Friday, June 29, 2012

traveling east

A wedding of friends, a graduation and family.  These are the joyous events that had us driving across the country to Pennsylvania/Virginia in late May.  I wrapped up the last day of my farming internship, got home and we drove well into the night, stopping in Ohio then waking early to drive the rest of the way to the wedding in a tiny, beautiful town called Waterford.

I am in love with old houses - with places that could tell you many stories and reveal history.  This town has been preserved and changed very little since the 1840's.  Between the ceremony and reception (just a walk through town from one building to another) Grady and I wandered the streets, me taking pictures of almost every house and marveling at how tiny some of them were.  Of course, there were also near mansions, like the ones pictured above.  Many of the houses had small gardens and a few even had sheep in the backyard!

This step back in time was a matter of minutes, really, from our nation's capitol.  So, to make the most out of our trip we spent the night in DC.  We've both done the tourist version of DC before, but this was the first time I truly realized that there are other things in the city aside from the White House and lots of big monuments.  We stayed on Embassy Row and so spent the morning wandering more streets and taking more pictures of amazing houses (seriously, I love old architecture).  We were directed to the most ingenious place for brunch, called Kramer Books.

This place is a bookstore, a diner, a bar and a performance space - talk about making the most out of your space!

From Washington, we went on 'home' to be with my family.  Lancaster, PA is a home I have never actually lived in, but I love it all the same.  It's the 'Home is where your heart is' kind of place.  And not only is it the place I find my family, it is a place the claims the oldest continuously operating farmers market.  I mean ... that's awesome - not to mention the architecture ...

Family gatherings are few and far between for us since we have all spread out to so many areas and, of course, there are quite a few schedules to try and coordinate.  Even at this gathering, we were still missing two siblings.  Still, time together is precious and often centering.  I am reminded of the things in my life that are constant and lasting - Love above all.

A birthday celebration
A long table set for guests and celebration

Flowers and greenery gathered from the yard

The bright-colored sugar to add to the festivity

The beautiful woman whose achievement we celebrate

It was, perhaps, the most ideal way for us to step fully into our summer season.  Love, celebration and more love.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

water - the stuff of life

In this modern society of ours we often find ourselves disconnected from our food, the earth, weather, etc.  I'm not the first person to say it nor do I think I'll be the last - we're sorely out of touch with the stuff of life!  One of the things I deeply appreciate about receiving a CSA from our farmer every week (in addition to the delicious produce!) is the opportunity to be more connected to the land.  This experience coupled with our ventures into community gardening has given me a new perspective on this world and a deeper sense of awe at how beautiful, fragile and yet resilient life is.

Until a few days ago, the only source of water for this little community garden was rain.  We set up a series of rain barrels at the bottom of rain spouts to collect water and we simply hoped it would rain enough to last us most of the summer, except maybe August when we would need some supplementary water source.

I don't know what the weather has been like where you are, but here in the Chicago area, our weather report has look like this for the last 4 weeks, at least:

That thundercloud may look promising, but it represents a 30% chance of rain.  Also, thunderstorms aren't quite the kind of rain we need.  They pour and then move on - no gentle, full-day soaking of the ground.  It's only June and we're already in drought.  I can't help but think, if we lived just 100 years ago, this would be a serious crisis.  This season's weather is already causing crisis for many farmers - that summer in early spring followed by deep cold?  One farmer told me he lost his entire cherry crop.  No long freeze over the winter affects the lakes in our region, it also means more bugs may have survived to haunt us this summer.  And now the rain.  We got very little early spring rain and now even less.  If it were not for modern water systems, we would likely be looking at regional famine.  Maybe that's a bit extreme since I don't know all the ways they got water to crops before plumbing but I do know that, had we not bought a hose for our garden, all of our plants would have died by now.

There was a time when food didn't just show up at the store.  The weather in California would have been largely inconsequential to us.  What would matter most, for most of the year, would be what the sky above us looks like today.  Today my sky is actually overcast and looks like rain but still none has fallen - hopefully it will though!  Whether it does or not, I will continue to be thankful for the technology that allows me to eat today and tomorrow and the days after that in spite of the sky.  Don't get me wrong - water is a precious resource, weather pattern shifts are a concern and it's quite possibly some of our modernizations that have caused the current problems we face, but as we work towards a more sustainable future, I'm thankful that we have the means to live to see it.

