Category Archives: Matt

Culinary Sleight of Hand – Recipe Substitutions that Could Save Your Meal

Hand with tweezers beans

You know that feeling when you’re about to make a recipe – or worse, you’ve already started – and you realize you’re missing a vital ingredient? Maybe someone finished off the eggs even though there were some half an hour ago when you checked. Maybe, like me, estimating how much of something you have left isn’t your strong suit. Maybe something got knocked off the counter and exploded. No matter the reason, whether guests are on their way, the birthday cake needs to be in the oven, or a snowstorm has stranded you at home, don’t panic. There’s hope for your recipe. With this handy list of ingredient substitutions, you may be able to have your meal while avoiding a snow-soaked hike to the grocery store.

Dry Ingredients:
• Baking Powder- 1 tsp = ¼ tsp baking soda + 5/8 tsp cream of tartar, or ¼ tsp baking soda + ½ cup buttermilk (reduce liquid by ½ cup)
• Brown Sugar – 1 cup granulated sugar plus 1 tbsp molasses or dark corn syrup
• Cornstarch (for thickening) – 1 tbsp = 2 tbsp flour (simmer for around 3 minutes after thickening for prevent raw flour taste)
• Cream of Tartar – ½ tsp = 1 ½ tsp lemon juice or vinegar
• Flour, Cake – 1 cup = 1 cup minus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour, sifted
• Flour, Self-Rising – 1 cup = 1 cup minus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour + 1 ½ tsp baking powder and ½ tsp salt
• Flour, Corn – 1:1 ratio all-purpose flour
• Flour, Pastry – 1 cup = 7/8 cup all-purpose flour
• Flour (for brownies) – 1 cup flour = 1 cup black bean puree
• Sugar (for baking) – 1:1 ratio unsweetened applesauce (reduce liquid by ¼ cup for every cup of applesauce)

• Butter – 1:1 ratio unsweetened applesauce (Works for sweet breads, muffins, and box mixes. Best as a partial substitution, if you’ve got some butter but not enough), or pureed avocado 1:1 ratio, or 1 tbsp chia seeds + 9 tbsp water (let sit combined for 15 minutes)
• Butter, Melted – Oil, 1:1 ratio (only for melted butter)
• Buttermilk – 1 cup = 1 tsp lemon juice or vinegar + enough milk to make a cup (let sit combined for five minutes before use)
• Cream, Half and Half – 1 cup = 7/8 cup milk plus 1 tbsp butter
• Cream, Heavy – 1 cup = 1 cup evaporated milk or 3/4 cup milk plus 1/3 cup butter
• Cream, Light – 1 cup = 1 cup evaporated milk or 3/4 cup milk plus 3 tbsp butter
• Eggs – 1 egg = 2 tbsp mayonnaise or, 1 tbsp chia seeds + 1 cup water (let sit for 15 minutes)
• Sour Cream – 1 cup = 1 cup plain yogurt, or 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar + enough cream to make 1 cup, or 3/4 cup buttermilk mixed with 1/3 cup butter

Assorted Ingredients:
• Bread Crumbs – 1:1 ratio finely crushed cracker crumbs, corn flakes or quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats
• Corn Syrup – 1 cup = 1 ¼ cup sugar + 1/3 cup water, or 1 cup honey
• Dry Mustard – 1 tsp = 1 tbsp prepared mustard
• Ketchup – 1 cup = 1 cup tomato sauce + 1 tsp vinegar and 1 tsp sugar
• Lemon Juice – 1 tsp = ½ tsp vinegar, or 1 tsp white wine, or 1 tsp lime juice
• Mayonnaise – 1:1 ratio sour cream, or yogurt, or cottage cheese (pureed in blender)
• Oil (for baking) – 1:1 ratio unsweetened applesauce
• Saffron – 1:1 ratio Turmeric
• Tabasco Sauce – 4 drops = 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper, or ¼ tsp black pepper
• Tomato paste – ½ cup = 1 cup tomato sauce cooked uncovered until reduced to 1/2 cup
• Tomato Sauce – 2 cups = 3/4 cup tomato paste plus 1 cup water
• Tomatoes, Canned – 1 can = 2 ½ cups chopped, peeled fresh tomatoes, simmered about 10 minutes
• Wine – 1 cup = 1 cup chicken or beef broth, or 1 cup juice + vinegar (use grape or cranberry for red, apple or white grape for white)
• Worchester Sauce – 1 tsp = 1 tsp bottled steak sauce or 1 tbsp soy sauce, 4 drops tabasco sauce, 1/8 tsp lemon juice, dash sugar

Whether you’re baking, cooking, frying, or even grilling, there are plenty of ways recipe substitutions can be a huge help in a pinch. The best part is substitutions can, at least theoretically, be combined Inception style. Need self-rising flour, but you’ve only got all-purpose? Substitute it. Don’t have the cream of tartar for that? Substitute that, too. I can’t promise about the outcome when substitutions get stacked since I haven’t tried it, but it works on paper. The possibilities are as vast as one’s bravery or desperation. If you’re still unsure about some of the substitutions above or how they may turn out, know that others have substituted weirder. Chia seeds instead of eggs may not be your thing, but I’ve heard from multiple sources that Richard the Lion Hearted’s chef substituted captured enemy for pork. Compared to the shutter and nausea inducing thought of (alleged) cannibalism, black beans in brownies sound pretty good. (Cannibalism is not good, but black bean brownies actually are).

