Tuesday, December 09, 2008


The "Greenest" Market: Sky Vegetables Concept Features Rooftop Gardens

In my other life, I work as the editor of a gardening magazine. Today a guy called asking for some academic resources and tuned me into the idea that started out as an entrepreneurial challenge to students in the business school at the University of Wisconsin.

Source: Growing Edge Blog

Here's a link to an article about the idea for a grocery business with attached rooftop garden. This new venture is looking at creating sustainable urban gardens on top of supermarkets under the name: Sky Vegetables. If you click on that link, it pulls up an illustration of what they are proposing. Along with a big hydroponic greenhouse, the model on their site also has a row of barrels to collect rainwater, which they will use in an aquaponics system to create nutrient from fish waste. The model also features solar panels and a wind turbine on the roof and composting barrels where produce workers can chuck rotting fruit and veggies. So, not only do consumers get the most fresh, most local food possible, but it seems as if produce workers will also get a little recreational therapy while they work (one of the qualifiers for Best Companies to Work For awards). I’m not sure this model allows workers to do a little gardening and composting on the clock, but if so, working in the produce dept of a market just got a little sexier. . . sign me up. What a great idea! Do you think it will catch on?

I wonder what kind of investment markets would have to make. One of the hurdles, I can imagine, to sustainable production, is getting the technical expertise to man the hydroponic and aquaponic systems. Hydroponic farmers are a special breed, they stay in the business by knowing intimately the intricacies of growing. It seems if this model were to work, the market would have to hire an on-site greenhouse manager with lots of technical and hands-on knowledge. Another hurdle might be educating consumers that hydroponic growing can be sustainable. Typically it has gotten a bad rap for issues like synthetic nutrient run-off and high energy consumption from use of grow lights, etc. But don’t forget what Growing Edge’s own Lynette Morgan said about the Myths of Hydroponics “Hydroponic crops can most certainly be grown without “chemical” pesticides and many currently are,” writes Morgan. And though growing in soil in many countries is still considered the cornerstone of the organic growing, “That’s not to say that fully organically-certified soilless or hydroponic growers don’t exist, because in some countries, such as the U.S., they certainly do and many are highly successful with this system. . . We no longer see a separate division between organics and hydroponics which gives rise to a whole host of hybrid systems incorporating the best of both methodologies.”

I also recently found this post on the blog Ethicurean about hydroponics and organic growing and it’s worth a read. The author writes: ”I believe that Hydroponic plant growth can be the closest to organic growth as possible. I’ll explain why. . . for the most part, I use organic methods. I use composted steer manure, et al. I also enjoy seeing and visiting areas of natural plant growth. Living in the Northwest I see the wonders of nature daily; the old-growth forest whose trees sustain themselves through natural moisture and composting. It’s really a perfect example of how little moisture and nutrition it takes to maintain plant growth…”

How would this idea also influence food security issues if markets didn’t have to track down their veggies thousands of miles away to some remote operation in South America, but rather could track the origin of their food by running up the stairs to their greenhouse.

Growing hydroponically doesn’t have to run counter to sustainability. In fact, there are several products and suppliers whose mission it to offer sustainable products. And shouldn’t issues of water usage and the high costs of transporting food play into this equation? Growing food on the roof of a market- it’s a brilliant idea, why didn’t I think of it? Seems I’ve seen a model of this somewhere, perhaps in Australia, I’ll have to get back to you on this!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008



Here are a few carrots a dug out of the ground just a few weeks ago. I LOVE gardening!

Here I am in my neighbors yard in Sept. in Oregon.

Recently I interviewed Roger Doiron, founder of Kitchengardeners.org who reminds all of us of the old-fashioned cure for hard times: grow your own food!

Here's Roger relishing in a 'rip-up-the-yard' well done!

What does food activist and gardener Roger Doiron want you to do with your yard? Eat it! He’s one of a handful of activists organizing a grassroots (or as he calls it, “carrot-roots” movement) to get us to look at the green space in our yards through different lenses. Doiron’s the guy behind the “Eat the View” campaign that seeks to persuade President Obama to resurrect a Victory garden on the White House lawn like former presidential families: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Eleanor Roosevelt among others, in order to send the political message that it’s time to start gardening again. “We look to our leaders to not only say the right thing and do the right thing, but to chew the right thing,” Doiron is fond of saying. “We want a leader than tells people to get their hands in the soil.” Doiron has his own white house — though a much humbler abode — located north of the U.S. Capitol in the clammy fishing town of Scarborough, Maine.

Doiron sets an example of home gardening by showing people how he created his own garden in front of his own white house. He created a clever video that shows him pulling up a square of grass in his front yard, (sort of carpet layer-style) dumping a truck-bed full of fertile soil, creating neat rows and planting veggie seeds — all with the intent of showing viewers just how easy it is to garden.

The 41-year is an optimist. He’s passionate about gardening, food and the kind of activism that encourages people to get outside and take action. In the face of our nation’s troubles: a financial collapse, energy crisis and food shortages, his message is empowering: Create your own security by getting your hands dirty and planting a seed.

And he’s succeeded at getting his neighbors to put their hands in the soil and start raising their own food. He’s build a community of more than 5,000 gardeners strong called Kitchengardeners.org. He also spearheaded the move by three Scarborough elementary schools to develop gardens attached to their kitchens, a feat he maintains was relatively easy (wink, wink- you can do it in your community too) “The good energy, the good intentions, the good will — everything we needed was already there,” he said.

