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Ben Taylor: Roots and Rhythms

Ben Taylor, son of legends James Taylor and Carly Simon, has roots as deep in the soil as he does in music, and he uses the stage as a way to spread awareness about local agriculture. He is an avid supporter of the Island Grown Initiative, a multi-faceted project based in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts that sponsors its own farm-to-school program, organizes a cadre of volunteer gleaners to harvest crops that would otherwise go to waste, educates beekeepers, and provides processing facilities for local poultry farmers.

Having heard about the program from his cousin Noli Taylor, Island Grown Schools’ Program Coordinator, Ben noted that the organization “tickled his fancy” for promoting a strong sense of connectedness within the community to the place they call home. Civil Eats recently spoke to Ben about his involvement in good food issues.

As a musician, how did you become involved with issues regarding food and agriculture?

Before I wanted to be a musician, I was looking for anything else that I could do. I’d been on a lot of wilderness excursions and I loved being in nature. When I first moved out of my home as a teenager, I went to New Mexico and worked on an organic farm out on San Juan Pueblo and that was just really cool. The guy that I worked for was this incredible natural mystic and I developed a profound respect [for him] and a different idea of what it meant to be a gardener. Read more

Gleaning for Good: An Old Idea Is New Again

Foraging for food—whether it’s ferreting rare mushrooms in the woods, picking abundant lemons from an overlooked tree, or gathering berries from an abandoned lot—is all the rage among the culinary crowd and the D.I.Y. set, who share their finds with fellow food lovers in fancy restaurant meals or humble home suppers.

But an old-fashioned concept—gleaning for the greater good by harvesting unwanted or leftover produce from farms or family gardens—is also making a comeback during these continued lean economic times. Read more

Berkeley’s Natasha Boissier Forages Fruit, Feeds Hungry

Driving around North Berkeley with Natasha Boissier is an educational experience; where others see a quiet residential area she sees streets lined with potential pickings and delights when she spots prospective bounty or familiar fruit.

Boissier is a part of a growing movement of urban gleaners who pick fruit from people’s yards (with permission) and donate this surplus produce to food banks, senior centers, and schools who can put this fresh food to good use.

Some residents view an abundant fruit tree as a problem but the 42-year-old clinical social worker sees a simple solution to excess bounty and a way to fill a community need. Read more

Street Gleaning (Recipe)

With summer here, and the influx of both wild and planted harvestables gaining momentum, I am taking pause to compare season’s past with now.  Aside from what we’ve chosen for our garden, my typical food foraging generally takes place on my own property, harvesting native wild blackberries, volunteer plums, and miner’s lettuce and wild arugula for supple spring salads.  We’re also fortunate to have access to some prime mushroom hunting, and usually pull in a few pounds of porcini and chanterelles each year.

But this year is weird. Read more

Power to the People: Rebuilding Community in Petaluma

When I think of Petaluma, California I think of a tiny little town 30 minutes or so north of San Francisco home to antique and outlet stores, many a poet and artist, dairy cows and rolling fields nestled next to quaintly rusted industrial-scapes. I have never really given much thought to the families and seniors in line at the free food pantries. The fact is though that Petaluma has changed a lot in the last five to ten years. In 2007 there was a 30% increase in the number of seniors visiting food pantries and a similar 30% increase in the number of children enrolled in the free or reduced price meal program at school. That’s one in three kids and a reminder that all is not as it may seem.

A job-hunting informational interview led me to Petaluma Bounty and Grayson James, the Executive Director of the non-profit dedicated to transforming the way the hungry get fed in Petaluma. Read more

A Farmer Muses on the Art of Gleaning

I have been “gleaning” in various ways my entire adult life.  Gleaning, of course, is an ancient practice by which people go out and collect, salvage, consume and/or otherwise utilize unpicked crops left behind in the field – whether from weather anomalies, variable economics, the lack of timely help or the vagaries of mechanical harvesting.  Today I believe “gleaning” may prove to be as valuable to us as a state of mind – as it is for the tonnage of food actually salvaged or the number of winter larders enhanced. Read more

Small Potatoes, Big Rewards

Rio Thomas is leading a small squad of volunteers through the damp, early morning fields of Alm Hill Farm at the outskirts of Bellingham, Washington. Their voices hushed by the gray sky overhead and limbs still stiff from sleep, this silent band treads carefully across rows of lettuce and strawberry beds before reaching their target – precisely lined-out rows of snap and snow peas with pods dangling loose and sassy like earrings from a gypsy’s ears. Thomas issues instructions to pick only the ripe pods, leave the young ones, and fill their harvest buckets at will. Read more