Thursday, November 28, 2013

National Day Of Thanks

Thanksgiving is a day of thanks that crosses all the boundaries that people build. Americans of all ethnic and religious backgrounds have embraced Thanksgiving and it is one of our universal national holidays. 

I am thankful for many things this year. Chief among them are all the friends and colleagues who have welcomed my family back to the North Coast with open arms. This move -- back across the country less than a year after moving away -- would have been impossible without the generosity and kindness of so many people in this community. There were times that my sanity was tested, but there was also someone there with a solution and a shoulder.

I am also grateful for some of the changes we found when we came back. I'm thankful that the new (to me) Wild Rivers Market is here, providing some products that used to require a trip to Arcata. I'm grateful for Vita Cucina's pizza nights, and for the ongoing delicious-ness of their open-faced roasted veggie sandwich. 

I am especially happy to be on the DNATL food team again. This is challenging work that makes me happy to go to the office (almost) every single day. It is meaningful, it requires thought and research and creativity, and it's one of the best jobs I can imagine.

Even though it didn't work out as a long-term situation, I am grateful for the time I got to spend in the northeast. It was my home for most of my young adulthood and I love many parts of it. As a family, we got to spend lots more time with my extended family and some of my closest friends. It was wonderful.

And now, we are back on the beautiful coast with the tallest trees in the world at our backs. I am grateful for every walk on the beach, every one of the beautiful small stones I pick up, time on the Smith, and each walk among the redwoods.

Life is good.

What are you thankful for this year?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What's Cooking?

Today's post is easy: What's on your menu tomorrow? 

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and a day to remember all the people, events, places, and things we are thankful for this year. Today is for planning; checking lists, dashing off for last-minute forgotten items, maybe starting some prep work.

So what are you cooking tomorrow?

I'll go first. 

Number of people: Six, including two children 7 and under

Location: My newly-borrowed house

Highlights of the menu: For a variety of reasons, we're doing small plates this year instead of one big feed. Thanks to the coming together of Thanksgiving and Chanukah, we'll be starting with an appetizer of latkes (potato pancakes) served with cranberry-orange sauce, sour cream, and a little smoked salmon for those who want to indulge. Both children are very fond of cheese, so we'll be having a cheese and fruit course somewhere during the afternoon. I've got an impressive haul of cheeses thanks to Rumiano's, Face Rock Creamery in Bandon, and a gifted round of Humboldt Fog. Apples, grapes, and bread will round that out. 

Dessert: This is a highlight for many people. I had planned to make an apple pie with a cheddar cheese crust in honor of my nephew, but my own child vetoed that plan. Instead, we are having a pumpkin-praline pie courtesy of Vita Cucina and making a chocolate ganache pie with a Biscoff cookie crust. (I'll be breaking all the rules and boiling a can for a couple hours this afternoon to make dulce de leche to stir into whipped cream tomorrow.)

You don't need to use these categories, but we'd love to know what you're cooking if you'd leave us a comment!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Healthy Food, Healthy Kid

Most parents, at one time or another, struggle with getting their kids to eat the "right" foods. Maybe your kid will eat strawberries by the dozen, but won't touch a vegetable. Or maybe your kid will eat any vegetable as long as it's drowned in cheese sauce. Or maybe your kid won't eat anything but cheerios, three meals a day.

We all know -- and some of us have -- kids who aren't interested in eating anything that comes by vitamins, minerals, or fiber naturally. So what do you do? There are as many different approaches as there are parents. Some go for a three bite rule, others require a clean plate.

Yesterday in the New York Times, the Motherlode column addressed these questions. How, asked KJ Dell'Antonia, do you define a "healthy eater" and how to do you raise one? Plenty of parents chimed in with suggestions and stories. The ones I find comforting are those whose children will eat anything as adults no matter how restricted their food choices were as a child. 

How did you raise or are you raising your healthy eater?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Three Years Of Food Work

Over the past week, we've been preparing for our next Food Council meeting (December 3rd at 5:30, potluck at the FRC) and for our next year. It's been exciting.

One of the pieces I've been working on is a timeline of what we've done. Continuity in the work is a wonderful thing and it helps if more than a few people know what's already happened. Luckily, I not only kept, but brought my calendars from the last several years, and I was able to go through them and pull out highlights of the food work.

We'll have it on display at the meeting, along with a calendar projecting our work in 2014. We're moving forward on a number of different (some completely new) paths and we hope you'll join us!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Michael Pollan's Latest

Before I get to today's post, I should apologize for there being no post yesterday. I briefly contemplated back-dating a post so it would appear that we hadn't missed a day, but that seemed like cheating. Suffice to say there was a sick child involved and a post just wasn't in the cards.

So, moving on.

