Monday, November 30, 2015

Taking a Break

My last entry here was from Sunday, November 22nd, and it wasn't even one I wrote. The last post I actually composed on my own was from November 19th, consisting of recipes for two soups.

Kitty, Walker, Thimble (l to r).

This break in the action is one of the first of this duration in the nearly ten years since I first began this venture. And, like the very beginning of this journey, it wasn't planned, but it did happen to fall over a busy holiday that included writing a couple of articles, a friend's illness (requiring delivery of meatloaves, soups, bread and bacon), a sister-in-law moving to town, babysitting the (very dear) Corgi of friends who were leaving town for the holiday and all the regular hoohaw of celebrating Thanksgiving…pies to bake, a turkey to pick up, housecleaning, etc., etc, etc. (Say that like the King in The King and I to get the proper dramatic effect.)

Persimmon liqueur. (Yes, you read that right.)

Not that I'm making an excuse of being too busy, far from it. There were feelings of guilt, some thoughts of shoulda-woulda-coulda, but there you have it.

But now I'm ready to take up the sword again, and, if not exactly refreshed—whew!—I've had my breakfast (see photo at top). So back to it!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Farm Bulletin: 2. Vivace—Lively

If you shop at the farmers' market, you may notice a difference in the taste of the same crop grown on different farms. In winemaking this difference is known as "terroir," defined as "the taste of the place." For instance, carrots from DeNoble Farms on the Oregon coast might taste different from those grown at Gathering Together Farm in the Willamette Valley. Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm gives us an insight into some of the factors that might affect this difference in flavor from farm to farm.

Liveliness in vegetables is often elusive, a flatness in flavor that you can't quite put your finger on. It is easy to blame shipping distance, time on the shelf or variety. True, all of these can have a deleterious effect. Equally important is a good array of nutrients made available to the growing plant.

Castroville sign.

Many of us were introduced to artichokes grown in the coastal area around Castroville, California. In 1980, we visited Carol's sister Sylvia, then living in San Francisco, and she brought us down to Castroville where we saw the artichokes and enjoyed a perfect artichoke soup at a restaurant in the town. We'd fallen in love with artichokes as children, at that time  an expensive and seasonal treat, so we were eager to see them growing.

About two decades ago, in the mid-90s, the flavor of California artichokes struck us as flat as a cardboard carton, and we stopped eating them. We shrugged off our disappointment, thinking it was a decline due to the newer types which are treated as annuals. A symptom of the yield-over-flavor mentality.

Horseradish benefits from sodium added as a soil amendment.

Both of our fathers told us stories about the quality of food grown near the sea and the importance of salt in their flavor. Cecil Boutard told us that certain crops benefitted from salt applications, especially those that originated in coastal environments like asparagus and seakale. Peter Black, Carol's father, told us about the lamb he ate at Mont St. Michele where they graze on land inundated by the tide. From then onwards, every other meal of lamb was, as he recounted, a mere shadow of that perfection. We took their observations to heart, and over the past decade we have applied over 20 tons of sea salt to our soil or as foliar spray.

Early authors recommended the use of sea salt as a manure for certain crops, underscoring the observations of our late fathers. John Wilson in Our Farm Crops (1859), recommended its use if crops of maritime origin are grown more than 20 miles from the sea. His advice was based on carefully quantified yield trials. Still, most farmers we know recoil at our use of salt, grimace and usually mutter something about the salting of Carthage. That story never made sense to us given the fact that salt was too valuable to waste, even as a matter of revenge. Anyway, the proof is in the pudding: tons of salt later and we are still growing crops with no Carthaginian devastation. Even the crop that receives the most heavy applications of salt, horseradish, still needs weeding and the soil is still full of worms and other organisms.

Lycopene content is increased in tomatoes.

Last January, the journal Science (243:472-473) published an article titled "Ecosystems say 'pass the salt!'" The gist of the article, which opened with the standard reference about the destruction of Carthage, is that sodium is a limiting nutrient in non-coastal ecosystems, and additions of salt stimulate the soil's flora and fauna. The work was done in the tropics, but has application in our wet ecosystem. The investigation of sodium was initiated by the observation that ants offered both salt water and sugar water were attracted to both pretty much equally. Interestingly, sodium is simply never discussed when discussing plant nutrition or soil health. Soil and foliar tests do not include sodium, or a host of other important functional elements for plants. An essential but ignored element in agronomy.

