Archive for May, 2008

Wanted: farmers and gardeners to grow local wheat

Friday, May 30th, 2008

from Eli of the Northeast Organic Wheat Consortium:

“It’s not too late to send you small packets of the heritage spring wheats that we are trialing, and share suggestions for commercial varieties to trial. About 100 seed in each packet. We’ll have more time to plan for winter trials.”

We have a lot of reasons to want to see some increased wheat production in the Northeast. The rising prices of commodities are exposing an unhealthy dependence, a marked lack of self-sufficiency. I don’t imagine that we’ll ever be totally self-sufficient (we eat a lot of wheat in many forms, along with crops that just won’t grow here like rice), but making inroads in that would help alleviate pressures around the globe.

Northeast Organic Wheat

Organic farmers and artisan bakers working together
for delicious local wheats

Funded by NESARE

Almost everybody eats bread. Not only is wheat soaring in price, but it travels thousands of miles to our table and has evolved through a genetic bottleneck of modern breeding for uniformity and dependence on agrochemicals. Any serious local food movement must address wheat.

 ‘Northeast Organic Wheat’ is a consortium of local teams in Vermont , New York, Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire. We are restoring rare, heritage wheats, conducting conferences and seed exchanges, and hosting field days at demonstration farms in each state.

We invite farmers, gardeners and artisan bakers to grow and evaluate heritage and modern wheats, conduct baking tests for flavor, nutrition and baking quality, and host beautiful displays of wheat sheaves – to restore heritage wheat and community bread traditions. Schools and Food Coops can host bread-baking workshops with local talent and restore the the heritage wheats that sustained your community in the past.

How to be involved:

Farmers and Gardeners: ‘adopt-a-crop’ of rare heritage wheat, trial commercial wheat varieties and partner with local bakers

Artisan Bakers: work with local farmers to test wheat varieties for flavor and baking quality.

See: growseed.org for resources.
Contact: Eli Rogosa: growseed@yahoo.com 207 872 9093

market pictures

Monday, May 26th, 2008

Plants were definitely the item of the day at this past Saturday’s Portsmouth Farmers’ Market. Aspen Hill Herb Farm sells the most amazing array of organic culinary herbs, perfect for my container/deck gardening and for snipping the right amount fresh from the plant all summer long.

Aspen Hill Herb Farm

Aspen Hill’s Herb plants:
Aspen Hill Herb Farm

Beautiful organic basil plants from Aspen Hill:
Aspen Hill Herb Farm

Meadow’s Mirth Farm made these adorable and informative signs for their organic plants.

Meadow's Mirth

Meadow's Mirth

In addition to plenty of plants, we bought several heads of lettuce from Meadow’s Mirth, beautiful organic baby spinach from New Roots Farm, perfectly sized tender radishes from Back River Farm, several bunches of brilliant swiss chard from Wake Robin Farm, ground beef raised with no chemicals from Outlaw Farm, and bratwurst and country-style spare ribs from Kellie Brook Farm.

Meadow's Mirth

Next week (May 31) there will again be plenty of plants (vegetables, perennial and annual flowers, landscaping, and herbs, all locally grown), lettuce, swiss chard, bok choy, salad mix, scallions, green garlic, spinach, radishes, and other good fresh spring foods!

A Bright Idea—Go Old School

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

Step back four decades to 1967, when Dover High School’s kitchen was brand spanking new, cranking out fish sticks and French fries like nobody’s business. Ten years ago, milk was delivered in crates from Scrouton’s Dairy farm in Dover and kitchen compost was held for a local pig farmer to come pick up the loot. The latter is no longer the case, but the 40 year old equipment still grinds away, and the frozen processed food still stands. The funky rose colored doors on the industrial fridge and freezer caught my eye. An interesting color pairing, the walls are tiled sunflower yellow. The entire kitchen is sparkly clean, a cheery space with plenty of room and equipment to cook, and I mean really cook.

Our group tour of Dover High School’s kitchen was scheduled to give volunteer members of the Dining Facilities Council a sense of what Food Service Director Mark Covell has to work with. The majority of the district’s food is prepared in this kitchen and then trucked to the middle and three elementary schools. The district has its own small truck to maneuver the goods.

