Wednesday, May 25, 2011


It was over a couple of beers with my friend Maureen (aka Farmer Mo) that I first heard of The Farmerettes a few months ago. These were young American wives and daughters and mothers who, as their men went off to fight in World War I, stepped up to grow food to support their families and the country. Theirs was a different kind of farming -- often on a smaller scale, generally using less machinery, and incorporating a greater variety of crops -- than that which their husbands and sons and fathers had undertaken. Part of this was due to their smaller physical stature and an unfamiliarity with operating large combines, but it's more complex than that. Women go about things differently.

From what I've been able to tell, these patriotic foremothers were very much like the young women farmers I've worked with around the country along my bikeable feast, those who have chosen to pick up shovels and trowels and orchard crates to offer their communities smaller-scale, sustainable alternatives to massive-scale, chemical-laden food products. Because it was needed.

Talk about a catchy slogan: "Joan of Arc Left the Soil to Save France. We're Going Back to the Soil to Save America." Love it. But when the war ended and the menfolk returned home, the Women's Land Army, as they were officially known, relinquished their overalls for aprons and the farmerettes faded into history.

And yet.... Why is it that so many small, sustainable farmers these days seem to be women? I've done lots of thinking and a little bit of reading up on this. (Still need to get my hands on a copy of Farmer Jane, though.) At the risk of making a gross generalization, and idealizing an entire gender, I offer this: women are natural caretakers and nurturers (consider their predominance in the fields of nursing and early childhood education), on the whole they value different things than men (community over personal success; diversity and resilience over profit), and they are naturally collaborative problem solvers and knowledge sharers (rather than stiff competitors). There is also the fact that organic and biodynamic farming -- even more so than large-scale, conventional growing -- takes patience, vigilance, and an acceptance that invariably some things will be lost. I think of it like motherhood. Not that I am a mother, but I am close enough to a lot of them to sense the truth in this: encourage, love, heal, forgive, and accept losses with grace. Like the loss of lettuce to deer, or groundhogs, or beetles, or drought. The acceptance of this loss before subsequently turning to celebrate the flourishing of the potatoes, or carrots, or kale, and making sure friends, family, and neighbors share in the bounty.

(This is not to say that many of the organic, women farmers I have worked with have not considered shooting a deer or a groundhog at one time or another, but it's rarely the first, or even the second, option. Neither do I mean to imply that male and/or conventional farmers are not hard working or generous.)

I got to thinking about the farmerettes (and their modern sisters) again last Wednesday as I helped Farmer Mo with weeding and transplanting and harvesting at her farm in Alexandria, VA, and again as we worked together with her mentor farmer, Kristin, at her own farm in Upper Marlboro, MD two days later. I was heartened by the way Kristin offered ideas and answers to Mo's many questions as we worked, and the way, I learned, that Mo in turn mentored another, newer urban grower, Sarah. It is this spirit of helping each other, the sharing of experience and equipment and fears and encouragement, that is the key to the reformation of our collective food system.

I am not saying that men are not -- that they cannot be -- a part of the Good Food movement. But if a truly healthy, sustainable network of small-scale growers is going to feed us, and not destroy the planet in the process, I have a hunch that it's going to be led by women.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Monday, May 23, 2011

In search of a 12-step program

Seriously, I think I may have a problem.

Prior to this Saturday's urban farm bike tour, I stopped by the Columbia Heights farmers market for the sole purpose of picking up a dozen eggs. Just eggs, nothing else. It was a task that should have taken no more than $4 and about 5 minutes. I left 45 minutes later with the dozen pastured eggs (mission accomplished)... along with a pint of strawberries, a small tub of vanilla yoghurt from a new local dairy, and three seedlings (doh!).

I can't help myself: food plant acquisition is becoming an addiction. In early spring, I started a bunch of seeds, many of which have since been transplanted as baby tomatoes and flowers out back. But then I found myself accepting little basil seedlings when I helped out at Walker Jones a few weeks ago. And I picked up little parsley and cilantro transplants at the Dupont market. Mike recently gave me a few sunflower sprouts to add some height to the little green space behind my apartment and we've started some marigolds that I'll be integrating soon to help protect my tomatoes.

