Friday, December 30, 2011

Setting Intentions

I'll keep this end-of-the-year missive short, with a poem:

This year, let your love for the world grow wild;
like your garden;
real, or inside you.

Plant some seeds for the future;
pull some from the library;
think about what you will "do" versus "watch."

Our lives are our gardens, full of wild creatures, weeds, and delicious gems.

Like any fruit we start with a flower;
we too must be open to bees;
to ideas;
to wind.

And as we sit in our gardens;
we must think about what we are willing to "do" for our passion;
for our future;
for ourselves;
and with love turn our faces towards the sun.

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Wishing you the best in the coming year! Happy 2012!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Just What the Season Ordered: Citrus!

As the longest night of the year gets closer, my body craves citrus. Sweet, acidic, floral, and delicious, the markets are gearing up to churn out more than the present Satsuma mandarin explosion - pomelos, kumquats, navels, blood oranges, and grapefruit are all on their way. Perfect timing! Just as the days shorten and I start to miss central heating here in Northern California, these immunity boosters arrive at local markets.

For a Midwesterner like myself, navel oranges from California (back then from Orange County no doubt), or Florida, were a special treat that I have fond memories of during the holidays. I used to get three brightly-waxed navels in my stocking, a tradition that as a kid I considered a gip in the toy department since they filled half of the stocking. Regardless, receiving them as a gift made me aware of the preciousness of seasonality. We didn’t eat citrus year-round and citrus certainly wasn't grown locally. But the navels were oh-so-much more than a tradition handed down over generations, they were an omen of good health as each navels’ contents – cleverly packaged in a compostable wrapper – would help me in my daily battle against colds. And while navels might not be viewed as such a novelty with today's digital gift options, they still have a place at the table. In fact, oranges are the most consumed fruit per capita in the U.S. with Florida, California, Arizona, and Texas growing a projected 11.7 million tons this season alone. And we need it.

Unlike other mammals that can produce vitamin C, humans must eat two mandarins per day, or other equivalent citrus, to get our daily recommended dose (90 mg per day for men and 75 mg per day for women). And being that vitamin C is water-soluble, if there are leftovers that our body can't use immediately to strengthen our immune system, to catch free radicals, or to repair our cells and tissue, they are expelled.

For me, eating enough citrus during these colds months is not a problem. Proven by the sheer quantity of mandarins that I eat in one sitting, and by my obsessive plotting to perfect marmalade, I'm sure to be eating enough citrus for two adults' daily allowances. Citrus is also starting to show up at seasonally inclined restaurants with beautifully manicured sections of citrus tossed in salads with roasted nuts (see recipe below). And in the coming weeks, the varieties and quantities offered at such establishments and markets are only going to expand. This is a very good thing. After all, our bodies have evolved with this fruit so that when we need it the most, it is most abundant.

arugula & citrus salad

4 servings * prep time 20 minutes * nutritional benefits: vitamins C, A, and K

1 large bunch of arugula, approximately 4 cups, washed and stemmed
1/3 cup toasted chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, or almonds)
1 large grapefruit, or, 4 mandarins sectioned (see below for instructions)
grated Parmesan (optional)

1 tbsp lemon juice
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
salt and pepper to taste

1. section the citrus and set aside
2. wash and clean arugula, remove the stems and chop
3. toss arugula and citrus with dressing and top with nuts

Sectioning: First, get a really sharp knife. It helps! Second, remove the peel and outside membrane of the fruit by cutting off the peel, from top to bottom. Then, sectioning begins. Cut between each wedge of the membrane to remove each section without the skin, and voila! You have successfully sectioned citrus.

