by Nicole Sanchez, NC Cooperative Extension
Did you know that about a million species of insects have been identified worldwide, but that only about 5% of them qualify as pests of humans? As is often the case in other, non-insect circles, “bad guys” get all the press. And not entirely without reason – remember bubonic plague, the disease that killed a third of Europe’s population in the 1400’s? It was transmitted by the lowly flea. Malaria, still a concern in most developing countries, is carried by certain mosquitoes.
But how much do you know about lacewings, the predaceous larvae of which resemble tiny alligators hatched from small white eggs atop long, gossamer stalks on the backs of leaves? Have you met the big-eyed bug, a once common resident of cotton fields, which eats at least 67 species of other insects, but takes only shelter and a little moisture from your plants? How about the twice-stabbed lady beetle, a smaller, lesser-known cousin of our red-with-black-spots-ladies? More than an opportunity for entomologists to express a sense of humor while naming insects, this black–with-two red-spots ladybeetle
is a voracious eater of aphids and scales in trees and has demonstrated effective control of elongated hemlock scale, a problematic introduced pest.
Welcome to the other 95%! Perhaps you were already aware of the benefits provided by our more famous beneficial insects, like honeybees and butterflies. Perhaps you were already aware that pollinators also come in beetle and fly form. Perhaps, you have at some point noticed a rove beetle or carrion beetle and appreciated that it serves the same function, on a smaller scale, that vultures do on the roadside. Or do you focus only on the 5%?
A lifelong student of horticulture, my first foray into the world of pure botany illustrates an important point when it comes to insects. Roaming the campus on a plant ID walk, my professor noticed that I was saying the Latin names of many of the plants to myself as he named them. He pointed to a broadleaf herbaceous something and asked me what it was. “Sorry,” I said, “I know a lot of ornamentals. But I don’t know weeds.” I don’t remember what plant he asked me to ID, but I clearly remember his response: “ Over on this campus, young lady, we refer to those as native plants. It’s only a weed on the Ag campus.”
Ever since, I have been careful to label plants as weeds only when they are so located as to be “troublesome plants out of place”, as per definition. Similarly, “pest” is a label often applied unfairly to our insect friends. Fast forward five years to when I was the director of a well-known butterfly conservatory, taking a call from a frustrated would-be butterfly gardener. “I’ve planted every plant the books say I should”, she said. “I’m doing everything correctly. But I can’t seem to grow a butterfly garden because these (explicative) caterpillars keep eating up all the plants!”
Was the pest the caterpillars, or the caller who did not know her insect friends well enough to recognize them in their juvenile stage?
The world of our insect friends, once discovered, is fascinating, educational, perspective-changing, and at your fingertips. To see fantastic images of your insect friends (and those not so friendly to human enterprises), spend some time on the amazing website Bugwood, where you will find insect images by category. Hint – your insect friends include, but are not limited to, predators, parasites, parasitoids, and pollinators. Don’t let the “bad guys” get all the attention!
Organic farming is a rapidly growing segment of agriculture, due to the demands of health conscious and environmentally aware consumers. The USDA now certifies organically grown produce and beef, assuring quality and consistency to the consumer in the rearing practices used on the product they are buying. The growth in organic farming has offered new niches for smaller farming operations and given new life to the individual or family farm, as opposed to the large corporate agribusiness operations.
Yet there is still a major challenge facing small scale organic farmers as well as their customers – the difficulty of bringing the product to market. Being a resident of Indiana (a state designated as being 75% rural), this particular issue hits home for me. Only those with farming operations on the outskirts of major metropolitan areas can expect to have a profitably large enough customer base for people driving out to their farms, large farmer’s markets, or fresh delivery to grocery stores to be a viable method of distribution. For the most part, the consumer will order the organic fruits, vegetables, and meat from the farm of his choosing, and the producer will be left with the task of packaging it and shipping it to the consumer in an economic manner that strives to protect the quality of the fresh product. I’m not a farmer myself, but I do volunteer at a farmer’s market in Bloomington. Sometimes it seems I spend half of my day pulling orders and preparing them for shipment. But it’s nowhere near the amount of work and organization required to ship organic meats.
