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!


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!


“Just for the shell of it”

Let’s talk oysters. Just for the shell of it.

A Little History:

Shallow waters and a large land-to-water ratio in conjunction with sprawling developments (and their associated impermeable surfaces) and an active agricultural industry, make the Chesapeake Bay watershed a hot spot for studying the effects of nutrient and sediment pollution on aquatic ecosystems – effects that oysters feed on.

Striped bass, blue crabs and oysters are frequently harvested by watermen, served in local restaurants and praised as a part of our local seafood economy. The life-cycle, history, availability, methods of harvest, role and presence of oysters in our region, however, varies a bit from its fellow bay-dwelling species. For instance, did you know that a healthy oyster reef provides a habitat for other creatures that attract striped bass, perch and blue crabs? And that a hundred years ago more than 10 million bushels of oysters were harvested annually whereas today the  population of native Eastern  Crassostrea virginica is down to one percent of its historical peak?

A combination of disease (MSX and Dermo), habitat loss, declining water quality and historic over-harvesting brought about this decline that really set in in the 1950s. But fear not! Lots of amazing programs and people have come to the osyters’ aid.

In the early 90s the state of Maryland called an Oyster Roundtable – a coalition of 40 organizations, institutions, elected officials, businesses and individuals, to address the major concerns about oyster stocks in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay and formulate a plan for promoting recovery. Out of that meeting came an Action Plan, the formation of Oyster Recover Partnership, and a steady rebuilding of  oyster landing and outputs (details here).

A few other important landmark dates/events in recent Bay history:

1983 – Formation of the Chesapeake Bay Program – MD, VA, PA, DC, Chair of Chesapeake Bay Commission, and EPA
1987 – Chesapeake Bay Agreement – Nutrients & Water Quality (40% reduction in N & P), Toxic Pollutants, Governance, Living Resources, Public Access, Management of Growth, Population & Land Use
1993 – Tributary Strategies
2000 – Chesapeake 2000 Agreement: Protecting and Restoring Living Resources, Protecting and Restoring Vital Habitats, Improving Water Quality, Managing Lands Soundly, Engaging Individuals and Local Communities
2010 – Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Executive Order
2011 -Watershed Implementation Plans
2012 – Maryland Phase II WIP released for Public Comment

Why We Need Oysters:

Oysters are natural water filters. As they feed, they remove micro-algae and silt – that exist in the bay in excess – from the water. A single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day. Considering the human development within the Chesapeake Watershed and ensuing runoff, those algal blooms are growing too fast and limiting the amount of light that reaches submerged aquatic vegetation – which feeds so many of our aquatic species. Oysters can help. We just need a lot of them (again)!

A Lot of Good News:

While state policies and non-profit programs are encouraging the restoration of the species throughout Maryland, there are a few “homegrown” farms, programs and partnerships warming our hearts that we’d like to highlight and thank.

The Choptank Oyster Company
(Photo Credit: Steve Vilnit, MD DNR)

The Choptank Oyster Company (Marinetics, Inc): This commercial aquaculture company is driven by sustainability. By farming native oysters, they hope to reduce the fishing pressure on wild oysters while the several million oysters growing in their Dorchester County farm are naturally filtering excesses of nutrients that plague the bay. Their floating oyster reefs also serve as a habitat to may of the invertebrate species that would inhabit a natural oyster reef.

Shell Recycling Alliance (Oyster Recovery Partnership): Because oyster shell is a limited natural resource that provides crucial natural habitat for new oysters in the Chesapeake Bay, it is important that shucked shells make their way back to their bay beginnings. The folks from the Shell Recycling Alliance collect from participating restaurants, caterers and seafood wholesalers throughout Maryland, Virginia, Washington D.C. and Delaware to deliver the shells to the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Horn Point Hatchery, where they perform the oyster setting process with spat raised to replenish the oyster population. Check out this interactive map that shows all the SRA participants. Pretty cool, huh? (Note: “Just for the shell of it” is the SRA’s catch phrase and we hope they don’t mind us promoting it)

Oyster Gardeners: Backyard oyster-grower, Jim McVey (pictured), a homeowner on Hellen’s Creek (a small offshoot of the Patuxent), is one of a growing number of waterfront residents growing native, natural (diploid) as well as triploid oysters at their docks to help restore water quality in Chesapeake Bay. The oyster gardening movement began in the early 1990s with the Magothy River Association gardeners raising oysters to replant an old reef. While not everyone’s water possesses the suitable salinity and bottom for planting oysters, the Marylanders Grow Oysters (MGO) movement is growing strong.