Photo: Farmer Emily Thacher Ayala, Friends’ Ranch, Ojai, CA

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Plate to Politics - 2012

Look up "moms against" in your favorite search engine and you'll find an untold number of organizations comprised of moms against such and such. Moms Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Moms Against Mercury, Moms Against Climate Change, and (my favorite) Moms Against Sarah Palin. Moms definitely have reason for their anger and advocacy for change. And now there’s a new collaborative of moms, and not moms, that will be working to engage more women in food politics. And do we need it! Despite our efforts to shift our national food policy in a more progressive and healthful direction during the last Farm Bill, we're still getting served up more of the same. This past spring, for example, many of the progressive programs funded through the last 2007 bill such as ATTRA were eliminated and other organic programs were put on the chopping block. Fortunately, organizations such as the Organic Farming Research Foundation were able to preserve organic research funding. Despite budget cuts attacking a broad spectrum of social services such as organic food and farming research, health care reform, and education, military spending is only slated to increase in 2011 and 2012. So it was with a happy heart that I received the press release below announcing a new coalition of women who convened to discuss policy and food system reform.

What Plate to Politics posits is that women's leadership in political positions will activate change through the entirety of the food movement's various branches - labor, farm to school, consumer awareness, Native foods, organic research and practices, health, and environment. This was expressed through the diversity of attendees at their first meeting, women who represented all of these facets of our food system. It will take all of us in this movement to make headway next year and Plate to Politics is sure to be a great force in organizing rural and urban women alike around a progressive food policy platform. So visit the website and get involved!

Women from Around the US Gather in Wisconsin to Strategize Ways to Strengthen the Healthy Food and Farming Movement
A diverse group of 30 women food system leaders from across the country met May 23-25 near Racine, WI, to begin the process of creating a national strategy for strengthening the influence of women in the healthy food and farming movement, from the farmhouse to the White House.

“We called this gathering ‘Cultivate 2012,’ reflecting the fact that next year will be a pivotal year for increasing women’s leadership and voice around food issues through the next election cycle and farm bill,” says Liz Johnson, National Director Rural Leadership for The White House Project, a non-profit aiming to advance women’s leadership in all communities and sectors.

The Cultivate 2012 summit was the kickoff of Plate to Politics, a nationwide coalition of women in sustainable agriculture sponsored by The White House Project, Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES), and Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN).

“Women have always been the primary drivers behind the healthy food and farming movement--as farmers, purchasers of their families’ food, and staff at the non-profit organizations that support the work,” says Leigh Adcock, executive director of WFAN. “Plate to Politics is the beginning of a national coalition of women in the movement who will work on a series of projects and initiatives to magnify our voices and influence in the arena of sustainable agriculture and healthy food systems.”

Women attending the Racine gathering represented a wide range of backgrounds, such as Lydia Villanueva, a Latino farmer organizer from the Texas Panhandle, Severine von Tscharner Fleming of New York, a beginning farmer advocate and producer of the film The Greenhorns, and Aurora Conley, a tribal leader working to preserve native strains of wild rice in northern Minnesota. The group included farmers, leaders of national grassroots organizations, federal agency staff, political activists, researchers and communications professionals. Meet all of the women leaders here.

Key initiatives that emerged from the Cultivate 2012 gathering are development of:
• an authentic, positive message in the national media prioritizing the triple benefits of the movement for health, economy and food;
• a national database and social media platform for collecting and championing diverse and inspiring stories of women farmers and food activists across the country, including connecting them with opportunities to be policy leaders from the local to the federal level;
• a targeted education campaign for Congressional staff and leaders on policy issues of importance to women in sustainable agriculture;
• and an informational toolkit and resources to educate and inspire a broad diversity of voters on food issues.

“The core of our work and conversations at Wingspread was a deep and collaborative commitment to social and racial justice that drives the action agenda we developed, including perspectives from rural and urban, women of color, young women, native women, immigrant women and elders,” says Lisa Kivirist, director of the Rural Women’s Project for the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) and author of Farmstead Chef and Ecopreneuring. “We proved at the summit that as diverse as we are, we can coalesce around several key initiatives that will support the millions of women working to change America’s food system for the better.”

Visit the Plate to Politics website to learn more about these initiatives and find out how you and your colleagues and constituents can get involved in this vital work!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Busy Times!

