Categories
Local Food

Food Policy Council

Lake Macbride on June 24, 2020

On Jan. 30 I received email notice of my appointment to the Johnson County Food Policy Council. My application was chosen by the board of supervisors to complete a term ending June 30.

I declined to re-apply at the end of my term.

The idea of having a food policy council may have been good when it was organized. During my brief tenure, each meeting seemed a random conglomeration of thoughts, statements and opinions heading down a dead end street. To a person, everyone I met while serving was talented, including the county-paid coordinator Ilsa DeWald. So what was wrong about the food policy council?

The goal of fostering relationships between farmers, buyers and government in the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids region is important. For their part, non-conventional farmers are a well-organized group of entrepreneurs that take advantage of networking within Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Iowa Farm Bureau, the Farmers Union, and other organizations. If you know some of these farmers, they seem to all be talking to each other about everything, all the time. That’s really no different from any successful farmer, regardless of what they grow.

The challenge of a local food movement is establishing enough mass to be a meaningful presence. The kind of changes needed in our food system are complicated and require engagement by many organizations, businesses, and individuals. That includes entities beyond vegetable, meat and flower producers.

By far, large corporations dominate food sales in our region. Reducing their presence or market share is not a point of discussion for the Food Policy Council. Even if it were, there are not enough local food producers to compete with or challenge them. The basic tenets of consumer participation in financing the growing season on a farm, knowing the face of the farmer, and understanding how our food is grown are main attractions for people who choose local food for their kitchen. As recently as last week, many community supported agriculture projects continued to accept new members this summer: demand has not been enough to significantly disrupt grocery operations.

The highlight of my tenure was participation in an annual forum titled, Land Access and Beyond: How Can the Johnson County Historic Poor Farm Support Beginning and Current Farmers? By participation I mean I made lemonade, helped set up, and led a couple of discussion groups. The forum was well-attended by a diverse group of people.

The board of supervisors decided to develop the Historic Poor Farm and this has been part of discussions of the Food Policy Council. Access to land is important and the Poor Farm has enabled some beginning farmers along a path to land ownership. Supporting the Poor Farm is a worthy endeavor for the Food Policy Council.

Part of the inability to engage in a single direction was the coronavirus pandemic. It affected council members both those who farm and those who don’t, and threw a monkey wrench into the machinery of effective policy planning. While we met via video conference, that’s not the same as being together in person with all of the possible side conversations. If not for the pandemic, I might have a different view of the council’s work.

I was happy to do what I could to advance the cause of local food in our food system. I value my time on the Food Policy Council.

Categories
Garden Local Food

Get Milk?

Hiking buddy, June 23, 2020.

My farm friends with community supported agriculture operations take the coronavirus pandemic seriously.

On one farm the crew wears personal protective equipment while working and changed the interaction with customers to control exposure to spread of COVID-19.

On another, the farmers decided, before most planting began, to have the entire crew move to the farm and by self-isolating reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread. They also changed the interaction with customers and cancelled the annual potluck because they believe the coronavirus will not be controlled by autumn.

If any of my friends contracted COVID-19, it would have severe consequences for the operation, including the possibility of ceasing deliveries to customers, at least for a while.

While we deal with the coronavirus an explosion of insects is preparing to assault our garden. In the last 24 hours I observed Japanese Beetles, Colorado Potato Beetles, squash bugs, cabbage worms, and many other species. While the invasion was anticipated, I choose to grow organically so using commercial chemicals to hold them in abeyance is not an option. My main tools are vigilant inspections each morning, hand picking the bugs off the plants when I see them, and for the squash beetles, a mixture of castile soap diluted with water in a spray bottle. To be honest this is just part of nature, and I do my best to protect the yield, giving up as little as possible to insects.

I’ve been making a shopping trip every other week to the wholesale club. Yesterday would have been my day to go but after considering the produce from the garden and what was stored in our pantry and freezer, the only thing we needed was milk.

I’m not lactose intolerant. Maybe I shouldn’t be drinking fluid milk, but I do. With the pandemic it’s a bit stressful sourcing the next gallons. Really that’s all we needed in the grocery category. What to do?

