November 17, 2009

Sustainable Food for All – Plus, Evil Alien Worms! – By  Sara Jaye Sanford

Evil Alien Worm! Known to most as a common Tomato worm (Photo: Jon-Rappaport)

This summer, I took it upon myself to find out what this sustainable agriculture business is really all about. So I got in touch with Anonymous Farm (names changed to protect the innocent and the guilty) and spent July there with my sweetie as a “Woofer.” Anonymous was just getting started as a CSA farm with one acre of vegetables producing for twenty-odd members. I remain grateful to everyone I met there, human and animal alike, for their incredible generosity and teamwork and everything I learned from them. I harvested copious amounts of zucchini and pattypans, drowned an untold number of evil, alien-like tomato worms (see left), and weeded. (Mostly weeded.) By their own standards, I think Anonymous was successful. Getting a quality harvest your first year working a field is an ambitious goal to begin with, and we were providing our shareholders with an adequate amount of quality, delicious produce.

Puppppyyyy! This little guy "supervised" us in the field.

But in a broader context, I don’t think this model would “scale up” very well. And that’s not a bad thing. I think it’s fabulous for people to be able to work in a field, to support a local farm, and to build community around that. What it isn’t, however, is an answer to the question “How do we give everybody – or at least more of us – access to quality food?” At the end of the day, half a dozen people working one acre to provide vegetables for twenty or so families isn’t efficient enough to reach very many people. About a zillion times more workers would have to be engaged in agricultural labor and a lot more land would need to be farmed.

So what is the answer? Agribusiness says it’s not possible.  They’ll tell us that we NEED them to feed the world. Now, I am skeptical of this claim – some research has shown that organic farming can have yields just as high as conventional farming, and there are plenty of better-established organic farms out there that get a lot more produce out of their land with relatively less labor. Michael Pollan seems to think the answer lies in each of us developing a closer and more honest relationship with our food. That’s cool and all, but what about the single mom trying to put food on her table who doesn’t feel she has time (or the need, frankly) to go hunt down her own wild boar? Her needs and constraints are legit too, and it’s been a growing peeve of mine that the movement for sustainable food often seems geared towards those of us who wield some consumer power.

In the field workin'.

But when you think about it, is something that’s really only available to a fraction of the population really sustainable? As long as the vast majority of our food is coming from agribusiness, we as a population are still going to be feeling the hurt.

That’s why I hope those of who care about these issues will spend more time thinking beyond our own consumption. Many farmer’s markets accept WIC and food stamps and some are even dedicated to serving communities without adequate access to fresh food, like DC’s Ward 8. Elsewhere in DC, check out Common Good City Farm and Martha’s Table’s schoolyard garden (cute kid alert!). Growing Power is fightin’ the good fight in Chicago and Milwaukee. To me, supporting organizations like these – and there are plenty out there to connect with – is as important as worrying about where my own food comes from.

Editor’s Note:  Hope you enjoyed our guest blogger today!  Feel free to leave comments thanking her for her thoughts, disagreeing with her conclusions, or asking questions about her incredible experiences!  I’ll certainly ask her to reply to any inquiries in the “Comments” channel below this post.  It’s America, people – say what you think!  I’ll be back on Thursday for your end of the week post – including EARLY Friday Awesome Bonus content!


Guest writer: Sara Jaye Sanford

Sara Jaye Sanford

Sara Jaye Sanford (Photo: washblade.com)

November 9, 2009

Hey everyone!  Please stop by the cyber garden Tuesday, November 17th to read about Sara Jaye’s take on sustainable agriculture – including an interesting look at its current state of accessibility.

It should be a VERY insightful post and I can tell you – it comes from a heck of an advocate gardener to boot.

See you all tomorrow!

Best wishes,


Holiday Shopping Guide #1


(Photo: gatherandnest.com)

Holiday Shopping Guide #1

November 6, 2009

So what’s on your favorite gardener or food lover’s mind these days?  Well, as the fall crops only have a few more weeks at best in the mid-Atlantic, it’s quickly becoming: the holidays.  Don’t freak out – I’ve got you covered.

