Michelle Obama has proven herself to be (probably) the most powerful ally in the local food movement.
With the White House Kitchen Garden, Mrs. Obama is showing the country that the best way to change eating habits is to get out there and start digging in the ground. The vegetable garden has been a rousing success, and sparked a lot of dialogue, school field trips, TV show appearances, and apparently some really amazing yams.
Mrs. Obama has created both the White House Kitchen Garden and the White House Farmer’s Market, and she is actively striving to create a discourse regarding changing the way we eat. She commented, “I hope the garden will be an introduction to a new way for our country to think about food.” (Via Huffington Post Green.) Recent television appearances all seem part of her plan to mainstream the discussion of local, safe, and nutritious food.
Michelle Obama stopped by Sesame Street yesterday and spoke to Big Bird and Elmo about growing food and being healthy.
A White House Kitchen Garden Top Chef episode featuring Mrs. Obama is coming soon.
Plus, she really truly does have some amazing clothes, doesn’t she?
The official Kitchen Garden video:
Posted in farmers, food, food security, gardening
Tagged backyard farms, edible landscaping, education, Food Movement, Katie Conry, Kitchen Gardens, Michelle Obama, Urban Farming, White House Garden
Though the San Francisco summer fog has slowed down plant production at Amyitis, we not letting it slow us down! It is true; we’ve noticed a marked stunt in growth and production across the board since the 2nd week in July. The fog brings 50* temperatures with it each day when it arrives at around 4:30pm. Like an old friend who’s overstayed his welcome, I was happy with the fog at first but then things turned sour. What once provided cool relief from the intense heat of a California summer has become a nearly icy relationship. Generally speaking, if the fog decides to burn off at all, most days it won’t do that until at least 10:30am. That leaves very little time for our plants to take full advantage of the sun’s offerings. Even though we are relatively shielded here in the Mission, this July the fog has been pervasive. We’ve taken advantage of the time off from harvesting and weeding to get to some projects.
At Amyitis’ central location we’ve lacked the time and resources to deal with our compost situation appropriately. Until now we’ve had an open-air compost pile. Frankly, it is a heap. And while some of our organic waste IS composting, most of it is not. After some thought around the matter and a little research, Eben and I decided that Vermaculture (composting with live worms) was what we really wanted to do. Vermaculture, or worm composting, is a fast, clean, efficient and relatively orderless way to produce compost from food and yard scraps. The worms can consume about half of their body weight per day. What they leave behind is called “worm castings” and is literally some of the best fertilizer money can buy. Click on the link above to learn a but more about how to do it at home.
My good friend Matt Wickland came to lend us a hand in building the beds. While there are many designs for worm bins, we took what we knew about worm behavior and took a stab at our own design. We built two bins 12″ deep by about 2.5′ square that are made to rest on top of one another. As the worms eat the vegetable matter, one can rotate the bins to keep the worms eating and take full advantage of their castings at the same time. For so many reasons, vermaculture composting seems like the perfect compost system for the urban garden. We’re hoping that our experiment will prove us right. I guess that I kind of goofed. Sometime last month I realized that our lettuce crop (which had been providing for us nicely since early April) was quite literally at the bitter end. We plant the seeds very close together and cut them often. This gives us a baby variety of many types of lettuce. Since the plant is never allowed to fully mature it continues to sprout, giving us ample harvests. Our lettuce had been going strong for a while. In a panic a few weeks ago, I planted more lettuce in spaces I had availablele; they didn’t germinate properly. It wasn’t until my third attempt at seeding new lettuce that the seedlings finally took. We finally pulled up the remaining lettuce beds that had sustained us for so long and started anew. In order to really have super-productive gardens, it appears as though managing planting schedules is more important than I had ever realized. I waited too long relying too heavily on a single planting. As hard as it is to turn over a bed that is still productive, sometimes you have to in order to keep things healthy. Lesson learned. More lettuce in late August.
Posted in building, California, DIY, gardening, gourmet food, local food, mission district, recycle, seasonality, Sustainable Agriculture, urban gardening, vermaculture
Tagged composting, DIY, mission district, san francisco, Urban Farming, vermaculture
I saw it dangling there one hot Wednesday afternoon. Like a sign from a radio beacon, my internal transmitter picked up on the hum of a ripe tomato ready to be swallowed. I instinctively looked and found, to my ultimate satisfaction, a perfectly ready, perfectly ripe, perfectly plump little tomato, a “Black Prince” tomato to be exact. Before I could say “YUM” it was in my mouth. It’s acidy sweet finish danced on my tongue. I’d forgotten how good a freshly picked black prince was. Like a giant sungold, they have just the right balance of high sugar on top with an acidic end; they’re simply tomato perfection. I looked around for more to no avail; there were just green clusters hanging in the heat. My little specimen was like a sneak preview for the producer. It was as if I were alone in a darkened theater watching a clip of the finale. And if this little tender treat is any indication of what is to come, The Corner and Weird Fish are about to have the best tomatoes in town. Just a couple more weeks and they’ll be good to go.
