Category: The Plant Kingdom


A day at Edible Acres

It is early spring, which at Edible Acres means Sean is getting ready for for his first plant sale tomorrow.

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Plants getting potted up in Sean’s homemade potting mix in preparation for sale.

For me and some other volunteers this means we got to go and spend the day among his awesome demonstration gardens, getting out hands in the soil, and picking his brain about all his amazing plant knowledge while helping him pot things up and learning a bunch about the plants we are getting ready for sale.

And it was the perfect day for such a task, with the weather being cool (probably mid 50’s) and mostly overcast with a few light sprinkles of rain. This weather is great as it is still pleasant to work outside but the plants stay moist and experience less stress as the soil they are being taken out of and the air and the soil they are being put into all are around the same temperature.

Here is a little about five of the plants plants and one mushroom that we worked with today. Most of this knowledge is what I learned from sean over the course of the day and am now refining and adding to from a little bit of online research (linked to throughout). I took home a plant or two of each of these five so I will try and let you know what I think of them as I actually get to experience their wonders first hand.

Sea kale (Crambe maritima):

 

Sea kale is an ancient perennial plant that resembles kale and is making a comeback as a favorite of permaculture enthusiasts. Permaculturists always love perennials because they require less work and generally support more stable and resilient ecosystems. Although Sea kale looks like kale it is actually not even in the same family. But its roots, leaves, and flowers are edible and it grows really easily in just about any soil. And it propagates really easily too! So what we did today was dig up some of Sean’s sea kale plants which had significant tuber like roots underground. Then we just broke the tubers up into pieces and planted them into sean’s potting mix making sure to keep their orientation correct, meaning the more tapered end of the root points down in the soil.

Walking onion (Allium proliferum):

A walking onion bulb cluster

So onions are great. But usually you have to dig them up out of the ground to harvest them, which can be a fair amount of effort, and then you have to replant them the next year from seed, which usually means buying seed, which costs money. But what if you had an onion that behaved more like garlic? Where you break apart your 1 head of garlic and plant, lets say 5 cloves from that head, and then the next year you get 5 heads of garlic. Welcome to the walking onion. This onion does just that; it creates new onions in a cluster around itself, growing every year if you leave them, or allowing you to dig them up, harvest some, and split apart the others and replant them to get more clusters of onions! Amazing!

But, that is really just the beginning of the wonders of this onion. What I described is one way to harvest onions from this plant. But there is a second way that doesn’t even require any digging at all! These onions have a top set that are like mini onions or shallots. These topsets will begin to form in spring and can be harvested pretty much at any point from when they are small and probably pretty mild to when they reach maturity in late summer. If you get them at the right time I hear you don’t even have to peel them! The topsets are smaller then your typical onion, ranging from 1/4″ to about an 1″ but I at least am excited to try substituting them into my cooking where I woulf normally used a regular onion. When the top sets get heavy enough they will cause the stalk to bend over to the ground and if conditions are right they will root, forming another root cluster, hence the name walking onions!

Top sets: are like mini onions! You can harvest these and use them like onions or shallots and you don’t even have to dig up the plant!

I am excited to see the single walking onion I took home hopefully multiply into many for years to come.

Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum):

 

A wonderfully smelling herb, anise hyssop is great to make tea out of or to sprinkle into salads or put on top of deserts. Medicinally, it is often used to soothe respiratory ailments such as a cough and as a digestive aid. It is in the mint family and so can be used in many of the same ways you would use mint. It also has wonderful purple flowers that the bees love!

Sorrel:

common sorrel (Rumex acetosa)

This sorrel is another delicious perennial that is super easy to grow. I have a red veined sorrel variety planted the garden at my parents which I love, especially when the leaves are young. I anticipate that this common sorrel will be a little more tender and perhaps less strong in taste, if also a little less striking in appearance. It has a tart leaves that are great sprinkled in salads and a quick google search brings up some yummy sounding sorrel soup recipes. I am excited to try that when I have enough of it!

June bearing Strawberry:

This nice mystery cultivar that bears fruit in June (hence the name) seems to be quite vigorous and have great flavor, according to Sean. Sean found these in Ithaca and rescued them after someone carelessly mowed right over them and they have been thriving in his garden ever since. I planted a whole bunch in a little contained stone terrace outside my home here and am excited to have a vigorous strawberry patch to nibble from in just a few months! 