I recently (as in, this morning) finished reading Michael Pollan's latest, Cooked. I'm not entirely sure why, but I had been avoiding it for a while. Part of it was that I was worried that his conceit of breaking his books into very distinct larger-than-chapter chunks might get old. Not every single subject can be broken down like that. 

I still believe that, but I think it worked out ok for this one. I see where his thinking was, even if I don't completely agree.

But let me back up.

Cooked is about the human ability to transform raw, whole foods into something new and greater than the sum of its parts. Pollan tackles this one cooking technique at a time, focusing each segment of the book on Fire, Water, Air, or Earth. Fire comes first and is about the art of the grill, specifically, the art of barbecue. Water is about slow-braised foods, such as stews, hearty sauces, and just about anything else that can be cooked slowly in liquids. Bread and the magic of yeast is at the heart of Air. And Earth is about the foods created by the same microbes found in the soil: fermentation. 

(And the Earth section is where this four-part harmony breaks down a little. The subject is so complex that it doesn't fit the "one recipe for each element" theme of the book; it's broken down into three smaller sections, one for fermented veggies, one for cheese, and one for beer.)

In the end, I enjoyed the whole book and loved parts of it. The microbiology of cheese? Loved it. The entire section about cooking whole pigs? Not for me, so much. If you like reading and thinking about cooking and the chemistry and biology behind some of our most-favorite food categories, this is a great book to add to your wish-list.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Healthy: Support A Ban On Trans-Fats

I don't know that you need a megaphone, but it's time again to talk to the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA recently decided that trans-fats, the former darlings of highly processed foods, cannot be "generally recognized as safe". They are proposing a ban on the use of trans-fats in foods manufactured and sold in the United States. This seems reasonable for a substance that isn't recognized as safe. Or as actual food.

But, of course, Big Food and Big Ag are likely to fight this new rule and they have lots of money to bring to the fight. So the FDA needs to hear from citizens-who-are-not-corporations. The public comment period for this rule change lasts for 60 days from the announcement, which came early last week. The Center for Science in the Public Interest is providing a template for those wanting to lodge a comment on the regulation. 

You can learn more about trans-fat and the proposed ban on the FDA's website.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Do-It-Yourself Food Workshops

Food Day 2013 has come and gone, and those of us who were on the planning end of the events could hardly be happier with the results and turnout. Amongst other things, we were able to hold a series of DIY workshops based around different aspects of food, including growing, cooking, storing, and more. The day of the workshops was one of the most well received events we had for Food Day, and we planners were just as excited as those in attendance. We were particularly excited at the prospect of continuing these workshops throughout the year. Due to various time and budget constraints, we were only able to have one day with multiple classes, and were not able to do the publicity that such an event deserves. Needless to say, things were hectic with logistics for the day, and we felt overall attendance could have been helped by increased publicity. So now we have all of 2014. A whole year to spread out as many DIY Workshops as we can, over the seasons, months, maybe even weeks!

Like at every Food Day event, we had people fill out evaluation sheets after the DIY classes. I know some people think that those evaluations are pointless sometimes, but I assure you we read through every single one and took suggestions to heart! We are using those evaluation sheets to guide ideas for workshops in 2014 and we have already begun planning. Here is just a little taste of the types of workshops you can look forward to in 2014:

  • Winter cooking (i.e. soups, bread, foods to warm the house!)
  • Canning (a comprehensive, multi-day course on how to can everything from jam to smoked salmon)
  • Smoking meat and fish
  • Cheese making
  • Seasonal foraging
  • Tree pruning/grafting/orchard care
  • Soil preparation and testing
  • Seed starting
And that's just touching on the ideas for Winter and Spring. We now have plenty of time, and more funding, and we are going to work hard on making sure these classes are worthwhile for Del Norters. Keep your eyes and ears peeled in the near future and look for more info in the Triplicate, KCRE, this blog, and our Facebook page!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

CAFF Calendars In Del Norte

Every year, the Humboldt chapter of the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) produces a gorgeous calendar. It is filled with photographs of local farms, farmers, and produce taken by the very talented Chris Wisner. Chris has an unmatched eye for seeing the beauty in food and farming, and produced both images in this post. The calendar raises funds for CAFF's work of supporting and promoting local farmers in and around Humboldt County.

This year's calendar ventures north to Del Norte County and features two of our wonderful organic farms: Ocean Air Farms and Alexandre EcoDairy. Photos of the Paul and Julie Jo, their produce, and the near-iconic images of the Alexandre's pastured poultry grace several pages of the calendar.

Not only does the calendar feature Del Norte farms, it is also being sold in several locations locally (as well as online at CAFF's website linked above). Del Norte Office Supply, Hiouchi Hamlet, Jefferson State Books, Vita Cucina, and Wild Rivers Market are all selling the calendars. Many thanks to them for supporting CAFF and, through CAFF, our local farms and farmers!

