Grow Local: Community Plots in Boston

Nightingale Garden in Dorchester opened in August, and is Boston’s
largest community garden.
Photo courtesy/BNAN

As a localvore, it’s important to note that the most locally sourced foods are the ones consumers grow themselves. Of course, in a metropolitan city, it’s not as simple as clearing a plot in the backyard. And while indoor plants are relatively successful (I’m a firm advocate of the indoor herb garden), Boston has a vast market of outdoor gardening plots and community gardens.

Boston Natural Areas Network (BNAN) has a useful resource on their website that helps consumers and potential urban farmers locate a community garden, and then provides them the contact information for that garden’s coordinator or community ambassador.
The BNAN site also provides tips for growing, as well as various other ways to explore and enjoy Boston’s Greenways and The Emerald Necklace (There’s even yoga!).
The cost of the gardening plots typically covers users’ water use and averages 25 dollars a season, according to Vidya Tikku, BNAN’s vice president of development and special projects. She also mentioned that almost all of the community plots use organic farming methods, or ban the use of pesticides.

“Community gardens are the easiest way to access fresh locally grown food and they help promote a healthy and active lifestyle,” said Tikku in an email. “In many cases, they are vital to supporting family food budgets. They also help build civic engagement amongst residents of all income levels and backgrounds and help build stronger communities.”

"Eating Locally in Winter"

The Boston Globe reported a piece last week about the benefits of eating seasonally and locally. Globe Correspondent Nancy Rearden Steward interviewed local nutritionists and farmers and concluded that, while it’s convenient to have the same vegetables available year-round, it’s not necessarily beneficial to our health or our local agricultural communities. The diversity that result from eating seasonally is beneficial to our diets, as well as to our pockets and neighbors.

Check out the full article on the Boston.com site.

Organic, Free-Range Turkeys

With Thanksgiving a week away, it’s tough to find an organic turkey, last minute. But still worth searching. And if finding an organic, free-range and pastured turkey turns out to be impossible, consider which characteristics you’d be willing to compromise on. A free-range turkey from a small farm may not be organic, but will likely be leaner, and ethically raised. Food for thought…


View Turkey Map in a larger map

Butternut Squash Soup

My mom has been teasing me with Facebook posts about lattes in the jacuzzi, family Scrabble games and home-cooked meals, making me more homesick than ever. So I opted to make myself some home-y delicious food.

Boston Organics clearly had an influx of butternut squash because it’s been a recent regular. So I looked up their butternut squash soup recipe and got to work.

I baked the squash first (I did it at 350, since their recipe doesn’t specify the temperature), and simultaneously sautéed shallots and onions and garlic powder, before adding vegetable broth and a touch of cream, which the recipe doesn’t call for, but some other recipes did. I also used pears, rather than apples.

I’m terrible with recipes. I figure they’re more like guidelines that actual rules, so I look at several and get the basic gist of what I need to do. Then I cook.

While I scooped out the squash and blended everything together, I also cooked up some kale and shallots (I didn’t have garlic). The kale was beautiful, but a little bitter, so my roommate recommended that I add a vinegar-based hot sauce. I did and it made such a difference.

Delicious, if I do say so myself.

Massachusetts Health and Sustainability

Northeastern, with its on-campus farmers market, sourcing local produce
and individual recycling containers, received top marks for being a
sustainable, green campus.

Someone mentioned something the other day about Massachusetts being a great place to write and talk about health because its kind of an amalgam, what with the mandated health insurance and the high number of intellectuals.

And with “hippie” neighborhoods like Harvard and Allston, where eating organic is almost expected, the state is bound to be very green. So I did a little research. Turns out Massachusetts is incredibly environmentally conscious. We’re not the healthiest of states (Colorado beats us by a long shot) and there are some cons to the reformed health care, but there are initiatives here that may contribute to nation-wide trends.