The Quest for NC Apples


When I started researching apple production in North Carolina, I wasn’t sure what aspect would catch my attention for the weekly update. I expected the subject to fall somewhere in between production numbers and why apples are grown where they’re grown. Then someone pointed out that you never see North Carolina apples in the store. Why doesn’t one see NC apples in the store? I decided this was the line of inquiry to follow.

My great grandparents had an apple orchard when I was growing up, so I never questioned the fact that North Carolina produces apples. Maybe we don’t produce as many apples as I assumed. It turns out NC is in the top ten states for apple production, usually falling around 7th . Of course, if the US doesn’t produce that many apples or almost all come from one state, then seventh place may not be that many. I started digging through the first of many documents, charts, and Excel files to find some actual numbers. In 2010, North Carolina actually produced around 134 million pounds of apples . So a lack of apples shouldn’t be the reason for their absence in box stores.

Perhaps the reasons are geographic. If the area for apples is clustered, they may not get distributed evenly throughout the state. Apple production in the state clusters into five major areas: Henderson, Haywood, Mt. Mitchel, Northwest, and South Mountain areas . The areas aren’t massively spread out, but the spread is big enough and transportation accessible enough that geography shouldn’t be a problem. The reason for the clusters actually dates back as early as the 19th century. Apples have been grown in thermal belt areas of North Carolina since pioneers in the 1800’s discovered that growing apples on hill slopes instead on mountaintops or the bottom of valleys made for a longer growing season . In southwestern NC, there is an average rainfall of over ninety inches (versus an average of forty to fifty-five inches east of the mountains) because a barrier formed by the mountains forces moist, southerly winds over it . Overall, the thermal belts make an excellent place to grow apples.

So if North Carolina has plenty of apples and geography doesn’t prevent them from being moved around, what’s the problem? Poking through some more USDA spreadsheets, I found that in 2010, 50.7 million pounds of NC apples were used for canning. That’s a decent chunk. Excel file revealed that an additional 21 million pounds get turned into juice or cider. So, around 72.1 million pounds of the 134 mil don’t even reach the final consumer as a whole apple (most of this comes to you in the form of juice or apple sauce). What about the 40-ish percent that do reach the last step of their journey still intact? One-fourth of US apples are exported to other countries , and since a breakdown by state isn’t readily available, let’s just use the average. So 30% of 134 million pounds equals a lot of apples still unaccounted for (around 40.2 million lbs.).

The most commonly grown apples fall into one of four types, but there are actually over forty other types grown in the state; however, these are almost exclusively found in roadside stands . Any others will generally be found at the farmer’s market. That’s the ‘where’ of finding North Carolina apples, and the ‘why’ has been answered to a certain numerical degree, but for the bigger ‘why’ one can’t find NC apples in stores, I don’t have an exact answer. With the apple production in North Carolina being spread over around three hundred orchards, maybe it’s easier for stores to import apples instead of dealing with multiple suppliers. Stores may think apples sound more exotic if they come from places that are usually cold. Or perhaps history plays a role. Thinking on the roadside stands and stories of how my great grandfather used to get on his bike and peddle apples, maybe NC likes to keep things old school. Or maybe North Carolina likes to keep its local apples truly local.

Carolina apples may not be as convenient to find as imports in the store, but NC apples are worth looking for. The weather in North Carolina’s apple growing regions is ideal for producing apples with a great combination of crispness, juiciness, and sweetness. Finding North Carolina apples may not always be easy, but like the overlooks and hiking trails in the land where they grow, a bit of effort pays off.

Delicious Duos – A La Carte Desserts from Contrarian Farm to Your Table

The term ‘duo’ may bring a variety of pairs to mind. Some are fictional, like Batman and Robin. Some are famous, like Simon and Garfunkel. Some are infamous, like Bonnie and Clyde. Yet no matter what one thinks of, a duo is a pair ( says so). But what about other kinds of pairs? Say, poached pears with ice cream? Or farm and table? Or fruit and tarts, hazelnut flourless chocolate cake and ganache, or even chocolate mocha layer cake and crushed toffee topping? If anything after “Bonnie and Clyde” comes to mind, or you want it to, Duo may be just the thing for you.

At its core, Duo is the team up of a chef, Cino Donati, and a farmer, Brittany Kordick of the sustainable Contrarian Farm. Cino was an executive chef at Noble’s Grille and has embraced local produce and the farm to table process for the last 25 years. Even when shipping produce in from all over was the norm, Donati was devoted to using local produce from the Carolinas. Now the dietary director at an assisted living facility, he met Brittany Kordick while they were working a part-time gig at a restaurant. They formed Duo, which takes its name from both combining the elements of farm and restaurant and the fact that Duo is a team of two.