The calendars make great gifts for anyone who loves local food and farms. They don't have to live here to appreciate the beauty of our food system. If you've got someone on your list who has everything, a CAFF calendar is a great gift: practical, beautiful, and, at the end of the year, recyclable! (Although, really, who could send these beautiful ladies to the recycling bin?)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sustainable: Is Population Growth Or Changing Diet Driving Increased Food Needs?

In 1798, Thomas Malthus wrote a treatise on population growth, in which he stoked fear that unfettered growth among the working class would lead to widespread food shortages in the future. The Malthusian premise has been repeated over and over again: population growth will eventually overwhelm our ability to feed everyone on the planet. (You can read an excellent description of how Malthus came to his opinions and how the debate manifests in our present on the Fieldquestions blog.)

Malthusian ideas circulate in debates over food and agricultural policy on a regular basis and the debate over GMOs and their role in "feeding the world" is no exception. In his article about changing the global food narrative, Jonathan Foley states the current food narrative this way:

"The world’s population will grow to 9 billion by mid-century, putting substantial demands on the planet’s food supply. To meet these growing demands, we will need to grow almost twice as much food by 2050 as we do today. And that means we’ll need to use genetically modified crops and other advanced technologies to produce this additional food. It’s a race to feed the world, and we had better get started."

But, he argues, this is not a realistic view.

There are currently 7 billion people on the planet, so how can adding two billion to that number require twice as much food? The math doesn't add up unless you also factor in changing diets. As people around the world move into a middle class, they are often adopting the "standard Western diet", heavy on meat and dairy products. This is what will create the need for twice the production, as land is used to grow food for cattle instead of people.

Emily Cassidy makes this point as well, calculating the number of additional people who could be fed if US cropland currently devoted to raising animal feed instead was used to grow plant foods for direct human consumption. Though some of her assumptions may be flawed, it is clear that the shape of the human diet around the world matters as much or more than the number of people on the planet.

Does this mean that everyone should become an instant vegetarian? No. But it does mean that cutting back on meat consumption, even in small ways, can help. 

Monday, November 18, 2013


Years ago, I remember reading about a program in New York City that allowed a person to go to an immigrant grandmother's house and take cooking lessons from them. I was reminded of that this morning and tried to find the original article (I'm pretty sure it was in the New York Times), but failed. I did find the League of Kitchens, which may or may not be the same thing I read about. While not promising grandmothers, they organize cooking and cultural experiences in the kitchens of immigrants across the city, which I think is just awesome.

What reminded me of the article was this photo spread of grandmothers around the world posing first with the ingredients for their "signature dish" and then with the finished product. It's a lovely photo series, taken by Gabriele Galimberti during a world wide couch-surfing trip. You can see all his photos on his website and get much more background about the dish, but I had some trouble getting things to load properly using the site's navigation tools. He calls the series "Delicatessen with love".

Just as with our earlier post about food around the world, I am struck by how much variation there is in the number of ingredients, and particularly, the difference in how many vegetables are in the dish. There are some that are mostly vegetable, a few that look completely vegetarian, and many that are mostly meat. Part of the meat-focus is probably that the women were asked to prepare a signature dish, which might be interpreted as a festive dish, much more likely to highlight meat.

But the truth is that many people around the world are switching from mostly-vegetarian diets to eating more meat, as incomes rise and people are able to adopt a more western diet. This has huge implications for global food needs in the coming decades and will be the subject of tomorrow's post.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Civil Eats: Policy Dinner

Several weeks ago, I gave money to a Kickstarter campaign to support the website Civil Eats. The site provides news and special interest stories around food, farming, and activism and I wanted to help it continue.

Their campaign was successful, so this resource will be around for a while. It seems right to share news from it occasionally. This morning, I read about a meal hosted by the James Beard Foundation.  JBF is an organization perhaps best known for giving awards for excellence to chefs and restaurants, but it is much more than that. Their mission is "to celebrate, nurture, and honor America's diverse culinary heritage through programs that educate and inspire."

Recently, they hosted a dinner prepared both physically and philosophically by Chef Maria Hines, chef-owner of Tilth in Seattle. When asked to cook for this dinner, Hines saw a chance to weave food policy into her menu and named each course for a pending piece of food and farming legislation. The food was inspired by the bill. You can read the full article on Civil Eats.

What struck me in the article was a reference Chef Hines made to a food policy boot camp she attended, put on by the Foundation. These boot camps bring together 15 chefs for three days to gain media and advocacy skills needed to improve our food system. Chefs have direct ties to food and farming issues, so who better to take a lead in fighting for better policies? If you know a chef who cares deeply about food and demonstrates that care on their menu (and I do!), consider forwarding the boot camp link to them. We can't have too many chefs pushing for change -- the more the merrier!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Get Your Veg On!

