Wednesday, May 29, 2013

DC school garden bike tour: summer 2013 edition

Get some air in your bike tires and some oil on your chain. Grab that helmet and water bottle. It's back, and it's going to be even better (and certainly bigger) than ever before. Yes, it's another school garden bike tour!

After the previous school garden bike tour (this past fall), the BicycleSpace and OSSE and school garden peeps got to thinking: why not take the ride to the next level? The idea this time around is to not only raise awareness about a handful of awesome school gardens but to then help to raise a bit of funding support their amazing work.  I mean cash money. Not a lot, but a bit. (It all goes to the garden project -- promise! Your friendly neighborhood food educator is helping to organize this gratis.)

It all starts at BicycleSpace @ 11:30am -- a perfectly reasonable hour to be riding a bicycle on a Sunday, don't you think? The group will share a tasty, free breakfast. At the final school, thanks to a generous donation by our local Slow Food chapter, we'll transplant seedlings grown by the wonderful Farmer Kristin over at Radix Farm into raised garden beds at one of the schools. In between, we will learn from each school about a project they need to accomplish in order to make their garden an even better learning environment.  As the tour goes on, you'll want to keep in mind which school inspires you the most, or looks to have the most potential, because at the last school, over a delicious free lunch around 2pm or so, BicycleSpace will request donations. Then we will all vote on which school's project will receive all of what has been collected.  You will decide which school will benefit. (Bam! There's a direct democracy in action for you!)

Space is limited so sign up here.

Okay, so, yes, it is technically free, but I'd encourage you to donate if you are one of the 80 cyclists on the ride....

Monday, May 27, 2013

Once a food educator, always a food educator

My next door neighbor, Henry, called out to me from his back patio earlier this evening as I was ducking into my apartment. "Come on over for a barbecue!"

What would Memorial Day be without a barbecue? Not a proper American holiday, certainly. But after a weekend spent mostly in Arlington, I was at a loss for something to contribute. And I'll be damned if I show up at a barbecue empty-handed. Luckily, I had some garlic scapes on hand from the farmers' market in my fridge.

You should have seen the odd but intrigued looks I got from Henry and friends when I emerged moments later. "I'm bringing over some garlic scapes," I called over the fence as folks looked down into my garden. "They come from this part of the garlic plant -- just one scape per plant, see, here's one coming up right here on this plant -- and they're something to feast on while the garlic bulbs do their last few weeks of growing underground." I couldn't help myself, they were so curious. (Henry is used to my quirky contributions -- I'd brought along chocolate beet brownies to a cookout on his deck a few years ago. Still, he happily munched on a scape in the bundle as they came off the gas grill minutes later.)

"So you just toss those... scapes... on the grill with a little olive oil? And that's it??" one guy asked. "That's so easy!" It's true, I assured him, as I set to chomping on some corn on the cob.

"Wow, they're done in less than five minutes! And you're right," a woman nearby commented, "They are definitely garlicky, but much milder than regular garlic. Can you eat these raw, too?" You certainly can, I assured her, and continued to field questions as I dug into a bowl of potato salad at the end of the picnic table.

"How come I've never seen those before?" another barbecue guest asked. "I'm going to keep an eye out for them. And you say they are good in pesto...?"

I really just stopped by for a beer and a veggie burger, but can I help it if folks want to learn about seasonal food and cooking in my free time? Ah, I love it. And I suspect some of them will be seeking out these treasured allium shoots at the farmers' market, since as far as I've seen they are unavailable at the grocery store....

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Every day is Bike To Work Day

"Are you part of Bike To Work Day?" a middle-aged, spandex-clad man asked me as Ollie and I caught up to him coming up that 4th Street hill in Northeast DC yesterday morning.

"Every day is Bike To Work Day for me," I smiled, suddenly feeling a little silly in my sundress and sneakers on a weathered touring bike next to this guy and his buddy on sleek racing bikes in matching outfits and clip-in shoes.

"Oh. That's pretty cool. Well, nice work getting up that hill. Have a great day!"

"Thanks. You, too!" I managed to mask the heavy breathing until we'd split off in different directions a block later. I have a badass biker reputation to uphold, after all, and I didn't want him to see me catching my breath after that killer incline.

Later, as I cycled home from teaching, a random guy in a crosswalk down near the White House called out, "Beautiful day, isn't it? Are you part of Bike To Work Day?" Now, I'm not used to such open friendliness towards bikers in this town, so I was a little startled. I didn't have a Bike To Work t-shirt on, and started to wonder if I looked like someone who didn't normally bike around. In retrospect, I realize that he might've just seen something in the news about it. I vaguely recall hearing something on NPR about BTWD as I was stepping into the shower that morning at the crack of 7am.... Okay, fine, maybe 7:30. Anyway, the memory was foggy.

Seems my local Bike Advocacy group, WABA, did a great job spreading the word around the city. While chatting with folks at a BTWD pit stop in my 'hood, and assuring them that I am a dues-paying member already, thank you very much, I learned that over 14,000 people in the DC area apparently registered to ride their bicycles to work yesterday. That's amazing! I might go so far as to suggest a low level of legitimate "traffic" in the bike lanes over the course of the day. Though it slowed me down slightly, I was elated to see so many cyclists during my morning, midday, and late afternoon commutes.

I've been noticing a lot more inverted U racks (for bike parking) and "share the road" signs around town lately. Is it possible that our nation's capital is at least becoming truly bikeable? With this many cyclists on the road, even for just one day each year, I'm hopeful.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Fun with fungi

"Here I am, all ready for eating," I hear a little voice call from under my back porch.

Another small voice chimes in, "Me, too!"

