Late season for blueberries in Eugene area

August 9, 2008 § 9 Comments

So last month when we went to pick cherries at Detering’s Orchard we had intended to Adkins Farms blueberry bucketsalso gather our season’s supply of blueberries. But the late warmth stunted the blueberry crop and when we inspected the bushes available for u-pick there were more green than blue berries. After a few busy weekends recently, we finally had a chance to head out and get our blueberries today.

I drive by River Bend Farms on Highway 58 frequently, and saw their sign advertising blueberries, but I wasn’t sure if they offered u-pick. So I called them this morning (phone: 520-2561) and Annette informed me that while they don’t offer u-pick berries, she could recommend a few nearby farms to check out: McKenzie River Organics, Adkins Farm, and Blondie’s Blooms.

McKenzie River Organics is near Leaburg (Past mile-post 23 on Highway 126, on right. Open 9-6. 896-3928), and that seemed to be a bit too far of a drive, so we opted A morning rain-soaked rose at Blondie's Blooms to check out Blondie’s or Adkins. We searched for a phone number for Adkins and couldn’t find a single reference to the farm, but we figured there would be signage along Seavey Loop (Note: I later found a classified ad in the Register Guard, and Adkins’ phone is 579-5431). Blondie’s is along Cloverdale Road between Pleasant Hill and Creswell. Because of a missed exit at 30th St. on I-5, we decided to first go ahead and check out Blondie’s, which Annette had reported had young berry bushes. We arrived at the nursery and blueberry farm and walked around and inspected the plants (mature nursery stock) and bushes, and even had the chance to listen to the fake predatory bird call. But after 26 minutes with no person in sight, we got in the car and drove over to Adkins (we later saw Blondie hocking her berries at the Saturday Farmer’s Market — so it’s possible that while she left the nursery in the hands of her family, they didn’t take their customer-service role seriously).

We got back in the car and headed west on 58 to Seavey Loop. We immediately saw a little white sign on a telephone pole advertising Adkins Farms blueberries, and we drove along until we saw the sign point to the right down a gravel road (coming from the other direction you would drive straight instead of following Seavey Loop road around a sharp right-hand turn). We drove slowly down the narrow road, passing a couple of philbert and apple orchards, and a small newly planted vineyard. At the end of the road is Adkins Farm, with raspberries, blueberries, and apples. ( 8-5 M-Sat. 579-5431). The farm is a Blueberries at Adkins Farmpicturesque spot, with neatly mowed grass under the apple trees, a picnic table, and straight long rows of mature blueberry bushes. We followed the signs to the u-pick parking near the shed and checked in and got our buckets for picking.

I was directed to take note of an interesting paper wasp nest that had formed on a birdhouse on an oak tree (they observed my camera), and then we were off to pick. The berries were $1.50/lb, and we filled our buckets a little over 3/4 full each and walked away after about forty minutes with $9.50 in berries. We will be rinsing them and freezing some for later and using the rest in some pancakes and perhaps, if boyfriend is lucky, a pie.Paper wasp nest on oak tree and birdhouse at Adkins Farm

The blueberries should remain available for picking at local farms through the end of August. Also, if you go to Adkins, bring a container to take home your fruit in — they just provide the buckets for picking and a scale to weigh them, but no carry-home containers.

Lane County U-pick Blueberry Resources:

As we were searching for a phone number for River Bend Farms we came across this handy list of Oregon roadside farm stands which is a great resource for these kinds of local food excursions!

The Oregon Blueberry Commission provides a listing of member farms in Lane County (and other counties), but it is incomplete. They also provide some interesting blueberry recipes.

Adkins Heritage Farm, Seavey Loop Road (follow the signs); 8-5 M-Sat. 579-5431

The Berry Patch Farm near Leaburg, no spray, open M-Sat, 8-6

McKenzie River Organics, near Leaburg (Past mile-post 23 on Highway 126, on right); open 9-6, 896-3928

Some good friends of mine recommend Green-Hill-Aire’s Organic u-pick operation that is close to Eugene (28794 Hillaire Street); 688-8276. I called, they are going to be open 8/16 and 8/17 from 8-6; but they’ve been closed for two weeks because they had been picked out. Call for availability.

