By Dee Reid
North Carolina’s Triangle area has cultivated a foodie paradise of sustainable farms, growers’ markets and seasonal cuisine. But there’s a gap in the local food chain: Low-income households often lack fresh, healthy produce. And nearly one in five residents statewide sometimes go hungry, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
UNC College alumna Gini Bell is helping to narrow the nutrition gap by forging new links from farm to food bank. As executive director of Farmer Foodshare, a Durham-based nonprofit, she oversees a network of community partnerships “connecting people who grow food with people who need food.”
Farmer Foodshare buys produce from local farmers and delivers it to food organizations that provide groceries and meals to those in need.
Bell’s interest in fresh local food sprouted when she was an undergraduate. She read up on environmental and health concerns associated with commodity farming and junk-food diets. She explored alternatives, including the student-run community vegetable garden on campus.
After graduating from UNC, she took courses on sustainable farming and food justice at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro. She worked with two local food-shed pioneers: farmer Ken Dawson, who co-founded Maple Spring Gardens in 1972, and Lex Alexander, who in 1981 co-founded Durham’s Wellspring Grocery, now part of the Whole Foods Market chain.
“I learned a lot about fresh local food, including who has access to it and who doesn’t,” Bell said. “I began thinking more about how food moves from where it grows to where it is consumed.”
The critical thinking skills Bell honed at Carolina kept her digging for solutions. She found bold initiatives sprouting at Farmer Foodshare. The nonprofit was established in 2009 by Margaret Gifford, a shopper at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market who began gathering surplus food from growers and donating it to local food banks. Soon Gifford realized she could collect contributions from other shoppers to pay the farmers for their food. That effort evolved into the unique model that now partners with a network of local farms and food agencies across the region to take a whole-systems approach to food access.
Bell started working for Farmer Foodshare in January 2013 and became executive director a year and a half later.
In 2015, Farmer Foodshare spent over $182,000 on local food purchases and donated 60,000 pounds of fresh produce from more than 300 farms, supplementing more than 600,000 meals for some 20,000 hungry adults and children.
“It’s a joy to find innovative ways to address big issues by tapping into the strengths of so many smart people working together across our community,” she said.
Bell collaborates with four staffers, including two other UNC alumnae: Katy Phillips and Karla Capacetti. With the help of Carolina student interns and dozens of volunteers, they provide a series of programs, including:
Donation Stations: Volunteers collect cash contributions at farmers markets and use the funds to purchase food from the growers. Last year, donation stations at 31 farmers markets provided food to about three dozen community programs.
POP (Pennies on the Pound) Market: To respond to increasing demand, Farmer Foodshare created a centralized hub to buy fresh food in bulk. Each week, farmers list what they have available, and about 36 food relief organizations place orders. A Farmer Foodshare van transports the produce from the farms to the warehouse for filling orders.
Food Ambassadors: Farmer Foodshare volunteers give cooking demonstrations at markets, food agencies and other locations to show consumers how to prepare produce in new ways or cook with unfamiliar vegetables.
–Reprinted from Carolina Arts & Sciences magazine, published by UNC-Chapel Hill’s College of Arts and Sciences.
Believe it or not, the feds have given the go-ahead to genetically modified salmon that will be grown in tanks in Panama from fish eggs produced on Prince Edwards Island. Expect to find these first GMO salmon — indeed the first GMO food critters of any kind — in supermarkets in about two years or so. The only problem is, you may not be able to tell the GMO fillets from the others, because the Food and Drug Administration is not requiring salmon grower Aqua Bounty to slap a GMO label on their AquAdvantage fish.
That could be because there is no apparent consumer demand for genetically engineered salmon, and there’s plenty of consumer concern that it could be bad for our health, the environment or both.
Consumer and environmental groups, which are already challenging the FDA ruling, argue that the safety studies are inadequate and that the health and quality of wild salmon could be threatened if the GMO fish escape into oceans and streams.
Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, said the FDA ruling “disregards the vast majority of consumers, many independent scientists, numerous members of Congress and salmon growers around the world who have voiced strong opposition.”
Aqua Bounty is apparently motivated by the profit potential of being the first to grow salmon bigger and faster through genetic engineering than their non-GMO competitors. But they may not wish to highlight the GMO status on their label.
Consumers who wish to avoid consuming GMO salmon should therefore steer clear of the “AquAdvantage- Aqua Bounty” label. With luck, the best wild salmon producers will be smart enough to slap a “non-GMO” label on their fish, to point out the difference.
To find the best information about wild salmon, or any other sustainable seafood, your most convenient source is Seafood Watch, whose website (seafoodwatch.org) and phone app will help you choose from what’s available at your fish market. Now that I have the app on my phone, I don’t have to guess which seafood is best for me. When I reach the fish counter, I just reach in my pocket, click on the Seafood Watch app, type in “salmon” or any other possibility available, and follow their advice, which is color coded: green (go), yellow (maybe OK) and red (no way).
