Monthly Archives: March 2015

Current Event: North Carolina Food Deserts

North Carolina is a huge agricultural state; it seems as though we have an amazing assortment of produce and artisanal food at our fingertips at all times. The food culture in our state is growing as well – more and more food artisans and innovative restaurants are coming out of the woodwork to reawaken a love of good food. But there is still a huge problem of food accessibility. There has been a growing discussion in North Carolina about the food deserts in our state and how to better serve those communities. A food desert is defined as a community that does not have access to healthy food, fruits and vegetables, and must travel outside of their community for food. In an urban area this means that there are no grocery stores within one square mile, and  in a rural area it is within ten square miles. North Carolina has 349 food deserts in 80 counties meaning that about one in five North Carolinians are food insecure. This past Tuesday a bipartisan group proposed a plan to get more healthy food into North Carolina food deserts by setting aside $1 million for produce refrigerators and training for already existing stores in these areas. The plan would not only create access to healthy food, but it would also support small, locally owned businesses and help them stay in afloat. This bill could be a huge step in the right direction; it not only acknowledges the importance of good food for everyone but it proposes an innovative way to support the already existing community. Not to mention the fact that this plan will stir up the conversation even further and push more people to be aware and involved in helping everyone have access to healthy food. When it comes to a local food system, the more the better; we need a lot of people working toward the same goal.

This plan is just one of the many ways that people are creating better access to healthy food in the Triangle. Interfaith Food Shuttle, SEEDS, RAFI, community gardens, backpack buddies, etc. are all working toward the same goal in different ways. Not only this, but small local food businesses play a part in making our community more stable and food secure. The beautiful thing is that all these different approaches are necessary for the solution to be sustainable; there is never one universal answer. We need IFFS to redistribute food that could go to waste, we need SEEDS to teach people how to grow food in the city, we need RAFI to educate farmers, we need politicians to allocate money for projects such as the one being proposed, we need small businesses that buy and sell local food. Simultaneously, we need educated consumers who are willing to support smaller, more sustainable businesses that can be community focused. When you buy local food, you are putting money directly back into your economy and directly into the pocket of someone who lives very nearby. I don’t know about you, but I find it incredibly encouraging to 7 Eleven Convenience Storeknow that the push for a sustainable food system in the triangle is growing and building momentum. These food deserts in North Carolina could be an area of town we have been to before, or it could be a small community along a beautiful stretch of the Haw River–it is not just an academic term that is hard to nail down in reality.

River view

This plan is an important continuation and revival of an incredibly important conversation, so let’s sustain the conversation and fuel it even further forward. Buy local, support local, build relationships, and we can make sure that we all have an equal ability to access healthy, fresh vegetables from our local farmers, artisans, and businesses.

Happy Spring!

As you may have noticed, spring has sprung! This past Friday was the first day of spring and with it will come flowers, sunshine, and more delectable fruits and vegetables. Spring is the rebirth and celebration after the long hard months of multiple layers of clothes and grey skies. According to The Farmer’s Almanac the spring equinox occurs when the length of the day is approximately equal to the length of the night and the sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west. The precise moment of the spring equinox is when the sun crosses over the equator. Spring is widely considered to be a magical time of year; it is said that on the spring equinox you can stand an egg upright and it will stay standing for 24 hours. Similarly, people once believed that clover were spring gifts from fairies for luck and protection. So, amongst the fairies, flowers, and new life, we stumble into the spring. Here are a few signs of spring that bring a smile to my face every year:

Baby Animals: Perhaps one of the most exciting parts of spring for farmers who have livestock is the birth of baby animals. I talked to Wilkerson Farms in Willow Springs to see how the spring is going for them and they were very excited to report that they have lambs! In England, the lambing season is so widely anticipated that it is broadcast live for the whole country to watch. The show is called Lambing Live (it’s on youtube if you’re curious). Since we are not so lucky here in the US, we’ll have to settle for these adorable pictures Wilkerson Farms sent me of their new lambs:

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Spring Flowers:
Golden DaffodilsDaffodils: One of the very first flowers to appear in the spring, the daffodil is a bright yellow flower that is part of the Narcissus family. According to some botanists, there are 200 different varieties of daffodils. You can plant this perennial and watch them multiply and spread, but keep an eye out for the ones that grow wild all around.
forsythiaForsythia: Also a bright yellow, the forsythia shrub blooms in early spring and grows to be 8-10 feet tall and 10-12 feet wide. The flowers only last for 2-3 weeks unless the cold gets to them first. Forsythia have become widely recognized and planted throughout the South.