Miller’s in Springfield on Camp Creek Road is also organic; Mon 8-7 Tues-Sat 8-5. 746-1760

Bear Fruit: Mon.-Sat., 9-5 Harrisburg – follow signs. 995-3445

Greenbrier Farm: 83524 Rattlesnake Rd. , Pleasant Hill

Cherry picking at Detering’s

July 17, 2008 § 4 Comments

Royal Anne Cherries at Detering Orchard, Harrisburg, OR

Royal Anne cherries at Detering Orchards

On Monday we decided that we had better get our annual u-pick cherry escapade done with as the following two weeks are pretty packed with other activities. We drove out on the scenic route through Coburg to Detering’s.

As I stepped out of the car, I noticed a familiar face of a fellow food-lover, Eugenia who wondered aloud how I may have recognized her (the photo on her blog helped).  We had a quick chat, and then my boyfriend and I grabbed our buckets and headed out to the glorious cherry trees.

We decided we really only needed to pick one bucket this year as we still had about five bags of cherries from last year (I can hardly believe it). We prefer the black sweet cherries to the more tart (but still sweet) Royal Anne’s that were also available. We made pretty quick work of the picking — not so quick that we didn’t get to enjoy consuming some of the deliciousness. But the 95 degree temperatures made the experience moderately less pleasant than a crisp morning might offer.

Black sweet cherries at Detering Orchards

Black sweet cherries at Detering Orchards

We drove home and got to the fun part that is cherry pitting. With our special pitting device we set up newspapers on the floor and furniture. We put a plastic garbage sack in a paper bag that we would pit the cherries over. Then we washed the fruit and began the manual labor of pitting each cherry, tossing the pit into the plastic bag and putting the fruit in a big stainless bowl. We divvied up the labor because a few years ago I committed to pitting about 20 lbs of cherries all by myself and I got tendonitis in my wrist from the repetitive motion — beware the hazards of cherry pitting!

Once the batch was pitted, we got out the zippered freezer bags and filled them up and put them in the freezer. When I have a delicious black-cherry smoothie in December, I’ll be glad I made the effort and happily forget about how sticky the entire experience was.

Detering’s is open from 8 – 5 daily, and if you don’t want to venture out to pick your own fruit, their farmstand offers the available fruit plus some additional products that aren’t currently ripe. The u-pick cherries and blueberries are available currently for $1.25/lb (I believe that’s a bit up from last year when I’m pretty sure the price was less than $1/lb). We picked up a large basket of peaches that were not from the orchard (although, they were about to begin picking the peaches near the blueberry patch). We attempted to u-pick some blueberries to round out our freezer stores, but the bushes weren’t very ripe yet so we determined that we’d have to wait a couple of weeks for a more prime time to pick. Visit their website for an update on what is available for u-pick throughout the summer and fall.

Any time you go to a u-pick orchard it is advisable to bring a cooler with ice or at least a box to put your fruit in. Not all farms provide containers for you to take home your fruit in, so it’s a good idea to come prepared.

Is eating local more ethical?

July 7, 2008 § 1 Comment

Is eating local more ethical? Well, we think so. Animal, Vegetable, MiracleIn fact, that’s why we want to share the “gospel” with others and encourage people to think of eating a bit differently. Where our food comes from has burgeoned in the public consciousness with the Salmonella outbreak, and it has been a repeated theme in media outlets. As I was making a stir-fry last night (from reading my posts you might think that’s all we eat around here… but it’s coincidence, I assure you) I was listening to The Ethics of Eating on Speaking of Faith, an American Public Media radio show.

