GFA supports the Massachusetts GMO Right to Know Legislation

The Steering Committee of Grow Food Amherst voted to join the many businesses and organizations that have indicted their support for pending Massachusetts legislation, Genetic Engineering Transparency Food and Seed Labeling Act, H.D. 369, (the GMO Labeling Law) sponsored by our own Representative Ellen Story and supported by 143 of the 200 Massachusetts legislators.  The up to the minute list of legislative sponsors is here.

banner_test1More than 300 local businesses, organizations and community groups have so far joined the network supporting GMO labeling in Massachusetts.  To be clear, this is not an “anti-GMO” bill, but rather a “pro-right to know” bill.  Grow Food Amherst has not expressed an opinion on the safety, value, or economic and social impact of the genetic modification technology.  This remains an open question in scientific circles.  This is a pro-consumer right to know issue.  For more information on the proposed legislation, see: Mass GMO Labeling Law

Kimchi and Beyond!

By Katherine Selberg, UMass Sustainable Food and Farming student

A study in kimchi seemed like a simple enough project when I started. A brief history, some food science, and a killer recipe with pictures would do. And that is, mostly, what I have done. What I did not plan for the hidden lessons to be learned through fermentation. It was not totally new to me; it turns out most of my favorite foods are fermented: cheese, wine, pickles, kimchi, yogurt. But a little background reading on kimchi turned into a fascination with fermentation as an approach to food.

kimchi1But first, the basics. Kimchi is a traditional Korean food, so ubiquitous that a 2010 shortage of the main ingredient, Napa cabbage, was declared a national crisis. There is not an equivalent food in American cuisine. Perhaps if you accounted for all of the different condiments you use in a day it would equal the amount of kimchi present in the average Korean diet. There is not, however, a single definition of kimchi. Some options would be: spicy fermented cabbage, not spicy fermented cabbage, not fermented cabbage, fermented vegetables other than cabbage, and so on.

The different versions of kimchi have evolved in different regions, different seasons, and different communities, yielding infinite variations on kimchi. However, the most mainstream iteration of kimchi today is fermented Napa cabbage spiced with hot pepper, garlic, ginger, and something fishy. The simple procedure is:

  1. Chop vegetables.
  2. Salt vegetables and bruise until liquid accumulates.
  3. Rinse.
  4. Smear with spice paste.
  5. Pack tightly into a container.
  6. Wait.

kimchi2The details of these steps are highly variable and subjective, as are the ingredients in one’s kimchi. My first task in developing my recipe for kimchi was to determine how I wanted to interpret these steps and what exactly I wanted with my cabbage. So I prepared to make my first batch of kimchi. I scoured the internet for all the kimchi recipes to be found. I zeroed in on a core recipe of Napa cabbage, carrots, daikon radish, onion, scallions, garlic, ginger, fish sauce, and gochugaru, a Korean chili powder. I planned to do test batches to see the effects of adding sugar, shrimp paste, or a flour paste, all common amendments to kimchi recipes. I also wanted to test to see whether I preferred rolling quarter segments of cabbage the traditional way or chopping the cabbage into 1 inch strips, and whether I preferred salting in a brine or dry salting.  It was a good plan, with a 3×4 grid to record the results from well-labeled Ball jars. But we all know what happens to the best laid plans.

The crucial mistake came while trying to find the ingredients. First I went to the World Food store, where I found none of the things I was looking for and left a bit flustered. So I decided my recipe would only include ingredients that could easily be found at a health food store, my store of choice being Whole Foods. It seemed like a noble goal. Most things were easy to find. But gochugaru, the all-important flavoring in a traditional Korean kimchi was nowhere to be found. I substituted with a big bag of regular chili powder, and went happily on my way not knowing the heartache I had just signed up for.

The actual assembly of the kimchi went reasonably well. I managed to pack 12 jars with dark red, spicy kimchi. I left them out on the counter overnight, to allow for 12 hours of unhindered fermentation. The next morning, I opened each jar just enough to vent the CO2 that had built up as the bacteria had started to devour the sugars in mix. Then I put all of the jars into the fridge to slowly ferment for the next week.

