Food, Agriculture and How To Make A Difference in WNY (a good reference)

Check out this article from a great organization, Grow WNY for information on agriculture, eating local, food access, farmland protection and how to make a difference locally.  Like the article?  Check out the many other articles on issues including Environmental Justice, Energy & Climate, Transportation and Urban Revitalization among others.

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Culture Shock: leaving the farm for the city

When I left NYC at the end of July I was ready for a huge shift in lifestyle.  Leaving the city for the farm was easy.  Four months later, as the farming season crept to an end in late November, as nightly frosts became more regular, I wasn’t so sure I was ready for a shift back into society.  Now nearly one month removed from the farm I can say that I was correct to feel leery about leaving; experiencing culture shock in the exact town you spent the majority of your life is strange to say the least.

Don’t get me wrong; I love Buffalo, NY.  The city has a fighting spirit, a stunning resilience to nearly everything thrown its way, a never-gonna-give-up attitude and an absolute sense of admiration and pride amongst its residents and ex-pats.  It also has great food, beautiful first-class architecture and parkways, wonderful shops, numerous bar districts (open till 4am) and professional sports teams sure to keep you praying (and screaming, and hoping, and depressed, but believing), and that’s just the start of it.  Nevertheless, the culture shock is both real and unexpected.

Why is this happening?  Because suddenly I’ve gone from a part of the state both intimately connected to its food sources and intimately concerned with the increasingly mechanized and industrialized food system, to one that’s only just beginning this journey.  On the farm I was learning from everyone around me about what it’s like to live a more sustainable lifestyle; back home I feel like I’m preaching to the uninitiated.  It’s like attempting to convince a Miami Dolphins fan why they should really be rooting for the Buffalo Bills.  OK, perhaps that’s the wrong analogy, or at least not quite right.  It’s more like attempting to explain to a roomful of children about how everything they read in their history book last year is not quite right.  It’s attempting to radically shift the knowledge we rest on as a society — as food consumers, as eaters and grocery shoppers and weight conscience, on-the-go, paradoxically frugal while indebted Americans — to an entirely new paradigm.  I feel like a preacher trying out a new religion on my congregation (and they don’t quite seem to be accepting it).

It all makes sense.  No one has time to cook anymore.  McDonald’s is cheap and easy and hell, you don’t even have to get out of your car!  You can even microwave an organic meal now and as long as it has a few grams a fiber we’re convinced it’s good for us.  I can eat a bowl of lucky charms with low-fat milk and be supplied with well over 15 vitamins and minerals without even wrecking my figure!  The problem here is that ALL of this is backwards.

Eating cereal is NOT the same as eating kale, it’s just not.

We can’t manufacture and reassemble nutrition in a box.  Our bodies aren’t designed to eat this way and it’s blatantly obvious if we open our eyes to the obesity epidemic, the health catastrophe we have on our hands.  When 1 in 3 children will develop diabetes over their lifetime, in effect cutting 10-15 years off their life, it should be a glaring red flag signaling the need for a massive overhaul in the way that we eat and think about food.  Tinkering the ingredients in the processed food we eat is NOT what I mean when I say massive overhaul.

Feel like you want to learn more?  I would suggest you begin by watching Food Inc., or any other documentary about the increasingly industrialized food system in the USA (check out my blog about Reading/Watching recommendations for a number of good titles).  Next, or if you love to read, I would suggest a true first step would be to read anything by Michael Pollan.  He writes incredibly accessible books about food, what’s for dinner, and how we became so disconnected from what we eat and how we should eat it.  If you live in Buffalo, check out some of these great organizations working simultaneously to green Buffalo; create food security and sustainable neighborhood development; and reconnect people with local sources of fresh and healthy food:

Buffalo Growing

Urban Roots

Green Renaissance of Western New York

Edible Buffalo

Grassroots Gardens of Buffalo

Massachusetts Avenue Project

Slow Food USA

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When the farming season comes to an end (in pictures)