Shipping service for premium quality and specialty cuts of beef has been going on for years now, and numerous shipping companies are available to adapt the same technology and techniques to shipping organic beef and other organic meat products. Most organic beef operations utilize USDA certified organic facilities to slaughter and pack their meat, and will sell either retail cuts or whole and half sides of beef. Typically the meat is vacuum sealed and frozen, then packed in dry ice and shipped overnight in an insulated container. Vacuum freezing, done properly, ensures a product that retains all of the flavor and nutrition of a fresh cut of beef. Someone must be there to receive the shipment, ensuring that it will be refrigerated immediately. Organic produce can be shipped in a fashion similar to meat, but due to its less perishable nature, insulation and shipping speed is often not as critical.
Luckily for myself and my fellow urban Hoosiers, escaping the city and going to the nearest organic farm usually requires no more than an afternoon jaunt in the car. Here in Indiana (and particularly in Bloomington), there is certainly a community of eco-conscious consumers and health enthusiasts who support and assist each other in meeting their common goals of organic consumption. But for residents of larger cities and for those who don’t own an automobile, rural farms may not be quite as accessible, making shipment of organics an appealing option. Understanding the processes and time involved to do so also helps to understand and justify the high price you may pay for such services.
by Nicole Sanchez, NC Cooperative Extension
Many readers already understand the multitude of ways diversity makes us stronger. A diverse gene pool helps us avoid birth defects and disease. A diverse workforce contains a variety of skills, perspectives, experiences, and strengths that enable an organization to respond nimbly to challenges. A home garden with a diversity of plants and flowers is rarely wiped out by an insect or disease problem. Tennessee hosts a diverse selection of agricultural enterprises from poultry to mushrooms to nursery crops, fueling a robust agricultural industry in the state.
On the farm, diversity means many things. Farmers diversify crops so a single loss does not have to mean a loss of the farm, and because markets, products, and demand all change with time. Prudent, forward-thinking pest managers rely on a diversity of tactics rather than repeated applications of the same type of chemical, so that insects and diseases don’t develop resistance and render that chemical ineffective. Some farmers seek crop diversity to exit high input, high volume, high-cost production systems, associated with many field crops, which have become known as “technology treadmills.”
North Carolina, once home to tobacco, tobacco, and more tobacco, is becoming increasingly more diverse in both types of crops being produced and methods used to produce them. While no one crop has come close to attaining the economic importance of tobacco, a variety of crops are edging their way into the void. As this trend continues, the region, and its economy, will be strengthened by its ability to satisfy continually growing demands for safe, fresh, affordable foods.
Foods produced via large-scale methods are rapidly becoming more expensive, primarily because of increased fossil fuel costs. Transporting produce hundreds or thousands of miles is becoming cost prohibitive. In many cases, the energy used to produce and transport our foods far exceeds the energy actually provided by the food. Trends in agriculture are currently on a pendulum swing back to earlier practices – small farms with multiple crops, more intensively managed, selling to local and niche markets.
This diversification trend is of great importance, for different reasons to different audiences. For growers, small and medium enterprises are forced to diversify, find niches, and try unusual methods or crops in order to compete with large- scale agriculture. Variety and rotation of crops are associated with suppression of some types of plant pests and diseases. Direct selling produce to local consumers enables growers to retain a much larger portion of the produce dollar (80-90%, compared with about 9% for produce sold at big chains).
For consumers, increased variety and quality of locally sourced food, more readily accessible, is one result of diversification. Produce steadily loses flavor and nutrient content once harvested; produce that travels long distance to our tables is less flavorful and contains fewer nutrients, further tipping the energy equation in the wrong direction. For the environmentally minded, access to a variety of locally grown products provides an expanded food palette without an expanded carbon footprint.
When we consider all of today’s social and economic issues, it can be difficult to identify ways that we as individuals can make a difference. We want to conserve fossil fuels, have safe food, reduce our carbon footprint, live more healthily, support local economies. That is a pretty tall order! But one individual CAN make a difference in all these areas. Support local foods whenever possible or appropriate. Celebrate the seasons by enjoying the fruits and vegetables produced in your own geographic region, when they are in season. Agricultural diversity is a trend to be embraced!
from John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, 1952
I don’t know how it will be in the years to come. There are monstrous changes taking place in the world, forces shaping a future whose face we do not know. Some of these forces seem evil to us, perhaps not in themselves but because their tendency is to eliminate other things we hold good. It is true that two men can lift a bigger stone than one man. A group can build automobiles quicker and better than one man, and bread from a huge factory is cheaper and more uniform. When our food and clothing and housing all are born in the complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking and to eliminate all other thinking. In our time mass or collective production has entered our economics, our politics, and even our religion, so that some nations have substituted the idea collective for the idea god. This in my time is the danger. There is great tension in the world, tension toward a breaking point, and men are unhappy and confused.
