Saturday, April 30, 2016

Mr. Gildersleeve Goes to Washington

Last week, Pew Charitable Trusts convened a meeting in Washington, DC, for the 40th anniversary of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), a bipartisan law created to regulate and protect fisheries, enacted on April 13, 1976. Lyf Gildersleeve, owner of Flying Fish, a sustainable seafood retailer in the Providore Fine Foods space on NE Sandy Boulevard, was invited to attend. At the end of his report is a link to contact your congressional representatives, which I urge you to do.

There seems to be consensus, particularly among West Coast officials, that the MSA has been successful. The work to maintain it is constant and always evolving, but we’re fortunate to still benefit from such a great piece of legislation.

The 1996 and 2006 reauthorizations added new provisions which strengthened the MSA and gave it some teeth in addressing overfishing, rebuilding stocks and reducing bycatch. These provisions created on-the-water components beyond the letter of the law—often unpopular smaller quotas, new marine-protected areas and gear restrictions for bycatch reduction and habitat protection. These tough decisions certainly affect fishermen, fishing communities and many other components of the fishing industry, but they’re critical to maintain the overall sustainability of the resource.

Atlantic stripers at The Wharf in Washington, DC.

But the goal—and the good news—is that the MSA’s provisions have allowed stocks to rebuild, causing fishing quotas to start rising again, too. As well, the untargeted fish, often forage fish important in the food chain that feed the prized fishes, remain in the ocean. In short, sustainable fisheries policy enables sustainable business in coastal communities.

The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council (NPFMC), one of eight regional councils to come about because of MSA, has likewise adapted their policy to reflect an ecosystem-based approach, rather than a focus on individual species. This approach accounts for the all the components in the fishery’s web, rather than a single focus that has no regard for the effect it has elsewhere. It’s a relatively new approach, and NPFMC is the only regional council using this kind of management strategy.

It’s a West Coast success story to be sure, but unfortunately not all management areas in the United States yield the same successful results.

East Coast councils have continually struggled to rebuild stocks. They’ve implemented rebuilding programs that include conservation areas and lowered annual catch limits, but stocks have yet to recover. It’s the typical story of overfishing beyond a level of sustainability, and now too few fish remain to adequately reproduce and rebuild the population.

In the South, states like Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida remain locked in a huge allocation battle for red snapper. The fishery has faced tremendous pressure as a staple Southern dish, and thus stocks are weak. The resultant smaller quotas must be split between commercial, recreational, and charter boat fishermen.

Oregon delegation (l to r): Lyf Gildersleeve, Flying Fish; Bob Rees, Assoc. of NW Steelheaders; Paul Engelmeyer, Audobon Society Portland.

Issues also exist in the definitions of state and federal waters. Some states want to extend fishable boundaries into federal waters, which would create a gray area for overlapping fishing areas (i.e. multiple takers for singular fisheries). It would also create a ripple effect for threatened species from red snapper in the South to striped bass in the upper Atlantic, not to mention the potential for exploitation of gas and oil extraction and development. Allowing any additional boundary extensions is simply a bad idea.

In a nutshell, the West Coast has served as an exemplary model for MSA implementation and operation by regional fisheries management councils. We’ve done a lot of work so far, but much more still remains.

One of the biggest takeaways from my time in Washington was the need for a coalition of delegates and representatives to stand together and promote the policy’s successes. We need to come together with a cooperative effort to improve upon the existing MSA; we can’t wait for someone to draft legislation that would weaken it. Now is the time to act—to lead with positive action, rather than waiting to counter and oppose a bad plan.

This should not be a partisan issue, and it wasn’t in 1976 when Senators Warren Magnuson (D-Washington) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) drafted the first law. This is our ocean, our resource, our food. Here in 2016, we’re watching a divisive election campaign unfold in front of an unproductive Congress. The MSA’s renewals in 1996 and 2006 were each bipartisan; the new reauthorization must be handled the same way—professionally and humanely, across the aisle. There is no other way.

The MSA’s statute spans ten years, so given its last renewal in 2006, it’s up for another renewal. But, with a short session this year and a Congress that seems uninspired to advance anything with the environment in mind, it’s unlikely it will be renewed this year. That means the law will remain as is  with almost no risk of being adulterated.

That said, in 2014, H.R. 4742—the "Empty Oceans Act"—passed through the House, but stalled in Senate and was fortunately not adopted. Its biggest offenses were introducing terminology like “flexibility” and “if practicable,” which enabled regional councils to exercise wiggle room, opening the door for overfishing in the name of higher profits. It’s not only crucial that the current MSA must be maintained, but with a longer view in focus it can incorporate new topics like: climate change, ocean acidification, estuary protection and upstream forestry protection.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is the government entity that oversees the funding necessary for the MSA’s performance. And like many important interests, budget allocation issues are creating undue stress, in this case on fisheries.

For starters, there isn’t enough funding for research. The MSA states that regional councils must make the best choices possible with the best science available. But as it stands, the best science available is insufficient. Within the limits of current research, very tangible problems exist such as: 1) harvesting too many fish because populations were overestimated, and 2) its opposite, the underutilization of resources due to ineffective population analysis. Both of these are dangerous categories. Overfishing clearly causes damage, as we’ve seen on the East Coast, as it threatens to push a fishery beyond recovery. With underfishing, we risk one species overtaking a weaker one, creating the potential for further damage to weaker populations.

Within its current confines, NOAA doesn’t recognize the bigger picture. A more comprehensive overview would craft a better ecological picture—the relationship between what happens way upstream and deep in the ocean. Continued and deeper research on global warming and its effects on fisheries, ocean acidification and more is paramount.

NOAA also needs to create national training programs for displaced fishermen to build and enhance domestic aquaculture production, reducing our demand on foreign products. Currently, upwards of 90% of all seafood consumed in the United States is imported, most of it from China and Southeast Asia. We need to, and can, do better here at home.