Hell if I was spending 90 minutes driving across the lake, past the Trump bar and the jail Hillary house, near the convenience store where young male adults with large Confederate flags mounted on their pickup trucks congregate, past the correctional facility to the wholesale club where milk is cheap. Too much else was demanding my time.

The options in the small city near where I live did not seem safe from spread of the coronavirus. Three convenience stores sell milk and it’s fresh. The cashiers wear masks and have those plexiglass protectors at the register. It’s the customers with no PPE that cause concern.

There is a grocery store in town. Their milk is also fresh. I’ve not been there since the governor declared the pandemic emergency. The unknown is often an issue. It’s just a gallon of milk… were there better options than the unknown?

I wasn’t ready to give up. There is a dairy store in the next town where the milk comes from their cows. I remembered when they reopened early in the first phase they did curbside pickup. They were taking the risk of COVID-19 spread seriously. I drove the six miles, put on my mask and went in.

The store is always spotless. Three cashiers were all wearing masks, as were other customers inside. I didn’t feel like a freak with my mask, wearing one was accepted behavior. The milk cost more than double what it would have at the wholesale club. The added cost was worth it for the time and gasoline savings. It was also a stress reliever.

I got two gallons so I don’t have to go shopping again soon.

Categories
Garden Local Food

Sharing the Wealth

Neighborhood Kale and Collard Stand, June 15, 2020.

Yesterday’s kale harvest was big. To share the wealth I displayed some at the end of the driveway and posted the free give-away on Facebook.

Some of it was claimed, the rest returned to the garden via the composter.

Ten years ago I saved or preserved everything I grew in the garden. Any more I keep only enough to get us through to next year. I’ve visited root cellars filled with very old Mason jars of a garden’s preserves. That’s not who we should be. We take what we need and if we can’t give it away, leave the rest for compost.

Leafy green vegetables are not a favorite around here. I have regular customers who use it in smoothies or bake kale chips. Others prepare it traditionally as greens. The main use in our household is in tacos, soups and stir fries. When out of lettuce we make kale salad. Once in a while I add a leaf to a smoothie. I’m not a smoothie person. I tried kale pesto once and it was okay. Pesto with more flavor, like mustard greens, is better. For a gardener the main challenge is to grow just enough to meet needs. I cut back the space for kale to 18 plants this year. It is still too much.

Combine kale with kohlrabi, collards, mustard, spinach and chard and there is an abundance of greens this year. Next year I’ll use the planting space differently to more closely match what I grow with kitchen usage.

For now there is kale for all who want it.

Categories
Cooking Garden Local Food

Collards on Cornbread

Collards on Cornbread

Collard greens are easy to grow and the plants produce for a long season. Once one decides to include them in a garden there had better be a plan to use them.

The first picking, before little hungry insects arrive, is the best. Sorting leaves near the composter is a way to cull the best of the best. Yesterday I harvested two pounds of leaves and decided to make collards on cornbread for dinner.

The vegetarian recipe was a collaboration with people I know combined with a few internet searches. Traditionally the dish is made with pork so the issue of how to replace lard and the meat was a primary issue. This dish came out tasty tender.

Collard Greens

One pound stemmed collard leaves
One cup diced onions
One head finely minced garlic (5-6 cloves)
Tablespoon each butter and extra virgin olive oil.
Salt and pepper to taste
One teaspoon hot pepper flakes or fresh chilies if available (optional)
Three cups vegetable broth
One pint canned tomatoes or fresh if available

Measure one pound of stemmed collard greens and cut into half inch ribbons. Set aside.

In a Dutch oven heat one tablespoon each of extra virgin olive oil and salted butter. Once foaming subsides, add one cup diced onions and a finely minced head of garlic (5-6 cloves). Season with salt and pepper to taste and sautee until softened. Add a teaspoon of red pepper flakes (optional).

Once the onions become translucent, add the collards and three cups of prepared vegetable broth. Also drain the liquid from a pint of diced tomatoes into the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil and cover. Stir the greens every so often. Once the volume of the greens is reduced, reduce the heat to a simmer.

Cook until the leaves are tender, about two hours. Add diced tomatoes and continue cooking until they have warmed.

Spoon onto cornbread, including a generous amount of the cooking liquid.

We found the recipe to be quite satisfying and a welcome way to use produce from the garden.