The new crops that are in full force this week are at The Corner ready for consumption. Chard and baby squash are really in full gear. I had a salad there just last week just to see how the greens were looking on the plate. My bias is natural of course, but the salad was superb and dressed to perfection. But don’t take my word for it. Go on in and try it out.
As the season kicks in to high gear here at Amyitis there seems to be less to say and more to do. Well that is not totally true. In fact, I have so much to say I don’t know where to begin. Do I begin with the huge debt of gratitude I owe to all of my volunteers and clients? Do I begin with the extreme quality of the baby greens we’ve been harvesting from the gardens? Or, do I begin by talking about the challenges of growing for a new restaurant? While all of the above are topics worthy of further missives, I will stifle my will to blather on and simply say that Amyitis is moving rapidly forward. And, if the results we’ve seen so far are any indication of what is to come, we are in for an exciting summer full of challenges and triumphs.
The recent SF heat wave has shot things into full summer at the gardens. The heat is such a stark contrast to the cold snap that came just before it, I often wonder how plants manage to hold on. Well, I guess that some do and some don’t. The cold nights we recently had paired with the wind in the evenings has wreaked havoc on our squash and basil. Most all of the squash and basil transplants either stunted or died. Hopefully, after some more in-depth investigation we can actually grow a decent squash plant this summer. They’ve always grown like weeds before. I am unsure of what we are doing wrong there.
In other news, the tomatoes we started in the basement are outside hardening off… and just in time for the heat wave. That was lucky timing. They are a bit leggy but I think that they will adjust to full sun quite well. We’ve transplanted them into 4″ pots to give them a bigger root ball and a thicker stem before we let them go off on their own.
We couldn’t be happier about the quality of the arugula, mizuna and lettuce that are coming out of the gardens now. I can shamelessly say that they are without a doubt some of the best greens I have had the pleasure of eating. It is these times here at the gardens that I would like to take a moment to enjoy. There is no prouder moment than harvesting something delicious that you’ve nurtured and cared for. In the contrast of a relatively harsh urban environment, to eat such a fine salad is almost enough to make the tears flow. Well, at least salavatory tears.
Lastly, while harvesting the lovely greens I speak of last week for a delivery to Weird Fish and the Corner, I stumbled upon a large and lovely toad enjoying the refuge of a canopy of mizuna. I nearly stepped on him as I made my way through the rows. And while fully aware of my towering presence next to his, he sat seemingly indifferent eating flies. I have no idea how he got there. In fact I am not sure I care. It’s undoubtedly a good omen.
Lovely D’avignon Radishes
A Friday Harvest
Fat Omen Toad
Last Friday, David and I broke ground, so to speak, at our newest garden in the Mission. Conveniently located within a few blocks of our first garden and the restaurants we supply, this space so far has been a dream. It is beautifully sunny, with easy access to water and supplies, and generous homeowners who kindly shared stories and delicious coffee as we went about our first day of work.
The condition that we found the yard in on our first day was also uplifting. The realtors put down sod just before the house was sold, but then neglected to water it in between owners. So the grass died in the hot sun, leaving behind large strips of soil that effectively kept any weeds at bay and were very easy to remove and carted off to the compost pile. (We thought that we could salvage the grass but unfortunately discovered that it was a little too far gone.)
Perhaps most thrilling, was what we discovered sprouting up all around the graying patches of sod. What looked like sprouts of some particularly invasive grass that I was initially imagining battling all summer, turned out to be ramps; sweet and tender wild leeks. David and I were thrilled- in the northeast, where we are both from, these only appear but once a year, in the early spring, and are gathered in shady groves or along streams, or purchased for a hefty price at the farmers market. The yard was covered in them and, upon our discovery, we started walking gingerly around them, trying not to crush their greens. We harvested a few pounds, which is quite a lot considering their individual weight. We delivered most of them to Weird Fish for a dinner special, and brought the rest to our house for our own dinner. We sauteed them with King Trumpet mushrooms and white wine and served them over some locally made fresh pasta. It was quite a seasonal treat!
Look for them in the coming weeks in Weird Fish specials.