Duo ( brings food from the farm to your table in two ways. The first is through catering. Duo’s catering is steered by what the customer desires, though sample menus are available on the website. Duo also provides the delicious service of desserts a la carte. Duo takes dessert orders a la carte, because, as they say, “Why wait for the excuse of an event?” While Duo now makes phenomenal desserts, Cino actually used to hate baking. This changed when he began working as the dietary director for an assisted living facility. He found that freshly baked goods added a nice touch, provided something special for the residents, and even gave a nice smell. Through this, Donati has comes to terms with the joys of baking, and now Duo not only offers a la carte desserts, but will also customize your order to your taste preferences.

Providing catering and desserts a la carte isn’t the only cool thing Duo does. Whenever possible, Duo uses produce direct from Brittany Kordick’s own Contrarian Farm. Much, if not most, of their produce comes from Brittany’s farm. That means that, not only is your dessert specially (and possibly custom made) for you, but much of it is under the care of Brittany and Cino from seed to package. In the event that an ingredient needed isn’t currently available at Contrarian Farm, Duo seeks to stay as local and sustainable. So, if something you order requires saffron, it might come from the belt running from Spain to India as there’s not a lot of other options; but any other ingredients will be as local and sustainable as possible.

So, knowing Duo’s origin and where they are now, one may wonder where Duo is headed; and the truth is, it may not be where one expects. Despite the awesome set-up of bringing food from her farm to their kitchen to your table, Duo isn’t planning to take the corporate world by storm. Actually, they want to stay small and use what they can from Contrarian Farm’s growing season. They’re a duo, and it works. Changing it would be like adding horseradish to “chocolate chip” and “cookies.” As Cino told me, they’re a duo, and that’s all they’ll ever be. They’ll remain just the two of them. And really, who can blame them? After all, three’s a crowd.

When Oil and Vinegar Mix – Creative Cooking Tips from Glenda Keenan of Blue Sky Oil and Vinegar


Imagine looking into your pantry or fridge and, other than a few staples and garnishes, finding nothing but fish, plums, and vinegar. Unless one was feeling especially imaginative, one may not have even found a dish to prepare, let alone a meal; however, Glenda Keenan, Pap Spud’s customer and owner of Blue Sky Oil and Vinegar, saw the beginning of a recipe book. Personally, these ingredients coming on the tail of a long day at work could very well result in take-out. For Glenda Keenan, these ingredients came on the tail of an unexpected divorce, a flood, the death of a beloved pet, and, let’s not forget, cancer . For her, the result was seared tuna with plums (p. 48 of her book, Cooking with Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar). And just like the creation of this recipe, Keenan’s book uses the principles of health, quick preparation, minimal ingredients, creativity, and topping with flavor to create dishes that are mind bogglingly tasty.

So what exactly is Glenda Keenan’s book Cooking with Olive Oil and Vinegar? At its core, the book is a collection of recipes and advice for creating delicious yet astounding simple dishes using only a few ingredients along with flavorful balsamic vinegars and olive oils of the highest quality. But deeper than that, the book teaches principles of preparing amazing meals through creativity and adapting to what one has on hand.

Her inspiration for the book started with people coming into Blue Sky Oil and Vinegar and, staggered by the variety and selection, wondering what all the olive oils and balsamic vinegars could be used for. Looking at her book, I’d say everything from appetizers to desserts plus pickling and anything between. Glenda has used olive oil and balsamic vinegar in her cooking every day for the last five years, and she pairs this with her personal philosophy of cooking to create a book that anyone using it can be excited about.

Keenan wanted to base the book on how she cooks at the end of a long day at work: combining the elements of health, quick preparation, topping with flavor, and only a handful of ingredients. When it comes to these few ingredients, Glenda finds seasonal and local produce to be best. Availability may be an issue with seasonal and local produce, so adaptability in cooking plays a big role in Glenda’s kitchen. As Keenan says, what she makes is based around what she has and how’s she’s going to use it. If tomatoes and arugula are what’s available, Glenda has around 30 options for making salad dressing at the ready. If sweet potatoes are in season, she’ll bake them with maple balsamic vinegar.

While what one has on hand plays a big role in cooking Keenan style, adaptation comes into play in more than just the ‘main ingredients’. Imagination, options, and substitutions are all emphasized in her book, including advice about substituting fennel for water chestnuts at the rarer end of ingredients, to a table for subbing olive oil for butter on the everyday end. The book even contains suggestions for repurposing leftovers, like turning leftovers from the Brussels sprouts and fennel salad on page 72 into a cooked dish.

On the subject of adaptive cooking, I asked Keenan what it was like cooking from a Papa Spud’s box. To her it’s “nirvana”. But the joy of cooking from a box goes beyond the convenience of not having to go grocery shopping after a long day at her store. One aspect is sharing boxes with her daughter, the executive chef at Olio & Aceto Café in Chapel Hill. I asked Glenda whether she plans her meals before she orders her box or orders her box and what she orders inspires her. For her, it’s both. A great example is her Sunday afternoon cookouts with friends. She keeps brats, hotdogs, and ground beef on hand in the freezer, and forms her sides based on what’s locally available. If she gets extra of something in a box, Keenan has a plan for that, too. One option is to make and freeze individual dinners with the ingredients. The other is to pickle them in a favorite balsamic vinegar.

Keenan’s favorite recipe in the book is the Chicken Marbella on page 30. Unfortunately, this is one of the least attempted recipes due being the most complicated. So if time constraints bar the way or olives aren’t in your flavor profile, Glenda recommends the Chicken Picata on page 32 or the lemon chicken with dried cherries on page 38. If one pursues a vegetarian way of life, the main dishes section contains options like the Portabella Tacos on page 46 or the sweet potato gnocchi on page 52.