At such a time it seems natural and good to me to ask myself these questions. What do I believe in? What must I fight for and what must I fight against?
Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man. Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man.
And now the forces marshaled around the concept of the group have declared a war of extermination on that preciousness, the mind of man. By disparagement, by starvation, by repressions, forced direction, and the stunning hammerblows of conditioning, the free, roving mind is being pursued, roped, blunted, drugged. It is a sad suicidal course our species seems to have taken.
And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: Any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that is one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost.
by Nicole Sanchez, NC Cooperative Extension
In a recent post I asked readers to describe the barriers to eating local foods that they encounter. I really appreciate the responses! The barriers mentioned were all things that I was aware of and am thinking about (or attempting to implement) solutions for, but it was so helpful to hear these issues in the words of consumers! I am hopeful that sharing your words with the growers will help them see things with a different perspective.
One suggestion addressed several times was the need for a web presence. This can be a tough nut to crack – even many of the younger farmers who recognize the value of the internet and use it themselves, have a hard time finding time maintaining, developing, and updating a web site. Other, older growers may have difficulty understanding how a web presence may benefit them, or be unsure of where to get started. And during the growing season when they are working sunup to sundown and beyond, even the most computer-savvy grower is going to postpone website maintenance in favor of eating or sleeping.
Despite this, local foods do have a presence on the internet! North Carolina has multiple web sites that can help you find local foods in your area. Below, I have identified and briefly described several of the sites that you can use to locate local foods. Of course, you already know that you can also find information about local foods right here at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association site. However, I find that most growers only put their information on one or two sites, at most. I sure wish I had a web-savvy intern (or an endless supply of hours in the day) to help our growers be more consistent and active in promoting themselves on the web. Until then, please use the sites below. And, let the growers know you found out about them on the web, so they can better understand the value of this promotional tool to their enterprises.
NC Farm Fresh lists farms, farmers’ markets and roadside
stands by county, including maps and directions for many locations, with descriptions of the produce and season of availability.
Eat Well Guide/ Food Routes.org allows you to search by city, zip, or the product you are looking for. You can also check a trip route to search for local foods as you travel. Focus on organic and sustainable foods.
Local Harvest is searchable by product or location and includes produce, meats, CSA’s, farm stores, and online stores.
NC 10% includes links to multiple sites for
finding local foods and a place for individuals to commit to spending 10% of their food dollars on local produce.
Feast Down East Partnership provides access to listings of CSA and farmers markets, while also focusing on restaurants that promote local foods.
Green People provides search engines for CSA, vegan, organic, kosher, and health foods. Farmer’s market listing leads to the USDA page.
Real Time Farms. So far, this site does not include any NC growers. (I hope to change that!) The site is a good resource for those trying to better understand food sources.
Southern Living Travel lists farm stands and markets; great for when you are traveling to another area.
I hope that this list will help some of you connect with additional local growers in your area. I am including this list of web sites in my current newsletter sent to growers in the five counties I work in as an extension agent, suggesting that growers participate in as many of the sites as appropriate for their firms. If you find a new resource using one of these sites, please let the grower know how you found him!
by Kaynan Goldberg
No, that isn’t some hesitant farmers’ market cheer – it’s what my baby brother says every Saturday, before we go to the market. He walks up holding his little sneakers in his pudgy baby hands, looks up at my mom with his big, blue eyes, and asks, “Go farmer?”
Last week, after the market, I went outside and took pictures of the produce we had bought for our family of six. I put the veggies in a big basket to take a couple pictures, and then played with the camera – one of my favorite things to do. Then I started wondering – do we save money by shopping locally, or do we just like the benefits of market-fresh food? My mom and I went to our all-natural grocery store (I won’t name names here) to compare the prices.
