Educating Kids Through 101 Gardening Projects

There are things you just don’t think about before you have kids. I am currently in the transition between a childless lifestyle and preparation for motherhood, being over 7 months pregnant with my first child. I am realizing that things are about to change, big time. My brain space is now filled not only with typical work obligations, meeting dates, business decisions, and homeowner responsibilities, but also with questions about how this little one-to-be is going to fit into the picture–how my life is going to become our life.

Of course, one of the biggest baby preparation questions is, how will we all fit? Not only are our lives about to change, but our physical space is too. I guess if you have a rambling home with multiple bedrooms, this issue isn’t as important. But we happen to reside in a tiny 700 square foot space, 100 of those as a separate bedroom that is detached from the main living room, kitchen, and bathroom.

But we do have two acres of wild and blackberry-tangled land, and the baby part of my brain is wondering how I am going to integrate our new child into this garden setting. How will we balance maintaining safety to our lovely rows of crops while ensuring that this kid gets maximum exploratory joy and pleasure from the space? And will we even have the energy to keep the garden going when we are dead tired from feeding, and changing, and adapting to becoming three?

Luckily, there is a new book about how to educate children through the lens of a garden, no matter what size, capacity, or setting. It’s aptly called “The Book of Gardening Projects for Kids: 101 Ways to Get Kids Outside, Dirty and Having Fun.” The authors, Whitney Cohen and John Fisher, are both parents of young kids and have worked as teachers and garden education directors for quite awhile. Much of that time was spent at Life Lab, a non-profit organization based in Santa Cruz, California which was founded in 1979 to teach people to care for themselves, each other, and the world, through farm and garden-based programs. Read more

Building Community at the Homesteader’s Convenience Store

Lately I’ve been realizing that I married well. Not in the typical, societal ladder, Downton Abbey kind of way. Far from that. More like in a homesteader’s kind of way. Forget investment accounts and family crests, when it comes to spring water, pickles and chicken coops, we are set! And most recently, we hit the jackpot. My husband just landed a job at our local feed store, which in itself doesn’t sound like the most lucrative position, but this isn’t your basic feed store. Read more

FarmHack: DIY Farmer Collaboration

I have a weird fascination with inventions, and often wonder what the beginning of something was. What led to someone coming up with stained glass? Or what about an alarm clock? These are simple creations that pale in comparison with even more complex items that we also use without much thought…dishwashers? Copy machines? This computer? Maybe I should have pursued a career in engineering, but more likely my preoccupation with these inventions is due to the fact that I have little understanding of them. It seems that that disconnect between the things we use and depend on and how they function leads to a pretty common level of frustration. The rise in DIY projects and interest that we are seeing these days surely has to do with that frustration leading to a push for self-reliance.

I think it also has to do with a larger disconnect, one that has moved us away from community minded information sharing and collaboration. We have less and less opportunity in this modern world to wave down a neighbor with a question about chicken husbandry or how to fix a broken well pump. Instead, we jump on the Internet and Google the answer, hoping that the source we choose to trust is reputable and fact-based. The National Young Farmers’ Coalition (NYFC) has launched a project for the today’s sustainable farming community that brings the best of both worlds together. FarmHack taps the same age-old premise of learning directly from others in a similar community while creating innovative open source sharing technologies to reach small farmers around the globe. Read more

Cultivating A Movement: A Living History In Santa Cruz

Oral history is a tool for conveying first-hand experience and sharing knowledge. It also provides a medium to weave experiences together, crafting a whole patchwork of personal stories into a larger history. The 29 oral history excerpts in the recently released, Cultivating a Movement: An Oral History of Organic Farming & Sustainable Agriculture on California’s Central Coast, capture the integral 40-year history of the organic movement in Santa Cruz and its rippling effect onto the rest of the world. As part of the Regional History Project set in motion by the University of California, Santa Cruz, this curated anthology defines an organic food revolution. And according to forward, written by Linda L. Ivey, Ph.D., the organic movement is indeed a revolution: “a historic shift in the way a society operates within its natural environment.” Twenty-nine voices attest to the large-scale shifts in cultural, economic, societal, and environmental practices by explaining their strategies for navigating a sustainable way of life.