And what a disgusting mess I found when I came back in a week. Not an actual mess; this was not a fermentation horror story ending with exploding jars. Instead, this was just a case of mistaken spice identity. The kimchi had a heavy taste to it, not the light, refreshing, effervescent taste one hopes to find in a kimchi. It was dense and almost gelatinous. Wholly unappealing. An ironically simple Google searched confirmed my fear that chili powder is widely regarded as the worst thing anyone could ever do to a batch of kimchi. So much for those 12 jars.

To be fair, I did learn a lot of useful things from that batch. I learned that I prefer dry salting vegetables as opposed to brining. I felt like I had more control and could more easily gauge how much water had come out of the cabbage. I decided that the shrimp was not worth having a jar of stinky paste in the fridge, and I could see no difference in the kimchi that had a flour paste in it compared to the kimchi that didn’t. I decided chopped cabbage was much easier to stuff into jars than rolls of cabbage segments. Sometimes tradition must be sacrificed for convenience. Mostly, this first batch told me that my initial, super scientific testing approach to the perfect kimchi recipe was maybe the wrong way to go. I had some ingredients left over, so that same weekend I threw together a much more relaxed batch of kimchi. One head of cabbage, some carrot, daikon, ginger, garlic, onion, an apple, some fish sauce, and a couple hot red peppers fresh from the garden all packed into a jar with 2 inches left at the top for the CO2, so no venting was required. What a delightfully fresh and simple counterpoint to my original operation.

A week later, I came home to that light, fresh vegetable, fizzy taste I was hoping for. The apple was a nice dose of sweetness that also fueled the bacteria in its fermentation. The fresh peppers were a perfect source of heat and color. Better management of the salt content allowed for better fermentation and for a more even experience of all of the flavors. I decided I could probably do without the daikon; I’m not a huge fan of radishes. I am, I learned, a fan of putting kimchi on a beef hot dog or on chips instead of salsa. All in all, this was a success.

kimchi3Since then, I’ve been sure to keep a batch of kimchi in the fridge. The peppers, now out of season, have been replaced with crushed red pepper. But the core of my recipe is about the same as that second batch. Even more importantly, the calm, resourceful, no-worries approach has fully permeated my fermenting life. Taking the stress out of the kimchi making process made the kimchi itself taste more light and carefree.

This relaxed approach, it turns out, is pretty central to all fermentation. Sure, there are recipes and careful instructions; vintners and brewers probably consider their fermentation to be a careful, scientific process. But the world of home fermenters—a world that is much larger than I had realized—is much less rigid. The first step to becoming an amateur fermenter is to forget everything you have ever been taught about bacteria, sanitation, and decomposition. After all, fermentation is, simply put, rotted food. The bacteria naturally present—which in the case of kimchi are lactobacilli—eat away at the ingredients and create acids and CO2. Different bacterial strains follow one another as the environment becomes more acid, creating a domino effect of rot for as long as the ferment is allowed to do its thing. Bad bacteria and molds are unable to survive in the anaerobic, acidic mix. Eventually, a ferment will be far too acidic to be eaten, but until that point, it becomes a means of preservation that takes advantage of the hostile environment created by the bacilli. In a world of antibacterial soaps and pasteurization, fermentation embraces the natural processes that most people fear.

checheh_kimchiAlong this journey, I found two books that soon became my guides in the kitchen. The first was The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz. This tome is a truly daunting account of all fermented food to be found around the world and throughout history. Kimchi was but a scant few pages, but the credos of fermentation are woven throughout the book. A love and longing for experimentation and health benefits combined with reverence for tradition make for an interesting read. My second reference book was Cooked by Michael Pollan. The book is divided into four sections, each devoted to an element and its corresponding type of cooking. Kimchi is earth in Pollan’s eyes. It connects the forces of nature—bacteria and decay—with the people eating its product. The consumer of fermented food becomes closer to his own mortality and the world in which he lives with every bite.