Mark’s budget is comprised solely of school breakfast and lunch sales. To put this into perspective, high school and middle school breakfast is priced at $1.25 and lunch is $2.25. An elementary school breakfast is also $1.25, lunch is $1.75. His budget covers food, kitchen equipment purchases and repairs, which includes the dishwashers; purchase of the transportation truck, maintenance and fuel costs; and staffing all five schools.

Mark also receives a small amount from the government for free, reduced and paid meals; the highest reimbursement is for free and the lowest for paid. For twelve years he’s been ending the school year in the black, but he feels that this year might be an exception with rising food cost due to higher fuel prices. This past week he bought a case of celery for over $40; a week ago the same amount cost $14.

The cafeteria was bustling with activity upon arrival at 10am. The space is used for study hall throughout the day. It was worth the trip to gawk. We can’t do much to improve the system, if we don’t have a grasp of the day-to-day operations.

Along with the committee members, Mark agrees that goals need to be established and they must be realistic. Institutional food service management has barriers, like increased governmental regulation that you don’t have with a restaurant.

Mark added, “I think it is important to convey a positive note in regard to where we are today as compared to just five to six years ago. The district, my staff and numerous others have worked very hard to get to this point. Is it perfect? No, but it is a 100 percent improvement over where we were.”

Four parent volunteers attended and we were all curious to see the dimensions of the walk-in freezer and refrigerator, as well as the dry storage area. One of our many initial ideas is to find a local farm willing and able to sell wholesale produce like green beans at the peak of ripeness that volunteers can then blanch and freeze one day over the summer for use in the upcoming school year. To do this, we need equipment and freezer storage space.

Although we knew what to expect, I think our greatest let down was not the actual size of the storage spaces, but rather what was using it up—box upon box and stacked cans of processed, ready to serve food product. Enriched white bread, Chef Boyardee ravioli and frozen chicken patties anyone? I asked if organic, canned products and other bulk foods could be purchased over conventional, and as expected, Mark confirmed they are way too pricey and hard to get through his mainstream distributers.

What makes it onto a 15 year old’s lunch tray? Veggies, veggies, veggies… the kids bopping through the line chose vegetables like sliced raw green pepper and broccoli florets to accompany their hamburger taco meat and orange goo (better known as Cheese Wiz-type sauce). The salad was pretty sad, your typical iceberg lettuce with orange and purple flecks of carrot and red cabbage. We asked Mark why not leafy greens? The darker green salad mixes are tough to purchase at an affordable price, but he does buy whole leaf spinach and heads of romaine when he can.

The federal government’s commodity program isn’t a reliable source of food. The random food items that are shipped are not enough to ease Mark’s tight budget. Projected food may or may not arrive and the quality of food is often subpar.

In other areas of the high school café, we spotted bagels, soft pretzels, and bagged snack items like chips hanging for sale. Mark mentioned that homemade soups are an option for the kids, and there is generally one prepared from scratch hot item on the menu each day. The kitchen staff experiments with the hot item—catering to his clientele’s sophomoric taste.

A little unnerving, the kids only get 25 minutes for lunch. Back in the day when I attended high school, we had an entire period, which was 55 minutes. Apparently one of the kitchen’s battles is getting the food to the kids fast enough so that they have time to eat. 

There is a trickle-down effect taking place in the cafeterias. The high school kids get the best selection of food, middle and elementary schools, not so much. This again, is a result of the short lunch period. It is tough for the younger students to make a choice with a large variety, so their choices are limited.

One of the parents was also concerned with Styrofoam trays being used for the lower grade levels. She asked if thick paper or even recyclable or reusable plastic could be used. Again, price is the issue. The district can’t afford a sustainable solution. All of the kitchens have dish machines, but the cost to staff a dishwasher and to buy the chemical solution to run the machines is far too much.

