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Archive for the ‘Urban Farming’ Category

HOMEGROWN Life: The Great Pumpkin Debate

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

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Those who know me know just how much I LOVE Halloween. Tom and I even got married on Halloween, in the ultimate DIY labor of love. Half of the tower is packed with Halloween decor, most of it being the classy Martha Stewart-esque type of decor. No plastic crap for us.

So it was kind of a surprise last year when I decided to forgo growing pumpkins. Between pumpkins and zucchini, I didn’t want to deal with the whole saving-seeds thing. (Both are the same species, C. pepo.) I also decided not to “waste” space on nonedibles. Pumpkins, the jack-o’-lantern types, are edible but bland, watery, and stringy. We just don’t eat them. Of course, when I made my decision, fall, my favorite time of year, was well behind us. I think my judgment was clouded, because now I’m sitting here mad that I didn’t grow any pumpkins.

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Granted, I did grow some Musquee de Provence squash, otherwise known as “fairytale pumpkins.” They’re gorgeous but they just aren’t the same. They aren’t easy to carve, and I would prefer not to waste them on jack-o’-lanterns because they are good eating. But they’re also big, and I find that, around here, big squash go uneaten because we never want to cook a whole one all at once. We generally don’t want to eat squash two days in a row, either. The other squash we’re growing this year, rather unsuccessfully, is Marina di Chioggia, also known as a sea pumpkin. (Notice a theme here?) It’s a type of turban: big, green, and warty. It has the most amazing flavor I’ve ever had in a squash. But they don’t make very good substitutes for pumpkins.

DIF3I’ve spent years growing pumpkins. Most years were pretty disappointing, but I continued to try to grow them. I remember how excited I was about the very first pumpkin I was able to produce. The plant in the picture at left gave us four of these monsters, each weighing more than 50 pounds, with the largest topping out at 75 pounds. These weren’t even a giant pumpkin variety. They were Howdens, the typical jack-o’-lantern, grown with a good helping of chicken manure. if you couldn’t tell, I’m very proud of these. So is Squeek.

This is what I want to start growing again. Big orange pumpkins. So this coming year, I’m going back to growing pumpkins—and also some other squash, such as Tromboncino, Acorn, Spaghetti, Marina di Chioggia, and probably some other random types. I’m rather enamored with Iran squash, which Baker Creek now carries seeds for.

Are you growing gourds this year? What kinds? Got any suggestions to add to the Leftover Pumpkin Parts 101?

Rachel-Dog-Island-FarmRachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better! 

HOMEGROWN Life: Farmer Bryce’s Take on New USDA Funding

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

 

HOMEGROWN-life-bryce-logo-150x150I’m a small farmer struggling to pay the bills and keep the farm alive. Farming takes time and money, which sometimes turns out to be the same thing. Even if everything works out and the harvest is good, it takes money to buy more animals or to build fences or to pay for seeds or soil improvements.

So, like the vast, vast majority of farmers, my wife and I both work off the farm to pay our regular bills, and we try to keep the farming happening at the same time. That doesn’t make us special or unique. Net farm income is actually negative, as farmers tend to defer paying themselves in favor of reinvesting in their farms’ future capacity. USDA Economic Research Service reports, somewhat startlingly, that 85 to 95 percent of farm income comes from “off farm” sources.

In terms of off-farm work, I count myself lucky. I work on a variety of rural economic development projects related to local food production, expanding access to resources for small farmers, rural infrastructure projects, and renewable energy programs. Generally, I help do paperwork: writing grants, getting startup capital in place, writing business plans, et cetera.

Involvement with projects like these puts me in a position of being very attuned to the policies, priorities, and investments made by USDA through a wide variety of programs. And, as you might expect, I get frustrated and confused about what exactly USDA’s multipronged approach means when it comes to distributing resources on the ground.

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For instance, one of my favorite USDA programs of all is the Community Food Projects Grants. This week, USDA announced that it would be providing $4.8 million in funding to innovative local food and healthy eating projects. In terms of combining job creation with nutrition and healthy food distribution, CFPs are a hugely impactful and beneficial program. Some of my favorite organizations, like the Missouri Rural Crisis Center and Cultivate KC, have paired CFP investments with internal and private funding sources to build long-standing efforts that support urban and family farmers in improving access to good food for low-income families.

That said, it boggles my mind why such an impactful program like CFP continues to have such a limited volume of funding compared to other USDA funding streams. This week, for instance, USDA also announced a $40 million bump to the commercial canned salmon industry, in order to “clear last year’s inventory” as they are canning up this year’s catch. The canned salmon will be distributed to food banks across the country.

Now, I’m not complaining here about the purchase of salmon—a healthy food and possibly sustainable industry in its own right—for low-income families. I want to be clear that I have no problem with using resources to feed hungry families with nutritious food. But what rattles me is the wide disparity of scale between the two programs, $4.8 million versus $40 million: one to prop up small organizations building healthy food infrastructure and jobs to support local economies, the other to bail out a well-established industry from overproduction.