It's not like I have an enormous garden patch to work with, and I recognize that I am quickly approaching something beyond acceptable levels of "intensive" growing. But how am I expected to resist when a farmer gets so excited that I'm asking about growing artichokes that he gives me -- I mean he actually refuses payment -- two artichoke seedlings? Well, I couldn't walk away and not buy anything, and my eye fell on a purple-and-white striped fairytale eggplant. See? I was socially obligated to purchase that one! And it fit right into a little spot that I'd cleared when I pulled a few volunteer squash seedlings out back. (Seriously, if anyone wants healthy, mystery squash seedlings, call me. I've got a number that I am growing out myself, but there are plenty to go around. They apparently flourish in my compost, but the only detail I know about them is that they are organic. The rest will be a surprise.) And the artichoke will add some nice, decorative height to my garden come autumn....

Acknowledgment is the first step toward recovery, I am told.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Sunday, May 22, 2011

If you plan it, they will come

I have to admit I got misty eyed a few times yesterday while leading the (rescheduled) DC urban farms bike tour. I think it really hit me when we arrived at the Washington Youth Garden, part of the National Arboretum, which was the second stop along the route to five urban food growing spaces around town. The near-tears state was no doubt partly due to the near loss of 15 cyclists en route -- a few folks had stopped to help a fellow biker change a flat and had only my less-than-stellar, turn-by-(mis)turn cue sheet to lead them to the next site -- and relief when they showed up about 20 minutes later. God bless smartphones. (Note to self: do not type up cue sheets after wine-filled dinner party the night before the bike tour. It was a lovely meal, even so, Sheffy.) However, I suspect that part of the emotion as I rolled onto the Arboretum grounds with 50-some cyclists in tow surely came from the realization that it was here, just over 2 years ago, that my friend Tom helped me practice shifting gears on my first real bicycle. I know! Ollie and I are all grown up and leading tours now. Well, one so far.

It was perhaps one of the most gorgeous days I can recall experiencing in the District: 78 and sunny with a light breeze. What perfect weather to introduce a whole new group of bicycling food lovers to some of the more amazing farms and community gardens around town. Things kicked off with seed packet spoke card making and a tour of the Neighborhood Farm Initiative's main garden in Fort Totten. Then the group proceeded to get an introduction to youth gardening and environmental programming at the aforementioned Washington Youth Garden (sweetened by some trail mix goodies, courtesy of a store credit from GLUT), a primer on composting and bee keeping at the Farm at Walker Jones (with fresh fruit and granola bars donated by Whole Foods), a look into intergenerational gardening and youth enterprise at City Blossoms' Marion Street garden (featuring lovely fresh herbal teas and lemonade for thirsty riders), and, only slightly behind schedule in spite of everything, an overview of permaculture, rain collection, and community programming at Common Good City Farm. The excitement and enthusiasm of farmers and cyclists was positively infectious, and I found myself grinning uncontrollably. Yes, even before a couple of beers at the closing happy hour at Big Bear Cafe. (Love that place.)

As things wound down, one person after another came up to thank me for organizing things and ask me when the next ride would be. Well, avid cyclists, future urban farming volunteers, and potential supporters, I hope this is the beginning of a tradition of local food-focused bicycle adventures around my favorite city. We shall see. (I will be sure to get a second opinion -- and a little less wine in me -- before printing out the cue sheet for round two.)

Thank you to The Greenhorns for providing the impetus for this bike tour, to the nearly 60 cyclists who attended the event, to the organizations that donated snacks. But most of all, thank you to my urban farming friends who are teaching us how to grow food, build community, and live more sustainably in the nation's capital.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A strict morel code

As much as I seek a partner with good moral fiber, it may be just as important -- perhaps moreso -- to locate a lover with a good lead on morels.

What? Don't give me that stern look. Morel season is only, like, two weeks long here in the DC area. I just picked up a handful of the elusive little guys for $10 at the Columbia Heights farmers' market two weekends ago. I was literally skipping on my way home with them in my tote bag.

The next morning I tried a couple of them sauteed with butter and some wild leeks I'd picked up at the Glover Park farmers' market. Served on homemade sourdough: yum. (Yes, for those of you keeping track, that was two farmers' market visits in one day. I like to make the rounds.)

Okay, actually, I had that for breakfast a few mornings in a row. A few made their way into a vegetable chowder that my friend Ben was privy to midweek. Near the end of the week, my friend Joe stopped by and since we were both hungry we played my favorite game -- "what can I make with the random stuff in my fridge" -- with some fresh ginger, a pot of brown rice, some scallions, mustard greens, walnuts, the tiniest splash of soy sauce, and the last few morels. It was heavenly. Quite possibly the BEST fried rice I have ever tasted. Good lord, I love morels.