So who are we shopping for, here?  Does your loved one have baggage!?  No, no – not the stories about that ex they drunkenly confessed to you on their birthday last year.  If they’re going to continue to hit that 4-season farmer’s market all year long (like this one in Dupont Circle), they’ll need some heavy duty food transportation.  And they’ll thank you for setting them up in style.  Enjoy!

Upcycled bags

1. $24.99 (zJayne on Etsy.com; "SIX PACK Paper or Plastic No Thank You")


1.  What’s big with the kids these days?  Upcycling!  (And what’s big for you?  DEALS!)  Well, here are six upcycled market bags for the price of one!  Made from old t-shirts, there’s no waste in site.  Buy them here.

2.  Don’t make your hippie friend ask for that vendor’s reusable-on-the-farm vegetable container!  (They probably won’t let them take it, anyways.)  Give them these screen-printed muslin veggie bags and help them to keep it all organized at the market – without peeving off Farmer Jane (or Joe).  Buy it here.

veggie bags

2. $10.00 (wonderthunder on Etsy.com; "Three Small Happy Vegetable Reusable Vegetable Bags in Blue")


3.  Now here is a bag with a ton of style and one of the greenest virtues of all – versatility.  This bag could go to the beach with your bud just as quickly as the market, and it’s even classy enough to take along to work or sub in as a gym bag when it is time (perhaps past time?) for your friend to deodorize their current gym bag.  Buy it here.

oil cloth

3. $45.00 (wonderthunder on Etsy.com; "Oilcloth Market Bag")

4.  If your loved one is really a classic/crafty lady or gent – then THIS is the dream gift.  A pre-owned Radio Flyer wagon is versatile, heavy duty, and uber stylish.  In that charming, sweet, bad ass kinda way.  Buy it here.

radio flyer

4. $60.00 (trek98 on Ebay.com; "Radio Flyer #22 Trav-ler Red Wagon"


5.  Oh tres chic – non?!  This is the quintessential market basket and PERFECT for that person in your life who can charmingly pontificate on the layered meanings of Proust’s finest, raise eyebrows just by walking into a room – with a certain air of sultry intellectualism slowly swirling about them, and could whip up a souflee for an impromptu dinner guest – but would probably just run down to the patisserie and grab a bottle of Champagne, instead.  Because pourquoi pas? Buy one like it here.


5. Approx. $45.00 (Photo: 2bnmaine.com/blog/2008/06/)

6.  But wait – there’s enough vintage allure on etsy.com for everyone.  This old wire basket could tell a few stories, I’m guessing.  Give your amigo the gift of looking totally retro cool, and – hey, why not – pick one up for yourself, too.  A minimalist carry-all like this one is great for gardeners and friends of gardeners, men and women, and savvy market vets and newbies, alike.  Buy it here.

wire basket

6. $38.00 (oldcrowfarm on Etsy.com; "Vintage Wire Metal Market Basket")






Atlanta: A Retrospective

Atlanta: A Retrospective

November 4, 2009

The trip to Atlanta was memorable.  Perhaps even balanced, in a way.  There were gigantic farmers’ markets brimming with fresh produce, but there was also bad, take-you-nowhere-helpful, dirty public transportation.  (Bad.)  There were beautiful old homes and tenderly loved yards in neighborhoods of every socioeconomic bracket, but there was also near consensus at our dinner table one evening that President Barack Obama was probably not an American citizen.  In a word, it was the south.


Cabbagetown home - complete with an old tire swing.

Oh, but wait.  I have a deep love for these southern cities like New Orleans and Charlottesville and all the others, really.  It’s born out of my childhood.  Out of the adoration I had for my late southern grandmother’s beautiful pearls, her simple elegance, and her true grace.  Out of my insatiable appetite for my mother’s homemade dressing (what you Yankees call “stuffing”), my respect for her indestructible and infectious optimistic strength (“Oh Katy, this too shall pass,” in her decidedly Texan twang), and in my quiet sense of arrival as a southern woman this summer when she handed me her delicate antique linens.  That were, of course, handed down to her by her mother.