With NOAA’s funding for research so limited, they should be more open to third-party science and research to help guide their decisions and policy. The current protocol, employing only in-house research, doesn’t work when there isn’t enough money for proper research.

Finally, I believe that NOAA could benefit from a marketing and awareness campaign, elevating the good work that NOAA does, like, and bringing better attention to American fishing and seafood. I feel that much of the problem with the funding allocation stems from states not prioritizing a discussion about fisheries and the ocean.

I encourage you to write your congressional representatives and show your support for the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

All photos courtesy Lyf Gildersleeve.

Friday, April 29, 2016

"Eating is an Agricultural Act."

This past week I was invited to give a short, eight-minute talk about Portland's food scene to a gathering, called an "incubator," of project leaders from EcoDistricts, a Portland-based nonprofit supporting projects that make cities more sustainable. These were folks from around the country, with one crew from New Zealand, many of whom had never been to Oregon before. They asked me to cover "Portland's food, wine, craft beer and spirits culture and industry." With a nod to a former creative director of mine, I opted "to give them what they want, just not what they expect."

When you hear a mention of Portland’s food scene, I’m guessing what comes to mind are its booming restaurants, with tatted-up chef-dudes in sideways trucker hats putting bacon and foie gras into every course, including dessert. You might also be (justifiably) excited about the city’s much-touted cocktail culture, with bartenders vying for who’s the baddest in the land, shaking cocktails made from local spirits, with a lineup of housemade bitters and syrups displayed on the bar.

So I don’t mean to disappoint you, but that’s not the food scene I’m going to be talking about today. The food scene I’m interested in, and the one that I write about on my blog, Good Stuff NW, is the one that happens in the fields and rivers and in the ocean.

Carol and Anthony Boutard.

It’s the not-very-sexy but incredibly important story of how the harvest from those places gets to my plate.

It’s the story of farmers like Carol and Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm, transplants from Western Massachusetts who, after settling in Portland and working on land use issues for decades, decided, at the age of 50, to buy 140 acres of fields, oak savannah and wetland west of the city to start an organic farm. In the decade-plus that they’ve been farming, they’ve become known for the quality of their corn, an old New England variety that they’ve adapted to the growing conditions here in the Northwest, which they hand-shell and grind into polenta and dry to make popcorn. Then there are their Astiana tomatoes, named for the area of the Piedmont in Italy where they first tasted them and where Carol—legend has it—was so enamored of their flavor that she went dumpster-diving in the restaurant’s garbage to salvage a handful of seeds to bring back to their farm.

All of their hard work selecting seeds year after year is in pursuit of better flavor, and it shows in the legions of their loyal customers who can’t get enough of their dried beans, a South Asian green called fenugreek (that growing in the fields smells just like maple syrup), Italian chicories, garlic and other crops.

Ivan Maluski and Kendra Kimbirauskas.

This same dedication to soil and the health of the land—which also happens to result in incredibly flavorful food—is evident in the way that Kendra Kimbirauskas and her husband, Ivan Maluski, of Shimanek Bridge Farm in Scio raise their pigs, goats and chickens. A small-scale operation, they reject the confined, factory farm conditions and antibiotic-laden diets that most of America’s meat is raised in, raising all of their animals on pasture in a system called rotational grazing, where the animals are moved from one section to another in sequence and the pastures are allowed to regrow before the next group of animals is moved onto it.

I recently bought half a pig from them and, with help, butchered it—an incredibly budget-friendly way to get a year’s supply of meat—and I can tell you that there is nothing as beautiful as the fat from a well-raised animal. Its flavor is clean and rich, offering more "good" fats and fewer "bad" fats. The meat is richer in antioxidants; including vitamins E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C and it doesn’t have traces of added hormones, antibiotics or other drugs.

Tasting carrots at the Culinary Breeding Network Variety Showcase.

And since we’re on the subject of the pursuit of flavor, Lane Selman, an agricultural researcher at Oregon State University, has started an innovative program called the Culinary Breeding Network, bringing together plant breeders, seed growers, fresh market farmers, chefs and produce buyers to talk about how to make our food more delicious. (Imagine that.)

Historically these various groups have had widely divergent agendas in developing the crops that we find in the produce section at the store or on our plates at a restaurant. Plant breeders and seed growers looked for germination rates, vigorousness of growth and consistency of product. Fresh market farmers and produce buyers wanted big yields, durability in shipping and shelf life. Chefs and home cooks wanted flavor and beauty on the plate.

So Lane’s effort, supported by OSU and the Organic Seed Alliance, has been to bring all these groups together to talk about how to grow food—using traditional plant breeding processes (think Mendel’s peas)—that will be profitable to grow and sell while not sacrificing flavor. Currently there are field trials happening on regional farms for sweeter carrots, amazing varieties of parsley that can taste minty or savory rather than cardboard-y, squashes of all descriptions, greens, a variety of purple broccoli, and a habanero pepper that has no heat but keeps an incredibly sweet, deep undertone.

School tour at Zenger Farm.

Like many larger cities across the country, there’s also a vital urban agriculture scene in Portland that includes 51 community gardens covering more than 20 acres in the city, with more than 70 acres of land under cultivation commercially. In sizes ranging from small residential lots to larger plots of an acre or more and supporting themselves through CSA ( or community-supported agriculture) subscriptions, farmers’ market stands, restaurant clients, classes and even pop-up dinner events onsite, these small businesses are sought out by city folk like me anxious to support these entrepreneurial efforts.

