Archive for the 'Sustainable/Organic Farming' Category

Notes from the Seed Underground

October 17, 2012

One of the overarching themes involved in trying to write an intelligent travel book for intelligent travelers is the new focus on food: Good food, of course, but more and more “good food” means locally/regionally sourced cuisine.

The food experience has become an ever more important component of tourism, and the Georgia/South Carolina Lowcountry (especially the Charleston area) is in many ways on the leading edge of this trend. The obvious irony is that this “new” trend is really a throwback to the most tried-and-tested, old-fashioned ways of growing and preparing food, yet more proof that there’s nothing new under the sun. In this case, literally under the sun…

In this week’s Connect Savannah, the newspaper that serves as my regular job, we have an excellent piece by our Community Editor Jessica Leigh Lebos on the “new” revolution in food, with a particular focus on seed/crop conservation. Jessica interviews the great Janisse Ray, one of the most beloved authors and activists in Georgia. Janisse’s work combines a profound love and respect for the indigenous ecosystems of Georgia’s wide coastal plain with a refreshingly non-wonky approach that is at once accessible and deeply affecting.

Here’s a pic of Janisse on her farm. (Of course there’s a cow in the photo so I couldn’t resist.) This is actually how she lives, she’s not just playing a character:

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Janisse’s travels and research involve not only the vast network of marshes on the Georgia coast — estuaries of mighty rivers such as the Altamaha — but on the legacy of the ancient longleaf pine forest ecosystem that once dominated the entire southeast.

In her new book The Seed Undergroundhere’s a nifty public radio piece on it — Janisse approaches seed conservation more from the family farm angle, the concept also has a huge proponent in Charleston uber-chef Sean Brock, who runs a couple of high-profile restaurants (McCrady’s, Husk) featured in my new edition of Moon Charleston & Savannah.

The key for farm-to-table to be more than a passing fad is of course the “table” part. There has to be an immediate payoff, and in this case the payoff is the simple fact that farm-fresh, locally-sourced food simply tastes better!

Victory Feed & Seed: Local and long-lived

May 18, 2011

I want to give a shout-out to a wonderful local business in Savannah which is continuing the tradition of family ownership through good times and bad.

Victory Feed & Seed is at the intersection of Victory Drive and Bull Street — which is actually more of a five-points style intersection because of the railroad tracks which cut diagonally through it. It’s a picturesque, red-brick Main Street sort of setting for this Main Street sort of business, which has been in the local Royal family for decades.

Victory Feed & Seed at Bull & Victory in Savannah

My wife Sonja and I were there the other day, as is our occasional habit, picking up some plants for our planters at the house. (Victory Feed & Seed also sells all kinds of pet supplies, from food to flea treatments. For those plagued with less desirable critters they also have a much better selection of mouse/rat control products than Home Depot.)

Plants arrayed on the sidewalk out front

While Sonja looked around, I spoke briefly with Twyla Royal, current owner. She said the key to their success in a bad economy seemingly designed for only the largest multinational corporations to survive is to “make just enough to get by. We don’t overextend ourselves and try to get bigger and bigger. We make do with what we have and make just enough to keep it all going.”

Twyla Royal, background, watering the inventory

As testament to the long history and tight-knit family ownership of Victory Feed & Seed, there’s an impromptu memorial in concrete out front in honor of Twyla’s father William Royal, who in his elder years would while away the days at the shop seated just outside the front door, shaded by the store awning, greeting customers and passersby.

Mr. Royal passed away in October 2010 aged 81. The railroad tracks next to his store are symbolic in a way; before opening the store he worked for years as a car inspector for Seaboard Coastline.

Imprompu memorial to where Mr. Royal sat for years greeting customers

Oh, and the plants we got at Victory Feed & Seed worked out great too. While our pansies survived the harsh winter in excellent fashion — whoever decided to equate “pansy” with “weak” obviously didn’t know much about pansies — they started looking a little worse for wear with the onset of springtime heat. We decided to change them out for some new plants. Here’s the new look:

Hoof power

May 11, 2011

Awesome story in the New York Times about small farms returning to the use of draft animals to pull plows. As the story notes, there are added bonuses in addition to saving on fuel costs: The animals aerate the soil as they walk, they don’t leave ruts like wheels do, and of course free fertilizer!

Rich Ciotola with Larson, far left, and Lucas, the team of young oxen he works with in Sheffield, Mass. (photo by Jennifer May for The New York Times)

The dairy angle on the resurgence of hoof power is that this taps into the large supply of underused male livestock — required for breeding but not much else (story of our lives, fellas). This means that males are very cheap to acquire for plow use.