My childhood memories of the south are of the seemingly magical garden my grandmother grew


Old Louisiana Magnolia Tree; Photo: Chateau Nouveau Developers & Builders

around her big old Mandeville home – magnolias spilling down from the trees at just the time of our arrival each Christmas season.  They’re also of my BIG extended family get-togethers, and of the endless warm Christmas afternoons I can recall walking with my dad along the banks of the Pontchartrain.

Needless to say, returning as an adult was different.  As a tourist, I returned to the south without any of the above context in place.  It was a bit jarring.

Sweet Melissa's

Sweet Melissa's - brunch WITH live blue grass (Photo: http://sweetmelissas.home.comcast.net)

I will say, though, that the charm and DELICIOUSNESS of Sweet Melissa‘s, an Atlantan brunch joint we hit up that had a kick ass bluegrass band (called Donner Party of Four) almost washed the bad taste out of my mouth from the pro-business/anti-environment stories I heard and overheard at the equally Atlantan Halloween party the night before.  And the beauty and bustle of the (now) undisputed World’s Largest Indoor Farmer’s Market – Your DeKalb Market, just about made up for the fact that my “Death Panelist” Halloween costume didn’t get a ton of positive attention.*

Actually, the DeKalb Market even had a community composting site on their lot so that you could drop off your table scraps on your way to the market and pick up some black gold in return.  (I wish they had something like that in our neighborhood!!  My garden would LOVE it.  Yes, yes – we’ll be composting next spring.  Instructional forthcoming.  :-))

In any case, my vacation was well-deserved and much-appreciated.  I was able to enjoy the experience for what it was, savor the yummies I found (like an entire 1/2 QUART of coriander seeds for 66 cents!), and rock out to the sounds of Atlanta.  I met liberals (it IS a big city, guys), I met conservatives, and I met some really, really good people – political persuasion totally irrelevant to my affections.  As always, life is a grab bag:  You never know what ya gonna git.  Especially when you’re in the south.

With love,


© Copyright 1994 - Paramount Pictures

© Copyright 1994 - Paramount Pictures

*Well, I suppose humor is subjective no matter what your values.  There are plenty of progressives that don’t think I’m funny, either.  And thought the costume was just plain nerrrrrrdy.  🙂

Instructional: A Pumpkin With Partisanship

This is it!  You’ve been waiting for it!  The Partisan Pumpkin Carving Instructional.  Also, at the bottom of the post is your AWESOME FRIDAY BONUS CONTENT.  Yep.  Just for you.  And I’m pretty sure you’ll agree that this week’s bonus content is well worth the week-long wait.  Well, folks, without further ado…

STEP 1: The first step is obvious: pick a locally-grown, organic pumpkin that was grown in a sustainable way by workers who were paid a living wage. You’re already on the right path! Here’s what you have after Step 1:


Fresh local punkin

STEP 1: Pick an awesome pumpkin w/ progressive cred.


STEP 2: Now, you need to visit the interweb for creative inspiration assuming you’re like me and use most (if not all) of your creative juices on coming up with new ways to rationalize having another peanut butter cup when HELLO – they’re chock full of not-good-for-yous. My shmoop found this one and we modified it slightly to express more D.C. pride:


Web inspiration

STEP 2: Get some inspiration.


STEP 3: Now it’s time for the hard part. I free-handed this web illustration onto a paper towel with permanent marker to prepare for the transfer of the image to the pumpkin. There are other, more creative ways to do this – especially if you want to avoid free-handing anything with a Sharpie, but this is what I came up with. Refer back to my aforementioned current creativity drain and understand that this is a valid excuse. Here’s what I came up with:


Paper towel sketch

STEP 3: Sketch your idea out.