Our group of volunteers has a lot to digest, and despite all of the grand ideas that we have to improve the food and sustainability practices of the district, we all agree that we must stay positive and find a focus if we want to see change. We are eager to seek grant money or other donations if that is what it takes to put tasty, nutritious, real food on the tables. Cost continues to be at the forefront of all discussion.

In two weeks, we meet again at Garrison elementary school to examine progress of the Health, Wellness and Nutrition school district policy. A brainstorming session is on the agenda, and an updated report will be submitted to the school board. It would be ideal if tasty morsels could be made from scratch, using local food—that’s our old school solution. Till next time, eat well.

Yellow House Farm in the news

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

Rachel Forrest of Seacoastonline.com/food wrote a wonderful profile of Yellow House Farm that appears in today’s Portsmouth Herald food section:

“At Yellow House Farm in Barrington, the air is filled with a cacophony of bird calls. The high squawk of a guinea hen, the honk of a Shetland goose, the cluck of a La Fleche chicken.

Some wander around in all their glorious plumage, a huge tom turkey puffs up to what seems like twice his size, and the shimmer on the feathers of the black Cayuga ducks becomes iridescent in the sunlight.

These are all breeds of poultry that might have disappeared if not for people like Joseph Marquette and Robert Gibson, who are saving them for us and for future generations.”

read the full article > 

food growing bigger

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

Remember the baby lettuce in the greenhouse? Here it is growing bigger in the fields of Meadow’s Mirth Farm in Stratham.

toddlerlettuce.JPG

You can buy their tender fresh organic lettuce at the Portsmouth Farmers’ Market on Saturdays (get there early!). Other fresh veggies for sale at the market these days: bok choi, green garlic, spring onions, arugula, salad mix, radishes, and more every week as the weather warms and the days get longer.

And here is some of this year’s garlic crop, which will be harvested in mid-July and then cured for a few weeks so that you can store it all winter. Between now and then we’ll have green garlic and garlic scapes!

garlic.JPG

Upcoming plant sales!

Saturday, May 17th, 2008

Get your garden started with strong, healthy plants!

Willow Pond Community Farm’s Spring Plant Sale:
Saturday, May 24, 9am – 12 noon at the Pilgrim Church in Brentwood, 197 Middle Rd (Rte 111A), at the intersection with Haigh Rd.

Certified Organic vegetable seedlings, including 20 varieties of tomatoes. To pre-order seedlings, download the Pre-Order Form and mail it in.

McIntosh Atlantic Culinary Academy’s Student Heirloom Plant Sale / Fundraiser:
Saturday, June 7th, 10 AM – 2 PM, McIntosh Atlantic Culinary Academy, 181 Silver Street, Dover, NH
at student greenhouse in rear of academy property
$1.25 per plant (organic seeds, planted in organic soil in biodegradable containers.)Bonus plant for a purchase of 12 or more. Heirloom Tomato Plant descriptions

Kids Eat Kale?

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

written by Amy W. (This is the first of her posts, you can look forward to more on this topic!)

Last week I attended my first Dining Facilities Meeting for Dover Public School District. It’s an honor to be accepted to this committee as a future parent—my daughter is 2 and my son 5 months old. Our family has several years before we’ll officially cross Garrison school grounds. So why does public school food matter so much to me? Here are a few thoughts.

  • I’m a lunch lady in my own home and my daughter is a diverse eater, sometimes veggies at the forefront of her dinner plate. Although finicky at times (she is two!), she always comes around and sometimes surprises us with her distinguished palate.
  • Dover school kids are served more or less highly processed food and produce from the West or Midwest. Produce not picked at the peak of ripeness and lengthy travel time diminishes flavor and nutrients. Thanks to a culinary degree, I have the insight and “foodie” credentials to make this statement.
  • Although our household isn’t perfect, we aspire to live sustainably and would like to encourage others, especially institutions catering to kids, to do so.
  • Schools should offer a well rounded education. Lost within our culture, American children need to be reintroduced to a simpler, rewarding lifestyle—well prepared food from a local farm (yes kids, a carrot grows in the dirt and that’s not icky), taste, and the art of dining or conversation over a well prepared meal with family and friends. Schools have a lot to shoulder in the broader category of education and this could be a controversial grey area. To counterpoint, parents are ultimately responsible to feed their children a healthful diet, but that’s not happening. Can our schools come to the rescue to save children and local farmers alike?
  • Nationally 16 percent of school aged children and adolescents are overweight—a figure that has risen three-fold since 1980. 1 Between 70 and 80 percent of overweight children and adolescents remain overweight or become obese as adults. We’re told that the obesity epidemic also links to skyrocketing rates of other illnesses like diabetes. Responsible adults should take care of their kin, not kill them.
  • I’ve heard excuses like kids are served Oreos and boxed mac-n-cheese at home. That’s what they like and eat, and therefore that’s what they are served at school. Not so! That’s what they know. I won’t denounce, it’s a challenge to feed kids, especially when on the go, but it is worth the effort.