These overwhelming feelings of tradition and connectedness are repeated in all of the writings I have found on fermentation. It is a hobby that, once found, inspires. However, for me, perhaps the biggest lesson of fermenting thus far, has been to accept failure. After my first, disastrous batch of kimchi came an horrifically salty sauerkraut, some foul smelling fermented peppers, and an iffy attempt at mead. There have been more than a few moments in recent months when my foray into fermenting has seemed like fruitless folly, and as my experimentation continues so shall the mistakes. Yet, as with so many things in life, a sense of humor and humility are just enough to move past the pitfalls and arrive at a delicious success.

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This essay is the final product of Kat Selberg’s one credit practicum in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture.  You may send questions or comments to Kat at: kselberg@umass.edu.

Amherst Celebrates National Food Day with Apples!

fooddayIn its fourth year, National Food Day (held annually on October 24th) is an opportunity for people across the nation to celebrate the value and importance of eating fresh, local and healthy food.

During lunchtime on October 24th, students at the Amherst Regional Middle School had the opportunity to sample unique varieties of apples provided by the UMass Cold Spring Orchard.

Johnathan Sivel, Michelle Nikfarjam, and Jessica Maeder from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture assisted Rebecca Fricke (from Grow Food Amherst and District Aide to Representative Ellen Story) distribute the apples and answer students’ questions.

Stockbridge students helped serve the UMass apples
Stockbridge students helped serve the UMass apples

Two of the best quotes from the students during the tasting in the cafeteria were:

This is like apple heaven!

and

I didn’t know apples could taste this good!”

This was a great opportunity for the students to taste local apple varieties that they don’t typically get from school or the grocery store.  The students and teachers were really appreciative.  Many of them came back for seconds and thirds and were genuinely interested in how the apple textures and tastes were so different. Amherst school teachers and staff also received apple courtesy of Atkins Farms.

2014-10-24 10.40.56

A big thank you goes out to Rebecca Treitley, director of the ARPS Whitsons School Nutrition Program and her crew, led by Diane Tower, who helped Rebecca Fricke wash, set up and clean up the tasting.  Also thanks to Dr. Duane Greene and the staff at Cold Spring Orchard for donating the apples.

Amherst Celebrates National Food Day, October 24th

foodday

 In its fourth year, National Food Day (held annually on October 24th) is an opportunity for people across the nation to celebrate the value and importance of eating fresh, local and healthy food. Some of the country’s most prominent food leaders have gathered and envisioned a food system that is just, secure, affordable, and produced with care for the environment, animals and farm workers who grow and harvest it.

During lunchtime on October 24th, students at the Amherst Regional Middle School will have the opportunity to sample unique varieties of apples provided by the Cold Spring Orchard. Students from the UMass Sustainable Food and Farming Program in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture will assist Rebecca Fricke (Grow Food Amherst and District Aide to Representative Ellen Story) distribute the apples and answer students’ questions.  Amherst school teachers and staff will receive apple donations courtesy of Atkins Farms.

In honor of Food Day, Amherst businesses, religious organizations and non-profits are individually hosting or sponsoring events on, and around, October 24th.  The following is a list of events and special offerings:

October 17th – October 30th

Atkins Farms will offer an ‘in-store’ special on MacIntosh apples for 69₵/lb (regularly 99₵/lb).  Located at 1150 West Street.

October 19th – October 26th

The Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst (UUSA) will be running a food drive for the Amherst Survival Center. Non-perishable food donations will be accepted before and after services on the 19th and 26th and during the week from 10 AM – 2 PM.    Located at 121 North Pleasant Street.

Wednesday, October 22nd

In an effort to acknowledge that food insecurity is a real problem for people in our region and across the country, the UUSA will also offer a viewing of A Place at the Table, and an apple dish to share, from 7-9 PM.  This event is open to the public.  Food donations will be accepted.