In her book, Glenda Keenan takes her personal philosophy of cooking and uses it to teach principles that everyone can use in the kitchen. Cooking with Olive Oil and Vinegar not only gives tried and tested recipes for any occasion, but it also teaches people to cook on their feet and perhaps even flying by the strings of their apron. You can borrow Glenda’s book through the Papa Spud’s cookbook swap, we will have 5 copies available for circulation starting next week (October 27th/28th deliveries) – or from her store, Blue Sky Oil and Vinegar in Chapel Hill (, where you can get the oils and vinegar for any recipe in the book! I’m fairly certain we’re all familiar with the adage about giving a man a fish versus teaching him to fish; in a way, Glenda Keenan’s recipe book does both. If you find yourself in a predicament with a few random ingredients, remember that without imagination and creativity, none of our favorite recipes would exist. Knowledge comes from experience and experimentation, though if you’d rather reserve said experimentation for when guest aren’t coming over, we understand!

The Journey toward Organic Certification


If one were to start naming off illegal activities, using the term ‘organic’ improperly probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind. As it turns out, in regards to agriculture, it really is illegal to use the term ‘organic’ unless one is certified. While it’s perfectly legal to employ organic practices without official certification, one has to stick to terms like “sustainable.” Down2Earth Farms has always used sustainable methods since they began growing produce in 2012, but they’ve now made the jump to official organic certification.

One may wonder why a bit of terminology is such a big deal, but the truth is, being organically certified involves much more than abstaining from chemical pesticides. According to the USDA, organic agriculture involves practices at the cultural, biological, and mechanical levels and the promotion of ecological balance, preservation, biodiversity, and cycling resources. Of course, there’s also a list of no-no’s, including the use of sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, irradiation, and genetic engineering. Down2Earth Farms has always employed these principles, but Cecelia Redding of Down2Earth Farms has been on this path since college.

Cecelia Redding started out in mechanical engineering, but switched to agricultural engineering because her love for the combination of the biological sciences with the mechanical aspects of engineering. She watched from afar until deciding that she was going to farm using only sustainable and ecologically conscious practices. Eventually it all came together and culminated with finding the perfect piece of land to start Down2Earth Farms. However, this land had been used for farming with conventional methods. Organic certification requires one to wait three years after land has been used for conventional agriculture before applying for certification. During this time, one may only use approved materials and keep careful records of one’s agricultural practices. The three years are finally up, and Down2Earth Farms is now officially organic.

Organic agriculture does come with its own set of difficulties, and I don’t mean the yearly inspection. Two of the biggest difficulties come from pests and weeds. The primary way of dealing with pests is crop rotation. Certification actually requires a four-year rotation schedule, but Down2Earth doubles that with an eight-year schedule. If the same crop grows in the same place for too long, the relevant pests will build up in the area, some even living and growing in the soil. With a plentiful food supply growing in their proverbial living room, pests flourish and populate to increasingly problematic amounts. Rotating crops each year reduces the risk of a pest population boom, making farming without pesticides a little easier and helping to preserve environmental balance.

Creatures may cause their share of headaches, but plants share in the guilt. Weeds torment every farmer, but with organic agriculture, one can’t turn to Roundup for a solution. Organic herbicides do exist but have the drawback of being less effective. In addition, to use even an organic herbicide in organic agriculture, one must prove a problem currently exists. Even then there are strict controls, including only being able to spray some organic herbicides at certain times a day to avoid harming natural pollinators. Cecilia’s solution is to use her knowledge of engineering to combat weeds. By designing equipment to help fight weeds, she can control the problem in an ecologically responsible way. As an engineer, this is something she loves to do; however, it’s still a lot of extra time conventional farmers don’t have to spend. Organic agriculture takes time.

If farming organically involves so much time and trouble, why do it? The reasons may vary from person to person, but for Cecilia Redding, environmental aspects are at the core. She believes conventional farming practices are taking farmers away from where farming should be. With the use of conventional methods, people have “lost the science of building notorious soil” and wandered away from solid ecological practices. On the other hand, she feels that organic farming is a way to, “bring back the principles all farmers were taught to use,” and bring back good environmental practices as an essential part of that. For Redding and Down2Earth Farms, employing the ecologically sound practices of organic farming seems to be the responsible and logical choice, just as the name implies. When it comes to the motivation that makes the extra time and effort worthwhile, it seems to come down to the earth.

Food Waste in America


Just over a week ago on the 27th, the moon had a lot on its plate. It was a super moon, a harvest moon, and a full lunar eclipse. Was it stunning? Probably, but to be honest, it was hard for me to see with all the clouds. Unfortunately, there’s another shadow on the metaphorical harvest that’s difficult to see. A third of our food in America is lying on the ground, rotting and uneaten, and the problem far pre-dates apocalyptic moon happenings. While we normally may only see a few scraps thrown away here or a few spoiled products disposed of there, in reality, a whopping 31% of available food in the US goes uneaten(around 133 billion lbs.), and that’s only on the retail and consumer levels. So how does all this food go to waste? It’s a process that starts in the field and ends in the trashcan, losing more and more along the way.