However, apparently mules are the best for Southern farms — they have a much higher heat tolerance.

Radical radishes

May 1, 2011

Radishes from the garden

We recently harvested our dynamic crop of radishes from the garden. I will say that they benefited enormously from the application of organic fertilizer from Victory Feed & Seed. My wife Sonja insists, however, that the fertilizer may have made the radishes a little too spicy for her taste.

Here they are with a little salt and butter. Personally I like ’em with Ricotta cheese.

Radishes with a little salt and butter, yum

‘Meaningful Milk’ for Earth Day

April 26, 2011

Nice screen capture from the CNN 'Meaningful Milk' Earth Day segment

This past Earth Day, CNN ran a shortish but very well-done segment on Country Gardens Farm and Nursery in Newnan, GA. They do organic milk and totally free range chickens — about 200 of them to be exact, which are a real hoot to watch as they peck around the place.

The takeaway here for me was the reliance on Jerseys for the delicious high butterfat content of their milk. Most dairy farms rely on the much larger Holsteins (the “Chik-Fil-A” black and white cows) because A) each Holstein cow can make an incredibly huge boatload of milk; and B) the style now is for a lower fat product.

Still, there is nothin’ like the creamy taste of good old-fashioned Jersey milk, which was the type of milk we dealt in at the old Morekis Dairy back in the day.

(Another plus for the Jerseys is they do well in the Southern heat…)

Georgia Organics 2011 in the books

March 24, 2011

Chef Matt Roher on the cover of Connect Savannah

Savannah hosted its first ever annual Georgia Organics conference a couple of weeks ago. It’s hard to overstate how important this is — the conference has been held in or around Atlanta & Athens forever (the 2012 edition will be in Columbus, signaling another good outreach effort).

Held at the Trade Center on Hutchinson Island on an absolutely perfect spring weekend, the Conference impressed me not only as a wonderful gathering place of like-minded people — a description of most conferences in most places — it was a gathering place for like-minded good people.

In a world where so many basic professions have become so compromised by mendacity and greed — banking, politics, clergy, media, law, medicine, etc. — I had an epiphany of sorts during the final event of the Conference, the so-called “Farmer’s Feast” banquet of organic food.

It occurred to me as I surveyed the crowd that there was quite possibly not a single truly negative thing said or done at this conference… quite an amazing feat when you think about it.

Organic/sustainable farming would seem, in my estimation, to be the last profession left to us that does pretty much nothing but good things.

It was great meeting some of the faces behind the food I purchase as a member of the Savannah Food Co-op, such as the folks with Southern Swiss Dairy in Waynesboro, and Savannah River Farms in Sylvania, who make those excellent all-natural sausages I love to get.

Here’s a shot at the Conference Expo of Carmen Vasquez of the Co-op, visited by Wanda Scott:

The nice lady with Dubberley’s Seafood in Vernonburg, who also sell to the Co-op, told me something I didn’t know: “organic” shrimp is allowed to contain preservatives, and sometimes you’re actually paying for added weight that is due to preservatives. She says Dubberley’s shrimp go organic one better, by literally adding nothing to the little bugs.

Deviled eggs at the Farmer's Feast

The Feast itself, also at the Trade Center, was quite a treat, as you can imagine. The starters in particular were amazing — who would have thought simple radishes with fresh ricotta could be so good? I was impressed not only by the culinary skill on display, but on the attitude of local chef Matt Roher, who runs Cha Bella and was also the organizing chef for the Farmer’s Feast.

Here’s my profile of Matt in advance of the Georgia Organics Conference. It was one of the most pleasurable interviews I’ve ever done, with someone who is clearly passionate and knowledgeable about what he does.

Chefs are a notoriously competitive lot, and it takes quite a mature, dedicated person to put aside his ego and invite so many other chefs to town, many of whom are probably better than him! Good job, Matt, and thanks for the tasty food…

Raw milk, yum

April 20, 2010

Here’s an interesting story on the raw milk movement, from New York Magazine of all places, here.

The Morekis Dairy didn’t always pasteurize its milk; those laws came about sometime after the dairy’s 1909 founding. (They say that back in the day a bottle of milk, especially from the Jersey cows, was about one-third heavy butterfat cream, floating on the top.)

When the pasteurizing laws went through, this added enormous labor time and cost to the dairy. The pasteurization equipment itself was expensive, but adding to the cost was the staff time needed to exhaustively clean and disinfect all of it — an already-difficult task made more so because of the plethora of machinery.

Here’s another interesting link, to a 1938 (!) comparison of “real” vs. pasteurized milk.