For organic farmers, especially in the Willamette Valley where the rain washes the sodium and many other elements out of the soil, the advice to use salt is sensible. Non-organic farms rely on salt-based fertilizers and have to be very concerned about the salinization of their soil, which is probably why salt disappeared as a soil amendment in the early 20th century. Soil amendments used for organic agriculture are typically very gentle and do not pose the same risk of salinization. It must also be stressed that the use of salt as a soil amendment is crop specific. Chicories, turnips, radishes, kale, celery, tomatoes and artichokes are examples of crops that benefit. Crops such as cane berries, melons and grapes do not tolerate the chloride ion in salt well, so we never apply it directly to these crops, though the annuals benefit in the rotation plan. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of research on the subject of sodium and plant health, and we are left to follow our hunches. Sea salt is also a source of dozens of trace minerals needed by animals and plants.

Turnips from Ayers Creek Farm.

Based on the work of an Israeli researcher at Ben Gurian University and their own test plots, Rutgers published a couple of bulletins on the use of salt in growing better-flavored tomatoes. Their observations mirror our work. It must be stressed that adding salt as a sodium supplement does not make the food salty, it amplifies certain flavor components, otherwise produced at lower levels by the plant because they are not essential to reproduction. In the case of tomatoes, the result is a significant increase in lycopene content. The expansion of artichoke production inland, away from the coastal areas, affected the flavor. Fortunately, you can buy coastal artichokes here in Oregon, and for a brief time from the fields of Castroville. We always ask the produce manager if we can look at the box.

Coaxing flavor and liveliness from vegetables has an element of alchemy where you are working with unseen elements, as well as a chess game where you need to understand how the board will change several moves ahead. Farmers are working from their own observations. The needs of individual crops vary. The crop may be a seed, fruit, root or leaf. Our farm is a mosaic of soil types and sometimes we misstep. Our use of sea salt is just one element of nudging the flavor and quality of our crops higher. Albert Howard's Agricultural Testament is an elegant work that places emphasis on the health of the entire farm unit, including its people, and not on individual problems. In one chapter, Howard warned against the fragmentation of the agricultural sciences. The farm is an ecosystem as well as place of production, and learning about the processes in unmanaged systems is useful, even if the author propagates that old slur against the Romans.

Read the first installment in this series, Allegretto—Sprightly Cheerfulness.

Castroville sign from Wikipedia.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Two Soups Double Your Winter Comfort

I grew up in a time of convenience, when to make a cake all you had to do was open a box, crack an egg and add water. It was like magic, guaranteed to turn out perfectly every time. It was also long before I thought to read the ingredients in the tiny print on the labels and wonder what those multisyllabic words meant. During our courtship, Dave wooed me with his lunches of grilled cheese sandwiches alongside a bowl of canned condensed tomato soup—when getting fancy meant making it with milk instead of water.

Coffeehouse flyer and recipes.

But there was a period in college when I was drafted to run a coffeehouse-cum-soup kitchen on campus, coordinating volunteers to make the day's featured soup. Most were made from scratch, and I still have the collection of recipes ranging from Mike's beer cheese soup to Jane's "potage parmentier" to Robert's killer French onion soup. One I didn't get, despite much begging and pleading, was Dr. Coleman's secret recipe for split pea soup. Lusciously thick, with a spicy heat that left a warm glow, he always brought a huge pot of it into the kitchen already made, so I couldn't even sneak a glimpse of the ingredients.

Curried coconut squash soup.

What that early experience taught me was that soup recipes can take myriad forms, from one with an ingredient list the length of your arm, dozens of steps and hours of chopping and simmering to something that can be thrown together in a few minutes from whatever's in the pantry and the vegetable bin.

Have a couple of potatoes, an onion, a couple of cups of milk and some canned clams or frozen corn or shrimp? Chowder! A couple of carrots, onion, garlic, canned beans and tomatoes? You've got the makings for minestrone!

Here are a couple of soups I've made this past week that are perfect for warming up chilly winter evenings. I usually just slice some of Dave's homemade sourdough and call it a meal, but you can get official and make a salad to serve with it if that makes you feel better. Call the neighbors over if you're in the mood, since adding more stock or water or a few more ingredients can stretch it to feed a crowd!

Tuscan White Bean Soup with Sage

1 lb. dried white beans (cannelini, borlotti or any small to medium-sized white bean)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh sage leaves or 1 1/2 tsp. dried
6-8 c. water or chicken or vegetable stock (or a combination of the two)
Salt to taste

Put dried white beans in a pot and cover with water by 1 inch. Soak overnight or for several hours. Drain.