Stropharia rugosoannulata (wine cap mushroom)

So, the last thing I got from Sean is not actually a plant. It was some mushroom inoculated cardboard. And as some of you know I have a soft spot for mushrooms. This one is what we call the wine cap mushroom- a mushroom I have never tasted and certainly never cultivated before, so I am super excited to see if I can!

Apparently the stropharia, wine cap mushroom, is an excellent companion in the garden as it likes complex environments and will not effect the plants in any negative way. In fact, it will help enrich the soil, speeding the composting process and helping break down any woody matter. It also feeds off of bacteria that may otherwise become undesirable runoff or contaminants, so some people have successfully used this mushroom as a bio filter to reduce numbers of such things as fecal coliform from cow manure runoff. Plus it is considered a choice edible by many!

Sean has a great video on his youtube channel showing how to take a little bit of incoulum and grow it into a lot. He also has a video showing how he has really scaled up his stropharium production and now includes this inoculum in his potting mix! So if you buy some plants from him you might just get luck and end up with a few wine caps popping up as well. I followed his video and took the maybe 4″x8″ piece of cardboard he gave me covered with white mycelium and sprinkled it through a large pot in which I layered cardboard, compost, some wood chips and straw. Hopefully in less than a month that garden pot will be full of mycelium and then I can make an even bigger batch and also try putting some directly into my garden so I can get flushes of wine caps around my sea kale and walking onions!

So there is some of what I learned from a day out at Edible Acres in Trumansberg, NY!

 

 

 

The freeskool in Ithaca offers some great classes, including one about fingerlakes plant communities offered by Adrian, a wonderful teacher. We had our first walk of the season this past sunday and went to Mullholland Wildflower preserve on Giles street to look at a typical flood plain forest. Note that is is still very early spring here so we learned to identify these trees without leaves!

Here is what I learned. The two main trees that makes up this floodplain community in the fingerlakes are the sycamore and the cottonwood. The Sycamore is a very distinctive tree due to its beautiful, multi colored bark, which once you know it, is unmistakable. But on an older tree you may have look up a bit to see this distinctive bark as often the older bark down below is less distinctive. 

Sycamore Bark

Sycamore Bark

The sycamore tree is an important tree in the ecosystem as they often have large hollows that provide good habitat for animals. We even saw one with a beehive in it where the bees seemed to be just waking up after the winter and buzzing around!

Here are a few other characteristics of the sycamore tree. It’s branching and leaf pattern is alternate rather than opposite or whorled. And it has a large fruit that it drops in early spring, around May and is somewhat spiny. If you are around sycamore trees you will see them everywhere on the ground in late spring. I had always seen these fruits but not known which tree they belonged to. And their leaves are large and broad, somewhat like a maple leaf.

Sycamore leaf and fruit

Sycamore leaf and fruit

Although these trees are often planted in places that are not floodplains and can survive in such conditions if you seem them in a natural habitat this may indicate a wet area or a flood plain. Look for some of the other species I will talk about next if you suspect it is!

The second main tree species in the flood plain community of the fingerlakes is the cottonwood. Cottonwood trees are fast growing trees in the poplar family, which is distinguished by deep, fissured bark, that appear to have almost diamond shaped fissures. The leaf and branch pattern of this tree is also alternate, like the sycamore. The cottonwoods we saw here were different then the ones I was familiar with in the northwest, which tended to be very tall and straight in stature, and often seemed to be planted as a hedgerow tree. These cottonwoods in the northeast were not as straight, although still quite tall.

The cottonwood wood is known to be good for carving and is what we used in Michigan for our timber framing project. It is relatively soft and straight grained.

Cottonwood bark

Cottonwood bark

Its leaves tend to be relatively small and heartshaped, with wavy edges that can be seen in the picture below, and their fruit are small and hang in clusters, and produce a cottony pollen after they ripen in June.

Cottonwood fruit and some leaves

Cottonwood fruit and some leaves. These green pods with burst open soon and let out their billowy pollen. Later in the season towards the fall they tend to turn a bit red-ish in color.

