An urban farm and community garden has sprouted at 500 Hoke Street in southeast Raleigh. Though it’s only two miles from the capital’s trendy eateries, the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle farm is at the heart of a “food desert.”
Most of its neighbors can’t afford to dine upscale downtown. And there’s no supermarkets nearby where they can find healthy groceries for their families. Urban food deserts typically rely on fast-food joints and convenience stores, where calories are cheap but not necessarily nutritious. That’s a recipe for the growing incidence of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and other costly ailments related to poor diets.
Hoke Street turned out to be an ideal location for the urban farm and training center for Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, the anti-hunger nonprofit serving Raleigh and seven surrounding counties for the last 25 years. The new three-acre site now includes community garden beds for residents wishing to grow their own produce, and an urban farm and training center for interns learning to cultivate and sell healthy food.
“We set up this space so people could see how food is grown, and grow it themselves” said Katie Murray, who coordinates IFFS urban agriculture training programs. We visited during the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s annual farm tour.
Half a dozen families are growing vegetables in the new IFFS community garden. And there’s an open raised bed for curious neighbors who want to taste what’s sprouting — red leaf lettuce when we visited. IFFS also has cultivated a partnership with Will Allen, the now-famous MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Fellow behind Growing Power, the organization teaching young people around the country about innovative sustainable practices for urban farming enterprises. IFFS has four interns through the program, working at the Raleigh farm and learning about composting, vermiculture, aquaponics, hoop houses, mushrooms, micro-greens and more.
“The goal is to grow food here and sell it through local farmers’ markets and to restaurants,” Murray said. The interns are gaining experience to develop their own small enterprises through a collaborative local alliance.
The farm is adjacent to a 14,000 square-foot warehouse, where IFFS stores local food gleaned from farms and delivers it to neighborhoods through its mobile market program. The IFFS warehouse also serves as a community grocery store during a monthly market on fourth Fridays.
Inter-Faith Food Shuttle also has a Teaching Farm on Tryon Road, with incubator plots for those ready to start their own farming enterprises.
Invite a dozen local farmers to harvest more than a thousand pounds of peppers, pork and produce. Urge two dozen creative chefs, brewers and distillers to concoct special nibbles and swigs. Blend with live music and games. Add in sun and blue sky.
Those were the magic ingredients that drew more than a 1,000 hungry, thirsty revelers to the seventh annual Pepper Festival. It was a memorable Sunday afternoon at Briar Chapel’s new Great Meadow neighborhood, and another opportunity to celebrate the heat and light sown by one amazing foodshed.
That’s what the Pepper Festival is all about. And Abundance NC, WUNC, Briar Chapel and other community sponsors delivered once again.
Pepper Fest originated in tiny Pittsboro as a taste test for new localized pepper varieties adapted by Doug Jones, the genius cultivator behind Piedmont Biofarm. The celebration has grown into an annual harvest, cooking and brewing rite. This year’s Fall ritual featured Jones’ Tobago, described as a “seasoning pepper, huge on flavor (not unlike Habanero), but tiny on heat.” In other words, delicious and digestible.
Tobago flavored the secret sauce pleasing palates all afternoon at food booths circling the meadow. We tasted peppers everywhere. We found them pureed, sauteed, chopped and blended. They seasoned pork and polenta, sausage sliders, beefy snacks, and spicy soups. Even the local brews, wines and spirits were pepper-infused, which turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
Emcees Eric Hodge of WUNC Morning Edition and Bryan Welch of the Utne Reader kept it real on stage. Phil Cook and Christy Smith provided a mellow mix of live original tunes. And we applauded the new Pepper King and Queen (Phil Cook and Kristy Yule), for selling so many festival tickets.
As always, the real stars were the farmers and chefs who served up fresh, inspired fare, and the festival-goers who ate it up.
Piedmont Biofarm, Bennett Farming, Dutch Buffalo Farm, Fiddlead Farm, Gladstone Acres, Granite Springs, Okfuskee Farms, Penny Lane, Dog Day, and Screech Owl Greenhouse. And 518 West, Angelina’s Kitchen, Cackalacky, CCCC Natural Chefs, City Tap, Cottage Lane Kitchen, Fair Game Beverage, Fearrington Granary, Fiction Kitchen, Galloway Ridge, Glass Half Full, Green Planet Catering, La Residence, Lilly Den, Little Hen, Lucky 32, Mystic, Oakleaf, Provence, P.G Werth, Small Potatoes, Top of the Hill, Tribeca Tavern and Vimala’s Curryblosson Café.