If you're in Del Norte county and reading this on Saturday or Sunday, put down the computer and drive over to Fort Dick to pick up farm fresh veggies, handmade bowls, the gorgeous 2014 CAFF calendar (featuring Alexandre Dairy and Ocean Air Farms), and much more at Ocean Air Farms' weekend farm stand!

Our local farmers markets are closed for the year, but Paul and Julie Jo are opening up on select weekends through the winter to keep us supplied with locally-grown produce.

Open 10 to 5 on Saturday and 12 to 5 on Sunday, the farm stand is located at 190 Bolen Lane, in Fort Dick. Look for signs off of Morehead Road. More details available on the farm's Facebook page:

Support our local farms and farmers!

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Week's Food

Years ago, I wandered the world via Peter Menzel's Material World: A Global Family Portrait. Each page is a photograph of a family portrayed outside their home, surrounded by all their possessions. It is humbling to live in the consumer-driven United States and see pictures of how people in other countries live. 

Menzel teamed up with Faith D'Aluisio several years ago to document what people eat, creating Hungry Planet: What the World Eats. Covering 24 different countries, the book again portrays families, but this time surrounded by a week's worth of groceries. You can see some of the images here, in a post that's capturing the Facebook audience this week.

Looking at the images yesterday morning, I was struck partly by the differences in the amount of food, but much more by what foods are represented and how they are packaged. The ratio of packaged, processed foods to whole foods varied considerably between the families and countries. The implications of these food choices go beyond the dietary health of the families to the health of local and global environments.

If you were to gather up your weekly groceries, what would they look like? Would they be closer to the packaged bounty of the United States or the fresh-produce filled table of Mexico (if we ignore the row of two liter soda bottles at the back)?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A look at microbes, from various angles

Bacteria. I'm quickly becoming more and more convinced that bacteria is about the most fascinating form of life on our planet. And I've just barely scratched a tiny fraction of the surface on the subject of bacteria and microbes and the way they affect us and the world. Oh, why didn't I study microbiology in college!?! Well, it makes no difference, since all the information on most any subject we want is readily available to us, thanks to the internet, I can read about bacteria all I want for free!

This blog post was inspired by a couple different things. For one, my friend and co-blogger recently shared an article with me about the fascinating new work that's being done in academia to study and map the so-called "microbiome" of human bodies. That is, all the living microbes that inhabit our bodies and actually outnumber our own cells on a 10 to 1 scale (link). The other reason, is that I just happened to go down to Wild Rivers Market to pick up a kombucha, only to find that my drink already had a a fully grown SCOBY in it (SCOBY= Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast - picture for reference).

These two occurrences today got me thinking about bacteria from multiple viewpoints, but mostly based around the stigma that bacteria still carries.

Now there's no denying that some bacteria can be harmful. Although the VAST, VAST minority of bacteria are actually pathogens, those bad ones can still really harm people, as anyone who has ever been sick knows. Through most of human history, we had no idea why people were always getting sick, no idea how to really treat infections properly, and no idea what was causing sickness. It wasn't until a Dutch cloth merchant/microbiologist named Antony van Leeuwenhoek discovered bacteria in the 1670's that we found out what was causing all this sickness. From then on, bacteria became the enemy. Especially in the medical world and food processing industry, bacteria was seen as the cause of most problems and was fought with everything we could come up with. Louis Pasteur's discoveries led to the process of pasteurization, exposing things to heat to kill off all bacteria and microbes. Now, Pasteur's discoveries definitely saved countless lives, a controlling exposure to bacteria is absolutely necessary for many industries. However, the world was also left with the idea that bacteria is always harmful and needs to be eliminated at every turn.

As explored in the article linked above, the scientific community is just recently coming back around to really embracing and understanding the important role that bacteria plays in all our lives. Bacteria was never the enemy, and scientists are discovering how it's really bacteria that keeps us alive, keeps us healthy, the bacteria in our bodies and the bacteria that we can get from food.

I became interested in this topic as I learned more about fermentation. There is still very much a stigma around bacteria in our food, even though many foods and drinks people eat regularly depend on bacteria and other microbes (fermented foods and drinks). Many people would probably be way too freaked out to drink my kombucha with the SCOBY in it, despite the fact that it is that bacteria and yeast that is creating the health benefits of the drink. And the stigma is still institutionalized. My friends and I had a booth at this summer's Farmer's Market, selling fermented food and drinks. Despite CA recently passing more lax regulations on what can be sold at farmers markets, we were still shut down because our foods with living organisms in them are still considered "dangerous" and cannot be sold without lengthy inspections and permitting first. With the scientific community just recently coming around to embracing bacteria, it seems the regulatory community is further behind, and just doesn't know how to deal with these strange microbes.

This blog post was pretty on-the-fly, so I didn't do much in the way of quoting direct facts or statistics. Instead, i will give you some anecdotal stories and info about bacteria that I have found fascinating.