Friday, June 15, 2012

excerpts from an urban farm

Today I bring you just a few pictures from around the farm(s) in Chicago.  Farming in an urban environment is a unique challenge but also an inspiring and creative endeavor.  From composted restaurant scraps to rooftop bee keeping, there is a world of opportunity in the city, which makes pieces of vacant land less of an eyesore and more of a blank slate of farming potential.

Steam rising from our hot compost pile - it still amazes me to feel how hot it gets (150 degrees!).  The mural in the background was painted in collaboration with local youth around themes of food, farming and food security.

Raised beds and a hoop house on a gray day.

Rainy day farming at Grant Park.

I didn't expect to be driving around a 12 passenger van this young in life but I guess 'plant mom' precedes 'soccer mom.'

The harvest knife is sharp.

 Rooftop bees!

I got to help 'catch' this swarm as my first bee keeping experience.  It was amazing and a little bit scary.  Bees are just so cool.

Seriously full hive.  Again - a little scary and a lot amazing.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

my yogurt style

In an internet world of TasteSpotting and Pinterest, it can feel a little redundant to create a post on how to make yogurt at home.  However!  Homemade yogurt is (can be) awesome and delicious and oh so easy and money-saving, not to mention that you can decide what kind of milk goes into your yogurt and make sure there's nothing else in there you may not want (high fructose corn syrup, pectin, etc.).  The method that I now use to make this wonderful yogurt is a hybrid of the traditional stove top method, which you can read about here, and the crock pot method - here.

To make yogurt:

1. Heat milk in a large pot to 180 degrees.  However much yogurt you want at the end is how much you should heat - we make at least 1/2 gallon at a time and that almost lasts us a week (we eats lots of yogurt!)
2. At the same time, fill a crock pot with water 3/4 full and turn heat to low.  This step is to pre-heat the pot.
3. For thicker yogurt, hold the milk at 170 - 180 degrees for 10 minutes or so.
4. Turn off and empty the crock pot, checking to ensure that the water temperature did not exceed 110 degrees (or if it does, let it cool to that temp).  Cool milk to 110 degrees.  Putting the pot of milk in a sink filled with cold water seems to be the quickest way to do this.
5. Remove 1/4 to 1/2 cup of warm milk to a small bowl and mix in 1/4 cup of starter yogurt *see note below* per quart.
6. Pour the remaining warm milk into the now empty and warm crock pot then stir in your yogurt/milk mix.  Cover the crock pot with thick towels and put in a warm, draft-free place (if possible).
7. Let the milk sit for 8 hours, during which time it will become tasty yogurt!

Heating the milk to 180 degrees.  We use pasteurized, non-homogenized milk so the yellow is melting butter fat which makes a lovely cream-top yogurt.

Preheating the crock pot.

Maintaining temperature near 180 for 10 minutes (this is optional but it really does make a texture difference at the end).

Cooling milk to 110 degrees in the sink.

Mixing yogurt starter with warm milk.  *Yogurt starter can be saved from a previous batch or you can use plain yogurt from the store so long as it says 'Live Active Cultures' on the label.  We experimented with a number of options and found the Brown Cow cream-top yogurt gave us the thickest yogurt.  You can also order special cultures from Cultures For Health.

Checking that the crock pot water didn't heat above 110.

Pouring the yogurt/milk mix into the warm yogurt.

8 hours of incubation under thick towels.

The final product!  Thick, delicious yogurt.

We enjoy our yogurt sweetened a bit with honey and topped with seasonal or frozen berries.  You can also add a few drops of vanilla for flavor.  It's also better to refrigerate the yogurt for at least a few hours before dipping into it so that it has time to set properly and thicken a bit more.

Truly, making yogurt can be easy!  ... and oh so tasty and healthy ...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

diving in

Contrary to what this blog would be telling you, Grady and I are, in fact, alive and well.  The past three months have been busy, full to overflowing and challenging while still bringing so much opportunity and growth.  I am so thankful for all that I have learned and been inspired by, especially while interning at Growing Power.  But I'm back to tell you that the full-time farming season has come to a close for now.  Hopefully I will be engaged in part-time work and part-time community garden care and organization - more on all of the above later!  For now ... the summer warmth is calling us out to our little porch for burgers and I don't want to miss that.  So, I leave you with proof that we're still here -