Saturday, 18 February 2017 00:00

If on your way to Machu Picchu, you get off the train in the village of Ollantaytambo and go not toward the main gate of the station but the other direction (past the entrances of the hotel and Cafe Mayu), you can follow a stone fence overhung with melon vines up to an entrance with a sign pointing to a two-room schoolhouse behind terraced fields of crops and vegetables. The farm itself is part of the school, both a classroom and playground, and the fewer than two dozen students can often be seen doing hands-on projects alongside teachers, volunteers, or field workers, under the backdrop of distant, snow-capped mountains. The children might be playing soccer, watering the herbs or ground cherries in their own small garden, or having class in the gazebo, speaking Spanish, English, or Quechua. Alpacas and sheep graze near the bamboo-roofed structures, across from several greenhouses that supply enough spinach, basil, and tomatoes for the salads of both the students and guests at the hotel. Lemongrass, carrots, lettuce,Brussels sprouts, arugula, and quinoa are irrigated by aqueducts built thousands of years ago.

I didn't arrive in Ollatay by train. When I first saw the streets, squares, fields, and markets of the city, it was from the windows of a taxi I had taken along a winding mountain road from Cusco, about two hours away. The road had dipped into the sacred valley, along the Madre de Dios river, and the city, built by the Incas, had risen like a fortress out of the giant steps in the mountains, ancient ruins perched in the cliffs. That was February of 2015, and I taught English at the Kuska school until December. If you visited the farm that year, I might have been the one to walk across the field to greet you in broken Spanish, and invite you to walk around the garden. If you wanted to visit the school, I might tell you the best time would be at lunch, which we ate in the outdoor kitchen, with fresh vegetables the students harvested from the farm. From the way I talked, it would have been clear (as it probably is now from the way I’m writing) how much I loved the school and the work I was doing there.

Setting, I feel, is not often adequately considered as an aspect of education. The environment where learning takes place, and how students are allowed to interact with and take inspiration from that environment, can be a tremendously important factor in a child’s acquisition of habits and knowledge. The Kuska school, nestled in a convergence of two rivers, brooded over by the fortress and Pinkuylluna archeological sites of the Incan empire, next to the river and mountain pools, has one of the most beautiful natural settings I have ever seen.

Appreciation of the natural world is part of the Kuska school’s “experiential approach," which, according to their website, “nurtures individual creativity and spiritual strength, with a focus on environmental and social responsibility." Children at the school not only learn about the world around them scientifically, and respond to it creatively, but they are also made to experience how an ecological or environmental outlook is a continuing part of indigenous Quechua traditions.-

The students in the school are a diverse mix of ages and backgrounds. I was one of four or five other educators, not including several young volunteers who helped with classes over the year. I taught English and physical education, while other teachers gave lessons in Spanish, math, science, music, and art. The integrated nature of the curriculum, and the project-based philosophy of the school, meant that as teachers we would often combine subjects and age groups, adapting to whatever the goals and circumstances were for a given day.

My year in Ollantaytambo felt like the first time in my life I had ever really lived according to my ideals—I was eating fresh, local foods, producing virtually no waste (non-recyclable trash was stuffed into “eco-bricks” of 2-liter bottles and used in construction projects on the farm), and spending most of my free time hiking in the mountains or along riverbeds. I didn’t use a car or air conditioning. I was teaching 6- to 14-year-olds English, but I was also learning what a sustainable lifestyle, which I had idealized but never achieved, actually looked like.

Now I’m living in Portland, teaching English over the internet, and trying to carry forward that feeling of living more in tune with my natural surroundings, hiking through a different but equally inspiring landscape. I am grateful beyond words to have been able to live for a full cycle of seasons in the sacred valley of Peru, and encourage anyone interested in volunteering or working as a teacher to learn more from their website. The Kuska school demonstrates for me the effectiveness of place, community, and project-based education.



 

 

Thursday, 01 September 2016 00:00

Unknown to me until recently, shishito peppers are an up-and-coming delicacy at your local farmers market, hitting their peak in late summer/early fall. They were originally developed in Japan, but have become much more common in the United States. I have come across them in three states in the past year, and have loved them at every stop.