And speaking of farmers’ markets, our metro area supports more than 60 farmers’ markets during the height of the season from June through September, with a dozen that continue through the winter months. Since I understand that some of you work on projects that address food access, I wanted to mention that in addition to the Oregon Food Bank, which has a network of 17 regional food banks and 960 partner agencies that serve 900,000 people a year, as well as education classes and community food system training, there is the Farmers Market Fund, recently awarded a-half-million dollar grant from the USDA for a program called Double Up Food Bucks. It is a SNAP (which used to be called food stamps) incentive program that offers farmers’ market vouchers for low-income families. These vouchers are available at 50 farmers markets across the state, giving a dollar-for-dollar match—up to $10—to purchase fruits and vegetables. The Fund also provides funds up to $200 to help purchase CSA shares from area farms.

SNAP and regular farmers' market tokens.

One of the best things about the SNAP benefits offered at farmers’ markets, at least to my mind, is that when someone uses their SNAP debit card to get tokens that they can then use like cash at market stalls, the tokens they get are barely distinguishable from non-SNAP tokens of other customers, eliminating the issues of shame and embarrassment that many low-income people often have to endure.

The poet, author, environmental activist, cultural critic and farmer, Wendell Berry, said that “eating is an agricultural act.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Farm Bulletin: White Birds

Contributor Anthony Boutard's keen eye spotted some unusual visitors to the Ayers Creek Farm wetland. Click on the photos to see them full size.

For the past week, we have had a bunch of white birds in the further reaches of the wetland. Wasn't sure if they were egrets or swans.

Today, they moved closer and I brought out the spotting scope. Turns out we are hosting a group of 19 white pelicans. Unlike the brown pelican of the coast, the white pelicans are generally found inland. This is the first time we have seen them on our wetland. The birds in the water on the right are fishing in a coordinated effort which increases their catch.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Farm-to-Table Problem

The following essay was written as a response to an article titled "Farm to Fable" in the Tampa Bay [FL] Times, part of a comprehensive series written by their food critic, Laura Reiley, on the reliability of sourcing claims made by restaurant, farmers' markets and retail stores. You can read other local responses to the article at LetUMEat.

When I tell someone I’m a food writer, often the first thing they say is, "Oh, so you're a restaurant critic?" And I have to say no, I don't know enough about food to be able to criticize professionals; I'm just a home cook who loves to eat. An enthusiast, if you will.

What I do care about when it comes to restaurants is truthfulness. As a food writer who tries to tell informative stories about how our food gets from the fields—or forests or rivers or oceans—to our plates, it's important to me that readers get accurate information so that they can be more informed consumers.

The real deal: Gathering Together Farm produce.

When, as in the examples that Laura Reiley cites in her story in the Tampa Bay Times, restaurant owners and chefs obfuscate, stretch the truth or outright lie, it undermines the power that we have to make informed decisions about what we eat. In one example that I ran across recently, when a supermarket chain posts a billboard saying that their beef has never seen a feedlot, but they're only talking about the 100 percent grass-fed meat in their butcher cases—which, by law, must be fed only grass from weaning to slaughter—that's confusing to their customers who then think that none of the meat in the case has been fed the GMO corn and soy, along with antibiotics, that feedlot animals are given before slaughter.

The real deal: Kendra Kimbirauskas of Shimanek Bridge Farm.

Likewise the local restaurant that has a blackboard touting a list of the local farms they buy from, when it's January and 90 percent of those farms don't have crops available at that time of the year. Or restaurant menus that state their meat is bought from suppliers that have the word "Farms" in their names, but those "farms" are just a slaughterhouse that processes factory-farmed meat shipped in from hundreds or thousands of miles away. Or a "farm" that raises its chickens in closed buildings with a barely passable vent to the outside, birds that spend their short lives in litter that is contaminated with their own urine and feces.

The real deal: Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm and his organic flint corn.

Fortunately for us here in Oregon and the Northwest, good sources of food are plentiful for both home cooks and professional chefs, from farmers' markets—60 and counting in the metro area at the peak of the season—to farms, fishing boats and ranches that make their living from direct-to-consumer and retail sales. We also have a plethora of organizations that promote and encourage small family farms and beginning farmers, as well as nascent efforts to bring chefs together with seed breeders and farmers to grow more marketable, tastier crops.

And there are many, many restaurant owners and chefs who wage the daily struggle of ordering and scheduling deliveries from dozens of sources, and who shop the farmers' markets for the freshest ingredients for their customers. As Ms. Reiley writes in her article and is reiterated in Leah Scafe's response, it's up to us to be informed consumers, ask questions and hold our food sources responsible as much as we can. And that is what is going to change our food system, both locally and nationally, into a much more workable, healthy and sustainable one.

Top photo: The sustainably sourced meat case at Old Salt Marketplace with pasture-raised beef from Bill Hoyt's Hawley Ranch in Cottage Grove.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Cooking with Fire: Charred Cabbage

I have to say that Jim Dixon's commitment to grilling or, as he would say, cooking with fire, is pretty close to matching the obsession that my husband, Dave, has with the flame. So when one of them offers advice on improving and/or expanding on your fiery repertoire, it's best to prick up your ears.

While fire and food have been part of the human experience for millennia, cooking over burning embers still offers surprises, like the charred cabbage I ate last week. More on that below; the first step is is the actual fire. One of my favorite quotes says everything: "The first thing, if you have a gas grill, is get rid of it," said Donald Link.

The standard Weber works great, but so does a backyard fire pit with a grill. Some kind of cover comes in handy for longer, lower heat cooking, but it's not absolutely necessary. I burn a mixture of real wood charcoal (sometimes called lump briquet even though it's not the same as the standard charcoal briquet) and hardwood, usually a mix of oak and frutwood trimmings from my backyard trees. Whatever you burn, don't use lighter fluid to start it; get a charcoal chimney.

Start your fire, spread it out in your Weber (or whatever you're using), and let it burn down a little. Move the coals around so one part of the fire is hotter. Clean your grill grate with a wire brush after it gets hot. You're ready to cook.

