Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Congratulations Happy Cat Organics!

This Thursday we will be celebrating the launch of the Happy Cat webstore at the Chester County Green Drink gathering 7-9PM at Victory Brewing Company. The day before earth day seems like a fitting time to raise a glass to the hard work of the husband and wife team of Tim and Amy Bloom Mountz and their amazing resource for heirloom seeds and growing /foraging tools. Of course I have a special affinity for anyone who includes Wendell Berry quotes on their “philosophy” page:

In 1993 my Grandfather, David Haas was killed in a car accident. He had lived his entire life on the rich soils of Lancaster Co. Pennsylvania. People said he didn’t have a green thumb, but a green arm.
With his passing my Grandmother gave me a jar of his beans, these turned out to have great historical and cultural importance.
A passion was born.
Our passion became our craft and our lifestyle is our dedication to that craft. Happy Cat Farm exists to teach people how to grow and forage their own food sustainably.
We touch seeds everyday in our practice of seed to table farming. They teach us patience and bring ritual to our lives, things that modern life is so void of.
“We stand for what we stand on”
-Wendell Berry

You can read more about Happy Cat below:
Grid Magazine Profile

Growing Magazine Profile

Tim’s Black Ruffles tomato is a particular favorite and got a nice shout out on the Go Indie farming blog as their top tomato in the test garden.

You can RSVP to the Happy Cat Web Launch/Green Drinks gathering on facebook.

Cheers to Happy Cat, cheers to a productive growing season.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Today's Full Moon-The Pink, Egg or Seed Moon

The heavy rains yesterday limited my ability to do much farm work today. The soil is still very wet. After potting up some peppers and eggplants in the warmth of the greenhouse, I went for a walk to the swamp where I had taken cattail photos earlier in the week. The procreating toads and the surrounding egg masses reminded of Mary Oliver's poem Pink Moon-the Pond.

Pink Moon—the Pond

You think it will never happen again.
Then, one night in April,
the tribes wake trilling.
You walk down to the shore.
Your coming stills them,
but little by little the silence lifts
until song is everywhere
and your soul rises from your bones
and strides out over the water.
It is a crazy thing to do —
for no one can live like that,
floating around in the darkness
over the gauzy water.
Left on the shore your bones
keep shouting “come back”!
But your soul won’t listen;
in the distance it is unfolding
like a pair of wings, it is sparking
like hot wires. So,
like a good friend,
you decide to follow.
You step off the shore
and plummet to your knees–
you slog forward to your thighs
and sink to your cheekbones —
and now you are caught
by the cold chains of the water —
you are vanishing while around you
the frogs continue to sing, driving
their music upward through your own throat,
not even noticing
you are something else.
And that’s when it happens —
you see everything thru their eyes,
their joy, their necessity;
you wear their webbed fingers;
your throat swells.
And that’s when you know
you will live whether you will or not,
one way or another,
because everything is everything else,
one long muscle.
It’s no more mysterious than that.
So you relax, you don’t fight it anymore,
the darkness coming down
called water,
called spring,
called the green leaf, called
a women’s body
as it turns into mud and leaves,
as it beats in it’s cage of water,
as it turns like a lovely spindle
in the moonlight, as it says

Mary Oliver

Unlike Mary Oliver, I did not feel compelled to enter the water with the frogs and toads. Instead I explored the woods; enjoying the trout lilies, spring beauties, blood root and spice bush. My earlier posting on foraging inspired this quick scouting for potential edibles-after a review of the Lancaster Farmacy blog. Enjoy the photos, enjoy the full moon.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Signs of Spring-Wild Ramps-Start of Forage Season

The wild ramps are up; the exciting gourmet start to a long, bountiful forage season. Along with ramps, this is a good time of year for gathering wild mustard (rapini), garlic mustard, nettles, and chickweed. Below are pictures of garlic mustard, chickweed, the woodland ramps (also know as wild leeks) and violets.

The brain of the sustainable farmer must be hard wired for foraging. I have never met another group of people so eager to go off combing the woods, fields and fence rows for mushrooms, berries and edible herbs, than my farming friends. Maybe it is the freeing satisfaction that comes from being able to find sustenance from the land without all the work investment that comes with typical agricultural cultivation; something only a farmer truly appreciates. I have had good luck attracting a crew of interns, workers, volunteers, and colleagues that have been unusually passionate about wild food—from home smoked wild caught trout to pine pitch chewing gum, from wild mushroom advocates to pine needle basket crafters, from paw paw hunts to medicinal “weed” based salads—I have been fortunate to be surrounded by this great group of foraging fans.

I have fond memories of a past summer season spent with employees Hailey and Katherine, in which the two would carefully gather up the weeds (like lambs quarters, purslane, and dandelion)that we had pulled from the vegetables, choosing these wild invaders over the vegetables growing in the same area. Katherine is the creator of the Medicinal Herb Garden at Inverbrook and Hailey has started SOUL confections— a company that makes delicious herb infused truffles.

Below are pictures of some of Hailey’s creations including a picture of Hailey and her partner Jon, Katherine with dandelion, a dandelion plant, lamb quarters stuffed with goat cheese, and garlic mustard pesto. The photos were taken by the amazing and talented Kelly G. Kelly will be returning to Kennett this summer and spending some of her time helping at the farm.