Friday, October 24th

Leda Scheintaub will do a book reading and signing of her new book, Cultured Foods for Your Kitchen: 100 Recipes Featuring the Bold Flavors of Fermentation from 5 PM – 7 PM at the All Things Local store located at 104 North Pleasant Street.

Atkins Farms will offer a special discount on Atkins Deli’s homemade apple crisp!

The Glazed Doughnut Shop will offer 15% off a cup of hot spiced apple cider! Located at 19 North Pleasant Street.

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For more information about additional Food Day activities, contact Stephanie Ciccarello, Sustainability Coordinator for the Town of Amherst at (413) 259-3149 or via e-mail at ciccarellos@amherstma.gov.

Grow Food Amherst’s Workshops Move Indoors to All Things Local!

Grow Food Amherst has sponsored educational workshops at the Amherst Winter Market in 2013-14 and at the Wednesday Farmers’ Market during the summer of 2014.  We are moving back indoors for the fall and winter season with our Sustainability Sunday Workshops and Events at All Things Local Cooperative Market at 104 North Pleasant St. in downtown Amherst!

atlAll Things Local is Amherst’s only year-round, 6 day a week downtown farmers’ and craft market, and has become the hub of local activity for  people committed to a more sustainable way of living in the region.  With a steady supply of fresh local vegetables, wonderful summer fruit, warm baked bread every morning, sustainably raised meat products, a bakery full of freshly made pastries and more, local teas and lots of homemade craft items, ATL is the place to shop to support your friends and neighbors who make a living by growing food or making craft products!

pegkitchenOur first workshop featured Peg Thibbits of Harvest Market who taught 12 people how to make peach jam (and everyone took a jar of jam home)!  It was a little crowded in the kitchen, so we are asking you to pre-register here for Peg’s next workshop on making your own corn relish on Sunday, October 5.   Check out Peg’s recipe for her mixed fruit jam and her famous strawberry jam from previous workshops!

 

xiochiUMass Sustainable Food and Farming Student, Xochi Salazar, led a handmade soap workshop for our second workshop. Participants made a bar of natural soap using Native American medicine from the Kalpulli Olmeca tradition and learned about the history and science behind these practices

Future workshops are listed here:

Sustainability Sunday Workshop Schedule

In addition to providing local farmers and crafters with an opportunity to sell great local food and crafts, All Things Local is committed to sustainability education. According to Board President Bernard Brennan, the new workshop series is a continuation of their many efforts to help support Amherst residents efforts to live a more healthy and sustainable life.  He is delighted to partner with Grow Food Amherst to sponsor the educational workshop series on Sunday afternoons.

If you are interested in presenting a workshop, please contact Grow Food Amherst.

Your late fall and winter garden start today!

wintergardenOnce you’ve gotten used to fresh, homegrown food, it’s a terrible shock (financially as well as flavor-wise) to go back to buying it—even if your ambitions, like mine, stretch no further than salad fixings, herbs, and handfuls of kale for the soup pot. In warm climates, growing crops outside for much of the year is relatively straightforward, but in colder areas, things get a bit more complicated.

If you have the room and aesthetic tolerance for a plastic-wrapped structure in the backyard, building a modular greenhouse, à la organic gardening authorities Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch, is well within the capability and budget of most DIYers. But there are smaller-scale devices and strategies that work on the same principle—capturing the sun’s warmth by day and radiating it back at night—that are even easier to implement.

In The Garden Primer, Damrosch recommends that unless you live in a frost-free climate, you should have some form of protection handy in case an unexpectedly early fall cold snap threatens to do in the tomatoes and basil. A big sheet of clear plastic or even a tarp or old blanket will work—anything you can throw over a large number of plants and weight at the sides with stones if necessary. “On a still night no weighting is needed,” she adds. “In fact, it’s usually on still, clear nights that frosts occur.” Got it. She’s also had good luck with a so-called floating row cover, basically a garden blanket made of spun-bonded polyester. One popular brand is Reemay (available at numerous online sources), which allows 75 percent light transmission and provides frost protection down to 30°F.