The first part of the waste process begins the same place food does – wherever it’s grown. One aspect comes from over-planting as a way to hedge against weather and disease. The other is an issue of aesthetics. If produce doesn’t fit our idea of a perfect (insert name of produce) in color and shape, then we tend not to buy it. If, say, an apple fits the criteria for a perfect apple and is the epitome of apple-ness (think Plato’s forms), then it gets graded as grade 1. If not, it will be graded as grade 2 and lose up to 2/3rds of its value. This means the given piece of produce may no longer be financially viable to harvest, and stays on the vine or on the ground. In the end, around 7% of produce gets left in the field , which doesn’t even get counted toward the USDA’s estimated 31%.

The next wave of waste happens at the grocery store and retail level. Each year, stores toss around $15 billion worth of fruits and vegetables. Rather than appear understocked, groceries stores routinely overstock and dispose of the extras. “Sale by” dates and their relatives do their own part to heartily contribute to waste. Stores throw away an average of $2,300 worth of product due to the date printed on the box. Most of this food is still edible.

Restaurants and other food services are part of the waste machine as well. In order to ensure that every item on the menu is almost always available, more food than can be used is kept on hand. Customers are involved as well, as an average of 17% of food is left on the plate unfinished, and it doesn’t always seem worth taking home. Rules and policy dictate disposal as well. At McDonald’s, fries are allowed to bask in the glowing light of a heat lamp for seven minutes before they’re deemed too old to benefit society and trashed. All fast food is literally decimated this way, given that it’s the fate of one tenth of all the food produced.

With all of this food going uneaten up to this point, the consumer gets away guilt-free, right? Actually, the average American household throws away around 14-25% of the food and beverages they buy, equaling a tidy $1,365-$2,275 annually. Part of this is due to overstocking the pantry, as things don’t get used up because there’s no way to eat it all. The other factor is disposing of things because they’re past their expiration date. Thanks, expiration dates, for keeping us safe .

Finally, even disposal plays a role in food going uneaten. A plethora of food that could be donated gets disposed of instead. Some of this is due to difficulties of getting the food to where it can do some good, some due to donating food not being financially viable for business, and a lot just has to do with the fear of being sued. It turns out, you can’t get sued for good faith food donations thanks to the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act , but this isn’t common knowledge. Of what gets thrown away, regardless of the reason, only 3% gets composted. Of the rest, what isn’t incinerated ends up in a landfill. Food waste makes up a fifth of landfills, and the conditions in which it decomposes result in methane gas, a big player in the global warming game. In fact, food in landfills is the source of a quarter of the U.S.’s methane emissions.

What does it all mean? Locally, food that could go to starving families instead wastes away uneaten. Globally, food waste contributes to the greenhouse effect and global warming in a big way, not to mention all of the water and other resources that go to producing food that won’t be eaten. Together, it’s kind of like allocating a portion of natural resources to slowly poisoning the earth. On a personal level, it costs a lot of money to waste food. Now, I know a nice, neat summary doesn’t change the difficulty of dealing with an issue of a national, if not global, scale. What about a summary of the two biggest factors that directly relate to the consumer?

Issue one: the aesthetics of food. In America, our food has to look delicious. This may not even be entirely our fault. It’s what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in the grocery store. But no matter where this got started down the line, it can be unlearned like bad grammar. If what sales is dictated by the consumer (there’s probably a big discussion there I’m choosing to avoid), then opening our hearts to produce that’s pretty on the inside could be a first step. It starts with the decision to give a peach a chance, even if it is shaped more like a heart than a butt.

Issue two: expiration dates. Fun fact – with the exception of infant formula and baby food, no sale by or expiration date is federally mandated. Laws in most states require milk and perishables to be pulled from the shelf by their sale by date, but other than that, these dates are strictly advisory. Most stores feel it looks better to stock products that are in date, though most are still edible after. In fact, the dating on products pertains to quality, not safety. For canned goods, the date is generally based on the warranty on the can, not the longevity of the food inside it.

So if the dates are not required, why include them at all? It could be out of the goodness of companies’ hearts to protect our safety, or at least, our enjoyment of our food. Perhaps it’s just to keep the manufacturer from being sued. However, the more suspicious among us may feel that the sooner one has to throw away a product, the sooner one has to buy another to replace it. Of course, the obvious choice is to do what you feel is best for your health and the health of your family; but if one feels like bucking the system, there are ways to do so in a relatively safe manner. The key is information, and while there are a myriad of resources at one’s disposal, websites like this one can help you determine the longevity of individual foods, storage advice to increase aid longevity, and how to tell if something really has gone bad.

So, what do I think? If you answered that you don’t care what I think, you’re on the right track. Issues that affect things on a personal, local, and global scale are too big to be based on someone else’s opinion. For issues of this gravity, one has to make one’s own informed decisions (and I do hope I’ve been informative) and then act on them. Do what you feel is right. You don’t have to explain why you ate pasta that was a month past its best by date or an avocado that wasn’t perfectly symmetrical to anyone. But if you do, it may just cause a ripple. Your friends and family will care more about your opinion than that of the guy that wrote the blog or newsletter you read. Whatever path you choose, I leave you with this advice (which I admittedly got from a Spiderman cartoon), “be the change you wish to see.”

