Martha Tells You How to Be More Sustainable

I love Martha Stewart. She’s just the best! Her recipe for All-American Potato Salad (complete with homemade mayo) is amazeballs!

Get your ass into the garden, sweet cheeks!

Get your ass into the garden, sweet cheeks!

Check out this article on her website written by Victoria Spencer (what Posh Spice’s name would be if she had married the brother of Princess Diana) with tips to eat, shop and cook more sustainably. The only thing she doesn’t mention, which I would, is to start a garden, even if it’s just a bunch of pots on your patio.

What You Can Do to Shop, Cook, and Eat More Sustainably 

Chicago’s Bringing Urban Orchards Back…Wait, What’s an Urban Orchard?

In news that gives me hope for the future, the city of Chicago—led by a rag-tag group of urban farmers—will break ground on an urban orchard later this year. The Chicago Rarities Orchard Project (CROP), which is the brainchild of Dave Snyder, will feature rare varieties of apples, cherries, plum and paw paws. The trees will grow together on a plot of land in the Logan Square neighborhood that’s been vacant for the past 65 years.

Plans for the Chicago Rarities Orchard Project, CROP. From The Architects Newspaper

Plans for the Chicago Rarities Orchard Project, CROP. From The Architects Newspaper

According to an article in The Architects Newspaper:

CROP started as a group of volunteers, but soon got the attention of Chicago’s department of Housing and Economic Development by teaming up with local urban farming and open space nonprofit NeighborSpace. In 2002, the Logan Square Open Space Project had called for the neighborhood farmers market to take over a lot surrounding the Chicago Transit Authority’s Blue Line, right where the train dives below ground between the California and Logan Square stations. The farmers market had become too big for that space, however, so the city bought the land from the CTA and transferred it to CROP.



Three cheers for teamwork, community spirit and urban farmers!

Gimme Some More…Jam

They were reddish about a month ago, when we should have picked them.

They were reddish about a month ago, when we should have picked them.

Just when I thought I was done making jam for the season, we discovered blackberries and a cherry tree on our property. I had noticed the fruit on the cherry tree about a month ago when we were clearing wood from the front of the yard. We wondered if the fruit was edible, but didn’t want to take any chances. When our friends visited us this weekend, they identified it immediately and ate a few of the cherries. When they didn’t die or tax our sewer with explosive diarrhea, we picked the rest of the fruit and started drying and canning it.

We’ve since identified the trees as Rainier cherry trees. Our trees are older and well established, and the fruit is sweet. Apparently Rainier cherries are the sweetest of the cherry varieties, which is great because I used less sugar in the jam recipes, saving money and my pancreas.
The thorny bushes around the perimeter of our property are blackberries—rich, delicious blackberries. Although the berries are a pain—literally—to pick due to all of the thorns, the bushes produce a shit-ton of berries. We spent 20 minutes picking the berries within arms-reach and came out with a huge basket of berries. And there’s more where that came from.

Cherry Jam on the stove. I used apples in place of the powdered fruit pectin.

Cherry Jam on the stove. I used apples in place of the powdered fruit pectin.

Making blackberry jam. Jam, blackberries, jam!

Making blackberry jam. Jam, blackberries, jam!


I had thought they were wild roses, and thought it was odd that they never produced flowers. Now I’m wondering how many of the prickly vines that I’ve ripped out around the property have been roses and which have been blackberries.




4 Things to Do When You Have a Bounty of Fruit

1. Dry them. Our food dehydrator has gotten a workout over the past few days as we’ve been drying about 10 pounds of cherries. (If you’re a fan of sour candy, drying cherries is for you.) We’ve dried everything from apples to kale in the dehydrator. Drying time varies by fruit—more watery fruits may take longer—but the result is delicious. Although dried fruit will last a fair bit of time, it will probably be eaten within a week.

2. Jam them. Jam is the easiest thing to do with fruit. Find a great recipe either online or in a cookbook, but don’t be afraid to tweak the recipe a bit. I love adding cinnamon to everything—it gives the recipe a spicy little kick. While some things in jam recipes should remain balanced (e.g., the fruit, sugar and pectin proportions), experiment with adding spices that you think will add to the finished product.