The host, Krista Tippett, interviewed Barbara Kingsolver — who inspired this blog. The longer, unedited interview is available, but the broadcast version is worth a listen — especially while you prepare a meal for your household.

One point that Kingsolver brought up that seems to be the crux of the problem is that we have become so disconnected with food that we take it for granted. Just two generations ago, eating local and eating seasonal was what everyone did, and had been doing, since the beginning of humankind. But with the advent of the internal combustion engine, domestic highway system, and international shipping infrastructure, our food now can be shipped around the globe and when most people walk into the supermarket they don’t think for a second about where the banana in their cart came from.

One of the goals of this blog is to help people get past the basic difficulty of being a localvore (a term that is new and strange in its inherent meaning — almost as if it is an elite activity vs a means of survival). Simply, eating seasonally requires a different thought process for meal planning and shopping. Instead of thinking of what sounds really great to make for dinner, instead you have to think about what is in season, and what you can make from that. This requires a bit of connectedness to the food seasons in the area you live, and a bit of self-restraint. What we are striving for with this blog is to provide ideas for what you can eat that is local and seasonal, and inspire you to really actively think about it when you shop and plan your meals. Once you gain the active awareness you might take some baby-steps and put down the watermelon that looks tasty but was imported from South America, or hold off on the water chestnuts for your stir fry. But each little step is a step in the right ethical direction.

Luckily for us. because we are in the Willamette Valley, we are privileged to have a bounty of local food available for a relatively long time. A good way to get an idea of what is in season and what is local is to go to the various farmer’s markets in our community and simply find out what’s for sale. Also, while you can’t get fresh berries in the winter here, you can freeze or can them, and have good, nutritious fruit year-round. All of this requires some extra planning and some time-consuming activities during the productive harvest months. Just last weekend my friend put up quarts of freezer-jam that will nourish her for breakfast through the winter. To her it was one night well-spent prepping her berries and putting them up (she went to bed when she ran out of sugar).

Kingsolver also discussed the attitude we have toward food prep. We’re “too busy” to cook for our families in the United States. But Kingsolver pointed out that in many European cities, cooking is so much a part of the culture that it is not seen as a time-taker, but as part of living. Even CEO’s head to the local market after work to pick out the ingredients for dinner every night after work. So if you think time is what’s stopping you, it may be helpful to think about how people live in other parts of the world and evaluate how you live and what you would have to give up, and also what you would gain.

Half of the shitakes sold in the US are from China

July 2, 2008 § Leave a comment

Did you know that half of the shitake mushrooms sold in the US are imported from China? I didn’t, not at least until I heard this story on NPR’s Morning Edition. The mushrooms sit in a cargo ship for two to three weeks before arriving at a wholesale market in San Francisco, CA, and then get distributed down the chain to restaurants and grocery stores.

In Eugene, we have the privilege of being able to buy our Shitakes at the Lane County Farmer’s Market every week. And when it comes to a product that often sells for $12/lb, maybe Shitakes that aren’t local are something you can forgo entirely.

The NPR story was inspired by the recent outbreak of Salmonella that was thought to be linked to tomatoes, but which now seems a bit harder to pin down. This national news has made more people try to be more aware of where their food comes from. The FDA website on the outbreak featured a list of “safe states” from which tomatoes that had not been linked to the outbreak could be procured. This information then led consumers to wonder how they could know what state the tomato on their store shelves had come from.

Locally, PC Market of Choice lists the local farm that they source their local produce from. I bought a bag of mixed lettuce last week ($6.99/lb) that PC buys from Hey Bayles! farm. As I have previously mentioned, Red Barn Natural Grocery in the Whiteaker also sells local produce when available. Sundance Natural Foods carries local produce as well, within a quick bike ride to most residents of South Eugene. I don’t make it into The Kiva that often, but for those who are frequently downtown, it also carries local products when available.

It’s great to be in a location with such a great variety of choices for local food!

