Meeting Michael Pollan

POLLA3_130425_346On April 25th, my parents, who live in Arlington, Virginia, invited Jen and I over for a home-cooked family meal inside the tiny window of time after a work day and before we were headed to the heart of Washington, D.C. to hear Michael Pollan speak about his newest book, ‘COOKED: A Natural History of Transformation.‘ Even with the wealth of farm-to-table restaurants in the city, many of their kitchens stocked with products grown and raised by close friends, we felt that the best way to honor the movement and the debut of the new book was to celebrate it quietly at home. And then chase down Michael Pollan with a Willowsford Farm gift bag and our cameras ready to shoot.

Over vegetarian lasagna, greens, and strawberry shortcake served on fresh baked biscuits, we talked about the season to come, about the 8 lbs. sweet potato my parents grew in their backyard garden last year and how we hope to beat their record at the farm this year, and what to write in the card we were slipping in the bag for “MP.”

Then something magical happened. For the first time in my “Pollanated” career, I realized we were going to be late to a Michael Pollan talk. Instead of flying out the door, however, we picked up our plates, double checked our will-call receipts and watched Jen take an extra moment to thank my parents for the meal. Sure, I still kind of rushed us out the door, but being a little bit late because we are busy farmers committed to family meals felt perfectly reasonable. It felt like Michael Pollan would completely forgive our tardiness.

As always, the talk was inspirational and articulated every thought, feeling and goal inside each one of us fighting to regain our connections with nature, the food chain, meal time, and our role as chefs in our own health and destiny.

Pollan referred to the family meal as “the nursery of democracy,” a time when we learn to take turns at the favorite parts of a roast chicken with our siblings, give guests first dibs at the homemade whipped cream for strawberry shortcake, and take back this activity and time from a world perhaps too populated with convenience and choice. He discussed the history, and interesting timing, of the ready-made, frozen meal in combination with the growth of dual-income and dual-career households and in doing so, reminded me of how many “food-like substances” have fueled so many of us along the way. Who hasn’t grabbed a bite of something from the convenience store at a gas station or hurried through a sandwich over the kitchen sink so that they could use that time for a different form of personal enrichment? Heck, even farmers order pizza once in a while.

But on the beautifully bright side, this has led many of us to a place where each meal cooked at home, shared with family and in our case, farm-ily as well, feels like a treat, like a special occasion. Although I long for weeks, months and years when it is simply part of the daily routine of life, I’m more than happy to invest extra time in Willowsford Farm and fields to ensure that our CSA members and Farm Stand shoppers have rich, diverse meals that are good for them and grown via practices that the author of “In Defense of Food” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” would be proud of. And lucky for us, as the bounty of the season is growing all around us, it’ll once again be easy to refuel with fresh peppers, tomatoes, and greens throughout the days and roast, stir fry and grill in the evenings.

ROOTING DC: Saturday, Feb 23, 2013

Rooting DC is a free, all-day gardening forum that aims to provide education about food production and consumption, to cultivate health, and to preserve the environment from which we receive our nourishment. The program consists five tracks:

Start It – Gardening basics
Grow It – Honing skills, workshops and container gardening tips
Eat It – Cooking and food preservation
Teach It – Learn how to share your knowledge
The Big Picture – Growing into the broader landscape of food

Hope to see you there! Here are the conference details:

Where: Wilson High School, 3950 Chesapeake St. NW
When: Saturday. February 23rd 9:30am – 4:30pm (Doors open at 8:30am)
Registration: FREE – Register here

For additional information, check out the Rooting DC website.

 

Food and Farm Books to Pre-Order for 2013

As each chilly January day is ever-so-slightly longer than the last, I’ve found myself not only counting down the days until spring, but also the days until two incredible books publish and get into my library, mind and heart: Michael Pollan’s Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (Release date April 23, 2013), and Forrest Pritchard’s Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food and Saving the Family Farm (Release date May 21, 2013).