With spring on its way out the door, we are quickly entering early summer mode here in Northern California. For the past few months I've been busy pickling and canning everything that I got my hands on! While last year was the "year of the book," this is the year of doing things, of growing things, of putting seasonal splendor up for next winter, and of enjoying late nights in the kitchen with friends. My canning sessions to date always seem take longer than planned and it's a sure sign that I am truly a novice at the art. For example, a few weeks ago I was up until 3:00 AM waiting for the marmalade to get to the right consistency. Sometimes things take longer than planned.

In addition to all this food work, I have two new bee hives that I'm looking after along with my boyfriend's fabulous mom up on their farm in Sonoma County. My last hives disappeared suddenly a few years ago and it's exciting to get some going again. Bees take pollen (pure sunlight) and turn it into golden honey - a wonderful alternative to cane sugar that is also said to help with allergies.

In between food preservation, beekeeping, and some Farmer Jane events here and there, I've been looking for more stories to tell on the Farmer Jane website; especially the stories of women of color. Why women of color, you ask? Because, these are the stories that aren't being told as much as they ought to be. While writing Farmer Jane, I searched and searched but unfortunately did not have the right contacts to get in touch with more women of color. (Thirty percent of the book's stories fall into this category, but it's hardly 50 percent - the goal that I had set for myself.) So if you have any contacts of women that I should reach out to, please send them my way by emailing me at I would very much appreciate it!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

In Celebration of International Women's Day, March 8

Tuesday, March 8 is International Women's Day! A day to celebrate all of the women in your life, and women that you don't know, that make our world a better place. Through our work in fields, advocacy and tireless commitment to community and future generations, this day unites women from all over the globe to recognize their contributions to peace, development and sustainability.

The day started in 1975 when the United Nations proclaimed March 8th as International Women's Day to celebrate women's global activism and peacekeeping activities. In the United States, women were first celebrated on the National Women's Day on February 28, 1909 after a women's garment workers strike. I don't know if women in oppressed countries know about this day, but on Tuesday, I'm going to be in solidarity with women everywhere who fight for justice, a clean environment, healthy food, and peace. I will be in the company too, with other women advocacy organizations such as Oxfam America. Below is some info about the event I will be at, but if you're not in the East Bay, look up an event near you or consider having women you care about over for dinner to dialog. Women, the world over, are making the change that politicians only promise.

March 8th, 2011 marks the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day. Around the world, organizations and individuals will be celebrating this exciting historic landmark. From coast to coast, Oxfam America supporters will organize 100 events in 100 days, and you're invited! Join the Bay Area Oxfam Action Corps at a very special event called “Ending Hunger Starts with Women.”

Reception, Presentation and Panel Discussion...all FREE!
Tuesday, March 8th, 6:30 to 8:30 pm
The David Brower Center, Goldman Theater and Gallery, 2150 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA


6:30 to 7:10 pm: Informational networking reception in the gallery where guests can enjoy sustainable appetizers, organic wine and fair trade tea and coffee, while mingling with local luminaries and browsing informational tables featuring local non-profits.
7:10 to 8:30 pm: The evening will continue in the Goldman Theater with short films and a presentation from special guest Ms. Prak Souern, a rice farmer and community leader from Cambodia, followed by a panel discussion and Q&A with some of the Bay Area's pioneers for ethical change, food experts, and leaders in business and government.

This event is the beginning of a dialogue about food justice in its global dimensions. We don't expect to arrive at all the answers in one night, but it's urgent that we further the conversation. There is something drastically wrong when nearly 1 billion people in the world are chronically hungry. And most of them - 3 out of 5 - are involved in food production, either by farming, fishing or herding. Women are the majority of farmers in this context, and so shoulder the added burden of gender inequality.

There is something wrong when our US cities have pockets of so-called 'food deserts' where people of limited income cannot easily access affordable healthy food. And there is something wrong when the food we do eat today depletes our natural resources for tomorrow because of unsustainable practices.