I need to eat as many of these little guys as I can get my hands on during the small window of time they are available. A friend in Nebraska recently sent me this photo:

Yep, their season is a little behind ours on the East Coast this year, due to a general lack of rainfall. Not that I am wishing drought on anyone, especially such an agriculturally focused state, but I do believe it has slightly delayed their morel season.... Conveniently. In less than a week, I will be heading to one of the very few states in this big, beautiful country of ours that I have yet to visit. True, I will not have Ollie with me -- I'm flying this time -- but, really, that just means more morels for me. Oh. Er. I mean, I will miss her dearly. And we'll go for a nice long ride when I return. But let there be no mistake: I do mean to eat as many non-poisonous shrooms as I can find while I am in Johnny Carson's birth state.

Monday, May 16, 2011

How does your garden grow?

Spring is in the air. Along with an uptick in twittering birds, rampant pollen, and raging hormones, spring also brings on the gardening itch. You know what I'm talking about, readers: the irresistible desire to pick up entirely too many tomato seedlings at the farmers' market, the aimless wandering around hardware stores, the fantasizing about harvesting fresh herbs from your yard as you begin making dinner. "Ah, a little fresh thyme is just what this sauce needs." There is nothing quite like scampering out back to harvest something that you grew with your own two hands, that you'll be eating moments later. Ahhh.

My own backyard plot is quite small, and the soil is -- how shall I say it? -- not the greatest. Okay, fine, it's basically a pile of clay with hard rock about a foot down. At least there's no lead contamination. I had some success with green beans, an endless supply of green tomatoes, and a softball-sized watermelon last summer. Not bad for a little space started in mid-July.

Somehow -- maybe the lush foliage of my overwintered carrots, or the tall greenery of my heirloom garlic taking over out back -- I have managed to become something of an informal garden consultant these days. How did that happen? Well, it all started last summer when my friend Mike asked me to help him plan out his first garden out back. I insisted that I had worked with a lot of organic farmers, but I was far from one myself. Even so, we compiled our seed collection, mapped out the sunny and shaded areas and where we thought each crop would flourish, dug up the grass and weeds along the fenceline, tilled in sand and compost, and got planting. I should say that the first season didn't yield a ton of food, but the lettuce, kale, and chard that overwintered have been lovely. The garlic should be ready by late summer. (The beets and fennel were no-shows.) This spring we've expanded into a fenced-in area and planted a few varieties of tomatoes, more fennel and beets (eternal optimists, we are), spring onions, broccoli, beans, sunflowers, nasturtiums, melons, and corn. Mike's also recruited two garden assistants, so we've got help with the compost system and the endless watering and weeding that organic gardening demands. An impromptu community garden, why not?

One day, not too long ago, mom and dad started asking me about building a few raised beds at their place. As per his assignment, dad picked up the untreated planks and hardware and some bags of soil, and a few days later we got cracking. Bam! Within two hours -- an hour of which involved my brother and I digging up grass, leveling the ground, and hauling wheelbarrowfuls of compost up the steep backyard slope -- mom had two brand new 4'x4' beds. (Dad and I are determined to make a third, smaller planter out of the red wheelbarrow, which kid brother and I deemed "otherwise pretty useless." I just hope good ol' dad doesn't hurt anyone when he attempts to drill through the 1/4"-thick solid steel.) Not long afterwards, I showed dad how to plant garlic, which had already sprouted by the time, a few weeks later, we brought mom some tomato seedlings and marigolds for Mother's Day.

Next thing I know, my next-door neighbor Henry is asking me to help him build a raised bed. Yeah, I've built one of those. Henry and I decided on a sunny spot for it and got working on a frame:

An hour later, Henry had his work cut out for him. Yep, digging up the grass. (Hey, I'm a consultant, he's doing the digging.)

Now, I don't want you all thinking I'm some kind of one-trick pony here. I can do other things. Like, you know, potted vegetable gardens. When my friend Joe met me at the farmers' market last weekend, he left with a tray of tomatoes, herbs, peppers, and cucumbers after I told him I would help him start a container garden on his front steps. (I can't help myself these days when people ask for garden help. All this unused urban space just asking for things to be grown in it!) Well, we wound up using the back deck, which had much better sun and, conveniently located near the hammock, was a place significantly less likely for plants to be neglected.