The only crop that was ready to be harvested this week in my early spring garden was one I had nothing to do with. When I went out to the garden to check on my sugar-snap peas (they finally germinated!), imagine my delight when I also discovered a whole bed of chickweed and dead nettle. These delicious and nutritious wild, edible, perennial and ubiquitous greens had taken over a bed of soil that I had not yet planted.
What could be better? They grew on their own, with no help from yours truly. I didn’t have to buy seeds, nurture the transplants, weed, feed or fret about this crop. It just took care of itself, and in so doing, it is taking great care of me, too.
So I thanked Mother Nature and grabbed up several fistfuls to eat and cook with. I learned about this “manna” from heaven a couple of years ago when I went for a walk with the amazing herbalist and wild foods enthusiast Kim Calhoun, and later took a class with her at Central Carolina Community College. She showed me some of the weeds growing in our backyards that can easily be used in salads, soups and pesto.
She also told me that wild greens are packed with nutrients — or “goodiments” as she likes to say. Then she shared her recipe for Wild Greens Pesto, which also features garlic, one of the most nutritious cultivated foods we know.
I made my first batch of the season this week and it’s even more delicious than my last batch. It tastes great on sandwiches, pasta, vegetables, seafood, meats, etc. You can keep it in the refrigerator for weeks at a time (if you can manage not to gobble it all at once) and it keeps well in the freezer in individual ice cubes for easy future use.
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 UME 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, purple dead nettle, 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…
Before you pick something to eat, you should be sure you know what it is. Check online for color photos of these greens, or ask a friend who knows. Also be sure it’s growing in an area that is not polluted by chemical pesticides, herbicides or road runoff. Always wash the greens before consuming them, in case any of our four-legged friends “fertilized” them when we weren’t looking.
I’m happy to add our support to this open letter, and urge you to add your support at http://www.myplatemyplanet.org
Food for a Sustainable Nation: An Open Letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
- “A diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet…”
- “Current evidence shows that the average U.S. diet has a larger environmental impact in terms of increased greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, and energy use…”
- “Linking health, dietary guidance, and the environment will promote human health and the sustainability of natural resources and ensure current and long-term food security.”
As Americans, we rely on our government to provide accurate, science-based information, that promotes the health of our families and our environment.
Believe it or not, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has given the go-ahead to grow the first genetically modified apples. And they will not be labeled GMO.
Never mind that 175,000 consumers who commented on the proposal were overwhelmingly opposed. And that industry executives are not exactly salivating for Arctic Apples, the GM brand developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits, a Canadian company.
Developers say their GM apples will not turn brown as quickly as other apples when sliced or bruised. Consumer groups say that’s not exactly compelling. They argue that genetically modified crops are not thoroughly tested for safety, and there could be unintended consequences associated with growing or consuming them.
“This G.M.O. apple is simply unnecessary,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “The USDA has let down U.S. apple growers and the public by wasting resources on this useless and risky food.” Apple browning is a small cosmetic issue that consumers and the industry have dealt with successfully for generations, she explained.
Environmentalists have been urging Big Food companies to reject the GMO apples. So far McDonald’s and Gerber have said they have no plans to use them.
Arctic Apples eventually will be available in the Granny Smith and Golden Delicious varieties. The only way consumers will be aware that they are genetically modified is if they know enough to look for the Arctic brand on the label.
A major concern of apple industry leaders is that Americans who love fresh apples for taste and health reasons may reject the bio-tech fruit, or all apples if they are unsure about their GM status. The news about the new GM apples could also hurt exports to countries that do not like or allow genetically modified foods.
“In the marketplace we participate in, there doesn’t seem to be room for genetically modified apples now,” said John Rice in a story on the New York Times business page. He is co-owner of Rice Fruit Company, in Gardners, Pa., which calls itself the largest apple packer in the East.
The USDA approval says that growing the GMO apples does not pose any harm to other plants or pests. The apples won’t be in grocery stores immediately, however, as the company awaits a voluntary safety review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
North Carolina ‘s widely recognized real-food scene is cultivated by hundreds of innovative chefs, farmers, advocates and entrepreneurs. A recent story in The New York Times noted that so many are women. Got that right.
Women are running the best professional kitchens across the state, reported Kim Severson. But there’s more. “The food sisterhood stretches out beyond restaurants too, into pig farming, flour milling and pickling,” she wrote. “Women manage the state’s pre-eminent pasture-raised meat and organic produce distribution businesses, and preside over its farmers’ markets. They influence food policy and lead the state’s academic food studies. And each fall, the state hosts the nation’s only retreat for women in the meat business.”