Event Announcement:
I just found out about this yesterday, but tonight, I’ll be headed over to the Laurel Valley Educational Farm at the Northwest Youth Corps headquarters in Southeast Eugene (map). The folks from Slow Food Eugene are hosting a Potluck at 5 PM.

Saving endangered food

June 30, 2008 § 1 Comment

Last night I was happily making a stir-fry (using fresh snap peas and chard from my garden, as well as frozen carrots from last year along with some non-local additions…) and I was listening to the Splendid Table on my “local” NPR affiliate, KOPB.

Toward the end of the show, Lynne interviewed Gary Nabhan on the “RAFT” movement. RAFT is short for Renewing America’s Food Traditions, which is also the title of Nabhan’s book. If you visit the Splendid Table Website this week you can scroll to the “Heard on the Show” section and click on the word RAFT to hear the interview.

I hadn’t heard of this project before, and it sounds like something that a lot of foodies would be interested in.

Economics of home-grown veggies

June 9, 2008 § 2 Comments

I heard a story repeated on KOPB this past week about home gardens, and how the resurgence in backyard gardens is occurring in the Pacific Northwest in response to the world food crisis, as well as the higher cost of food at grocery stores.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about this phenomenon, and featured a couple of different families partaking in a “Victory Garden” endeavor: The Vegetable Patch Takes Root.

Following these stories, today, I read a blog from Huffington Post contributor Laura Vanderkam, entitled “The Case Against the Victory Garden.” Vanderkam has been writing about the new “home economy” and has taken the examples given in the WSJ article and conducted her own economic critique of home-grown vegetables. She argues that time is money, and that your backyard garden may not be a financial boon when the amount of time to tend the plot is considered. Vanderkam says:

“In Barbara Kingsolver’s best-selling memoir, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, she calculated that the value of the vegetables, chickens and turkeys her family harvested during a year of labor on their small farm was $4,410. That’s a fair chunk of change. But it comes out to $85 a week – including meat. If a part-time farm contributes $85 a week in meat and produce, it’s unlikely that a 10-by-12-foot vegetable patch is going to produce more than $25 of weekly savings. At 10 hours a week, that comes out to less than minimum wage – which explains why gardening remains a hobby for most people.”

I agree with the premise: Time is money. And scale is important — a small plot may not produce enough food to really be a financial help to a family, but as plots size is scaled up so is productivity, and thus the dollar value of the food produced.

One of the figures cited in the WSJ article and Vanderkam’s post, was that it takes about 10 man hours for a 10 x 12 foot plot. My thought is that seems incredibly high. I usually tend my garden, a 15 x 30 foot plot two to three times per week for no more than two hours each time. Once the garden is in, this is reduced to 30-minute visits and an occasional intense-weeding session of about 1-hour. If I was an ultra-busy mother with children to tend to, this would be more inconvenient, certainly. But at this point the alternative activities I would be participating in could hardly be considered “work,” (like watching TV or reading blogs). But as a result of this article, I will try to more accurately track the amount of time we spend on our plot and try to provide an economics perspective on the value of produce harvested.

Let me know if you have anything to share on this economics front. I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who has started gardening for economics reasons, or anyone who stopped growing their own produce because of the amount of time and relatively small proceeds from a home-garden.


Chicken butchering day, May 2008

May 31, 2008 § 4 Comments

For the past three years, I have been involved in an annual celebration of homegrown poultry. It started out as a homeschool lesson — “Know where your meat comes from” was the central idea. Truly, I believe it is a good idea to teach children where there food comes from. Whether it grows out of the dirt or it comes from an animal whose life is sacrificed for your sustenance, it’s an important to have full awareness of what we put in our bodies. It’s such a basic fundamental part of our lives, but so many are really separated from their food — buying things in cardboard and plastic and not thinking twice about how or where it was grown or raised.