I had planned to only stay for half an hour, but... Two hours later, Joe was set up with a full-fledged garden lining the perimeter of the deck.

Oooh, I can't wait to see those vines climbing up the trellis out back. I'll be sure to keep an eye out when I stop by for a snooze in the hammock.

Monday, May 9, 2011

May 21: Join the (rescheduled) DC Urban Farm Bike Tour


After many, many requests from urban farmers, cyclists, and food activists for information on a rescheduled DC Urban Farms Bike Tour, I am elated to let you all know that you can break out your bikes (and helmets, ahem) in less than two weeks. And there are two exciting new additions to the tour, bringing us up to five -- yes, five -- stops around the District. It's going to be GREAT!

Here's the schedule:

9:00am: Pray for sunshine....

1:00-1:45: Neighborhood Farm Initiative site

100 Gallatin Street, NE (near Fort Totten metro station)

1:45-2:30: Biking: head toward Washington Youth Garden

2:30-3:15: Washington Youth Garden

The National Arboretum, R Street entrance (near 24th Street, NE)

3:15-3:45: Biking: head to The Farm at Walker Jones

3:45-4:15: Walker Jones (w/ Vinnie Bevivino of Seed & Cycle
New Jersey & K Streets, NW

4:15-4:30: Biking: head to City Blossoms' Marion Street intergenerational garden

4:30-5:00: Marion Street garden
1517 Marion Street, NW (Shaw neighborhood)

5:00-5:15: Biking: head to Common Good City Farm

5:15-5:45: Common Good
V Street, between 2nd and 4th Streets, NW (Ledroit Park)

5:45-6:00: Biking: head to Big Bear Cafe for happy hour

6:00-8:00: Happy hour
(featuring Arcadia's Farmer Mo with a word on the Greenhorns MidAtlantic chapter)
1700 1st Street, NW

The sites will all have water, so bring your water bottles. I'm working on getting some snacks, but I'd advise those of you with similarly ravenous appetites to bring a little something to nibble on. And don't forget your helmet and a sturdy bike lock.

Please RSVP to me ( so the farmers know how many to expect for workshops (and I know for snacks). See you at 1pm on Saturday, May 21!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Strawberries & Salad Greens: food education in DC schools on May 25

You, too, can be a food educator. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to join DC Farm to School's annual Strawberries & Salad Greens extravaganza.... (Have I mentioned how much I love the folks over at DC Farm to School?)

Call for enthusiastic, passionate farm to school volunteers - May 25th, 2011!

Are you interested in child health, local food, and farm to school? Are you enthusiastic and enjoy working with kids? If so, the D.C. Farm to School Network invites you to volunteer during our upcoming Strawberries & Salad Greens event on May 25, 2011. Schools in Washington, DC will serve local berries and greens in their school meals on that day, and we’re looking for dedicated, enthusiastic volunteers to engage students in school cafeterias at “Where Food Comes From” educational tables.

For more information about the event itself, visit Learn more about volunteering at a "Where Foods Come From" table in a school in this Table Volunteer One-Pager. Still have questions? Read these Table Volunteer FAQ's. If you're interested in volunteering at a table, fill out this Table Volunteer Form. For more information about this volunteer opportunity, email Nora White at

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Walk on down to Walker Jones Farm

I spent almost the entirety of this weekend out of doors. Boy, do I need to do that more often.

Saturday was a marathon barbecue organized by my dear cousin Sonia and her husband -- ostensibly to celebrate their daughter Ani's first birthday, but the occasion conveniently provided the largely Armenian/Ukranian crowd an excuse to consume a seemingly endless supply of grilled pork, roasted potatoes and peppers, and vodka on an almost impossibly beautiful day.

Sunday morning, after my ritual trip to the farmers' market, I biked over to K and New Jersey, NW, for a long overdue visit to DC's second urban farm. While Ollie and I got a little turned around on the ride over -- I have yet to work out why I always seem to miss the turnoff to K Street after it merges with Massachusetts Avenue when I cut through Chinatown -- I arrived about a half hour into the community workday. Within ten minutes Sarah had me weeding the cabbage rows. One group was building tomato trellises. Another was digging holes for herb transplants. The largest group was loosening soil and tilling in piles of peat moss to prepare the ground for berry bushes. (Blueberries in particular prefer more acidic soil, and peat moss is a common, organic amendment to lower soil pH. Don't say that you never learned anything here on the bikeable feast blog, eh? And speaking of learning, I should mention that the farm is as much focused on food and garden education as on sustainable production -- it's a project after my own heart.)