In a large soup pot, heat oil until it shimmers. Add onion and sauté over medium heat until tender. Add garlic and heat until fragrant, but don't brown it. Add stock, sage leaves and drained beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for at least two hours or until beans are tender, adding more water if the beans absorb too much of the liquid. Add salt to taste. It can be served at this point, but I like to purée it with an immersion blender until it's smooth. (This can also be done in batches in a blender or food processor, but cool it slightly first or it'll explode all over the kitchen.)

Options: Chop a head of kale and stir it in to wilt at the end of cooking the beans, though this probably means you wouldn't want to purée it. Add a chunk of bacon or ham when you add the stock, (removing if you decide to purée the soup), then shred it and add back to the soup before serving.

* * *

Curried Coconut Squash Soup

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tsp. curry powder
1/8 tsp. ground cayenne
1 13 1/2 oz. can coconut milk
2-4 c. water or chicken or vegetable stock (or a combination of the two)
4 c. roasted squash, cut in 1" cubes
1 kaffir lime leaf (optional)
Zest of 1/2 lime
Juice of 1/2 lime

In a large soup pot, heat oil until it shimmers. Add onion and sauté over medium heat until tender. Add garlic and heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add curry powder and sauté for 1 minute. Add cayenne, coconut milk, water and/or stock, squash, lime leaf, lime zest and juice. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove lime leaf and discard. Purée with immersion blender until smooth. (This can also be done in batches in a blender or food processor, but cool it slightly first or it'll explode all over the kitchen.)

 Here's one attempt to replicate that split pea soup, though adding white pepper may be the secret to the heat. Check out these recipes if you're inspired to start your own soup saga.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Veteran Faces a New Battle, This Time at Home

Recently my friend Kendra Kimbirauskas wrote about a farmer, Hubert Brumett, she met as part of her work as CEO of the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project. A farmer herself near the small town of Scio in the Willamette Valley, she understood not only the heartbreak of Hubert's situation, but also the danger he and his neighbors face from the siting of a factory hog operation next to his land. And though Hubert lives in Indiana, the same thing could happen here, since Oregon has not set any setback distances for CAFOs at the current time.

At the end of a dusty Indiana lane, set back in woods, is a little white home. On the porch swing next to the front door is where World War II veteran, Hubert Brumett, slowly rocks forward and back while enjoying the fresh air and the sounds of a world he has known his whole life.

Not a lot has changed about the house over the years. But beyond the front porch, the times and the landscape are shifting quickly—and in ways Hubert never would have dreamed.

Hubert was just a boy in 1939 when he left his family’s Indiana farm and enlisted in the U.S. Army.

“We used to call ourselves men,” he says with a smile. “But we were all nothing more than just kids.”

During his time in the military, Hubert found himself far from the Indiana countryside, stationed in New Guinea, The Philippines and Okinawa. His job was to guard B-24 bombers from enemy sniper fire.

He credits his surviving the war to the fact that he was injured in a jeep accident. It took him out of action for four months. When Hubert returned to his unit, he didn’t recognize some of the faces—and familiar ones were missing. That’s when he found out many of the boys he was stationed with had been killed.

“If I would have been with them, I’d have been killed, too,” he says.

After the war, Hubert was discharged and he returned to the Jackson County, Indiana, farm that his father bought. Hubert built a house there in 1957, and it has been his home ever since. Even at 94, he still lives there independently.  And after a lifetime of farming, working and raising a family, Hubert looked forward to living quietly in his little piece of paradise.

That all changed last year.

Hubert’s world came under fire when he learned that a local hog company proposed construction of an industrial-scale concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO, that would house some 4,000 hogs and produce more than 1 million gallons of manure just 557 feet from his front door.

No stranger to farming, Hubert couldn’t understand why a hog operation of this scale could be built virtually on top of his house. It didn’t make sense. Aren’t there rules that require a facility that size to be a certain distance from the nearest neighbor, he wondered?

The disappointing answer was no.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Hubert. “You’d think they’d have some rules—some limits on where they could build theses hog barns. But there aren’t any rules and they don’t care.”

Right now, Indiana law allows for a new CAFO to be sited within 400 feet of a neighboring residence. In Jackson County, a variance allows for new livestock operations to site just 300 feet from a neighboring home. Including Hubert’s, 485 homes are located within a 3-mile radius of the proposed Jackson County hog operation.