I grew up on a family farm, working in my mom’s organic market garden, mucking my pony’s stall, catchingButchered chickens lambs to dock their tails and vaccinate them, or doing a myriad of other farm activities. My parents butchered our own sheep, and mom regularly butchered a rabbit for dinner. We didn’t butcher chicken too often though, but I recall that when I was really young we butchered some chickens.

Photo to right: Chickens hanging to drain out blood. If blood pools in meat it causes bruising.

The downside of butchering a chicken and putting eating it in the same day is that chickens take quite a bit of effort to process. This is what my friend’s discovered as well, and thus they have turned it into a single-day even in which 30 chickens are butchered, and processed into breasts, wings, thighs and drumsticks and frozen for use throughout the year. In exchange for my “master” plucking skills, they raise two extras for me to take home.

So the first step is raising the chickens. My friends buy Cornish cross, which is the typical meat breed of chicken that has been bred to grow faster and bigger than chickens that are more traditionally used for egg production. They pick up the chicks in March, and make sure the calendar is open six weeks later for butchering, because that’s the total amount of time needed to raise up these fast-growing birds before butchering. [Here’s a good “How to” site for raising chicks].

______________________________________________________Hot water dip for chickens
Photo to right: Chicken carcasses dipped in hot water to loosen feathers for plucking.

On butchering day we prepare a garbage pail of boiling temperature water (by adjusting the hot water heater that morning for ease of getting about 40 gallons hot quickly). The chickens are gathered from the pen and walked across the yard (away from the sight of the other chickens) and they are thanked by the family, and then with a swift motion their bodies are dropped and the head twisted for a quick snapping of their necks. Next, their heads are cut off with a knife and they are hung upside down to bleed out. Once we have about 15 of them on the hanger, we begin to pull the first ones off that are drained, and dip them in the garbage pail of HOT water, which relaxes the tissues and loosens the feathers prior to plucking.

Next, we settle down to plucking. The best part of this job is the cold beer that you can enjoy while doing the plucking. Other than that, it’s not really “fun,” but the better job you do, the less complaining you’ll hear from your spouse or children about the feathers in their food. I take pride in the thorough plucking of a chicken, it’s one of those little “accomplishments” in life. Kind of like seeing a garden full of lucious produce, or seeing the sparkle on a clean countertop.Plucking a chicken

Photo to right: Pulling the feathers against the direction that they are laying in is the fastest method of removal. I tend to drag my thumb across the skin to aid in rubbing the base of the feather out of the skin.

The other option to plucking, is skinning the chickens. My friends don’t do this because skinned chicken is more prone to freezer-burn, and their kids are at an age when they can stand to get some more fat in their diets and the kids love the taste of the crispy cooked chicken skin.

After plucking is complete, the chickens are gutted and then placed in another trash can full of ice water. Once all the chickens are in the ice-bath, it’s time for cutting them up into bags of “Mixed grill,” breasts, thighs, drumsticks, wings, and putting in the large upright freezer in the garage. My friends also track the number of each package that they put in the freezer for quick reference in the kitchen. We took our birds home whole and in a vaccuum sealed bag. They’re ready for beer-butt barbeque chicken or a nice baked chicken dinner.

We actually did all of this on the weekend of May 17th, but I was slow on downloading the photos. And, I think it’s important to mention that this was done out of the official city limits of Eugene, but in a neighborhood. If your neighbors can see into your yard, it’s a good idea to notify them before you butcher 30 chickens.

For a little humor, I’ll share why I mention this.

This year, the new neighbors at my friend’s house weren’t notified because they hadn’t been home much recently. So, on the day we were there they had simultaneously planned a work-party on their garden. They were making use of the local high school softball team’s strength — about seven 15 year-old girls. The girls were preparing the vegetable beds, and we started walking across the yard with chickens under our arms. One girl was running a rototiller in the bed and she just stopped, and stared at the chicken and didn’t look at the rototiller, didn’t move her arms, didn’t stop it from tilling… just kept on tilling with mouth agape.

