To The Brim

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Story by Marykate Smith Despres | Photos by Brianna C Stachowski

Bowls, cups, pitchers, pots: These are vessels that carry the weight of more than their contents. There is a proximity, a lingering close to the body, a holding and passing of intention. All of the things that are said or not over coffee can be heard through the way a person cradles the cup. A mug sits squarely on the table and anchors the two hands wrapped around it as news is bared. A teacup rests in the palms during thought and between sips, as close to the face as breath. A bowl becomes common ground for giving and receiving as it is passed around and across the table. A ritual is marked by a bowl of warm rolls or cold berries placed in the center of the table, a signal of the beginning or end of the baking, the gathering, the day.

The life of a good bowl begins long before it is filled.

_MG_2150Sam Scherer pushes a piece of wood onto the lathe. This piece, like most of his wood, comes from Jim Conkey at C & M Rough Cut in Attleboro. (“You have to put in Jim,” Scherer insists. “He’s very important. He’s a very important guy.”) Even when he uses trees from his own property or wood he’s traded for, he brings it to Jim to cut into planks.

Scherer’s workshop sits at the mouth of 90 acres of trees and trails in Orange and smells, of course, like wood, but also of raw honeycomb and the blocks of beeswax Scherer uses to finish his bowls. This winter wiped out his wife Kathy’s whole hive and bee boxes are stacked in corners and on the stairs, adding something thick and liquid to the smell of cut wood planks beneath the worktable, burning wood logs in the stove, drying wood bowls on the shelves, and heaps and buckets of wood chips and wood shavings bowls shed while on the lathe._MG_2224

Finding a bowl inside a tree is loud work, but quick. It’s the drying that takes time. A bowl can take shape in only 20 to 45 minutes on the lathe, but may need three months to a year to dry. The “dance,” as Scherer calls it, begins once the lathe is switched on. The disc of wood spins as he plucks a tool from the table beside it and leans in. Circles within circles form as he works his way in from the leftmost edge and out from the base he carves in the center. He moves his body from parallel with the wood to square himself in front of it and, over the course of the turning, completes several semicircles like a human protractor around the bowl. Scherer makes about 250 bowls a year, but his eyes still light up as the wood transforms and he says, more to himself than to me, “So amazing, what happens on the lathe.”

The slope of this bowl is determined by the parts of the wood he can’t use. The rest of it takes shape out of the rhythm of the dance. Scherer’s intention is to form a bowl, but he doesn’t yet know which bowl. Wood chips fly out and stick to his hair and T-shirt and long curls of wooden noodles fall onto his arm and the floor. He shoves them off only when they have piled high enough to get in the way.

“See that there?” he says, tracing the wide, flat rim of the bowl in the air above it. “I didn’t know that was going to happen. But now I like it.”

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Tiffany Hilton carefully returns the stoneware berry bowl to the drying rack next to the other gray bowls and cups, off the wheel but not yet glazed. We walk back through her large, bright studio in the Florence Arts and Industry building to sit across from each other, the “before” and “after” stages of the drying colander we just left, spread out between us. Hilton flips through photos on her phone that document the intricacies of plotting, setting, and carving the hole pattern into the berry bowl. This is a new design in which the holes become lines and the lines give shape to tiny triangles reaching up the bowl’s bottom curve._MG_2453

Her voice is soft but clear as she explains the steps and her hands, as if lifting a hologram of the bowl out of the screen, move above it, deftly holding, turning, and piercing the clay. Invisible tools are made visible as her fingers find the familiar grasp of each one in the air. With a pencil, she draws the pattern. With an X-acto knife, she cuts it. With a fingertip, she smoothes out the ridges of clay pushed out when the holes are cut.

The finished berry bowl on the table is pale blue but the red brown of the fired clay rings each hole and blushes through the ridges on the bowl’s lip and handles. “It’s called breaking through the glaze,” Hilton says. Though it is a definite choice on her part, she describes it, and it appears, more as a collaboration. Between drying and glazing, she wets and smoothes the edges of the holes and the pot again, not to make the clay resist the glaze, but “to encourage it.”

The bowl is surprisingly light, but not delicate. It is the perfect opposite of wedding china that comes out only at holiday dinners to be used with the too-heavy silverware._MG_2838

“A well-made pot should feel like a balanced object,” Hilton says. It should be beautiful and usable both. And so, she puts tiny handles on her berry bowls for a better grip with hands wet after rinsing the fruit, she outfits her casseroles with big, sturdy handles to be felt through oven mitts, and she shapes the lids of honey jars and sugar bowls to withstand the daily use of tired hands clumsily sweetening coffee or little fingers sneaking sugar onto cereal.

For many years, Hilton balanced throwing pots with lending books. She worked part-time as a librarian and part-time as a potter, finding homes for her pots at the Greenfield Farmers’ Market.

“That same feeling of wanting to know not only where your strawberries are grown or where your butternut squash came from and who grew it, the same people who want to have that relationship with their food and their farmer want that relationship with what’s framing their food. ... It’s a connection to a human. It’s a connection to someone who put love and care into this thing.”

Scherer sells his bowls at the Greenfield Farmers’ Market, too. The retired teacher always encourages those_MG_2206 looking to instead close their eyes while he places bowl after bowl in their open hands. In his shop and in his house, when he shows me the bowls he is selling and those he uses every day, he plunks them down like kicking off a pair of shoes. One is an enormous salad bowl, the household favorite, snatched off the kitchen counter, dressing smeared on the bottom.

“It’s got schmutz in it,” he says as he begins to wipe it out with a towel, “like a cast-iron skillet.” If someone fills the bowl with fruit, Scherer tells me, and the peach goes rotten in the bowl and leaves a stain, “that’s applause.”