The CAFO operator has no plans of living anywhere near the facility, opting to live in town several miles away from the operation. And it’s no mystery why.

Industrial hog CAFOs confine thousands of animals inside cramped, artificially lit and mechanically ventilated buildings. Massive amounts of manure are collected in giant pits, untreated and decomposing. And while there, it releases over 160 gases toxic to people and animals. Gases like hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and methane rise from the pit to create a toxic atmosphere. So dangerous, in fact, that gigantic fans are installed to blow the gases out of the barns and into the surrounding area.

The fear? If the fans fail, the hogs will die.

But hogs are not the only ones to suffer potential injury from the fumes.

Hubert lives with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. COPD is a disease that makes it difficult to breath and it requires Hubert to use an oxygen tank. His doctor recently wrote a letter offering up her opinion that the particulate matter and gases from the planned hog operation would be debilitating to Hubert’s health. Hubert’s family fears that if the hog operation is built, they will have no other choice but to move him to a nursing home.

“It just breaks my heart to see this,” says Hubert’s daughter-in-law, Brenda Brumett. “He fought for his country. He worked hard. He raised his children. Give him the dignity to live on his own land the way he wants to live.”

Showing no sign of giving up his home and his independence, the Army veteran says there’s only one thing to do.

“All we can do is fight it.”

Hubert’s neighbors—over 100 families who many are farmers themselves—banded together to support Hubert and challenge building of the proposed industrial livestock operation. They have formed a group called Help Us Build Ethical Rural Trust, or HUBERT.

For more information about Hubert or to help him in his fight, please visit his Go Fund Me page. Learn more about other veteran farmers, including Mickey Clayton of Dot Ranch in Oregon.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Farm Bulletin: 1. Allegretto—Spritely Cheerfulness

I can't tell you how much I've missed contributor Anthony Boutard's missives from Ayers Creek Farm the last couple of months. It's a privilege to welcome him back, and we will continue to enjoy them as he and Carol finish up their tenure at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market (they are scheduled for the markets of Nov. 15th and 22nd and Dec. 6th and 20th). And I can testify from a day spent "helping"—they kindly let me come out occasionally and ineptly struggle through chores—that the escarole and chicories are, indeed, as magnificent as described below.

We buttoned up the harvest just a few days ago. In between, the wheat for next year's frikeh, the barley and favas were planted; all are emerging well. We finished our processing at Sweet Creek and now have the full range of preserves. The rhythm of the season is important, and this year it allowed us an easy gait through the fields and chores. Still some odds and ends left to finish, but we are happy albeit a little tired.

Blueberry, cherry tomato and escarole salad.

As the notation indicates, we approach tomorrow's market with a healthy measure of cheer even if the weather offers little comfort. It will be good to see you all again. The van will hold a full complement of beans and a lot of cornmeal, both Roy's Calais Flint and Amish Butter. We will also carry pickling lime and whole kernels for those wanting to make hominy. The popcorn needs several more weeks before it will pop, though. We will have pumpkin seeds and squash, sliced and whole.

This is the season for, and the year of, escarole (top photo). The best we have grown. This chicory is good for both salads and as a pot herb. The Portuguese make a traditional soup of white beans and escarole. Jacob Harth, chef at Nonna, treated us to a lovely version earlier this week. Also good in chicken soup. And any soup benefits from a bit of grated horseradish.

Creamed escarole with polenta.

Shortly after agreeing that marriage might work out, we took a trip with Cecil Boutard to introduce Carol to the various far flung members of the clan. It was early April and, on a whim, Cecil decided he wanted to swim in the Mediterranean because, apparently, all members of the family had done so before him. We drove from his brother's summer house in southern Switzerland, it was the ancient farmhouse where Lenin lived during his exile, down to Nice via Italy.

On the return we decided to travel through the southern French countryside and cross the Alps around Grenoble. The road to the resort area was well developed, and then it turned into a glorified goat path and very slow going in the dark drizzly spring weather. Late in the evening we stopped at a bar in small mountain village for a bite to eat. The owner brought out a plank of wood for each of us with two walnuts, a slab of bread, a chunk of cured sausage, a knife and an apple. The flavor and texture of that apple stayed with us. It had been in a cellar for nearly six months and its flavor was full and complex. In the The Anatomy of Dessert, Bunyard describes the contemplative joy of eating a really great apple, and that dingy little russet was of such pleasure that it lingers 39 years later.