Then, she yelled over her shoulder: “Dad!!! They’re butchering chickens in their backyard!”


Food and Medicine Culture at the Neighborhood Level

May 15, 2008 § 3 Comments

On Tuesday night I came home to find a flyer on my front porch from the Whiteaker Community Council announcing a special presentation at their May general meeting: “Food and Medicine Culture at the Neighborhood Level.” The speakers were Charlotte Anthony of the Victory Gardens Project, and Tobias Policha and Nick Routledge, co-Founders of the Food Not Lawns collective. With the relevant topic being presented, I attended my first Whiteaker Community Council meeting (after living in the Whit for five years).

A couple of upcoming events were announced in the general meeting including, “Eat Here Now,” at the First United Methodist Church on Saturday May 17th from 6:30-9:00 PM. Cost is $5, and it’s a potluck. The other announced event for this month is Perma Jam II (directions at link) on Saturday, May 24th from noon to 4:00 PM. Cost is $10, and bike commuting to the event is encouraged.

Victory Gardens Seeing Success

Charlotte Anthony shared the success of the Victory Gardens project in Eugene and surrounding areas, with 75 gardens established within Eugene proper thus far.

“We want to help anybody put a garden in,” she explained. For a $50 donation to the group, the Victory Garden team will help you dig up your lawn and turn it into a productive garden space, and soil is not a problem.

“We are seeing amazing results from microbes in clay,” said Anthony. The group uses effective microorganisms (EM) to inoculate the soil which causes mycorrhizal fungi to attach to roots and these “till” the soil, making the soil nutrients in the clay available for plants.

And if the thought of digging up your yard and planting things seems overwhelming, that’s exactly what the Victory Gardens team is prepared to help you overcome. They bring in a team of teens from Network Charter School to help dig up the yard, and then provide a mentor that can help you determine what to plant, when to water, and how to keep your garden productive.

Their web site provides gardening tips and tricks to help anyone interested in gardening along the way. With the potential closing of the Lane County OSU Extension Office due to lack of Federal timber revenue and associated county funding for the agency, the Victory Gardens team is looking at the possibility of filing the void that the loss of the Master Gardener’s program would cause.

Food Not Lawns

Nick Routledge shared his enthusiasm and passion for growing locally-adapted seasonal foods. After starting the Food Not Lawns Collective, Routledge has been a suburban farmer in the Eugene area, and has done a lot of work with local growers on seed improvement. Routledge speaks the gospel of food ecology.

“In our efforts to steward the crops in an ecological manner, we step into the ecological territory that economics can’t get to. People in the business of making money can’t get to where we’re getting with our local germplasm,” shared Routledge. And the benefits of this local ecology is not isolated to the plants and crops they produce, but includes our larger community and culture and how we behave.

Tobias Policha responded to audience questions regarding the saving of hybridized seeds, explaining that if you want to save seed it’s best to grown open-pollinated or self-pollinating crops. This also gets you away from the “commercial interests” involved in growing seeds (some audience members raised concerns over Monsanto’s seed practices in the Willamette Valley: [1], [2], [3]). Other options include raising native “wild foods.” Policha suggested that instead of planting a pretty, nice shrub like daphne; and instead planting a currant, which has both edible and medicinal uses. He posited that in the event of a food crisis, these “subversive” food plants could be a boon to gardeners, as food scavengers wouldn’t recognize the plants in your yard as “food.” Big leaf maple is also quite edible, as are dandelions, and nany other plants (see books like Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in the Wild and Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscape).

Another recommended read was Gaia’s Garden, which discusses homescale permaculture.

More information about permaculture and seed saving, and a chance to meet up with like-minded inviduals will occur at “Winter Gardening” workshop on May 31st at the Food For Lane County Youth Farm, starting at 3 PM. Seeds for winter gardens will be available, and you can learn what you can grow in this bioregion during the winter.

Other topics were discussed, and to keep this brief, I will endeavor to cover those in detail later.

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