The Amazon.com summary of Pollan’s Cooked reveals that the book will explore the four classical elements of food and cooking – fire, water, air and earth – seemingly in the deep, co-evolutionary style of  The Botany of Desire. Pollan dedicates sections of the book and of himself to understanding the human relationship and dependence on the “primal magic” of fire, the “art of braising,” the transformation of grain and water into bread via air, and the genius of fermentation. All of which encourage we readers and food system reformers to continue our quest to bring our meals back to the basics.

“…Cooking, above all, connects us. The effects of not cooking are similarly far reaching. Relying upon corporations to process our food means we consume huge quantities of fat, sugar, and salt; disrupt an essential link to the natural world; and weaken our relationships with family and friends. In fact, Cooked argues, taking back control of cooking may be the single most important step anyone can take to help make the American food system healthier and more sustainable. Reclaiming cooking as an act of enjoyment and self-reliance, learning to perform the magic of these everyday transformations, opens the door to a more nourishing life.”   – Amazon description

While I hope each year welcomes a little more kitchen and cooking time into my personal food journey, the heart of my education and energy takes place on the farm. Lucky for me and all my fellow farmer friends, Forrest Pritchard, author of Gaining Ground and pioneering farmer at Smith Meadows Farm in Berryville, Virginia, captures the spirit of those experiences and lessons in his blog posts and speaking engagements. Just this weekend, he ignited applause from an audience of farmers at the Future Harvest conference with a pivotal comment during the panel discussion “Down a New Path  – Stories of Change and Transition.”

“We could be considered niche farmers… Or we could be considered early adapters in a new paradigm.” – Forrest Pritchard

A recording of the discussion will be airing this week on the Marc Steiner Show and the Gaining Ground is set to be released May 21st. Until then, Pritchard and Smith Meadows’ free-range meats can be found at several DC, Maryland and Virginia farmers markets.

Turkey, Tofu or Pheasant?

Happy Thanksgiving Week, folks. While we are preparing for several feasts in the coming week, we’ve been wondering where all our friends stand on the matter of a “main course” for the grateful table. In case you are still debating your shopping/hunting/processing/eating list for Thursday, we thought we’d get down to the meat of the holiday here on the blog. Here are a few ideas:

Heritage Turkeys: For Slow Food Friends and Historical Preservationists

These gobblers are the ancestors of the common Broad-breasted White industrial breed of turkey you will find in most grocery bins and their breeds (including the Standard Bronze, Bourbon Red, Narragansett, Jersey Buff, Slate, Black Spanish, White Holland, Royal Palm, White Midget and Beltsville Small White) have been preserved alongside their quality of life. Raising heritage breeds is more costly and time consuming for the farmer but better for biodiversity, the turkey and the consumer. Supermarket turkeys grow to an average of 32 pounds over 18 weeks. Often times they can’t even walk and their narrow genetic base leaves them highly susceptible to disease. Heritage birds, on the other hand, take 24-30 weeks to reach their market weight and live their lives with far more dignity. Read more about Heritage turkeys here. And click here to browse the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Turkey Farm listings.

Farm-Grown Neighbor Birds: For the Locavores

Some Heritage and Pastured turkeys can come with a higher price tag than your average bird and while not everyone finds it in their budget to purchase one, a lot of folks are willing to shell out a little extra to know their turkey farmer. Find one near you via the Local Harvest website. And while you’re there, check out the listings for 2013 CSAs!

 

 

Pheasant and Small Game Fowl: For the Hunters

Those of you who stay basic and dine on self-caught meat get the award for being the most sustainable. John Manikowski, the creator of the Wild Fish & Game Cookbook, wrote a wonderful essay for the Global Gourmet back in 1996 that is a great how-to as well as why-to for those of you plan to dine on pheasant or another kind of small game fowl. We highly recommend reading it.

 

 

Tofurky: For the Vegetarians

Having spent quite a few Thanksgiving holidays as a vegetarian, I think it is safe to say that even a conventional store-bought feast offers more than enough for a great “side item sampler.” But of course I realize that our vegetarian hosts out there may want to have that main dish in the center of the table so in comes the notorious Tofurky. Kudos for the fact that no animals were harmed in the making of your meat-substitute, but please remember that the Tofurky requires quite a bit of processing and input and is probably not the most sustainable choice.