These two species, the cottonwood and the sycamore are the two plants that define this floodplain community. We also learned about a common understory tree in the community, the  box elder, latin name acer negundo. For those of you who are familiar with latin names you will notice that it is in the maple family. I had heard people talk about box elder’s and when we were guessing the identity of the tree I guessed that is was a maple, but I didn’t know that the box elder was a maple! Did you know that there are over 100 species in the maple family?! Well, apparently there are.

I guessed that the box elder was a maple because it had many burls and my woodurner friend had been talking about how maples tend to have large burls, which he likes to work with on the lathe.

In this community the box elder is often an understory tree and grows almost like a weed. Because it is competing for light it tends to be in a somewhat stressed condition, causing to to send out many leafy sprouts in an attempt to have more surface area from which to photosynthesize.

Box elder leaves and seeds

Box elder leaves and seeds

I also came to recognize the black cherry tree on this walk, a tree not necessarily typical of the flood plain community. This tree has wonderful wood for burning or smoking things and also has quite distinctive bark. Someone on our walk described it to me as potato chip bark and I think that will always stick with me. Also, as its name implies the bark is quite dark in color.

Black Cherry bark

Black Cherry bark

The fruit of this tree is also quite yummy and can be used to make jams and pies is what I hear, but the birds often get to them first!

Fruit and Leaves of the Black Cherry Tree

Fruit and Leaves of the Black Cherry Tree

Now you are a little more familiar with one of many flood plain communities! Try seeing if you can find a flood plain community in your area and see how it differs and is similar to this one! If you want to read more about this particular flood plain community a great resource is the online pdf version of the Guide to the Plant Communities of the Central Finger Lakes Region by Charles L. Mohler, Peter L. Marks, and Sana Gadescu which can be found here through cornell’s ecommons.

One last cool thing I learned from a fellow student on the plant walk was a handy acronym by which to remember the trees that have opposite branching patterns: MAD CAP HORSE. Here is how it works

M – maple

A – ash

D – dogwood

CAP – caprifoliaceae family (honeysuckly and vibernum family)

HORSE – horse chestnut

All of these have opposite branching and leafing patterns, while the others tend to have alternate or whorl patterns. Opposite means that they will branch both ways at each point, giving the plant an overall somewhat symmetrical look.

Hope you learned something!

Until next time…

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(This is a piece I wrote for my Mushrooms of Field and Forest Class at Cornell University for the cornell mushroom blog, hence the academic tone and citations. But it seemed fit for this blog as well. Enjoy!)

The farmers of Japan say thunderstorms are good luck– they make the mushrooms grow.1 And mushrooms and thunderstorms are partners in folklore all over the world. The ancient god Soma may even have been a mushroom himself. In the book, Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality, Gordon Wasson2 argues that Amanita muscaria, the classic red or yellow fly agaric, is the identity of the mysterious Soma, god of the RgVeda, a sacred collection of ancient Vedic Sanskrit hymns. These hymns are some of the world’s oldest religious texts, and from them we know Soma is “the child of the thunderstorm”. Is Soma really a mushroom? Are mushrooms the children of thunderstorms? Read on.

Science, alas, has had little to say about mushrooms and thunderstorms. Until now. Recently, scientists in Japan have demonstrated a link between lightning and prolific mushroom fruiting.1 Although their interest in lightning and mushrooms is not driven by a religious quest, their research may inadvertently shed light on an ethnographic mystery.

In Japan, mushrooms are particularly coveted for their delicious, nutritional, and medicinal qualities and demand is outstripping supply. But now scientists are finding ways to harness the power of electricity to increase mushroom production. Can you imagine farms where man-made lightning bolts strike the ground and induce large flushes of mushrooms? Well, this is what scientists in Japan are doing.3

Today, shiitake (Lentinula edodes), buna-shimeji (Hypsizygus marmoreus), eryngii (Pleurotus eryngii), and matsutake (Tricholoma matsutake) mushrooms are high value health foods in Japan.1,3 Matsutakes now sell for $439 U.S. dollars a pound.3 Before you think you might get rich by growing some, you must consider that these are ectomycorrhizal mushrooms that only grow symbiotically with their pine tree hosts, so the world’s harvest is entirely collected from the wild. Although harvest of these mushrooms in Japan peaked at 12,000 metric tons in 1941, harvest declined to 34 metric tons in 2005, not due to lack of demand but due to many threats to these red pine forests, including a pine wood nematodeinfestation that has been wreaking havoc in these ecosystems.3 People want more mushrooms. Let’s harness the power of lightning.

