Archive for the ‘Local Food’ Category

Kale is Cool!

Friday, March 20th, 2009

Today, 23 fifth graders from Bancroft Elementary School in Washington, D.C. will help MIchelle Obama dig up the new 1,100-square-foot White House vegetable garden. In an interview, the First Lady said she hopes to help make it cool for kids to grow and eat fresh fruits and veggies. The students from the Bancroft school will also help plant and harvest, and they’ll get to cook what they pick with the chefs in the White House kitchen. Of course produce from the patch will also be used for Obama family meals and formal dinners.

The  plot will be located on the South Lawn, in a spot visible from E Street, just below the Obama girls’ new swing set. For now, spring veggies like spinach, snap peas, and lots of lettuce will be growing in the garden. There’s a separate bed for raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries, and others for rhubarb, mint, and kale and collards. Wanna see what else is growing? The New York Times has the scoop, including the complete garden plan and a view via Google Earth.

Let Them Eat Cukes

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

The word is out—there will be a vegetable garden at the White House, overseen by Michelle. Obama Foodorama has the details.

Can Somebody Please Give this Guy a Grant

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

Dickson Despommier, the Columbia professor and proponent of vertical farming in cities, has become a celebrity of sorts. He’s appeared in just about every major magazine. He was even interviewed on the Colbert Report. Now all he needs is some money to build one of his agricultural highrises.

In an interview in Next American City, Despommier says that several cities and countries have expressed interest, including New York, Shanghai, Masdar City (the zero-carbon solar city under construction in Abu Dhabi), and the nation of Jordan. But so far nobody has come up with the bucks.

Memo to Mayor Bloomberg: Is vertical farming really such a radical idea? Eli Zabar is already growing veggies in the rooftop greenhouse of the Vinegar Factory. Why not make it possible for Despommier to ramp up the technology and develop a prototype in Gotham?

Another Reason to Buy Organic Strawberries, or Grow Your Own

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

A few years ago, I was sitting next to old-time soil geek Garn Wallace at a meeting of the Great Park Design Studio in Irvine, California. I was about to sample one of the strawberries on a fruit tray in front of us, and I must have made some lame comment about the berries being fresh picked from the strawberry fields outside the studio, which seemed to stretch toward the horizon. With a kind of nerdy, deadpan, pre-Valley-Girl Southern California twang, Garn noted that there wasn’t one living creature in the soil in those fields. No Sir Ree. That soil is blasted with fumigants like methyl bromide, then covered with acres of plastic. In which thousands of unblemished strawberries were glistening in the Southern California sun, waiting to be shipped to a supermarket near you.

Methyl bromide is a nasty chemical that is being phased out under the Montreal Protocol, the international treaty designed to protect the ozone layer. But according to scientists at MIT, sulfuryl fluoride, the fumigant being used as a replacement, is just as bad, or worse. According to Ron Prinn, director of MIT’s Center for Global Change Science, it is “4,800 times more potent a heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide,” a potential climate change disaster.

Seeing as everyone is planting a vegetable patch this year, why not throw in some strawberry plants? First-time berry growers can find step-by-step instructions here.

Beyond the Obama Biceps

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

Finally, the coverage of Michelle Obama is moving beyond her pair of sculpted shoulders and shapely biceps. As noted in today’s New York Times, the importance of eating healthy, fresh, local foods is emerging as one of her signature issues. Last week she even rhapsodized about the steamed broccoli she was serving to homeless men and women at Miriam’s kitchen, which serves only fresh food, nothing canned or processed, to the poor.

Some of the tasty tidbits in the article: The White House gets fresh fruits and vegetables from farms in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, and even served organic wine to the nation’s governors at the first big post-inaugural White House bash last month. The First Lady is taking a higher profile on the importance of healthy eating than Laura Bush, who insisted that fresh, organic foods be served at the White House but didn’t broadcast the fact—you know how some Republicans feel about arugula-eating elitists.  