Theses are, of course, just s sampling of amazing efforts being made to restore oyster populations as well as the health of the Chesapeake Bay as a whole. For more information on issues facing the watershed, visit the Chesapeake Bay Office of the NOAA , the Oyster Recovery Partnership, the Chesapeake Research Consortium, and the Chesapeake Bay Commission.

Note: Special thanks to Jennifer Beidel, blogger at Through the Fence, for her contributions to this post.

Many Rocks Farm

Curious goat at Many Rocks Farm

The flocks of curious meat and dairy goats, “happy quackers,” Cubalaya Chickens, mulefoot hogs and dedicated guard animals at Many Rocks Farm are a joyful reflection of owner Jeanne Dietz-Band, the farmer and heritage breeder who raises these fine animals on 40 acres of carefully tended pastures in Washington County.

Built upon principles of sustainable agriculture, conservation, preservation, rotational grazing and humane handling, Many Rocks Farm produces and sells the highest quality heritage meats at two local farmers markets (find them here) and several acclaimed restaurants, including the famous Woodberry Kitchen.

Last week, Jeanne invited a team of experts (and aspiring experts) chosen to participate in *Northeast SARE’s “Reading the Farm” to visit the property and discuss how her business model, products and land use have evolved throughout the past eleven years she’s spent in animal husbandry. Like so many farmers deeply rooted in their land, Jeanne has never taken any shortcuts that could diminish the health and fertility of her soil or animals or effect the quality of her products.  The result? The “read” on her farm was excellent and her products are in incredibly high demand!

Although meat products are the foundation of her business, Jeanne has added value to her brand and business with a line of hand-crafted goat-milk soaps that are as perfectly fragrant as their names are creative: Lavishly Loopy Lavender, Tingle Me Timbers, Mad Hatter’s Zen, and Positively Squirrelly (to name a few). Rest assured, if she runs out of the soothing soaps at market you can find them in the Whole Body Care section of the Silver Spring Whole Foods Market too.

Mulefoot Hog

Here are the top ten reasons why we LOVE this farm:

1.) Jeanne lists happiness, safety and health of the animals as her most important concerns regarding the farm.
2.) Each and every animal Many Rocks sells was born and raised on the farm and processed humanely by a trusted vendor.
3.) They use biologicals – USDA approved fly predator wasps –  to manage pesky fly populations that come with the livestock territory.
4.) Jeanne’s eyes light up when she tells her stories about obtaining heritage breeds.
5.) There are two donkeys on the premises: one that protects the dairy herd and one that captured Jeanne’s heart and is the farm’s rescue.
6.) The nutrition and health of the animals is monitored so closely there is rarely a need for a vet visit – and that menas lots of money saved – however when Jeanne discovered one of her prized Golden Guernsey dairy bucks had broken one of his horns, she spared no expense having his wound tended and life-saved.
7.) Jeanne refers to the heritage ducks as “happy quackers.”
8.) Buffers have been planted and fenced off from livestock at the headwaters of the Antietam Creek (that originate on the farm).
9.) A goat is featured prominently on the farm logo.
10.) No part of the animals goes to waste. Leftovers from goat processing are sent to two natural pet food companies in Maryland who custom-make three varieties of dog treats.

*Northeast SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education) is a regional program of the nationwide SARE effort; SARE is part of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, or NIFA. SARE offers competitive grants to projects that explore and address key issues affecting the sustainability and future economic viability of agriculture. The program is authorized under Subtitle B of Title XVI of the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990.