For us, the plums were nowhere to be seen, but we have a good supply of russets. Growing apples for us is an indulgence rather than a commercial venture. We don't worry about the grubs or scab, and we prefer small fruit as the flavor is in the skin. This year, the apples received no irrigation. It was not due to some droughty virtue on our part, we just didn't have time to get the water to the orchard. We keep the apples in an unheated room and enjoy them through March. If you want more flavor from an apple, these russets might please, so long as you are willing to share with the occasional grub. After all, if a grub is not enticed by an apple, how good  can it really be? Certainly not the fodder for a 39-year-old memory.

Check out these delicious escarole recipes including Blueberry, Cherry Tomato and Escarole Salad; Creamed Escarole with Polenta; and Bean, Escarole and Polenta Soup.

Read the second installment in this series, 2. Vivace—Lively.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Cyril's Puts Meat on the Side

I was intrigued from the very first line of the e-mail. "We’re updating our menu and literally putting meat where we think it belongs: On the Side."

No wonder the subject of the message was "Courage!"

Which is why I took a few minutes on a recent morning to talk with owner Sasha Davies about her vision for her three-year-old bistro, Cyril's. The first thing she said was that this shift away from featuring meat at the center of every plate was no radical epiphany that descended on her from on high.

"This is the menu I always wanted to have," she said, which is more than evident in the "vision board" (left) that she created with her husband Michael Claypool before they'd even signed a lease on the Cyril's space.

"Meat is really easy," she said. It's got fat, that unctuous, umami-laden essence that oozes from it and makes it the star of every well-composed plate it appears on. And because meat has always had that diva's role on most restaurant plates, she believes it's difficult to convince people that a meal composed of mostly vegetables has the same value, never mind the flavor, of one that's focused on protein.

"One day it dawned on me that meat-oriented meals were about a thousand times easier to make delicious and satisfying than vegetarian ones," she wrote, "and that to be a terrific vegetarian cook actually required more skill and experience than it did to nail any braised pork shoulder recipe.

"Putting meat on the side is us being courageous enough to do what we’ve always wanted to do, which is commit to what we’ve secretly dreamed about becoming: a vegetable-oriented bistro. Call us ‘vegetarian-ish.'"

Deciding to take this leap coincided with a presentation she heard from Mark Canlis, owner with his brother Brian of Canlis restaurant in Seattle. At that talk Davies heard him speak about the broken nature of the industry he is part of, about "essentially [how] the hospitality business was severely limited in their capacity to serve others by their colossal failure to take care of their own," i.e. their workers, their families and their communities.

It struck Davies that "this other-centered (the opposite of self-centered) strategy that Canlis was talking about created a practical space for this deeply held belief I have that when people feel seen and heard they do better, in fact they thrive."

Will this shift in the direction of her restaurant gain acceptance? Or, on the contrary, will it be a tragic mistake, a fear that Canlis also admitted to in his presentation?

"I'm pumped, afraid, excited and uncomfortable," she said. "But if we don't do this, we'll always wonder."

Cajun Short Rib & Oxtail Gravy in Louisiana

I love it when my friend Jim Dixon of Real Good Food goes to New Orleans because he not only posts great photos of the food he finds (and eats), but gives us a taste of the cultural flavors of that special place. Here he shares some of New Orleans' food history along with his version of Cajun gravy.

We've been going to Louisiana since one of our kids moved to New Orleans eight years ago, and every time we're there I discover something I want to eat more often. The foodways of the Gulf Coast are simmered in a long history, sometimes dark and mostly forgotten. The contributions of Native Americans, enslaved Africans and displaced Acadians have been stirred together with flavors from the colonial past and perked up with Caribbean spices. In the last century waves of German, Irish, and Italian immigrants added their cooking traditions to the pot, and the food you eat in Louisiana today tastes of all those influences.

And while I love the more sophisticated food of New Orleans, I'm drawn to the cooking of the country. It's more like what I cooked before I ever went to Louisiana, simple and ingredient-driven, the everyday food of working people. But there's a lot of crossover from Creole to Cajun, and done right by good cooks the results are delicious no matter what they're called.

The first time we drove west from New Orleans toward Acadiana, I asked my friend Pableaux, a prairie Cajun from New Iberia, what I should eat if I really wanted to taste Cajun food. "Anything with gravy," he said. In southwestern Louisiana gravy isn't the pale stuff served on biscuits or the light brown sauce you might have with turkey. Cajun gravy is meaty and dark; served on rice, another Louisiana staple, it's a meal.