  • The way doctors have traditionally treated bacterial infections is to prescribe a heavy dose of antibiotics, killing off the harmful bacteria, along with a lot of other bacteria in the body that is not harmful. Recently, doctors have been looking at the problem from a different angle, and they are finding out that the real problem is not presence of bacteria, but the IMBALANCE of bacteria, i.e. not enough of the good, healthy bacteria. One of the simplest examples of treatments that follow that idea is the treatment of ear infections. Instead of prescribing a dose of antibiotics when you have an ear infection, doctors have found that taking a q-tip and collecting wax from your healthy ear, then sticking the q-tip in your infected ear is drastically more affective at treating an ear infection. Similarly (and it gets a little gross here), there is a new controversial treatment for intestinal infections that is gaining ground and getting approval from the FDA. In the case of people with bacterial infections in their guts, doctors will do a fecal transplant. As in, they will take the feces from a healthy person's digestive tract and implant it into the sick person, allowing the healthy bacteria to overtake the pathogens. Sounds crazy/disgusting? The Mayo Clinic has found it to be over 90% effective.
  • The process of fermentation leaves the fermented food or drink packed full of "probiotics," which are micro-organisms that are the byproduct of fermentation, found in large supply in foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha. In a recent RadioLab episode, titled "Guts" the hosts discuss a scientific experiment testing the effect of probiotics on our guts, and our brains. SCIENCE! Quick lesson: our stomachs actually have millions of neurons in them, giving them a direct link to the brain, especially the parts of our brains affecting emotion. The majority of serotonin in our bodies, the neurotransmitter responsible for our feelings of happiness and contentment, is actually found in our stomachs, not brains. It's just that the serotonin has no efficient way of making it to the brain to affect our emotions. Enter probiotics... in the experiment, they gave a series of stress tests to rats with varying degrees of probiotics in their diets. The rats with excessive amounts of probiotics in their diet (lots and lots of yogurt), responded exceedingly well to the stress tests and were found to be the happiest, most content of their test subjects. They found that probiotics create an extremely efficient pathway for the neurons in our stomachs to uptake the massive amounts of serotonin stored there, in a way no other food or microorganism has been able to. What this means is that there is direct scientific evidence that a diet heavy in probiotics can make you a happier person!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Affordable: The Reality of SNAP Cuts

In a letter to Congress in May, 1969, President Richard Nixon wrote:

"We have long thought of the United States as the most bounteous of nations. In our conquest of the most elemental of human needs, we have set a standard that is a wonder and aspiration for the rest of the world. Our agricultural system produces more food than we can consume, and our private food market is the most effective food distribution system ever developed. So accustomed are most of us to a full and balanced diet that, until recently, we have thought of hunger and malnutrition as problems only in far less fortunate countries.

"But in the past few years we have awakened to the distressing fact that despite our material abundance and agricultural wealth, many Americans suffer from malnutrition....That hunger and malnutrition should persist in a land such as ours is embarrassing and intolerable."

In this letter, President Nixon called for improvements to what is now called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), urged a new model of nutrition assistance for mothers and children (that became WIC), and called for food processors and distributors to join this fight for improved nutrition across the country.

Forty-four years later, hunger and malnutrition are still affecting millions of Americans. SNAP now serves one in seven Americans, mostly children.

Now, in the effort to cut government spending to the bone, a 2009 increase in SNAP benefits has expired and Congress shows no intention to reinstate it. For many people still struggling from the recession and the continued lack of jobs, the cut to their SNAP benefits may leave empty plates on dinner tables. For families already living in poverty, a reduction of just 20 or 30 dollars can make the big difference.

Our agricultural production has more than kept pace with population growth. In 2006, American farmers produced enough food for each person to consume 3,900 calories per day, almost double the recommended caloric intake for an adult. And yet, not everyone is getting the bare minimum.

Surely, if it was "embarrassing and intolerable" for hunger to exist in our country (or our world, which also produces more calories than needed to feed everyone) in 1969, it is even more true now. The reality of the SNAP cuts are that more people will go hungry; food banks will be busier than ever, but unable to make up the shortfall; and stores in under-served areas that rely on SNAP purchases will suffer. 

The most important part of that is that more people will go hungry. And that is embarrassing and intolerable.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Life In A Small Town

Growing Tables is coming to you today from Vita Cucina, our local bakery and cafe. Vita, as it is lovingly called, serves breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Friday, and pizza (plus) for dinner on Thursday and Friday evenings. They buy local for their menu whenever they can, and do most of their cooking from scratch: they smoke their own meats, make the bread for their outstanding sandwiches, and occasionally even bake their own pita bread to order! We at Growing Tables are very fond of Vita Cucina and their proximity to our office.