Golden Guernsey
Northeast SARE “Reading the Farm”

Chesapeake Bay Week on MPT

Did you know that the Chesapeake Bay estuary, the largest in the United States, was created by a meteor impact? Can you identify which aquatic life is native, invasive, protected and depleted? Want to know how you and your community contribute to the well-being of the Bay? Lucky for you, this week is Chesapeake Bay Week on Maryland Public Television! Programming throughout April 15-22 2012 will be highlighting some hot topics around the watershed  including several brand new programs:

  • Menhaden: The Most Important Fish in the Bay – Exploration of how the harvesting of Menhaden from the Chesapeake Bay is affecting its water quality (Monday April 16th 10:00pm, Tuesday April 17th 2:00am)
  • The Maryland Harvest: A Guide to Seasonal Eating – The food-to-table movement in Maryland and its impact on Maryland restaurants, chefs, farmers and consumers (Tuesday April 19th 9:00pm, Wednesday April 18th 2:00am)
  • Restoring the Bay: New Solutions for Old Problems – Riverkeeper Fred Kelley faces challenges to help clean up the Severn River (Tuesday April 19th 10:30pm, Wednesday April 18th 3:30am)

These are just a few of the new and returning programs so be sure and check the website for the full programming lineup and set those DVRs! The week wraps up with a live music broadcast in affiliation with all the amazing folks at WTMD 89.7 too. More info on the Concert for the Chesapeake Bay here. Want more facts? Visit: Chesapeake Bay Journal..

Environmental Film Festival in DC

180 Documentary, narrative, animated, archival, experimental, and children’s films selected to provide fresh perspectives on environmental issues facing our planet. This year, the festival selections examine the critical relationship between health and the environment with 75 film makers, 115 special guests, and extraordinary cinematic work from 42 countries. Download the full schedule here. Don’t you wish you could see them all?!

Food = Art

I’ve been a fan of Baltimore’s own Chef Chad Wells, Executive Chef at Alewife, since I heard he was sauteing snakeheads in an attempt to eradicate the invasive fish and working with the Department of Natural Resources to promote menu items centered around local seafood species. Turns out his sustainable initiatives aren’t limited to the sea.

Earlier this month, Chef Wells teamed up with Joe Squared at Power Plant Live to host a “Campfire Dinner” in conjunction with the new monthly event promoting local talent called Food = Art. The inspiration for January’s event was to take people camping by using food you can kill yourself – all cooked in a way that can be duplicated deep in the woods – with limited local ingredients, cast iron pans, smoke and fire. And boy did they pull it off!

The constant-campfire vibe of the event, which included an all-evening performance of folky, old-timey, American awesomeness from The Manly Deeds, was authenticated with each family-style entree arriving in foil and with a single utensil per diner – a fork. If that weren’t enough, several people at our table were involved with the meal on a personal level. Mike Naylor, the DNR’s Chief of Shellfish Programs, foraged the morels that accompanied the trout dish. Austin Murphy, Pro-Staffer for Whackfactor Outdoors, “harvested” the main ingredient in the venison stew in Flint Hill, Virginia.

So in case you haven’t heard: wild game dinners are the new black. Here is the full menu for those of you anxious to recreate the deliciousness with your own circle of hunter-gatherers:

Hot Mulled Cider, Honey Comb Infused Bourbon

Hickory Smoked Trout, Pan Fried Wild Morels, Roasted Beets

Wild Duck Cast Iron Mac and Cheese, Two-year aged Grafton Cheddar, Grana Padano, Duck Confit

Fire Roasted Quail, Sweet Potato, Chorizo and Granny Smith Apple Stuffing, Smoked Pork Belly BBQ Baked Beans

Venison Stew, Dutch Oven Chipotle Corn Bread

Smore Dessert, Graham Cracker, Dark Chocolate, Marshmallow, Candied Bacon
To keep up with Food = Art events, ‘like’ them on Facebook. Most photos displayed in this post, with the exception of a few, are from the artistic view of Sean Scheidt See more of his images from the event here.

New Site is Under Construction

After a rewarding year building the Public Health Garden alongside fellow sustainability steward and founder of Adventures in Container Gardening (and Local Eating), Allison Lilly, it is an honor to announce that our official blog merge is underway and coming soon.

As we iron out the details of the site, one thing is certain: it is going to be an awesome one-stop-shop for thinking globally, acting locally, growing, cooking, eating and learning about Maryland’s food and farming foresight and initiatives.

While we are busy brainstorming and building, we encourage interested bloggers, developers and content creators to email us resumes and work samples.