Hilton and Scherer both know that the work of the potter or the woodturner is not unlike that of the baker or even the farmer. One must know her materials, her ingredients, her land, and know enough to engage with them rather than to force herself upon them. To offer and listen and wait. Scherer says making a bowl is “about the ear, not the eye.” He knows when to stop, sometimes only an eighth of an inch away from cutting straight through the bottom of the bowl, by listening to the tone of the wood change.

_MG_2477When Hilton wakes up in the morning, she knows whether or not her pots will be ready to trim. “Clay drying is like yeast rising,” she says. “You have to stay connected to it.” Her process and product are influenced just as much by the weather and the science of mixing a glaze or firing a pot as it is by her mood. Often, it is all these things together. As the fields flood and greens bow down under the weight of too much rain, the frustration of the farmer is felt too by the baker whose bread won’t rise, by the potter waiting for her bowls to dry.

All of this, the rain and soil and trees and clay, the cutting and listening and shaping and waiting, makes a meal. All of the hands and the breath and the days that coax trees into becoming bowls, bowls to hold the buns baked by and passed between us, at our tables, in our homes, all of this makes a meal. It creates the mug that we reach for when we are alone. It makes the mug inseparable from morning, the coffee all the more clear.

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Tiffany Hilton | www.tiffanyhilton.com
Tiffany’s work can also be found at: Pinch Gallery in Northampton, MA, www.etsy.com/shop/TiffanyHiltonPottery
Studio open by chance or appointment 413-824-6506
Sam Scherer | samswoodenbowls.wordpress.com
Sam’s work can also be found at Greenfield Farmers’ Market, Hardwick Farmers’ Market, and numerous other festivals and fairs including the Garlic and Arts Festival in Orange, and at Big Brothers Big Sisters Crafts on the Common in Amherst (July 11).
Marykate Smith Despres writes about food, art, and knitting for various blogs and publications. She has worked as a baker, but learned how to cook from her mom, who taught her that everything good starts as a little butter and onions in a pan. Marykate is the program manager at Whole Children in Hadley, a recreation program for people of all abilities. She lives in Turners Falls, where she bakes lots of cookies and grows a small, edible garden with her family.
Brianna C. Shuipis, who goes by her maiden name Stachowski professionally, writes about and photographs farming, food, adventure photography, and travel for both online and print publications in New York and Massachusetts. Originally from Minnesota, Brianna followed her love and passion for photography and her husband to the Northeast. She currently resides in Colrain, where she spends her downtime helping out on the family farm, learning about flowers and rocks, and hiking the local landscape.

Pedal Power

Freewheeling cyclists keep cargo moving

By Mary A. Nelen | Photos by Nikki Gardner

In a perfect world, food stays close to home and the circle of life is complete when food grown in fields is harvested, consumed, and goes back into the earth as compost. Two groups located on either side of the river work are working together to close this circle.

In summer, food is everywhere in the Pioneer Valley. Rows of asparagus take center stage followed closely by corn. Hand-lettered signs with cheap, right-off-the-farm prices remind us the farther away we drive, the farther we are from the source; prices are higher, freshness is compromised.pedalpeople_6

In winter, two bicycles cross paths on the rise of Elm Street in Northampton. Each is burdened with bulky cargo. One heads into the snow and climbs the hill, inch by snowy inch towards its destination at Smith College. The other sails past in the opposite direction, headed for the landfill on Route 10.

Winter Moon Roots is a solar-powered distribution center for root vegetables grown in the Valley, and an example of an extended-season growing scheme. Multi-hued carrots, fennel, squash, turnips, celeriac, and beets are available all winter long in the Valley at various retail outlets. The Winter Moon Roots farm is owned and operated by Michael Docter, an originator of the Food Bank Farm, also in Hadley. Docter and another rider traverse the Coolidge Bridge twice a week to transport over 500 pounds of food between the chilly months of November through April. Deliveries are made to Smith College Dining Services, followed by Serio’s Market and ending at Cornucopia Foods before the two repair to Amanouz Café for a spot of lunch.

Across the river at Pedal People headquarters, monthly meetings of the co-op’s workers are held to divide the labor to service their Northampton-based clientele. Services include transporting food to individuals and compost to local landfills. Between Docter and the Pedal People, the “Farm to Table” model becomes “Farm to Table to Farm.”

Docter has influenced many people in the Valley in his 30 years as an organic farmer and proponent of localizing the Valley’s food system. Young farmers who got their start working for Docter at Food Bank Farm went on to begin their own CSAs including Mountain View in Easthampton, Next Barn Over in Hadley, and Riverland Farm in Sunderland. One of those young farmers went on to start Pedal People in Florence.

When Ruthy Woodring met Docter, he was grinding corn on a stationary bicycle. Ruthy was also an avid cyclist. Once her company was established, Docter offered to ride for Pedal People and continues to do so on occasion. In addition, the two conferred on the development of an ideal design for hauling items behind a bike.

“Michael checked out our trailer,” said Ruthy. “We [also] had advice from our friend Erin Wheeler who did her Div 3 at Hampshire College on designing bike trailers with Michael’s input.” The first bike trailer was made of conduit. Eventually Winter Moon Roots and Pedal People upgraded to trailers manufactured by Bikes At Work of Ames, Iowa.

Ruthy started Pedal People in 2002 with Alex Jarrett. Together they devised a collaborative business model based on a lifestyle that offers physical exertion and work they believe in.

“We do deliveries for Valley Green Feast [a local food CSA], it’s great to have that cooperative exchange,” says Ruthy. “In addition, we have a contract with the city to pick up all the trash downtown seven days a week. We also make deliveries for a co-op diaper service called Simple Diaper and Linen.”

She adds that rather than depend on the “consume and spend” lifestyle she and her partner decided to build a co-op. “We do all do the hauling as well as the administration,” she says in reference to their monthly group meetings. “One of the joys of the collective is that we can bring in people with various skills.” All of the workers have a have a say in the direction of the collective at their meetings.

Worker-owners own their own bikes and the 12 Pedal People trailers are shared among them. A typical work day lasts four hours and most of the workers are part-time. Needless to say, the work is very physical.