Fifth/First Generation Farming and a Brief History of the Move to Lettuce


Nowadays, a ‘generation’ can refer to more than a group of people born between two approximate dates; this is especially true if the object in question is fifty times more likely to be referred to ‘4th gen’ than ‘fourth generation’ (though the phrase ‘next gen’ is also a great signifier). In these cases, the generation gap can be as short as the two months where one tries to figure out how to use the new device or the way it’s different than the last one or, in my case, as long as the two years until a game with the next batch of 150ish Pokémon comes out. While the concept of a next generation or Xth generation may be straight forward, can someone or something be both fifth and first generation? In regards to Jedd Koehn of Coastal Plains Produce, I say yes.

Jedd Koehn grew up on a western Kansas farm that grew organic produce including corn, beans, and sunflowers. His grandfather had worked the farm since the 1940’s, making the move to organic in the 80’s. After going organic, he formed a co-op with other local farmers that became Heartland Mill . Though over 1,000 miles away, Jedd Cohen was able to see things come full circle as he ate bread with his family in a Raleigh bakery. Bread made of grain from the mill his grandfather helped start.

Though he grew up on a farm that had been in his family for generations, Jedd was not always involved in farming. As many of us do (or are still doing), he did other things for a while. But eventually, he decided to return to farming. I asked him about his motivation for returning to farming as a way of life. He wanted to be around his wife and little boy more. He wanted to work alongside his son as he grew up. In the transition from organics in Kansas to hydroponics here in North Carolina, he started on a family farm and ended up starting a farm for his family.

Not only did he start a new farm in a new place with new crops, Jedd is also the first in his family to use hydroponics. Hydroponics and other elements of controlled environment agriculture, well, control the agricultural environment, enabling one to grow produce year round; however, this can’t completely rob the seasons of their influence. Spring and fall are ideal growing seasons for lettuce in a controlled environment, due to balance of light and temperature. This works well since they also happen to be the prime seasons for sales. In spring this is primarily due to spring fitness, while in the fall it’s mostly due to fall holidays. Winter holds the most difficulties for growing lettuce, as if the plants themselves know it’s not the time to grow. Despite providing heat and light and the astronomical cost this entails, the plants still take around eight weeks to grow as opposed to six in summer. The fast growing speeds of the summer come with their own difficulties. The plants quickly bolt, sprouting up from the center and going to seed, causing the plants to become bitter, deformed, and unsalable.

Seasonal difficulties and year round production makes for year round labor. Lots of labor. Koehn says it’s not a bad way to make a living if you don’t mind lots of work; and for Jedd Koehn, it’s work he gets to do with his son. With his young age, Tanner’s work helping Dad probably consists of quality time, learning, and a lot of ‘wanting to help.’ And with that comes the experience of nurturing something to fruition and a sense of pride in a job well done. Whether Tanner decides to farm, do something else, or do something else and then return to his hydroponic roots, he’ll still learn lessons as a sixth/second gen farmer that he can carry through his life and pass on to the next generation.

So, How’s the Weather? Or Why a Dry Summer isn’t Always a Bad Thing


It’s happened to all of us. One minute you’re in the middle of a fascinating conversation or safely in the elevator alone (depending on the kind of day you’re having), and it happens. You’re stuck in the same old conversation about the weather. For many of us, it starts with observations on conditions or seasonal changes, moves on to preferences, and then there’s a bit on how it affects one’s plans, hobbies, or journey to and from the car. If the conversation gets really in depth, there may be some talk of how outdoor conditions affect the indoor climate.

There’s something to be said for how universal the weather conversation is. Everyone can relate to the weather, and we’re all affected by it in some way. But as I recently discovered, conversing about the weather isn’t always so mundane. For the agricultural community, the stakes go beyond whether you should bring an umbrella or sunscreen. The weather can affect your whole season and even your year. Plus there’s much more to learn than a weather app will tell you. With the upcoming season change, we decided to speak to Ken Chappell of Chappell’s Peaches and Apples and Cecilia Redding of Down2Earth Farms on how the weather this past summer has affected them and the produce in your boxes.

They both agreed that the summer has been pretty dry, but what I didn’t expect, was that with proper irrigation, this can be a good thing. Not only are rain and humidity are actually the biggest causes of disease in plant growth, but peaches actually like somewhat dry weather. Melons and peppers benefit from dry weather as well. While more water may mean plumper produce, the water can actually dilute the flavor of melons, and peppers are spicy in dry weather. Less water leads to higher alkaloid production in peppers, not least of these being capsaicin, the little guy responsible for binding to heat receptors in your mouth. Drier weather also lessens problems with mildew and can make harvesting easier, so the dry weather actually heaps benefits on many farmers. However, there are some difficulties to dry weather. While the difficulty may be apparent if one lacks an irrigation system, even with proper irrigation, an issue presents itself: namely, leaks. More irrigation equals more time fixing leaks, and while time consuming and possibly troublesome, the farmers I spoke to still gave the dry weather a thumbs up.