2 pints of local strawberries: $7.00 – Market price
2 pints of certified organic strawberries: $6.98 – Store price
2 local red peppers (1.5 lb. total): $3.75 – Market price
2 organic red peppers (1.5 lb. total): $7.48 – Store price
One local yellow pepper (~1/2 lb.): $1.25 – Market price
One organic yellow pepper (1/2 lb.): $2.99 – Store price
Two heads of local lettuce: $4.00 – Market price
2 bags (they didn’t have fresh heads of lettuce at the store) of organic lettuce: $4.98 – Store price
One bunch of radishes from the market: $1.50 – Market price
One bunch of organic radishes from CA: $2.49 – Store price
Oh, and the broccoli hiding under the radishes: $4.00 – Market price
Organic broccoli from California: $7.00 – Store price
1 bunch of six small beets (plus greens!) from the market: $2.00 – Market price
6 loose beets from CA (no greens): $1.99 – Store price
2 1/2 lb. of local squash and zucchini: $3.75 – Market price
2 1/2 lb. of organic squash and zucchini: $7.49 – Store price
Market total: $27.25
Store total: $41.40
Market total: $27.25
It costs almost fifteen dollars more to buy all these veggies (yes, I know that strawberries are fruits, but cut me some slack) at the grocery store, and don’t even get me started on food miles. Sure, the veggies from the store are certified organic, but I’ve been to the local farms and I know they’re pesticide-free. So I’ll keep my fifteen dollars, thank you. I have a movie I want to go see.
One basket of farm-fresh veggies: Priceless.
by Tiffany Griffin
So, I have a confession to make. But before I publicly lay one of my dirty little secrets out there publicly, I have a few requests.
1. Please do not laugh.
2. Please do not judge me.
3. Please do not write into CFSA asking for my “blogger card” to be taken away.
4. And please, whatever you do, do not stop reading after you read what my confession is. You have to read the entire post to really understand why you shouldn’t laugh, judge me, or ask CFSA to take my blogger card away. Ok, do you promise? Are you ready? Have you braced yourself? Do you want me to stop asking questions and just tell this secret for goodness sake? Ok… here it is.
I had never planted anything until this past weekend. There. I said it. I know what you’re thinking, “You’re writing for the Carolina FARM Stewardship Association blog and you had never planted anything before this past weekend?!?!?!??!” But remember now, you promised (see 1-4 above…).
In previous posts, I’ve talked about being from Massachusetts, but that’s not the reason I had never planted anything. There are tons of farms and gardens in New England, so that’s no excuse. And actually my mom’s side of the family migrated north from Alabama; they were farmers. My dad’s side of the family migrated from Georgia. And yes, you’ve guessed it–they were farmers, too. But in the Great Migration, my family left their lives as Southern sharecroppers to become Northern factory workers. After that migration, it took a mere generation for our family to lose touch with the skills that so many people in my generation are cultivating (and re-cultivating) today. Skills like organic farming, canning and preserving, growing livestock, making mulch and compost, salting and smoking meat, and preparing homemade bread, cheese, and other essentials.
This past Saturday, serendipity–a force that has become my great friend as of late–tapped on my shoulder with an opportunity that I now feel has forever changed my relationship with Mother Earth. My friend Kifu of Greenspace Initiative, LLC called with a random question. I was working (yes on a Saturday), but wanted to play outside. Kifu mentioned that she would be planting tomatoes later in the day. I asked if she wanted company. She said, ‘Yes!” And the rest is history.
We met at a community garden space in Durham and in just a few hours, I learned the basics of planting in raised beds. We were only at the garden space for a few minutes when I felt the need to confess to Kifu. “I’ve never planted anything,” I said. Rather than shun me, Kifu got excited and turned our tomato-planting excursion into a pedagogical trip! Every step of the process was equipped with thorough explanation and excitement. After shoveling dirt into a wheelbarrow (no easy task!), building the raised bed, soaking the tomato plants, and aerating the soil, we were ready to get our hands in soil. We said a few words before digging the first hole and then we were off.
To my surprise, as ants crawled on my hand, I wasn’t afraid. And as bees flew by, I didn’t shoo them away. The territorial lines I had created between me and the garden inhabitants began to dissipate. My breathing was calm, the sun felt sweet on my back, and my mind wandered.
“How ironic,” I thought to myself. “How ironic that just two generations ago, my family fled the south to create opportunities for me so that I would never have to have my hands in the soil. And here I am, in the south, grateful to have my hands in the soil.” Oh, I know. The times are completely different–the laws are different, the social conditions are somewhat different, the nature of food is definitely different, but in some ways, in some very spiritual, beautifully paradoxical ways, things have come full circle. And I believe I am a better person for it.