Riding with Pedal People means being able to haul at least 100 pounds for an average of four locations a day. And that doesn’t include the lifting. According to another worker-owner, Will Berney, a typical day involves picking up at four homes, hauling up to 250 pounds to the transfer station, and then doing it again. He enjoys the work and has been doing it for over seven years, taking time off to attend college.

Pedal People services are not limited to hauling waste, recycling, and compost. Individual items such as mattresses, computers, or solar panels are also picked up and brought to one of two local recycling stations. In addition, Pedal People offers yard and garden care services.Their monthly charge for weekly trash pickup for Northampton residents is competitive with other options. The city doesn’t provide trash removal services to citizens so there is a natural market for the innovative service. The ballpark figure for hauling service is quoted on the website as $33.50 per month for weekly pickup and delivery of trash.

Pedal People has grown from two to 17 workers since the collective’s inception. But when it comes to growth, the key to success at Pedal People is not focusing on it.

“We’ve never had pressure from the outside to be anything that we’re not,” says Ruthy. “We try to plan ahead and have some vision to diversify. We’re not trying to increase our profits but we would love to employ more people. We want to make a fair living but we don’t want to own anybody. We let growth happen organically.”

Mary A. Nelen is a writer and photographer who lives in Easthampton and comments on the local food scene at Valleylocavore.com and is writing a book called A to Z Locavore.

Milk Matters

Story by Claire Morenon | Graph design by Mary Reilly | Photos by Dominic Perri

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One of the things that makes CISA’s “buy local” effort so successful in the Pioneer Valley is the relatively straightforward message. When you hear “Be a Local Hero, Buy Locally Grown,” it’s easy to understand how you can do that: Just swing by a farmers’ market or look for local labels at the grocery store.

But when it comes to dairy, things start to get complicated. The hardy few farms that have navigated the regulatory and financial challenges to processing milk on-farm represent just a sliver of the dairy industry in Massachusetts.

For a host of historical and practical reasons, most of the dairy farms in the state sell their milk wholesale. These dairy farms have an enormous impact on land preservation, the agricultural economy, and everything else that a healthy agricultural system means for our community.

The problem for dairy farms is in the pricing. The wholesale price for raw milk is set at the federal level using a deeply complex system, based on how demand for a range of dairy commodities interacts with international supply, and decided by bidding at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and some federal price support programs. The price farmers receive for their milk is only tenuously connected to the price you pay for milk at the grocery store.

In recent years, wholesale prices for dairy have stagnated, creating a serious gap between the cost of milk production and the amount farmers are getting paid for their milk. CISA recently worked with Dan Lass of the UMass Department of Resource Economics on a study to determine the actual costs of production for dairy farms in the state of Massachusetts. We found that it cost farmers $2.43 to produce a gallon of milk, while the price paid to farmers was stalled at $1.71 per gallon.

So how do farmers do it?

The primary financial factors not shown in the graph are programs like the state’s Dairy Farmer Tax Credit Program and the federal Dairy Margin Protection Program, which are vital stopgaps, if not permanent solutions. Many dairy farmers run diversified businesses and have income streams from other agricultural products. Finally, there are individual financial factors that can make a huge difference to a farm’s viability, such as mortgage debt or a family member’s off-farm income and benefits. Dairy farms, like all agricultural businesses, are seasonal in nature. The costs of production and the wholesale price do vary throughout the year, and when support programs are factored in, the picture from month to month can shift significantly.

So what can conscientious consumers do about all this? Unfortunately, I don’t have a snappy recommendation. Wholesale dairy pricing does, even with its complicated mechanisms, reflect consumer demand, so we can all don our milk mustaches and drink more milk. Various advocacy efforts, from establishing “Right to Farm” communities to pushing for a more localized system of price supports, can help our dairy farms stay afloat.

We’ve already seen that dairy farms are an important part of our agricultural landscape. We have the expertise, land base, and infrastructure to produce, process, bottle, and sell milk regionally, and Massachusetts dairy farms are producing a significant percentage of the milk consumed in the state. The thought that this entire agricultural sector and tradition be abandoned and that dozens of farm businesses should embark on entirely new enterprises, because of a relatively recent shift in the industry’s financial picture, is short-sighted at best.

As dairy farmer Darryl Williams of Luther Belden Farm told me, “Up until people stop drinking milk, I think there’s a future for the dairy industry here. We are committed to making a wholesome, high-quality, healthy product, always.”

Claire Morenon is a program coordinator at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture). For more details on CISA’s work with dairy farms, visit buylocalfood.org.

Sharing a Dream

Couple’s vision, hard work play out at Crabapple Farm

Story by Leslie Lynn Lucio | Photos by Leslie Lynn Lucio and Dominic Perri

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When Tevis and Rachel Robertson-Goldberg met for the first time at a contra dance, they probably didn’t realize then that they would be running a successful farm together 12 years later.

Back then, Tevis was in his first season at Crabapple Farm. He would bring eggs from the farm along with brochures advertising available CSA shares. Rachel signed up for a share that season. The two of them saw each other more frequently and, as the story goes, they got married and now have two children.

Crabapple Farm was founded 12 years ago by Tevis and his family. The Southampton property had been a working dairy farm, but the previous owner went bankrupt and the land was abandoned for eight years before Tevis and his brother’s family acquired it.

Soon after Crabapple was established Rachel and Tevis were running it together, along with the help of apprentices and a small crew. Before meeting, both Tevis and Rachel had worked on farms, so their shared experience made it an ideal way of living for the two of them. In the years since, they have created a diversified farm that carries on traditional farming principles––following a natural model that enhances the health and productivity of their crops and livestock.

Crabapple farm offers a lot to the community. Tevis was always drawn to growing vegetables and raising livestock, or finding ways to educate people about growing their own food.