3. Freeze them. While I haven’t done it yet, freezing excess fruit is a great way to have fresh fruit year-round. This is a neat guide to help you if you want to find out more.

4. Give them away. Many food banks will accept excess fruit from private citizens. While sometimes they’ll send out gleaners to take the fruit off of your hands, other places may allow you to drop it off at their facilities. Check with the food bank near you to learn more.

jams august

Why You Should Join Your Local Co-Op and Credit Union

My love affair with co-ops began when I opened my first account at one when I was 9. Later, I worked for that same credit union as a teller. As a young person who was distrustful of anything corporate and big, belonging to a credit union felt like a small way for me to stick it to the man.

Keep your money local.

Keep your money local.

Co-ops are pretty much the bomb—whether you do your banking at one or buy your groceries at one. Our local food Co-op is fantastic and as a family on a budget, they tend to be cheaper than Safeway and the other chain stores. My favorite part is competing with myself each week to see how much money I can spend on local products. Since it’s summertime, buying mostly local produce isn’t a problem. However, I do have to make choices when I buy other things, like bread or tea or even chocolate bars. Even if it costs a few cents extra, I purchase the local product. Buying local keeps money in the community and contributes to a healthier economy, which is vital in an area as small as the one I live in.

Check out this comparison from Yes! Magazine about the statistics of Co-ops:


To find a food co-op near you, try this site: Coop Directory Service.

Farming in Suburbia

Apparently building a neighborhood around a farm is a new housing fad. At least, it is according to this article from Smithsonian Magazine, which profiled a few Development Supported Agriculture (DSA) neighborhoods around the U.S. The concept is much like a regular HOA-driven development with the exception of a working farm that neighbors help to support through money or time. It’s a way to preserve space and help people reconnect with their food source.

The neighborhood farm stand. (Photo from Willowsford Farm)

The neighborhood farm stand. (Photo from Willowsford Farm)

The idea is definitely innovative. Most people don’t know where their food comes from, aside from the local supermarket, and there is a growing number of people who wish to remedy the situation. Having a farm in the neighborhood allows people to know where their food comes from. The neighborhood farm sells produce to neighbors as well as people within the larger community. People can join the farm’s CSA and receive first dibs on tasty, locally grown produce.

The neighborhoods are more than farming communities. From the images, the houses are large, McMansions (which I don’t mean in a judgmental way—I just can’t think of a better term for them. They are what they are), and the communities have many of the amenities that are the cornerstone of many planned suburban communities—an HOA, recreational opportunities and parks, community events, etc. The neighborhoods seem to focus on creating a sense of community, much like other sustainable communities in Portland and Davis.

Well that’s a clever idea…
One of the DSA neighborhoods featured has implemented a culinary education program, where they provide information about how to cook what’s grown on the farm. It seems so simple, but in an age where many of us are either too tired to cook or just don’t know how to do so properly, a lesson in the kitchen is what we need.

So that’s how carrots grow.
In many of the DSA neighborhoods, neighbors can get hands-on experience in the garden. While they may not be paid for their labor, they do get to feel good helping out at the farm and get to experience the workings of a farm. Additionally, tours are given to keep others in the community in the loop about what’s going on.

Wait, so it costs more?
What I see as limiting is cost: one of these DSA neighborhoods has a CSA that neighbors can buy into, but it’s more expensive than the organic produce purchased in a store. Now, one could bring up that the CSA takes into account the true cost of food, etc.; however, eating well shouldn’t be reserved for those with fat wallets. Maybe cost isn’t an issue—maybe everyone in the neighborhood makes buckets of money and loves the feel-good factor of supporting their local farm. However, what about the families who are struggling to make ends meet or who are just getting by? It’s important to support local growers, but I wonder how the costs of the neighborhood CSAs compare to the costs of other CSAs in the region.

Waiting for fallout.
As with anything that seems remotely commie/hippie, I’m waiting for the fallout on this. I’m sure some tea bagging, anti-Agenda 21 moron is frothing at the mouth at the prospect of an entire community centered on a neighborhood farm. Oh, the humanity!