Spring Birds:
robinRobins: A well-known and well-loved songbird, the robin is brown with an orange chest. They are the largest of the American Thrushes and actually live in North Carolina year-round, but the spring brings them out in number. During the winter they spend their time brooding in trees instead of out and about for us to see.
red tailed hawkRed-Tailed Hawks: These are some of the largest birds you may see in North America, they often hunt as a pair and mate for life. They can be recognized by the rich brown color on top and their pale underside with a bright red tail. In the spring you will begin to hear their calls, a high-pitched shrieking sound that could scare even the bravest of people.

 

Strawberries: As you may know, we have been counting down to strawberries in our newsletter every week. There are approximately 21 days until Britt Farms has strawberries from the field ready for us to enjoy! This means strawberry shortcake, strawberry ice cream, strawberries with yogurt, and it truly means that winter is over. They’re doing a lot of work to prepare for strawberries at Britt Farms, such as weeding, watering, uncovering and re-covering them with row covers depending on the temperature. We can look forward to strawberries in the very near future and know that they have been grown with care.

If you’re interested in learning even more in-depth about spring unfolding in Raleigh, Piedmont Picnic Project has just started a project called 100 Miles in 100 Days. During the 100 days of spring they will be walking all 100 miles of the greenway system and noting the wild edibles and their history along the way.

Spring is the perfect time to actually slow down and observe all the changes that are happening around us. Take a little time to notice the flowers and birds that are out, bask in the sunshine, and watch the world unfold.

St. Patrick’s Day Delights

St. Patrick’s Day was originally a day of feasting to honor St. Patrick, a saint who was not originally from Ireland but was kidnapped by Irish Pirates from England and brought into Ireland at the age of 16. He was sold into slavery and then escaped six years later. But he decided to return as a missionary, eventually became a priest and a bishop, and then died on March 17, 461 AD. He did not drive all the snakes out of Ireland, as myth states, (there never were any snakes in the UK because of the frigid water surrounding it), and St. Patrick’s Day was largely forgotten for the better part of a few centuries. St. Patrick’s Day as we know it today was developed by Irish immigrants in North America. They were treated terribly by most North Americans and wanted a day to remember and feel proud of their home country, so they started having parades.

Thanks to Irish Pirates and Irish immigrants we have a day in March to eat, drink, and be merry—not to mention wear green, pinch people, and talk about leprechauns. There is always the traditional meal of corned beef, potatoes, and cabbage, or the approach of serving only green food. I like to mix tradition and innovation, so here are a few different easy appetizer recipes you might like to try this Tuesday.

Kale Chips: These delicious and healthy snacks are incredibly easy to make, just make sure to keep an eye on them so they don’t burn! Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. De-stem the kale, I usually just pull it off of the stem into the size I want the chips to be. Spray a baking sheet, lay out the kale on the baking sheet, the kale can touch but don’t layer it. Sprinkle salt, pepper, garlic powder, cayenne or red pepper flakes if you like a little heat, and squeeze some lemon juice over top and put in the oven for about 5 minutes. Make sure to watch the kale, the time will differ depending on how big the kale pieces are. Enjoy!

Salt and Vinegar Smashed Potatoes: Potatoes are a must for St. Patrick’s Day, but I get stuck in making them only a few different ways. I was excited to find a different way to cook potatoes! I decided to try out this recipe and they turned out great, but mine definitely were not as pretty as the ones pictured in the recipe.

2 pounds mixed baby potatoes (Yukon Gold, red, etc.)
1 Tablespoon kosher salt, plus addt’l for sprinkling
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Freshly ground black pepper

smashed potatoes 2Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Add potatoes and 1 Tbsp. kosher salt to a medium saucepan. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and return potatoes to saucepan. Add butter and gently toss to coat. Transfer potatoes to prepared baking sheet, spreading them out in a single layer. Using a heavy mug or glass, smash each potato to about 1/2-inch thickness. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove potatoes from oven and turn each with a spatula. Drizzle with olive oil and continue baking for 20 minutes more. Once baked, sprinkle with vinegar, chopped chives, salt and pepper. Serve hot.

Greek Spinach Dip: Dip is always a favorite appetizer of mine but it is hard to find a recipe for dip that isn’t amazingly terrible for you. Luckily I was able to find a spinach dip with Greek yogurt and feta cheese, its flavor is similar to the Greek pastry, Spanakopita. It would be great served with pita chips or pita bread.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup roughly chopped shallots
4 green onions, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
12 ounces spinach leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup finely crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Add shallots, onions, and garlic and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add spinach and cook, stirring often, until wilted, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, scoop spinach into a food processor; pulse until roughly puréed, about 5 pulses. Add remaining ingredients except pepper, pulse once just to combine, then season to taste with pepper.