His efforts are not unlike similar campaigns: Oregon’s Food Not Lawns and one out of Northern California called Edible Estates that both seek to redefine the idea of a the “lawn” and transform our “All-American” sterile spreads of golf-course grass, trimmed shrubs and perky flowerbeds into no-nonsense, free-flowering and fruiting garden patches that can be harvested on a daily basis. Let the tearing up of lawns begin!

Roger became intrigued with the idea of starting a grassroots movement around slow food and gardening when he lived in Belgium where he worked for a global environmental group for 10 years called Friends of the Earth. He was charged with helping to influence policy in support of more sustainable ways of life. “These challenges that we are up against are so enormous, it’s easy to be overwhelmed,” he said. He reached a point where he felt like the wheels were getting mired in trying to create change from the “top-down” so he decided he would reverse his approach. “I had an epiphany, I thought, ‘I can continue to butt heads with European members of the parliament, or I can look at small actions I can take – and see if I can get enough people to take—and try to shift policy that way.”

From this decision, Kitchengardeners.org was born. The idea is simple and old-fashioned, but Doiron believes it’s exactly what’s needed during these insecure economic times. He wants people to eat what they grow in their own yards and in the process discover that the journey to great food can be as close as a step outside your front door- the ultimate way of shortening the distance between people and their food. “Kitchen Gardeners has taken ‘local food’ to its logical extreme, saying, ‘you can be a local food producer yourself!’”

What else will gardening do besides reconnect us to our foods? Roger believes it has the power to connect us with community again. “People are looking for community and fellowship and we need to create that sense of community around growing food,” he says.

Gardening is a way of democratizing the Slow Food Movement, which Doiron says is great but has needed a more “hand’s on,” accessible and even affordable, approach. Doiron remembers falling in love with the idea of slow food, but realized he had to change the rules a little so he wouldn’t go broke. “I wasn’t going to keep up with the lawyer and the doctor spending a couple hundred dollars on dinner.”
“We are telling people, now you’ve been won over by the Slow Food Movement, but if you really want to know what good food it, let me hand you this seed packet and tell you about composting.”

While in Belgium, Doiron said he learned about how interconnected gardening is to European culture and how they make the most of every season’s harvest. He fell in love with his mother-in-law’s cooking— a perfect combination of German heartiness with a delicate French side. “I remember those weekends as this seemingly unending blur of one good dish after another.”

Dinner was at least a three-course affair, homemade soup followed by a homemade meal followed by homemade dessert, he said. Thoughts about what she would cook on the weekend when he and his future wife Jacqueline, would visit, kept him going during the week: foods like Belgium endives wrapped in wild boar and cooked in a white sauce tossed with grated cheese.

“One of the things I realized is that good food doesn’t have to be complicated.”

“The garden tells us what’s for dinner,” says Doiron. He and his wife and three boys – ages 8, 11 and 16 – have about a 1/3 acre of land around their house. Of that, they’ve devoted 1200 square feet to a garden that produces a little more than half of the fresh food they eat. Produce like: salad greens, carrots, kale, leeks, chard, sweet and hot peppers, cabbages, lots of fat onions and of course Maine Kennebec potatoes from which the Doirons relive their days in Belgium by making fries (See recipe below). They also harvest grapes, apples, raspberries and do root cellaring- creating a space for carrots and potatoes and other roots where they can access them all winter.

“We are busy people, but the garden plays a central role in our lives.”
Doiron shares a favorite family recipe, something simple and quick. French fries? Forget about how the French cook ‘em, “Belgium has the best fries in the world,” Doiron says. What’s their secret? They fry them twice.

Recipe for Belgium Fries:

(Doiron uses Maine Kennebec potatoes from his garden)
Cut the fries thick and fry them for 6-7 minutes at 320 degrees
Then fry them again at 375 degrees to crisp them up.
The Belgians eat their fries with Mayo and wash them down with beer.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Happy Thanksgiving!!

Enjoy these food stories from the Library of Congress audio collection of folklore.

Berry pickin and making pies

Tom Turkey

wild turkey gobbling

Shawnie Lettuce

Cushaw pumpkins

Tending the Commons: Folklife and Landscape in Southern West Virginia
incorporates 718 excerpts from original sound recordings, 1,256 photographs, and 10 manuscripts from the American Folklife Center's Coal River Folklife Project (1992-99) documenting traditional uses of the mountains in Southern West Virginia's Big Coal River Valley.

Monday, November 10, 2008

"Even in my Dreams there is no Food"

North Korean Orphans- source

Every month, the Blog Catalog asks bloggers to write about a specific topic; this month they want us to write about refugees. Since I'm a food blogger, I thought the following post would be appropriate.

The news in the U.S. has been filled with stories about the "economic crisis" as the world financial markets have gone haywire. Despite it all I've felt a sense of security living in a part of the world with a long growing season, plenty of rainfall and sunlight, where the soil is still healthy and where I have access to seeds to plant and land to plant it in. Where I can grow food in my backyard and where, if necessary, I'm free to forage, hunt and to find food for myself and those I love.