Charred Cabbage with Mint & Walnut Pesto

Make the pesto by picking the leaves from a lot of mint (for a cup or so of walnuts, use about 2 cups of loosely packed mint leaves). Blitz the walnuts in the food processor* with a couple of garlic cloves, then add the mint, about a half cup of extra virgin olive oil to start, and about a half cup of grated pecorino romano cheese (or Parmigiano Reggiano or a mix of both). Add a pinch of salt and process until smooth, adding more oil if the mix seems a little dry.

Cut a head of green cabbage into quarters, keeping the core intact so the pieces hold together. As usual, the grilled vegetable manifesto applies, so no oil on the cabbage. Cook the cabbage pieces over direct heat (right over the hot coals), turning occasionally until they're nicely charred on all sides. Move the cabbage to the cooler part of the fire while you cook other stuff (if you build a fire, you might as well cook everything over it).

Serving the charred wedges whole is more dramatic, but chopping them up makes for easier eating. Either way, pour some good extra virgin olive oil on them and serve with a big dollop of the pesto.

*  I use a blender for making pesto. It seems to make a smoother sauce, and doesn't warm up the ingredients the way a processor can. - KAB

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Farm Bulletin: First Sighting of the Owlets

Each spring finds contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm observing the pair of great horned owls that make their nest in a snag out behind the farmhouse. The eggs the female laid have now hatched and the young owlets are making their debuts.

Here are some shots of the eldest great horned owlet. The first shot (top photo) caught a starling leaving her brood [the starling's head is poking out of a cavity at the bottom center of the photo]. The other owlet is still too small to sit up properly. These owls start incubating their eggs as soon as they are laid, so there will be a noticeable lag in maturity between the first laid and the second. As far as I can tell, there are two chicks this year, which is normal.

Other birds wait to incubate until the whole clutch is laid. The starling nesting in the cavity immediately below the owls follows this pattern, so all of her chicks will leave the nest within a few hours of one another. This decaying fir snag hosts many different birds, including nuthatches, chickadees, brown creepers and flickers. I wouldn't be surprised if a wren also found a suitable nesting cavity there. The owl's nest is about 150 feet from a red-tail hawk nest. That snag also hosts a variety of birds.

Over the past two weeks, several pairs of wood ducks have been eying the nesting boxes we put up for them. It is hard to suppress a double take when you see a pair of ducks roosting in a tree. The birds nesting in the fir are all what is termed "altricial." Their young are helpless when born, and remain in the nest for a few weeks tended by their parents. The wood duck lays her eggs over a period of ten days to a fortnight, and then goes broody, just like her neighbors. When she starts incubating the eggs, the embryos will begin their development synchronously.

However, her young are "precocial." Within hours of hatching, the downy young will leap from the nest and follow their parents to the water. Although ducks live on the water, the nests can be some distance away. At the farm, we have encountered mallard and black duck nests a quarter mile from the nearest water. Although these birds avoid the bald eagles, osprey and harriers that hunt the marshland,  coyotes, weasels and skunks are on the prowl for those upland nests.

Friday, April 15, 2016

A Day at Ayers Creek Farm

For the past few years I've had the privilege of occasional visits with Carol and Anthony Boutard at their farm outside of Gaston, spending a few hours helping with various chores. While not the most efficient worker, I hope that my enthusiasm for this wonderful place makes up for any lack of skill.

It starts with the alarm going off. I'm in the middle of a dream, but it disperses into steamy wisps when I open my eyes. As soon as I move dogs are tumbling off the bed and rolling on the floor like the demented dwarves that they are. Making my way to the bathroom I gingerly step over them, trying not to begin the day with a major injury. Ablutions done, contact lenses poked in my eyes, Walker leads me down the stairs with Kitty, as always, bringing up the rear (they somehow arrived at this arrangement soon after she joined the family and it's been that way ever since.)

Garlic, before weeding.

They dance around my feet as I put shoes on and untangle their leashes, Kitty barking in her hoarse but insistent voice, Walker whining and moaning to please-please-hurry-I-gotta-go. And out we do go, then in we come again, and while the coffee drips I feed them breakfast. I fill my water jug and pile up boots and coats for all the kinds of weather the day might bring, the fields wet and dripping or dry and dusty.

I pull up in front of Linda's house pretty much on time, her dogs begging for attention after a thorough sniffing to suss out who I've been with lately (at least four or five other dogs on this pair of jeans). Lunch at the farm today, as always, will be brought by Linda, who's planned a sprouted barley and beef soup with a cardoon salad tossed with an anchovy and lemon vinaigrette. I slap my forehead as I realize I've forgotten the loaf of Ayers Creek-grown barley bread that Dave made, so we'll have to "make do"—a gross misstatement of the facts—with Anthony's weekly allotment of Nostrana's wood oven-baked bread.

Garlic, after weeding.

The route from our Northeast neighborhood is a quick dash over the Fremont Bridge, out the Sunset Highway to Forest Grove then south to Gaston, but from Linda's home in Southeast it's easier to cross the river at Ross Island, heading out Highway 10 through Beaverton, then over Bald Peak to Springhill Road. It's a slower, albeit much more scenic, route, especially at the point you leave the suburbs behind, and I pull Chili up to the house before ten. Opening the front door sets off the Tito alarm, and he must be held and adored before any discussion of schedules can begin.

Anthony harvesting a cardoon.

By the time we head out to the fields Carol's sister, Sylvia, has arrived, and Carol introduces us to the "scuffle hoe," a stirrup-shaped scraper that basically uproots shallow weeds and cuts off deeper-rooted weeds when dragged over the surface of the soil. It's a fairly unsubtle instrument and can…ahem…also cut off the young plants if you try to get too close. (Note: I only beheaded two, Carol, honest!)

Cardoon salad.