The use of direct current (DC) electric fields on living tissue is not a new idea, but has a long and contentious history. Even back in 1985, when Robinson 4 wrote a review of the topic, he was able to find 8 reliable reports involving plant cells and 4 on animal cells responding to DC fields. The reports ranged from growth of neurons towards the negative electrode to a “healing” response of wounds. Many of these observations seem to have been dismissed as “laboratory curiosities,” unlikely to have much real world application. In Japan, though, electrical stimulation has been used in the production of Shiitake, Buna-shimejo, and eryngii mushrooms for almost half a decade. And this technology doesn’t seem to be limited to mushrooms, as farmers are also using electromagnetic field technology in the production of tomato, lettuce, strawberry, and some ornamental plants.

The SPLG. Zap!Lightning is notoriously disobedient, so Islam and Ohga built a “Small Population Lightning Generator” (SPLG), conveniently powered by rechargeable AA batteries.3 This device can be wheeled through the forest, and administers 50kV electric pulses to the ground through its electrode wheels. No, it isn’t exactly like lightning—it’s more like the shock you get from a metal doorknob after dancing in your polyester leisure suit. The SPLG delivers maybe 500 milliJoules of energy per zap; a bolt of lightning might deliver one billion times more than that. Other studies have delivered shocks as low as 30kV and shown increases in mushroom yields.1 One Fall day in a Japanese forest, Islam and Ohga trundled the SPLG across their 2 by 3 meter experimental plots in parallel passes that were each 0.10 meters apart.3

The results were yields of matsutake mushrooms just about double the yields in unzapped control plots. A monstrous flush came two weeks after the pulse and a second one nearly as large 3 weeks after. But it wasn’t just the quantity that increased, the quality, as measured by weight and size of individual matustake mushrooms also showed dramatic increases: Harvests from the zapped plots were, on average, almost 70% heavier then controls.3 If you thought mushrooms were magical all on their own, the combination of mushrooms and electricity might knock your socks off.

Fungi are mysterious things and the mechanism by which electrical stimulation promotes mushroom fruiting is still not much understood. Perhaps the mushroom mycelium is responding to an apparent threat of death by redoubling its reproductive efforts? Many electrifying questions remain. Like: how does the zapping affect forest trees? Can the high fruiting rates be sustained without damaging the mushroom-tree symbiosis? When’s the next thunderstorm due in my neighborhood?

In the meantime, if you feel like experimenting (safely, of course) with mushrooms and electricity, you might want to check out this intriguing post about a New York City mycophile who grew his mushrooms amid Jazz music, artificial fog, and static electricity. Or, next time you go in the woods foraging for mushrooms, look for trees recently struck by lightning. Who knows what you will find. Maybe you will even have an encounter with the god Soma, child of the thunderstorm.

An assortment of References

  • 1. S. Tsukamoto, H. Kudoh, S. Ohga, K. Yamamoto, and H. Akiyama, “Development of an automatic electrical stimulator for mushroom sawdust bottle,” in Proceeding of the 15th Pulsed Power Conference, pp. 1437–1440, Monterey, Calif, USA, June 2005
  • 2. R.G. Wasson. “Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality.” 1968.
  • 3. F. Islam and S. Ohga, “The response of fruit body formation on Tricholoma matsutake in situ condition by applying electric pulse stimulator,” ISRN Agronomy, vol. 2012, Article ID 462724, 6 pages, 2012. doi:10.5402/2012/462724
  • 4. K. R. Robinson, “The responses of cells to electrical fields: a review,” Journal of Cell Biology, vol. 101(6): 2023–2027, 1985.
  • 5. S. Tsukamoto, T. Maeda, M. Ikeda, and H. Akiyama, “Application of pulsed power to mushroom culturing,” in Proceedings of the 14th IEEE International Pulsed Power Conference, pp. 1116–1119, Dallas, Texas, USA, June 2003.
  • 6. W. R. Adey, “Biological Effects of Electromagnetic Fields,” in Journal of Cellular Biochemistry 51:410-416. 1993.
  • 7. S. Ohga and S. Iida. “Effect of electric impulse on sporocarp formation of ectomycorrhizal fungus Laccaria laccata in Japanese red pine plantation.” J. Forest Res. 6: 37-41. 2001.