I left Hollengold Farm one week ago today as the days continue to grow colder and farming season creeps toward completion.  What’s crazy is that the day I left, November 22nd, I harvested pounds upon pounds of fresh produce in a frantic I-don’t-wanna-leave-the-farm-and-be-forced-to-shop-at-the-grocery-store-or-eat-processed-foods frenzy.  What did I harvest?  Collared greens; Tuscan (dinosaur) kale; red cabbage; turnips; candy cane, yellow and red beets; kohlrabi; leeks; green onion; parsley and thyme.  What else was out there?  Green cabbage; Brussels sprouts; rutabagas; red and daikon radishes; broccoli; parsnips; carrots; Red Russian kale; rosemary and tarragon.  I’m sure I’m forgetting at least a handful of vegetables amazingly still growing on Hollengold Farm despite December being just days around the corner.

It’s really quite humbling to witness the tenacity and endurance of an organic vegetable garden amidst nightly frosts, bitter cold winds, and the anticipation of snow upon waking each morning.

Here are some pictures of the farm as we added a fresh layer of mulch to many of its beds and began to put the garden to bed for the winter.

Mulching over beds to repress weeds and add organic matter

Head of califlower

Dew drops left over from a melting frost

Swiss Chard, dew drops

Spider webs lined with dew

Netting supports climbing vines and dripping drops of dew

Adorned in shimmering water droplets

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piles of peppers and popcorn (in pictures)

It’s November now and the farming season is more or less coming to an end in the Hudson Valley. Over the last few weeks many of the peppers and corn were laid out to dry covering much of the table space in and outside of the barn. Though this post is a bit past due, I figured I would still post some of the photos of the beginning of the drying process.


Peppers in the foreground, canned goods in the back

Drying peppers... a LOT of them

Color Palette

Drying corn on a sunny day

Notice the pointed shape of the popcorn kernels

Grain corn (notice the swirled pattern on each kernel)

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a puffball as big as your head!

Mushrooms are great.  You’ve already witnessed me confess my love for them if you’ve been reading this blog.  The problem is that most of the time when I go mushroom hunting, I’m never really 1000% positive that I can eat the presumable edibles, and generally can’t positively identify the vast majority of what I find.  Prize-less mushroom hunting is still fun, don’t get me wrong, but let’s face it, I wanna eat!

You can imagine my excitement then, while sitting passenger in Abby’s truck, to peer out her window toward a patch of lawn where I’d previously found edible mushrooms and gaze upon the largest puffball mushroom I’d ever seen in my life (while riding in a moving vehicle nonetheless!)  I yelled at Abby to pull off the road and nearly caused her a heart attack and/or car wreck, myself sprinting to the mushroom as if it might bolt like an animal in danger of being hunted.  Pictures of Puffy the Giant Puffball (and friends) can be found below.

Random (AMAZING) Fact: An average sized Giant Puffball (Calvatia gigantea) is estimated to contain 7 trillion spores. Yikes!

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Recommended Reading (and Viewing)

A list of books, articles and documentaries or clips related to food, farming, sustainability, permaculture and anything else that seems pertinent to this blog.  I haven’t read all of these books, or seen all of these movies, but those that I haven’t are on my To Read/Watch list, and come highly recommended.  I’ve organized the material loosely by subject matter and date of publication.  If you have any suggestions of books, movies, articles, etc. that should be added please let me know!

I hope to continue to update this list with any suggestions and when any other good material comes my way.