Our task is to weed the tops and sides of a 100-foot row of garlic and a parallel 100-foot row of tarragon, thyme and sorrel. Linda (top photo, demonstrating proper technique) and I work the garlic while Carol and Sylvia tackle the other row, and we chat about books and movies and kids and laugh, sharing our experiences as I imagine farm workers have done for millenia.

When the rows are cleared it's time to head in for lunch where Anthony joins us—he's been off working on other projects all morning—and we dig into the hearty bowls of beef, sprouted barley, carrots and vegetables while thick slices of bread are slathered with butter and the cardoon salad is devoured.

The wicked euphorbia.

After lunch we head off to help Carol weed a section of her garden that was infested by an invasive form of euphorbia. What makes it worse, to her mind, is knowing that this calamity was self-inflicted. She bought the "cute little plant" at the garden store and within a couple of years it had wound itself around the daylilies, daffodil bulbs, lavender and shrubs in the bed, all of which have to be pulled out and disentangled from its grip.

Tea and cookies are our reward after this heroic rescue, and then it's time to jump in Chili and climb back over Bald Peak and home, a good day's labor behind us and, at least for me, a nice cocktail waiting to ease my tired muscles.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Are You Ready for the Big One?

Put a pair of shoes under your bed at night along with a pair of work gloves and, if possible, a hard hat. It's one thing you can do to start preparing for the large earthquake that's predicted to hit the Northwest in the next 50 years.

Emergency team training.

I found this out from my neighbor, Deborah Pleva, who's part of a volunteer network of trained Neighborhood Emergency Team (NET) leaders for Portland. According to the NET website, "in the event of a citywide or regional emergency such as a severe winter storm, flood or major earthquake, households need to be prepared to be on their own for at least a week." Volunteers like Deb "will likely be first on the scene when firefighters and police are slowed by impassable streets or overwhelmed by calls for help."

Sharing information.

Reading about a major earthquake or listening to a recent Oregon Public Broadcasting report called "Unprepared" left me feeling pretty helpless in the face of a major disaster. How could I afford to buy, much less safely store, the two weeks' worth of supplies and water that my family—not to mention the pets—would potentially need in the face of such an event? If it happened on a weekday, how would my husband get home from work if bridges are out and roads are blocked or destroyed? Daunted by this overload of questions, retreating into denial, my usual default when overwhelmed, seemed like a good option.

Neighborhood emergency training.

But talking with Deb, knowing that there's a network of neighbors working together to help each other get through a major disaster, made me pull my head out of that river in Egypt. "It's a process of baby steps," she said, like putting shoes under the bed to protect your feet from glass from broken windows caused by an earthquake during the night. Rather than thinking about putting your disaster kit together in one fell swoop, she said, every time you go to the hardware store pick up one item for the kit.

A big advantage of making a plan with neighbors is that an inventory of skills and equipment can be made, as well as determining if there are neighbors with special needs who might need help in a disaster. It's also important to find out where shutoffs for gas and water are located on your street to prevent further injury and loss of life in the absence of help from the city.

Deb said that making neighborhood disaster plans can lead to other types of connections between neighbors, like the street where a group of seniors got together as a result of the meetings. The whole point, though, she said, is "not scaring, but empowering people with the things they can do" to meet a challenge together.

  • helps Oregon residents get ready to come through a major disaster and recover quickly by providing practical information on getting ready for any potential emergency, from storms and power outages to floods and earthquakes. Download the Preparedness Handout, which has great information on what to do in a disaster.
  • Neighborhood Emergency Teams are Portland residents trained by the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management and Portland Fire & Rescue to provide emergency disaster assistance within their own neighborhoods. You can register to become a NET volunteer or find out if your neighborhood has a NET leader.
Photos of NET training from its website.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

New Kid on the Block: Purple Sprouting Broccoli

It's known among veg-heads as PSB, and it's the new darling of chefs looking for unusual vegetables to tempt their customers. Purple sprouting broccoli, which is planted in midsummer and must overwinter prior to harvest in early spring, is also getting noticed by farmers who want to expand their roster of early season produce during the time of year known as the "hunger gap"—between the end of storage crops like squash and root vegetables and the appearance of early spring vegetables.

A field trial of purple sprouting broccoli.

It came about because the Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) wanted to develop an organic variety of purple sprouting broccoli and partnered with the Organically Grown Company, one of the Northwest's largest organic produce distributors. Over two years, the OSA tested nine varieties of the new broccoli on sites in Oregon and Washington—called "breeding trials" in ag-speak—and held taste tests with farmers, retailers and chefs before choosing the winner to be distributed to seed companies.

In an article in the OSA's spring newsletter, writer Margarett Waterbury writes that "its deep, saturated purple coloration—which signals the presence of antioxidant-rich anthocyanins—feels almost as nourishing to the eyes as the body. A study at the Liverpool John Moores University School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences found that raw purple sprouting broccoli has an antioxidant content nearly 38% greater than raw green broccoli."

In her article, Waterbury included a recipe from one of my favorite chefs, Tim Wastell of Sweedeedee, for a roasted broccoli and radish dish that was rated as swoon-worthy by my testers here at home. The dressing is worth making a double batch, since it'd also make a great dip for raw vegetables, where the broccoli would particularly shine—unfortunately, like the purple variety of string beans, it turns green when cooked.

Cashew-Miso Roasted Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Radishes
Adapted from a recipe by Chef Tim Wastell

16 oz. purple sprouting broccoli (PSB)
1 bunch spicy radishes
2 oz. white miso paste
2 oz. lightly toasted cashews
2 oz. good maple syrup
1 oz. unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1 large lime
High quality flake sea salt such as Jacobsen or Maldon
Fresh cracked black pepper

Make the cashew miso paste by combining the cashews and miso paste. Work with a mortar and pestle until smooth or simply put ingredients in a blender and blend on medium. Add the maple syrup, rice vinegar and juice of half of the lime and continue to mix until homogenous. Thin out a bit with cold water if necessary; the texture should be akin to that of tahini paste. Set aside or store in refrigerator for up to a week.

