Community Philosphy Blog and Library

Posts Tagged ‘farmers market’

Cool Free, Interactive Databases: Find Farmers Markets and Plant Information

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Evan is a student at University of California Santa Barbara, and contacted us about sharing the two incredible databases he has been working on. We think Evan and Evan’s project are pretty cool, so we asked him to tell a little about himself. Thanks Evan!

During my sophomore year of college I took an elective Environmental Science class titled “Humans and the Biological Environment.”  The class would forever change my views of our earth and the way we treat it.  Our class learned how even the littlest things, such as buying produce grown in states hundreds of miles away, has a major impact on our habitat.  Urban sprawl and the negative effects of housing developments were especially eye opening because I’m an architecture student.  I decided to focus my studies on “green” and sustainable design and urban planning.

Most students know that eating organic fruits and vegetables – growing your own, or buying from farmers markets – is a sustainable, cheap and healthy alternative to buying produce from the supermarket.  But finding organic food can be difficult, especially if you live in an urban area.  You have to find farmers markets close to your home and know what plants will grow in your garden.

In October of this year I began interning for an organization called FindTheData and helped to create a Farmers Market Finder with the intention of helping fellow students, and all others, locate farmers markets in their area.  To narrow down your search, use the tool bars on the left side of the page to find markets that offer the products you are looking for, such as baked goods, cheese, jams and vegetables.

The data for this tool comes directly from the US Department of Agriculture’s farmers market database.  The USDA dataset is messy and hard to read; it had to be cleaned up, reorganized and then uploaded into FindTheData’s interactive platform.  The cool thing about this Farmers Market Finder is that anyone can add or edit a listing.  So in this regard, it is sort of like Wikipedia.  Also, to keep the tool social, anyone can add a review of each farmers market!

Another similar FindTheData tool is the plants database.  Growing your own fruits and vegetables can be a daunting task.  After all, there are over 45,000 plants native to North America. But with the plants database, users can search for plants based on growth habitat, drought tolerance, growth rate, bloom period, toxicity and more. You can also make side-by-side comparison of different plants, like the garden tomato vs. the strawberry tomato, for example.

After graduation I plan on taking a year off to travel and see the world.  But when I get back to the states, I plan on going to grad school to study learn more about urban planning and designing communities that adhere to the rules of smart growth and new urbanism.  In the meantime, I hope the Farmers Market Finder and the Plants Database will help people become a little more earth friendly.

Evan Thomas is a member of the Isla Vista Food Co-Op near the campus of UCSB and supports local farms in the Santa Barbara area.  Evan is also an intern at FindTheData, an interactive platform that organizes public datasets such as non-profit organizations and New York Recycling Centers.  Feel free to contact him at Evan_Thomas (@) umail.ucsb.edu with any questions, comments or ideas.

 

 

HOMEGROWN Life: What We Learned From Our Year Without Groceries

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t believe it’s been a year now since we started our year without groceries. We learned a lot in that year. We are definitely healthier, but also we’re happier. Our relationship with each other is stronger as we’ve had to learn how to really work well together.

When we first decided to do a year without buying food from the grocery store, convenience stores, box stores or restaurants we thought the challenge was going to be really difficult. And it kind of started out that way. We had difficulties getting local milk, even though we live near a lot of dairies, and our goats hadn’t been bred yet so we had to wait for them to start producing. We had an order on part of a steer that almost didn’t come in, and our first monthly co-op order was missed.

But as time continued onward we started to get into the groove of things. After a lot of research I had found a milk delivery service that actually came to my town. We made do that first month without our co-op order and the steer finally came in. We visited the farmers’ market every Saturday and if something came up and we couldn’t make our local one, we were able to always find another one in a nearby town that we could go to. Our little urban farm started to become more productive and eventually we were able to provide all of our own dairy from our two goats.

 

We met a lot of great small family farmers and built relationships with them. They answered our questions, gave us tours, and we relied on them for our food. We learned that you don’t have to produce your own food to give up the grocery store, you just have to get out there and meet the people that do produce your food. Not to mention that we saved money on food while buying higher quality products.

About 6 months into our year we realized that it was pretty easy and that we wanted to have more of a challenge. We decided to go the last three months of our challenge without buying any food. We would have to rely on what our little lot could provide us along with anything we had on the shelf.