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“I wanted to do both, but it’s really hard for one person to do that so I was thinking a farm where it would be more of a community thing, where there is one person with this operation and one with that operation, but it’s all integrated in a beautiful symbiotic way that works really well. So that was sort of the notion I had: animals, vegetables, maybe dairy, draft animals, everything. Everyone else thought that sounded reasonable,” says Tevis.

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Through the summer season the farm grows over 50 varieties of vegetables including many heirloom varieties, as well as some fruit. There are two fields that make up the farm and a greenhouse where they grow seeds for seedlings for the farm and to sell to the public. Rachel and Tevis are avid seed-savers––they save many of their seeds from several crops, as another way to follow ecological principles. Both of them encourage people to also grow their own food, so they sell seedlings every spring as they believe home gardening is an important part of the local food system.

To help with cultivation of vegetables this year, they will be using a pony for the first time. In previous years, they have used draft horses and a team of oxen, which worked well but didn’t fit just right into their system. They aren’t sure about how the pony will do, but they are very optimistic about him.

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Livestock is an integral part of the farm. To help with improving the land and raising healthier livestock, they employ rotational grazing on the pasture. Currently, they have about a half dozen breeds of cattle, including a Jersey and Normande for dairy and Belted Galloway, Angus, Red Angus and Hereford breeds for beef. The farm is also home to over 50 sheep, with four rams and the rest ewes, 43 of whom they expect to lamb this year. Rachel and Tevis share the livestock management, with Tevis focusing on the fencing and rotation while Rachel does more of the animals’ health care and decision making.

The two work well together and have created a balance between them and work on the farm. “In the summer, I’ll go in and take care of the vegetables and Rachel will go in and take care of the animals,” says Tevis. It’s taken years of figuring out what works best for their community, the farm, and themselves, but are still learning new things as they come along. As Rachel says about the farm and their relationship to the sheep, the tomatoes, the winter squash, and everything that grows on the land, “We’re engaging in a partnership as it’s fully existing here, thinking more of our farm as a partnership.”

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Leslie Lynn Lucio has enjoyed cooking and baking since she was a small child, as well as being an involved member of the local community. She can found at LeslieLynnLucio.com.

Get Wild!

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Great local eats are ripe for the picking

Story by Samantha Marsh | Photos by Elaine Papa | Recipe photos by Dominic Perri

We made it to summer. We really did! I know ... I, too, can hardly believe it. The days are long, the air is warm, and the farmers’ markets are bustling every weekend. Seeds are planted and growing, and we are finally beginning to reap the benefits of our (and our local farmers’) hard work and anticipation of this season. While every year I look forward to the bounty of local produce at farm stands, markets, and stores, I also embrace this season because of the abundance of wild foods available in our own backyards! As a wild foods novice, I was lucky enough to sit down with Brittany Nickerson of Thyme Herbal in Amherst to talk all about harvesting wild foods and to learn which foods are available to us this time of year.

Brittany is a practicing herbalist who works with private clients and teaches courses in herbal medicine. One of the ways Brittany supports her students is by encouraging them to develop relationships with the natural world. She leads herb walks, teaches introductory and advanced classes and workshops, and organizes a local herbal meetup group. Brittany helped to develop the wild foods class at Greenfield Community College and taught a wild foods class at Just Roots Farm this spring.

Harvesting wild foods “promotes a connection with your environment,” Brittany says. “There are so many parallels between the growth patterns and cycles of nature, and our own lives and health. When we tune in to the channel of the natural world, the potential is there to be in better harmony,” she says. By simply being aware of what plants are growing at different times of year, we immediately form a connection to our surroundings. Through this, “we are given the opportunity to be in tune with such cycles both within and around us.” There are many wild foods and plants that pop up around the Valley during the spring and summer months. Often, a single plant may have many edible parts, so it is possible to harvest from the same type of plant throughout the summer months. Below, Brittany and I have outlined four wild edibles that are common to this area. Have fun, explore, and then head to the kitchen!

SAFE IDENTIFICATION

Make sure to pay close attention and be careful when identifying plants. If you are not sure if the plant you located is edible or safe for consumption, err on the side of caution. The plants featured here do not have many poisonous look-alikes, but always be cautious when harvesting a wild plant for the first time.

Always be aware of possible contamination from chemicals or pollution (such as on the side of the road or runoff from a nearby farm) when harvesting wild plants. For detailed information about wild harvesting, check out:

• The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants (Forager’s Harvest, 2006), or Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants (Forager’s Harvest, 2010), both by Samuel Thayer.

• For herb classes, walks, and workshops, visit ThymeHerbal.com.

CATTAIL (Typha spp.)

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Cattail is another great wild food as it is easily recognizable and also delicious! There are two types of cattail, Typha latifolia (common cattail) and Typha angustifolia (narrow leaf), but they can be used interchangeably.

Identification

Cattail is found in wet areas throughout North America in densely packed stands. Cattail can be five to nine feet tall, and have sword-like leaves with a pointed tip. The leaves don’t have a midline or center vein, like some leaves do, but instead are grass-like in appearance. The leaves are packed together in tight clusters, similar to how a leek would grow, and then form a seed head that resembles a hot dog! Cattail shouldn’t be mistaken for sweet flag (calamus) which is not poisonous, but is not palatable, or a member of the iris family (members of the iris family are poisonous)––neither of which grow as tall as cattail or have the seed head that looks like a hot dog. To be sure, consult a field guide prior to harvesting.

Harvesting

There are several parts of the cattail that are edible, but the most common (and most delicious) part to eat is the heart of the cattail, which is known as the shoot. The shoot is the interior luster of growing leaves that is available midspring through early summer. To harvest, pull back the outer layer of leaves of the cattail spear to reveal the heart. Hold onto the heart as close to the base as possible, and pull up. Sometimes this is all you need to do. If you attempt this and the shoot does not pull cleanly from the root, you may want to try using a knife to cut the shoot at the base.