Turns out women lead in “every single link in the food chain in North Carolina,” said Margaret Gifford, who spent 16 years in the state and founded the nonprofit Farmer Foodshare (now directed by Gini Bell).
The Times feature cited amazing chefs including Andrea Reusing (Lantern), Ashley Christensen (Poole’s Downtown Diner and more), Katie Button (Asheville’s Curate and Nightbell), and Vivian Howard (Kinston’s Chef and the Farmer, and the PBS Show A Chef’s Life).
Other leaders include food studies professor Marcie Cohen Ferris (UNC), innovative pickler April McGreger (Farmer’s Daughter), baker Phoebe Lawless (Scratch), pork producer Eliza MacLean (Cane Creek Farm), meat distributor Jennifer Curtis (Firsthand Foods) and millers Jennifer Lapidus and Kim Thompson (Carolina Ground).
In our Pittsboro foodshed alone, we admire Debbie Roos, our sustainable agricultural extension agent and pollinator garden propagator. Also Slow Money NC co-founder Carol Hewitt, Abundance NC director Tami Schwerin, sustainable ag community college director Robin Kohanowich, Greek restaurateur Angelina Koulizakis-Bashista and a long list of female farmers, co-op leaders, food bank operators, and farmers’ market managers. Yow.
Men working in the food shed told The Times that it’s not surprising that women are leading the way. “For me, it’s as simple as the cream rises to the top,” said Chef Tandy Wilson (City House).
By Dee Reid
What happens when two sustainable farmers and a chef decide to offer farm-to-fork dining at a biofuels plant in Pittsboro? That’s not a reality TV show pitch. It’s actually what took place on Saturday night when new Piedmont Biofarm co-owners Brett Evans and Will Carmines collaborated with new Chatham Chef Geoff Seelen to host their first hyper-local dinner at the Piedmont Biofuels Eco-Industrial campus on the edge of town.
Their synergy warmed our hearts and bellies, and ignited a unique locavore pop-up dining series that is sure to succeed.
Tickets for the first Piedmont Biofarm-to-Table Dinner sold out in two days. Some 30 guests paid $30 each to enjoy a tantalizing four-course meal in an impromptu festive dining space, just steps away from the vegetable beds that produced fresh ingredients even in mid-winter.
Just before dinner, we also got a chance to sample spirits infused with seasonal ingredients, at another fairly new venture, Fair Game Beverage, “Pittsboro’s only legal distillery.” Like the Biofarm, the distillery is also based at the Eco-Industrial Complex.
With a farm, distillery, kitchen, swing space and great parking on site, the complex is an ideal setting for community gatherings.
The seeds for the dinner series were first planted when Chef Geoff moved to Chatham from New York, where he had been working in the renowned Blue Hill restaurants.
“I met Will at one of the weekly community lunches,” Geoff explained. “And we began talking about this idea of joining forces to create special dinners.”
Will and Brett are excited to be carrying forward the sustainable ag vision of Doug Jones, who founded the Biofarm. He mentored his two former interns to take over the farm when he was ready to spend more time on other ventures, including cross-breeding new varieties of Pittsboro peppers. Now the Biofarm continues to successfully produce an abundant variety of vegetables with no synthetic chemical inputs.
Saturday’s first course was a tasty mixed-greens salad featuring chard, Brussel sprout leaves, and radishes. That was followed by a lovely small plate of mini-crepes made with four varieties of roasted sweet potatoes drizzled with a squash-based sauce.
The main attraction was Chatham rabbit (from Fatty Owl Farm) — white meat cooked tenderly and served over a bed of warm greens and sun chokes, flavored by a rabbit-liver-based sauce enhanced with a Fair Game port. Yum. We cleaned our plates.
Geoff, Brett and Will decided to make their first dinner especially challenging by presenting it in January, the most difficult month for food production. They made it look easy, except for dessert. (No summer peaches or blueberries to fall back on.) They came up with a frozen dairy ice, topped with pulverized acorns and black walnuts harvested “right out back,” said Geoff. I enjoyed the creative and no doubt labor-intensive use of wild ingredients, but kept thinking a splash of warm Fair Game brandy might have taken it up just a notch on this cold night.
We’re glad they are ready to continue the series, perhaps monthly, though they expect to raise the price a bit, so that wait staff can be paid instead of working just for tips. Sounds reasonable, as long as it doesn’t get too pricey for eclectic locavores, whose enthusiasm at this dinner was almost as essential to the experience as the menu.
Seated at our end of the table were a young furniture craftsman who also plays classical piano, a future elementary school teacher, a massage therapist, a “slow money” advocate and a potter. We had plenty to talk about between bites, and that was half the fun.
Many thanks to Geoff, Brett, Will, Abundance NC, Fair Game Beverage and all who contributed to a special night out in PBO. We look forward to more.