Some interesting statistics and articles:

  • In a money-related article, CNN points out the negative impacts of Massachusetts 2006 health care reform. Above all, they argue that the reforms will lead to increased costs, and that they support individuals who want to work less.
  • The Health Care for All site presents press release-esque articles and updates on the reforms and the (mostly positive) affects their having on the Massachusetts community. Though it’s obviously biased, it’s interesting to see the view from the inside.
  • According to the New York Times, Massachusetts beat out my home state of California for green efficiency rankings.
  • Northeastern University and Harvard were both named to Princeton Review’s Green Honor Roll for receiving the highest score possible (99).
  • GreenReportCard.com grades schools based on sustainability. Northeastern and Harvard both received A-. MIT was awarded a B+. Boston College and Boston University both received B.

‘Tis the Season

The majority of winter vegetables are root veggies.
Photo Source/Picasa user duy

As the holidays fast approach and the weather cools down, there are a lot of changes in the organic community. In my hometown of San Diego, it’s easy to eat whatever, whenever, because the weather is relatively consistent.

But when snow is a factor, things start changing. One of the aspects of eating locally is that one must also eat seasonally. That means a lot of root vegetables. While I’m out today, I have a winter stew of carrots, kohlrabi, potatoes, beets, radishes and celery (which, yes, I bought out of season) brewing at home in my slow cooker. If it grows underground, it’s in that pot.

And it makes sense: Food that grows underground is protected from the elements. Thus, it doesn’t wither and die in the cold New England weather.

With the changing produce, there are other seasonal consequences, as well. Because nearby farms are no longer yielding surplus produce, there are fewer opportunities to get one’s hand on local food. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs typically end in September or October, as do many of the regular farmers markets.

So what now?

I reached out to my twitter following and asked how they got their hands on winter produce. The following are a couple of tips:

  • Eat seasonally. I know I mentioned it before, but it is important to develop a taste for those starchy root vegetables. I’m not advocating that one survive on potatoes alone, but eating seasonally will save money, as well.
  • Investigate winter CSAs. Though they’re not all traditional programs, various Massachusetts farms do have programs in the winter: Busa Farm in Lexington, which allows members to pick produce and show their farm stand; Red Fire Farm in Granby, who delivers their CSAs to pick-up locations throughout the city; and Enterprise Farm, which has the longest going winter CSA (November-May) and will deliver to the Boston area.
  • Shop in the snow. There are some markets that extend beyond the typical October end date. Search “winter” on the Massachusetts Farmers Markets database of markets. Heather and Carrie, of Local City Chicks, recommend the Somerville Winter Market.
  • Buy non-perishables. Though I much prefer fresh fruits and veggies, you can still get organically-grown goods in cans. Also look for organic canned soups and stews…. the warm stuff always feels better during the cold.
  • Get festive. During their off-season, many of the farms focus more on seasonal festivities and community outreach than produce. Meander your way through a corn stalk maze, take a hay ride with a cup of organic cider, pick apples, outfit yourself with all the necessities for Thanksgiving (which uses mostly seasonal food: yams, potatoes, cranberries, pumpin).

Many thanks to @LocalCityChicks, @MAFarmMarkets and Stonewall Farm for their tips and ideas. As more come in, I’ll be sure to add them.

Happy FOOD DAY!

Photo courtesy/Foodday.org

Happy 1st Annual Food Day, health buffs! Food Day is both an organization and an celebration that aims to bring together all types of people, from teachers to dietitians, to push for healthy, affordable food and a sustainable agricultural community. The organization has paired with non-profits and for-profits alike to sponsor thousands of food-related events nationwide. It was co-chaired by two senators, but they receive no federal subsidies or funding. It’s a day for awareness and advocacy, for health and happiness. According to their website, the six Food Day principles are:

  1. Reduce diet-related disease by promoting safe, healthy foods.
  2. Support sustainable farms and limit subsidies to big agribusiness.
  3. Expand access to food and alleviate hunger.
  4. Protect the environment and animals by reforming factory farms.
  5. Promote health by curbing junk-food marketing to kids.
  6. Support fair conditions for food and farm workers.

Some very lofty goals, but very admirable. And thus far, the movement has been pretty successful. The #FoodDay hashtag on twitter is doing well, and there are major events in Boston and other big cities nationwide.