A bit later, after a luscious chocolaty, coconutty cupcake nearly sent me into sugar shock (I don't each much sugar these days), I somehow ended up in charge of tomato transplanting. After Sarah gave me a rundown on the process, I began to demonstrate and delegate tasks: clearing the mulch, mixing in organic tomato food, digging holes, filling the watering can, snapping off the bottom leaves, planting up to the bottom leaves, watering.... Some have leadership thrust upon them, you know? Those were the most meticulously planted and staked 20 tomato seedlings this city has ever seen.

Actually, I missed the final step -- staking the tomato plants (which encourages upward, rather than sprawling, growth) -- because Sarah sent two of us off in her station wagon to pick up blueberry bushes. Allon and I made our way to the hardware store, loaded up 4 different varieties of ready-to-fruit bushes, and made our way back to the farm. (Note: even by car I am unable to work out the K St/Mass Ave conundrum. I wonder some days how on earth I made my way around the country....) By the time we returned with the trunkful of shrubs, most of the 20 or so volunteers had made their way to part two of The Awesome Foundation's day of support for Walker Jones: a happy hour fundraiser. (BTW, I am somewhat obsessed with The Awesome Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting all kinds of cool, local projects through small grants. And now there's a chapter in DC....)

So here's Sarah, just before she and I planted the newly acquired blueberry bushes into the freshly acidified, loosened soil. I actually missed the happy hour -- dang, and I'd been meaning to check out Passenger Bar for some time now -- but when we finished up around 3:30 I figured it was time to get myself to Mike's place for some late afternoon gardening there, where I am the official edible garden adviser. (More on Mike and Alicia's urban homestead to come in a future post.)

Now that I know how to get there, I plan to make my way back to The Farm at Walker Jones with some regularity. You can come, too. Check out the beautiful urban food growing space, meet one of DC's friendliest urban farmers, get your hands in the dirt. If you're lucky there may be a cupcake or a tshirt in it for you. (Not that you're doing it for the tshirt. The donated cupcakes, however, may themselves be worth the trip.) Open volunteer days are on Sundays from 12-4pm and Thursdays from 3-6pm. Hope to see you there soon!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Making Good Food Work

In spite of my instinctive desire to avoid any and all forms of public speaking, in February my friend (and former boss) Erin and I had applied to co-lead a series of work sessions on the mobile farmers' market that I have been developing for Arcadia. As fate would have it, we were accepted. At the last minute, Erin was unable to attend, which left me to represent Arcadia and lead sessions on mobile market project development. (Eep.) Erin was there in spirit, though, and I have gushed about the conference daily since my return.

Exactly two weeks ago today, I was heading to BWI airport, "just a girl with a dream and an old school bus," bound for the Making Good Food Work conference. Here I am on Day 2 with the mobile market working group, those folks who (whether out of excitement or pity or curiosity or an inexplicable desire to get their hands on one of the snazzy Food Bus buttons -- I may never know) elected to join my group after the opening "pitch" given by each of the 13 workshop leaders on the first morning.

Yes, this was my dream team. My own personal band of angels from around the country, come together to help me hash out some of the as-yet-unresolved matters relating to the project that has consumed nearly every waking moment of my life for the past four months. (I've mentioned the mobile market project once or twice on this blog, I believe....)

Organized like a "start-up weekend" (popular among the tech community, and usually held over a long weekend), the intensive 3 days of work sessions were structured to provide open resource and knowledge sharing among folks bringing varied expertise to the table in support of 6 thematic working groups and 7 projects. People coming together specifically to help me work out things I have needed help with for weeks? Does it get any better than this? Oh, and I should mention that the conference took place in Detroit, one of my all-time favorite American towns (though I have to say it felt a little bit weird not being on a bicycle this time around). How fitting that this hotbed of food activism would be the site for an incredible conference bent on getting good food to more people around the country.

I left the conference with new ideas, feedback on things ranging from logistics to market prediction to fundraising, and dozens of new friends from around the country (some of whom directly helped raise the remaining $3,600 over the final four days of the project's online fundraising campaign). In some ways, I feel eternally indebted to this most supportive of food communities and hope that some day I can similarly support other food activists. You all are truly making good food work for communities around the country.

So, dear MGFW organizers and participants, thanks for everything!!! Really. (And also: sorry that this post of thanks and celebration is so long overdue.)