We were so far behind on planting due to Mother Nature refusing to cooperate that I was worried we wouldn’t have anything to eat fresh. We got lucky and our first big harvest was the day we started the three month challenge. For those first few weeks we were limited to cucumbers, green beans and zucchini. That was probably the hardest part of the challenge – having such a limited diet. And because of our less than stellar weather during the first part of the year, our fruit trees were a complete failure.

On the plus side though we learned first hand what we should have in storage in case of emergencies. We also developed a bartering system with friends which helped strengthen our community.

After a year of being free from grocery stores we decided to continue this journey indefinitely but we’ll allow ourselves one restaurant visit a month. We met a lot of great people along the way and we learned a lot about ourselves.

 

My friends in college used to call me a Renaissance woman. I was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. I still am. My focus these days, instead of arts and crafts, has been farming as much of my urban quarter acre as humanly possible. With my husband, we run Dog Island Farm in the SF Bay Area. We raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. We’re always keeping busy. If I’m not out in the yard I’m in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!

 

Good Food Communities: Starting a canning club or bartering club

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Some of you may have noticed some very interesting conversation happening in the Food Preservation group over the last few weeks. Torry, Pat and Harriet have been bouncing around ideas for making the most out of the food that’s available locally, when it’s available throughout the year: keeping it high quality, diverse and affordable, all while having a fun canning get-together. We hope that sharing this kind of story may inspire others to think about how they might like to gather with their local folks for play, food, skillsharing and frugal solutions for themselves and their local farmers. Enjoy!

Pat, who has organic farmer buddies and who is, by anyone’s definition, a jack-of-all-trades, has the most ambitious plan: A bartering club:

I have always liked the social aspect of group activities as opposed to working alone. It makes the work more fun and often its easier/more efficient if there are several people doing the task (assembly line kind a stuff). I also think it would be a good idea to can what is ripe when it is ripe and put the excess in a community stockpile to be bartered to those that didn’t show up for that particular canning and get some for themselves. Thus the need for the value points or some system where there isn’t a need for face to face bartering). Say the club goes out to the fields and picks blueberries, makes jams, jellies, preserves & pie filling with 100lbs of blueberries (I can pick about 10lbs an hour so if 5 of us go it would only take a short morning). Now those five folks spend the day canning the blueberries and take home a few jars each. There will still be a lot more jars than can be used by the five, so they would be left in the community stockpile and each be given a credit for whatever amount of points canned blueberries are worth. Next week a different group of folks goes out and cans turnip greens and does the same thing (now the community stockpile has blue berries & turnip greens and two separate groups have credits that can be used for either. Maybe after the summer is done there is a stockpile of 25 or 30 items and 40 or 50 people have credits…..Kind of a nice to be able to get canned potatoes when you need them instead of having to have a big pantry containing a little of everything. Just a thought. The club would be good even if we just canned what each of us could use and barter among ourselves.

Harriet, a downright celebrity among HOMEGROWNers (she wrote A Householder’s Guide to the Universe and teaches preservation classes in Portland, OR), and “kitchen warrior” says:

I was thinking a little more on the line of going to a farmer and saying….if you give me a bushel or two of tomatoes I will return  jars of canned tomatoes for your pantry.  The barter would be between me (or the canning club) and the farmer since I know a lot of busy farmers that can’t put up the harvest.  But your system puts a “cash” value to each type of canned food to create its own monetary system which I totally like as well.  It seems there would be some standards you would need to set and some labeling requirements but with enough people being really into it, it could work.

I think I will start more directly with farmers and grow the system slowly.  I’m thinking a canning club will be like buyers clubs but with the added dimension that the farmer is exchanging or discounting some of the produce for his or her share of the canned goods.

Torry, the crown king of barter and trade on HOMEGROWN.org (he founded the Resurrect The Barter group and leads online swaps for the community there) has this to say:

I’m starting this discussion to brainstorm ideas about starting a barter circle.  I’m hoping to get something going here in the Greater Greensboro area, something along the lines of cashless exchange for homegrown and homemade products.  I have to admit, usually I am the ‘maker’…when someone has an idea I’m a good implementer, however on this one I am upside down.  Community awareness events, start-ups, websites, networking, none of these things are my forte’.  Hints, tips, tricks, anyone?

Do you have a canning club where you live? Does a bartering group sound like something that you would participate in? What are ideas that you have for the group? We’d love to hear your thoughts!