These same freedoms don't apply to all. What if you lived in a land where the government restricted your movement, keeping you from finding food? What if you were you consigned to a remote plot of land where the soil was infertile and even in some places toxic, where due to drought and political instability and poor agricultural practices, you were unable to raise food and had learned to rely for years on government distributions that increasingly grew leaner and leaner- as imposed by a cruel government. Such is the situation in North Korea where people go hungry daily. Below are stories of people eating grass gruel, boiling their leather belts to make soup and kids dying from stealing potatoes or eating poisonous toads.

A friend posted this story on his blog during a summer trip to China to take intensive language classes. He's passionate about helping bring to light the situation of North Korean refugees who have been suffering from famine for many years.

North Koreans who flee into China in search of food have been tortured and killed. Here's one article about the North Korean refugee atrocities.

For a background about the FOOD CRISIS in North Korea, read this report from Amnesty International
For more than a decade, the people of North Korea - one of the most isolated nations on earth - have suffered from famine and acute food shortages. Hundreds of thousands of people have died and many millions more have suffered from chronic malnutrition. The actions of the North Korean government exacerbated the effects of the famine and the subsequent food crisis, denying the existence of the problem for many years, and imposing ever-tighter controls on the population to hide the true extent of the disaster. North Korea remains dependent on food aid to feed its people, yet government policy still prevents the swift and equitable distribution of this aid, while the population is denied the right to freedom of movement, which would enable people to go and search for food.

These stories are from newsletters by the Good Friends blog

I’m currently in Dandong, on the border between North Korea and China, after visiting some other border towns such as Yanji and Tumen. The situation here has been fascinating. I will post some of the insights I have gained on this trip over the coming days. Some people ask me why I am so interested in North Korea… You only have to know a little bit about what is going on there, and have an iota of heart to realize how much these people need us. A few examples (of many) from the last few triweekly newsletters put out by “Good Friends”, an organization with many ties to “the inside”:

“Even in my dreams, there is no food”

All the students and teachers in Taetan County seem to have lost hope and say that the school is very quiet. Teachers give their students classroom assignments such as reading and other activities, but soon retire to another place to lie down because they are suffering from constant hunger. When recess begins, the teachers leave the classroom. The students barely make any trips to the restrooms and do not run around on the field. Both the children and the teachers sleep on their desks because they feel so hungry. Jung Chul, a 12 year old student, says that he does not have the physical strength for anything other than sleep. He says that he needs to maintain himself with minimal body movements because his hunger makes him feel like he will faint at any moment. He went on to say, “During sleep, I enjoy dreaming about eating. But in the middle of my dream, no food appears, and when it does, somebody takes it away from my mouth. This situation makes me
very sad.”

Serious Body Swelling Due to Grass Poisoning in Taetan County

The farmers at the collective farm in Taetan town, Taetan County, South Hwanghae Province do their work while living on a few potatoes and grass gruel. Despite the burden of weeding all day long on such minimal sustenance, their workload is never reduced. The farmers are complaining about the pain of such hard work. Although there is an assigned portion that has to be accomplished in a day, many farmers fall short, saying that it is impossible for them to do the work. Farmers in Taetan County now survive on grass porridge. Unfortunately, in the current season the grass contains a toxin. As a result, people are suffering from serious swelling in the face and in the body no matter how hard they try to remove the toxin. Due to the fear of grass poison people are now eating fresh water fish, marsh snails, and frogs in the rice field or in the marsh.

Children Killed By Eating Toads

In Sambong District of Daehongdan County, Ryanggang Province, there has been an increase in the number of children being killed by eating toads. Children used to catch and eat frogs that hatched in the marsh regions along the Suhdoosoo River until the number of frogs declined noticeably. Presently, toads are hatching. Old wives tales tell of toad’s poisons being used as medicine in cases of cancer. But toads can also kill if eaten without being treated to get rid of the poison, especially weak children whose immunity have been compromised already by malnutrition. Han Myung-sun (43 yrs old) of Sambong District, Daehongdan County, says, “Frogs that are just hatched don’t have any poison, but they start to develop them just when the tadpoles begin to develop legs and tails. Kids can’t wait till the tadpoles grow into frogs and eat the tadpoles by scooping them up with screens but some died last month through food poisoning. Now we no longer have frogs but have toads. Kids think that they are the same and eat them by roasting them. They ate the toads with potatoes, which also are poisonous when they start to sprout. So 5-6 kids were killed eating toads and potatoes in one night. The whole place was overcome with a sense of foreboding when we had to take care of these little bodies.” Choi Seung-chul (42) also agreed, “Kids thought that they could cook toad meat with corn power into some type of porridge but instead they roasted it and ate, and died.” One class in Sambong Middle School lost over 10 kids in just two months out of a class of 36 to starvation or food poisoning.