On this trip, we went to the Blackpot Festival just outside of Lafayette, a weekend celebration of local music and food that includes an amateur cooking competition. The categories were gumbo, jambalaya, cracklings, and gravy, and everything had to be cooked in a cast iron pot. I watched the cooks, asked a lot of questions, and tasted some good food. When I got back, I had to make some gravy.

Short Rib and Oxtail Gravy

Beef is used most often for traditional rice and gravy, but squirrels, quail and other game go in the pot, too. Cuts with a lot of connective tissue, often the cheapest, add collagen for a rich, velvety gravy. My favorite at Blackpot combined short ribs and oxtails, but round steak or stew meat work well, too. Start by browning about a pound of meat in extra virgin olive oil over medium heat in a cast iron pot or other heavy pan, turning often until it's well-browned on all sides. Season liberally with salt, black pepper and either a little cayenne or a Cajun spice blend like Slap Ya Mama or Tony Chachere's. Remove the meat from the pot and add a chopped onion.

Cook the onion until it's very dark, stirring regularly. More than one cook told me this was critical for good gravy. Add a couple of stalks of chopped celery and some chopped green bell pepper (or a jalapeno). Cook for another 10 minutes or so, then add the meat back into the pot, pour in a couple of cups of water (or stock), cover and simmer for a few hours or until the meat is very tender. If you want a thicker gravy, mix a tablespoon of flour with a little cold water to make a paste, then stir it in and cook for another half hour or so. Serve the gravy over Kokuho Rose brown rice with chopped green onions and some Crystal hot sauce.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Food News: Garden Educator for PDX School, Fresh Farmers, and Rebuilding Grasslands

One of the newest educators at Sabin Elementary School in Northeast Portland is rarely in the classroom, preferring instead to meet with his students outside, rain and shine. That's because Julian Dominic's job is to get kids excited about digging in the dirt of the school's edible garden, observing the life of the soil through its bugs and biology, as well as learning to cook some of the produce they grow.

A feature in the Sabin Community Association newsletter said that this winter Sabin's students will learn how soil is built by planting cover crops that put nitrogen back into the soil through succession planting.

"We'll start with a cover crop of nitrogen-fixing plants such as fava beans, buckwheat or rye on a third of the 14 raised beds," Dominic said. "Then we'll plant winter-hardy greens such as spinach, chard and kale in the other two-thirds of the beds. Those will be covered with a hoop house to nurture the spring plants."

The article said that Dominic, whose position is funded through the school's PTA, is coordinating the garden curriculum to match the themes that the school's teachers are covering in class.

There is a Taste of Thanksgiving fundraiser for the school's garden program on Thurs. Nov. 5th from 5 to 8 pm at Whole Foods on Northeast 15th and Fremont. Tickets are $5 for a full meal.

* * *

With the average age of Oregon's farmers nearing 60 years old, it's hard not to worry about who's going to be growing our food in ten years. Luckily, it looks like it's not too late to turn the tide, according to a recent article in the Capital Press.

Many programs are offering prospective farmers the opportunity to participate in what are being called "farm schools" where they can learn not only how to grow vegetables, but how to write a business plan, invest in the right equipment and market farm goods through farmers' markets, CSAs and value-added products. And those would-be farmers are flocking to attend workshops like the one-day small farm school sponsored by Oregon State University’s Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems and schools like the one at Greenbank Farm (photo above) on Whidbey Island in Washington.

"We have a generation of people in their twenties and thirties who are interested in going into farming as a business and as a statement of how they see the world," the article quotes Garry Stephenson, director of the OSU center, as saying. "One of the hopes we have is that they will eventually scale up and become medium-size farms."

* * *

Rotational grazing—the farming method that builds nutrient-rich soil by moving animals between pastures, allowing the land to rest between grazing periods—is helping to restore grasslands even in arid states like New Mexico. This method also helps the soil to retain more moisture during dry periods, according to an article by food writer and author Deborah Madison for the website Civil Eats.

It quotes rancher Nancy Ranney of Ranney Ranch in Central New Mexico as saying, “We don’t have to cut back so much on our herd count during deep drought, and we can build it back while other ranchers are still de-stocking.” Ranney added that rotational grazing has diversified the varieties of grasses growing on their land, which gives the cattle a wider range of nutrients in their diet.

"In three years we went from four to five species of native grasses to 30, without planting seed or irrigating. Among them were cool season grasses, which people said we couldn’t grow. But every year we see a new cool-season grass come up," she said.