Benefits and Use

Cattail shoots contain many nutrients such as beta carotene, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamin C. The cattail shoot is tender, mild tasting, and delicious when sautéed or chopped up like a leek. It is wonderful added to soups, or cooked simply and eaten as a vegetable side. It has a great texture that resembles leeks, tender zucchini, or cucumbers. You can also eat the spike (hot dog part) in the early summer or the rhizome later in the summer. 

Recipe: Cattail Sauté

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DANDELION (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion is such a great wild food because it is so common and easy to find! Dandelion was first brought over by European settlers, and is one of first plants to appear in spring. Dandelion is a very bitter plant. The leaves are the most tender and the least bitter in the early spring, but are still delicious throughout the summer!  

Identification

Dandelion can vary in shape but generally has leaves that have deeply toothed lobes with a pointed or blunt tip. The leaves tend to get wider toward the tip and grow in clusters, forming a rosette. Dandelion leaves are a light to dark green color, and are typically four to 15 inches long. The ubiquitous yellow dandelion flower grows on a single, hollow, leafless stem that comes from the center of the rosette. Sometimes, a white latex will leak from the stem when it breaks. This is completely safe!

Dandelions are perennials, and can be found growing in fields, roadsides, or yards. Make sure not to harvest dandelions for consumption in yards that have been sprayed with pesticides or fertilizers, as they are not food-safe chemicals. Also use caution if harvesting from roadsides.

RESPECTFUL AND SUSTAINABLE HARVESTING

“When harvesting and foraging for wild foods, be respectful of the natural environment,” Brittany suggests. Make sure to be aware and respectful of animal habitats, the damage you may be causing to other plants, and be mindful of which parts of plants you are taking (roots vs. leaf, etc). If possible, harvest the part of the plant that will still allow the plant to continue to grow.

“Make sure to only harvest what you will use, and don’t take more than the plant can handle,” Brittany says. “My rule of thumb is to harvest one plant out of 10.” Lastly, don’t harvest from the same spot over and over again, as this may lead to over-harvesting.

Harvesting

The leaf, flower, and root of a dandelion plant can all be used in some way.

The leaf and flowers can be used as food, while the root can be used as medicine.

It is best to only harvest the leaves and flowers that you intend to use for a single meal to ensure freshness. Dandelion leaves and flowers do not store well.

To harvest the leaves and flowers, simply cut the leaves and flowers off of the plant, and place in a bag or basket. Wash with water. Remove the bitter green outer leaves from the flowers and separate the petals. The leaves can be chopped smaller or left as is.

Benefits and Use

Dandelion is a very bitter plant, and is excellent for digestion as well as the kidneys. When added to the diet, dandelion can stimulate metabolism and support the liver. It is also high in calcium, is a non-potassium-depleting diuretic, and is sometimes used as an herbal medicine for high blood pressure. The petals from dandelion flowers are wonderful in salads to add a bit of color and texture! They are also great when added to baked foods like banana bread, muffins, and pancakes, or used to make dandelion wine or soda.

The leaves are great sautéed or in salad. Because bitter foods stimulate digestion, dandelion leaves are perfect at the start of a meal. The leaves pair well with citrus and other sour items (think lemon), because the sour flavor competes with bitter foods. Dandelion leaves can also be dried to make a bitter tea that is soothing to the digestive system, rich in minerals, and good for the kidneys.

Recipe: Smoky Sautéed Dandelion Greens

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STINGING NETTLE (Urtica dioica)

Stinging nettle can be found mid-spring through summer, and is a wonderful source of nutrients. Nettle has irritating hairs that cause a burning/stinging sensation when touched, so make sure to wear gloves when handling it. Once cooked, dried, or thoroughly bruised/blended, the formic acid in the hairs is neutralized and won’t sting, so nettle is a wonderful wild food when prepared properly! 

Identification

Nettle has a square stem and ovate leaves (pointed tip and heart shaped base). It has a single stalk, but will create multiple branches if the plant is damaged. The leaves are opposite in pairs, and grow every few inches up the stem. When nettle is young, the leaves are a red-purple color. The leaves turn to dark green as the plant grows taller. The green leaves are best for harvesting.

Nettle grows in shade and sun and likes moist environments. It will produce small green clusters of flowers in late summer, and it is best to harvest nettle before it flowers.

Harvesting

When harvesting nettle, make sure to bring clippers, a paper bag, and gardening gloves. Nettle is best when it is harvested young: when the stalks are two to three feet tall and the leaves are bright green and vibrant in color. Brittany likes to cut nettle in bunches (don’t forget your gloves!), and put the whole stalks in a paper bag. Once you are home, shake the nettles in the bag to remove any dust or bugs. If the nettle is gritty or dirty, wash it in cool water (again, don’t forget your gloves!), and then dry. Once clean, cut the leaves from the stalk (you may leave leaf clusters together) and compost the stalks.

Benefits and Uses

Nettle is one of the most, if not the most, nutritious plant-based foods there is. Nettle is high in calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, zinc, iron, and protein and is a nutritional powerhouse. It supports kidney function and is good for blood, skin, the hormonal system, allergies, and immune system. Nettle also supports energy and vitality and is good for the muscular and skeletal systems. It may be used in the diet like any other leafy green.

Nettle is delicious blended in pesto (which also freezes well), cooked in stir fries, sautéed, or added to soups. It may also be blanched and frozen for longer-term storage. Because nettle must be cooked or blended well to make sure it no longer will sting, nettle can only be used raw if blended extremely well (such as in pesto). Nettle can also be dried and used in tea or stocks.

Recipe: Nettle and Mushroom Risotto

Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)

Wild black cherries are part of the rose family. It’s tough to harvest enough to use for a recipe, because they are so delicious on their own! Read more in this web extra here!

Why Fair Trade Matters

By Dean Cycon

In the hyper-caffeinated world of coffee marketing, it is very difficult to tell the truth from a load of beans. Most marketing materials are prepared with the sole goal of increasing sales, rather than informing or educating consumers as to the real qualities of the product or of the lives of the people who provide it.