Soldiers in Ryanggang Province Eat Cooked Leather Belts

In early June, the commander of a unit stationed in Ryanggang Province was arrested upon inspection. The charge was that he sold army uniforms in the market. The Army had neither rice nor money and the enlisted men cooked their belts to eat. On May 28th, he had witnessed the enlisted men boiling their leather belts in a hope to drink the liquid. He asked them, “What are you doing?” They answered, “We were too hungry.” Shocked and horrified by that answer, he sold the winter uniforms in the market. He bought rice with the money and fed the men once or twice, but caught during the inspection. “Right now the men are dying. I had to sell the uniforms to feed them,” he explained but they did not allow for the extenuating circumstances.
Kim Chul-seung ( 38 ) said all the leather belts distributed to the soldiers last March had disappeared completely in his unit. “(The liquid from the boiled leather belts) I even tried. It fills your stomach and you feel better. Boiled cow skin tastes pretty good. You cannot eat leather by itself but once boiled in the water, the taste of meat soaks out in the liquid and you drink it. The drums, made of pig skin or cow skin, have all gone without a trace. Even in the time of Arduous March, we did not dream of eating leather belts. But, now everything that was made of leather is cooked for food. Some soldiers can’t wait and rush to chew leather from the drums. Now is tougher than it was in the mid 90s.

He begged for anything to eat, saying, “What have we done in our previous lives to suffer like this? How resentful are those soldiers that eat even their leather belts? They were all our children, drafted to the army. They were forced to, knowing that they may die of hunger in weakened physical condition. Please find some food to feed them.”

Kkotjebis (Homeless Children) Suffocated While Trying To Pilfer Potatoes in Storage Caves

Daehongdan County of Ryanggang Province has a reputation for being a place where one can eat potatoes that cover the streets. That’s how well the potato crops do here, although it’s too high in altitude for corn to grow well. The first potato crops come in around August 20th. Right now, June and July are the most difficult time of the year for food. They store the potatoes in large storage cave over the winter. When April rolls around, workers cut off chunks of the potatoes with the bud attached and plant them. The rest of potatoes are given to the farm workers, which amounts to less than half of the original volume of the stored potatoes.

The potatoes are stored in underground chambers that can measure up to 40 meter on each side. The air is filled with the poisonous vapor from potatoes. There is a lid every three meters for ventilation and the potatoes need to be turned over to prevent rotting. It takes one whole day to fully ventilate the storage chamber, and only after that workers get in to remove potatoes that have rotted

This year, there are many kids who die by suffocation as they tried to sneak into these underground chambers and pilfer potatoes. Although there are guards they are inside the post and the kids sneak by and enter down through the lids and close them behind since they don’t want to get caught. In this state, the kids soon gag on the poisonous vapor and die due to lack of oxygen.

Kwon Soon-young (35 yrs old) says, “This past May and June, there are many kids who suffocated to death as soon as they entered these storage sheds. You have to have oxygen tanks, but obviously kids don’t have that. Probably less than one out of ten kids succeed in stealing potatoes. But the hungry kids still try out of desperation.”

Amnesty International reports: (From the Amnesty.org Web site) Signs of serious food shortages became evident to the outside world in 1991, when the North Korean government launched a "let’s eat two meals a day" campaign. In 1992, PDS rations were cut by ten percent, and thereafter distribution became irregular, particularly to the north-east. PDS distributions reportedly stopped nationwide during the summer of 1994, except on two to three national holidays.(24)

During 1994, when food shortages started to affect the functioning of the PDS, the North Korean government reportedly stopped sending food shipments to the remote north-eastern provinces of North and South Hamgyong and Ryangang. These mountainous, traditionally food-deprived provinces were highly dependent on the PDS system and famine appears to have started in these regions in 1994, two years before it hit the rice-growing western provinces.(25) The failure of the already poor domestic agricultural production (see table 1) after severe floods in 1995 and 1996, followed by severe drought, resulted in a drastic reduction to food supplies to the PDS. By 1997 the PDS was reportedly only able to supply 6 percent of the population.(26)

In August 1997, UNICEF expressed concern that the number of children suffering from the effects of food shortages has risen dramatically in recent months, with some 80,000 children severely malnourished and in imminent peril of succumbing to starvation or disease. UNICEF and other UN agencies also estimated that about 38 per cent or 800,000 children under five were suffering from malnutrition to a serious, but lesser degree. The worst suffering was "among children who have lost or have been separated from their parents. Up to half the children in some orphanages are severely malnourished."(27)

The PDS was reportedly unable to supply any food at all in the 1998 ‘lean season’ (April to August) or from March to June 1999 (see table 2). In January 1998 there was an official announcement that individual families were henceforth responsible for feeding themselves rather than relying on the PDS. Between March and September 1998, in order to survive, people were forced to eat alternative foods that had very little nutritional value such as edible roots, cabbage and corn stalks and grasses. Grass finely ground and mixed with some cereal and an enzyme then cooked as noodles or cake was also eaten. The WFP/FAO feared that these alternative foods may, in fact, have exacerbated existing health problems, such as diarrhoea in children.(28)

Reliable figures on North Korea are difficult to obtain, given the lack of access and barriers to information gathering. Estimates of the number of deaths that resulted from the 1990s famine vary widely, ranging from 220,000 to 3.5 million. Some sources claim the famine destroyed between 12 and 15 percent of the total population.(29) Economist Marcus Noland recently estimated that the famine resulted in the deaths of between 600,000 to 1 million people, out of a pre-famine population of approximately 22 million (between 2.7 and 4.5 percent of the total population).(30) However the "social damage was much higher if one considers the fall-off in the fertility curve caused by famine."(31)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Adventures with Provocative, Dangerous and Edible Woodland Creatures
or... my weekend with fungus at the Yachats Mushroom Festival

Here I am in the wilds of Oregon's damp and mysterious forest. I'm holding a mushroom that's looks like it might be edible, but isn't... so much.