 

Turducken: For Heaven’s Sake, How Are You On This Blog?!

Visited Wikipedia for this one. Their definition is as follows: “A turducken is a dish consisting of a de-boned chicken stuffed into a de-boned duck, which itself is stuffed into a de-boned turkey. The word turducken is a portmanteau of turkey, duck, and chicken or hen. The thoracic cavity of the chicken/game hen and the rest of the gaps are stuffed, sometimes with a highly seasoned breadcrumb mixture or sausage meat, although some versions have a different stuffing for each bird. The result is a fairly solid layered poultry dish, suitable for cooking by braising, roasting, grilling, or barbecuing.” Our definition: For the most part, these are gluttonous dishes consisting of too-much meat shoved into one another that may have some historical and traditional relevance to the very wealthiest of 18th century diners but now caters mainly to the growing obesity epidemic in America (not to mention heart disease and many other health problems associated with a western diet). So if you’re into that, got for it. But we’re hopeful that most folks nowadays are opting for a sustainable table instead!

 

Place Your Thanksgiving Turkey Orders Soon!

Can you believe Thanksgiving is less than a month away?! Neither can we. If you are going omnivore, this means it is time to get your orders in for birds. Local Harvest‘s Turkey Locator is a great way to find a free-range, heritage, natural, organic or whatever-your-fancy bird near you.

The honorary Compost2theMoon turkey, who we are calling Collin (after the famous chicken from the  “Is it Local?” Portlandia skit), is coming from our friend Farmer Tom in Reisterstown, Maryland (unless our snuggley-sides get the better of us and pardon him). Farmer Tom gives his happy birds twice the recommended space to grow and lots of water, yummy feed and and fresh air daily. Processing begins just five days before the holiday. The birds are fresh water-rinsed throughout the entire process and then packed in ice to guarantee a fresh, moist bird.

Great Content on FoodMyths.org

Our friend Mark Stewart, Senior Project Manager at the University of Maryland Office of Sustainability, turned us on to a great website this morning: FoodMyths.org. If you haven’t visited the site before, it is most definitely worth a lunch-time browse.  It is filled with resources, facts, suggestions, tool kits and ideas for getting involved in positive transformations of the food system. Here’s a video from their “Mythbusters” section, Hunger & Food Security, that gives a taste of what the site has to offer:

Maryland Dining Services Commits to 20% Sustainable Food by 2020!

Big news out of the University of Maryland today! Compost2theMoon’s very own Allison Lilly has been working hard to improve the sustainability of the food system within Dining Services and it is paying off in a big way! The department has created and launched a Sustainable Food Working Group, comprised of students, faculty and staff, which will collaborate to create a more sustainable and healthy campus. They will also be launching a Far-to-School series of planned activities including special dinners in dining halls, sponsored workshops, on-campus visits with local farmers, and off-campus farm tours.

The newest department goal, to reach 20 percent sustainable food purchases by 2020 (with a focus on local food), has grown from the Green Dining initiative – originated with DS Facilities Maintenance several years ago. The initiative also includes piloting recycle and compost programs in campus dish rooms and building gardens on the roofs of campus dining halls. Dining Services’ sustainable food commitment includes the following benchmarks:

  • 1 to 4 percent annual increase in sustainable food purchases
  • Annual, incremental increases in sourcing from local growers, with special emphasis on Maryland growers and harvesters
  • Annual, incremental increases in sourcing unprocessed, whole goods – 20 percent sustainable food by 2020

“Dining Services’ goals for sustainable food are well aligned with the University’s strategic plan and the President’s Climate Commitment. The Sustainable Food Working Group is a wonderful example of innovative cross-campus collaboration,” says Wallace D. Loh, University of Maryland president.

In addition to all this awesomeness, the gang at Dining Services will continue its participation in four on-campus vegetable gardens and the Farmers Market at Maryland.

Click here to learn more about UMD’s Dining Services Sustainable Food Commitment.

Way to go, Allie!