One could easily be forgiven for believing that all coffee farmers are smiling Juan Valdez types, happily trotting down the mountain with their mules, on their way to deliver beans directly to the consumer. And why are they always immaculately dressed in white with a well-pruned mustache?

While there certainly are happy, well-fed farmers in the coffee world, they are mostly the ones who own large farms and have high degrees of education and access to credit. The overwhelming majority of coffee farmers are poor, have little opportunity for education, and scrape by on small plots of land no bigger than the front lawns of many suburban American homes (sans the frog pond). These farmers are at the low end of a commodity chain that prices their product in accordance with the speculative calculations of financial houses and investment firms on a frothy trading floor in New York—unrelated to the actual costs of production and any sense of a reasonable profit for the farmers. At the village level, most farmers let their beans go to local middlemen (called coyotes in Latin America) who pay pennies for what we end up paying a dozen dollars for at the store.

There is an alternative for the small farmers of the world, a way to realize meaningful prices for their labors, a way to realize cherished dreams of education for their kids and sufficient food on the table. That’s what Fair Trade is all about, and it is the most tangible result of the work we Fair Traders do, and some of the most gratifying that I have seen during my years of javatrekking. 

Fair Trade also offers farmers pre-financing of coffee purchases. This means that when a farmer asks, a Fair Trade buyer is supposed to pay as much as 60% of the contract up front, instead of waiting months until the coffee ships from the coffeelands. Not all buyers provide pre-financing, regardless of the flowery language in many marketing brochures (yes, Fair Traders puff, too). But it is a growing aspect of Fair Trade business, and it provides farmers with essential money needed to harvest and process their new crop—or, frankly, to feed their families until the rest of the money comes in. When pre-financing isn’t available, farmers have to borrow from local banks or coyotes at rates anywhere from 10 to 30% per month.Fair Trade guarantees a minimum price of $1.90 per pound (for certified organic coffees, which is all we buy at Dean’s Beans) when the quirky world commodity price falls below that figure. During the early years of the new millennium, the world price fell as low as 35 cents—barely half of what it took farmers to produce the beans. When the market price rises above the floor, Fair Trade always adds 20 cents, thus giving farmers an incentive to stay in the system when the market gets a little more real.

But money is not the most important part of Fair Trade. Farmers are also required by Fair Trade to organize themselves into democratic, transparent cooperatives. These structures offer the first opportunity for most farmers to have a say in their own governance. This has an especially significant impact for women, whose voice in management is not often heard in rural, Third World communities. About half of the co-ops that I deal with are run by women. And all of these women juggle motherhood, baking cookies, and running complex farmer organizations with astonishing efficiency and heart. Fair Trade has also opened the door for farmers to meet and work with a host of great development organizations in the areas of health care, education, and alternative income generation.

I have worked on the ground with coffee communities in a dozen countries since 1989 and can testify to the real impact Fair Trade has on the lives of the farmers and their families.

But let me be real. Less than half of the coffee from Fair Trade–certified cooperatives gets sold as Fair Trade. The rest gets sold under conventional pricing, which does not give a farmer much to feed his family, and certainly doesn’t give the community enough to build a school, a well, or a health clinic. This is not the farmer’s fault. It is the same coffee grown in the same manner.

The problem is that most people in the coffee industry are not willing to recognize Tadesse, Salim, Esperanza, and the other farmers as true partners in our businesses—they are simply cheap wage slaves to whom we can give pennies while selling their coffee at inflated prices. It is not an economic issue—even at our higher-than-Fair-Trade-prices paid to farmers we make a very good living. It is not a quality issue—non–Fair Trade roasters are buying the same beans as we are from Oromia and Pangoa Co-ops, they are just not paying the price. It is not an availability issue—80% of the Oromia crop is out there waiting. It is first and foremost an ethical issue, plain and simple.

So take a look deep into your coffee cup. Behind the aroma, the acidity, and the body lay the real lives of farmers and their families. The choices we make at the supermarket and the café have immediate and profound impacts on almost 30 million people around the globe, on their ability to drink clean water, to educate their kids, and to dream of better lives. Fair Trade works. Help make it happen.

Lawyer, community organizer, environmental and indigenous rights activist and Fair Trade pioneer Dean Cycon is the founder and CEO of Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee. The company was founded in 1993 to model business as a vehicle for progressive social, ecologic and economic change throughout Asia, Africa and the Americas.

For more information about Fair Trade Certification and to find certified products visit these organizations:

Fair Trade Federation

 Fairtrade America

 Fair for Life

FairTradeUSA

 

Food Fight

SOME CALL IT DINNER

Story by Sanford D’Amato | Photo by Dominic Perri

My sister and I were prolific eaters from birth, and as we got older every dinner at our house was either a mental or physical fight for food. It’s not as if we were deprived, as my father was a grocer and we always had enough to eat. But as the table was filled with plates of food, we would both be planning strategy on what choice bites would be the first and last to cross our lips. It was as if an announcer roared out over a loudspeaker, “Ladies and gentlemen, grab your forks and GO!”

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The majority of the year we would fight over the protein—the only two golden, glistening gams of roast chicken; the crispy ends of a rosy rotisserie beef; or that one slice of roast pork that was perfectly ringed with crispy, burnished fat—all almost normal behavior in the pantheon of aggressive American families. But we both had an odd quirk that separated us from the norm. We adored vegetables.

Starting pre-teeth with puréed broccoli and carrots, the feelings became more intense as the vegetables became more solid. Next to the slice of pork, the almost-burnt quarter onion infused to bursting with the limpid cooking liquid, or the crunchy breadcrumb-herb-coated baked tomato that stood guard near the beef—those were the prizes.