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The Greenhouse Project (VIDEO)

It’s hard times right now. Looking around, from city to small town, there are empty buildings everywhere. For lease signs loom in windows, brand new office buildings stand deserted and never used. It all seems like such a waste of resources and energy and a sad reminder of the pace our economy has slowed to. In the face of this hardship,  ideas such as The Greenhouse Project in Central Wisconsin offer respite. A group of passionate people, working on a volunteer basis towards providing “opportunities for participation, education, cooperation, and action to support a local food economy in Central Wisconsin” have banded together and successfully started renovations on a dilapidated 38,000 square foot property in downtown Stevens Point. The vision is to create a self-sustaining, multi-faceted production and education center, where rural farming techniques can coalesce with a thriving urban community ready to learn about them. Read more

Staple Luck Club: Bartering Out Of Love For Human Exchange

I have been officially inducted into a club. Instead of membership fees, shmancy pants events, and exclusivity, this club is promoting an age-old practice of bartering. The Staple Luck Club is the brainchild of my friend, chef, and food consultant Gabriel Cole. He has been tinkering with the concept for years–knowingly and subconsciously–via random food projects, backyard duck tending, and foraging enthusiasm.

“The initial inspiration was hanging out with friends who love food and always swapping homemade edibles with people,” Cole explains. “Someone would bring me jam and I’d give them granola. A friend often brings me lettuce for my ducks, so I give her some red wine vinegar I make, etc. The idea behind [the club] is to foster community, stay low on the food chain, and save money by bartering. I also read a great book called Nowtopia which talks a lot about new forms of commerce.”

For members, the pure and simple concept is enticing: Make a bunch of one type of thing (ideally using quality, local ingredients when possible), and bring it to a monthly gathering where everyone else attending has done the same. Then swap-shop, trading your item for other items that catch your eye or appetite. Read more

Pickled at the Good Food Awards 2011

Two weeks ago I ate over 40 different kinds of pickles. Aside from the lacto fermented bloat that any human belly undoubtedly suffers after sampling that many pickled products, the experience was memorable and delicious. How, you may ask, did I get myself into such a situation? It’s the second annual Good Food Awards, of course.

The  Seedling Projects‘ Good Food Awards celebrate a desire to taste delicious food products that are produced in socially and environmentally responsible ways. The idea brings to light the nation’s standouts in a variety of edible categories. Since last year’s successful breakout, which awarded 71 entries in seven categories, the stakes have grown. The 2011-2012 categories, expanded to eight total, are: Beer, Charcuterie, Cheese, Chocolate, Coffee, Pickles, Preserves, and Spirits. I was honored to be a part of the process as a pickle judge.

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CC’s Story

I’d like to introduce you to CC; he’s 19 years old and he’s a new friend of mine.  About a month ago, my fiancé and I opened a little coffee shop in an old gas station in Santa Cruz, California. Our friend, Fran Grayson, came to us with a vision of collaborating on the idea and now she parks her food truck on-site. Together, we are The Truck Stop and Filling Station. We strive to promote good, honest, and quality food and drink. This is where CC comes in.

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Introducing Real Food Real Kitchens

I think we can all agree that the sedative power of television provides escape; much like any number of self-numbing tools we may choose to consume one way or another. I fully admit to administering a daily dose of TV at the end of a long day, just enough to blur the mind space and glaze the eyes until I drag myself to bed a short hour or two later. I’m not very proud of it, I know there are countless more productive things I could be doing during that time. But the whole seduction is just that…television takes away the need to be productive. It is a glossy, other world of fantasy, adventure, and illusion. Why else do we find ourselves saturated in this “reality” TV culture? The lives of others takes us outside of our own, an episode of someone’s experience gives us respite from the banality of our day to day. Sometimes, however, there are occasions when some genuine truth seeps in. And if we can discipline our channel surfing thumbs to the right place, the content that sneaks into our brains can actually present some positive, constructive, and educational information.

Real Food Real Kitchens is a new PBS cooking show that is just that: Real. Far from the patina falseness of Rachel Ray’s shiny kitchen set, this show portrays actual homes and documents a person making a family recipe. It is at once a look at community, at culture, at health, and at food. And, in a time when we are so far removed from all of these things in this country, it is a welcome change from the usual Food Network lineup. Read more

Putting a Wider Focus on Agriculture

Here in the Good Food Movement, we often find ourselves amidst others with similar backgrounds and interests. It can feel like a bubble, hard to remember the wider reality of what it is we are fighting for and against. We can also get sidetracked into singular mentalities simply due to the complex, multi-layered issues that surround our current food system. It’s important to broaden our scope once and awhile, to expose ourselves to perhaps the very opposite of what we immerse ourselves in on a day-to-day basis.

One example is Focus Agriculture, put on by the Agri-Culture organization, a non-profit offshoot of the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau. This unique “first-in-the-nation” educational program targets business professionals and community leaders, providing a thorough and in-depth look at the multi-faceted arena that is agriculture. Read more