I would recommend adding Irish Soda Bread from Stick Boy to the celebration, they offer two different flavors: traditional and chocolate. Along with some boozy cupcakes from JP’s Pastry: Chocolate Bailey’s Cupcake (chocolate cupcake, Bailey buttercream, dipped in Bailey’s infused ganache) and Irish Whiskey Maple Vanilla Cupcake (Sour Cream White cake, Irish Whiskey Buttercream, scented with maple syrup).

Finally, we can’t celebrate St. Patty’s Day without beer. If you want something different than Guinness (although over 13 million pints are consumed around the world on St. Patrick’s Day), I have selected some awesome local beer with the help of my good friend, Reece, over at Aviator Brewing Company in Fuquay-Varina.

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Hogwild IPA (Aviator Brewing Fuquay-Varina, NC): “A golden brew made with Pale Ale and Vienna malts.  A veritable fest of the big “C” hops. Chinook, Columbus, Cascade.  Dry hopped with Magnum, Williamette, and Amarillo.  A very hoppy and refreshing ale.”
Bed of Nails Brown Ale (Hi-Wire Brewing, Asheville, NC): “Our brown ale is crafted as an ode to traditional English brown. Its delicate body allows the flavors of caramel and toffee from our specialty malts to come to life.”
Silverback American Stout (Unknown Brewing Charlotte, NC): “This 6.5% ABV stout with 7 grains and all West Coast hops. It has a beautiful, tan head and the malts give create a smooth roasted taste and chocolate notes. It finishes with slight pine and a little more hops than most traditional stouts.”
Torch Pilsner (Foothills Brewing, Winston-Salem, NC): “Legend has it that, well over a century ago, citizens of western Bohemia grew so dissatisfied with their beer they dumped it in the streets. So a new style evolved, in the city of Pilsen, combining the soft local water with pale malts and earthy Saaz hops. And the Bohemians were pleased. Our pilsner adheres closely to that original style. ’Cause we like happy Bohemians.”

Happy celebrations!

Meet Your Baker: JP’s Pastry

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Joe Parker of JP’s Pastry is a man of many talents including baking, dentistry, multi-tasking, and inhuman super-speed. Every time I see him he is running between plans with several different projects on his plate, all with a smile and time to chat. Originally from Benson, NC, JP went to UNC for his graduate and undergraduate degrees for dentistry; he now works as a dentist at his father’s practice along with running his own business out of the beautiful certified kitchen in his house.

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JP had never baked anything until he graduated from UNC in the fall of 2008; the first thing he tried was a box cake mix and it was terrible—he threw it out knowing that he could do better. And so it began. What really makes JP love baking is the science behind it; he enjoyed biochemistry in school and quickly saw its importance in baking. Every recipe he uses is first deconstructed in order to discover how it can be dairy-free, paleo, or whatever dietary restriction needs to be met. This mindset is necessary for gluten-free baking, a transition JP decided to take in 2012 after having a severe allergic reaction to wheat. Flours without gluten are much more temperamental than wheat flour–in order to get the correct texture and flavor they have to be mixed carefully. JP has seventeen different flours in his pantry that are used regularly in their desserts. He is a texture person, carefully constructing everything he bakes–the result being pastries that you wouldn’t be able to tell are gluten-free unless someone told you. He went to the Culinary Arts Program at Johnson and Wales in Charlotte and has since taken the San Francisco Baking Institute’s Gluten-Free Baking Class several times, worked with Sugar Arts School, Swank Cake Design, and many other pastry and dessert classes. JP’s Pastry is made up of three people total: JP, Iz, and Katie. Together they have created an amazing business that is continually growing.

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Katie decorating a cake

 

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JP putting a tray of paleo loaves in the oven

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The trick, he says, is relying on seasonal changes. They focus on holidays to theme their desserts as well as traditional seasonal sweets to which they can add their own twist. It takes a willingness to try and possibly fail, something that can easily happen with gluten-free baking. They JP6recently discovered a sugar cookie recipe when Katie was attempting a new recipe for their mini pound cakes. They came out of the oven with entirely the wrong structure and texture but they tasted delicious, so JP and Katie frosted them and had a delicious new product!

In all of JP’s free time he also hosts a local show called Triangle Food Addicts where they interview local restaurants. The most recent episode is about Irregardless Café. If you want to learn about gluten-free baking JP teaches classes out of his house, at Peaceful River Farm, and at Southern Season. On March 21, JP will be at Southern Season for the whole day to showcase his products. You can find their pastries at Third Place, Café De Los Muertos, Neomonde, Sassool, Groovy Duck Bakery, and Southern Season. With every bite of one of JP’s desserts you can taste the hard work, dedication, and cheer that went into its creation; here is where your sweet-tooth can be satisfied with very little guilt.

