Monthly Archives: May 2015

The (Eclectic, Antiquated, and Beloved) Farmer’s Almanac

You’ve probably seen the Farmer’s Almanac around for years, maybe in a small grocery store or general store, or at your grandparents’ house. Countless friends have told stories of their grandparents swearing by the Farmer’s Almanac, checking its weather predictions for the year as well as its planting guides. But it also provides general cooking tips and recipes, home remedies for sickness, jokes, and hunting and fishing tips. You can even learn random facts about natural phenomena such as heat lightening or information on all different types of rice. This eclectic collection of traditional knowledge seems to be  surprisingly accurate at times, and at other times pretty far off the mark. In a world of increasing technology, traditional knowledge is often scoffed at, but their weather predictions are generally accurate about 80% of the time . I would say that 80% is pretty swell considering their predictions are done two years in advance and are based off of a top-secret formula that includes “sunspot activity, tidal action, the position of the planet, and many other factors.” According to the Farmer’s Almanac, this coming summer “will bring near-normal temperatures, on average, with the hottest periods in early to mid-June, mid-to late July, and mid-to late August. Rainfall will be below normal in the north and above in the south. Watch for a tropical storm threat in mid-July.” And if you’re a gardener, this week is a “barren period,” good for killing pests, cultivating, or taking a vacation.

All of their planting guidelines for gardeners are based off the cycles of the moon, which sounds surprisingly new-agey to be part of such a traditional magazine. This is what I find most fascinating about the Farmer’s Almanac—it’s used by many gardeners and people interested in living a sustainable and simple life but it is based off of ideas that many today would call superstitious. It is a beautiful, seemingly antiquated, publication that pays attention to the natural cycles of the earth and has learned to work with them for the better cultivation of plants. You always hear of people out in the sticks who can predict crazy weather patterns based on something seemingly unrelated—there is a man in the NC Mountains who can predict the number of snows every winter based on the number of foggy mornings in August. He puts a bean in a jar every morning with fog and at the end of August he counts them out and can tell you how many light dustings and how many big snows the area will get—and he’s usually almost spot on. This is the kind of knowledge that the Farmer’s Almanac publishes, and some people still use it!

I was curious to know if any of the farmers we work with use The Farmer’s Almanac or if they had any opinions about it, so I called up Gary Wise and Vernon Britt to hear their thoughts.

Gary Wise, of Wise Farms in Mount Olive, NC, does use the Farmer’s Almanac, but not as much as he used to. His wife and father-in-law both use it a lot. Gary uses it for suggestions for when to plant but his father-in-law uses the home remedies and cooking tips as well. When I asked him if he found it to be accurate he said: “Well, it makes me feel better to have something to go off of.” He doesn’t think that modern farmers use it and seems to use it more as a way to start off the season.

Vernon Britt of Britt Farms in Mount Olive, also uses The Farmer’s Almanac. His ancestors swore by it and he uses it at the beginning of the season when they’re seeding everything in the greenhouse. He tries his best to go by the planting dates but once the season picks up and they get really busy it is harder to stay with the calendar. “If we have time to do something one day then we’d better do it,” he explained of his busy summer season. He does believe that the Farmer’s Almanac’s planting guide works, as his experience has always been positive.

However, according to this Modern Farmer article, no farmers use the Farmer’s Almanac anymore; it is often much easier to just look at a seven-day weather forecast when trying to plan your week, echoing Gary Wise’s assumption. But, personally, I’m glad it’s still out there—where else are you going to look for information on the best day to wax your floors, dig holes, potty train your children, or get married? Need the best guide to stargazing for the summer? Guess where you’re going to find it…The Farmer’s Almanac, it seems, is a phenomenon that just keeps going and no one quite knows how or why. Will it last the next 100 years? Only time will tell. Curious about what all the hype is about? Check out their website at farmersalmanac.com for a plethora of information along with an almanac blog!

2,000 Calories at Papa Spud’s

As you may have seen, the New York Times recently published an article about caloric intake. We are told that depending on gender and age, we need to eat between 1,600 and 2,400 calories a day. But how many of us actually know what 2,000 calories look like? Despite how arbitrary it may sound, paying a little more attention to calories may actually do you some good, especially when you’re eating out. The article goes on to show how difficult it is to eat 2,000 calories a day if you’re eating at a restaurant. Shockingly, there are meals at many different restaurants that are around 2,000 calories themselves: Louisiana Chicken Pasta from Cheesecake Factory, one Peanut Butter Caramel Pie Milkshake from Sonic, or a Carnitas Burrito, Chips and Guacamole and a Coke from Chipotle. The whole point of the article is not to terrify or guilt trip you, but to point out that when you cook at home you are in control of your calories. They end the article with a whole day’s worth of home cooked meals all of which equal, you guessed it, about 2,000 calories. This begs the question: what are those restaurants putting in their meals to make them 2,000 calories? I wish I knew the answer to that.