Calvatia gigantea: Giant Puffball

Last weekend I did the whole monkey run loop in Ithaca, a beautiful 5 plus mile loop with stunning views, fields, forests, water, hills, and Mushrooms! It was a mild saturday after a rainy friday and I found a field mushroom with pink gills and an orange mushroom but these two mushrooms got crushed in my bag by the huge puffball I found; Calvatia gigantea. This giant puffball was a bit misshapen, probably due to other animals that had decided to take a bite out of this tasty treat, but it was so big that even after cutting off the entire oddly shaped, critter nibbled exterior (which my teacher recommended I did quite thoroughly for sanitary reasons), I had plenty to make into two delicious meals.

The puff ball before skinned, just cut in half. Note the pure white inside. You don’t want to eat any puffball that has begun to discolor inside. I admit, the apple is somewhat of a midget apple so it may not be a fair size comparison… But it was quite large!

The first meal I made was what I am calling puffball parmesan. I would say it was as tasty as any chicken parmesan I’ve ever had!Here is how I did it.

Ingredients:

(made about 4 servings, depending on how hungry you are. Note: although just as delicious, I did find that puffball parmesan is not quite as filling as chicken parmesan. I ended up eating hald of my 8×8 casserole dish for one meal!)

  • 1 Calvatia gigantea (I used about half of my large one for this recipe)
  • bread crumbs (I made my own out of some old hard bread, adding whatever yummy spices I had around like sage, thyme, rosemary, basil, salt and pepper and some fresh chopped garlic)
  • eggs (2-3 should be enough)
  • butter or oil (I used a mix of olive oil and butter)
  • spinach
  • tomato sauce
  • parmesan cheese
  • mozzarella cheese

Preheat your oven to about 350 F.  Wash and trim your puffball thoroughly to get get rid of the tough and possibly unsanitary outer layer. Cut it into hamburger thickness slabs. Have two bowls ready, one with your eggs beaten, and another with your breadcrumbs. Get a pan warmed up with oil or butter. Then dip each slab of puffball into the eggs and then roll around in the bread crumbs. Fry lightly on the pan until golden brown on the outside.

Arrange these breaded puffball slabs in a casserole dish. Pour some tomato sauce over them (I added some spinach too for some extra nutritional value). I also mixed up the extra bread crumbs and egg I had and through that in too. Then put some thin strips of parmesan cheese cheese on top, sprinkle some parmesan and stick it in the oven until the cheese starts to bubble, and you have yourself a delicious puffball parmesan! I honestly think I might have been able to serve this to an unsuspecting passerby and they would have thought it was chicken parmesan.

My puffball parmesan just out of the oven. Yummm.

After this delicious feast I still had half of my puffball left, that I was surprised to find remained in good condition in my fridge for the week. So today, as I seemed to have caught the cold that has hit Ithaca hard I decided it was time to make a big, hearty soup. Last night I boiled a chicken breast with the bone in to start the stock, but found it to still be quite weak, so I decided to make it a chicken-miso soup. Being a fan of using what I have in the fridge if I can I decided to cut the res of the puffball up into little cubes and throw in into my soup instead of tofu! At first each little cube seemed to be expanding with the liquid and and floating on the top but as I let the soup simmer they shrunk down in size and tasted quite yummy! Although ingredients in my hearty soup included a cup (uncooked) of brown rice, carrots and onions sautéed and then thrown in, garlic, and kale. And of course lots of miso, some pepper, and chili powder. Although I don’t have much sense of smell or taste right now the soup tasted good to me and is definitely warming me up and making me feel better. If I made it again I might add less rice or make sure I had more broth though because the rice soaks up a lot of water and turns it into almost a stew.

I hope you enjoyed these puff ball recipes!

A Lucky Mushroom Day

Disclaimer and warning: Please do not use any information on this site to identify or eat mushrooms. Mushroom identification is a complex thing and I am only a novice!