Wash, dry and trim the PSB into long skinny pieces, leaving florets as intact as possible; transfer to mixing bowl.

Wash and dry the radishes if necessary. Cut 3/4 of them through the stem into quarters, leaving the best-looking leaves as attached as possible and add to the mixing bowl. Thinly slice the remaining radishes on a mandolin and set aside in a small container of ice water.

Set oven to high broil setting. Dress the PSB and quartered radishes with the cashew miso paste and arrange on a parchment-lined, oven-safe tray. Broil until lightly charred, about three or four minutes. Transfer to a serving dish, arrange sliced radishes on top and finish with flake salt and juice of the remaining half lime. Serves 4.

Photos from the Organic Seed Alliance.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Food News: A Climate Solution; Herbicides in Wines; Neonicotinoid Pesticide Ban

Instead of fearing carbon, a Yale University lecturer is suggesting we farm it. In his recent book with the brain-numbing title The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security, author Eric Toensmeier describes a system of "carbon farming" that is being developed in Veracruz, Mexico.

In an article about the book on, Toensmeier writes about an effort initiated by Ricardo Romero, a former cattleman who became concerned about the degradation of his pastureland from traditional ranching practices. He started a small cooperative called Las Cañadas which is demonstrating that a combination of methods like planting native trees, reintroducing cattle—a technique called silvopasture—as well as managed grazing, fodder banks and planting certain perennial crops, can feed people, build more fertile soils and contribute to ecosystem health without forcing communities to radically change their diets.

While not claiming that this is a turn-key solution to climate change, he posits that it is a step in the right direction and, if adopted globally along with a massive reduction in fossil fuel emissions, could contribute substantially to changing our current situation.

* * *

Before you toast the end of climate change as described above—it is, after all, just being modeled on a small scale—you might want to know that the herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup and recently declared a "probable carcinogen" by the World Health Organization, has been found in random testing of 10 California wines.

A study, initiated by the group Moms Across America after 14 brands of German beer were found to have traces of the herbicide, and described in an article in the Digital Journal, found that that the wines, including some organic wines, had residues that exceeded the limit of .1 micrograms per liter allowed for drinking water.

"Using the Microbe Inotech Lab of St.Louis, Missouri…a total of 10 different wines from large and small vineyards in the Napa Valley, Sonoma and Mendocino counties in California were tested. According to the final report, the contamination of conventional wine was 28 times higher than organic wine."

The article goes on to state that "wine growers on conventional farms say that glyphosates are probably in the manure and/or fertilizers they use from animals fed genetically modified grains" and that "one big concern is for the folks who buy organic products, expecting to get what they are paying for." It says that the organic wine was probably contaminated by overspray, or "drift," from neighboring farms using the herbicide.


* * *

Efforts to ban neonicotinoid pesticides, the systemic neorotoxin linked to global bee die-offs, got a boost last week from the state of Maryland, according to an article in the Washington Post. Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, is expected to sign legislation passed by both houses of the state legislature to "ban stores from selling products laced with neonicotinoids to homeowners who tend to lather too much [of the pesticide] on trees and gardens."

Maryland's ban only applies to non-commercial uses of the pesticide, leaving "farmers and professionals who better understand how to apply them in a way that poses a lesser threat to bees…exempted by the law when it takes effect in 2018." Anyone who remembers the 2013 poisoning of more than 50,000 bees in Oregon by a commercial landscape company may disagree with this assumption.

Of this move by Maryland, Aimée Code of the Xerces Society, a national organization that promotes invertebrate conservation, said, "This is a great step forward to curb the use of chemicals that are causing dramatic harm in the environment."

Last year the Portland City Council banned pesticides containing neonicotinoids on city-owned property despite heavy pressure from industry lobbyists, though the pesticide is still widely available from suppliers and nurseries for use by commercial companies and private individuals. Wholesale nurseries routinely apply it on bedding plants used in commercial landscaping and for home gardens.

Here in the Northwest, Code said that while large nurseries often sell plants that are bred to "look pretty" but are often treated with pesticides because they are more susceptible to pests, smaller nurseries stock more native plants that aren't as vulnerable to local pests. In a win-win for pollinators and gardeners, she said that "our native bees prefer native plants" because they have higher levels of the pollen and nectar the bees are seeking.

So when you're out shopping for plants for your gardens, ask your local garden center if the plants you're interested in were treated with neonicotinoids, and consider purchasing native plants. Our bees will thank you!

Photo of bumblebee by Beth Nakamura for the Oregonian.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Salad Smackdown: Raw Brussels Sprouts Are Hot!

Brussels sprouts are apparently experiencing a moment of mad popularity. I'm seeing recipes calling for them popping up everywhere, except maybe in desserts, though I wouldn't be surprised to see some celebrity chef trying to convince us all that they're terrific when added to cheesecake. Really!

I was browsing the produce section of my supermarket the other day and saw bags of shredded sprouts (left) sitting atop a pile of the unshaved version and thought, wow, I wish I'd thought of that. One of my favorite salads has shaved brussels sprouts spiked with lots of lemon, shards of olives and minced anchovies. But trimming and shredding all those sprouts takes a lot of time…not that it stops me from making it, but with all that knife-work it definitely increases the opportunities for whining.

I've served this salad alongside grilled meats and fish with rave reviews, and, like slaws, it makes for terrific leftover greens a day or two later when the sprouts are wilted and infused with the lemon dressing.

Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Lemon and Olives

3-4 c. shaved brussels sprouts
10 castelvetrano olives, pitted and roughly chopped
3-6 anchovies, minced
3-4 Tbsp. olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt to taste

If you can't find bags of shaved brussels sprouts in your store's produce section, trim and halve whole brussels sprouts, then slice crosswise into very fine chiffonade. Place the shaved sprouts in a large salad bowl and add the olives, anchovies (start with the lesser number and add to taste), olive oil and lemon juice. Toss, adding salt to taste.

Check out these other recipes in the Salad Smackdown series!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Showing Off My Take on Portland's Food Scene

Where would you take a well-known food writer who asked you to show her your favorite Portland haunts? That happened to me last week when Leslie Kelly, Seattle food and wine writer and staff writer for the Dish section of, asked if I'd be interested in meeting up and showing her a few of my go-to spots.

She made it easy when she asked to start a few blocks from our house at Muscadine, the tiny outpost of genuine Southern American cooking owned by chef Laura Rhoman. During our sumptuous order of fried chicken, sea island red peas, collard greens, biscuits, oxtail ragu, cheesy grits and eggs arrived—did I mention we're both passionate eaters?—she did a short video of the meal while we plotted a few stops in the 'hood.

Since, like me, Leslie's a committed carnivore, I wanted her to meet my favorite vegan-turned-whole animal-butcher Ben Meyer (left). Handily for us he was right next door at Grain & Gristle for the day, so we marched in and promptly ordered G&G's signature and justly lauded burger along with a tap cocktail, a house-made hibiscus gin fizz that was an ideal counterpoint to the richness of the juicy pasture-raised beef in the burger.

Leslie managed to moan over the burger while at the same time talking cuts of beef with Ben. With second lunch literally under our belts, we drove up the street to tour the newly burgeoning businesses on 42nd Avenue. We stopped in so I could buy a chuck roast from Old Salt Marketplace's butcher case (right), and as it was being wrapped I gave Leslie a tour of the meat aging gracefully in the walk-in, then showed off the dry goods and value-added pickles and preserves that Ben has begun producing out of the space.

Across the street was Tommy Habetz's new Pizza Jerk, so we popped in for a slice of cheese pizza (left). (If you're keeping count we're now at third lunch…) Part of my not-so-hidden agenda was to drag my guest away from restaurants and shift the conversation to ingredients. Knowing that the Cully neighborhood is home to two urban farms, we drove a few blocks down NE 42nd to Simpson Street Farm, Rex Rolle's nearly 1-acre plot that supplies vegetables to farmers' markets and local restaurants.

A little further up the street is The Side Yard Farm (top photo), one of the small-acreage urban plots that is also a farm-to-plate catering service and supper club, the brainchild of chef and farmer Stacey Givens. As we stood surveying the orderly planted beds, Stacey herself emerged from one of the outbuildings and gave us the background on the project, along with farm schwag of mugs and a shopping bag. Do I need to mention that Leslie was totally impressed with the scale and ambitiousness of our urban agriculture scene as embodied by these two places?

My guest was needing to get back for her next appointment, but I prevailed upon her to make one more stop at Providore Fine Foods (right) the new location for the patres familias of the city's provisioners, Peter de Garmo and Don Oman, who opened their legendary Pastaworks shop on Hawthorne 25 years ago. This new incarnation is now owned by de Garmo's son Kevin and his wife, Kaie Wellman, who converted (in an oh-so-Portland move) a former car dealership on what is a still-developing stretch of lower Sandy Boulevard.

After chatting about kalettes and sea beans with Ken Fisher, wet rack wunderkind and body man to Rubinette Produce owner Josh Alsberg, exchanging fish stories with Flying Fish's Lyf Gildersleeve, then oohing and aahing over the fresh-baked focaccia, cheese-and-charcuterie counter and pasta display, I almost had Leslie packed in the car when she saw the Pie Spot (left). Part of the Ocean micro-restaurant hub that backs up to Providore, she had to run in and grab a few samples of the mini-pies on display and try to recruit them to open a branch in Seattle.

I'm guessing that means she was happy with our three-hour tour.

Read more about Providore Fine Foods and its purveyors.

All photos by Leslie Kelly.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Farm Bulletin: A Farmer and Chef Collaborate

Portland is known as a city with a vibrant farm-to-table scene, which can mean anything from a few seasonal specials on the menu, to the chef buying select ingredients at a farmers' market, to a stream of farmers pulling up to the restaurant's door on any given day. And while some chefs may boast a list of favorite farms on their menus, there are few that have the collegial collaboration that contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm describes below.

Once again, Joshua McFadden of Ava Gene's (above) and his staff will host an "Outstanding in the Field" dinner on the 10th of July. The brave lad has to impress a very long table seating about 150 hungry and discerning guests. Fearlessly, as he has proved up to it two years ago. The venue is at Ayers Creek and, if you want to see how these talented impresarios fit the table, bedecked by white linen and an astounding number of wine glasses, into our landscape, tickets are now available.

As with most of the chefs we work with, Joshua and his staff know the farm starting at the soil, not just as a mere delivery service. The staff at Ava Genes—the whole restaurant from prep staff to the service staff—have taken the time to understand the process of growing the food we deliver by visiting the farm and peppering us with questions. This familiarity makes a tangible difference when you are a farmer. Next year when the "Ave Bruma" melons make their public debut, another dimension of the relationship will be revealed: Ave Gene's staff worked with us in selecting desirable culinary traits for this storage melon. McFadden's staff will be visiting the farm next month for a refresher and to give new members a view from the ground.

The meal will bring together the fruits, grains and vegetables that you are sitting among onto the plate as orchestrated by Joshua and his staff. Another familiar face at the farm and to Ramble visitors, Sarah Minnick, will be working our fruit into the dessert. Sarah is also the inspiration for our newly hatched "Sarah's Hay" project, incorporating the complex flavors of the Trigonellae as a vital ingredient of the Pacific Northwest. An active participant in the Sarah's Hay project, Myrtha Zierock, will be on hand to showcase her family's wine from the Dolomites of Italy. Her family has been instrumental in reviving the Teroldego grape of the Trentino-Alto Adige. 