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JP and Katie

The Dirty Life by Kristen Kimball: A Book Review

The insanely snowy weather the past two weeks reminded me of how much I love to read, so I was finally able to finish a book I have been slowly going through called The Dirty Life, by Kristen Kimball. This is a memoir about her transition from a writer in New York City to a farmer in upstate New York through love, loss, and a fair amount of insanity. Taking us through the seasons of the year aligning with the seasons of her transition, Kimball combines great story-telling with a refreshing dose of honesty and practicality. Her romantic notions of farming (and love, for that matter) are backed up by an actual knowledge of the intensity of the work, and she jumps in anyway:

“ As much as you transform the land by farming, farming transforms you. It seeps into your skin along with the dirt that abides permanently in the creases of your thickened hands, the beds of your nails. It asks so much of your body that if you’re not careful it can wreck you as surely as any vice by he time you’re fifty, when you wake up and find yourself with ruined knees and dysfunctional shoulders, deaf from the constant clank and rattle of your machinery, and broke to boot. But farming takes root in you and crowds out other endeavors, makes them seem paltry. Your acres become a world. And maybe you realize that it is beyond those acres or in your distant past, back in the realm of TiVo and cubicles, of take-out food and central heat and air, in that country where discomfort has nearly disappeared, that you were deprived. Deprived of the pleasure of desire, of effort and difficulty and meaningful accomplishment. A farm asks, and if you don’t give enough, the primordial forces of death and wildness will overrun you. So naturally you give, and then you give some more, and then you give to the point of breaking, and then and only then it gives back, so bountifully it overfills not only your root cellar but also that parched and weedy little patch we call the soul.”

But she didn’t always see farming this way. Kimball came across her now-husband, Mark, while she was writing a story about his farm and was subtly persuaded to work in the fields. She frequently makes jokes about her choice of outfits that work in New York City but prove to be not so useful out on a farm in the midst of hard work, sweat, and dirt. As her perspective changes slowly through dating Mark, working on his farm, and cooking the food he has grown, she slowly begins to realize her need to farm and to live away from the convenience we have begun to feel entitled to. While it sounds idyllic and quaint on the surface, Kimball does not shy away from the difficulty of learning how to live and work on a farm, learning how to love Mark, and learning how to build her new life. She describes breakdowns and fights, hilarious and not-so-hilarious mistakes made by the two of them, and the many shenanigans that seem to always come alongside farming. There are parts of the memoir that are not for the weak-of-stomach, they do slaughter animals for meat on their farm, they have predators attack their dairy cow, chickens, and barn cats. But I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in learning what daily life is like for farmers and to anyone who enjoys good storytelling. Kimball takes her readers through her life in a way that makes it seem as though you have spent the whole afternoon in her presence, exploring her farm and drinking tea by her woodstove.

Lucky for us, here in NC, we have many farmers with incredible stories similar to Kristen Kimball’s. Cecelia Redding, owner of Down 2 Earth Farms in Rougemont, NC, worked in Mechanical and Agricultural Engineering before she became a farmer 4 year ago. She studied Mechanical Engineering at University of Florida and fell in love with the soil and agriculture classes. It was during this time that she realized that she ultimately wanted to be a farmer—a vocation that she has come to believe is more of a birthright than a job. After graduating from Florida she worked as a Mechanical Engineer for 5 years until she decided to truly pursue her passion and get a degree in Agricultural Engineering at Iowa State. She worked as a food engineer in Iowa until she and her husband moved to Raleigh where she worked in a start-up business for 10 years and got her Masters of Business at UNC. Finally, in 2011, she bought land and began to farm.

Photo by Anna Kirby Photography
Photo by Anna Kirby Photography

Curious about her transition from the business-world to the farming lifestyle, I asked her if she had any difficulty getting used to the life and work of a farmer. “I enjoy the physical side of the job,” Cecilia responded, “my real love of farming comes from being outside, working in the soil, and using so many different disciplines of science.” In the professional world you are expected to specialize, but in farming it is necessary to combine knowledge of biology, botany, animal sciences, soil sciences, etc. Down2Earth now has 5 acres in production and are working on little projects this winter so that they can grow during the cold months in the future. They’re building a hoop house to protect plants from the freezing cold, building an 8-foot deer fence as they grow their production, and expanding their irrigation system. They also plan on doubling their shiitake mushroom production in the spring.

Farming, it seems, takes root in some people and doesn’t let them go. Kristen Kimball fell into it and never could climb out; Cecelia Redding dipped a toe in and knew she wanted to go swimming. Thankfully, they both stayed with their passion and their stories are helping to build the foundations of a sustainable food system.