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I’m only using the salmon purchase here to demonstrate a very small point because, in reality, both of these programs are a drop in the bucket. I mention the salmon program because I heard about it on the radio while I was watering my spinach patch. The truth is USDA invests nearly all of its resources in SNAP (food stamps) and a safety net for crop producers (crop subsidies and crop insurance). That’s where the true disparity resides.

Here’s what’s frustrating: spending time and effort to build a project team, budget, and people’s hopes that we can make meaningful change in their lives. And then competing with other, similar projects that could make meaningful change in people’s lives. Frankly, it seems like we’re fighting over the crumbs at the table.

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Once again, I’m glad USDA has these minimal local food programs available. I’m glad important soil and water conservation programs are up and running and that USDA is committed to renewable energy. I’m glad USDA has expanded its work with beginning farmers and socially disadvantaged farming communities, including African-American farmers, Latinos, and Native American agricultural efforts. I even support a strong safety net in place for family farmers raising crops and livestock, although my system of support would look wildly different from the one we have in place for now.

But at times like these, when so many of us are looking for jobs and pathways to building a better economy through clean and green industries, it seems like a no brainer to shift resources away from giant agribusiness interests and toward high-impact, community-based ventures. I am not naive about the prospects for making this shift happen through the political process. Still, it’s worth the conversation. Back to work, I guess. Back to work.

HOMEGROWN-bryce-oates-150x150Bryce Oates is a farmer, a father, a writer, and a conservationist in western Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multi-generational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.

PHOTOS: (HAPPY GARDENER) CITY BLOSSOMS; (CANNED SALMON) PAT JOHNSON; (COMMUNITY GARDEN) SALLIE GORDON

Sneak Peek: HOMEGROWN Skills Tent Schedule at Farm Aid 2014!

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

 

North Carolina, here we come! Farm Aid 2014 is right around the corner—September 13 at Walnut Creek Amphitheatre, in Raleigh—and you may have heard that a bunch of real pros are headlining. (You know, just some guys named Willie, Neil, John, Dave, and Jack, among others.) But over on the HOMEGROWN Skills Tent schedule, you’re the talent!

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What’s this HOMEGROWN Skills Tent, you ask? Good question! From noon to 5 p.m. on the concert grounds, a county-fair-style hoedown called the HOMEGROWN Village sets up camp, featuring interactive exhibits from groups across the country. One of the main attractions in the Village is the HOMEGROWN Skills Tent, hosting hands-on workshops connected to food, farming, and homesteading—similar to the fun and juicy how-tos you know and love from the HOMEGROWN 101 library. Except live. In person. Requiring your elbow grease. (Can’t quite picture it? Check out photos from the HOMEGROWN Skills Tent at Farm Aid 2013.) Are you ready to get those hands dirty? Good! Here’s what’s on tap!

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HOMEGROWN SKILLS LINEUP!

12:30 p.m.
Shell-off Smackdown: Sustainable Fishing 101

What’s the right way to shuck an oyster or a clam? And what’s a community-supported fishery anyway? Find out when Chris McCaffity and Debra Callaway of the cooperative Walking Fish join chef Sharon Kennedy in a demo on shucking technique. Then pit your newfound skills against the pros in a shrimp-cleaning faceoff. Ready? Set? Shell!

1:30 p.m.
Hair-DO: Flower Crowns 101

Get gussied up for Farm Aid 2014 and support local farmers to boot! Maggie Smith of Pine State Flowers, Durham’s sole local-only flower shop, leads a workshop on making hair garlands using North Carolina-grown flora provided by Spring Forth FarmWaterdog Farms, and Wild Hare Farm.

2:30 p.m.
Grow It Again: Seed Saving 101

Love the veggies you grew this year? Did you know you can save the seeds and reap their bounty again next summer? Hilary Nichols of SEEDS, a nonprofit educational community garden in Durham, walks you through the cleaning and storing process. Courtesy of the Digging Durham Seed Library, you’ll take home ready-to-plant seeds whose offspring you can save and share next year!

3:30 p.m.
Spice It Up: Pepper Jelly 101

Wondering what to do with all those chiles from your garden? Two words: pepper jelly. Audrey Lin and Debbie Donnald of Two Chicks Farm show you how to make your own spread while sharing some back-fence wisdom on farming and the benefits of fermented foods.

4:30 p.m.
Friends in Deed: Friendship Bracelets 101

Show your pal—and your environment—some love! Grab a buddy and make friendship bracelets from natural fibers (alpaca, sheep’s wool, hemp) with the good folks of Abundance NC.

 

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MORE WAYS TO GET INVOLVED!

First things first: Download the swanky new Farm Aid 2014 app and get concert updates on your phone!

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A (very!) few tickets for Farm Aid 2014 remain, but there are plenty of other ways to join the party! Visit farmaid.org/events for details on Friday farm tours, a Thursday-night dinner at City Farm in Raleigh, and more. Stay tuned to Farm Aid’s About the Concert page for news, and share your own route to the concert on social media using #Road2FarmAid. We’ll see you there!

 

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