So what does 2,000 calories look like at Papa Spud’s? I’ve compiled a day’s worth of meals for one person with food that is available through Papa Spud’s. I used calorieking.com to estimate calories for each food item.

breakfast collage

Breakfast:
-1 cup of coffee 2 calories
-Breakfast sandwich: 2 slices of La Farm Bread 200 calories, ¼ of an avocado 69 calories, tomato 4 calories, 1 fried egg 78 calories
-1 pear 103 calories

456 Calories

lunch collageLunch:
Butternut Squash Soup (one bowl) 203 calories 
-Roasted Scallions and Arugula Salad Recipe Kit (1 serving) 225.5

428.5 calories

dinner collageDinner:
Grilled Cilantro Lime Chicken (1 serving) 465 calories
-Grilled Peppers and Onions 71 calories
-Wild Rice (1/4 cup) 41 calories
-1 Beer 155 calories

732 calories

STRAWB SHORTCAKE RECIPE KIT

Strawberry Shortcake Recipe Kit (1 serving) 334 calories

Total Daily Calories: 1,950.5 Calories

Since I’ve started eating more vegetables and unprocessed food, I have realized among what true abundance we live. One onion, one bunch of kale, a bag of carrots all go a long way—and there is so much you can do with them. Eating at home does not mean not eating adventurously or deliciously. There are plenty of recipes for quick and delicious meals; it just takes practice and a little willingness to be creative and soon you’ll be cooking up a storm! None of this is to say that you should never eat out—treat yourself sometimes! It is just important to not make it a frequent habit. I have become a fan of eating whole foods and avoiding processed foods, as Michael Pollen famously suggests: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” If you haven’t read In Defense of Food, I highly suggest it. This book made me rethink everything I was eating and helped me to shape a more healthful diet—and it turned out that eating at home was also a lot cheaper. There are plenty of resources out there to help transition from a quick and convenient lifestyle of eating to one of relationships and intentional time in the kitchen. Something tells me, though, if you’re reading this blog you’ve already begun that journey.

If you have any tips or recipes for quick and delicious meals that you have come across, please send them to us and we will share them on Facebook or the blog!

Documentary Review: Dirt! The Movie

If you’re looking for a documentary that covers a plethora of subjects all tied together with the stuff that kids trek through our houses, then you have come to the right place. Those of us naturally interested in gardening already feel a strong connection to the soil, but many of us interact with dirt only to clean it off of our cars, our houses, our shoes, etc. Dirt, however, is a living organism full of billions of microorganisms and nutrients. This documentary is a beautiful ‘Ode to Dirt’ through the eyes of authors, photographers, a Nobel Laureate, a professor, entrepreneurs, and natural builders. Despite a few cheesy graphics in the introduction, Dirt! is an incredibly informative and ultimately hopeful documentary.

There are dozens of good documentaries out there about food, farming, and environmentalism, but this one stood out to me because of the wide variety of subjects it covers while still maintaining a solid and unified purpose. It starts with a discussion of different creation stories all with the premise that humans were created from dirt. We are dirt, we are what we eat; all those old adages are meant to remind us of our connection to the natural world. No matter how much we try, we cannot separate ourselves or our well-being from the world that surrounds us. Dirt! takes us through the world of soil and introduces us to people whose life work revolves around it. It draws you into a complex and luscious world that you cannot help but fall in love with. It reveals the many different directions one can go with caring for the soil: from farming, to teaching, to social work – dirt supports all of our lives. From here, I will warn you that like most documentaries about food or the environment, it takes a very heavy turn toward the middle. They draw connections to poverty and environmental degradation, discuss wars waged over healthy soil, and the effect that big agriculture has had on developing countries and their farmers. These are sobering truths to face, but there is value in being aware of what is happening in other countries. Fortunately, the documentary does not stop hummingbirdthere; it takes the despair and degradation and turns it into hope. Wangari Maathai, founder of Kenya’s Green Belt Movement, tells a poignant story of a hummingbird who attempts to put out a forest fire while all the other bigger animals just watch. “I may feel insignificant, but I certainly don’t want to stand by and watch as the world goes down the drain” she says, “I will be a hummingbird, I will do the best I can.”

The final section of the movie follows the amazing work that different people are doing to protect and heal the earth. They interview Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx, who is committed to creating green roofs to cleanse the air and manage water runoff. Sustainable South Bronx also focuses on green-collar job training in order to alleviate poverty through environmental development. We get a glimpse into the Riker’s Island prison garden program called The Greenhouse Project that allows inmates to work in a garden, which provides better food for the prison as well as providing healing and rewarding work. We also get to explore the Instituto Terra, a nonprofit organization in Aimores, Brazil that was started by a couple that promotes biodiversity, restoration, environmental education, and sustainable development. These are just a few of the incredible organizations and entrepreneurs the documentary introduces. Its overall premise is that this world is beautiful and we have to tend to it. Despite the destruction we have already wrought, we can make a change. It does not have to be a huge movement that sweeps up a country, but small, intentional choices and movements toward a greater goal are incredibly powerful. If we all do something little, it makes a huge difference; we cannot sit around and wait for one person to do everything. This documentary does a fantastic job of inspiring, not inciting guilt. It reminds the viewer that there is always hope.

gardening

Dirt! The Movie can be found for free on hulu.com. There is also a showing and informal discussion on Friday, May 15 at Ramble Rill Farm in Hillsborough, NC. Check out this link for more information and directions.