So how are you celebrating? Food Day encourages food providers and consumers to celebrate in their own ways, but there are many other more-organized events, as well. College campuses, restaurants, grocery stores and community organizations are all hosting various Food Day events.  The map to the right shows the locations of various Boston Food Day events—and those are just the ones that FoodDay.org knows about.

Host a dinner party, cook a homemade meal. Eat locally or organically for one day (or more!). Food Day is a great day to start making little changes towards a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle. Check out local events on Food Day’s website. Or just search Boston.com for Food Day events. Happy eating!

9 Baby Steps to Start Living Greener

Eggs and animal products are a great way to start being organic. The
difference in flavor and quality is enough to convince any naysayer.

Photo source/riganmc

  1. Shop farmers markets. Not only do farmers markets sustain the local, organic agricultural economy, but the food also uses significantly less packaging. Less packaging equates to less waste.
  2. Pick one thing to start buying organic. Take note of how different it makes you feel ethically, and health-wise. [Personally, I recommend starting with cage-free, organic eggs. They’re more than twice the cost, but the flavor and texture are well worth it.]
  3. Wash laundry in cold water, instead of hot.
  4. Replace all the light bulbs in one room with energy saving bulbs.
  5. Don’t just turn off appliances. Unplug them completely or use an extension cord that you turn off unless using the appliances in it.
  6. Line dry your laundry. OR dry two loads in the same cycle.
  7. Eliminate paper in the kitchen. Use rags or sponges for the counter, and fabric napkins instead of paper. Instead of disposable sponges, use brushes, which are reusable, don’t smell and work better at getting off the grease and grime.
  8. Eat less meat. I’m not one to preach about how everyone should be vegetarian, but eliminating meat for one day each week helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions generated by the meat processing plants.
  9. Start your own herb garden. Not only does it liven up your living space and taste great, but it serves as a constant reminder of where your food comes from. [The ground, not just the supermarket]
Need inspiration? Read a book or watch a movie. There are lots of mediums that investigate the “green scene” and why it’s beneficial to be environmentally sustainable. I just started (re)reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, which traces four meals back to their source, but Goodreads.com lists numerous good green reads.

Meet Your Farmer: Stonewall Farm

Mala Cline interacts with Chelsea (the cow) at Stonewall Farm. The farm
aims to be transparent in their business practices and has a 24/7 “open
door” policy.

Photo courtesy/Stonewall Farm

At the 2nd Annual Boston Local Food Festival a couple of weekends ago, I spoke to representatives at Organic Valley, one of the main producers of organic dairy products in the country. Organic Valley products, which are readily available at major grocery stores like Stop N Shop and Shaws, are sourced from local dairy farms.

According to the company’s online program “Who’s Your Farmer,” one of the sources for Boston’s milk products is Stonewall Farm in Keene, N.H. The non-profit farm aims to interact in the local community through educational programs and invites consumers to visit its grounds and interact with the animals and farming process.

I spoke with Stonewall’s Executive Director, Josh Cline, about the farm’s educational programs, it’s transparency and how important it is for consumers to understand where their produce comes from.

What is Stonewall’s overarching mission?
We’re dedicated to connecting people to the land and the role of agriculture in their lives. That’s our official mission statement.

What is your role at Stonewall?
The farm is different than your average farm because we’re actually a non-profit organization. So, I’m the director; that doesn’t mean I’m the farmer. I just take care of the various departments. So we have the (1) dairy [department] with 30 head of cattle and we have a (2) garden that’s a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program year-round, which isn’t common [in the Northeast]. And we do (3) sugaring, so we produce maple syrup. And then we have an (4) educational department, and that includes summer camps and school programs, weekend events and family programs. And if that’s not enough, we also have the learning center and do facility rentals… during the wedding season the place is booked all the time. I’m the director of all of that.

Why does the farm opt to be organic?
The original reason beyond what you would expect—like being environmentally sustainable—is economic. Organic Valley is great in that they have committed to their farmers to provide a pretty stable price for their milk, and a pretty high price.