But today, I'm not here to eat. I'm here to watch my seven-year-old-tomorrow daughter apprentice herself to Vita's primary baker. Part of her birthday present is getting to help make the cupcakes she'll take to school tomorrow. She has been obsessed with cupcakes for a few months now, choosing cookbooks from the library, buying a couple to keep, and watching cooking shows, especially Cupcake Wars. 

While I might prefer that she was reading vegetable cookbooks or soup cookbooks or any other "growing food" cookbooks, I'll take what I can get. Learning to cook at an early age will help her navigate life later on. She'll learn math, proportions, science, and art. She'll understand better where her food comes from. She'll learn respect for ingredients and flavors.

In a bigger community, there might be classes she could take about making cakes and cupcakes. She could take Wilson classes at a craft store. And that would be fine. But here, she is able to come into a space she knows well and work with someone she considers a friend to create her special cupcakes. Last week, she came in and consulted with Vita about what kind of cupcakes she wanted to make. So far today, she's helped make the cupcakes and the buttercream, and she's about to help fill them with mousse.

So this afternoon, I'm a contented mom sitting at a table watching through the shelves as she measures and mixes, learning a craft from a master.

Monday, November 11, 2013

On This Veterans Day

On this Veterans Day, we should all be thankful to those who have served in our armed forces and those who currently serve.

In all wars, soldiers sacrifice: time with their families; health and well-being; sleep and comfort; and far too often, their lives. But in wars past, there was a greater sense of shared sacrifice than there is today, with the family and community members left behind finding their own role in what was called the "war effort". 

During World War II, women were called to work for the war effort. They took on non-combat roles, they worked in the munitions factories, and they became heads of households as husbands and fathers were conscripted.

 But the war effort was bigger than the army and munitions plants during the world wars, both here and abroad. In both the US and England, food was a huge part of the war effort as massive armies require massive amounts of food. With men being pulled off the farms, not just out of the factories, women and children stepped in there, too.

Victory Gardens were encouraged to increase production of fresh vegetables. Women were urged to "can all you can" to provide winter food for the household. Victory Gardens were seen as a way to stretch ration cards, free up food supplies for the troops, and reduce the need to transport food by increasing local production, thereby saving fuel.

According to the National WWII Museum website (linked above), at the height of WWII, there were 20,000,000 Victory Gardens producing 40% of all fresh vegetables grown in the United States. Over the course of the war, that was the equivalent of more than a million tons of fresh produce.

The home front mentality, the sense that we are all part of the war effort, seems largely absent from our country during our current decade of war. Without the draft, fewer families have loved ones serving in the armed forces and there is no organized national effort to save or conserve resources in order to support our troops. Yet in a world where war is increasingly about shrinking resources -- oil, gas, and yes, food -- the war effort on the home front could radically decrease our dependence on foreign oil and imported foods. So today, thank a veteran, drive a little less, and start looking for a sunny spot in your yard for a spring Victory Garden. We can all be superheroes in this fight:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Full Menu

I have a short list of more serious topics that are waiting for posts, but given the holiday weekend, it seems better to stick with less weighty matters for now. So having teased with last night's post about our dinner at the Requa Inn, I thought I'd post the full menu for your enjoyment. This is fine dining at its finest, with local ingredients, many foraged by the chefs, highlighted to bring out their best.

First:  Alaskan halibut, crispy nori and herbs, wild rice

Second: Smoked trout, beetroot, chanterelle

Third: Kuri squash, chevre, pepperwood

Fourth: Chestnut tart, exotic fruits

Fifth: Matsutake mushroom, stinging nettle, smoked sturgeon

Sixth: Glazed sweet potato (elk for meat-eaters), canario beans, cherries, wild ginger

Seventh: Bitter root custard, caramel, orange

Eighth: Parsnip, vanilla, grapes, candy nuts

If you're looking for a meal you won't forget in a beautiful setting, you can't get much better than this. Into this package, you also get stunning redwood forests, a rocky coast with sea stacks and sea mammals, and undammed rivers for fishing, kayaking, and swimming. How could you possibly go wrong?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Food In Del Norte

We are not a big city. We don't have celebrity chefs opening up Michelin-starred restaurants on every other corner. But we have our hidden gems and I had the great pleasure to eat at one of them tonight. 

My wedding anniversary was last month and I was here in Del Norte County and my husband was on the other side of the country. So now that we're both here, we attended the beer-maker's dinner at the Historic Requa Inn as a late anniversary splurge.

It was eight small courses of complete deliciousness, with surprises on almost every plate. Like the beans in the sixth course. How can beans taste that good and be so creamy? Or the pureed squash in the third course that was served with savory meringues? 

If you live in Del Norte and can afford a once-a-year splurge, there is nowhere better to splurge that the Requa for one of their tasting dinners. And if you don't live in Del Norte, it is worth the trip. The inn has rooms overlooking the beautiful Klamath River near its mouth. It's a lovely place to stay, and the tasting dinners will rival anything you've eaten anywhere.