As we moved on to fall, we discussed expectations for the season and differences from previous years. While the dryness of the summer didn’t seem to have a lot of impact on the fall, some of the spring weather did. Chappell Peaches and Apples will be closing for the fall in two to three weeks instead of around Halloween, and the reason traces all the way back to March. On the 29th of March, a spring freeze dropped the weather to an icy 23°, causing gaps throughout the summer and leading to an early closing for fall.

While the dry summer makes for an easier harvest, the biggest fall change for Down2Earth Farms will be the introduction of two new high tunnels. Also called hoophouses, high tunnels serve to extend the growing season, and work much like unheated greenhouses, though they only allow for the growing of seasonal produce. At Down2Earth Farms, they also provide the added benefit of protection from windy weather in the area.

Though their opinions of the summer were similar, Chappell and Redding’s focus for their hopes for the fall differed. Chappell is hoping for rain this fall to provide groundwater for the winter. Redding’s focus was on temperature as she hopes for a smoother transition in temperature, with the real lows coming later on instead of the jumps of previous years.

The way people process and store information varies, and to process what I learned from the interviews, I decided to compare how I’d survive in produce growing weather.
1) Dryness – Depends how you look at it. I like rain, but for the most part, that’s on days I don’t go outside. On the other hand, I need lots of water. If I never had an alcoholic beverage in my life but went 30 minutes without a drink of water, I’d still start getting a hangover. On the other hand, proper hydration could be considered,um, drip irrigation, I guess, so let’s say I scored a maybe.
2)Temperature – Mostly fail. I’m good with a smooth transition into cool weather, but I’d also like that transition to start at the beginning of August. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not wishing for global disaster in terms of crop production since an early onset of winter can wreak havoc on produce; I’m speaking in terms of purely hypothetical personal comfort.
3) Acceptance of the weather and one’s outlook on it – Pretty good, though it’s something I still work on every day. This is more in regards to the farmer’s I spoke with rather than the plant’s opinion, but the positive outlook and their ability to adapt can serve as a reminder to all of us. If there’s a lot of rain, deal with the difficulties and be thankful for the groundwater. If the weather is dry, fix the leaks and be thankful for the flavor. Our best option is to do the best with what we’re given, and if the temperature is wrong, remember that the seasons change and the weather may be better next year.

Only Sort of Controlling the Weather

3a7856_aa55171fa91d9fa8b1479c445ee9385c.jpg_srb_p_781_583_75_22_0.50_1.20_0 (1)

A little piece of Disney World is coming to the Triangle – sort of. And no, I don’t mean the Disney store in Crabtree Mall has opened back up. Maybe it has (who hasn’t been waiting to get their Lilo and Stitch on), but that’s not the point. I’m thinking more along the lines of EPCOT and Living with the Land. The ride referenced is an exploration of horticultural technologies and sustainable agriculture, and though I doubt there will be any mouse-ears involved, LL Urban Farms is instituting even more controlled environment agriculture in their production process.

While LL Urban Farms has been using greenhouses to grow their lettuce since the beginning, they’ve been growing heirloom tomatoes outside for the last three years. This is all about to change. LL Urban Farms is moving their tomatoes indoors with the introduction of two new green houses. I spoke to Glen Lang (one of the “L’s” of LL Urban) about the change, and he provided me with both a timeline and some very compelling reasons for the switch.

For the timeline, the greenhouses are being built now. The tomatoes will be moved in and growing in the second week of October, and the tomatoes will be ready in January after a period of sixty to seventy days. I say moved in instead of planted, because the plants will be grafted onto disease resistant root systems, fighting disease and staying consistent with their method for the quality heirloom tomatoes they’ve produced. During the summer months when the availability of local tomatoes is highest, the old plants will be taken out and replaced with fresh plants. After a year’s growth, stems can reach a length of 40 feet and become unwieldy and cause difficulties in growing sustainable produce.

When I asked Mr. Lang about the reasons behind the switch, he first told me about the lack of local tomatoes during the winter months in our area. With the plant change during the peak season, fresh, local tomatoes will be available to people virtually year round. The second reason was to move their tomatoes into the realm of controlled environment agriculture.

Cool? Yes. But to convince you of the benefits of controlled environment agriculture, I should probably explain a bit of what it is. Controlled environment agriculture is the production of plants and produce in greenhouses or other similar structures. CEA can increase both the quality and productivity of crops by controlling environmental factors involved in the growth of plants. Rain and humidity are the two biggest factors of disease in plants, and CEA reduces, if not eliminates, both major risk factors. Healthier plants mean better produce and higher quality food. Temperature also plays a roll, and being able to keep tomatoes in their comfortable range of roughly 84° during the day and 62-65° at night helps fight problems like frostbite, wilting, and dehydration.

While some may suggest CEA sounds a bit newfangled, the concept has been around since the days of the Roman emperors . Around 14-17 AD, a doctor ordered Tiberius Caesar to eat a cucumber a day for health. I had always heard it was an apple a day, but I suppose either one was better than a Big Mac at keeping the doctor away. So ole’ Tiberius had movable plant beds that could be placed indoors or outdoors depending on the weather, and during sunny winter days, they were placed outside covered by a frame glazed with transparent mica. Greenhouses similar to what we use today were in use in 1670, and greenhouses were even used by George Washington at Mount Vernon around 1780. These were heated by decomposing manure, but thankfully technology has progressed since then.