Mushrooms of Field and Forest, PLPA 3190 taught by Kathie Hodge is quickly becoming my new favorite course at Cornell. This class takes up my whole wednesday afternoon and evening but I am not complaining. Last wednesday we went to Danby State forest (near Abbot loop) to hunt for mushrooms and it seems as though a little spell put on me by our TA using a mushroom wand (a stick covered in mushrooms) gave me some good luck. It seemed that my finds grew more and more spectacular through the afternoon.

First I found some beautiful specimens of the Ash-tree Bolete (Gyrodon merulioides), right under some ash trees, as their name suggests. These mushrooms are edible but only “ok” in the taste department according to my friend. But their spore surface is quite beautiful in my opinion. Looking like a spiderweb network of subtly ridges lines, it makes me think of a view of a complex mountain range as seen from a spaceship.

The Ash-Tree Boletes

The beautiful underside of the the Ash-tree bolete

As I bent down to pick some other rather small mushrooms I looked through the forest and spotted a large orange-ish spot on a tree 20 or so yards away. Indeed it was a mushroom and quite a large one at that! It was Big Laughing Gym (Gymnopilus spectabilis or jumonius) growing on a still live maple tree. Can you guess by the name that is might be hallucinogenic? This  sturdy stemmed, fleshy mushroom was a bit of a tricky one to identify but given its size and a few other subtle characteristics I am pretty sure it is G. spectabilis, which has recently been renamed G. jumonius. The smell of Big Gym is almost sickeningly sweet but it is said to taste bitter, although I cannot say from personal experience.

Big Laughing Gym

The underside of Big laughing gym, with a smaller one with partial veil still intact

As I continued to walk in the lowlands of Danby state forest I came across two more amazing specimens! Words would not do these two mushrooms justice. (the best always comes last)

A Beautiful Parasol Mushroom (Genus: Lepiota, Species: Procera?). Such feathery delicate features!

Here is the underside of the parasol, showing a prominent annulus (the ring that comes from remnants of the partial veil.)

And the grand finale is an Amanita muscaria var. Formosa, common name the yellow – orange fly agaric.. A picturesque, but hallucinogenic and poisonous mushroom.

Here you can see the underside of this amanita. Notice it has an annulus (the ring around the stem), although less distinctive then the lepiota, and a volva (the wide, bulbous base)

And there you have it! Well, almost. My mushroom hunt ended somewhat dramatically with an auspicious dead snake. I’ve been seeing a lot of snakes recently, which to me symbolize the ability to transform, but this snake was dead so I will take that as a sign to not test my luck with any “transforming” mushrooms.

This dead snake had two puncture wounds above its eye, almost looking like it had been bitten by the fangs of another snake. I think it is an eastern ribbon snake. If anyone has a guess as to how it might have died I would love to hear your thoughts!

below are a my own hand drawn illustrations of the four above, with key identifying features labeled.

For some more pictures of mushrooms you can check out this facebook album. Also, the Cornell mushroom blog is fun and my teachers flickr stream has some great photos.

The Importance of Food

I just finished watching a great TEDTalk featuring Roger Doiron talking about gardening. It was sent to me by a dear friend who was in my Permaculture Design Course this summer, and came at the perfect time as I had just been drawing up plans and ideas for my parents garden that I will get a chance to work on this spring. Doiron Makes the argument that gardening is a subversive act. It is subversive because if people can grow their own food it is putting power back into the people’s hands and taking power away from big corporations. It is putting power back in your hands by giving you more control over your health, diet, and wallet.

Over the past several years food has become an increasingly important subject in my life. I myself am not what I would call a foodie; I will eat just about anything you put in front of me whether it is fast, slow, greasy, fresh, meaty, or vegan, and am probably only a little better than the average American, and far worse then my many foodie friends, when it comes to cooking and kitchen know how. But I do appreciate and highly enjoy good food, which is perhaps why I tend to find myself surrounded by foodie friends.

But beyond that, as I have been wrestling with the ideas of sustainability, community, and social change each strand I follow seems to bring me back to food.

  • If we can grow food sustainably that will be a huge step towards a sustainable earth.
  • In every community I have been in meal times are what literally feed the community.
  • If we want to create social change we first need to make sure that everyone has access to healthy, affordable food.