But it does not need to be this way. We can embrace solutions and a smarter, fairer food economy. So join us, at what promises to be a fun, uplifting and enlightening event, and find out how we can choose better ways to eat and grow our food, and at the same time advocate so that people worldwide have the rights and the resources to do the same.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

What this freakish weather means

It's February 6, 2011 and the fruit tree buds are breaking. A warm, mediterranean wind is blowing over the hills in the Bay Area and plants, animals and humans alike rejoice at the coming of an early spring. Almond, cherry, plum, apricot - all confused and coming out to show their pretty little petals. In all the farm fields of California, nature has been jump started by a good month into thinking it's really April and farmers are scurrying to get ahead of yet another hectic season of coaxing food from the soil. If a late freeze comes, which it probably will, the buds will freeze and no fruit will come. Some may choose to plant annual vegetables with less of a gestation period after the weather becomes more stable. Some will write it off as a bad year. Regardless, farming is at the whims of nature. As young farmer Zoe Bradbury (she's so quotable!) wrote in one of her posts in Diary to a Young Farmer, "When I signed up to be a farmer, I knew the small print: and ye shall accept without question, whining or self-pity the vagaries of the weather, over which you shall have no control whatsoever. Sigh. All I can do is keep an eye to the sky and try to work with it, around it, in it."

During this West Coast heat wave, New York, Chicago and other states to the East are slammed with snow storms so intense that many cities, such as Madison, Wisconsin, declare snow days. It's an ever-increasing trend that leads to celebration only when there's heat involved. But heat aside, it has become normal to have abnormal, more extreme weather. Despite some of the most brutal winters on record in some parts of the Midwest, heat is also being experienced and some growing zones have increased two notches in the last few years. Since the weather is related to climate change, all of us need to do our best to reduce our energy consumption. Here are some small steps towards tightening your global warming belt:

1) Unplug unused appliances, they are using electricity and electricity = coal/natural gas/etc., contributors to global warming.

2) Try biking to places within two miles from your home (where most car trips are used). Cars are huge contributors to global warming and declining air quality

3) Eat less meat. Especially red meat. Cattle are large contributors to global warming through the production of methane gas and are a major reason for deforestation in South America (the lungs of the world!). Vegetarianism is the best diet you can have for the planet, but if you can't eat veggies every day, choose organic white meats as much as possible and stay away from industrial meat.

4) Think about your water usage. Turning on water means using electricity as well as this precious natural resource that is on the decline.

5) Talk to your friends and family about what they can do. You may want to use Anna Lappe's Take a Bite website.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Women, Food and Ag Network: Women, Fixin' Food

What Farmer Jane continues to point out is that women have largely been behind (and in front of), the sustainable food and farming movement all along - something that the Women, Food and Agriculture Network has known since the organization's inception in the late '90s. Co-founded by a farmer in Iowa, Denise O'Brien, the network continues to thrive today with all the purpose in the world of connecting the growing movement of women that are coming forward to call themselves farmers. That's right. Even though women have been farming since the advent of modern day agriculture when people transitioned from hunting and gathering to staying in one place and cultivating the land, they haven't always considered themselves farmers. Nor has the USDA considered them as such. That's why women farmers are filing a class action suit against the USDA as we speak - because women were not given the same access to grants as men. Similar to the African Americans recently won battle, other classes of people are stepping forward to call out the injustice. The tricky part is that women farmers are having a challenging time getting "class" status to file.

Because women farmers have not been given the same access to information, resources, or networks as men have in the past, the Women Food and Agriculture Network is providing the great service of giving women a voice. And on January 29, the Network will convene for their annual gathering. In honor of this, I'm posting the contribution that Executive Director, Leigh Adcock, wrote for "Farmer Jane." This piece not only explains the significance of the Network, but also articulates in more detail why a Network for women and the movement of women in food and agriculture is as relevant as ever.

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