STEP 4: Get your boyfriend to scoop out the yuckies inside the pumpkin. No, seriously. Then compost the yuckies or toast and eat the seeds. Now you want to trace over the outline you drew on the paper towel onto the pumpkin. The ink bleeds through (especially if you just follow the outline with a few well-placed dots) and provides a perfect sketch of your creation on the pumpkin. Once you start carving a bit and realize you missed a photo step, you should have this:


Sketch & carve!

STEP 4 &5: Sketch it on through the paper towel & start carving! (Are those...MAN HANDS?) Ahem. That's the shmoop helping, here.


STEP 5: Finish carving that gourd-like vegetable!  You’ll have something that looks like the above photo on your way to the finish line.

STEP 6: Gloat!  I mean, light a few votive candles inside the pumpkin and set it out on your front porch.  Before you light ‘er up, sprinkle cinnamon on the underside of your pumpkin lid.  As the flame licks up and the candles heat the underside of the lid it’ll release a wonderful smell into the porch area and help to keep the squirrels from nibbling at it.  If the squirrels still get into it, try sprinkling the places they nibbled with cayenne pepper.  They (are supposed to) hate that.  If the squirrels STILL get into it – start shooting.  (Juuuust kidding…)  After you do all of this, you’ll have something that looks like THIS:  (ta daaaanh!)


All lit up

It's a donkey with the flag of the District of Columbia on its back! Whooooooooa!


Happy Halloween from Atlanta, Georgia!
Best spooky wishes,


P.S. YOUR AWESOME FRIDAY BONUS CONTENT:  Let’s just say there is a seriously unfavored chore in our household, and my disdain was…well, a source of inspiration.  Enjoy!


I’m Off to Atlanta! Home of the World’s Largest Indoor Farmers Market?

There are rumors that Atlanta is the home of the World’s Largest Farmers Market…and just for YOU, dear readers, I intend to investigate and report back this week.

Your Dekalb Farmers Market

Photo: The Abditory.com

The place of interest, you ask?  Your DeKalb Farmers Market (pictured right).  This place is monstrous.  It serves 100,000 people per week in their 140,000 sq ft warehouse at 3000 East Ponce De Leon Avenue.  Some travel writers have determined that it houses one of the largest seafood departments in the country – and some have even claimed that it is the world’s largest indoor farmers market.  Never one to let well enough alone, I’m off to explore on behalf of A Mt.Pleasant Garden blog, all of you, and my own very active curiosity.

Cabbagetown, Atlanta!

Photo: bluesmokecoffee.com

While I’m in Atlanta, don’t forget to stop by and check in on the blog!  I’ll be actively posting from my dear friend Sara’s (brand new!) condo in the historic Cabbagetown neighborhood of Atlanta.  I’m hoping to show you around Cabbagetown, if I get the chance – including some of the wonderful old shops and storefronts like the one pictured here on the left.

Anything you want to know about Atlanta?  Or their farmers markets?  Or their distinction as being as organic-loving, sustainable growing-centric, old-fashioned back-to-basics and creatively wonderful as us Washingtonians?  Well, post your questions below and I’ll take them on – one by one, while on the road in Atlanta.

Best wishes,


P.S.  I found this incredible blog post from a native Nigerian living in Atlanta on his experience at the DeKalb Farmers Market and I thought you’d enjoy it:

“Every nationality in the world is represented in this market. I saw people from all over the world buying their national delicacies and speaking their native languages with gusto. I suspect that people come to this market not just buy fresh food but to cure their homesickness, to meet people who speak their languages and with whom they can discuss common topics and nurture their nostalgia for home. This place is more than a market; it’s also a united nations, a united nations unmediated by bureaucracy.”


-Farooq A. Kperogi

(An excerpt from the blog http://farooqkperogi.blogspot.com/)

Guest writer: The Myth of the Family Farm (or Part II: The Grocery Store Revealed)

By Dan Fagella

Farm Subsidies: the Bad, the Ugly, and the Uglier.