To protect small individual plants in the ground, Damrosch uses plastic gallon jugs with the bottoms cut out—a practical if inelegant riff on traditional garden cloches. Either stick the plastic jugs into the soil around each plant, “or partially cut the bottom to make a flap, which you can anchor with a stone. If you leave the jug on during the day, be sure to unscrew the top in case it gets hot.”

For sheer versatility and dependability as a season extender, however, the cold frame wins, hands down. A cold frame is usually a bottomless wood box with an easy-open (for harvesting), adjustable (for ventilation) top made from a repurposed window, shower door, or tempered-glass patio door, but it can also be jury-rigged from straw bales, stacked bricks, or concrete blocks covered with plastic or translucent corrugated fiberglass. A cold frame should be positioned so that its transparent top is angled toward the sun; the ideal spot is next to a south-facing wall of a building, in order to maximize every bit of warmth and wind protection. For centuries, kitchen gardeners have relied on cold frames not just for raising cold-weather food crops, but also for overwintering ornamentals and herbs in pots and hardening off seedlings in the spring.

You’ll find design plans and detailed how-to info on cold frames on any number of websites and in books such as Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest and The Winter Harvest Handbook, both of which make great bedtime reading. His August 2009 piece for Vegetable Gardener magazine is full of sterling advice too; in particular, he gives a shout-out to a couple of gardening supply houses that sell ready-made cold frames, Charley’s Greenhouse & Garden ($89.95) and Peaceful Valley (from $149).

Aside from planting the right crops in a cold frame (I’ll get to that in a sec), the most important thing to remember is temperature control. The soil inside a closed cold frame heats up much faster than it does out in the open, and you don’t want to cook those vegetables before their time. “Keep the temperature below 60°F during the day by opening the frames a little,” Coleman writes in Vegetable Gardener, and although you can easily vent a cold frame manually by propping open the top, a temperature-activated ventilating arm is mighty handy. He likes the solar-powered Univent control ($49.95) from Charley’s Greenhouse & Garden because it allows you to open the top all the way.

Choosing the right crops for a cold frame is key. Among the vegetables that flourish in cold weather are arugula, brussels sprouts, carrots, chard, kale, leeks, mâche, radishes, and spinach. Check out the helpful fall and winter vegetable planting guide at Ed Hume Seeds for more details.

Equally important is sowing time. Plant carrots and leeks right now for a winter harvest; they’ll be mostly grown by the time the cold weather hits and will keep in the soil all winter long, getting sweeter and more delicious with each frost. Coleman lives in Maine, and by mid-August, he’s sowing mustard and turnip greens. In September, he sows mâche, spinach, claytonia, arugula, and mizuna, as well as radishes. “From time to time, spaces open up where a crop finally gives in to winter,” he writes, “or where I’ve harvested whole plants such as mâche. I sow seeds for new crops in these holes. Arugula, mâche, spinach, claytonia, radishes, and lettuce will germinate during the winter. If they fail, I try again. As the sun climbs higher in late winter, these seedlings are poised for rapid growth, and about the time my earlier crops are finished, the winter-sown ones are ready for harvest.” It all sounds delicious.

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If gardening and farming is more than a hobby for you, consider earning a Bachelor of Sciences degree in Sustainable Food and Farming at UMass!  Or check out one of our ONLINE classes!

Calling all kids – make a luminary jar at the Kendrick Market on Wednesday

jarMaster teacher, Ellie Figueroa and her daughter Maddalena, will have all of the supplies ready for kids to create their own luminary or happiness jar with recycled materials.  This activity reinforces concepts of sustainability (recycling), community values (gratitude, connection) and ecological responsibility (re-purposing instead of buying new).

Please bring the kids to the market for this fun afternoon activity.  For directions to the market, click here.