Chefs Thomas Wortman and Paul Hess outdid themselves tonight and if it weren't for my self-imposed obligation to blog today, I would still be in a complete fog of food happiness. Truly, it was a meal to remember.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Healthy: Remove Soda From Kids' Menus

As we mentioned yesterday, Food Day is viewed by its founders as a year-long effort to improve our food systems, locally and globally. In that spirit, we will continue to post news and information following Food Day's four-word tagline: Healthy. Sustainable. Affordable. Fair.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is the main driver behind Food Day and also works year-round to push for better access to healthy foods. They regularly call for consumers to take action on specific issues.

This week, McDonald's announced that they will remove soda from their kids' menus, after an earlier false start. They join a few other national chains including Subway and Chipotle who no longer directly market soda to children. This is a big step, given how directly soda consumption has been tied to childhood obesity.

But there's more work to do. Most national chains still offer soda as an option in kids menu meal packages. The Center for Science in the Public Interest is asking consumers to take action by sending a message to the CEOs of other national chains asking them to follow suit. You can make a difference: follow the previous link to send your own message.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Food Day All Year Long

The founders of Food Day view it a little like a mushroom. The events on and immediately surrounding October 24th are supposed to be the fruiting parts of a year-long effort to improve the local, regional, and national food system.

And so, with Food Day 2013 just two weeks in the past, it's time to start looking forward to next year's celebrations and the work we need to do to get there.

On Tuesday, I got to attend a day-long workshop on culinary and agritourism. As I mentioned the next day, going to an Oregon Wild Rivers Coast tourism event made me ponder our place where the Wild Rivers Coast meets the Redwood Coast. It's a beautiful place to be, as we all know, but how can we forge bonds with both regions in a meaningful way?

One possibility is to create itineraries that highlight some of the best that all four counties -- Humboldt, Del Norte, Curry, and the southern end of Coos, from south to north -- have to offer. Food Day starts on a Friday next year, which lends itself well to expanding the offerings into a Food Weekend. 

Travel Oregon is a sponsor of an amazing array of activities that all fall under the name, FEAST Portland. The lineup in Portland is incredible, but I'm taking more inspiration from the "Trails to FEAST" created by the folks at Travel Oregon. These are themed driving itineraries covering beer, cheese, wine, and other specialty foods. They include tips for where to stay, where to eat, what not to miss. Now, I wish (because of the name) they actually LED to Portland and FEAST Portland, but they don't. They're more regionally-based.

But imagine, if you will, cheese trails leading from Humboldt, Rogue Valley, and Oregon's Wild Rivers Coast creameries converging on Crescent City for a cheese making workshop. Or a weekend itinerary starting in southern Humboldt and hitting every creamery and cheese destination from there to Bandon, with tastings, workshops, and tours along the whole route.

This is one of the things we're dreaming of for next year's Food Day celebrations. If you would like to be involved in planning events like this, join us! There are always new places at the table.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Food Safety Modernization Act: How You Can Make It Better!

Food safety has been in the news a lot over the past few years, as we have seen increased outbreaks of E. coli, Salmonella, and other food-borne illnesses. Many of these outbreaks have been linked to specific farms or processing facilities, almost all of them of industrial scale. Food-borne illnesses are serious and sometimes cause multiple deaths during a single outbreak.

Some food safety issues are home-based. It is important for consumers to know how to properly store, handle, and cook raw, whole foods. But most of these outbreaks have nothing to do with what home cooks did or did not do, so improvements in food safety need to focus on food production and processing.

Congress recently passed a bill updating food safety laws called the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), partly in reaction to recent outbreaks. The Food and Drug Administration is currently working to implement the new law and is accepting public comments on two pieces of their new regulations.

Clearly, food safety is an important issue and shouldn't be taken lightly. Neither should it treat all producers and processors in the same way. Small family farms cannot afford to the same kinds of technology as large corporate farms, nor can they survive under paperwork burdens larger operators can handle. Short, local supply chains have rarely been linked to large outbreaks of food-borne illnesses and should be treated differently under the new regulations than industrial-scale farming and processing companies.

Unfortunately, a few key provisions of the FSMA designed to shield small farms from unreasonable (and unwarranted) regulations are not reflected in the FDA's regulations. For example, the FDA has listed farmers markets and CSAs as "manufacturing facilities" rather than retail outlets, opening them up to massive new regulations. Clearly, anyone who has attended a farmers market knows it is about buying and selling produce, not processing or manufacturing food. 

So what can be done to prevent the new FDA rules from hurting small farmers? Comment now! The comment period for two key pieces of the new rules (the Produce Rule and the Preventative Control Rule) is open until November 15th. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has a guide for both consumers and farmers, giving sample talking points and explaining how to submit your comments to the FDA. If you want to support local farmers who stand (very directly, at the farmers markets) behind their product, tell the FDA to recognize the difference between small-scale and industrial agriculture.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Redwoods? Wild Rivers? Both?