Spring Storage Tips

As spring continues to blossom, more varieties of vegetables begin to line our counters and fill our refrigerators. Strawberries make their bold entrance with a burst of color and sweetness that cannot be replicated, arugula reaches upward with fervor and spice, asparagus pushes from it’s network of roots to reign over our meals for its short existence. The spring vegetables demand to be noticed and appreciated. The gray hue of winter departs from our eyes as we fill our stomachs with flavorful, new life. Our kitchens become art studios, sacred spaces of creation with the finest supplies; as Douglas ponders in his grandmother’s kitchen in Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine:  “Grandma, he had often wanted to say, Is this where the world began? For surely it had begun in no other than a place like this. The kitchen, without doubt, was the center of creation, all things revolved about it; it was the pediment that sustained the temple.”

However, with increasing abundance can also come a feeling of being overwhelmed. We don’t have to eat everything at once but we do need to be able to store it well. There are tricks with each vegetable that can make it last longer. So, sit back, don’t let the freshness overwhelm you, and enjoy these tips for fresh vegetables all week long:

ArugulaArugula (5-7 days): Arugula is actually an herb in the mustard family. It is generally used similarly to salad greens, either as a substitute or as a complement. Arugula should be kept in a plastic bag to prevent moisture loss, and refrigerated. It will keep for just a few days. Arugula tends to be gritty, so don’t forget to wash it just prior to using. If cooked, it should be added in just the last few minutes to prevent flavor loss and overwilting. Arugula makes a great pizza topping!

asparagus3Asparagus (3-5 days): Cut ½ – 1 inch off of the base of the asparagus. Place asparagus stalks in a glass with water and refrigerate. Asparagus is best used within a few days, so try to use it at it’s freshest.

Green Onions (1-2 weeks): Cut off any damaged greens from the green onions bungreen onionch. You might also consider removing the rubber band, which can damaged the onion tops. Store green onions in a plastic bag to retain moisture and refrigerate.

 

BUNCH SPINACH 11Spinach (7-10 days): Spinach should be stored in a plastic bag to retain moisture. Spinach is generally rinsed by the farm, so it should have some moisture, but check the bag to make sure that it is not sitting in water. If it is, punch holes in the plastic bag, and drain any excess water and refrigerate.

strawberriesStrawberries (5-7 days): Check for any damaged or bruised strawberries, and remove them from the container. Damaged fruits release ethylene gas which signals other fruits to ripen at a faster rate. Berries can go bad quite quickly, so make sure they are covered, and store them in the coldest part of the refrigerator. However, strawberries will be at their juiciest at room temperature, so if possible bring them to room temperature prior to consuming.

Bunches of fresh herbsHerbs, bunched: Commonly bunched herbs include basil, cilantro, and parsley. Remove band or tie, and pick out any stems or leaves that have been damaged from banding. Snip the base of the stems, wrap in damp paper towels, and store in plastic bag in the refrigerator. This will help herbs to retain moisture, and extend storage life.

MUSTARD GREENS 22Mustard Greens: Mustard greens are considered to be just as healthy and nutrient packed as other cruciferous vegetables, like collards and kale, but haven’t gotten the same kind of press for it. They can be prepared as you would other greens, sauteed, boiled, or steamed. For more interesting options, consider taking a look at Indian or Chinese cuisine where they are use frequently. Like other greens, it’s best to store mustard greens in a plastic bag to prevent moisture loss and refrigerate.

BREAKFAST RADISHES 44Radishes (1-2 weeks): Remove tops from radishes to prevent moisture loss and refrigerate. Radishes have a peppery flavor that usually goes well in salads or in appetizers. A simple and delicious appetizer is just sliced radishes served with melted butter and salt on the side. The peppery flavor is most concentrated in the skin, so they can be peeled for a milder flavor. Radish greens can also be used raw in salads, or cooked as you would other greens.

PICKLING CUKES 11Pickling Cucumbers: Pickling Cucumbers are a shorter, thicker skinned variety of cucumber that as the name suggests are commonly used for pickles. However, pickling cucumbers are also consumed raw as well, and tend to have significantly more flavor than the long green cucumbers most of us are accustomed to in the grocery store. Cucumbers should be refrigerated and kept relatively dry. Over exposure to moisture can cause premature deterioration through mold.

With these tips you can move forward and allow your creativity to flow through your fingers and your spatulas. Enjoy the flavor the spring has to offer and keep it fresh for as long as possible.