"Where did you find those mushrooms?" I asked the mushroom hunting couple. "Over there in those hills," answered the gentleman.

Last weekend in Yachats, Oregon, folks gathered for the 8th Annual Yachats Mushroom festival. The town "mushroomed" with the fungi curious, expert mushroom hunters, mycologists and mushroom mongers.

DISCLAIMER: Contact the Cascade Mycological Society if you want to learn more about mushroom identification, don't take my word for it, I'm a mushroom hunting rookie and some of the facts in here might be skewed by my rookie ways. DON'T EAT THE MUSHROOMS unless you know the mushrooms.

I met up with some friends from Utah who were in town for the weekend and we headed to downtown Yachats to check out the mushroom fest.

The downtown Village Market sold boxes of several varieties of mushrooms in front of the market. We started downtown where the mushroom festival organizers had converted a section of a building into mushroom exhibits.

Here's one of the most dangerous dudes of the bunch.

My friends stand beside a line-up of mushrooms being taught by a mushroom hunting veteran Joe Spivack

Here's an exhibit that shows you how mushrooms change appearance with age, just like people.

I opted to do the mushroom walk beginning at the Cape Perpetua Visitor's Center with Joe Spivak as our guide.

Joe was a very likeable and knowledgable guy who encouraged us to touch and handle the mushrooms. It's a MYTH he says that you can get sick just from touching a mushroom. (Side note, I picked up one tiny fungi with a tall stem that turned red where I touched it.) It left a slight tingling feeling on my fingers.

Joe chewed a portion of "certain" mushrooms and waiting for the taste to come. "This one is peppery," he said and offered it around. You never want to ingest until you know what you're eating.

We walked up the trail and every 20 yards or so, stopped to identify new mushrooms we found covering tree trunks, branches and the forest floor- among a million other places. I even found a cute mushroom growing out of a pine cone.

A very old mushroom. Not good to eat.

Joe made us all feel special for finding such lovely mushrooms along the route, he especially charmed the young mushroom hunters in the group-- making them feel as if they had found mycological wonders undiscovered until that moment.

I took this photo because this is a mushroom I found that Joe said has a very unusual quality. It looks a little like the morel mushroom, but this mushroom, when cooked, gives off a vapor that's much like rocket fuel- so that those rare people who cook it should be advised not to breath the fumes.

DISCLAIMER: Please don't go edible mushroom hunting by yourself or with a novice... this is not a sport for the faint-hearted. Mushrooms are tricky to identify. I met one guy along the route that told me he'd made it his goal to identify ONE mushroom a year.

The most recognizable edible mushrooms- in my humble opinion

chantrells: Orange with a signature stem and pattern on the back...the underside of the cap tapers to the stem and has deep gills.

oysters: pulls off the tree in clusters.

lobster mushrooms: Are the color of Lobsters

chicken of the forest: Big ugly burgeouning orange things that look something like characters from the Muppet Show.

Most valuable mushroom?
Besides the truffle of course- it's the Matsutake, which are hard to find, you have to really hunt for them.

Here's a photo of a Matsutake on top of some lobster mushrooms:

Jason, the mushroom hunter

At the end of the guided walk, a handful of us thought we'd try our skill at identifying mushrooms- a new-found skill for me (excluding the years spent plucking morel mushrooms from the forest by my home in the Rocky Mountains.) Morels don't really count- they are so easy to identify. Well, I wound up walking around with Jason, this colorful guy who had been subsisting in Yachats by working on an organic farm. He'd been traveling for 6 months- sort of Lost-in-the-Wild style- from Michigan to Missoula to El Waco, Washington and now to Yachats, experiencing life by trying to live off of nothing because he believed the state of affairs in our world will soon require it. At first I thought he had a point, but then again, he told me he dumpster dives sometime and it doesn't seem like the best route to self-reliance. I admired his desire to learn about how he could feed himself on farming and foraging, which most people don't seem to have "time" to do. I mean, shouldn't this be one of the first places we START when considering how to be more self reliant? Gardening and foraging... I love that concept.

But there was something a little too doomsday-ish about his ideas that I admit made me wary. He was convinced our society was on its way out and the financial collapse was due to some convoluted conspiracy that would prove our eventual demise. Before we parted ways, he mentioned something about Yachats being a great place to settle because it has bridges on both sides and if the community of Yachats wanted to keep people from coming in and begging for food, they could just dynamite the bridges. What?? Sound like a sci-fi novel. Yeah, there was something not quite right about that. But in case any of you agree with his assessment, Yachats IS a beautiful coastal town full of ample mushrooms with easy access to sea life to eat in case the world is INDEED coming to an end.

But I shouldn't give him such a bad wrap, Jason did help me identify the beautiful white oyster mushrooms growing on the trunk of a tree (they looked like fairy food or something- so white and dewey.) I can see why people love finding these beauties; it was magical plucking them from the tree trunk and stuffing them into my pockets. And Jason found some great chantrells and a chicken of the forest mushroom too.

When I first met Jason, I had asked him what he was doing traveling and this is what he had to say:

"I'm trying to see how far I can go on my WORD.."