Categories
Cooking Garden Local Food

Rhubarb Crisp

Rhubarb Crisp

Someone asked for the recipe when I posted this photo in social media. I was taken aback.

There was no recipe, I just made it out of the rhubarb and my experience. In a kitchen garden we don’t open a lot of cookbooks.

Ingredients arrive from multiple sources and we consider them, make dishes and meals, using what is available in the ice box, garden, pantry, and our imagination. Experience comes into play. It is a way to source food, cook and eat that isn’t emphasized as much as its value warrants.

Living with a kitchen garden is as good a way to produce meals as I know. It takes some experience but rather than ask, “what is the recipe?” an alternative is “How would this product be made palatable, nutritious and tasty?”

Here’s how I responded to the question:

I saved and diced all the rhubarb that was in my CSA share. It filled this dish. In a mixing bowl I put the rhubarb, one scant cup of granulated sugar, a tablespoon of ground cinnamon, sprinklings of ground cloves and ground allspice, a pinch of salt and two tablespoons of all purpose flour and mixed until incorporated. I returned the mixture to the clean baking dish and sprinkled about one to two tablespoons of water on top. (If I was making apple crisp I would use lemon juice here. Rhubarb is already plenty tart).

For the topping, just use any that you like. This one has a stick of chilled, cubed salted butter, a cup of rolled oats, two thirds cup packed brown sugar and a pinch of salt. I use a pastry cutter to blend everything together, leaving it in chunks. Sprinkle the topping evenly and baked 35 minutes in a 375 degree oven.

That’s a recipe of sorts. If a person eats ice cream, a scoop on the side of a warm, just out of the oven serving of rhubarb crisp would be divine. Or as close to that as we humans can get.

Categories
Cooking Garden Local Food

Bow Tie Pasta with Garlic and Arugula

Bow tie pasta with garlic and arugula

The arugula is top quality this year and I’m in a use it up mode. I spent more time preparing for this dish of bow tie pasta with garlic and arugula than usual. I researched recipes and thought a lot about it during the past two days. I used Parmesan cheese from a green can because of the coronavirus pandemic. It came out well but would be better with higher quality cheese. Here goes:

Ingredients:

Big bunch of arugula, half a pound, washed and roughly chopped
2 cups dried bow tie pasta
12-14 cloves of garlic
Quarter cup pine nuts
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2-3 tablespoons salted butter
1 cup grated hard cheese (Parmesan, Pecorino Romano)
Salt and pepper to taste

Process

Set a pan of water on the stove to boil for the pasta.

Peel and trim the garlic. Then slice finely (1/8 inch).

Once the water reaches a rolling boil, add the pasta and cook according to directions.

Once the pasta is down, bring the olive oil just to the smoke point. Add the garlic, stirring constantly. As the garlic begins to brown, add the pine nuts and cook for a couple of minutes.

Add the knob of butter and stir. Before the foam begins to subside, transfer everything to a mixing bowl. Drain the pasta and dump it in the bowl. Combine until they are incorporated.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Add the arugula and cheese and mix gently until the arugula wilts.

Makes two generous servings.

Categories
Local Food

Farmers Markets in a Pandemic

June 15, 2013 Farmers Market in Cedar Rapids

There is nothing better than buying a bunch of radishes at a farmers market, biting the root off one at the booth, eating it, then buying a few more bunches if they taste good.

The sights, sounds and smells of an open air farmers market are something unique. During the coronavirus pandemic the fun and experience of markets diminished as they closed and now are expected to become a place of accommodation as they begin sales again.

Nothing like a good old proclamation by the governor to suck the joy out of a farmers market:

SECTION TWO. Pursuant to Iowa Code § 29C.6(6) and Iowa Code § 135.144(3), and in conjunction with the Iowa Department of Public Health, I hereby order that farmers markets, as defined in Iowa Code § 137F shall not be prohibited as a mass gathering under the Proclamations of Disaster Emergency issued on April 6, 2020, or April 16, 2020, but only to the extent that the farmers market complies with the following requirements:

A. Farm Products and Food: The farmers market may only permit vendors who sell farm products or food. Vendors selling other goods or services are not permitted.

B. Entertainment and Activities Prohibited: Musical performances, children’s activities, contests, or other entertainment or activities organized by the farmers market or vendors are prohibited.