I spent today at a Rural Tourism Studio run by Travel Oregon. Today's workshop focused on culinary and agritourism and is part of a four-month series of trainings run by the destination development branch of Travel Oregon. It was a great day and I'm looking forward to going back for more over the next few months.

Today, though, clarified in my mind a big question for our region: redwoods or wild rivers or both? The southern Oregon and far northern California coast is often marketed at the Wild Rivers Coast, running from Bandon, OR, to Klamath, CA, more or less. Del Norte County and Humboldt County, CA are often referred to together as the Redwood Coast or the North Coast or the Redwood Region. Del Norte is very firmly placed in both regions: we have great redwood forests and beautiful wild rivers.

In marketing our area, do we look north to Oregon or south to Humboldt? Or do we try to position ourselves as a gateway to both regions? Some links already exist to both regions. 

(There were other ideas and questions and inspiration and collaboration that came out of today's workshop, but it was a long day, and everything else will have to wait.)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Food Tourism

I grew up in a small town in New York that was rural and agricultural. It was also an hour and a half drive from Manhattan, something people sometimes have a hard time picturing. But it's true: Less than two hours from the big, wicked city, my small town (the village had 6,000 people when I was in high school) was filled with pick your own apple orchards; dairy farms being run by the seventh generation of the same families; 12,000 acres of the best soil on earth, mostly planted to onions; and a bustling fall tourist industry fueled by apple picking, apple cider, hay mazes, and pumpkin patches.

I worked in one of the orchards for two or three years, pulling cases of cider out of a refrigerated truck and collecting thousands of dollars in a single day from city dwellers who had come for their annual day in the country. I even had NYC taxis come through my line occasionally!

So I know that tourism based on farms and food can work. Heck, I participate in it wherever I go. I visit farmers markets and specialty food shops and haunt Yelp for restaurant recommendations any time I travel. 

This all leads up to my being very excited for tomorrow! Travel Oregon, the state office of tourism for our neighbors, are putting on a series of tourism workshops for the Oregon part of the Wild Rivers Coast. There are some great topics (Wednesday is bicycle tourism, for instance, and there are tourism marketing workshops early next year), but tomorrow I'm heading to Gold Beach for eight hours of training in Culinary- and Agri-Tourism! 

Thanks to our location at the north end of the Redwood National and State Parks, a steady stream of people drive through Del Norte County. A lot of them, unfortunately, drive straight through without stopping for more than a short hike and a quick stop at one of the visitor centers. We have more to offer than the magnificent redwoods and I think our food and farms are one of our developing attractions. I'll spend tomorrow listening and learning and hope to return to our part of the Wild Rivers Coast with some thoughts about attracting more tourist time, attention, and dollars on our food system.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

DIY Food Workshops

Our last day of Food Day events featured six successful DIY Food Workshops. People came to learn about hunting wild mushrooms and keeping backyard chickens, among other things. We heard a lot of excitement in the community for these workshops and so we plan to do more of them!

We asked participants, what other DIY food topics do you want you learn about? People suggested permaculture, meat and fish smoking, more canning, and a variety of other subjects. 

And now we're asking YOU! Are there workshops you'd like to see offered? Foods you want to know how to produce or prepare? Or is there something that you know how to do that you'd like to teach to others? We have a variety of resources to make these classes happen, so bring on a list! Let us know in the comments what DIY Food Workshops you'd like to see next.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

More Good News Grows At Crescent Elk

We've featured successes from the Crescent Elk Middle School garden before, but this time Joe Gillespie and his students have taken things a step further. They have been providing food to the school kitchens on a regular basis and have been featured in a "Know Your Farmer" spot! It's a great way to close the circle and make an impact:

Friday, November 1, 2013

It's That Time Of Year...

Each November for many years now has brought National Blog Posting Month, in which hundreds, thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of bloggers commit themselves to blog every day for a month. We blogged every day for Lent a few years ago, but Growing Tables has never participated in NaBloPoMo.

Until now.

This month, we will blog every day. It will be fun. For you, at least, I hope.

Probably, you have a calendar you can follow along with as we blog through November, but you might not have a calendar for next year yet. If that's the case, let me recommend that you find yourself a copy of the new 2014 Humboldt CAFF calendars! Each year, the Community Alliance with Family Farmers creates a spectacular calendar of photographs by the great Chris Wisner. Chris has an eye for capturing the beauty of produce and farms and this year's photos are no different. 

What is different is that he captured two Del Norte farms for the 2014 photo shoot. Alexandre Eco-Dairy and Ocean Air Farms are both featured in the calendar and CAFF is currently working to find Del Norte outlets to sell the calendar so we can all hang it on our walls. As soon as outlets are confirmed, we'll post it here.

Enjoy November!