Local chicken farmers have faced hard times since Townsend, Inc. filed for bankruptcy four years ago and closed its poultry processing plant in Siler City, NC. But now a Moore County start-up may have good news, especially for growers able to fulfill contracts to raise organic, non GMO poultry.
Carolina Premium Foods plans to invest $4 million to renovate the former Townsend plant in Siler City, re-opening a new organic processing facility in about five months. They hope to process up to 200,000 birds per week there, providing about 150 jobs in the first phase and more than 350 jobs in the next phase, according to company spokesperson Sonya Holmes. The company has received a $750k grant from the North Carolina Rural Infrastructure Authority to develop the plant. The new 95,000 square-foot facility could be the first organic poultry processor of this type — focusing on smaller, non-GMO, organic birds — in the state of North Carolina.
Farmers interested in new organic contracts may contact Holmes at 910-984-5309.
If we want the most nutritional bang for our bucks, we should walk on the wilder side, according to Jo Robinson, opining in The New York Times.
The author of Eating on the Wild Side says that most of today’s vegetables (like that sweet corn you’ve been day dreaming about) don’t have nearly as much nutritional power as heirloom varieties do. That means purple potatoes are better than the usual white Idahos. Those bright orange carrots I happily chomp down most days are indeed very good for me. But apparently they don’t have nearly as many nutrients as the heirloom purple ones at the Farmer’s Market and local co-op.
Turns out, the Big Food folks have managed to breed much of the nutrition out of everyday tomatoes, corn, carrots, and other mass produced produce. Eating those veggies is better than gobbling potato chips for sure, but if you want maximum nutrition, it’s time to get picky.
The good news is, this doesn’t have to be complicated, or costly. Weeds like chickweed, dandelions and nettles that propagate freely all over my yard, are packed with nutritional power. And herbs, any herbs, are also densely nutritious.
If you think parsley is just a throw-away garnish, think again. It’s easy to grow parsley or find it fresh in the market, and if you just add it to everything you eat, you’ve got maximum nutrition with little effort.
Robinson suggests the following:
- Select corn with deep yellow kernels.
- Cook with blue, red or purple cornmeal.
- Choose arugula over iceberg lettuce (that’s a no brainer).
- Scallions or green onions are more nutritional than the white or yellow kind, and wild onions are the most nutritional of all.
- Herbs are wild plants, too even though you can cultivate them in your garden. Adding herbs like parsley and basil not only add flavor, they add nutrients.
Last Sunday at the first Wild Food and Herb Market in Carrboro I learned from the amazing Kim Calhoun that some of those weeds proliferating in my yard and garden are both delicious and nutritious. Freebies from Mother Nature. I had heard that chickweed made great pesto, but that seemed too good to be true.
During a short walk on the wild side, Kim validated the chickweed story and gave me a whole new perspective on the bounty growing all around us. She showed us the familiar chickweed, dandelion and speedwell thriving just a few steps away, confirming that chickweed and dandelion are great for salad and pesto, and speedwell has medicinal properties.
It’s important to properly identify plants before consuming them, Kim said (a magnifying glass and illustrated guide are useful tools). Avoid areas that may have been treated with pesticides or harmed by roadway run-off or other toxic substances. And, before harvesting, be sure to thank the plant and don’t pluck more than you need.
A week later, I got down on my knees in my garden patch to thank and pluck three cups of the chickweed that had proliferated there since I harvested my sweet potatoes in the fall. A few minutes later, I was savoring the fantastic Chickweed Pesto I made from Kim’s recipe, reprinted below with her permission.
If you want to learn more about edible wild foods and herbs, I recommend that you connect with Kim and consider signing up for her March 24 “eat wild spring” workshop at the N.C. Botanical Garden, where you’ll get to forage and make wild greens pesto.