Food / What to Eat

– The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World (2002) – Michael Pollan
– Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education (2003) – Michael Pollan
– Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2007) – Michael Pollan
– In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (2008) – Michael Pollan
– Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual (2009) – Michael Pollan
– Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal: War Stories From the Local Food Front (2007) – Joel Salatin
– The Untold Story of Milk: The History, Politics and Science of Nature’s Perfect Food: Raw Milk from Pasture-Fed Cows (2009) – Ron Schmid
– The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights (2009) – David E. Gumpert
-* Eating Animals (2009) – Jonathan Safran Foer

Gardening / Farming

– Perennial Vegetables: From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, A Guardener’s Guide to Over 100 Delicious and Easy to Grow Edibles (2007) – Eric Toensmeier

Essays / Short Stories /Articles

-* The Pleasure of Eating (1990) – Wendell Berry
– Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth (2007) – William Bryant Logan

Mushroom Identification / Interest

– Mushrooms Demystified (1986) – David Arora
– Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms (2000) – Paul Stamets
– Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World (2005) – Paul Stamets

Permaculture / Sustainable Design

– Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual (1997) – Bill Mollison
– Gaia’s Garden: A Guide To Home-Scale Permaculture (2009) – Toby Hemenway
– Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (2002) – William McDonough & Michael Braungart

Ecology and Environmentalism

-* Silent Spring (1962) – Rachel Carson

Cookbooks / Preparation

-* Winemaker’s Recipe Handbook (1976) – Raymond Massaccesi
– Nurturing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats (1999) – Sally Fallon
-* Making Wild Wines & Meads: 125 Unusual Recipes Using Herbs, Fruits, Flowers & More (1999) – Patti Vargas & Rich Gulling
-* Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Delicious Cheeses (2002) – Ricki Carroll
– Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods (2003) – Sandor Ellix Katz
-* Fields of Plenty: A Farmer’s Journey In Search Of Real Food And The People Who Grow It (2005) – Michael Ableman
– Stalking the Wild Asparagus (2005) – Euell Gibbons
– Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving (2006) – Judi Kingry


Documentaries / Video Clips

– Super Size Me (2004) – Morgan Spurlock
– The Future of Food (2005) – Deborah Koons Garcia
– The Real Dirt on Farmer John (2005) – Taggart Siegel
-* Our Daily Bread (2005) – Nikolaus Geyrhalter
– Fast Food Nation (2006) – Raymond Linklater
– The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil
– King Corn (2007) – Earl L. Butz
– Food, Inc. (2008) – Robert Kenner
– Garbage Warrior (2008) – Michael Reynolds
-* Flow: For Love of Water (2008) – Irena Salina
– Blue Gold: World Water Wars (2009) – Sam Bozzo

TED Talks

– 6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World (2008) – Paul Stamets
– Are Mushrooms the New Plastic? (2010) – Eben Bayer
– Teach Every Child About Food (2010) – Jamie Oliver

* Recommendations made by friends and family (thanks!)

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early frost means death for the nightshade family

We had a slightly early frost this year which happened a few nights ago as compared with the average October 15th frost for this part of the state.  The result?  Near death for the nightshades: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes, among others.

These plants all fall within the Solanaceae family whose name is derived from the Latin, solanum meaning “nightshade”, thus serving as the informal family name.  Many plants within the nightshade family are rich in alkaloids (natural chemical compounds made predominantly from nitrogen atoms), the toxicity of which ranges from mild to deadly on human use and consumption.  Some of these alkaloids include the Tropane group (e.g., Atropine), Capsaisinoids (e.g., Capsaicin, the active compound in chili peppers), and Glycoalkaloids, (e.g., Solanine, the toxic compound in potatoes and Nicotine, which acts as a stimulant on mammals and occurs naturally in small concentrations within tomatoes and eggplant, and of course in high concentrations within tobacco, another member of the nightshade family).  Many members of the nightshade family, including mandrake, tobacco and belladonna (deadly) are of interest from a pharmacological perspective due to the strong physiological effects of the alkaloids they produce.

Though we treat them and often cook them like vegetables, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are all fruits and the potato is a tuber.  They enjoy hot weather conditions, growing as perennials in their native habitats or as annuals in more temperate climates.  They don’t particularly enjoy October in the NE United States.  Here’s a look at what happened to the nightshades after the frost struck:

Today we spent much of the day pulling up all of the tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, though we still have a lot of produce to harvest from the otherwise dead plants!

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