No, those aren't the imaginary voices of the microgreens I started a handful of weeks ago. The cutting lettuces and baby spinach have a higher pitched, chirpy tone when they're ready. There is something calling out that has a distinctly... fungal... lilt.

(In case you're worried about my mental well-being, let me assure you that I don't actually think my mushrooms are talking to me. Everyone knows that mushrooms don't talk. They sing.)

Is it possible that at long last, my homemade shiitake logs have fruited? Those beautiful logs that Jeff hauled over in the trunk of his car, lugged from the side of the road in Takoma Park, where Park Service crews were chopping up a large white oak felled after a heavy thunderstorm back in the late summer of 2011? The ones that he and I drilled, inoculated with hundreds of shiitake spore plugs, and meticulously covered with melted beeswax (to keep nondesirable things from reproducing in the depths of the nutrient-rich logs)?

Those logs were a LOT of work to get ready for mushroom growing, let me tell you, and I was perhaps not overly kind in my references to the non-fruiting logs over their year and a half of seeming dormancy. I may have audibly maligned them when six months went by, then nine months with no sign of even a single, tiny shroom. Grrr....

I got so irritated after about a year that I lugged them around, finally forming two makeshift raised beds under my back porch "so that they could at least serve some function instead of just sitting there taking up space." Becky came to visit soon  afterwards and seeded the beds with spinach, baby chard, lettuce mixes. At least I had some salad greens through the late summer and autumn of 2012. Now could it be that they were just slow growers, that those previously unfruitful (har, har) fallen-tree chunks have taken off at last, that I am about to be up to my eyeballs in fresh, organic, homegrown mushrooms?? They look promising...

I called Jeff yesterday, when I discovered the two sizable (probably shiitake) mushrooms sprouting out of the logs, excitedly telling him about our maybe-successful-after-all mushroom log development. He congratulated me. He also recommended a few nearby hospitals "just in case." There is a high probability that they are shiitakes, being that the logs were stuffed with shiitake spores. But what if they're not?

To be honest, I am a little nervous. What kind of end to a life story would that be: death by misidentified mushroom consumption in one's own backyard? Tell me honestly: don't mine look like the ones cousin Caroline and I harvested from her shiitake logs at Mountaindale Farms a couple summers ago? At least a little bit?

Anyone want to come over for mushroom stirfry tonight?

Monday, May 6, 2013

You can quote me on that

Did you catch last week's Food Section in the Post?

I almost missed it, busy as I have been, but luckily Kenton's mom sent me a copy. She thought I'd get a kick out of the feature article on the wacky world of DC-area farmers' market newsletters. I did enjoy reading about some of my market friends' fun and quirky weekly updates. Just below the second page of the article, my eyes fell on a short piece on new markets opening this season... one in which I am quoted. Extensively. I am pleased that the reporter contacted me a few weeks ago about including the soon-to-open Suitland market in a piece about innovative new community farmers' markets. I am just a little anxious about the details.

It is true that I will be the market manager. It is true that the market will benefit the neighborhood and nearby federal workers. It is true that we will have awesome local farmers from Maryland and Virginia... What is not exactly right: the market doesn't start until next month. (To be fair, back over the winter, the community had discussed an April start date, but we'd still much to work out, so we moved the opening to June.) And there were a couple of things that I had tried to emphasize that were completely left out. In particular, the amazing partnerships that brought the whole thing about.

Reading the piece, it sounds like I am putting this market together all by myself. That is hardly the case. The lion's share has been handled by my friends and colleagues, Jessica and Janet, who have been working with farmers and other small food producers and extension officers over the cold weather months. Where is the mention of the STEER Center -- the driving force behind the market that "has been in the works for several years"? Yes, yes, I am sure there are character and column limitations, so the friendly reporter couldn't include everything I wanted. (She was writing the piece -- not me -- and to her credit did hit on a number of the key details.) Me, while I am very much looking forward to opening day on June 4th, I am hardly a veteran in the neighborhood. I only got involved with the Suitland community a year and a half ago, when I helped some middle schoolers start a garden. True, I do love those students, and am elated that the program has since evolved to include a hoophouse -- the source of the "hyper-local produce" mentioned in the Post article -- but the idea of a market in the Suitland community had been discussed for years before I came on the scene.

What reporters decide to include can be funny. Just the other day I was laughing out loud while reading a chapter of my friend Forrest's (excellent) book that touches on a much more extreme interaction with the local media. (Not much time to myself lately, so it's taking me awhile to get through the preview copy Forrest gave me, er, wow, over a month ago. And now it's available on Amazon. Shoot. I'd better sign off of the computer and get back to reading Gaining Ground before Forrest comes out with the sequel!) There's a great scene in chapter 10 where a reporter comes to interview Forrest as he's just starting his first season of selling free-range meat on the family farm in rural VA. The young farmer walks his guest around the farm, pointing out the happily grazing animals, answering questions, and clarifying -- he thinks -- any confusing points. The article comes out, and Forrest stares disbelievingly at the selective interpreted quotes taken out of context in the local paper. His explanation of the complexity of flavor that comes from the unique blend of grasses and clover, the terroir, in the resulting beef is printed as "You can taste dirt in the meat." I don't want to give away the whole take on manure management -- you're just going to have to pick up a copy of the book for yourself. It's too funny.

Luckily for Forrest, "[e]vidently, weed-fed cattle with meat that tasted like dirt had a certain appeal after all." And luckily for me, a lot of other good details were included, but I want to make sure that the official interwebs record clearly states that I am not single-handedly starting up a farmers' market in Suitland. It is very much the labor of love of quite a few people, unmentioned in the final article. It is for you that I write. Thank you. For everything. Looking forward to our grand opening in a few weeks!

(Did I mention the market starts on June 4?)