Friday, January 29, 2010

Clean Your Plate: Around the Web This Week

Sounds like we're in for a snowy few days, folks... just in case you'd forgotten that it was winter.  Here's a few things to keep you busy this weekend.  Brew up a nice cup of hot chocolate, pull up the quilt and start clicking.
And finally -- don't miss the chance to apply for our paid apprenticeship out at the educational farm.  A seriously once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

image credit: Todd Ehlers/Creative Commons

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Start Your Own Community Garden in C-ville

Community gardens are not just an urban phenomenon.  Yes, in places like New York City, it's hard to walk a block or two without finding some tended patch of green, spilling out onto the sidewalk.  In fact, New York boasts more than 600 gardens covering more than 32 acres — pretty impressive.

But they exist in less urban locales, too, like Charlottesville, which has at least three or fourMeadowcreek Gardens (off Morton Drive, behind the English Inn) and Azalea Park (off Old Lynchburg Road near 64) both have community garden plots where residents can rent space to grow flowers and vegetables, and others can be found on Sixth Street and Ridge Street.

Word on the street, however, is that it's nigh on impossible to get a plot at most of these gardens — that's how popular they are.  Which leads me to believe we need more community gardens — a lot more.  And now, there's a great opportunity for some motivated individuals or groups to make something happen.

Tom's Garden is a new organization making "seed money" grants for community gardens in our area.  They consider applications from any group: individuals, homeowner's associations, public and non profit orgs, schools — basically anyone who has the vision and elbow grease to make it happen.

The application is available on their website.  So what are you waiting for?  It's practically spring — get growing!

image credit: itzafineday/Creative Commons

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Apply Now: Farming Apprenticeship with the Local Food Hub!

America's farming demographic is aging. Rapidly.

According to the latest Census of Agriculture, the average age of a U.S. farmer is 57.2, and that's not all.  The average American small farmer is over 60. More than one out of every four farmers is over 65 years old and rapidly facing retirement, and less than 6% of all American farmers are younger than 35 years old.

If you haven't thought about it before, now's the time to take a minute and consider:  who will grow our food in 10, 15, or 20 years?

Could it be you?  In addition to providing services and support to our current generation of small farmers, the Local Food Hub is dedicated to inspiring and developing the next generation of farmers through workshops, classes and hands-on activities.

That's why we're proud to announce our first apprenticeship opportunity at our educational farm.  Apprentices will perform a wide variety of tasks including planting, mulching, laying irrigation, organic pest management, harvesting and packing produce, and working with the public and selected teenage interns in a mentor capacity. Further knowledge in areas such as soil improvement, crop planning, and farm machinery is possible for motivated individuals.  Get all the details here.

This is a unique opportunity to get your hands in the ground and make a difference -- don't miss it!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Clean Your Plate: Around the Web this Week

Happy rainy Friday.  While the Local Food Hub truck is out making the rounds (to the Haven and Clark, Johnson and Jackson-Via Elementary Schools, to be exact), we're making the rounds on the internet.   Here's the best in food-related media this week:
image credit: Christine Wells Vrooman

    Tuesday, January 19, 2010

    An Irrational Fear...

    To be completely honest, the idea of growing mushrooms freaks me out.  It could be the fear of accidentally eating something that's horribly toxic, but I trace a good deal of my paranoia back to a particularly memorable episode of the X-Files (which, if you're interested, featured a mushroom that extended for more than ten acres underground and digested human bodies).

    Irrational thinking in both cases, I knowEspecially considering I love to eat mushrooms: sauteed, grilled, roasted, in an omelet, you name it.

    Which is why I'm considering taking one of the mushroom growing classes being held this spring out at Sharondale Farm.  Two different classes — Growing Mushrooms at Home and Got Mushroom? — designed to teach the fungi-novice the basics of life cycles and ecology, as well as cultivation techniques (either indoor or outdoor, depending on the class).

    If you've ever dreamed of inoculating your own log with spores or harvesting your own crop of oyster mushrooms, now's your chance!  Classes are open to the public, but on a first come, first serve basis.  $25 reserves your spot!

    image credit: benketaro/Creative Commons

    Monday, January 18, 2010

    New Report Shows Good Results

    Driving around Charlottesville, you’d be hard pressed to go more than a few blocks without eventually coming face to face with the back end of a Volvo or Subaru sporting a "Buy Fresh Buy Local" bumper sticker. But as prevalent as the sentiment seems to be, is the movement actually a movement? That is to say, are people actually buying locally – and does it matter?

    If the Local Food Hub’s early success is any indication, then yes, our community is committed to supporting local food. In less than a year, we’ve gotten up and running and beat every initial goal we set for ourselves. But if you’re looking for something less anecdotal and more facts, figures and numbers, well, you’re in luck because the numbers for 2009 have been crunched.

    A national survey of more than 1,800 independently owned businesses found that not only did more holiday shoppers seek out locally owned businesses this year, independent retailers in cities with active "Buy Independent / Buy Local" or "Local First" campaigns reported stronger holiday sales than those in cities without such campaigns.