C. Common Seating Prohibited: Farmers markets must eliminate all common seating areas, picnic tables, or dining areas and shall prohibit vendors from having any seating for the public to congregate or eat food on the premises.

D. Vendor Spacing: Farmers markets shall space all vendor booths or assigned parking areas so that there is six feet or more of empty space from the edge one vendor’s assigned areas to the neighboring vendor.

E. Social distancing, hygiene, and public health measures: Farmers markets shall also implement reasonable measures under the circumstances of each market to ensure social distancing of vendors and customers, increased hygiene practices, and other public health measures to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 at farmers markets consistent with guidance issued by the Iowa Department of Public Health, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Any other farmers market, festival, or community gathering of ten or more people that does not comply with these requirements is prohibited. Customers of farmers markets are strongly encouraged to engage in social distancing, wear a mask or other protective face-covering if unable to maintain a distance of six feet from others, practice good hygiene practices, and attend the market alone without other family members.

Who will venture to a farmers market at this point in the arc of the coronavirus pandemic? Iowa is projected to reach peak resource utilization and number of deaths per day about May 4 according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Once we reach peak, we will be only halfway through the number of positive test results and deaths from COVID-19. In other words, it will be at least six to eight weeks after peak before the incidence of cases and deaths tapers off to a level regular people are willing to risk exposure to do normal things like visit farmers markets.

Farmers markets have less to offer when stripped down to an economic exchange of money for food. Tasting radishes and the like will be restricted and impractical under the proclamation. Interaction between customers and farmers is a key aspect of a market and restricting it diminishes them. It is more difficult to get to know the face of the farmer when they are wearing a mask.

Farmers are developing other means to get to market while social distancing. Our local food hub developed and is implementing an on line ordering system to minimize human contact during the pandemic. While not the best, it does provide some market for growers and as a local solution can be more acceptable to local food seekers than the governor’s proclamation. Interest in community supported agriculture rose since the pandemic began with every operator I know full or expanded this season.

We hope the coronavirus will eventually recede into the background the way influenza has. Until there is a vaccine that works consumers are expected to be skeptical about going places that are not essential. Given the low level of trust people have in our government, no proclamation from the governor will change that.

Categories
Cooking Home Life Local Food

Nostalgic Breakfast Tacos

Fresh Cilantro Tacos

There is a 25 percent chance of rain beginning at 9 a.m., according to the weather application. I pulled the cars out of the garage so that space can be used for other projects if the forecast proves to be true. Despite the coronavirus epidemic the waste hauler is working today so I put the trash and recycling bins at the end of the driveway.

I made a taco for breakfast this morning and one of my go-to recipes is easy.

Nostalgic Breakfast Taco

When Mother began cooking tacos at home it was revolutionary. We hadn’t had that at home until the 1960s. The change was partly due to the rise of mass-produced, Mexican-style options at the grocery store. It was also a result of her work at the grade school cafeteria where they made dishes different from what we grew up with. Cafeteria work broadened our home food repertory. While we don’t eat beef in our home now, commercial soybean crumbles create a texture and flavor that reminds me of those early days when she made tacos for the first times. Here’s how it went this morning.

Two frying pans go on high heat. In one cook a pre-made organic flour tortilla. In the other heat a scant tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.

Dice half a medium-sized onion and part of a frozen bell pepper. They go into the hot oil. You’ll hear the sizzle. Stirring constantly, season with salt, dried cilantro and powdered chilies. Cook until the onions and peppers are soft. Stir in a clove or two of minced garlic and cook until a garlic aroma rises from the pan. Stir for a minute or so and add one half cup of commercial frozen soybean crumbles. Stir until thawed and set aside.

Place the cooked tortilla on a dinner plate and garnish from the bottom up: a layer of Mexican cheese to taste, pickled sliced jalapeno peppers, salsa or hot sauce to taste. Put the fry up on top of the garnishes and serve with a beverage of choice.

I look forward to when garden cilantro and tomatoes are available. Tacos are a way to explore your palate and discover who you are. For me it’s a chance to remember standing around the kitchen in that American foursquare home with family while reflecting on how our lives have changed. Even on a rainy day that is positive experience.

Categories
Garden Local Food

Onion Experiments

Onions planted in soil blocks.