The point of blogging about this experience it to help others interested in starting farm-to-school programs. By keeping up with what is happening in Dover, some folks might be inspired to leap forward in another district or join the volunteer cause in Dover.

The Dover Dining Facilities Council is headed by the district Business Manager and is made up of the Director of Food Service, a school board member, school nurses and parent volunteers. This particular group of parents and nurses, anyway, is fired up and looks forward to seek positive change—more vegetables (hopefully local) on school lunch tables.

At the meeting, Nathan Duclos, NH Farm to School Program Coordinator from University of New Hampshire Office of Sustainability gave a presentation on the NH Farm to School program. Mark Saunders, owner of Saunders Fruit and Produce was also present and shared a few words on distribution issues.

Basic challenges to overcome: build a plan with measurable results that will work for this specific district; establish a farm-to-distributor-to-school system; devise new recipes and create new menus to accommodate the local produce; cost, will it cost more to pay local?; figure out how best to market new food items to students (elementary, middle and high school-age); educate students (again, different ages) on the health benefits of eating more vegetables and fruits, and about local farming and food in general.

Nathan Duclos made it clear that each of these areas is a huge task in itself, not to be taken lightly. To be successful, the group needs to focus and make small-scale change, an example, serve kale on the menu in 2008. The group is up for the challenge, and despite the hefty workload, we learned something inspiring—Dover schools still have fully equipped kitchens!—anything can happen. We meet next at Dover high school for a group kitchen tour… hairnets not required.

Grow Your Own Honey!

Monday, May 12th, 2008

OK, so maybe you won’t get to actually grow your own honey, but you can learn about beekeeping from a couple of experienced beekeepers.

“THE FASCINATING LIFE OF THE HONEY BEE,”

Wendy and Bill Booth

Thursday, May 22 6:30 PM

The Exeter Public Library. 772-3101.

Local food @ the library! Wednesday, May 28th in Brentwood

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

Get acquainted with the farm-fresh food scene on the Seacoast! Local vegetable growers Kate Donald and Audrey Gerkin will lead this workshop on buying locally grown foods, eating with the seasons and supporting local farms. Find out about local farmstands, farmers’ markets and CSAs that offer fresh vegetables, fruit, dairy, eggs, meat, honey and other farm products. Join a discussion about eating seasonally, living locally, growing your own food, and preserving the harvest for winter months. Learn about some exciting local initiatives including Seacoast Eat Local, Slow Food Seacoast and NH Eat Local Week.
By eating a little bit closer to home, you can reduce your carbon footprint, support local farms, and enjoy all the benefits of local, seasonal, fresh, nutritious food.
Kate Donald is the farmer at Willow Pond Community Farm, a certified organic vegetable farm in Brentwood that provides CSA shares to 70 local families.
Audrey Gerkin is a local food advocate trying to balance sustainability and feeding a hungry family of five. She is also an assistant farmer at Willow Pond Community Farm.

Slow Food info night at the Blue Moon in Exeter

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

Soup and information night! ($10) Slow Food promotes connections between plate and planet, the heritage of food, and the traditions that make food pleasurable. Learn about local farm stands, farmers’ markets, CSAs, and other sources of local farm products. Share your thoughts about what we can do to promote sustainable and healthy food choices.

More information >