Food is a basic necessity of every single individual. Therefore, even if you are a microwave meal or McDonalds kind of person, you must interact with food each and every day. It may in fact be this, that food is a necessity, that is the ingenuity behind huge money making corporations like McDonalds.

And amazingly, it isn’t just the food industry that has found a way to make a profit off of our need for food; For every food calorie we eat it takes 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce that 1 calorie. This is in our highly industrialized food system of course, where petroleum based fertilizers are the norm and gas guzzling machines and trucks are used to process and get our food to us from thousands of miles away.

(Image taken from Roger Doiron's TEDTalk) Michelle Obama's White House Garden. Compare this to the image below...

(Image taken from Roger Doiron's TEDTalk) If the White House Garden were to be representative of our industrialized agricultural system this is what it would look like. Yes, we are subsidizing a system that is 80% soy, wheat, cotton, and corn and only 20% fruits and vegetables.

It seems that if we change our food system we would inevitably change much more than just our food system; We would effect global economics, global health, global happiness, and global sustainability.

So how can we change the food system to create positive change in all these areas? Doiron thinks the key is in encouraging and inspiring more people to grow their own food. That’s right, it might be as simple as growing your very own kitchen garden. You will eat healthier, feel healthier, save money, and be sticking it to the big bureaucratic corporate machine  all at the same time. And, you will probably be happier as being involved in your food tends to encourage community and connection to other humans and the natural world, which tends to lead to greater overall happiness.

I think this last part about community and overall happiness is why I have found myself continually coming back to food.

For me, being someone who grew up with a phenomenal cook as a mother and a father who refused to go to a fast food joint even on the longest, most remote stretches of highway where nothing else was available, I grew to desire and expect good quality, healthy, fresh meals. Perhaps it was this desire that led me to live in coop in college where home cooked dinners were part of every evening. Also, growing up with no TV dinners and coming from a Jewish family where holidays and celebrations often included large, elaborate, and delicious meals I was conditioned to associate food with good company and a time to connect.

For me, the kitchen always seems to be the center of the house. Whether you are preparing a meal, cleaning up after a meal, or chatting with the those who are cooking and cleaning while you wait for some tasty morsels to come your way, the kitchen is where people gravitate. The kitchen and food is also often where conflict arises; people have different dietary preferences, someone doesn’t clean up their dishes, and oh no! My leftovers that I was going to have for lunch are gone! But working through and resolving these issues provide important real life lessons in conflict resolution, community building, budgeting, cooking, cleanliness and more.

Well, this has been the case for me and the kinds of people I have gravitated to in my life. But this apparently is NOT the norm. In Doiron’s talk on TEDTalks he gave the astonishing statistic that the average american now spends only 31 minutes doing food related activities each day. This means 31 minutes a day cooking, eating, and cleaning up after meals! It seems a stretch to me to  even fit just eating 3 meals in that time, let alone preparing and cleaning up.

There is another reality out there where the TV room is the center of the house. In this scenario food is quickly taken from the freezer, microwaved and individuals sit silently eating their food in front of the mind numbing television. No time for family discussions of politics, news or current events, or for sharing of the trials and tribulations of one’s day.

Having grown up in a household and in communities where food and meal times were not undervalued I have been attracted to local food cooperatives and farmers markets to do my shopping; another social and festive way in which to interact with food. This of course got me thinking more on where my food comes from and issues of food justice.

The conclusion I have come to is that we need localized food systems. We need more people involved in their food, growing a more diverse array of food that celebrates and preserves more cultural diversity and holds communities together.

Having come to this conclusion I have decided to join the subversive gardening movement and start growing food in my parents yard this spring. I encourage you to do the same! Having taken a permaculture design course and studied agriculture at Cornell University I am well aware that growing food can be quite complex. But it can also be quite simple and you have to start somewhere. I myself have become a bit intimidated by complexity of academic analysis of growing food and “right” and “wrong” ways to do it but I have decided I have to start somewhere, so why not start with putting a few seeds in the ground? Maybe I will start a trend and before I know it the whole block will be filled with front yard gardens. And then before you know it neighbors will be interacting again we all find yourselves out on a sunny Saturday afternoon eating fresh veggies and pulling weeds. This could indeed be the way to revitalize community…

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