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?”
Have you always wanted to learn more about the foods and herbs that grow wild in the woods? Now it looks like you can, while shopping for them at what is being billed as one of the first wild food markets in the country.
Beginning March 10, the Wild Food + Herb Market will run one Sunday afternoon (1 to 4) each month on the Carrboro Commons from March through November, thanks to support from our friends at The Abundance Foundation in Pittsboro.
The Wild Food + Herb Market coming to Carrboro will be a foragers market featuring foragers, herbalists, wild food cultivators and local plant educators in the North Carolina Piedmont. The market will provide wild food and medicinal herb enthusiasts a place to buy, sell, trade and gather with others interested in wild foods and herbs.
Vendors will provide unusual wild foods for adventurous foodies, while educational organizations will be on hand to offer information on wild foods and resources on how to learn more about wild food identification.
What a great opportunity to learn more about wild plants of the Piedmont and their uses, how to identify and harvest wild foods, herbs, medicinal plants and mushroom.
Co-Founders Josh Lev, community herbalist and founder of the Carrboro Herb Guild, and Jenny Schnaak, development director and youth program manager for The Abundance Foundation, have been wanting for some time to create a space for herbalists and foragers to meet and sell goods. After word that Alan Muskat, well-known foraging expert, was launching a wild foods market this spring in West Asheville, they decided to build on that excitement and carry the momentum to the Piedmont.
There is a conservation ethic behind the idea of gathering and using local wild plants. “Knowledge of the incredible resources that local plants offer both in terms of food and medicine serves to help people feel more connected to the land and other living things in their communities,” says Lev. “We protect and care for what we value and feel connected to. We want the Wild Food + Herb Market to be not only a marketplace, but also place where people with similar interests can gather and learn from each other.”
To learn more, contact email@example.com.
UPDATE: Supper tickets to this are sold out, but you can still attend, drink some brew and make a $10 donation to support the cause.
Friends, this is a no brainer. I love eating seasonal food raised on local farms. Especially when it’s served in a local eatery. I’ve been dying for a quench of that new Cackalacky Ginger Pale Ale at FullSteam in Durham. And who wouldn’t want to chip in to support new community-based funds for newbie local farms and food enterprises, through great local orgs like Slow Money NC, the Abundance Foundation and Carolina Farm Stewardship Association?
Looks like I’ll get to do all of this and more by plunking down $15 at FullSteam Brewery, Jan. 27 at 7 pm. A little extra for the brew. What a deal, all part of a new dinner series called Funds to Farms. And you can join in the fun. Here’s how it works.
The first Funds to Farms event will be a buffet style, sit-down meal featuring soup (veggie & meat) donated by Vin Rouge Bistro. Attendees will have the first half hour to get their food and drinks and make it to a table.Bon appetit.
Then, five local beginning farmers and food entrepreneurs will each pitch a project for which they need our funding, i.e. the dough-re-mi we gave at the door, and some of the brew proceeds, too. After all of the presentations, attendees (that’s us) will vote on which project we would like to fund. The winner gets the proceeds from the evening and promises to attend the next Funds to Farms event to give a progress report.
Tickets are available online and at FullSteam on the day of the event.
Eric Henry, president of TS Designs, produces tee-shirts made with cotton grown organically right here in North Carolina. Eric is an entrepreneur with a social conscience – he supports several local farm, food and energy initiatives, always thinking and acting creatively about how to make a more sustainable community. This interview is reprinted from a great guide called, “How to Advocate Locally to Support Sustainable Food & Farms: A Brief How-To Manual,” available free from (CFSA), another mover and shaker in our foodshed. Plenty of information and inspiration here. Thanks, Eric and CFSA.
Eric Henry is well known in North Carolina for his dedication to sustainability. In 2009, he won the Sustainable Champion Award from Sustainable North Carolina. He adheres to the triple bottom line business philosophy (people, planet, profits). His apparel company, TS Designs, even has its own organic farm.
Eric also founded the Burlington Biodiesel Co-op, and runs his own car on biodiesel or vegetable oil. He devotes a lot of time to furthering the sustainable agriculture agenda in his county: He serves on various community organizations and local government boards, as well as on the Board of Directors for , a co-op grocery in Alamance. Eric is a true champion for system-wide change towards sustainability. Market
CFSA: How did you become knowledgeable about sustainable agriculture so that you could be an effective advocate?
Eric: Through my apparel business I learned about the importance of a local and transparent supply chain. This made me want to learn more about sustainability and local agriculture. I began to educate myself on sustainable issues through research and by connecting myself to people of the same mindset. I am a member of Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and attend their annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference; working with them has proven to be a great way to stay up to date on sustainable agriculture issues. I also regularly talk to sustainable farmers whom I know.
CFSA: How did you find out who held the power in Alamance, so that you could determine how to make changes in your local food system?
Eric: I have lived in Alamance County for over 50 years and I’m involved in a lot of civic groups ranging from Elon University to the Chamber of Commerce. I also met with the County Manager and other members of local government as a way to gauge who in county government were sympathetic to sustainable agriculture. I go to lots of local community meetings to keep up with what is going on.
CFSA: How did you prioritize the projects that you have undertaken?
Eric: Alamance already had a farmland protection plan and a good group of organic farmers. We were ready to go to the next level. I personally put in a lot of time working on getting Company Shops Market off the ground.
I wanted to help to build a local living community and I thought that linking local farmers to local consumers via a retail store was ambitious, but doable. Another project that I took on was creating a large organic garden at TS Designs. This created a way for me to share sustainable agricultural practices with customers of our shirts and healthy eating information with our employees.
CFSA: How did you negotiate with those in power to affect the changes that you wanted to see happen around sustainable agriculture in Alamance?
Eric: When we were organizing the Company Shops Market we had to do a lot of negotiating with local government and others as we worked to locate the shop in downtown Burlington. I had to convince officials that this was something that was going to be good for the downtown area and would be good for local businesses. We had to be forceful in our negotiations and eventually convinced decision-makers that this would be great for local business, farmers and consumers.
One thing we did was invite in another county manager, one who is sympathetic to local food, and introduce him to our manager. That helped build trust. Also we invited Michael Shuman, a national economic development consultant, to talk with local folks about local food economies.
CFSA: Looking back, can you talk about some successes and failures, as well as reflect on anything that you may have done differently in your efforts to promote sustainable agriculture?
Eric: The biggest success was establishing Company Shops Market and creating a place that connects citizens to local foods. Our challenge is still that sustainable, local agriculture is a very small part of our local food system. We need to do a better job of selling local food as economic development and job creation. We need more allies and to continue to educate the broader community about this goal.