    In cold hard numbers, it looks like this:
    • Independent retailers in cities with Buy Local campaigns reported an average increase in holiday sales of 3 percent.
    • Independent retailers in cities without a campaign reported an increase of 1.0 percent, while the national average was a mere .75 percent.

    Clearly, Buy Local campaigns are having an impact in communities across America.

    This is good news, especially if you recall a recent report by the Virginia Cooperative Extension. They found that if every Virginia household spent just $10 per week on locally grown food, they would invest more than $137 million back into local farms, independent businesses, and the community every month.

    That adds up to more than $1.65 billion invested in Virginia’s communities each year. One more reason to think globally and shop locally.

    image credit: Phil LaCombe/Creative Commons

    Friday, January 15, 2010

    Clean Your Plate: Around the Web This Week

    It's Friday and the Local Food Hub truck is out and about, stuffed full of local potatoes, winter squash, turnips, onions and apples and making donation drops at both the Haven and the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank in Charlottesville.  Here's to a good weekend and healthy eating for all.  

    Also, here's our new weekly round up the latest food news, articles, events and happenings on the web this week. Did you see something we missed? Let us know...
    And finally our thoughts are going out to those in Haiti; please take a minute and do what you can to help.

    image credit: whirledkid/Creative Commons

    Thursday, January 14, 2010

    Going Dormant

    I can’t help it – the thermometer barely cracked 50 degrees today and I automatically started thinking about spring: sunshine, seeds, gardens, sprouts, fresh fruits and vegetables.

    Alas, it’s only January and here in Virginia, we have at least another two months of the cold stuff. Reality check.

    Here’s the thing: eating locally also means eating seasonally, and when that season happens to be winter (and you happen to be in Virginia), it’s tough to be good. Even Epicurious gives Virginia a depressing “dormant” rating for January.

    But why should we care whether a food is in season? 

    For one thing, most produce these days travels about 1,500 miles before it reaches the consumer, bearing an ugly carbon footprint. But a related point is freshness. If your food doesn’t travel as far, it will be fresher – and healthier – when you finally purchase it. Finally, because seasonal food is usually locally produced, concentrating your spending power on it will help to keep your local economy ticking and keep money circulating within your community, which can only help make the place you live a more pleasant area to be in. All of these reasons, coincidentally, are linked to the Local Food Hub’s mission and our whole raison d’etre.

    So what’s a local-minded grocery shopper to do during these dog-days of winter? Well, while the hub’s coffers are getting low, they aren’t empty. We’re still delivering apples, sweet potatoes, white potatoes and even some frozen berries – so keep your eyes peeled for our delivery truck.

    And think about trying something new for dinner this week – also in season now: beets, burdock, cabbage, carrots, garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, kale, leeks, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, pears, rutabagas, shallots, turnips and winter squash (take that Epicurious!). 

    Of course, we’re not advocating that you should completely deprive yourself during the winter months, either. Sometimes only a banana will do. But, by being aware of what’s local and seasonal at the moment, you provide a new element to your shopping, cooking and eating that mindlessly loading up the cart with imported foods at the supermarket really can't match.

    Wednesday, January 13, 2010

    Food Rules: Who Makes 'Em?

    If you share even a marginal interest in “food issues” – whether it manifests in your weekly runs to the farmers’ market downtown or your letter writing campaign to the USDA in support of Farm-to-School lunch programs– then you’ve heard of Michael Pollan. Actually, even if you haven’t done any of those things, you’ve still probably heard of Michael Pollan. It’s hard to avoid those best-selling authors staring out at you from the front windows of the local bookstore, shaming you for already forsaking your new year's resolution of reading more, watching American Idol less.

    Pollan’s latest missive, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, is a 112-page attempt to distill chapters and chapters of research, guidance, advice and experience into an easy to read (and even easier to follow) instruction book of sorts – something less hefty than The Omnivore’s Dilemma, but meatier (excuse the pun) than the overly-simplified: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

    I haven’t read the book yet (though it’s on my list right after I finish Let the Great World Spin), but excerpts from the book have been making their way around the water cooler of the internet, so I know what I’m in for, and I’m pretty excited to dig in.

    The “rules” are based mostly on common sense – Pollan says “while most of the rules are backed by science, they are not framed in the vocabulary of science but rather culture” – and while it might seem silly to waste your time and money on common sense, I find it does actually help to see that kind of thing in black and white, on paper. It just helps reinforce the message.

    Here are some of the rules:
    #11 Avoid foods you see advertised on television.
    #19 If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't.
    #36 Don't eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk.
    #39 Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself (not good advice for those of us who were just gifted an ice cream maker).
    #58 Do all your eating at a table.
    See? They make sense once they’re written out.

    But Pollan’s not the only one who can make rules for eating. Michelle Obama has some, I have some, and I’m sure you do, too. So what are they? Chime in right down there in the comments section and tell us what’s in your book!

    image credit: tobybarnes/Creative Commons