Planty Kim’s Wild Greens Pesto
3 medium garlic cloves
½ cup walnuts (or pecans, almonds, cashews, pine nuts)
3 cups firmly packed greens (any combo of seasonal wild & cultivated herbs—see list below)
¼-½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon plum vinegar (or sea salt to taste)
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (a dairy-free option instead of parmesan cheese)
1. Blend garlic and nuts in food processor until coarsely chopped.
2. Add remainder of ingredients to food processor and blend till desired smoothness. Yields approximately one cup.
3. Eat on crackers, mixed into pasta, smeared on a frittata or fried egg sandwich, spread on rolls or pizza, get creative!
4. Any leftovers will keep in the fridge for a week or more. I like to triple the recipe and freeze some Wild Green Pesto in half pint (8oz.) glass mason jars.
Wild Greens of the NC Piedmont in early Spring (to name a few): chickweed, creasy greens/cress, dandelion leaves, plantain leaves, tender yellow dock leaves, wild lettuce leaves, cleavers, wild garlic, self heal, violets,henbit…don’t forget flowers too—dandelion (remove bitter green base), henbit…
Cultivated Greens: parsley, cilantro, nettle, lemon balm, thyme, rosemary, nettle, oregano…
US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) proposed a fiscal package last week that would correct the devastating cuts made to local food and organic agriculture in the “fiscal cliff” deal passed by Congress last month.
The proposal would end direct payments for subsidies and restore the programs for renewable energy, rural small businesses, value-added agriculture, new and beginning farmers, conservation, specialty crops, organic farming, minority farmers, and local food producers that were left out of the farm bill extension portion of the fiscal cliff deal. The cost of those programs combined paled in comparison to the $5 billion price attached to the direct payment program. The Reid proposal would right that wrong and it would also provide immediate funding for livestock disaster assistance, which was also left out when the farm bill was thrown over the cliff earlier.
The Reid proposal would cut defense spending and net farm bill spending by $27.5 billion each over the next decade. The proposal saves the federal government $31 billion in direct commodity production subsidies, while reinvesting $3.5 million to pay for a full farm bill extension, including the programs not included in the fiscal cliff extension.
One of the programs not included in the fiscal cliff farm bill extension provided cost share funds to growers to become certified organic. That program distributed almost $60,000 to NC growers in 2012. Another program not included in the extension provided funding for an organic grain-breeding program at NC State University. This program provided badly needed support to the growing NC organic grain industry through research on organic crop production and pest management.
“We applaud Sen. Reid for taking this step to restore federal support for local food and organic agriculture,” said Roland McReynolds, executive director of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. “These small, targeted investments help small and medium-scale farms and businesses provide jobs and healthy food for their communities.”
Check out this TEDx talk by Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. She says buying local is a great idea, but it’s only the first step in changing the world. We know that small sustainable farms produce more than twice as much food per acre as big farms, with far less environmental impact. But Walmart continues to capture one in four food dollars in America — and half the market in some three dozen metro areas — not because its food is better (clearly, it’s not), but because it can use its giant market power to influence politics, and the business and tax policies affecting food. It will take collective action by citizens demanding new policies — including a wholly new Farm Bill — to reform our economy for the better. That’s an audacious goal, one worth working toward, while we continue to build a sustainable foodshed for our community.
Here are some excerpts from Stacy’s talk:
“The primary and often exclusive way we think about our agency in the world now is as consumers. But as consumers we’re very weak. We’re operating as lone individuals, making a series of small decisions, and the most we can do is pick between the options that are presented to us….we’re hoping that someday enough of us will have enough information about all the issues and all the choices in the marketplace, and we’ll have access to all the right alternatives, and all or most of us will be able to make the right decisions all or most of the time. But while we’re trying to line up all of these millions of small decisions in the right direction, we are swimming upstream against a powerful down current of public policies that are taking our economy in exactly the opposite direction.
“What we really need to do is change the underlying structures that create the choices in the first place….by acting collectively as citizens…
“We could begin by turning the farm bill on its head. Instead of giving the most money to the biggest farmers feeding the fast-food pipeline, why not give the most money to local farms, feeding their neighbors?…
“The answers are there, and the public support is largely there. The question we have to grapple with is, how do we begin to see our trips to the farmers’ market and to the local bookstore not as the answer, but as the first step? How do we transform this remarkable consumer trend into something more? How do we make it a political movement?”