seem to take delight in dumping tires and other things in our alleys.  The Block Watch spends a lot of time cleaning this stuff up.  However, tires cost money to properly dispose of.  There was a dumped tire on the SACG lot when we first broke ground in 2009 and another across the street.
The Tire Roundup is also open to residents of the 7th and 11th precincts as well because we dont want them taking their tires and dumping back in our alleys after the Tire Round Up.

Tires are the only item that may be brought to the Tire Round Up.  Officer Kalous will be there to ensure that no one brings anything other than tires.   This is not a city-wide dumping event, either, since we do not want to impose upon the generosity of Liberty Tire. 
Feel free to gather at the SACG at 11 a.m. on October 13 so that we can peruse our neighborhood for dumped tires and transport them to the Round Up.

Monday, September 17, 2012

SACG’s Saturday Girl Power

Although I’ve been busy this month marinating peppers, making pepper jelly, trying out bread and butter pickles, and making various pepper and rancheros sauces, we reached two milestones in the last week at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden. On Saturday, we planted our first two peach trees. Earlier in the week, we reached the 1,000 pound mark for food pantry donations.

Our New Peach Trees. On Friday, Cathy from Urban Connections agreed to help me pick up our two new peach trees from Oakland Nursery. (Cathy has a SUV and I drive a jetta). These Redhaven trees – like the four cherry trees we planted in May – were paid for through a grant from the Active Living Fund at the Columbus Foundation through the City of Columbus Health Department. On Saturday, new volunteer Kerry from Christ Lutheran Church, came to help for a few hours. She watered our food pantry and pepper plots and weeded a good part of the bean plot. Neighborhood girls Antoinette and Kenaya came by and volunteered to help in exchange for a granola bar. So, the four of us girls dug two large holes for our new trees. I had picked up some Scott’s tree soil from Lowe’s and neighbor David (who you may remember helped us pick up litter for Earth Day in 2011) helped to unload it from my car when he walked by during our moment of need. Those bags are big and heavy.
Antoinette wanted to have a digging competition and did a nice job. However, we all know that Ms. Puniness here would not win any digging competition. That distinction goes to Ms. Kerry who really knows how to dig a hole. I am delighted to have another true gardener on board. How can you tell a “true gardener”? We compulsively pull weeds whenever we see them. It’s an involuntary reflex and we just cannot help ourselves. Kerry is a true gardener and is welcome back anytime. She plans on coming back in two weeks to stain our new platform raised beds in order to protect them from the winter elements. Also, like me, she is a football fan and left a couple hours before me so that she would not miss kick off.

Digging these holes was much easier than it had been in May.  First, the weather was perfect, unlike the hot and humid May 20 when Kelly and I dug the four holes for our cherry trees. Second, while there were many fist-sized stones in the ground, this was a breeze compared to using a pick-axe to dig through solid aggregate and bricks like we had to do last May. (Kerry found it difficult to believe that the ground across the street could be worse than our newly-vacant lot, but trust me, it is not even comparable).

Pantry Donation Milestone. As you know, we are a small garden. We are also a plot garden, so most of our food goes to the gardeners and their families. However, most of us also donate produce to food pantries. The produce from abandoned plots (and there were quite a few this year with the heat and drought discouraging new and not-so-new gardeners) is dedicated to food pantries. In contrast, pantry gardeners donate 100% of their produce to support food pantries and other food programs.  For instance, the UALC garden donates about 9,000 pounds of food each year.  The community gardens in my rural home town donate thousands of bushels of food each year.

Since 2010, I try to weigh all of the produce which the SACG donates to area food pantries and shelters. Other gardeners estimate for me how much produce they personally deliver to a food pantry so that I can record the information. We do not attempt to weigh the produce which we provide upon request to neighbors who ask for food on a periodic basis or the produce which is harvested from the neighbor plots outside our fence and along the alley. I also make no attempt to weigh how much produce our youth program generates for the participating kids. (That would discourage their enthusiasm if I had to stop them every time they harvested to evaluate and weigh their goody bag -- if I was even there at the time). You can imagine that weighing the produce is a real drag.  It’s time consuming and, frankly, by the time I leave the Garden for the day, all I really want to do is eat and shower. I also need to process and store my own personal harvest before it wilts or rots in the summer heat. But I do it anyway.

Youth Gardens.  All but one of our youth gardeners had great success with their gardens. (The sole exception decided that it was more important to bike than to water her garden – with predictable results). Hope’s flowers are beautiful and she also harvested several melons. You’ve already heard about Tevon. Keyante and Jen harvested lots of food. Christen also harvested a lot of food (but left even more behind last weekend because she could not bear to take off her new inline skates).

Other Volunteers.  As you may recall – and have even noticed – I have become the grouchy Garden Manager over the summer. Gardeners dropped out very early and I had to pick up doing their chores and tending their plots. Even the gardeners who stayed have not been doing their chores. I have had to nag and threaten, and still did most of the work over the summer. I distribute and post a chore chart which apparently none of the gardeners can be motivated to read. You cannot even begin to imagine how much this ticks me off.  The Garden has looked a little worse for wear this year -- partly because of the drought and partly because I just cannot get to everything that needs to be done without living at the Garden and spending more time than I already do.    After all, I really do have a "real" job that does not in any way involve getting dirt under my nails.

Luckily, there are a few people who have stepped up this summer. We have been blessed to have three groups of volunteers come and weed in June, July and August. As you know, Cathy comes by at least once/week to help me water. We would not currently be harvesting beans if Cathy hadn’t helped keep them alive during the drought. Our sizeable pepper plot has benefitted from her attention as well.

The Sunday before last, Frank stepped up to help me mow. He and Barb tend and mow the Block Watch lots. (They also mowed our lots in June, July and August). The gardener assigned to mow in September hadn’t read the chore chart since May and didn’t mow. So, after sending him two reminder emails (to no avail), I started to mow on Sunday with our new mower, but it clogged with the high grass. I had trouble getting it re-started (because I apparently forgot to prime the pump) when Frank drove by. I made a pouty face (hoping he would stop and start the mower for me). Instead, he told me he would return shortly and mow our two lots instead of me. Oh happy day. That meant I could spend the next hour watering, planting Fall crops and weeding.   And so I did.