Illustration: Lou Beach

The agriculture industry is just a ridiculously government subsidized
industry. In most cases, people are paid for NOT farming their land.
Which is OK, since you don’t want to overfarm and kill the land and
all, but something has to be done for a happy medium.

The fallacy of the United States Family Farmer is that they exist.
Sure, they do exist, but the vast majority of farmers are party of the
Agriculture-Industrial Complex. It’s all big-Ag. And a great many of
these farm subsidies go to real estate companies based in places like
New York that buy up these farms in the Midwest.

I understand the original intention of the farm subsidy. It was
created to help out small farmers whose cost is necessarily higher
than some of those big companies that can function using economies of
scale. The thought process was that these were hardworking people who
were doing their best, but costs were simply outpacing prices. Which
may have even been true. But things have gotten out of control. There
are several reasons for this:

1) Agriculture lobbying is done at a monstrous level. Just think about
this: agriculture is the only industry in the United State that has
its own cabinet department and its own congressional committees (3 if
I’m not mistaken). That’s 4 different parts of our government solely
focused on agriculture. No other industry has such an enormous amount
of access to Congress as they do. This of course leads to inertia in
Congress since if anybody wants to change anything for the better
(i.e. lower or even eliminate subsidies, which is a fun thought) the
massive lobbying effort works against it.

The Farm

Photo: ehow.com

2) You try campaigning nationally for it. Being anti-farm subsidy in
politics is a lot like being against the Estate Tax (another thing
that the small family farmer is used to rail against even though
they’re not affected by it at all) – it affects such a small section
of the population, yet such a larger segment of the population thinks
it affects them. Being against farm subsidies almost guarantees losses
in most of the midwest, and especially Iowa. Being the site of the
first caucus and basically the “coming out” party for a Presidential
candidate, it’s a crazy surprise that everybody is pro-subsidy (not to
mention corn-ethanol, but that’s another post for another day). Which
brings us to…

3) The lack of balls in the United States government. Very often
(we’ve seen it in the health care debate and especially the Iraq war),
Congressmen use circular logic for not taking a different position. It
goes a little something like this: “Am I against [this bill]? Sure. But I don’t
want to vote against it if it’s going to lose.” Granted, most of these bills
would lose anyway, but there’s something to be said for taking a
stand. Not to mention the fact that if more people decide to go the
hard way and vote against a somewhat popular bill at the time, it may
convince more people to “come out of the closet” so to speak and maybe
courage begets courage. Especially in the House, the percentage of
Congressmen whose constitutents would be affected negatively by this
is very small, whereas most would have constituents positively
affected by this.

Farm Subsidies Cartoon

Cartoon: M. Keefe

I have two final thoughts on the subject. First, the great irony in
farm subsidies is that it is, by and large, a welfare program. I’m
very pro-welfare, but I’m not for corporate welfare for industries
that don’t need it. The irony here is that farm subsidies are carried
along by those who profess not to believe in welfare. The same people
who berated the “Welfare Queen” are the same people propping up the
well-to-do farmers/real estate mavens.

Second, what really gets me is that I’m as much a patriot as the next
guy, but let’s not fool ourselves here: the main reason these
subsidies exist are to keep prices down, thus making foreign food
less desirable. Basically (though nobody will ever claim this, for
obvious reasons), we need to make sure that the brown and yellow
people stay poor at the benefit of the white man. If you ask me, those
billions of dollars of subsides would be best used for increasing programs
like food stamps and actual welfare for actual poor people who were
actually put in rough situations through no fault of their own.

Did you eat today? Thank a farmer—-no wait, thank the United States
Congress for their massive corporate welfare program and Big Ag.

Editor’s Note:  Hope you enjoyed our guest blogger today!  Feel free to leave comments thanking him for his brilliance, condemning his ignorance, or just generally letting him know that his beard is FIERCE.  It’s America, people – say what you think!  I’ll be back tomorrow to share with you the pumpkin instructional you’ve all been waiting for.  🙂