What’s next?!? Well, Kifu offered to teach me the double dig method of planting, which I totally am going to take her up on. I also discovered that Stone Circles in Mebane, NC has a community planting day every 4th Thursday, which I plan to attend. Also, although I usually cook in the kitchen with the teens at SEEDS when I volunteer there, I am going to request to also volunteer in the garden.
Finally, I am going to go back to the source of all of our farming wisdom–the elders. I am lucky that both of my grandmothers and great-grandmothers are alive. This July, I have planned a trip back to Massachusetts to plant with all of them. I am so excited, I am counting down the days to this trip! So, although I had never planted anything before Saturday, I have no doubts whatsoever, that my future posts on the CFSA blog will consist of my future struggles and triumphs in the dirt!
I’ve always liked the idea of total utilization of natural resources. As a young girl, I marveled at the genius with which the Plains Indians hunted and utilized buffalo – using fur for clothing, meat for food, horns for cups, skulls for ceremonies, hooves for glue, bones for tools and weapons, muscles for thread, and even stomachs for carrying liquids. Early in my life, I latched on to recycling. But now, as a young adult, I am much more aware of the potential to be environmentally conscious that goes beyond recycling. In my quest to do exactly that (by way of an online coupon), I discovered the art of vermicomposting.
Essentially, vermicomposting is the equivalent of creating a small, contained (and much-less-stinky) composting pile in a small space. Proper ventilation and housing of waste eliminate the stench commonly associated with composting. As a result, vermicomposting is ideal for city dwellers looking to take their greening efforts to the next level. Resources needed to create your own mini-compost pile are limited and easy to obtain: a box, the right type of bedding (cardboard, newspaper, or peat moss), some soil, and moisture. Oh yea. And red worms.
Yes, worms. They’re the essential ingredient. They eat the table scraps given to them and produce nutrient-rich “castings” a.k.a. worm poop. Due to the design of the vermicomposting system, the castings can be harvested and used to make household plants extra resilient. You reuse your food scraps, your wormy pets eat like kings, and your flowers are full and brilliant. Everybody wins!
There are a lot of different options for a worm house if you’re considering starting a vermicomposting system. You can buy containers made for exactly that, or you can save a lot of money and make your own. I had the most luck with the design presented in Worms Eat My Garbage wherein the reader is taught to create multiple levels within the same box. The castings fall into a collection receptacle as the worms do their job and work through each level of dirt. NOTE: This method also minimizes hand-to-worm contact, for those who get squirmy at the thought of handling the creepy crawlers.
Once I started my quest for vermicomposting utopia, I quickly realized I generate anywhere between two and three pounds of food scrap waste each week! It was a great feeling to finally have a way to put to use all of the vegetables, grapefruits, orange rinds, apple peels, lettuce and cabbage, celery ends, spoiled food from the refrigerator, coffee grounds, tea bags, and egg shells I was throwing in the trash.
by Julia Mangan
Tomato season is approaching fast! Here’s a sneak peak of what we all have to look forward to!
Last summer we joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), which means we enjoyed some wonderful local, organic seasonal produce all summer long. I had fingerling potatoes as well as blue potatoes for the first time and found myself getting creative with ways to use turnips.
When we acquired a ton of delicious tomatoes in different varieties, I excitedly started brainstorming ways to use them up. I had always wanted to make homemade fresh tomato sauce, so I perused the internet and found there are 3 basic types of sauce (although leave me a comment if I am wrong!). The first is the long simmering variety, the second is the barely-cooked and the third is uncooked. I decided to go with the barely-cooked.
I used another blogger’s delicious sauce recipe, and I was not disappointed. The recipe says it can be done in 15 minutes but, well, I’m extremely slow and in no way was I done in 15 minutes. I would definitely make this recipe again. It had a very fresh, summery taste and was perfectly easy for a first time homemade sauce maker like myself. I plan on trying a long simmering sauce next.
I still had plenty of tomatoes left so I tackled homemade salsa next. My mom came over and we started adding ingredients to the food processor, not really knowing what we were doing. We made a peach and mango salsa along with a regular salsa. We threw in some other CSA veggies like jalapeños and onions (yellow and white) along with a bunch of other stuff. Lemon and lime juice, peaches, honey mango, green and red onions, green bell pepper, garlic, honey, olive oil, white vinegar and sherry cooking wine were all thrown in to one or both of the salsas. We were pleased with the results!
We also enjoyed our tomatoes in tomato basil quiche, tomato pie and bruschetta.
What are your favorite tomato recipes?