"Your what?" I asked him, unsure of what he has said, I repeated what I thought I heard: "How far you can go on your WIERD?" ....I asked. It was a pretty funny exchange, in retrospect.

Here's Jason posing by an Alice in Wonderland type mushroom (Fly Agaric) that is poisonous.. Jason was considering "trying" this shrume to see how it made him feel.

So our group walked around the damp, quiet woods of mushroomville, Oregon. There's something foolhearted, I must admit, about going wild mushroom hunting with someone who would eat just about anything "just for the experience," someone who talked about making a stew out of nothing but the thick flesh of a bright orange Chicken of the Forest mushroom; someone who looked hungry and what was more believed the world may be about to end.

Jason was on the look-out for the elusive psychedelic mushrooms and anything that might be edible, or slightly edible. He found something like a death cap and carefully plucked it from the ground and as if we were pilgrim naturalists finding new species and capturing them for historic identification. I now chalk up his enthusiasm for the Death Cap as curiosity, but at the time I wondered slightly if collecting this mushroom was his secret stash, his "Romeo's vile of deadly elixir" in case the world DID happen to end.

By the end of my trip, I felt comfy identifying chantrells. And though I had a bag full of chantrells and oysters, I actually didn't eat them because. . . well, hey, I picked them. Was I ready to put the comfort of my intestines into my own hands? NO!

I recognize now that I was pretty paranoid about eating the oyster shrumes even though 3 people (a ranger and mycologist) verified that they were indeed edible mushrooms. Why the fear? I think it was something about being lost in the Oregon backwoods with a goofy, novice mushroom hunter and being overwhelmed by such fascinating and possibly toxic creatures growing out of dying trees. There's something so fecund about mushroom hunting- fecund and potentially dangerous. I loved it!

On the trip, my friends and I cooked up a stash of mushrooms we bought at the store.

Here's Jen eating buttery fried mushrooms with fresh pasta noodles in our beach house south of Yachats.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


Confessions of a Spud Harvest Drama Queen

Since my new home in Oregon is farm-ville USA, its been fun to drive home beside tractors and farmers motoring through fields and watch sweet dust rising from the ground, lit-up by the early morning light. I love the smell of hay fields freshly cut and I love how a field of winter squash looks after the rain. I have an affection for farming and farmers- there's something about this time of year that brings back memories of growing up in Idaho surrounded by farm fields.

Every year Idaho school kids get out of class for two weeks to help in the potato harvest. It was and is a messy, dirty job that had me up to my elbows in soil all day. I wore ski goggles to keep dirt out of my eyes and often came home looking like an earthworm, blowing black snot out of my nose and feeling machine-lag after riding on the the digger out in the fields all day (a digger is a machine that pulls the potatoes from the soil and typically they put the high-schoolers on the digger.) That thing jiggled me around all day till I couldn't hear myself from the buzz of the machinery that still buzzed in my ears when I jumped off the digger and headed home in my dirty-as-hell clothes, my damp, soil-black work gloves from the farm supply store and with my goggles off and I looking raccoon-like with my face dirty except where the goggles had been. Sometimes friends and I would prop a potato onto a hot part of the machinery during the day and in a few hours, take off our gloves and dig into the white steamy flesh of the thing and each take a bite. Yum!

When dusk came, we were exhausted and couldn't tell which was a potato or a dirt clod that rolled along in front of us on the conveyor belt. How can I possibly romanticize that experience? It was miserable, truly. But we were young, so we tried to make it fun. My friends and I sang vigorously, substituting in the word potatoes for love in the cheesiest love songs. Try it, it's fun.

One year I was the only girl on the potato digging crew and believe you me, that was a tough year. Try working beside all your little brother's friends- in all their junior-high-school glory. These boys had two subjects of conversation: sex and farts. The first they knew very little about the later they were well-versed in, but they spoke about both as though they had written THE definitive guides on each subject. I remember one ill-fated day sorting potatoes from clods while massive amounts of soil flung itself upon my innocent body and I was a complete failure at deflecting the dirty jokes of my zitty, adolescent coworkers. Well, I became FED-up with my brother's little "perverted" friends and decided I was going to walk home early from work. I jumped off the digger and trudged across the trenched, soily field with a view of my house a few miles away. (Before I continue on, I need to insert a note that I was a DRAMA queen in high school... I was actually "Actress of the Year" and used to flit around the halls at Sugar-Salem belting Broadway songs with my friend Suzette and mortifying my big sister the "jock" (who was a STAR discus-thrower in track and who had bigger biceps than her boyfriend, the state champion wrestler). . . anyways, back to the story: I made it halfway across the field and decided spontaneously to throw myself at the mercy of the nematodes and other critters in the soil food web and did the most perfect Nestea plunge right in the middle of the field. I was crying hysterically, the tears making perfect miniature Ganges rivers down my cheeks. I just lay there and looked up at the clouds and breathed a little, then got back up a few minutes later and walked the rest of the way home where my mother guided me into the laundry room helping me unpeel the soil-blackened clothes from my weary body while she tried to remind me that all boys are perverts at THAT age and I just needed to take a shower and relax a bit.

But even amidst all that drama, I still recall potato harvest with fondness.