Then there is former employee Carroll, who is currently living down in North Carolina. Carroll has both an interest in mushrooms and herbalism, and is a skilled crafter. Below are some pictures that Carroll recently posted of a productive mushroom hunt (including a giant puffball and black morels) and the beginnings of a pine needle basket

The Philadelphia area seems to be a hot bed of forage experts. My friends at Happy Cat Organics have a Forage section on their new webstore, which includes the ability to purchase ramps. Dave Siller, who participated in the 2010 Kennett Square fermentation festival with his “Cabbage Patch” fermented products, is the creator of an interactive map that highlights foraging locations within the city of Philadelphia. His map is featured on this great resource for wild food in Philly. For those avid foragers David recommends the MAPS Meet in northeastern Maryland-MAPS stands for Mid-Atlantic Primitive Skills. Then there is Casey Spatch of Lancaster Farm Fresh and his partner Eli of Lancaster Farmacy; between the two they have an amazing amount of “wild food” expertise. Click here to read a past blog posting on Casey and his various projects. Casey and Eli will be giving a guided Medicinal Herb Walk for the Land Conservancy of Southern Chester County on Sunday, May 15, 2011 from 10:00 AM - 1:00 PM along with April Coburn(another past participant of the Fermentation Festival). April is also leading her own set of home health classes this spring,summer and fall; check out her blog for more detals.

Back at Inverbrook we have the good fortune of partnering with the herbalist Donna Merrill. Donna helped Katherine in the design of her Medicinal Herb Garden and has led many herb walks here at the farm. Below are some pictures from one such edible and medicinal Herb Walk (the other instructor is Sarah Murray, who used to lead foraging trips in France). The walks would typically culminate in a lunch featuring a salad of the weeds and wild herbs collected along the walk. We are hoping to conduct an herb walk in late May or early June. I will keep you all posted.

I have to admit that I personally do not get much time to forage (beyond the plentiful weeds in the lawn and garden) in the spring. Once fall rolls around, however, I am eager to explore the forest and hedge rows for elderberries and my personal favorite the Paw Paw fruit. Click here to view a facebook album of last year’s Paw Paw gathering trip. Right after the photos were taken (Fall 2010), I went to a book reading at Chester County Books and Music with Rowan Jacobsen author of American Terroir. Rowan read from a chapter titled “Little Truths” all about the couple Francois Brouillard (forager) and Nancy Hinton (chef), who have a restaurant based all on foraged food called Les Jardins Sauvages in Quebec, Canada. The chapter includes a description of a countryside search for cattail shoots and wild mushrooms for the restaurant menu. Cattails are an amazing resource, click here to see a facebook album of a cattail swamp near our farm; I am determined this year to try the immature female flower heads that apparently can be boiled and eaten like corn on the cob. I think after farmers, the demographic that gets the most excited about foraged food is chefs. In fact the inclusion of wild foods on the menu is a top food trend for 2011 and here is an article on the aforementioned Les Jardins Sauvages.

Hopefully I have inspired you to look beyond the supermarket shelves for food and medicine. Below are a few more resources for you. Remember to make sure you are VERY CERTAIN about the wild plants you are putting in your mouth, there are some poisonous plants out there that look very similar to edible counterparts.

-Wild Man Steve Brills website (many of links already lead back to his extensive web resource)

-Atlantic Month’s top 11 Foraging books written by Hank Shaw who has the FANTASTIC blog Hunter, Angler, Gardner, Cook. Hank is working of a book of the same title that is due out this May.

-The blog of chef Nancy Hinton from Les Jardins Sauvages

-Fresh Basil post on dandelions

Happy Foraging!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

April is National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month and I recently had the good fortune of attending a lovely poetry reading by Christianna Hannum Miller and Diane Herrin at the Kennett Flash. It was a fitting start to this month-long celebration of the importance of poetry to us all. Christy had done a similar type of event a few years earlier, first alerting me to the existence of National Poetry Month. You can read all about that evening in a posting from the Kennett Farmers Market Blog.

The local Philly band The Great Unknown is also celebrating National Poetry Month with the release of a new EP and participation in a special concert at the Apollo Theater – the 4th annual poetry slam to benefit the America SCORES Foundation. Last winter the Great Unknown traveled to inner city schools across America facilitating poetry-to-song workshops; a project directed by the collaborative program of ASCAP and America SCORES. You can read more in a New York Times article that appeared last December.

Below is a video from one of the workshops. The band's goal with this project was to reinforce the importance of each child’s voice, that individuals have something important say.
The results really are quite magical. I encourage you to check out the rest of the videos from the winter tour at The Great Unknown Video Page. The Great Unknown will be performing at the WHYY Studios this Thursday, April 14 and also participating in this coming weekend’s (4/16 and 17) Philadelphia Book Festival click here for more details.

You might be wondering what connection poetry has to farming. Besides the fact that I love to include poetry in my blog postings, I can confidently say that the single most influential entity in my decision to become a farmer has been the writings of farmer-poet Wendell Berry. His essays, short stories, novels, and most of all poetry has been a guiding force to many a new farmer (and local economy advocates). This year Wendell Berry was given a National Humanity Award by President Obama, giving him the opportunity to acknowledge the First Lady’s local food advocacy. I leave you with his “instructions” for being a poet.

How To Be a Poet
By Wendell Berry
(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Signs of Spring-More Color and Less Time for Blogging

It has been a while since my last posting; I have been busy seeding and working in the greenhouse. Despite the rather chilly start to spring, its been amazing to watch the slow and steady greening of the grass, the emergence of the deep red maple blossoms against the blue skies, and the vibrant yellows and golds of the flowering forsythia and daffodils. There is also color appearing in the tender greens inside the greenhouse plots. (Click here to view a Facebook album of seedlings and greens).

Yesterday was warm and productive. It was my first full day of working the soil. This quote came to mind:

"When the April wind wakes the call for the soil, I hold the plough as my only hold upon the earth, and, as I follow through the fresh and fragrant furrow, I am planted with every foot-step, growing, budding, blooming into a spirit of spring."
- Dallas Lore Sharp, 1870-1929