 

Celebrate Food Day: October 24th 2012

Food Day is “a nationwide celebration and a movement toward more healthy, affordable, and sustainable food, and powered by a diverse coalition of food movement leaders, organizations, and people from all walks of life.” It takes place annually on October 24 to address issues ranging from health and nutrition, hunger, agricultural policy, animal welfare, and farm worker justice. Several priorities provide the common ground for the the food movement and simultaneous events nationwide:

Last year, we celebrated in conjunction with the Public Health Garden’s First Annual Harvest Festival. This year we would like to encourage our friends and family to take the Eat Real Quiz and spend a little time reflecting on your score. Were you surprised by the positive or negative impact of certain aspects of your diet? Were there any categories that you scored poorly in that could easily be improved?

While the ultimate goal of Food Day is to strengthen and unify the food movement in order to improve our nation’s food policies, we think it is also about raising personal awareness. Vote with your fork!

Clear Spring Creamery

Clear Spring Creamery, a family-owned,  grass-based dairy farm out in Washington County, Maryland, was one of two farms we got to tour with Northeast SARE‘s “Reading the Farm” grant project.

Operating for more than 100 years on as many acres, owners Mark and Clare Seibert graze their cows on pastures every day and in winter and drought times offer them locally-grown hay harvested in the early summer from excess pasture growth. The cows are milked once a day, which is uncommon in the U.S., and means less focus on production as well as less stress and sickness in the animals. Their bounty is pasteurized and processed on site into several sizes and flavors of milk and yogurts sold at the following markets:

Fresh Farm Market at Dupont Circle
Sundays 8:30-1:00 March-December

Takoma Park Farmers Market
Sundays 10-2 March-December

Arlington Courthouse Farmer’s Market
Saturdays 8-12 April-December

Falls Church Farmer’s Market
Saturdays 8-12 April-December

Top Ten Reasons We Love This Farm:

10.) Their yogurt is amazing.
9.) Their milk is amazing. You’ve got to shake it and everything. Unless you just want the cream for your coffee.
8.) Their raw milk cheddar is bound to be amazing (haven’t tried it yet). It is for sale at Common Market in Frederick, MD; Ernst Country Market in Clear Spring, MD; and Knob Hall Winery also in Clear Spring, MD.
7.) The milking parlor is so clean and pristine you feel perfectly comfortable eating lunch in there (which we actually did!)
6.) The pastures are rich and dense with perennial grasses and clover indicative of seriously healthy soil.
5.) The cows are intensively rotationally grazed and clearly cherished along the way.
4.) They do rotational grazing with a bunch of happy chickens too!
3.) They recently installed solar panels to help lessen the impact of their energy consumption.
2.) They do not use hormones to increase production or aid reproduction.

And the number one reason we love this farm:

1.) Intern Gretchen’s Blog: Girl with the Green Hair. Her pictures are incredible and her posts range from updates on the great raw milk debate,  milking how-to’s, adventures in kitchen experiments, and odes to “Cows, cows, cows.” (Also recommend her post: The Truth About Cows)

July: What’s Growing?

Here in Plant Hardiness Zone 7a, many of us are enjoying our first tomato harvest of the season and keeping a careful eye on the squash and zucchini in order to scoop it into the kitchen before it gets too big and loses that sweetness. Here are a few pics from the past couple of weeks of farm and garden fun that we hope will inspire our readers to head to their local farm market this week!

One of the first Public Health Garden tomatoes (7/5/2012)
First Fish Peppers
Allison’s New Vegetable Garden: Cukes, Squash, Tomatoes, Peppers, Melons
Chioggia Beets: Potomac Vegetable Farms 7/6/2012
Nasturtium – Edible Flowers – at the University of Maryland Public Health Garden
Zinnias: All over the place (lucky us!)
Eggplant: Black Beauty – At a Farmers Market near you!
Okra: Another one seemingly capable of doubling in size overnight
Berry-picking season 🙂
Hardneck Garlic
Shallots: Farmer Ellen Polishuk
Moutoux Peaches: Purcellville, VA
Sweet Onions at Five Seeds Farm: Sparks Glencoe, Maryland
Carrots at Willowsford Farm: Loudon County, VA
Potatoes, melons, tomatoes, green beans, peppers, herbs, cukes from Willowsford Farm CSA