Shishito peppers vary in color, but they are typically a rich medium/dark green color with mild red and orange hues strewn throughout as they ripen. Visually, they resemble a jalapeño or a serrano pepper, but have a more delicate skin. They are slightly wrinkly, and are very light in weight. They have a slightly sweet, mild flavor, similar to a Spanish padrón pepper, with the occasional touch of heat. They are 13 to 160 times milder than a jalapeño. Although most are not spicy, I've heard you can occasionally find a hot one—so be careful!

I first had them fried with salt and traditional Mexican spices. I was pleasantly surprised, particularly since they are not a traditional Mexican pepper. I find they're best when grilled or lightly pan-seared until they start to brown and the skin begins to pop. Since the skin is relatively light, it does not take long for them to cook. If you opt to grill, keep a close eye on them so they don't burn too quickly.

With a little seasoning, they are wonderful with many dishes: as part of a summer Thai noodle bowl, alongside other grilled vegetables, as part of Mexican tacos, or even as a last-minute addition into an Indian or Chinese curry. Or perhaps try them on their own with a little salt and lemon juice! Look for them at your local farmers market, and surely they will be a hit at your next get-together. With a relatively mild yet distinctive flavor, they will brighten up your end-of-summer meals!

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Tuesday, 19 April 2016 00:00

After spending a good portion of our three-year adventure working on organic farms around the world, my partner Patrick and I decided to dive a little deeper into farming here in Oregon this year to see if it’s a viable long-term path for us. We were looking for a full-season farm experience that provided hands-on learning as well as training and networking opportunities (and ideally, a little income as well). Rogue Farm Corps’ (RFC) “FarmsNext” program fit those requirements perfectly! 

Rogue Farm Corps was founded 13 years ago by a community of Southern Oregon farmers who shared a desire to mentor next-generation farmers. Over the years, thanks to local, state, and federal partnerships, RFC took the lead in establishing a legal framework for on-farm internships in Oregon. And thanks to statewide support from farmers and farm advocates, the program currently offers introductory full-time structured education and training programs with commercial farmers in Rogue Valley, South Willamette, Portland, and Central Oregon. (RFC also offers “FarmsNOW,” an apprenticeship program for aspiring farmers with previous farm experience who want to master the art and business of farming.)

So what does a FarmsNext internship look like? Well, based on our first two weeks at Easy Valley Farm in Rogue River (part of which is pictured above), here’s what I can tell you…

- Interns work about 40 hours a week around the farm throughout the season (March/April thru October/November). In our case, we’ve been working Monday through Friday harvesting and washing vegetables, planting starts, seeding crops, stocking the farm stand, learning how to use machinery, and helping with general farm maintenance. (And weeding. There’s always weeding.) 

Planting

Sprouts

Our farm hosts have an in-house farm stand; many other FarmsNext hosts sell products at farmer’s markets and/or through CSA programs so interns at those farms will spend time throughout the season on those activities.

- Interns attend 3 to 5 classes per month. Topics include soil health, irrigation, animal husbandry and beekeeping, pest and weed management, farm tools, business management, and various permaculture topics. Local farm tours and potlucks are also scheduled into the calendar; these events offer opportunities for networking and community-building.

- Interns complete an independent project during the season and present results at the end of the program. Projects are usually designed around mutual interests of the interns and farmers, as well as around the host farmer’s immediate or future needs. Previous projects have included farm infrastructure improvements, enhanced marketing strategies, research studies on new farming methodologies, and entrepreneurial approaches like value-added products. (We’ll be pitching our project ideas to our hosts sometime in the next few weeks.)

- Farm hosts provide interns with food and accommodations. Food generally includes the normal staples as well as anything from the vegetable bedsnothing beats harvesting dinner from your backyard every night! 

Rows of greens

Meal prep varies by farm, but we share a community meal with our hosts once a week and cook all other meals on our own. Accommodations also vary by farm. In our case, we live in the back few rooms of our hosts’ farmhouse and cook meals in an outdoor kitchen on the back porch that’s amply stocked with food and cooking utensils/appliances. It also comes with a lovely backyard view and “Farm Dog TV.”

Watching the farm dog

- Interns receive a monthly stipend to cover class transportation costs and other personal items. (Like beer. Nothing beats a cold beer after a day of planting starts and pulling weeds!)

- Interns pay a small tuition (currently $1500 for the entire program) that goes toward program staffing and educational costs.