Wednesday, July 9

Kendrick Park, Amherst

4:00 – 5:00pm

Join Fungi Ally at the Wednesday Market!

fungi-ally-logoWednesday, August 13 at 4:00-5:00pm

Fungi Ally growers Willie Crosby and Sarah Berquist will have an interactive workshop to inform the public of fungi anatomy and explore the life cycle through hands on activities. Bring the kids for this fun and educational event at the Wednesday Amherst Farmers’ Market at Kendrick Park!

Part 1: Mushroom Show & Tell: Learn about fungi anatomy, including coloring pages of mushrooms.

Part 2: Exploring the Life Cycle: Fungi, production through decomposition!

Part 3: Grow Your Own Mushroom Patch: A hands on activity, installing a wood-chip bucket.

This event is part of a summer-long series with Grow Food Amherst at the Amherst Wednesday Market. Events happen weekly 4-5pm, come for the food, stay for the fun!

hoops

Amherst Regional Middle School students learn how to grow their own food

University of Massachusetts student Kelsey Welborn, who leads the greenhouse club at Amherst Regional Middle School, talks to Anthony DiMauro Thursday, June 12, at the school
University of Massachusetts student Kelsey Welborn, who leads the greenhouse club at Amherst Regional Middle School, talks to Anthony DiMauro Thursday, June 12, at the school.

AMHERST — Five students at the Amherst Regional Middle School have been playing in the dirt each Thursday after school as University of Massachusetts student Kelsey Welborn guides them in the planting and harvesting of all sorts of vegetables and flowers.

Welborn, 21, a rising senior majoring in sustainable food and farming in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass, started the Greenhouse Club in February. Her mother, Jennifer Welborn, teaches science at the school and Kelsey Welborn said she wanted to extend her studies to working with students in that age group.

When her mother told her that the greenhouse behind the school was never used, Kelsey Welborn jumped at the chance to start the club which has five members.

“I feel like the middle-school experience can be hard,” she said. “This club gives students something fun to do after school.”

Using organic techniques, the middle-schoolers have grown peas, spinach, cherry tomatoes, onions, basil, broccoli, rainbow chard and bib lettuce.

 As soon as students set foot into the greenhouse on Thursdays, they check their plants, and immediately start watering them if needed.

“I don’t want to impose my ideas on the students,” said Welborn. “It’s their club. I just suggest ideas.”

In fact, Welborn said, they figured out how to plant on their own. “If they had a question, I just told them to read the label and they did,” she said.

One student, Grace Lucas, 12, of Shutesbury, wanted to grow flowers, so she brought in her own seeds, planted them, and now has a patch of beautiful blooms.

Lucas said she enjoys the club. “We grow awesome, amazing plants every day, and you can eat most of the plants that you grow. It’s fun.”

The garden club has been a learning experience, not only for the students, but also for Welborn.

“This is the first time I’ve had a garden,” she said. “The kids know more than I do.”

Lucas backed that up as she explained to a visitor last week, “You need to take care of your plants. You need to make sure they’re properly weeded, identifying weeds, not pulling up good plants. You also need to water the roots, and not just the top of the leaves.”

Henry Wilhelm, 13, of Amherst, likes the fact that club members can eat what they grow.

“There’s some really tasty plants in the greenhouse,” he said. “It’s important to know which of the weeds are edible, so you can eat what you’ve spent work pulling out.”

Welborn said she hopes to maintain the garden over the summer so that it will still be there for students in the fall. Since the greenhouse is small, she is also planning to start a bigger garden outside.

If that succeeds, she is hoping the harvest can be served in the cafeteria so more students can sample it.

“Some people don’t know where their food comes from,” Welborn said. “I think it’s important for people to have a close relationship with their food.”

She added, “The kids that are in (the club) are really, really motivated. They are really proud of what they’ve done.”

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For additional news on Stockbridge School of Agriculture students working with the Amherst School system, see: http://amherstschoolgardens.com/