Groovy. But how does CEA affect us today? Locally speaking, it means we’ll have high quality tomatoes in abundance year round. While field growing tomatoes may result in around 20 lbs. of tomatoes per plant per year with many having to be turned into tomato paste, CEA can raise that number to around 60 lbs. with 95% of them being at maximum, not-for-paste quality. Add on the fact that this produce will be local and free of pesticides and herbicides, and you’ve got a pretty sweet deal. From an environmental perspective, CEA growth environments can be closed, meaning there’s no liquid discharge into surface or ground water. Add on the fact that CEA facilities can be located in urban areas so open and agricultural land doesn’t need to be converted to greenhouses, and the prospect becomes even sweeter.

In summary, controlled environment agriculture is good for the environment and the increased production is good for sustaining produce for a world whose population keeps increasing. On top of that, one gets to eat fresh produce in the style of presidents and emperors, but with that option available to everyone near a farm that employs the techniques of CEA. Sometimes parts of us want things the traditional way, while other bits want to embrace the future. Controlled environment agriculture and greenhouses could be the best of both worlds.

A Different Kind of Family Heirloom

Colorful Organic Heirloom Tomatoes
My great grandmother used to can food. Lots of food. Great food. Shortly after she passed, we went up to their house again for a family reunion. In the basement, we found mason jars full of apple butter, beans, tomatoes, potatoes, and all manner of things. So we ate. As we did, three generations shared stories of my great grandmother. It was like sharing one more meal with her, prepared with love for her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

Thinking back on that time, I realized how wonderful it would be if people could pass down food like they pass down more traditional heirlooms. Food is such a big part of our lives and cultures that it would be amazing to hand that down. People can hand down recipes, but there are some families that hand down something a bit more tangible: seeds.

Heirloom tomatoes fall into four categories based on various requirements, and one of these is the family heirloom category. The seeds of these tomatoes are actually passed down from generation to generation. Personally, I find the idea of being able to pass down something that’s both nutritional and delicious is insanely cool. Not all heirloom tomatoes fall into this particular category, but they all have benefits that make you want to eat them.

When mentioning benefits of foods, I feel obligated to talk about health benefits, and heirloom tomatoes possess many. But right now, I’d like to focus less on why you should eat them, and more on why you want to eat them. Nutrition is an important part of food, but it’s not the only part. Nutrition is good, but flavor is fun.

And heirloom tomatoes are packed with it. Lots of people say heirloom tomatoes taste better, and I agree. But I’d argue that heirlooms also have more taste. This is a good thing. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve had tomatoes that taste like, well, not much. When you cut a tomato and pop a chunk in your mouth without salt and still have a taste experience, that’s an experience I can get behind.

Anyone who likes to dip corn dogs in ketchup and mustard mixed together knows that how something looks isn’t the most important aspect in enjoying food, but aesthetics can add a nice touch to the experience. If this was untrue, more than half the pictures on Instagram would be of something besides food. The richness and variety of color in heirloom tomatoes adds a nice element to food with fresh tomatoes, and cooking with tomatoes of more than one color adds a depth to the color and flavor. I generally love all tomatoes and wouldn’t want to make a derisive comment about any of them, but one may wonder if produce looks a little too uniform like it was made in a factory by some kind of robot.

Another wonderful aspect of heirloom tomatoes is that many of them are less acidic than other varieties. Fellow sufferers of heartburn can rejoice with me about this. Heirloom tomatoes might not be a part of your family history, but there might be a tomato heavy recipe that is. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t make any guarantees, but it definitely seems worth a shot.

Another great thing about heirloom tomatoes is that by eating them, you may be doing a small part to prevent famine and disaster. You probably think I’m joking. The genetic diversity of heirloom tomatoes includes resistances to disease and infestation, and with decreased genetic diversity in produce, our food sources become susceptible to these on an increasingly larger scale. By supporting farmers that grow genetically diverse produce, you help fight genetic erosion among our food sources that increase the risk of large scale food shortages, all the while getting the benefit of a unique and enjoyable taste experience.

Heirloom tomatoes are a cool way to bring together history, tradition, and diversity in a flavorful way. This may sound goofy, but it reminds me of a time in first grade when I failed a primary color assignment because I used cerulean, burgundy, and goldenrod instead of the crayons labeled blue, red, and yellow. Maybe I’m thinking like a first grader, but does a crayon company get to dictate which shade of blue is the ‘real’ blue? Who gets to say which shade of tomato is the right one?

Fresh Caprese Salad

While cooking with heirloom tomatoes is a great idea, one should definitely experience heirloom tomatoes fresh, so I’ll leave you with a simple, yet delicious, recipe for Caprese salad:
You’ll need:
Heirloom tomatoes
Fresh mozzarella cheese
Fresh Basil
Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Salt and Pepper

Slice the tomato (depending on the size, you may need to halve or quarter the slices). Top each piece with a slice of mozzarella cheese, followed by oil and vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste. Finish it off with chopped basil. For a fun twist you can pick up, split and lightly toast some whole grain rolls or buns. Rub these with a clove of garlic and place one of your Caprese salad slices in the middle. Viola. You’ve just turned your Caprese salad to Caprese sliders.