Growing large storage onions has been challenging. I yearn to grow large onions and use them throughout the year.

Spring onions? No problem. Larger red, yellow or white, the kind we most use in the kitchen, have eluded me.

I’m determined this year will be different. Toward that end I’ve launched some experiments to see how I can do better.

Friday, Feb. 7, I planted Talon Yellow and Red Burgundy onions at home from seed. After six weeks the yellow germinated, the red did not. After chatting on line with another grower, they pointed out fresh onion seed is important. The Talon Yellow seeds were this year’s crop from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Red Burgundy were end of season discards at the home, farm and auto supply store. Lesson learned: get fresh onion seeds.

That same day I split my Matador shallot seeds with the farm. They are growing their half in the same environment as the rest of their onions, I started mine in a tray at home. Mine don’t look that healthy although they germinated. If the targeted planting time is mid-April, there is time for them to grow and hopefully survive transplant. I’m looking forward to comparing results.

I bought red, yellow and white onions starts from the home, farm and auto supply store. These are the same variety I bought every year since working there. I divided them roughly in half and planted some in soil blocks to give them a head start, and reserved the rest to plant in the ground as soon as it is tillable.

This year I ordered some onion plants from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. They are to be shipped in a couple of weeks and then direct planted in the soil. The varieties are Ailsa Craig, Patterson and Redwing. While more expensive than seed at about 30 cents for each plant, I’m hoping to find something that works in trying it. I would much rather grow everything from seed yet I want other options as back up.

Finally, this morning, I planted six 3 x 3 containers with White Lisbon Bunching Onions from Ferry-Morse (60-110 days). I mixed both pelleted and non-pelleted seeds and broadcast them in the pots. If they germinate and grow, I’ll transplant the entire pots as groups of spring onions. It is a month behind where they should have been started, so we’ll see what happens.

The last part of my experiment is twofold. I am researching types of soil nutrients which support onion growth. My normal process is to hand till composted chicken manure into the soil before planting. If the several garden books in my library suggest another approach, I may try it as long as it is not a commercial, chemical fertilizer. This year I bought a small tiller which will break up the soil more thoroughly than handwork.

I am also planning a disciplined approach to watering and weeding the crop once it is in the ground. Because of our climate, I plan to mulch the crop to retain moisture in the soil. Weeding and regular watering has proven to be challenging, partly because weeding gets away from me and partly because my approach to watering is sparing. With a framework of “experimentation” perhaps I can do better.

I know growing storage onions is possible as I get them from the farms each year. With effort, maybe I can grow my own.

Categories
Garden Local Food

Pandemic Provisioning

Dinner March 16, 2020.

A foundational aspect of our lives in Big Grove Township is reliance on others when it comes to food. We use the international supply chain which brings items closer to home so we can buy them at the grocery store.

At the same time, we spend 24 percent of our food dollars on products where we know the face of the farmer. That’s a lot more than most families and it results in a pantry full of staples like potatoes, onions, carrots, canned tomatoes, frozen vegetables, pickles and apple products.

Our regular habits prepare us for a month of quarantine without the coronavirus pandemic. We’d suffer for lack of milk and eggs, yet in a global society where millions go hungry each night, it’s more inconvenience than any kind of deprivation. We’ll get by.

The meal in the photo is our home food story. One third Farmer Kate’s potatoes, one third frozen organic broccoli from the wholesale club, and one third a commercial, mass produced soybean burger from the grocery store. The garden broccoli crop wasn’t so good last year and we’ve depleted the freezer of our own. That’s where the food supply chain comes in handy.

I don’t know if I’ll venture to work at the home, farm and auto supply store tomorrow. After the management team arrives later this morning I’ll phone in and see what protections they offer employees. I work in the warehouse and am isolated from most customer contact. All the same, retail is a people-contact job and there is more risk there than in staying home. If I choose to stay home, there will be no compensation.

I’d feel better about the isolation if it were warm enough to work in the yard. Yesterday morning patches of snow remained on the ground. It should melt today as ambient temperatures are expected in the mid-forties this afternoon. Instead of working outside, I read and wrote in the usual places. About 5 p.m. I started peeling potatoes and making dinner. It wasn’t much, but will sustain us as we ride out the coronavirus pandemic over the coming weeks.