Full Employment for Gardeners

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

So, how long do you think it’ll take for many of the American households growing their first food garden this year to decide a) it’s a lot more work than they bargained for, b) they’re losing the battle with cutworms and weevils, and c) they need help? Former NPR correspondent Ketzel Levine and other laid off garden scribes may want to steal a page (and a business plan) from the two women in Portland who launched Your Backyard Farmer, a sort of urban CSA, to transform small city lots strewn with last year’s toys, overgrown flower beds, and compacted grass into productive miniature farms.

After conferring with prospective clients about their needs and favorite veggies (there’s even a downloadable pdf on Your Backyard Farmer’s website with a list of edibles for families to choose from), the two build raised beds and healthy soil, plant, and make weekly trips to tend and harvest. Every week, clients come home to find a basket of freshly picked, organically grown produce waiting at their back door.

As CSAs go, the service isn’t cheap—planting and tending a garden capable of producing enough produce for a family of three reportedly cost $1,575 last year—but those wishing to economize can opt instead for hands-on lessons on running a backyard farm for about $100 a month.

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Growing

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

Whaddaya do when the economy is sinking like a stone, and you can’t even fall back on peanut butter sandwiches as a cheap culinary staple without fearing for your family’s safety? According to a new National Gardening Association survey, you grow your own groceries. Among the findings:

• 43 million U.S. households plan to grow their own vegetables, herbs, and fruits in 2009, up 19 percent from last year.

• 21 percent of households said they plan to start a food garden this year.

Among the reasons cited were that home-grown food tastes better (58 percent of those surveyed), it saves money (54 percent), and it’s safer (48 percent).

The NGA announced the findings at the 5th annual Garden Writers Association teleconference last week. A white paper with the details will be available on its website soon.

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Eat ‘Em

Friday, February 27th, 2009

As chickweed, pepper cress, dandelion, and other weeds begin to push up from the soil, the Farmer’s Daughter hails these harbingers of spring, and the arrival of the wild greens foraging season.

Michelle Obama, Locavore-in-Chief?

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

On Friday, I bemoaned the fact that Michelle Obama missed an opportunity to promote healthy fresh foods when she appeared at the USDA, which had just announced a plan to create community gardens at its facilities worldwide, bearing a magnolia seedling instead of a tiny apple tree or other edible plant. But on Sunday, according to Marian Burros of the New York Times, the First Lady put in a plug for local and sustainable food and for healthy eating during a tour of the White House kitchen:

When food is grown locally, she said, “oftentimes it tastes really good, and when you’re dealing with kids, you want to get them to try that carrot.”

“If it tastes like a real carrot, and it’s really sweet, they’re going to think that it’s a piece of candy,” she continued. “So my kids are more inclined to try different vegetables if they are fresh and local and delicious.”

Now she should get that organic garden growing on the White House grounds…

Alice Waters to the Rescue

Friday, February 20th, 2009

Recommended reading: the op-ed piece in today’s New York Times by Alice Waters and colleague Katrina Heron. They describe how the USDA’s $9 billion-a-year school lunch program has become a way to distribute unhealthy high-fat commodity food—some of the same ingredients found in fast food—to our schools, and how the resulting meals routinely fail to meet basic nutritional standards. They recommend scrapping the program and starting from scratch, pointing out that advocacy groups like Better School Food have managed to work with local farmers to provide kids with healthy, fresh food.

Last night on the news, I watched Michelle Obama, continuing to make the rounds to various federal agencies, arrive at the USDA bearing a gift—a magnolia seedling propagated from a tree planted on the White House grounds by Andrew Jackson. She said she wanted it to grow in one of the new community gardens that will be created at every USDA facility worldwide. It was a nice gesture, but a missed opportunity. Imagine if MIchelle had brought a tomato or apple seedling instead and used the occasion to promote healthy, organically grown fruits and vegetables for the nation’s children—she is, after all, a former hospital administrator. Another good thing she could do is create a model organic garden at the White House to advance the movement for healthy food and healthy kids.