I don't really get it, but I said it, it's the truth that there's something sweet about it. What was it? Was it just working so hard and clean. How often do you get to exhaust yourself in a physical job like that? Office jobs sometimes seem to suck the life out of me. There's always either the deadline push, which makes me anxious or the downtime which makes me bored and feeling guilty about not being MORE productive. Working outside all day, we learned to tell the time on where the sun was in the sky overhead (I got pretty good at it.) We were gardeners- actually more more like peons paid to do a dirty job that not a lot of people liked to do.

But it's something I'll never regret- in fact, I hope when I have kids of my own, I can send them to work in the potato harvest too.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Foodlorists Wanted!
Help Us Build Foodlore Library

This image is Public Domain from the Library of Congress. It's a Qahatika Indian Woman using a long pole to harvest cactus fruit, Arizona. c1907.

Published in: The North American Indian / Edward S. Curtis. [Seattle, Wash.] : Edward S. Curtis, 1907-30, v. 2, p. 108. (source)

I love the photo because in the post below, I have a similar photo of a friend harvesting saguaro flowers. A friend and I are starting a food ezine called Foodlore Library as a way of collecting images like this of food traditions from the past AND from the present. Help us build this library by reading below:

Foodlore Library is an attempt to gather, save and share food stories that might otherwise go lost. We love stories like those in prior posts: one written by Ann Gates Weaver about harvesting saguaro fruit like the Papago Indians once did - who knew it takes the saguaro 40 years to flower and that making the syrup is sooo labor-intensive. Other stories include one about wild strawberry picking by my friend Jessica Spencer from rural Pennsylvania and one written by Marilyn and Craig Toone about eating out of their garden and fishing for trout on the Yellowstone River in Montana.

Your story doesn't have to be complicated or sophisticated- just share a little part of yourself and your love for food. Share a story about a family food tradition, your fav. comfort food (and why it is) some kind of food ritual you do. Check out our developing Web site (note- it's still in the rough phases) e-zine Foodlore Library

Feel free to also send us photos with descriptive captions. Some examples: a photo of you carving out a pumpkin, cooking with your grandmother, mushroom hunting, visiting an exotic locale and the food you found there, eating at your fav. hole-in-the wall restaurant or a photo of you eating around the dinner table with loved ones.

Any questions? Email editor@foodlorelibrary,com

Happy Eating,

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Slowest Food: Saguaro Syrup

By Ann Gates Weaver
of Tucson, Arizona

Sure sure, there's that saying "slow as molasses," but what about "slow as saguaro." I'm sure a phrase like that exists in the Papago language, but it simply never caught on. But saguaro syrup is certainly SLOWER than molasses

I mean the syrup itself doesn't have that kind of thick gooey viscosity, but since the cactus doesn't even produce fruit until it is about forty years old and then harvesting it takes forever, it is the slowest food I know. For the Papago, saguaro fruit and syrup was an important source of calories at a time when the desert wouldn't produce much else until lat August. Hower, after all of the hours I spent harvesting in the hot sun not to mention scooping and boiling and straining, to end up with only two pints of syrup- well this syrup is VERY labor intensive so I can see why it's going extinct. It tastes very sweet, but has a very subtle medicinal aftertaste reminiscent of cough syrup which makes it less tasty than other fruit syrups, but we still like it on pancakes!

Saguaro blooms in the spring like most of the other cactus of the sonoran desert, but the fruit doesn't begin to ripen until June. As a fruit gets completely ripe, the outer skin splits open like the petals of a flower to let the pulp and seeds drop to the ground. Seeing this, the first conquistadors wrote that saguaros had red flowers that bloomed in June. This saguaro is just beginning to ripen.

The Tohono O'Odam people would gather the fruits with a tool made from a saguaro rib with a short piece of greasewood tied at an angle to it. This tool was used to push or pull the ripe fruit from the cactus, although they would also gather dried pulp from the ground when possible.

After trying the traditional tool, I decided that my telescopic pool pole with a metal bolt coming out of the side where the net is usually attached was a much better way to harvest the fruit, although I didn't need to telescope it to harvest from the saguaro in my backyard. Even with my new and improved tool, it takes hours and hours just to fill a 5 gallon bucket halfway, and unfortunately this is at the hottest time of the year here- right before the monsoons come to cool things down a bit. Therefore you can only harvest for a few hours early in the morning.

These fruits have started to split open.

The pulp has to be removed from the shell which luckily doesn't have spines. The shell or husk is discarded. This process is quick, but at the end you realize how much of your fruit was actually husk as two and a half gallons turns into about one and a quarter.

The pulp is boiled until it turns slightly orange. Then the fibrous pulp and seeds are separated from the juice by straining it with cheesecloth. There are thousands of seeds in each fruit, all connected by pulp. Therefore, the amount of product you have left at this point is once again diminished quite a bit. The juice is then returned to the pot where it boils until it starts to thicken up and stick to the spoon, although it doesn't ever get thick like maple syrup.

At the end of all the harvesting, scooping, straining, and boiling, I have only two pints of syrup. It tastes very sweet with a very subtle medicinal aftertaste reminiscent of cough syrup. The Papago used this syrup to sweeten everything through the summer while food variety was slim, but we like it on pancakes!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Here's my niece with Zucchini from her mother's garden.