What products does the farm offer?
We sell milk in bulk to Organic Valley. So if you’re drinking Organic Valley milk…you’re drinking one one billionth of our milk. We also make our own organic cheddar cheese. It’s not made on site, but it’s our milk. Then interestingly enough, our third most popular product is compost. We compost our waste and sell it. And we use it on our own farm depending on the application. We also have non-certified organic produce. It takes a lot of money to go through the certification process, and it’s just not worth it for us to go through that effort. Then we have flowers and a flowers CSA, and maple sugaring. We produce on the farm about 300 gallons of maple syrup a year. And beef; cows that no longer produce milk are used for hamburgers… And then every single one of our products have educational programs associated with them.

What is the importance of eating locally-sourced food?
First is the importance of keeping dollars in the local economy, as opposed to dollars going elsewhere. Second is connecting people to what what agriculture means. It’s important for people to know that milk comes from cows and carrots come from the ground. People are willing to pay more for food at the farm than at the store because they know where the food comes from. They know it’s safe to eat.

Why is it important for consumers to know who their farmers are?
To me, it gets back to the same understanding of what agriculture is, where the food comes from. When you go to a grocery store, it’s not like you see the person putting the celery on the stand and feel a connection. Whereas, if you go and meet Glenn [Yardley], our farmer, you know who he is. That’s human nature… when people become friends and know their farmer, they’re more inclined to buy their product from them. It helps the farm and it helps people become more comfortable with the food they eat.


One of Stonewall’s catchphrases is “cultivate community.” How does the farm contribute to the local community?
We are different than other farms because we have that educational component, so thats where our community component is. We have 20,000 visitors coming per year, and they’re all becoming part of our community. Our dairy farm is open 24/7, 365 days a year, so if you want to walk in and see the cows milked at 4:30 a.m., you can. The community sees this as their place because they can come here whenever they want and see the operation. We’re 100 % transparent…You can think of it almost as your local city park, except it’s a farm. When we have economic problems—and all farmers do. If they say they don’t, they’re lying through their teeth—we know we would never go away. We might downsize, but we won’t disappear because the public wouldn’t allow it. We are part of the community.

How can consumers be more involved in the farm?
You can be a member, and for a lot of people that’s sort of it. People can also join CSAs, and that way they get a return on their dollars. We’re always looking for volunteers… We have probably one major event a year. For example, the next event is [The 11th Annual] Farm Fair, November 18 and 19. At the fair, you can buy everything for your Thanksgiving dinner; we’re bringing in vendors who have organic turkeys and cranberries, and we have our root fall vegetables. So people will participate that way, and the more people, the better.

In order for a dairy farm to be “organic,” animals can’t be treated with antibiotics. What do you do when your animals get sick?
It’s all homeopathic, so you’ve got to find a vet that can do that. Large animal vets are very hard to come by; it’s much easier to sit in your office and people bring their cats and dogs to you. So the farmer also learns to deal with a lot of these problems themselves.

However, when the cows health comes into play—like when there’s risk of death—the farmer will make an assessment. The cow can either become hamburger or we can treat it [using antibiotics], in which case, it’s no longer organic and can’t interact with the herd. And if that cow happens to be pregnant or get pregnant, it’s calf can’t be organic either. However, you find that cows on organic farms, because they’re out roaming in the pastures and eating, don’t get sick as much. I mean, if you or I stayed inside and weren’t active we’d be a lot more prone to illness than if we were out being active in the sun. It’s got to be healthier.

How are the animals treated?
You can’t say that any true farmer would consider their cows a pet, because when its time for the cow to go, it’s got to go. But Glenn [Yardley] and Wendy [French], our farmers, have been here for a long time… they have a very good relationship with the cows. I don’t want people to think it’s a pet relationship, but its a relationship of mutual respect. They truly know the cows’ nature; hat’s the advantage of having a small farm.

For Boston consumers who are interested in going green, what are some first simple steps they can take?
There are a lot of ways to look at it… As far as the energy cost it takes to produce X amount of calories, chickens are really the thing to do. When you think about how much water and food and resources it takes to produce a pound of beef, verses a pound of chicken, chicken is a lot better.