When summer rolled around the game changed as our primal instincts kicked into overdrive. String beans, summer squash, and zucchini—products that made their once-a-year appearance at their peak of flavor—almost made us completely forget that there was any meat present. I would have to plunge my fork into the vegetables and quickly return to my plate with the grace of a fencer, hoping that my hand would not be hit by the tines of her faster fork.

These vegetables were all a prelude to the most anticipated arrival of the year. It had been tempting us since its hint of green leaves first peeked through the soil. Driving past full fields of slender stalks with flowing golden locks, we knew they had to be ready, as they were knee-high a lifetime ago. For me, and many others, corn is the king of summer.

I would spread a layer of newspaper on the side stoop and shuck away within seconds of my dad driving up with the bag of ears. I had already picked out “my ears” so that when my mother moved towards the table with the platter, I was ready. My sister and I rapidly circled the ring to claim our seats, our eyes never leaving the platter or each other’s hands. I threw the first move, as I was pretty fast, and within seconds had the cob buttered, salted, pronged on each end, and brought to my mouth when I realized my sister was halfway through her first ear (she strategically skipped the prongs and went bare-handed—quite impressive). I started to chomp faster to catch up—we were neck and neck, ear for ear—but in the end there was no knockout, just a split decision.

The best corn is consumed the day it is picked, as close to picking as possible, and without refrigeration. Corn was always a vehicle for creamy butter but with sweeter varieties the butter is almost superfluous—however, a light gloss of good-quality extra-virgin olive oil doesn’t hurt. After I’ve had my fill of straight cobs, I go to my favorite corn combo and pair it with large, spice-crusted, deeply seared sea scallops and crispy bacon. I make a sauce inspired by my personal olfactory vice, caramel corn. I deeply caramelize honey to bring out some bitterness, glaze the corn kernels, and deglaze the sauce with a corn cob broth, add lime juice and cider vinegar to balance out the sweetness of the corn and scallops, and finish with a whisper of sharp spicy Hungarian paprika to add a touch of heat to the sweet.

There is only one time of year to have this combo: when Valley corn is at its peak. And I suggest you make a little extra, as this is a dish worth fighting over!

Sanford (Sandy) D’Amato is a James Beard Award–winning chef who teaches cooking classes at Good Stock Farm, his home in Hatfield. He is the former chef/owner of Sanford Restaurant in Milwaukee, WI, and the author of GOOD STOCK: Life on a Low Simmer, his memoir with recipes. Learn more about Sandy and good Stock Farm cooking classes at GoodStockFarm.com.

Recipe for Chargrilled Scallops with Grilled Caramel Corn Sauce and Corn Relish 

Hanging out with The Laughing Tomato

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Story and photos by Nikki Gardner

Its a blustery sun-drenched April morning in Northampton.

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The Laughing Tomato pizza duo, Armando and Sue, set up their mobile kitchen for the first Tuesday

Market of the season. Sue backs their Suburban and loaded trailer into their regular spot where, over the next few hours, an open-air pizza shop comes together. They unload the wood, tent, folding tables, dishwashing tubs, and refrigerated prep rail before unpacking a cooler filled with dough, toppings, cheeses, and sauce from their shared kitchen rental in the basement of Thornes Marketplace.

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Armando lights a fire in their custom-built oven, aka The Tomato, which reaches up to 800 and cooks 80 to 100 pizzas on market day. He tends the fire while Sue barters for local ingredients from New England Wild Edibles (ramps), Red Fire Farm (basil), and Old Friends Farm (spinach). Around noon, Giselle arrives ready to shape and dock the dough before it goes into the fire to par bake. Soon after, Amanda shows up to take orders: specialty and popular pies include the Snowball (red sauce, mozzarella, asiago, fresh garlic, spinach, grape tomatoes, and ricotta) and Nutella (Nutella, mascarpone whipped cream, and powdered sugar) pies.

Nearly 12 hours later, the couple packs up and heads home until the next market or catered event. The days are long and the seasons short, yet the people and food that gather in their mobile kitchen make it all worthwhile.

TheLaughingTomato.com

Nikki Gardner is a writer and photographer whose work has appeared in Artful Blogging, The Huffington Post, Smithsonians Food & Think, and The Daily Meal. She shares seasonal vegan and vegetarian recipes on WWLPs Mass Appeal and in her cooking classes at Different Drummers Kitchen in Northampton. Find her online at Art & Lemons, where she chronicles everyday life in food, photos, and stories.

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A Toast to the Dandelion

Story by Carly Leusner | Photo by Elaine Papa

When I notice the first dandelions beaming their yellow pollen-laden flowers boldly and unapologetically across meadows I can’t help but rejoice! Their cheerful presence reminds me that solar-saturated days have officially returned, that the hundred different pollinators who rely on those sunny flowers as an early nectar and pollen source are at last well fed, and the liver-cleansing medicine my winter weary body craves is now easily accessible at nearly every turn.

We share this delight with deer and rabbits, munching on tender dandelion leaves for a welcome dose of vitamin A, B-complex, C, D, potassium, zinc, iron, and calcium. It’s summertime, and for many creatures, the living is indeed easier.

Touted as harbingers of health for much of human history, dandelions have been cast out, alienated, and maligned in modern lawn culture in the U.S. Still eaten and appreciated all around the world, dandelion seeds and roots were carefully carried by European colonizers across the Atlantic, hoping to sow their closest plant allies in their new home. Seed catalogs in the 1800s included several dandelion varieties and county fairs featured homegrown dandelions as one of the many potential prize-earning entries.

Now suburban lawns receive more pesticides per acre than agricultural land even though 63% of commonly used pesticides are known carcinogens. Millions are spent on herbicides every year in an effort to kill dandelions. We’ve become disenchanted and disengaged, turning our backs on the plant that had always kept us feeling human, connected, like our familiar ancient selves.

Falling in love with the common plants that grace our backyards can transform our perspective; help us to see the same beauty our indigenous ancestors saw. A new ritual I’ve committed to every year, for enough years now that it feels routine, has certainly changed mine. My annual spring rite—aside from gobbling wild greens so fast my body reverse ages—is harvesting four gallons of dandelion flowers to brew sparkling dandelion mead, or honey wine, for celebration and ceremony throughout the year.