Despite the fact that at the last event our forklift driver (nameless, of course) almost moved one of the toilets with a staff member inside, Outstanding in the Field has decided to return a second time. Having Joshua and his team to cook the meal provides interpreters of the farm's efforts who understand and respect the dialect and idioms of the ground we cultivate. It will be a good evening and we appreciate their confidence in us.

Your Food, Your Legislature: A Decidedly Mixed Session for Consumers

With my left arm swaddled in a brace from fingertips to elbow for a week—not serious, just a careless slip with a knife—and my typing reduced to a single finger, I decided that in order to publish a timely roundup of the month-long legislative session that ended on Mar. 3, I needed some help. The following is an edited version of the 2016 Oregon Legislative Recap published by Friends of Family Farmers.

Regulation of Genetically Engineered Seeds and Crops (HB 4122):

[This bill would] allow local restrictions on genetically engineered (GE) crops in order to protect Oregon’s non-GE farmers from the risks of contamination of their seed and other crops [field of genetically modified canola, above].

Genetically modified sugar beet and field.

After more than two years of inaction by the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the Legislature to chart out state-level farmer protections, [this bill was intended] to address the need for GE regulations in the state. As a reminder, in late 2013, the Legislature "pre-empted" local restrictions (with the exception of a GE crop ban already on the ballot in Jackson County). And along with that pre-emption came promises from then-Governor Kitzhaber and many legislators that Oregon would enact state-level GE rules to protect at-risk farmers.

Despite hearing a large volume of supportive testimony from farmers, organic industry representatives and sustainable agriculture organizations in favor of allowing local regulation of GE crops, the House Committee on Consumer Protection declined to let the bill out of committee with this language in it. Instead, in response to the recent federal approval of a fast-growing genetically engineered salmon, the committee modified the bill to require labeling of GE fish sold for human consumption in Oregon. While the House passed this bill in a 32-27 vote, it died in the Senate.

Minimum Wage Increase (SB 1532)

Facing proposals to raise Oregon’s minimum wage via ballot measure this fall, the Legislature decided to pass its own minimum wage increase. In order to accommodate rural and agricultural concerns, the bill phases in wage increases more slowly than the ballot measures would have, and creates three different minimum wages in Oregon, with the highest located in urban areas.

Under the new law, the minimum wage (currently at $9.25/hour) will go up in July 2016 by $.50 to $9.75/hour inside the urban growth boundary (UGB) at the edge of Portland, and up $.25 to $9.50/hour in several "mid-sized" counties including those in the Willamette Valley, the North Coast, and Deschutes, Hood River, Jackson, and Josephine Counties, and also in 18 more remote "frontier" counties. The minimum wage rate will continue to rise gradually until 2022 when it reaches $14.75 inside the Portland UGB, $13.50 in the "mid-sized counties," and $12.50 in the more rural "frontier" counties. As a result of the bill’s passage, campaigns to pass separate ballot measures for statewide $15/hour and $13.50/hour minimum wages have now been abandoned.

In the final few days of the session, proposals to create a tax credit for farms, agricultural, and food businesses to help them adjust to the minimum wage increases were discussed. However, efforts to limit these credits to smaller farm and food businesses were opposed by groups representing large food processors and large agricultural operations and the Legislature did not act on that item. This tax credit proposal will likely be discussed again by the Legislature in 2017 and, if carefully crafted, could help smaller farms that may struggle to meet some of the wage increases.

Urban Growth Boundary Expansion Pilot Project (HB 4079)

Complaints over a lack of affordable housing in Oregon were the impetus for a land use pilot project bill passed by the legislature in February. The legislation allows the Land Conservation Development Commission (LCDC) to approve two pilot projects for expanding urban growth boundaries (UGBs) by 50 acres each if developments are for the purpose of meeting identified affordable housing needs, one in a town smaller than 25,000 people, and a second in a city larger than that. Some counties are excluded altogether including Washington, Multnomah, Clackamas, Marion, and Polk, leading some to speculate that planned UGB expansions onto farmland under this pilot could happen outside Eugene or Bend. Many fear that high value farmland will be lost as these two 50 acre pilot projects are established. Farmland protection advocates will need to remain vigilant to ensure that doesn’t happen.

Manure Digester Tax Credit (SB 1507)

In the Legislature’s final days, a tax credit bill was revealed that included the extension of controversial payments for manure digesters (left). This expensive tax credit primarily flows to the state’s largest factory-scale dairy operation, Threemile Canyon Farms, in Eastern Oregon [link for more information on this controversial factory farm]. The tax credit, paid at $5 per "wet ton" for manure converted to energy in an anaerobic digester, was set to expire at the end of 2017. Since 2013, it has paid approximately $6 million in taxpayer funds to Threemile after they built a long-promised digester to handle manure from roughly half their cows. Under the bill the legislature eventually passed, the credit was reduced to $3.50/wet ton but extended for five more years, until 2022. If the credit remains unchanged and Threemile does not expand their digester any further, this one operation will receive approximately $9 million in additional taxpayer funds in coming years.

[The opposition to] the manure digester tax credit [was] because it has very limited to negligible environmental benefits, and primarily benefits larger (including Oregon’s largest) confinement livestock operations, that have manure disposal problems not faced by smaller pasture-based producers. A tax subsidy this lucrative could even serve as a recruitment tool for new factory farms to set up shop in Oregon.

[This bill was passed on a vote of 53 ayes to 6 nays, and Gov. Kate Brown signed it into law on Mar. 10. It will take effect June 2, 2016.]