It’s the Soil, Silly

Whether you’re tending a small flower garden or trying to sustain your family with a large vegetable garden, it’s vital to know your soil. For many people, soil is an afterthought—it’s the stuff that your kids drag in on their clothes and toys. However, soil is more than dirt; it’s what helps your plants thrive.

Many people, especially those just starting out, may hit up the soil amendments aisle at their local nursery and purchase the lot. Or, they may not augment their soil at all and then wonder why their petunias are keeling over and their crops aren’t growing. If you want a bountiful garden, you have to find out what’s going on with your soil.

How's my soil?

How’s my soil?

  • If you want to know more about your soil, check out this article from Houzz: The Simple Secret to Gardening Success. It gives a great basic overview of the three main components of soil—sand, silt and clay—and even gives you instructions to see what type of soil you have.
  • If you’re feeling ambitious and want to learn all about soil and how to improve the health of yours, check out this book: The Soul of Soil: A Soil-Building Guide for Master Gardeners and Farmers by Joe Smillie and Grace Gershuny. It’s a relatively short book that will give you a crash course in soil science.
  • Get your soil professionally tested to learn more about its makeup and find out its pH level, nutrient content, etc. Contact your local cooperative extension for more information or do a quick Google search for a private laboratory close to where you live.

So Long, Zucchini Bread

My hopes and dreams for zucchini bread, zucchini relish and yummy stir fry after stir fry were dashed when I noticed the ends of the zucchini in the garden were soft and mushy. A quick Google search revealed that my poor plants have blossom end rot caused by a calcium deficiency. Oh no! I pulled off the damaged fruit and treated the plants with an organic fertilizer. Next up will be some pulverized egg shells in the soil around the plant for a boost. Hopefully the next round of zucchini will fare better.

My giant borage plant is attracting lots of bees. buzz buzz buzz. And, butterflies.

My giant borage plant is attracting lots of bees. buzz buzz buzz. And, butterflies.

And, my dream of a shelf stocked with tons of pickles may be on hold until next year as well. My cucumbers aren’t producing like I wish they would. It could be too early for them yet, but I’ve only had a handful of cukes from about 10 plants. I’ll never be able to pickle much at this rate!

Cucumber plants need bees to thrive and create cucumbers, and luckily the borage lives next to them in the garden is attracting bees like crazy! So, there’s hope. Perhaps August will be their month. If it’s any consolation, the borage flowers give my water a nice, refreshing cucumber taste when they’re frozen in ice cubes, which will have to do for now.

Vegetables: Rebranded

How many times have you put back an apple or a cucumber because it wasn’t perfect? Probably never, because most consumers never see the misshapen fruit and vegetables unless they shop at a farmer’s market or grow it themselves. It’s not that this produce tastes any different; it’s just not as aesthetically pleasing.

We’ve been taught as consumers that carrots are orange and shaped like a long triangle (or small two inch nubs in snack-sized pages of 20) and apples are perfectly symmetrical. If you’ve ever grown carrots in your garden, you know that it’s rare for carrots to turn out symmetrical and perfect. Instead they grow long and gangly like a witch’s gnarled fingers from your favorite fairy tale. And apples aren’t perfect either.

Give imperfect produce a chance. Poster by photographer Patrice de Villiers.

Give imperfect produce a chance. Poster by photographer Patrice de Villiers.

That’s why I was super stoked to see this article in Fast Company online this morning about the French grocer, Intermarche, commissioning posters of imperfect fruit and vegetables for its campaign to reduce food waste. A ridiculous amount of food is wasted every year, and while some of the blame lays at the feet of consumers (We’ve all purchased more produce than we could eat and had to throw it away when it went bad), much of the blame is on merchants and others who toss fruits and vegetables deemed not attractive enough to sell. We’ve become so conditioned to expect perfection from our produce that they don’t think that we’ll purchase a wonky carrot.

Maybe they’re right; I’m sure there are folks who’d say, “Ewww, I won’t let that funky-looking carrot or lopsided apple anywhere near me” as they then proceed to huck five packages of Hot Pockets in their shopping cart. And that’s okay. You’ll always have people who are driven by appearance.

However, check out these fun posters created by photographer Patrice de Villiers, as well as his other work at the link (warning: don’t view on an empty stomach).

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