So far, we really like the program and our experience at Easy Valley Farm. We’re already having discussions about how farming might look for us in the future and what it will take for us to get there, which is exactly what the program is intended to do. Look for more posts here about our farming experience (as well as general gardening tips) as the season progresses… 

Farming is not for everyone—it’s definitely a financial, physical, and emotional investment. From everything we’ve heard from our farmer friends around the world, the best way to test the waters is to jump in for a full season. RFC is one of the more structured internship options here in the Pacific Northwest, but there are many other programs and internships nationwide that are geared toward new and young farmers. If you know someone interested in farming as a career, please encourage them to explore an internship opportunity. The local food movement can always use more support!

Sunday, 02 August 2015 00:00

Why “You Pick” Farms are a Great Option For Fresh Produce


You pick farms are gaining popularity as many people are becoming more interested in where their food is sourced from. Here are some things to consider about "You pick" farms and why they are a great way to get some really fresh produce. 


The experience

Going for the experience of picking fresh from the plant produce is one of the best benefits. It’s a great activity for families and kids can see, touch, smell, and taste the produce and see the land where it came from. It’s time well spent in my opinion plus your getting fresh produce. Some things that you might want to consider bringing when you go to a you pick farm are sunscreen, water, hats, and buckets or baskets for picking. (most you pick farms expect you to supply your own containers).

 
The price cut

Farmer’s will reduce the per pound price of their crops at a "You pick" farm because you are providing the labor. They don’t have to pick the produce so they are more than happy to sell it for less and provide a fun activity for the neighboring communities. My family and I recently picked around 20lbs. of strawberries and blueberries at our local you pick farms and are almost done eating all of the harvest so we are thinking about going back for more before blueberry season ends this year. The price is so much cheaper than a tiny 4-5 dollar carton of berries from the grocery store and we love to use the berries in everything.  


Locally grown fresh produce There is nothing better than homegrown produce accept fresh local produce. You can stock up on it and freeze some or create your favorite recipes in batches and preserve them for later use during the winter months when you pick crops like berries will be supper expensive in the super market.  Plus you are shopping local and making a purchase to help support a small business owner.


To locate a “You Pick” Farm near you visit

www.pickyourown.org

www.localharvest.org

 

Thursday, 30 July 2015 00:00

Parking the car, Melanie reads the CSA member information sign out loud to her son. “Happy Harvest – Each member gets a pumpkin of their choice.”  Daniels eyes widen with delight. “Yes,” she continues, “go pick a pumpkin.” Daniel runs to the patch of pumpkins knowing he’s allowed to pick anyone he wants. It’s a tough decision for an 8 year old boy, but he’ll find the perfect one.  While Daniel is picking his pumpkin Melanie looks through the choices of food for that week’s CSA. Melanie belongs to 2 different organic CSAs in the area. One is a traditional CSA where she picks up food the farmer puts together each week. Today’s CSA is non-traditional; she chooses only the items she wants and pays for them. Between the two CSAs, Melanie doesn’t worry about fresh produce during the season. 

What Is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)? 

A CSA – community supported agriculture (also called community shared agriculture) is a relationship between a local grower and customers. The buyer joins the farmer to minimize the financial risk. Before the season begins the consumer pays for a seasonal membership. The upfront money allows the farmer to farm without needing equity for seeds and supplies. The farmer also knows how much food they need to produce, depending on how many members are in the CSA. Every week of the producing season the harvest is shared with each CSA customer. The relationship gives the farmer guaranteed equity, while the consumer gets fresh produce and input regarding their food. 

Types of CSAs? 

There are many different types of CSAs available in your community. Since it’s a partnership between the farmer and the consumer, all decisions are made within this relationship. The way food is grown in the CSA can vary from certified organic to industrial farm methods. Talk to the CSA owner to make sure you agree with their growing methods before joining. A “traditional” CSA is when the customer buys a specific type or number of shares in the CSA. Normally all or most of the money is due before the season begins. Once you’ve paid your membership there aren’t any other expenses to the customer. Some CSAs allow you to work for part of your share. This means the consumer helps the farmer in some manner on the farm. They could be helping harvest, weed, plant seeds or anything else that the farmer needs doing during the year. In a non-traditional CSA, people buy into the CSA to become a member.  This buy-in reserves a share of produce throughout the season. Each week the member chooses and pays for only the products they want at a reduced rate from the general public. In both cases harvest controls quantity to the consumer. A more abundant harvest means the customer gets more, and when the harvest is lower they receive less. 