In terms of the organic stuff, as best I can tell, organic milk or dairy has a much bigger impact for your dollar on the environment than a lot of other products. There is a huge impact there because the cows and dairy farms take up a lot of space. But it depends on the pocketbook. Making the change from conventional dairy to organic dairy has more of a financial impact than shifting from non-organic to organic produce.

Any recent developments or future goals for the farm?
We just yesterday took out a loan and we’re going to be micro-pasteurizing, which will allow us to make ice cream and cheese on our own land. On larger dairy farms, they can pasteurize on the facilities because it’s cost-efficient to do so, but because we only have 30 cows, it doesn’t necessarily make sense. Instead we’ll be getting a smaller machine; it will do 45 gallons of milk. From there, we can make ice cream or cheese or butter or any kind of milk product you can imagine. We’ve been working on it for a year, but we hope to have the pasteurizer in place by the end of December.

As far as goals, there are lots of potential new things, but I don’t want to necessarily mention them because we’re not sure which will be implemented…

We want to redesign the site. We’ve talked about webinars and having more video, which would be really cool for those in Boston who can’t really get here. Hopefully if this grant comes through, we are going to be hiring a firm so that we can incorporate more multi-media on the website. But, still, it’s hard to really experience the feeling of being in a barn with 30 cows unless you’re actually in a barn with 30 cows.

We do lots of formal programs, meaning at 2 o’clock you can come and learn about X. And a lot of people can’t always do that, so we want to make learning more accessible. We’re going to create something called the Llama Lounge, because we have a llama on the grounds. And at various times you can go in and the llama will be right there and you can hang out with the llama. You can do it anytime you want. We want to implement a new model of “come and learn when you want to.”

Stonewall Farm is located at 242 Chesterfield Road; Keene, NH 03431. They can be reached at (603) 357-7278 or through their website portal.

Children join hands during one of Stonewall’s education programs.
Photo courtesy/Stonewall Farm


The Stonewall cows during milking time. The farm has 30 head of cattle
and they are all named (Hermione is on the far left facing the camera).
Patrons are invited to visit thefarm to witness and participate in milking.

Photo courtesy/ Stonewall Farm

 

The Green Machine

The best part of any sandwich, in my opinion, are sprouts.
Photo source/healingdream

According to Boston Organic‘s weekly update, tomorrow’s box should include a variety of winter vegetables: more beets, carrots, celeriac (celery root), radishes, lettuce, mixed herbs, potatoes, and shallots.

A lot of root vegetables, given that I chose the “local” box and all the products are sourced from the northeast. I realize that I jumped onto the organic bandwagon a little late in the year, and right now, most of the produce is grown below the ground. So I devised a little recipe—inspired by something I ate once in Bruges, Belgium—that uses my rooty winter goods. It also pairs well with a locally-brewed dark Belgian beer. Just saying…

I call it my green machine sandwich:

  • Two slices of organic multi-grain bread ($3-4/loaf at Stop N Shop)
  • Jalapeño hummus ($6 for a super big container)
  • Lettuce (from Boston Organics!)
  • Chives and sprouts (from Boston Organics)
  • Tomato slices (tomatoes $3/pound at Copley Square market)
  • Goat Cheese (that spreadable swiss cheese works too. $4)
  • Roasted beet slices, chilled (from Boston Organics)
  • Sliced radishes (from Boston Organics)
  • Annie’s organic goddess dressing ($4 a bottle)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

With the hummus and the cheese, there’s more than enough protein and plenty of flavor; the jalapeño hummus has a lot of kick to it. I avoid mayo because it’s plenty moist, and I can’t stand mayonnaise, but the Goddess dressing is a great replacement for a little extra moistness.

It’s also got lots of color, between the beets and radishes and tomatoes, oh my! Serve it on toasted baguette slices as a pretty holiday-colored appetizer for guests. Pair it with the carrots, sliced celeriac and dip (hummus, dressing or cream cheese).