I fell into mead making inspired by Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation, his enthusiasm for fermentation and grasp of its strong influence on human history and culture, urged me to begin brewing and fermenting. I longed to be a part of the same legacy of folk who healed their friends and family with homemade potent herbal elixirs. Dandelion mead was my first adventure.

“Mead” tends to conjure caricatures of Vikings guzzling foaming steins in the minds of modern people, who dismissively raise their eyebrows at mead enthusiasm as a one-dimensional fascination with obscurity. Our ancestors would raise their eyebrows right back. Far from obscure, mead is our original libation. The simplest mead is honey, water, and wild yeast. As the story goes, humans encountered fermented honey for the first time in a rain-water-logged beehive. Since then, mead, an intoxicating brew and often spiked with medicinal plants, has inspired poetic ecstasy and spiritual euphoria throughout human history, long cherished as a bridge to the divine.

Mead has a reputation as a life-extending elixir in mythology and lore, which speaks to the health-giving properties of honey as well as the potentiating and preserving effect of alcohol on the medicinal herbs often added.

Since my first stab at mead making, my relationship with the awe-inspiring alchemy of bees, flowers, yeast and water each year deepens. Each May, with each turn of the wheel, I find myself feeling more human, more like myself, finding enchantment in all corners. I find real magic in my growing relationship with dandelion, satisfaction exploring the fields where she grows, and well up with feelings of deep reverence for the sky fairies who synthesize flower essence into a substantive food and potent medicine. I enjoy the company of other creatures who accompany me in the early morning gentle sun. Witnessing the joy and surprise my friends experience when they first sip the subtly bitter, floral, effervescent elixir makes my heart sing. All these memories of place wait bottled like a genie, bring me the comfort of easy summer living on the darkest days of the year.

Beginning with her childhood days making dandelion mud pies, wild-crafting remains a vital, integrated part of Carly Leusner’s life. She co-founded and runs Acorn Kitchen, an educational collaborative, specializing in nature connection and wild food cookery. Check out their 2015 schedule at www.wearewildfood.com or find them at the Northampton Tuesday Farmers Market.

Benson’s Blues

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Story by Lynne Bertrand | Cover photo by Georgia Teensma

NOTE: The U-Pick information in our issue was incorrect - it has been updated below to reflect that Benson Place is open for U-pick on Saturday and Sunday once the season opens, with weekday picking available by appointment. 

On a Saturday morning in the dog days of summer, you can drive to the intersection of Middle and Nowhere, otherwise known as Heath, then hang a right up a dirt road through the forest till the way dead-ends at a rugged, windswept farm. This is the Benson Place. Mt. Greylock is visible from here, 25 miles to the west; so is the Du Bois Library tower, 40 miles southeast at UMass. The view is well worth the drive, but it’s not everything. This is a nearly 35-acre low-bush blueberry barren, with thousands of perfect indigo spheres ripening in sweet profusion as far as the eye can see. Even black bears, the true hipster foodies of the fowrest, come from as far away as Conway to PYO blues.

This place was known by early settlers as Burnt Mountain. The native nations who lived in these hills learned from their cousins in the future state of Maine to set fire to sections of wild blueberries in the spring. This kept the plants in rotation, with infinite production. Meredith Wecker and Andrew Kurowski, who own and manage this barren now, continue that practice. Upwards of 15 tons of blueberries will come off this mountain by the second week in August. In about an hour of leisurely raking with hand-held, comb-edged scoops, 20 pounds of them can be yours.

Blueberry season in Heath is typically the third week of July through the second week of August. Open u-picking is offered on Saturdays and Sundays; with arrival between 9am and 2pm. In high season there will be a wait to run your harvest through the winnowing machine, which sorts off the leaves and twigs. Pre-orders for blueberries and reservations for weekday U-pick slots may be made online from July 1. Prices are listed online as well. Several coop markets are carrying Benson’s certified organic blues this summer, and berries will be available at drop-off locations around the Valley.

For picking and ordering information, and detailed driving directions visit BensonPlace.org

Lynne Bertrand is a freelance writer who lives in Williamsburg. Georgia Teensma is a freelance photographer and a second-year student at Hampshire College.

Recipe for Blueberry Dutch Pancake here

Go Wild! Web Extra: Wild Black Cherry

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Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)

Wild black cherries are part of the rose family. It’s tough to harvest enough to use for a recipe, because they are so delicious on their own!

Identification

Wild black cherry trees are often found near fields or other sunny areas. The trees can be more than 80 feet tall and 2 feet in diameter. The bark of the black cherry tree has small, white, horizontal stripes or spots on the bark (called lenticels). If you scrape away the bark on a leaf branch, it will smell like sweet almonds. The leaves of the wild black cherry are shiny, dark green, and ovate in shape. The underside of the leaves have small, fuzzy, rusty colored hairs on the mid vein. These hairs aren’t always visible, but if they are, it is a sure sign that the tree you have found is a wild black cherry. The berries themselves are a dark purple, black color and are about one centimeter in diameter. The berries grow in clusters on red stalks, and contain small pits. The berries are usually ripe in mid-late August.

Harvesting

If the berries are ripe, they will sometimes start to fall and you can gather the freshly fallen ones and place them in a bag or basket. You can also harvest the berries by shaking the branches, which will cause them to fall to the ground. If you can reach the berries, you can pick them by hand.

barkBenefits and Uses

Wild black cherries, like most berries, are high in vitamins and antioxidants and have a sweet and astringent flavor that is delicious. Brittany loves to eat the cherries on their own, but just be careful, as they do have pits. The berries also are wonderful in jams, sauces, and reductions. These preparations are great because the pits can be strained out. You can also make wild black cherry juice by macerating berries with water and sugar, honey, or lemon.