Mexican Rice, Zucchini, and Chicken Salad

I'm going to make this recipe tonight with all the zucchini that is growing out of all my kitchen cupboards this week. I'll let you know how it goes. I'm going to use local Fraga Farm Cheese instead of the queso blanco cheese that it calls for. Fraga Farms is an artisan goat cheese from a farm in Sweet Home, Oregon. I plan to visit the farm and meet a few of the farmers there. I'm also going to replace some of the brown rice with quinoa and use fresh serrano peppers.

From "The Classic Zucchini Cookbook," Ralston, Jordan, Chesman

3 cups diced zucchini or yellow summer squash
1 ½ cups cooked white or brown rice
1 ½ cups diced cooked chicken
½ cup chopped scallions, white and tender green parts
2 tbsp minced fresh parsley
1/3 cup canola or other light vegetable oil
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
½ tsp chili powder
½ tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
½ cup crumbled queso blanco or farmer cheese
Bring a medium-sized pot of salted water to a boil. Add the zucchini to the boiling water. Blanch for 1 minute, until barely tender crisp. Drain, plunge into cold water to stop the cooking, drain again, and pat dry. In a large bowl, combine the zucchini, rice, chicken, scallions, and parsley. In a small bowl, whisk together the oils, lemon juice, chili powder, salt, and pepper to taste. Pour over the salad and toss to coat. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Transfer the salad to a serving bowl, sprinkle with the cheese, and serve.
Serves 4.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Nine Ways to A Man's Heart (through his stomach)

You know the old saying: The way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Well, I tested this out last weekend. So, here they are:

1. Take him to your favorite hole-in-the wall restaurant and let him buy you your fav. dish -here's pizza at $3.50 a slice- even the most frugal guy will foot the bill!

This is a photo of me eating at a favorite place of mine called American Dream Pizza in Corvallis, OR.

2. When you drive to the beach, give him some fresh smoked salmon to eat as he drives.

3. Ask him what his favorite foods are and plan a meal for him. Buy the freshest fruit at the market.

In this case the farm stand was in Florence, Oregon.

4. Let him help you in the kitchen. He can cut up veggies or stir the pot, etc.

5. Do something silly/cute while you cook. This will show him that while you are a serious chef, you don't take yourself too seriously.

6. Milk is comfort food- make something creamy. Don't tell him you're using goat's milk or he may not eat it- though you know it IS better for digestion.

7.Cooking should be a sensory experience- forget the measuring cups & spoons, use your fingers.

8.Eat on the back porch on a tablecloth that you inherited from your mother. Keep things simple- this will make the man pay more attention to you than the place settings or any of the bling, bling that is SOOO overdone in a more formal dining experience.

9.For dessert, pick wild berries. This will get him in touch with his primal instincts as a hunter/gatherer.

Photos by Casey Cranor...
You're never too old to play with your food.
String Bean Season is Here!

This is one of the string beans from my neighboor's gardens, which I will write about soon. It's a wonderful heady garden full of all kinds of ripening veggies. My new neighbor invited me to help thin her Ruby chard.

I'm a bit of a late bloomer to gardening. I grew up in a place where the snow didn't melt until June, so we didn't really have too long of a growing season :) But now that I live in Oregon, I'm becoming a green thumb! Here's a photo of me sitting beside my whiskey barrel planter full of tomatoes and herbs. I painstakingly rolled it and transported it to my new abode. It's still flowering and fruiting. I love this little green space. I like the fact that I can step outside whenever I need a little rosemary or sage for a recipe I'm cooking up.

Oregon brings out the gardener in most people, I've realized. It's not uncommon to be around town and hear people talking about how their plants are flowering and fruiting as if they were talking about their children.

(photos by Casey Cranor)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Origin of photo

Gardening for the Future
Hydroponic vertical gardens, & rooftop gardening

I've been meaning to write more about progressive ways of growing food, since we're going to have to radically rethink our agricultural ideologies. Here are a few news bites to chew on while I work on a story: Enjoy!

High-rise apartments in China integrated with a vertical hydroponic garden- for food and heat.

Rooftop Gardens could feed millions in the city. Check out this article.

For more info about growing hydroponically, check out Growing Edge magazine

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Home-grown meal: Yellowstone river trout and Livingston backyard garden veggies

My aunt Marilyn and Uncle Craig just moved to a cabin by the Yellowstone River in Livingston, Montana. What my aunt says about the place sums it up: "I'd like to die here," she said. Do you feel that way about the place where you live? How would it be to feel to be settled in a place to the extent that you'd be content to live the rest of your years there. That would be an amazing feeling.

So I asked Mer and Craig to share a food story with me about their place and the food surrounding the place. They harvested veggies from their garden, caught trout from the Yellowstone River and created this wonderful meal. Does it get any better than this?

This is my aunt Marilyn in her apron.

And they both shared these thoughts and photos, ENJOY!

First we show gratitude to Father Sky and the clouds for the energy and moisture that powers Mother Earth to grow the plants along with the protection and blessings of The Goddess of the Garden

We shared peas, carrots, beans, raspberries, and herbs from the Land

The fish came from the Yellowstone waters as does our drinking and irrigation water.

We are fortunate to be able to share the space here with many creatures like ourselves borrowing the land and resources.

Mer's special spot with the tree and cross is right next to the Beaver Lodge, we can hear the young cubs mewing.

Craig and Marilyn