Benefits of a CSA for everyone

A CSA creates a community of people who share a belief about how their foods are grown. It allows the customer to have direct contact with and impact on their own food source. Many CSAs ask their members questions throughout the year, making changes for the following year their members want. The CSA farmer has a reduced risk for growing and selling their products, which means greater success and less stress for the farmer.  The CSA member gets the freshest produce available, and becomes a partner with the farmer. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved. 

Finding a CSA

Right now is the perfect time to find a CSA for the next growing season. Depending on your area, weather and farmers will determine the time and length of the season. Look online for local CSAs as well as your local Farmer’s Market. Some CSAs bring products to the local farmers market. The small farm community is normally very close and will refer you to different CSAs in the area. Other places to look are your newspaper, Chamber of Commerce, Agriculture Center and Local Harvest (http://www.localharvest.org/search.jsp?&ty=6). Once you find a CSA that meets your needs, call and visit them. Most CSA owners are great about inviting you to their farm for a visit.  Make sure you join early, many CSAs close fast every year. 

Melanie collected her produce choices, and noticed one of the CSA owners carrying a huge pumpkin to the car with Daniel. In Daniel’s hand there was a small pumpkin.  Handing his mother the small pumpkin, “Mom can you make a pie?” pointing to the large one. “This one’s for our jack-o-lantern.” The owner put the large one in the back seat, “It’s fine, we have extra pumpkins this week and more coming next week.” 
The benefits of a CSA: when there is more, we always benefit. 

Sunday, 22 February 2015 00:00

Sourcing farm fresh foods during the winter months can seem challenging. Here are some tips on how to keep fresh foods on your plate throughout the colder months of the year.

Join a CSA that covers the winter months
Foods such as meats and dairy products are available year-round and don’t depend on the weather for supply so you may be able to find a farm offering a year-round fresh and local meat and dairy CSA. In addition, you can visit localharvest.org and click on the CSA section on the left of the page to see what local produce, meats, and goods are available in your area. There are several options for many items you can source here from local farms and small businesses near you no matter the season including soaps, honey, dry goods, jams, fibers, and meats/dairy.

Still shop the farmer’s market in winter
Presently, farmers have a variety of ways to extend their growing seasons. Most have the option to grow during the colder months in green houses and using other technologies, so don’t write off having access to farm fresh vegetables and fruits in the winter. You can most likely still find a local market to visit in the fall and winter months. You might be surprised at what they have to offer. Try looking under the farmer’s market section on localharvest.org for the markets nearest you. http://www.localharvest.org/farmers-markets/
Remember, many farmers can also store and preserve food from the end of the regular growing season for months on end including root vegetables, potatoes, onions, legumes, and packaged dry goods from their crops.

Grown your own supply of fresh foods to cover for the winter months
Supply your own fresh foods. This is my favorite as it involves self-sufficiency. Use a hoop house or cold frame to extend your own garden's growing season. Or, when you harvest your garden, try canning, freezing, dehydrating, and otherwise storing your fresh garden produce to have it readily available during the winter months. You can also try growing fresh sprouts or greens indoors during the winter. If you're interested, you can see one of my previous articles about growing fresh sprouts at home here: http://www.greenergood.com/index.php/homestyle/item/591-growing-fresh-sprouts

A little planning can go a long way towards your winter fresh food supply
You can plan ahead during the summer months and buy larger quantities or even bushels from the farmer’s market when certain foods that you eat a lot are in season. Choose your favorite way of preserving and then pick a day to get started. For example if you love farm fresh green beans as a side vegetable for your dinners, you can buy a whole bushel, then clean, blanch, and freeze them in bags or containers to steam later during the winter months. You can even work something out with friends or family and split bushels if they are too large for what you want to have on hand.

It’s good to realize the benefits of buying local not just for your own health and well-being but also for the support that it offers to your own local community. Buying from a local farm keeps your money funding small business and stimulates your own nearby economy. It’s also good to consider the negative environmental impact and the impact on the freshness of your food that occurs when shipping fresh foods/goods to chain stores from hundreds or even thousands of miles away.