Friday, August 14, 2009

Ten Reasons Why I Volunteer on a Farm

10. To ask questions, and learn about bio-intensive agriculture.

9. Midafternoon snack break: Santa Claus Melon. It's indescribably good.

8. Little tomatoes warmed by the sun. They make you dance.

7. Someday I'll show up and the plants will be tall enough to shade out their own weeds. Someday...

6. Drinking wine out of wood-fired pottery.

5. I had no idea there were so many kinds of basil.

4. To remember that the best part of a salad actually is the greens.

3. To get out of the city and get my hands dirty doing something productive, outside in the sun.

2. Because local farms (and local farmers) are important to me.
1. To meet new wonderful people, like you! If you're in DC, and can meet up in Adams Morgan on Sunday (any Sunday!) at 12.30, come along!

Friday, August 7, 2009

In which I cook a GIANT zucchini.

I've been reading a lot lately about how to cook in season vegetables from the farmer's market, or your garden - well here's a vegetable we all come home to after a week-long vacation and have no idea what to do with! Yesterday at work, my coworker gave me a GIANT (like, 6 lb.) zucchini. How big? Check this out:

How the heck and I going to cook this thing? Well, one year when I was about 13 we came home from the family vacation in Maine to find zucchini just like this in the garden out back. Prevailing wisdom is that summer squash left to grow this big is stringy, tough, and bitter. Suitable for maybe grating into a zucchini loaf, and nothing else. I'm afraid to admit, I think we tossed ours. But my 13 year old head was buzzing with ideas... and that's when I came up with zucchini parm (like eggplant parm, only... you get it). Haven't had an opportunity to make it until now... no giant zucchini have crossed my path since that summer... UNTIL NOW!

Of course, I had to update the zucchini parm idea a little. For one thing, I had no mozzarella in the fridge. As I started thinking about recipes, I realized I better cut into this zucchini. This could be a battle.

My good chef's knife only made a dent. I switched to a bread knife for the benefit of the sawing motion. This thing is like a tree. And it smells more like a pumpkin than a zucchini! There were some seeds big enough to roast like pumpkin seeds (now there's a project for another day!), and the very center was stringy. So I made rounds.

Wave to some of my pottery in the background... hi garlic jar!

After dipping the rounds in egg & bread crumbs and frying, I decided to make these in individual tart pans, filling the center with a slice of tomato, also from my coworker's garden. (Thanks Alison!)

Then pesto. Then brie with herbs.

Then another round of zucchini with tomato.

Then bake at 350 for 20 minutes. YUM!

Yay! And... that was just half the zucchini.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Call to Collaboration

I’ve often reflected about the convergence of sustainable agriculture, cooking, and pottery in my own life. But I’ve said little on the Garden Variety Philosopher about what it’s like to work in the nonprofit sector. When we work with communities in the nonprofit world, especially communities in trouble, our first step is to stop identifying needs and gaps and resource deficits and to start identifying assets, connections, networks of influence that can help achieve great things. We need to start looking at the nonprofit community itself, and DC in particular, in the same light – and start collaborating to make this a better city.

Here is a case study. Today, I find myself in the middle of four local DC communities that have so many growing opportunities to collaborate: local farms, artisans, restaurants, and nonprofits. Every day, new ties emerge.

We know we have common ground. Because of the work of pioneering organizations like DC Central Kitchen and Greyston Bakery, nonprofits are already working together with restaurants and catering companies to employ & train an underserved population as entry level culinary professionals. Volunteering at EcoFarm, I see that local farmers are working together to market their produce directly to restaurants throughout DC. On Sunday, the farmer’s market donates leftover perishable produce to the Capital Area Food Bank. Local pottery studios donate students’ seconds to soup kitchens to use as bowls. Local restaurants are beginning to support the broader base of local artisans as well as farmers: Restaurant Nora serves soup out of handmade pottery, and Andy Shallal of Busboys and Poets even attempted to put a potter at the wheel on display in his new restaurant Eatonville before that idea was squashed for food safety reasons. There are a whole bunch of innovative ideas swirling around in this space – how can we nurture this kind of cooperation?

We all know that our city’s best restaurants want to source local ingredients, display local art and support efforts to employ the underserved populations of our city. If we work together, this group of restaurants, farms, nonprofits and artisans can be the heart and soul of this city’s economy. As more and more farms, restaurants and nonprofits struggle to survive, and unemployment in our city surpasses 10%, I think our goal is more than clear.
I can imagine a city where it’s natural for restaurants to get not only their food from local farmers, but their plates from local artisans. Where culinary training involves a hands-on field trip to a local farm to learn about bio-intensive agriculture. Where farms not only market to restaurants, but get their volunteer power from local chefs wanting to learn more about the farm to table principle.

What else do you envision? And where should we start?